What would be a critique about Comte's works?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One critique about Comte's works lies in his unflinching belief that science is infallible.

Comte's positivism affirms scientific understanding as the basis for all existence. This is a source of criticism. For example, Marxist thinkers question this presupposition. Thinkers like Marx would argue "It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but their social existence that determines their consciousness." Marxist thinkers would critique Comte's vaulted view that science has more importance than all other considerations. For these thinkers, an individual's social conditions, such as economic class and education, influence how that individual perceives the world. Marxist thinkers would argue science is susceptible to individual biases because the collection of data is undertaken by human beings, who are always guided by their "social existence." Comte's valuing of science above all is where he would receive criticism from the Marxist frame of reference.

Another criticism of Comte could be leveled on his idea of the unified field of human existence. Comte's philosophy affirms a totalizing view of consciousness. Positivism takes all the disparate aspects of human understanding and provides a unity to them because of its faith in science. Some thinkers see an inherent danger to such unity. Postmodern thinkers like Milan Kundera would argue that such faith in totality can be the pretext for abuse. Kundera articulates this in his work The Book of Laughter and Forgetting:

People have always aspired to an idyll, a place garden where nightingales sing, a realm of harmony where the world does not rise up as a stranger against man nor man against other men, where the world and all its people are molded from a single stock and the fire lighting up the heavens is the fire burning in the hearts of men, where every man is a note in a magnificent Bach fugue and anyone who refuses his note is a mere black dot, useless and magnificent, easily caught and squashed between the figures like an insect.

For a thinker like Kundera, who is perpetually afraid of totalizing notions of the good, Comte's positivism rings alarm bells of what might or could happen. Empowering science and scientists above all else and others is a scary prospect for Kundera and becomes grounds for Postivism's criticism.

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