August Comte: The Influence of Positivism upon Women

The System of Positive Polity or Treatise on Sociology, Instituting the Religion of Humanity 1830 (French), 1851, 1875 Volume 1, Chapter IV The Influence of Positivism Upon Women by August Comte 1798-1857 p. 164-219
Translated by John Henry Bridges and M.B. Oxon 1875


 The Influence of Positivism Upon Women


ALTHOUGH in their action upon society philosophers may hope for energetic support from the working classes, the regenerating movement requires still the co-operation of a third element,  one indicated by the true theory of human nature as well intellectual as by historical study of the great modem crisis.

The moral constitution of man consists of something more than Intellect and Activity. These are represented in the constitution of society by the philosophic body and the proletariat. But besides these there is Feeling, which, in the theory put forward in the first chapter of this work, was shown to be the predominating principle, the motive power of our being, the only basis on which the various parts of our nature can be brought into unity. Now the alliance between philosophers and working men, which has been just described, however perfectly it may be realized, does not represent the element of Feeling with sufficient distinctness and prominence.

Certainly without Social Feeling, neither philosophers nor proletaries can exercise any real influence. But in their case its source is not sufficiently pure nor deep to sustain them in the performance of their duty. A more spontaneous and more perennial spring of inspiration must be found.

With the philosopher social sympathies will never be wanting in coherence, since they will be connected with his whole system of thought; but this very scientific character would deaden their vigor, unless they were continually revived by impulses in which reflection has no share. Roused as he will be by the consciousness of public duty to a degree of activity of which abstract thinkers can form no conception, the emotions of private life will yet be not less necessary for him than for others. Even his intercourse with workmen, beneficial as it will be, will not be enough to compensate the defects of a life devoted to speculation.

The sympathies of the people again, though stronger and more spontaneous than those of the philosopher, are in most cases, less pure and not so lasting. From the pressure of daily necessities it is difficult for them to maintain the same consistent and disinterested character. Great as are the moral advantages which will result from the incorporation of the people in modern society, they are not enough by themselves to outweigh the force of self-interest aroused by the precarious nature of their position. Emotions of a gentler and less transient kind must be called into play. Philosophers may relieve the working classes from the necessity of pressing their own claims and grievances; but the fact still remains, that the instincts by which those claims are prompted are personal rather than social.


Thus, in the alliance which has been here proposed as necessary for social reorganization. Feeling, the most influential part of human nature, has not been adequately represented. An element is wanting which shall have the same relation to the moral side of our constitution, as the philosophic body has with Intellect, and the people with Activity. On this, as well as on other grounds, it is indispensable that Women be associated in the work of regeneration as soon as its tendencies and conditions can be explained to them. With the addition of this third element, the constructive movement at last assumes its true character. We may then feel confident that our intellectual and practical faculties will be kept in due subordination to universal Love. The digressions of intellect, and the subversive tendencies of our active powers will be as far as possible prevented.

Indispensable to Positivism as the co-operation of women is, women have it involves one essential condition. Modern progress must rise above its present imperfect character, before women can roughly sympathize with it.


At present the general feeling amongst them is antipathy to the Revolution. They dislike the destructive character which subordinate the Revolution necessarily exhibited in its first phase; and their strongest sympathies are still given to the Middle Ages. Nor is this merely due, as is supposed, to a natural regret for the decline of chivalry, although they cannot but feel that the Middle Ages are the only period in which the feeling of reverence for women has been properly cultivated. The real ground of their predilection is deeper and less interested. It is the being morally the purest portion of Humanity, they venerate Catholicism, as the only system which has upheld the principle of subordinating Politics to Morals. This, I cannot doubt, the secret cause of most of the regret with which women still regard the irrevocable decay of mediaeval society.

They do not disregard the progress which modem times have made in various special directions. But our erroneous tendencies towards bringing back the old supremacy of Politics over Morality, are, in their eyes, a retrograde movement, so comprehensive in its character that no partial improvements can compensate for it. True, we are able to justify this deviation provisionally, corresponding as it does to the necessity of political dictatorship resulting from the decay of Catholicism. But women, having comparatively little to do with the practical business of life, can hardly appreciate this necessity without a more satisfactory of history than they at present possess. It is a complete mistake to charge women with being retrograde on account of these honorable feelings of regret. They might retort the charge with far better reason on the revolutionists for their blind admiration of Greek and Roman society, which they still persist in asserting to be superior to Catholic Feudalism; a delusion, the continuance of which is principally due to our absurd system of classical education, from which women are fortunately preserved.


However this may be, the feelings of women upon these subjects are a very plain and simple demonstration of the first condition of social regeneration, which is, that Politics must again be subordinated to Morality; and this upon a more intelligible, more comprehensive, and more permanent basis than Catholicism could supply. A system which supplied such a basis would naturally involve reverence for women as one of its characteristic results. Such, then, are the terms on which women will cordially co-operate in the progressive movement. Nothing but incapacity to satisfy these terms could induce any thinkers to condemn the conception as retrograde.

