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POSITIVISM: ITS POSITION,
AIMS, AND IDEALS
PositivISM is at once a philosophy, a polity, and a religion-all three harmonized by the idea of a supreme humanity, all three concentrated on the good and progress of humanity. This combination of man's whole thought, general activity, and profound feeling in one dominant synthesis is the strength of Positivism, and at the same time an impediment to its rapid growth. The very nature of the Positivist scheme excludes the idea of wholesale conversion to its system, or of any sudden increase of its adherents. No philosophy before, no polity, no religion was ever so weighted and conditioned. Each stood alone on its special merit. Positivism only has sought to blend into coherent unity the three great forces of human life.
In the whole history of the human mind, no philosophy ever came bound up with a complete scheme of social organization, and also with a complete scheme of religious observance. Again, the history of religion presents no instance of a faith which was bound up with a vast scientific education, and also with a set of social institutions and political principles. Hitherto, all philosophies have been content to address man's reason and to deal with his knowledge, leaving politics, morality, industry, war, and worship open questions for other powers to decide. So, too, every religion has appealed directly to the emotions or the imagination, but has stood sublimely above terrestrial things and the passing cares of men. A mere philosophical idea, like evolution, can sweep across the trained world in a generation, and is accepted by the masses when men of learning are agreed. A practical movement, such as reform, self-government, socialism, or empire, catches hold of thousands by offering immediate material profit. Men of any creed, of any opinion, can join in the definite point. This has given vogue to so many systems of thought, so many political nostrums, such a variety of religious revivals. It has also been the cause of their ultimate failure, however great their temporary suc
They have been one-sided, partial, mutually destructive. A religion which ignores science finds itself at last undermined and discredited by facts. A polity which has no root in history and in the science of human nature ends in confusion, like the Social Contract or the Rights of Man. And a philosophy which is too lofty to teach men how to live, or what to worship, is flung aside by the passions, emotions, interests of busy men.
Positivism insists that the cause of all these failures has been the attempt to treat human nature in sections and by special movements, whereas human nature is an organic whole and can only be treated as an organism of infinite cohesion. Positivism is the first attempt to appeal to human nature synthetically—that is, to regard man as equally a logical being, a practical being, and a religious being, so that his thought, his energy, his devotion may all coincide in the same object. The Christian preacher may cry aloud that this object is God and salvation. But when he is asked to explain the relation of salvation to conic sections or to home rule, his answers are vague. The agnostic philosopher, again, assures us that this centre of thought is evolution; but how the devout soul is to worship evolution, or how the workman is to better his lot by evolution, are problems which the agnostic philosopher finds troublesome and idle. The radical reformer insists on a brand-new set of institutions, and trusts that men's beliefs, habits, desires, yearnings, and religions will soon settle themselves. But this is the last thing they ever do. Hitherto all philosophies, all polities, all religions have sought to treat human nature as a quack who should treat a sick man on the assumption that he had no brain. or that his nerves were of steel, or that his stomach was to be ignored. They have had successes, as nostrums do have. The Positive synthesis, for the first time, provides the harmony for thought, activity, and feeling. But, since almost the whole of our real knowledge is limited to this planet, and certainly the whole of what we can do is so limited, and since our best aspirations and ideals are human (or, at least, anthropomorphic), it follows that any true synthesis of human nature as a whole must centre in humanity. That is the key to the power of Positivism, and also to its very gradual advance.
That which is nothing unless it be comprehensive, systematic, synthetic, naturally finds arrayed against it the popular currents of the hour. There never was an age so deeply intoxicated with specialism in all its forms as our own, so loftily abhorrent of anything systematic, so alien to synthesis—that is, organic co-ordination of related factors. Everything nowadays is treated in infinitesimal subdivisions. Each biologist sticks to his own microbe; each historian to his own “period"; the practical man leaves “ideas” to the doctrinaire, and the divine leaves it to the dead worldling to bury his dead in his own fashion. Specialism is erected into a philosophy, a creed, a moral duty, an intellectual antiseptic. It is this dispersive habit which makes our art so mechanical, our religion so superficial, our philosophy so unstable, and our politics so chaotic. A movement, of which the first aim is to stem the torrent of this dispersiveness, naturally finds welcome only with those whom our moral, material, and mental anarchy has profoundly saddened and alarmed.
Positivism, then, so far as it is a religion, does not seek to be accepted on impulse, or by rapture, under a gush of devotional excitement. When Peter preached, “Repent and be baptized, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost!” the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. But Saint Peter cared little for science or philosophy, and even less for politics and art. Positivism asks to be accepted as the result of a great body of convergent convictions, or not to be accepted at all. Being a religion, it is not a thing to be decided by the authority of the learned. Every brain must reason it out for itself; every heart must feel its enthusiasm; every character must resolve to live and die by it in daily life. It is not like a political movement which aims at forming a party, a militant league, or a revolution. It never appeals to the instinct of combat; it inflames no passion of self-interest; it panders not to the spirit of destruction, to the spirit of equality, or the love of mockery and satire. It offers nothing immediate, no panacea to make every one blissful, or rich, or wise. It insists that all reforms must be gradual, complicated, spiritual, and moral, not material and legislative. It discourages all immediate and direct remedies for social and political maladies, and ever preaches the humble and difficult method of progress by mental education and moral regeneration. Now, those reformers who are ready to sacrifice all their impatient hopes, all royal roads to the millennium, all revolutionary dreams