Mr. Huxley on M. Comte

The Fortnightly Review April 1869
Richard Congreve

[407] "In so far as my study of what specially characterises the Positive Philosophy has led me, I find therein little or nothing of any scientific value, and a great deal which is as thoroughly antagonistic to the very essence of science as anything in ultramontane Catholicism. In fact, M. Comte’s philosophy in practice might be compendiously described as Catholicism minus Christianity ...

A French writer of fifty years later date, in whose dreary and verbose pages we miss alike the vigour of thought and the exquisite clearness of style of the man whom I make bold to term the most acute thinker of the eighteenth century–even though that century produced Kant" — Fortnightly Review, February, 1869, pp. 141-142.

These remarks of Professor Huxley appear to be a little fling on his part, per sfogarsi, a vent for a feeling of spleen; an utterance, which, doubtless, at the time, gave a pleasant sense of relief. Yet they are hardly worthy of their place, and would have come better from one of our débonnaire literary oracles than from a high scientific authority on whom rests a certain responsibility. Science claims much. We may claim that it teach patient and well-grounded judgment, even beyond its immediate sphere.

Mr. Huxley finds M. Comte’s pages "dreary." I have no wish to challenge his judgment. A great deal depends on the interest felt in a subject. My own interest in political and social subjects is, perhaps, what makes me form a widely different estimate. Criticism on the mere form of directly philosophical works is, possibly, more wasted even than other criticism. To me all purely critical writing seems indefensible. Life is not long enough for such pastime. We have already more than sufficient occupation for our very moderate powers of work and thought.

"Verbose." If used in its ordinary meaning, the epithet is one which a student of M. Comte’s works would hesitate to apply to them as a whole. Some might–I should not myself–term the Philosophie verbose. If applied to the style of the Politique, or of the Synthèse Subjective, it is ludicrously misapplied. "To term these works verbose," a friend observed to me, "is to say that you have not read them." Mr. Huxley allows for no such distinction between the works. I draw the inference, subject to correction, that his acquaintance with the writings he criticises is partial. I infer that his study has led him no farther than the Philosophic, and that he is condemning the rest in ignorance. Compare the matter with the expression, and this wholly apart from any judgment of the truth or falsehood of the matter, there is no writer, so far as I know, Whose condensation, in parts of his works, is equal to M. Comte’s. Let Mr. Huxley try his hand at a translation of a few pages of the Politique.

I draw a similar inference from the substance of the remark. That [408] M. Comte is inferior in vigour of thought to Hume, is a proposition which I am content to leave to the general judgment of the competent in such matters. To me it seems rash in the extreme. The great beauty of Hume’s style I admire as much as any one; but the style adequate for Hume’s purposes, as a philosophical thinker and essayist, might not be adapted to M. Comte’s, as a constructive philosopher. A wholly different task required a wholly different instrument. Kant, for instance, whom Mr. Huxley seems to admire, has a very different style from Hume. When the conditions were such that M. Comte could attend to the form and was not compelled to concentrate his whole effort on the matter of his work, an attentive consideration of his style will show that the clearness of M. Comte’s thought has an appropriate vehicle in his language, and that such obscurity as there is lies in the difficulty of the subject, or the want of preparation in the reader, rather than in the expression of the writer.

There is, however, another more striking point in the passage. "I make bold to term," says Mr. Huxley, as from a sense that he is venturing on a courageous expression of opinion–something original and daring. Yet, in vol. vi. of the Philosophie Positive, page 318, there is a recognition of Hume’s merits which has the advantage of greater completeness than the one here given, and which an instructed audience might have recalled to their lecturer. Again, in the Preface to his Catechism, M. Comte gives an equally favourable judgment of the "immortal school of Hume and Diderot." Lastly, in the Calendar of Positivism, Mr. Huxley might find the position assigned to Hume to be that of the superior of Kant and the other philosophical thinkers who occupy the week over which Hume presides. His name is placed on a level with the greatest names of modern philosophy: he is made the equal of Aquinas, of Bacon, and of Leibnitz; he is, with them, subordinated only to Descartes. I find it difficult where there is such agreement between Mr. Huxley and M. Comte, to explain the absence of all mention of the agreement; and I infer, as before, that the silence is due to an imperfect acquaintance with the works assailed. Otherwise, I should have expected, from Mr. Huxley’s candour, an acknowledgment that, in his judgment of Hume, bold as it might seem, he had long been anticipated by the French writer he was depreciating.