 

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It is not, then, to the Revolution itself that women feel antipathy, but to the anti-historic spirit which prevailed in its first phase. The blind abuse lavished on the Middle Ages wounds their strongest sympathies. They care little for metaphysical theories of society in which human happiness is made to consist in a continual exercise of political rights; for political rights, however attractively presented, will always fail to interest them. But they give their cordial sympathy to all reasonable claims of the people; and these claims form the real object of the revolutionary crisis. They will wish all success to philosophers and workmen when they see them endeavoring to transform political disputes into social compacts, and proving that they have greater regard for duties than for rights. If they regret the decline of the gentle influence which they possessed in former times, it is principally because they find it superseded by coarse and egotistic feelings, which are now no longer counterbalanced by revolutionary enthusiasm. Instead of blaming their antipathies, we should learn from them the urgent necessity of putting an end to the moral and intellectual anarchy of our times: for this it is which gives a ground of real justice to their reproaches.

Women will gladly associate themselves with the Revolution as soon as its work of reconstruction is fairly begun. Its negative phase must not be prolonged too far. It is difficult enough for them to understand how such a phase could ever be necessary; therefore they cannot be expected to excuse its aberrations. The true connection of the Revolution with the Middle Ages must be fairly stated. History, when rightly interpreted, will show them that its real object is, while laying down a surer basis for Morality, to restore it to the old position of superiority over Politics in which the mediaeval system first placed it. Women will feel enthusiasm for the second phase of the Revolution, when they see republicanism in the light in which Positivism presents it, modified by the spirit of ancient chivalry.

Then, and not till then, will the movement of social regeneration be fairly begun. The movement can have no great force until women give cordial support to it; for it is they who are the best representatives of the fundamental principle on which Positivism rests, the victory of social over selfish affections. On philosophers rests the duty of giving logical coherence to this principle and saving it from sophistical attacks. Its practical working depends upon the proletary class, without whose aid it would almost always be evaded. But to maintain it in all its purity, as an inspiration that needs neither argument nor compulsion, is the work of women only. So constituted, the alliance of the three classes will be the foreshadowed image of the normal state to which Humanity is tending. It will be the living type of perfect human nature.


Unless the new philosophy can obtain the support of women, the attempt to substitute it for theology in the regulation of social life had better be abandoned. But if the theory stated in my first chapter be true Positivism will have even greater influence with women than with the working classes. In the principle which animates it, in its manner of regarding and of handling the great problem of human life, it is but a systematic development of what women have always felt instinctively. To them, as to the people, it offers a noble career of social usefulness, and it holds out a sure prospect of improvement in their own personal position.

Nor is it surprising that the new philosophy should possess such qualities. They follow naturally from the reality which is one of its chief claims to acceptance; in other words, from the exactness with which it takes account of the facts of every subject that it deals with. Strong as the prejudices of women are upon religious questions, it cannot be long before they find out that Positivism satisfies, not merely their intellectual, but their moral and social wants better than Catholicism. They will then have no further reason for clinging to the old system, of the decayed condition of which they are perfectly aware. At present they not unnaturally confound Positivism with the scientific specialties on which it is based. Scientific studies have, as they see, a hardening influence, which they cannot suppose that the new school of philosophers, who insist so strongly upon the necessity of studying science, can have escaped. Closer acquaintance with the subject will show them where their error lies. They will see that the moral danger of scientific studies arises almost entirely from want of purpose and from irrational specialty, which always alienate them from the social point of view. But for the Positivist this danger does not exist; since, however far he may carry these preliminary studies, he does so simply in order to gain a stronger grasp of social questions. His one object is to concentrate all the powers of Man upon the general advancement of the race. And so long as this object is kept in view, women’s good sense will readily distinguish between the training necessary for it, and the puerilities of the learned societies. The general spirit of this work, however, makes further explanation of this point unnecessary.

The social mission of Woman in the Positive system follows natural consequence from the qualities peculiar to her nature.


In the most essential attribute of the human race, the tendency to place social above personal feeling, she is undoubtedly superior to man. Morally, therefore, and apart from all material considerations, she merits always our loving veneration, as the purest and simplest impersonation of Humanity, who can never be adequately represented in any masculine form. But these qualities do not involve the possession of political power, which some visionaries have claimed for women; though without their own consent. In that which is the great object of human life, they are superior to men; but in the various means of attaining that object they are undoubtedly inferior. In all kinds of force, whether physical, intellectual, or practical, it is certain that Man surpasses Woman, in accordance with the general law prevailing throughout the animal kingdom. Now practical life is necessarily governed by force rather than by affection, because it requires unremitting and laborious activity. If there were nothing else to do but to love, as in the Christian Utopia of a future life in which there are no material wants. Woman would be supreme. But we have above everything else to think and to act, in order to carry on the struggle against a rigorous destiny; therefore Man takes the command, notwithstanding his inferiority in goodness. Success in all great undertakings depends more upon energy and talent than upon goodwill, although this last condition reacts strongly upon the others.

Thus the three elements of our moral constitution do not act in perfect harmony.

Force is naturally supreme, and all that women can do is to modify it by affection. Justly conscious of their superiority in strength of feeling, they endeavor to assert their influence in a way which is too often attributed by superficial observers to the mere love of power. But experience always teaches them that in a world where the simplest necessaries of life are scarce and difficult to procure, power must belong to the strongest, not to the most affectionate, even though the latter may deserve it best. With all their efforts they can never do more than modify the harshness with which men exercise their authority. And men submit more readily to this modifying influence, from feeling that in the highest attributes of Humanity women are their superiors. They see than their own supremacy is due principally to the material necessities of life, provision for which calls into play the self-regarding rather than the social instincts. Hence we find it the case in every phase of human society that women’s life is essentially domestic, public life being confined to men. Civilization, so far from effacing this natural distinction, tends, as I shall afterwards show, to develop it, while remedying its abuses.


