POSITIVISM: The name applied to the teachings of Auguste Comte (q.v.), which, since the middle of the nineteenth century, have been accepted in the stricter sense by what is practically a sect, and more loosely by a large school of admirers of his "Positive Philosophy." The latter, by far the more numerous, have usually regarded his later political teaching, if not as the product of distinct mental aberration, at best as a sentimental illusion, or as analogous to Plato's "Republic" and "Laws," to be admired theoretically but incapable of practical realization. The system taught by Comte in his first great book was essentially atheistic and anti-theological; the only sciences there considered as the main branches of human knowledge were mathematics, mechanics (including astronomy), physics, chemistry, physiology, and sociology. Even psychology, the connecting link between physiology and sociology, was omitted-a defect which the English adherents of Comte, under John Stuart Mill's leadership, felt obliged to supply. This fundamentally non-religious attitude was based in one aspect on the English and French sensualist philosophy of the eighteenth century, especially on Étienne de Condillac, Thomas Reid, and Dugald Stewart; in its socialistic speculation it was largely dependent on Marie Jean Caritat de Condorcet, and in the leading ideas of its philosophy of history on the Italians Giovanni Battista Vico and Tommaso Campanella. In fact, what has frequently been regarded as Comte's principal achievement-the definition of the law of human progress through the three stages of theology, metaphysics, and positivism, or pure empiricism in the exact sciences-is really found in both the last-named, as well as in the French physiocrat Anne Robert Jacques Turgot. In like manner his doctrine of the transition of the process leading to social perfection from belligerent conquest to defense by force, and from that again to peaceful labor, is nothing more than a simple development of what Condorcet had taught in 1793; and his theory of Fetishism (q.v.) as the primal form of religion goes back in its essence to Charles de Brosses (1760).
In spite, however, of this lack of originality, and in spite of the transformation which the system has received at the hands of John Stuart Mill, Herbert Spencer, John Fiske, and others, the "hierarchy of the sciences" and Comte's general line of thought have maintained a considerable degree of popularity among English-speaking and French philosophers. Among the latter it influenced especially Émile Littré, Hippolyte Taine, Ernest Renan, and Théodule Ribot, while Henry Thomas Buckle, George Henry Lewes, Leslie Stephen, John Tyndall, and Thomas Henry Huxley took their stand on the same "positive" ground, and the modern Scottish sensualism of such thinkers as Alexander Bain shows no slight traces of its influence. In America John William Draper followed practically the same path as Comte in his History of the Conflict between Religion and Science (New York, 1874), and more recently Paul Carus (q.v.), editor of The Monist and author of several works of like tendency, has conducted a propaganda which has much in common with Comte's. Italy has its thinkers of the same school in Tito Vignoli, Roberto Ardigò, Pietro Siciliani, and Andrea Angiulli, and not a few chairs of philosophy in Spain and Portugal are occupied by adherents of Comte. Among German positivists in the narrower sense may be named Ernst Laas, Adolf Steudel, Friedrich Jodl, Alois Riehl, and Georg von Gizycki; and as less thorough-going adherents of Comte mention may be made of such philosophers as Wilhelm Wundt, Theobald Ziegler, and Julius Baumann.
There has been, however, much misconception in the attempt to connect certain modern non-religious systems directly with Comte. The evolutionism of Darwin and Spencer has really little in common with his doctrine; he vigorously combated Darwin's forerunner, Jean Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet Lamarck; and Huxley and other leaders of the evolutionist school have in their turn sharply criticized him. His attitude toward religion, nevertheless, has had not a little to do with that of some of the leading opponents of religious systems in more recent times. It is now clear that Karl Marx took some of his most important and characteristic doctrines from Comte's sociology; and Friedrich Nietzsche (q.v.), after a period of almost exclusive devotion to Arthur Schopenhauer's pessimism, adopted several points of Comte's teaching.
The Positivist sect, based upon Comte's Systeme de politique positive, possesses popular manuals of teaching and practise in the Calendrier positiviste (Paris, 1849) and Catéchisme positiviste (1853). It teaches "the transformation of philosophy into religion"; but the philosophy thus transformed is the positivist philosophy, with no belief in God, the soul, or immortality. The cult of humanity on which it rests is a fantastic veneration of heroes, men of genius, scientists, and women. The calendar contains nine sacraments and eighty-four recurrent festivals. The thirteen months, of twenty-eight days each, take their designations from notable benefactors of the human race. Moses, Homer, Aristotle, Archimedes, Cæsar, Paul, Charlemagne, Dante, Gutenberg, Shakespeare, Descartes, Frederick II., and Bichat (a famous Parisian physician and anatomist, d. 1802). Each of the days of the week is dedicated to a minor hero, as Sophocles, Horace, Copernicus, Galileo, and Cuvier. For the administration of the sacraments and the general direction of the body a sort of hierarchy is postulated. The sect in England was for a long time under the direction of Frederic Harrison and Richard Congreve, and in France principally under that of Pierre Laffitte in Paris. When the latter died in 1903, it was felt by many that "orthodox" Positivism was near its end; but although the section of Comte's followers which still preserves a certain type of religious feeling is yet in existence, it can not be said that they adhere closely to his prescriptions. Their formulas vary, in fact, between a weakly naturalistic deism and a radical atheism. The group of positivists which grew up around Francis Ellingwood Abbot in America about 1870 called themselves the professors of a "Free Religion," and their views, as expressed in Abbot's "Fifty Affirmations," were in many ways much more radical than Comte's. Of a similar nature are some manifestations of free thought in France and Belgium, as they appear in Eugène Sémérie's periodical La Politique positive (Paris and Versailles), in Jean Francois Eugène Robinet's Le Radical, and in Edgar Monteil's Catéchisme du libre-penseur (Antwerp, 1877), in which atheism is partially concealed by a few phrases which have a theistic ring, and a corresponding scheme of morality is taught which is in its essence mere Epicureanism. The German free-thinking sects founded by Eduard Löwenthal and Eduard Reich are really German products, with no closely demonstrable connection with Comte, though some things about them (such as the title of the latter, the Church of Humanity) are reminiscent of his teaching. For an English analogy to Comte's Positivism under the leadership of George Jacob Holyoake, Charles Bradlaugh, etc., see SECULARISM.