The Normative Doctrine

To the precedingoutline of Comte's scientific writings must be added a summary of hisnormative theory, which he sketched out in his earliest papers anddeveloped in his later work, from the Positive Philosophy on. He elaborated a complex blueprint of the good positive society of thefuture, a society directed by the spiritual power of priests of the newpositive religion and leaders of banking and industry. These scientificsociologist-priests would be, as were their Catholic predecessors in thetheological age, the moral guides and censors of the community, usingthe force of their superior knowledge to recall men to their duties andobligations; they would be the directors of education and the supremejudges of the abilities of each member of society. In the positivesociocracy of the future, the scientist-priests of the religion ofhumanity, having acquired positive knowledge of what is good and evil,would sternly hold men to their collective duty and would help suppressany subversive ideas of inherent rights. Saint-Simon had suggested thatin the future the domination of men over men would be replaced by theadministration of things. Comte now argued that the "things" to beadministered were in fact human individuals. Human relations wouldbecome "thingified." Just as in the eleventh century Pope Hildebrandhad for a brief moment extended his spiritual power over all temporalpower, so the High Priest of Humanity, armed with a scientific knowledgethe Pope could not yet command, would institute a reign of harmony,justice, rectitude, and equity. The new positivist order, to quote someof Comte's favorite formulae, would have Love as its Principle, Order asits Basis, and Progress at its Aim. The egoistic propensities to whichmankind was prone throughout previous history would be replaced byaltruism, by the command, Live for Others. Individual men wouldbe suffused by love for their fellows, and they would lovingly veneratethe positivist engineers of the soul who in their wisdom would incarnatethe scientific knowledge of man's past and present and the lawfullydetermined path into a predictable future.

Comte, especially inhis later years, considered himself not only a social scientist butalso, and primarily, a prophet and founder of a new religion thatpromised salvation for all the ailments of mankind. These normativeaspects of Comte's thought, although important for the historian ofideas, are only of peripheral concern here, where the focus is onsociology as a scientific enterprise. Yet this aspect of Comte's workmust be kept in mind in relation to his life and to the social andintellectual context in which his work emerged.

From Coser, 1977:12-13.


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