Thus the social position of women is in this respect very similar to that of philosophers and of the working classes. And we now see why these three elements should be united. It is their combined action which constitutes the modifying force of society.

Philosophers are excluded from political power by the same fatality as women, although they are apt to think that their intellectual eminence gives them a claim to it. Were our material wants more easily satisfied, the influence of intellect would be less impeded than it is by the practical business of life. But, on this hypothesis, women would have a better claim to govern than philosophers. For the reasoning faculties would have remained almost inert had they not been needed to guide our energies; the constitution of the brain not being such as to favor their spontaneous development. Whereas the effective principle is dependent on no such external stimulus for its activity. A life of thought is a more evident disqualification for the government of the world even than a life of feeling, although the self-conceit of philosophers is a greater obstacle to submission than the vanity of women. With all its pretensions, intellectual force is not in itself more moral than material force. Each is but an instrument; the merit depends entirely upon its right employment. The only element of our nature which is in itself moral is Love; for Love alone tends of itself towards the preponderance of social feeling over self-interest. And since even Love cannot govern, what can be the claim of Intellect? In practical life precedence must always depend upon superior energy. Reason, even more than Feeling, must be restricted to the task of modifying. Philosophers therefore must be excluded from government at least as rigidly as women. It is in vain for intellect to attempt to command; it never can do more than modify. In fact, the morality which it indirectly possesses is due to this impossibility of exercising compulsory power, and would be ruined by the attainment of it, supposing such a dream to be possible. Intellect may do much to amend the natural order of things, but only on the condition of not attempting to subvert it. What it can do is by its power of systematic arrangement to effect the union of all the classes who are likely to exert a beneficial influence on material power. It is with this view that every spiritual power has availed itself of the aid of women, as we see was the case in the Middle Ages.


Proceeding with our sociological analysis of moral force, we shall find an equally striking resemblance between the influence of Women and that exercised by the People.

In the first stage of progress, there is no modifying power except what springs from Feeling: afterwards Intellect combines with it, finding itself unable to govern. The only element now wanting is Activity; and this want, which is indispensable, is supplied by the co-operation of the people. The fact is, that although the people constitute the basis on which all political power rests, yet they have as little to do directly with the administration of power as philosophers or women.

Power in the strict sense of the word, power, that is, which controls action without persuading the will, has two perfectly distinct sources, numbers and wealth. The force of numbers is usually considered the more material of the two; but in reality it is the more moral. Being created by co-operation, it involves some convergence of ideas and feelings, and therefore it does not give such free scope for the self-regarding instincts as the more concentrated power of wealth. But for this very reason, it is too indirect and precarious for the ordinary purposes of government. It can influence government morally, but cannot take an active part in it; and this for the same reasons that apply in the case of philosophers and women. Our material necessities are so urgent, that those who have the means of providing for them will always be the possessors of power. Now the wealthy have these means; they hold in their hands the products of labor, by which each generation facilitates the existence and prepares the operations of its successor.

Consequently the power of the capitalist is one of so concentrated and practical a kind, that numbers can very seldom resist it successfully. Even in military nations we find the same thing; the influence of numbers, though more direct, affects only the mode of acquiring wealth, not its tenure. But in industrial states, where wealth is acquired by other ways than violence, the law is still more evident. And with the advance of civilization it will operate not less but more strongly; because capital is ever on the increase, and consequently is ever creating means of subsistence for those who possess nothing. In this sense, but in no other, the cynical maxim of Antiquity, Paucis naseitur humanum genus, will always bear a true meaning.

The few provide subsistence for the many. We come back, then, to the conclusion of the last chapter: that the working classes are not destined for political power, but that they tend to become a most important source of moral power. The moral value of their influence is even more indirect than that of philosophers, and depends even more in their case upon subordination in action. In the few cases where government passes for a time into the hands of the masses, wealth in its turn assumes a sort of moral influence foreign to its nature. It moderates the violence with which government is apt to be administered in such cases. The high intellectual and moral qualities belonging to the working classes are, as we have seen, in great part due to their social position. They would be seriously impaired if the political authority that belongs to wealth were habitually transferred to numbers.


Such, in Outline, is the Positive theory of moral force; by which the despotism of material force may be in part controlled. It rests upon the union of the three elements in society who are excluded from the sphere of politics strictly so called. In their combined action lies our principal hope of solving, so far as it can be solved, the great problem of man’s nature, the successful struggle of Social Feeling against Self-love. Each of the three elements supplies a quality indispensable to the task. Without women this controlling power would be deficient in purity and spontaneous impulse; without philosophers, in wisdom and coherence; without the people, in energy and activity.

The philosophic element, although neither the most direct nor the most efficient, is yet the distinctive feature of this power, because its function is to organize its constitution and direct its operations in accordance with the true laws of social life. As being the systematic organ of the spiritual power it has become identified with it in name. This, however, may lead to an erroneous conception; because the moral aspect of the spiritual  power is more important than the intellectual. While retaining the name as an historical tradition of real value. Positivism will rectify the error involved in it, which originated in a time when theories of society were unknown, and when Intellect was considered as the central principle of human nature.