Were this all, however, I should have been silent. It is the other paragraph, the first of the two which stand at the head of this article, which is my main object; and the previous remarks have been made as conducive to a right estimate of the value of this paragraph, by leading to a presumption that it rests on inadequate knowledge. Be this as it may, Mr. Huxley’s recognised eminence in the scientific world makes his statement remarkable. It has already excited great attention.

It consists, so far as I deal with it of the two sentences in the first extract. I suppress a previous sentence as merely irritative [409] matter. Of the two left, I am not careful to answer or examine the amount of truth contained in the last. I have been long familiar with the loose judgment it expresses in such writers as Mr. Goldwin Smith. Valeat quantion. It stands in juxtaposition rather than in any consecutive connection with what precedes, and is, therefore, easily detached. If it throws any light at all, it is on the writer’s attitude to the system he compendiously describes.

And yet, as it stands, the passage suggests a remark. Whatever advantage Mr. Huxley may have over me from his introduction of Christianity, I must leave him in possession of. Such are the conditions of discussion in England. But in reference to Catholicism, I may say that in our attitude to this we evidently differ. His language has no meaning unless he considers the imputation of Catholicism a taunt. I, on the contrary, whilst I regard the identification of our system with Catholicism, as the word is generally understood, as erroneous, one-sided, and misleading, yet have never shrunk from recognising with satisfaction, the affinity between the two faiths, or in owning the debt we, in common with the whole world, owe to the noble system of the medieval Church. Such resemblance as there is, I consider a ground for honour, not for reproach. I would, therefore, modify Mr. Huxley’s description. I would suggest to him one equally compendious, but more accurate–one less purely negative, and more useful as a guide to a right estimate of Positivism, though not so available for his purpose. Instead of "Catholicism minus Christianity," I recommend to his notice "Catholicism plus Science."

There remains one sentence, and this I proceed to examine. Its exegesis is not easy. It is not easy, in the first place, to assign its proper value to the saving clause, "so far as my study has led me." It implies an incomplete study, and yet the context shows that the view of the writer ranges–however superficially–over the whole works. This is obvious from the mention of Catholicism. Practically, the limitation will be disregarded, and the general conclusion will be that an eminent man of science finds no value in M. Comte’s works; and as this conclusion chimes in with the popular wish, it will be acquiesced in; such acquiescence being, I presume, the result desired. Next, in what sense is the term Positive Philosophy used? It must stand as a short expression for M. Comte’s whole system. For in any limited, careful use of the term, no candid man could say that the Positive Philosophy contained a great deal as thoroughly antagonistic to science as Catholicism. I may remark, en passant, that I do not see the force of the epithet "Ultramontane." I am not aware of any difference between Ultramontane and Cismontane Catholicism as regards their attitude towards science. Catholics may vary, but Catholicism and Positive Science must be essentially antagonistic. That Positivism in any sense, religious or philosophical, is equally antagonistic, is, in my judgment, an unwarrantable statement. I [410] conceive it to have originated in the writer having present to his mind, not the philosophical or scientific works of M. Comte, but his religious and social system. It is the claim to control science in the name of man’s social and moral interests, which, I doubt not, prompted, and which alone supports the remark in its actual form. In the mind of its author, it probably was directed against other and more special conclusions, which are looked upon as unscientific. If any such exist, they do not imply, a thorough antagonism to the essence of science, but simply pro tanto, an error either of method or inference.

