Comte’s doctrine of social positivism, which he outlined in the Cours de philosophie positive (1830-42), asks: if we cannot acknowledge freedom of thought in either chemistry or biology, why should we acknowledge it in either ethics or politics? According to Comte each form of knowledge goes through three theoretical stages:...
Comte’s doctrine of social positivism, which he outlined in the Cours de philosophie positive (1830-42), asks: if we cannot acknowledge freedom of thought in either chemistry or biology, why should we acknowledge it in either ethics or politics? According to Comte each form of knowledge goes through three theoretical stages: the theological (fictitious), the metaphysical (abstract) and the scientific (positive). Each of these corresponds to three wisdom stages (fiction, abstraction, demonstration), which are in turn related to the three evolutionary ages of both individuals and humanity: childhood (ancient age), youth (middle age) and maturity (positive age).
Across this path, human wisdom gets rid of polytheism, fetishism and monotheism, which were pertaining to the first stage. It then gets to the second stage, where knowledge is rational, yet still lacking empirical verifications, to eventually reach the positive-scientific knowledge. Italian scholar Abbagnano provides a beautiful image of the positive ideal in Hegelian terms, describing it as the romanticism of science—the tendency, distinctive of romanticism, to identify the finite and the infinite, to consider the finite as the revelation, the progressive realization of the infinite. This tendency is projected by positivism into science.
Someone at each of the three stages of human history would explain the phenomenon of war differently. Within the first stage, where men are subjected to theocratic government, war would be seen as the natural consequence of the gods’ or God’s childish will for self-affirming through the ruler onto the enemy. At the second stage, where abstract philosophical categories take the place of deities, war might be viewed as an event provoked by intangible forces for the realization of ideals—such as those of the Enlightenment. The positive stage would be the accomplishment of an empirical rationality whereof humanity would be fully in charge of their actions, and peace and harmony would make the need for war eventually subside.
Contemporary criticism—as we may also infer from the idea, stated above, of positivism as the romanticism of science—warns us against the idolatry of science (which has not yet prevented the occurring of deaths from war) and encourages ethics to be put at the service of science. Comte was very optimistic: he believed that, despite the fact that science had entered the positive phase, culture and social order were not fully permeated yet by the same rational spirit. The three philosophies were then still coexisting, but, according to Comte, a system of positive philosophy would have eventually accomplished the overcoming of the previous ones in favor of a fully adult humanity.