Spiritual power, as interpreted by Positivism, begins with the influence of women in the family; it is afterwards molded into a system by thinkers, while the people are the guarantee for its political efficiency. Although it is the intellectual class that institutes the union, yet its own part in it, as it should never forget, is less direct than that of women, less practical than that of the people. The thinker is socially powerless except so far as he is supported by feminine sympathy and popular energy.

Thus the necessity of associating women in the movement of social regeneration creates no obstacle whatever to the philosophy by which that movement is to be directed. On the contrary, it aids its progress by showing the true character of the moral force which is destined to control all the other forces of man. It involves as perfect an inauguration of the normal state as our times of transition admit. For the chief characteristic of that state will be a more complete and more harmonious union of the same three classes to whom we are now looking for the first impulse of reform. Already we can see how perfectly adapted to the constitution of man this final condition of Humanity will be. Feeling, Reason, Activity, whether viewed separately or in combination, correspond exactly to the three elements of the regenerative movement, Women, Philosophers, and People.

Verification of this theory may be found more or less distinctly in every period of history. Each of the three classes referred to have always borne out the biological law that the life of relation or animal life, is subordinated to the life of nutrition. Still more striking is the application to this case of another general principle, namely, that Progress is the development of Order; a principle which, as I showed in the second chapter, connects every dynamical question in Sociology with the corresponding statical conception. For with the growth of society, the modifying influence of moral force is always increasing, both by larger scope being given to each of its three elements specially, and also by the more perfect consolidation of their union. Robertson’s striking observation on the gradual improvement in the condition of women is but a particular case of this sociological law. The general principle on which progress in all three classes depends, is the biological law that the preponderance of vegetable life over animal life diminishes, as the organism is higher in the scale and is more perfectly developed.


During the various phases of ancient Polytheism, the controlling power consisted simply of the moral influence exerted by women in the Family. In public life the influence of thinkers had not made itself independent of the governmental authority, of which it was sometimes the source, sometimes the instrument. Medieval Catholicism went a step further, and took the first step in systematizing moral force. It created an independent spiritual authority to which political governments were subordinated, and this authority was always supported by women. But the complete organization of moral force was reserved for modern times. It is only recently that the working classes have begun to interfere actively in social questions; and, as I have shown in the preceding chapter, it is from their cooperation that the new spiritual power will derive its practical efficiency. Limited originally to the sphere of Feeling, and subsequently extended to the intellectual sphere, it henceforward embraces the sphere of Activity; and this without losing its spiritual character, since the influences of which it consists are entirely distinct from the domain of practical politics. Each of its three elements persuades, advises, judges; but except in isolated cases, never commands. The social mission of Positivism is to regulate and combine their spontaneous action, by directing each to the objects for which it is best adapted.

And this mission, in spite of strong prejudices to the contrary, it will be found well calculated to fulfill. I have already shown its adaptation to the case of the people and of the philosophic body, whether regarded separately or in combination; I have now to show that it is equally adapted to the case of women.

In proof of this I have but to refer to the principle on which, as stated in the first chapter, the whole system of Positivism is based; the preponderance of affection in our nature. Such a principle is of itself an appeal to women to associate themselves with the system, as one of its essential elements. In Catholicism their cooperation, though valuable, was not of primary importance, because Catholicism claimed a divine origin independent of their assistance. But to Positivism they are indispensable, as being the purest and simplest embodiment of its fundamental principle. Apart from their domestic influence, it will be their special task to call philosophers and people back to that unity of purpose which originated in the first place with themselves, and which each of the other elements is often disposed to violate.


All true philosophers will no doubt be profoundly influenced by the chain of arguments proving the logical and scientific preponderance of the social point of view, and will therefore be prepared to admit as a systematic principle the precedence of the Heart over the Intellect. Still they require some more direct incentive to universal Love than such convictions can supply. Knowing, as they do, how slight is the practical result of purely intellectual considerations, they will welcome so precious an incentive, were it only in the interest of their own mission. I recognized its necessity myself, when I wrote on the 1 1th of March 1846, to her who, in spite of death, will always remain my constant companion: ‘I was incomplete as a philosopher, until the experience of deep and pure passion had given me fuller insight into the emotional side of human nature.’ Strong affection exercises a marvelous influence upon mental effort, by elevating the intellect at once to the only point of view which is really universal. Doubtless, the method of pure science leads up to it also; but only by a long and toilsome process, which exhausts the powers of thought, and leaves little energy for following out the new results to which this great principle gives rise. The stimulation of affection under feminine influence is necessary, therefore, for the acceptance of Positivism, not merely in those classes for whom a long preliminary course of scientific study would be impossible. It is equally necessary for the systematic teachers of Positivism, in whom it checks the tendency, which is encouraged by habits of abstract speculation, to deviate into useless digressions; these being always easier to prosecute than researches of real value.

Under this new aspect the new spiritual system is obviously spiritual superior to the old. By the institution of celibacy, which was indispensable to Catholicism, its priests were entirely removed tendencies from the beneficial influence exercised by women. Only those doctrines could profit from it who did not belong to the ecclesiastical body; the members of that body, as Ariosto has remarked in his vigorous satire, were excluded. Nor could the evil be remedied, except in very rare cases, by an irregular attachment, which inevitably corrupted the priest’s character by involving the necessity of perpetual hypocrisy.


And when we look at the difference of the spirit by which the two systems are pervaded, we shall find still more striking evidence that the new system offers a far larger sphere of moral influence to women than the old.