The real aim, however, of Mr. Huxley’s attack is the philosophical and scientific portion of M. Comte’s works. It is this which he wishes to set aside himself, and to damage with his readers. And, as the most useful weapon ready to his hand, he has appealed to the popular prejudice against the political and religious system as a kind of revival of Catholicism. In all probability he, with the archbishop, of whose address he speaks in terms of compliment, which form an odd contrast with his disrespect for M. Comte, thinks the religious side of Positivism so hopelessly unacceptable that no direct notice of it is required; but, unlike the archbishop, he avails himself of the disrepute of the religion as an indirect method of attack on the philosophy, which he is perfectly conscious holds a different place in public estimation.

Lastly, we have no clue to the meaning of the words "What specially characterises the Positive Philosophy." Mr. Huxley apparently had not leisure to give precision to his expression, and so to make it more intelligible.

In opposition to all this, enough for my present purpose, if I remind the reader that M. Comte’s works contain, in the first place, a religious and political construction; a work belonging, that is, to the political art, and to be judged with reference to the requirements of that art; secondly, a philosophical system; lastly, subordinate to, and forming part of the latter, certain scientific treatises. These are mixed up in one undiscriminating estimate by Mr. Huxley; but in the examination of his attack it is important to keep them distinct, as the judgment of the writer has a very different presumptive value according as it refers to one or the other. Once separated properly we can see which of them it is useful, which it is useless to discuss; and, looking at the tone of his language, I hold it useless to discuss with Mr. Huxley the political and religious construction of M. Comte, either in itself, or in reference to his rejection of it. On this ground and for the sake of clearness I put aside the whole theory of the future organisation of society as alien to the point immediately at issue.

Then comes the question of the Positive Philosophy, properly so called. The characteristic of that philosophy I have been accustomed to consider the co-ordination of all the abstract sciences by virtue of an uniform method into one consistent system, the synthesis of the [411] hierarchically arranged. The ulterior end of such co-ordination I do not here touch on. What Mr. Huxley considers its special characteristic I have already said I cannot get from his language. I do not even infer that he has ever thought it worth his study as a philosophy, even so far as to master its leading conception, or to place clearly before himself its fundamental aim. Why should he? it may be said. Just so, there is perhaps no reason why he should; but, if he has not, it would be wiser, as it would be fairer, not to attack it.

In the uncertainty in which his present expressions leave me, and in order also to narrow my remarks to the one most definite issue between us, I will enter on no discussion of this second aspect of M. Comte’s works, or on the discussion of the Positive Philosophy, properly so called. I will content myself with observing that a philosophical system may have great and permanent value, even though the scientific details which form, as it were, the material of it are insufficient, or, in many cases, even incorrect. For example, the encyclopedic construction of Aristotle marks an era in the intellectual progress of the race, though, scientifically speaking, modern inquiry may attach but little value to its details. Further, I would remark, that in the special sciences, and more especially in reference to biology, as a student for many years of that science, I have often had occasion to regret that its teachers availed themselves so little of the philosophical treatment it has received from M. Comte, and are so little imbued with the Positive spirit in which he handled it. Were they more familiar with it, we might be spared the weariness of listening to, or reading the weak theological arguments which so often detract from the value of teaching in other respects good; we might be spared also the constant introduction of the metaphysical fiction, Nature, which is even less respectable than the fictions of theology. And we should have, what we have not now, the sense of pleasure in a historic treatment of the subject, a point of view which would at once facilitate, and give soundness to the exposition of any science. No really good teaching of any subject is possible without the introduction of historical considerations. This is true if we confine ourselves to mere intellectual considerations–still more so if we take in moral. The ungrateful omission or stinted recognition of the successive efforts of previous labourers in the same field is punished by the dulness thrown over the subject, and the consequent tedium felt by the learner. I cannot say how far Mr. Huxley’s teaching is an exception. I should imagine that he keeps constantly clear of theology and metaphysics. But I should fear also that he keeps equally clear of historical conceptions. But, in any case, he might, I make no doubt, have learnt much from the teaching of the great master whom he throws aside so contemptuously. He might, at least, have learnt the moral lesson of just respect for the contributions and services of others, in which in [412] this instance he seems to me deficient; and the intellectual lesson of a true discrimination of the relative value of thinkers, a discrimination which would have kept him from committing himself to a distinct preference of Hume, as a thinker, to M. Comte.

