Saturday, March 31, 2007

In Search of the Origins of Postmodern Self-Loathing (II)

Part (I)

Part (II)

Auguste Comte completed his vast work in re of Positivism in 1842. Comte believed in no other source of human knowledge than the empirical method exclusively, and built a fuzzy agnostic pseudo-religion around it. Positivism is the opposite of relativism, it is materialistic and science as an idea gone haywire.

It is not a very great surprise that every French intellectual appears to be practically raised on it. De Lubac: "Every undergraduate in France knows "the law of the three states ... every branch of knowledge has necessarily to pass through three successive theoretical states: 1. the theological or fictitious state, 2. the metaphysical or abstract state, 3. and the scientific or positive state".

So in the earliest stages of man's development he began by conceiving phenomena as a result of continuous influence of supernatural agents, which Comte terms fetishism: found in animism - to which we seem to be reverting today, as Comte would have it, as we shall see - and for example in the Greek and Roman pantheons.

In a later stage, the metaphysical, man came "to regard such phenomena as produced by various abstract forces inherent in bodies but distinct and heterogeneous". This stage is found in the monotheistic religions 'of the Book', Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

And finally man considers phenomena as subject to a "certain number of invariable natural laws that are nothing but the general expression of the relations observed in their developments", in other words science: the third, or positive state. For this stage Comte later used the term 'sociology'; Auguste Comte is considered by some to be the father of sociology.

Comte seems to have had a total contempt for the contemporary dominant, secondary stage and would prefer to skip the phase altogether, which he deemed possible under certain circumstances. It reminds me of the remarks of Stuart Sim in his contribution to the polemics on Signandsight re The Multicultural Issue: "Personally, I'd like to see religion wither away as a force in human affairs ...". Sim means, secondary stage religion. Compare Comte: "Catholicism is rotten to the core, all theology is 'outmoded', and everything that comes from it is now in a state of hopeless decrepitude, etc. ...".

De Lubac: "When the generation of transmission had come to an end, a ceremony would 'finally inaugurate the new religious regime ...". In anticipation Comte had started his own calender (as we have seen in Mussolini a sign of megalomania): on 23rd Archimedes in the year 63 (22nd April 1851) Comte wrote: "I shall be preaching positivism at Notre Dame as the only real and complete religion".

Comte described the third state "as positive as any other science based on observation". Comte even came to perceive a fourth state, in which the mind frees itself even from science: the truly positive state. Perhaps predictably enough Comte's ideal fourth state results paradoxically in ... relativism! Comte saw those that reached this ideal state as "resolutely freeing themselves from the prejudice that leads us 'to place ourselves on a different footing from things' and 'to claim a special place in the universe". Sounds familiar?

Compare that with today's multicultural complaint based on relativism's tenets about Western ethnocentricity and the Christian view of our central place in the Cosmos. Auguste Comte saw it thus: Monotheism or the metaphysical state is opposed to both the first and the third stage, "so much so that the positive state can be considered as the reestablishment of the "normal state, interrupted during the Western transition ...". If that isn't true self-loathing, I don't know what is: Down With Us! It was with us, 160 years ago.

A measure of how just like relativism today, 'positive thought' pervaded Comte's contemporary intellectuals, De Lubac writes: "Right at the end of his life, he noted with satisfaction that his 'thirty years of work' had already secured the admission of this law by all thinkers really abreast of the times", much like today's relativist prophets are congratulating themselves with the pervasiveness of their own particular postmodern fallacy.

While much can be said about Comte's mistakes and the willful suppression of later discovered facts, De Lubac sums the main problems with positivism up as follows: "... his (Comte's) offence lies in ... wishing to reduce man to no more than the subject matter of sociology". The extraordinary things happening as a result of the fallacy when the mind is reduced to its object can be found here in two articles by my philosopher-hero Greg Koukl, "All Mind, no Brain" and "All Words in your Brain".

To wrap this up in the words of Henri De Lubac: "Having reached its final state of rational positivity ... the human mind abandons its quest of the absolute ... Comtean thought immured itself in the relative as a last resource after having found itself powerless to decide the question of the absolute. Separating 'positive knowledge' from 'belief', it took the terrestrial horizon as its boundary, without prejudice to what might lie beyond it ... Comte is said to have declared the problem of God unsolvable".

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