Both are based upon the principle of affection; but in Positivism the affection inculcated is social, in Catholicism it is essentially personal. The object set before the believer, while purely individual, is yet of such stupendous magnitude, that feelings which are unconnected with it are in danger of being crushed. The priesthood, it is true, wise interpreters in this respect of a general instinct, brought all the more important social obligations within the compass of religion, by holding them out as necessary for salvation. Indirectly, the nobler feelings were thus called into action; but at the same time they were rendered far less spontaneous and pure. There could be no perfectly disinterested affection under a system which promised infinite rewards for all acts of self-denial. For it was impossible, and indeed it would have been thought sinful, to keep the future out of sight; and thus all spontaneous generosity was unavoidably tainted by self-interest. Catholicism gave rise to an ignoble theory of morals which became very mischievous when it was adopted by the metaphysicians; because, while retaining the vicious principle, they swept away the checks by which the priesthood had controlled it. But even when we look at the purest form in which the love of God was exhibited, we cannot call it a social feeling, except in so far as the same object of worship was held out simultaneously to all. Intrinsically it was anti-social; since, when attained in absolute perfection, it implied the entire sacrifice of all other love.

And in the best representatives of Christian thought and feeling, this tendency is very apparent. No one has portrayed the Catholic ideal with such sublimity and pathos as the author of the Imitation, a work which so well deserved the beautiful translation of Corneille. And yet, reading it as I do daily, I cannot help remarking how grievously the natural nobleness of his heart was impaired by the Catholic system, although, in spite of all obstacles, he rises at times to the purest ardor. Certainly those of our feelings which are purely unselfish must be far stronger and more spontaneous than has ever yet been supposed, since even the oppressive discipline of twelve centuries could not prevent their growth.

Positivism, from the fact of its conformity with the constitution of our nature, is the only system calculated to develop, both in public and in private life, those high attributes of Humanity, which, for want of adequate systematic culture, are still in their rudimentary stage. Catholicism, while appealing to the Heart crushed Intellect; and struggled to throw off the yoke. Positivism on the contrary brings Reason into complete harmony with Feeling, without impairing the activity of either.


Scientific study of the relation which each individual bears to the whole race is a continual stimulus to social sympathy. Without a theory of society it is impossible to keep this relation distinctly and constantly in view. It is only noticed in a few exceptional cases, and unconnected impressions are soon effaced from the memory. But the Positivist teacher, taking the social point of view invariably, will make this notion far more familiar to us than it has ever been before. He will show us the impossibility of understanding an individual or society apart from the whole life of the race. Nothing but the bewilderment caused by theological and metaphysical doctrines can account for the shallow explanations of human affairs given by our teachers, attributing as they do to Man what is really due to Humanity. But with the sounder theory that we now possess, we can see the truth as it really stands. We have but to look each of us at our own life under its physical, intellectual, or moral aspects, to recognize what it is that we owe to the combined action of our predecessors and contemporaries. The man who dares to think himself independent of others, either in feelings, thoughts, or actions, cannot even put the blasphemous conception into words without immediate self-contradiction, since the very language he uses is not his own. The profoundest thinker cannot by himself form the simplest language; it requires the co-operation of a community for several generations. Without further illustration, the tendency of Positive doctrine is evident. It appeals systematically to our social instincts, by constantly impressing upon us that only the Whole is real; that the Parts exist only in abstraction.

But independently of the beneficial influence which, in this final state of Humanity; the mind will exercise upon the heart, the direct culture of the heart itself will be more pure and more vigorous than under any former system. It offers us the only means of disengaging our benevolent affections from all calculations of self-interest. As far as the imperfection of man’s nature admits, these affections will gradually tend towards supremacy, since they give deeper satisfaction than all others, and are capable of fuller development.

Those for whom theological rewards and punishments have lost their power, can alone attain to that which is the real happiness of man, pure and disinterested love; the true Sovereign Good, sought for so long by former systems of philosophy in vain. That it surpasses all other good one fact will show, known to the tender-hearted from personal experience; that it is even better to love than to be loved.

Overstrained as this may seem to many, it is yet in harmony with a general truth, that our nature is in a healthier state when active than when passive. In the happiness of being loved, there is always some tinge of self-love; it is impossible not to feel pride in the love of one whom we prefer to all others. Since, then, loving gives purer satisfaction than being loved, the superiority of perfectly disinterested affection is at once demonstrated. It is the fundamental defect of our nature, that intrinsically these affections are far weaker than the selfish propensities necessary for the preservation of our own existence. But when they have once been aroused, even though the original stimulus may have been personal, they have greater capacity of growth, owing to the peculiar charm inherent in them. Besides, in the exercise of these feelings, all of us can co-operate with and encourage one another, whereas the reverse is the case with the selfish instincts. There is, therefore, nothing, unreasonable in supposing that Positivism, by regulating and combining these natural tendencies, may rouse our sympathetic instincts to a condition of permanent activity hitherto unknown. When the heart is no longer crushed by theological dogmas, or hardened by metaphysical theories, we soon discover that real happiness whether public or private, consists in the highest possible development of the social instincts. Self-love comes to be regarded as an incurable infirmity, which is to be yielded to only so far as is absolutely necessary. Here lies the universal adaptability of Positivism to every type of character and to all circumstances. In the humblest relations of life as in the highest, regenerate Humanity will apply the obvious truth. It is better to give than to receive.