But putting aside the political and philosophical parts of M. Comte’s works, we come now to the third part, and, for my object, the most important. We have to deal with these works under their strictly scientific aspect. On this I join issue.

The Positive Philosophy is a co-ordination of the sciences, but this implies that you have the sciences to co-ordinate. Some of them M. Comte found, in a sense, ready to his hand; and with regard to these his work was one of revision and arrangement. Having, that is, sciences more or less constituted as materials on which to work, his work was to place in their due philosophical relation the scientific labours of previous thinkers, and to eliminate all non-positive elements. This is the work done in the three first volumes of the Philosophie Positive. In them M. Comte’s attitude to the sciences which he reviews may be considered, for my present purpose, as purely philosophical. Any claim to scientific eminence he may derive from their treatment may be kept out of view, and the case for him, in the purely scientific aspect, maybe made to rest, not upon them, but upon another foundation. For one of the sciences required for his system was not ready to his hand. His work in reference to it is not one of revision, but one of original construction. Let us look at his works. The first glance at them shows that the three last volumes of the Philosophie, and they are the largest, are devoted to one science; and that out of the four volumes which constitute the Politique, two deal exclusively with the same science; one, the second, with that science under its statical, the other, the third, with that science under its dynamical aspect. That is, out of ten consecutive volumes five are upon one subject, are, in the ordinary sense of the word, the creation of a science hitherto non-existing. This is a sufficient indication of the point I wish to establish, that the scientific reputation of M. Comte must be most conclusively tested by his success or failure in regard to this particular science–that he must be scientifically judged in reference to sociology. The denial of his claims in other branches cannot invalidate them in this higher and perfectly independent department.

It is Mr. Huxley’s judgment of M. Comte on the strictly scientific ground that I now proceed to examine. On that ground, prima facie, his opinion will have weight, His positive statement is, that he finds little or nothing of any scientific value in M. Comte’s works, taken as a whole. I have shown reason for taking this as the legitimate extent of his decision, and this certainly will be the general inference from it. For he cannot but allow that he has lent the sanction of a name generally respected in the scientific world to [413] an unfavourable,–nay, a contemptuous judgment of M. Comte’s scientific merits, with no expressed reference, no qualification, no limitation to this or that branch of science. He may have had only biology in his view. I imagine that he had; but that does not appear.

Now one would like to know what is Mr. Huxley’s competence to form so sweeping a judgment. How far is he qualified to judge M. Comte’s services, even in the lower sciences–mathematics, astronomy, and physics? I will assume that he is qualified in reference to chemistry and biology as sciences, nor do I deny for an instant his competence in the others mentioned; but, as far as I know, it is not proven; and, unfortunately, eminence in physiology does not of itself carry any presumption in favour of competence in other branches. Even in the lower sciences, then, it may be that the Professor’s decision rests on insufficient ground.

But if in the lower sciences, for the reason above given, we require some evidence of competence in the biologist before we can attach much weight to his opinion, the case is far stronger when we come to the higher science of sociology. Many eminent biologists not only allow the value of the preliminary sciences, but seek themselves, and inculcate on others the duty of seeking, the benefits to be derived from them. With sociology, on the contrary, the case is different; its value, as reacting on the study of biology, is not allowed, is not in general suspected,–nay, I may go further,–it would be generally denied. If I were to say, what I believe to be strictly true, that for a right study of biology, a study of its superior, sociology, is an essential condition, a condition the non-fulfilment of which vitiates but too often our biological conclusions, I should probably at the present time subject myself to ridicule; yet there are sound grounds for the assertion. For the present, however, it is sufficient to state that this attitude of the biologists constitutes a presumption-–and, for my purpose, a presumption is all I need–that the science of sociology is one on which Mr. Huxley’s opinion is of no value, as one which he has not studied. I do not here go further than the presumption,–-my statement is purely negative,–but the presumption cannot be too carefully kept in view.

The case, then, stands thus. One science is in a special sense connected with M. Comte’s name. The most jealous scrutiny cannot deny him a peculiar position as the creator of sociology–I use the term in the largest sense. In this, his own particular sphere, has M. Comte no scientific merit? Has he contributed nothing of any scientific value in sociology? This is the question I venture to put to Mr. Huxley. His answer, as it stands, is in the negative. Then comes the further question–On what competence does this negative answer rest? A contemptuous treatment of the subject does not incline one to look for a high degree of competence.

Mr. Huxley must, I conceive, choose between one of the three [414] following alternatives. He may care little for sociology, set small store on any such science, nay, deny its claim to the name of science. With him science may stop at biology, and the kindred branches of knowledge, which are usually called sciences. All beyond may be to him merely empirical, and have no scientific value in the proper sense. In this view, naturally, he neglects M. Comte’s writings. There is much in Mr. Huxley’s language to favour this conclusion, yet I doubt whether, in the present state of opinion, he would deliberately avow it. It would be falling back too far from the van.

Is it, then, that whilst he allows social phenomena to be as truly the subject matter of a science as biological phenomena are of the science which deals with them, Mr. Huxley considers M. Comte not only to have wholly failed in his attempt to construct such a science, but to have made no valuable contribution towards it, and that he has come to this opinion on a careful study of the volumes devoted to this construction, namely, the three last volumes of the Philosophie Positive, and the second and third of the Politique Positive? I recur to these two volumes because they, and not the three volumes given to sociology in the Philosophie, are the definitive construction of the science; and he who has been content with the first work, and not studied the second, should be careful how he speaks of M. Comte’s works in general. He has not studied them in their due connection. He is not competent to judge them. In the absence of a direct and deliberate statement from Mr. Huxley that his opinion has been so formed, I look on this second answer as improbable. It is to me, inconceivable that any one who should have studied the volumes in question, whether he accepted or rejected them, should fail to see that they have a certain scientific value. Allowing, for the sake of argument, that they fail in their direct object, that they are unsuccessful, that is, in laying down correctly the lines of a new science, still, as the first solution of a great problem hitherto unattempted, a definite and comprehensive solution, they would have a scientific value independent of any absolute results. Modem biology has got beyond Aristotle’s conception; but in the construction of biological science, not even the most unphilosophical biologist would fail to recognise the value of Aristotle’s early, incomplete, and in a certain sense premature attempt. So for sociology. Subsequent sociologists may have, conceivably, to remodel the whole science, yet not the less will they recognise the merit of that first work which has facilitated their labours.

It is to me, then, inconceivable that a real student of those volumes should form the judgment Mr. Huxley has apparently formed. Still, it may be that he adopts this second alternative. And should Mr. Huxley state that this is his deliberate conviction I should ask no more; I should acquiesce in the fact of his denial, and be content to feel that the position he occupies in this respect was fairly before the world. When I use the word deliberate, I mean it to bear the full sense [415] of an opinion formed on a sufficient study and mastery of the subject. And for the present argument, be it remembered, this implies not merely a knowledge of sociology, a knowledge of the conditions of man’s existence as a social being, and a knowledge of the historical development of the human race,–this Mr. Huxley may have,–but it involves such a study and mastery of certain definite works in which that science is set forth, and on the value of which Mr. Huxley, ex hypothesi, pronounces a judgment.

The conclusion to which I ultimately come is that a third supposition is the true one, and that the remarks on which I am commenting do not really express a deliberate judgment in any true sense of the word. I judge them to be an impatient utterance based on a wholly imperfect and insufficient acquaintance with the subject of’ which Mr. Huxley is speaking. I judge them.–I speak under correction–to be the opinion of one who has looked into the works of M. Comte mainly with reference to his own special subject, and who, not finding, as he thinks, anything to serve his purpose there, turns from the whole as useless, and in an unguarded moment publishes his condemnation. I look on them, in fact, as the judgment of a biologist penetrated with the importance of his own subject, and fun of respect for the preliminary sciences, but bounding his horizon with his own science; either not allowing that there are higher sciences, or not caring for them.