The Heart thus aroused will in its turn react beneficially upon the Intellect; and it is especially from women that this reaction will proceed. I have spoken of it so fully before, that I need not now describe it further. It is in Feeling that I find the basis on which the whole structure of Positivism, intellectually as well as morally considered, rests. The only remark I have now to add is, that by following out this principle, philosophical difficulties of the most formidable kind are at once surmounted. From moral considerations, the intellect may be readily induced to submit to scientific restrictions, the propriety of which would remain for a long time matter of debate, were philosophical discussions the only means of indicating it.

Attempt, for instance, to convince a pure mathematician, however conscientious and talented, that Sociology is both logically and scientifically superior to all other studies. He would not readily admit this; and severe exertion of the inductive and deductive faculties can alone convince him of it. But by the aid of Feeling, an artisan or a woman can without education readily grasp this great encyclopedic principle, and apply it practically to the common affairs of life. But for this, the larger conceptions of philosophy would have but a limited range, and very few would be capable of the course of study which is yet so important on social grounds for all. Comprehensiveness of mind is no doubt favorable to sympathy, but is itself more actively stimulated by it.

When the Positivist method of education is accepted, moral excellence will be very generally regarded as a guarantee of real intellectual capacity. The revolutionist leaders of the Convention showed their sense of this connection by allowing, as they did sometimes, republican ardor to outweigh scientific attainment. Of course, so long as men remain without a systematic theory of morals, such policy would be likely to fail of its object, and indeed would become positively mischievous. But the reproach is usual that it was a retrograde policy; a reproach far more applicable to the present system, in which the standard of fitness for an office is regulated exclusively by intellectual considerations, the heart being altogether disregarded. Historically we can explain this practice by the fact that the religious faith by which alone hitherto our moral nature has been stimulated has been of a most oppressive character.

Ever since the Middle Ages, the intellect and the heart have been unavoidably at issue. Positivism is the only system which can put an end to their antagonism, because, as I have before explained, while subordinating Reason to Feeling, it does so in such a way as not to impair the development of either. With its present untenable claims to supremacy, intellect is in reality the principal source of social discord. Until it abdicates in favor of the Heart, it can never be of real service in reconstruction. But its abdication will be useless, unless it is entirely voluntary. Now this is precisely the result which Positivism attains, because it takes up the very ground on which the claims of intellect are defended, namely, scientific demonstration; a ground which the defenders of intellect cannot repudiate without suspicion at once attaching to their motives. But theological or metaphysical remedies can only exasperate the disease. By oppressing the intellect they provoke it to fresh insurrection against the heart. For all these reasons, women, who are better judges of moral than ourselves, will admit that Positivism, incontestably superior as it is to other systems intellectually, surpasses them yet more in dealing with the affections. Their only objection arises from confounding Positive Philosophy itself with its preliminary course of scientific study.


Women’s minds no doubt are less capable than ours of generalizing very widely, or of carrying on long processes of deduction. They are, that is, less capable than men of abstract intellectual exertion. On the other hand, they are generally more alive to that combination of reality with utility which is one of the characteristics of Positive speculation. In this respect they have much in common intellectually with the working classes; and fortunately they have also the same advantage of being untrammeled by the present absurd system of education. Nor is their position far removed from what it should be normally: being less engaged than men in the business of life, their contemplative faculties are called into activity more easily. Their minds are neither preoccupied nor indifferent; the most favorable condition for the reception of philosophical truth. They have far more affinity intellectually with philosophers who truly deserve the name, than we find in the scientific men of the present day. Comprehensiveness of thought they consider as important as positivity, whereas our savants care for nothing but the latter quality, and even that they understand imperfectly. Moliere’s remarkable expression, des claries de tout, which I applied in the last chapter to popular education, was used by him in reference to women. Accordingly we find that women took a vivid interest in the very first attempt made to systematize Positive speculation; the Cartesian philosophy. No more striking proof could be given of their philosophical affinities; and the more so that in the Cartesian system moral and social speculations were necessarily excluded. Surely then we may expect them to receive Positivism far more favorably, a system of which the principal subject of speculation is the moral problem in which both sexes are alike interested.

Women therefore may, like the people, be counted among the future supporters of the new philosophy. Without their combined aid it could never hope to surmount the strong repugnance to it which is felt by our cultivated classes, especially in France, where the question of its success has first to be decided.

But when women have sufficient acquaintance with Positivism, to see its superiority to Catholicism in questions of feeling, they will support it from moral sympathy even more than from strengthen intellectual adhesion. It will be the heart even more than the mind which will incline them to the only system of philosophy which has fully recognized the preponderance of Feeling. They cannot fail to be drawn towards a system which regards women as the embodiment of this principle; the unity of human nature, of which this principle is the basis, being thus entrusted to their special charge. The only reason of their regret for the past, is that the present fails to satisfy their noblest social instincts. Not that Catholicism ever really satisfied them; indeed in its general character it is even less adapted to women than to men, since the dominant quality of woman’s nature is in direct contradiction with it. Christianity, notwithstanding its claims to moral perfection, has always confounded the quality of tenderness with that of purity. And it is true that love cannot be deep unless it is also pure. But Catholicism, although it purified love from the animal propensities which had been stimulated by Polytheism, did nothing otherwise to strengthen it. It has given us indeed too many instances of purity, pushed to the extent of fanaticism, without tenderness. And this result is especially common now, because the austerity of the Christian spirit is not corrected, as it used to be, by the inspiring influences of Chivalry. Polytheism, deficient as it was in purity, was really far more conducive to tenderness than Christianity.