I crave a more deliberate judgment from the Professor. If he cannot, or will not give that, I would urge upon him abstinence from these side blows which have no appearance of calm reflection about them. He is well aware that in the present state of opinion they cannot claim the merit of courage. All are ready to abuse M. Comte and his disciples. They will not conciliate opponents; and though I should not like to charge Mr. Huxley with any such wish, they have an unpleasant look about them. What they certainly will do is to alienate those who in the struggle in which he is engaged might be useful to his cause; who sympathise with him within his own incomplete limits; and who, when be steps into the field of social discussion, as he has more than once nobly done, are ready to give all the support they can, and at least can offer a hearty admiration. For I cannot but remember that on more than one occasion Mr. Huxley has stood forward to protest against injustice, to share the odium of an unpopular cause, and to stem the tide of prejudice. Whilst doing my best, then, in the present instance against him, I could not be silent as to his social exertions. Even in this article there is a passage which, whatever my objections to it, testifies to his interest in social questions. On this passage I will briefly touch, as it illustrates his attitude towards sociology as a. science. I hope I have not misunderstood it. I have tried hard to get at its real meaning.

In a "simple, unsystematic way" Mr. Huxley approaches the social [416] question. He speaks of a world full of ignorance and misery; and he recognises, in language which, though it bear the stamp of poverty of conception inseparable from the doctrines of individualism, is yet manly and civic, the plain duty of each and all of us to struggle against that misery and that ignorance. Now what does he offer in the way of aid for the right discharge of this plain duty. He offers two beliefs,1 and two only, as generally necessary. These may be all very well in their way, but are unsatisfactory equipment for those who wish to know how to act. The latter of the two is one which I doubt whether any man who has ever acted has been without, whatever his theory might be. The former has long been fully possessed by the thinker and the statesman, nay, by all who have at any time consciously striven to improve the world, either by intellectual or practical effort. Yet experience shows that an effectual dealing with the ignorance and misery around us is still a desideratum. Would the physician–-and the physician has to meet ignorance and misery, though it may be more especially from the physical point of view–feel as he visited the bed-side of his patients that he was effectually armed for his task, however full his possession of these two beliefs? And if Mr. Huxley, whilst he would ridicule such a preparation for the physician, thinks that it is adequate for the more difficult and complex problem of ignorance and misery, when approached from the more social point of view, he is but betraying the disadvantage at which he has placed himself by his unwise neglect of M. Comte’s sociological system.

Still, as I said, the language is a simple and manly recognition of our social duty. It naturally leads us to think that he who uses it would sympathise with those who have endeavoured to discharge the duty it inculcates. Now he knows, or if he does not know he is blamable for not knowing, as he has chosen to write upon the subject, that M. Comte’s life was one long unbroken effort to construct a philosophical and political system to meet the evils they both recognise. I will not do Mr. Huxley the injustice of supposing that had his intellect been fairly brought to bear upon the examination of that system he would have failed to recognise, not its truth, I speak not of that, but its evident power and greatness as an intellectual exertion. On this’ point I speak with confidence, because, from various quarters, many the most unlikely, there comes a recognition of this point. Men opposed to M. Comte’s conclusion as philosophers and statesmen, men again whose dearest faith as religious believers his doctrine threatens to supersede, agree in the acknowledgment that, however mistaken, M. Comte’s effort was great and honourable. Why is it that a leader of science–speaking (as I am afraid I must [417] allow) in harmony with the general current of opinion prevalent amongst the men of science–is unable to separate his non-acceptance of the system from his estimate of its author’s intellectual value, but rejects the whole with undisguised and unqualified contempt. Why is it but that those I have before alluded to can, as men and as citizens, feel a certain community of purpose, and, therefore, a certain sympathy and admiration for a powerful but, as they deem, misguided genius; whereas the men of science, forgetful of the true position of science as a minister to the social well-being of man, confront an attempt to recall them to the sense of its real function with impatient hostility, and view with alarm and hatred the spread of a doctrine which they instinctively feel is destined to put an end to their indiscipline? It seems to me that they might mitigate their hostility if they would calmly consider what Positivism, as a system, aims at in regard to science. They fear encroachment on, or any tampering with, their scientific independence, their pursuit of truth. Now there is a great distinction between a limitation of the choice of subjects and a limitation or fettering of independent inquiry on the subjects when chosen. The moral and social system known as Positivism claims to select the subjects which should be studied by those who cultivate science in any of its special branches, natural or human, not to dictate the special conclusions on these subjects. The scientific inquirer is left uncontrolled within a definite limit. This, as we think, would find him an ample sphere for his faculties, avoid waste of time, promote the real acceptance of science, make its true value felt, and at the same time conduce to the real interests of the race. But I have little hope that any effort of conciliation on the part of the Positivist student of science will lessen the opposition of the non-Positivist; only let it be remembered that the value the former sets on science is as great as that which the latter attaches to it. The difference is simply one of direction and discipline.