Love of God, the supreme affection round which Catholicism endeavored to concentrate all other feelings, was essentially a self-regarding principle, and as such conflicted with woman’s noblest instincts. Not only did it encourage monastic isolation, but if developed to the full extent, it became inconsistent with love for our fellow-men. It was impiety for the knight to love his Lady better than his God; and thus the best feelings of his nature were repressed by his religious faith. Women, therefore, are not really interested in perpetuating the old system; and the very instincts by which their nature is characterized, will soon incline them to abandon it. They have only been waiting until social life should assume a less material character; so that morality, for the preservation of which they justly consider themselves responsible, may not be compromised. And on this head Positivism satisfies their heart no less than their understanding with all the guarantees that they can require.

Based as it is upon accurate knowledge of our nature, it can combine the simple affectionate spirit of Polytheism with the exquisite purity of Catholicism, without fear of taint from the subversive sophisms engendered by the spiritual anarchy of our times. Not however that purity is to be placed on the same level with tenderness. Of these two essential qualities of women, tenderness ranks first, because more closely connected with the grand object of all human effort, the elevation of Social Feeling over Self-love. In a woman without tenderness there is something even more monstrous than in a man without corn-age. Whatever her talents and even her energy may be, they will in most cases prove mischievous both to herself and to others, unless indeed they should be nullified by the restraint of theological discipline. If she has force of character it will be wasted in a struggle against all legitimate authority; while her mental power will be employed only in destructive sophisms. Too many cases of this kind present themselves in the social anarchy of the present time.


Such is the Positivist theory on the subject of Women. It marks out for them a noble field of social usefulness, embracing public as well as private life, and yet in a way thoroughly in harmony with their nature. Without leaving the family, they will participate in the controlling power exercised by philosophers and workmen, seeking even in their own domestic sphere rather to modify than to govern. In a word, as I shall show more fully in the last chapter of this introductory work, Woman is the spontaneous priestess of Humanity. She personifies in the purest form the principle of Love upon which the unity of our nature depends; and the culture of that principle in others is her special function.

All classes, therefore, must be brought under women’s influence, for all require to be reminded constantly of the great truth that Reason and Activity are subordinate to Feeling. Of their influence upon philosophers I have spoken. These, if they are men worthy of their mission, will be conscious of the tendency which their life has to harden them and lead them into useless speculation; and- they will feel the need of renewing the ardor of their social sympathy at its native source. Feeling, when it is pure and deep, corrects its own errors, because they clash with the good to which it is ever tending. But erroneous use of the intellectual or practical faculties cannot be even recognized, much less corrected, without the aid of Affection, which is the only part of our nature that suffers directly from such errors. Therefore whenever either the philosopher or the people deviate from duty, it will be the part of women to remonstrate with them gently, and recall them to the true social principles which are entrusted to their special charge.

With the working classes, the special danger to be contended against is their tendency to abuse their strength, and to resort to force for the attainment of their objects instead of persuasion. But the difficulty here will be less than that of contending against the misuse of intellectual power to which philosophers are so liable. Thinkers who try to make reasoning do the work of feeling have hitherto not often been convinced of their error. Popular excitement on the contrary often yields to feminine influence, exerted though it is at present without any systematic guidance. The difference is no doubt partly owing to the fact that there are now few or none who deserve the name of philosophers; for we cannot give that name to the superficial sophists and rhetoricians of our time, whether psychologists or ideologists, men wholly incapable of deep thought on any subject. Independently of this, however, the difference is explained by the character of the two classes.

Women will always find it harder to deal with intellectual conceit than with popular violence. Appeals to social feeling are their only weapons; and the social feelings of the workman are stronger than those of the philosopher. Sophistry is a far more formidable obstacle than passion. In fact, were it not that the working classes are even now so amenable to female influence, society would be in extreme danger from the disorder caused by intellectual anarchy. There are many sophisms which maintain themselves in spite of scientific refutation, and which would be destructive of all order, were it not for our moral instincts. Of this the Communists offer a striking example, in avoiding, with that admirable inconsistency to which I have already called attention, the extension of their principle to the Family. Surrounded by the wildest theories, of which the inevitable tendency is to destroy or paralyze society, we see large numbers of working men showing in their daily life a degree of affection and respect for women, which is unequalled by any other class. It is well to reflect on facts like these, not only because they lead us to judge the Communist school with more justice, but because, occurring as they do in the midst of social anarchy, they show what powerful agencies for good will be at our disposal in more settled times. Certainly they cannot be attributed to theological teaching, which has rather had the effect of strengthening the errors which it attacks by the absurdity of its refutations. They are simply the result of the influence which women have spontaneously exercised on the nobler feelings of the people. In Protestant countries, where their influence is less, the mischievous effects of Communistic theories have been far greater. We owe it to women that the Family has been so little injured by the retrograde spirit of those republican reformers, whose ideal of modern society is to absorb the Family into the State, as was done by a few small tribes in ancient Greece.