From one point of view I feel that they who are too much disposed to arrogate to themselves exclusively the title of men of science are unfortunate. Their attitude is an anachronism I suspect, and they feel the effects of this false position and are irritated by it. The interest of the world, broadly stated, is not merely that "orderly mystery" or science should take the place of disorderly, but that, in an especial sense, social and political order should take the place of disorder. And the western world is dimly conscious that it is settling into a new order after more or less of disorder. It is dimly conscious also that two faiths are contesting the direction of the change. One or other of the two must prevail, and the result will be an organisation which will grind down all recalcitrant elements. But the world judges roughly. It listens to the men of science, and pays them the compliment, often undeserved, of thinking that they are beings with a social purpose, not mere advocates of [418] unlimited inquiry and discussion. It attributes to them, that is, a wish to aid in the reconstruction of society, not a mere pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. It sees the older faith fading under their solvent applications; and no longer recognising mere destruction as valuable, it considers them as partisans of the younger. It insists, that is, on ranging them with those whom, under the name of Positivists, it looks upon as the representatives of the new faith of which it has heard indistinct rumours. It yokes them to a service for which they feel the most utter repugnance; it identifies them with an organisation, and the very name is distasteful to them. Hence impatient disclaimers, such as the one here made by Mr. Huxley, and the disclaimers avail them not. The instinct of their opponents, whether learned or unlearned, is keen and, in the main, sound. It steadily identifies the guerilla chieftains with the regular forces of the opposition.

In fact, their disclaimers are only valid with the Positivists, who feel, and regret for the sake of their cause, the hostility of the savans. We cannot but acknowledge that it is a powerful obstacle in the way of social reorganisation; the most powerful probably, affording as it does an excuse to so many for not- examining or for rejecting our system. We can but hope for better things, for the gradual disappearance of the singular bitterness with which the Positivist cause is regarded by too many of the scientific world–a bitterness not easily accounted for. Our natural allies are those who have, and feel that they have, a common end with, us, however different our respective means; the large class which is seeking for a religious constitution of society. The new scientific clergy must act, as far as it is allowed, in unison with the clergy of the older faith.

One word more: M. Comte’s life was not only a life of intellectual effort; it was a life of self-denial, of abstinence from all lower aims; a life of persistence–and that in the face of persecution, and danger, and neglect–in the endeavour to serve his kind. It was a life the beauty of which has now been recognised in many quarters which must have come under Mr. Huxley’s observation, and by men whom he cannot but respect. Yet he has but words of contemptuous indifference, no word of recognition, much less of admiration for a life which, I challenge him to deny it, has a marked character of grandeur about it. His entire silence on these points, especially on the last, whatever the motive that prompted it, and irrespective of any and every estimate of the actual results attained by M. Comte’s efforts, I cannot but deeply regret for Mr. Huxley’s sake. I should be ill expressing my own feeling if I did not say in frankness, but not in disrespect, that it is not mere regret that I feel–that I look on such silence as discreditable injustice. It is this feeling which has led me to write.

1 For convenience I give the beliefs: "The first that the order of nature is ascertainable by our faculties to an extent which is practically unlimited; the second, that our volition counts for something as a condition of the course of events." (Fort. Rev., p. 145.)


C. Blinderman & D. Joyce
Clark University