The readiness shown by women in applying practical remedies to erroneous theories of morality is shown in other cases where the attractiveness of the error would seem irresistible to the coarser nature of men. The evils consequent on divorce, which has been authorized in Germany for three centuries, have been much lessened by women’s instinctive repugnance to it. The same may be said of recent attacks upon marriage, which are still more serious, because the anarchy of modern life revives all the extravagances of the metaphysical spirit in ancient times. In no one case has a scheme of society hostile to marriage met with any real favor from women, plausible as many of them seemed. Unable in their ignorance of social science to see the fallacy of such schemes themselves, our revolutionary writers cannot conceive that women will not be convinced by them. But happily, women, like the people, judge in these matters by the heart rather than by the head. In the absence of any guiding principle to direct the understanding and prevent the deviations to which it is always exposed, the heart is a far safer guide.

There is no need at present of pursuing these remarks farther.

It is abundantly clear that women are in every respect adapted for rectifying the moral deviations to which every element in the social organism is liable. And if we already feel the value of their influence, springing as it does from the unaided inspirations of the heart, we may be sure it will become far more consolidated and will be far more widely felt, when it rests on the basis of a sound philosophical system, capable of refuting sophisms and exposing fallacies from which their unassisted instinct is insufficient to preserve us.

Thus the part to be played by women in public life is merely passive. Not only will they give their sanction individually and collectively to the verdicts of public opinion as formed by philosophers and by the people; but they will themselves interfere actively in moral questions. It will be their part to maintain the primary principle of Positivism, which originated with themselves and of which they will always be the most natural representatives.

But how, it may be asked, can this be reconciled with my previous remark that women’s life should still be essentially domestic?

portrait_of_auguste_comte_by_louis_jules_etex

For the ancients, and for the greater part of the human race at the present time, it would be irreconcilable. But in Western Europe the solution has long ago been found.

From the time when Women acquired in the Middle Ages their proper freedom in the household, opportunities for social intercourse arose which combined most happily the advantages of private and of public life; and in these women presided. The practice afterward extended, especially in France, and these meetings became the laboratories of public opinion. It seems now as if they had died out, or had lost their character in the intellectual and moral anarchy of our times which is so unfavorable to free interchange of thoughts and feelings. But a custom so social, and which did such good service in the philosophical movement preceding the Revolution, is assuredly not destined to perish.

In the more perfect social state to which we are tending, it will be developed more fully than ever, when men’s minds and hearts have accepted the rallying-point offered by the new philosophy. This is, then, the mode in which women can with propriety participate in public life. Here all classes will recognize their authority as paramount. Under the new system these meetings will entirely lose their old aristocratic character, which is now simply obstructive.

The Positivist salon placed under feminine influence completes the series of social meetings, in which the three elements of the spiritual power will be able to act in concert. First, there is the religious assemblage in the Temple of Humanity. Here the philosopher will naturally preside, the other two classes taking only a secondary part. In the Club again it is the people who will take the active part; women and philosophers supporting them by their presence, but not joining in the debate. Lastly, women in their salons will promote active and friendly intercourse between all three classes; and here all who may be qualified to take a leading part will find their influence cordially accepted. Gently and without effort a moral control will thus be established, by which misguided or violent movements will be checked in their source. Kind advice, given indirectly but seasonably, will often save the philosopher from being blinded by ambition, or from deviating, through intellectual conceit, into useless digressions.

Working men at these meetings will learn to repress the spirit of violence or envy that frequently arises in them, recognizing the sacredness of the care thus manifested for their interests. And the great and the wealthy will be taught from the manner in which praise and blame is given by those whose opinion is most valued, that the only justifiable use of power or talent is to devote it to the service of the weak.


But, however important the public duties that women will ultimately be called upon to perform, the Family is after all their highest and most distinctive sphere of work. It was in allusion to their domestic influence that I spoke of them as the originators of spiritual power. Now the Family, although it is the basis of all human society, has never been satisfactorily defended by any received system of philosophy. All the corrosive power of metaphysical analysis has been employed upon it; and of many of the sophisms put forward no rational refutation has been given. On the other hand, the protection of the theologians is no less injurious. For they still persist in connecting the institutions of the Family with their obsolete dogmas, which now simply endanger the existence of all that they once effectively defended.

From the close of the Middle Ages the priesthood has been powerless, as the licentious songs of the troubadours prove, to protect the sanctity of marriage against the shallow but mischievous attacks which even then were made against it. And afterwards, when these frivolous maxims of private immorality became more generally prevalent, and even royal courts disgraced themselves by giving public approval to them, the weakness of the priests became still more manifest. Thus nothing can be more monstrous than these ignorant assertions that theological doctrines have been the safeguard of the Family. They have done nothing to preserve it from the most subversive attacks, under which it must have succumbed; but for the better instincts of society, especially of the female portion of it. With the exception of a foolish fiction about the origin of Woman, theology has put forward no systematic defense of marriage; and as soon as theological authority itself fell into discredit, the feeble sanction which it gave to domestic morality became utterly powerless against sophistical attacks. But now that the Family can be shown on Positive principles to rest on scientific laws of human nature or of society, the dangers of metaphysical controversy and theological feebleness are past. These principles will be discussed systematically in the second volume of this treatise. But the few remarks to which in this introductory view of the subject I must limit myself, will, I hope, at least satisfy the reader as to the capability of Positivism to re-establish morality upon a firm basis.

According to the lower views of the subject, such as those woman’s coarsely expressed by the great hero of reaction, Napoleon, procreation and maternity are the only social functions of Woman. Indeed many theorists object even to her rearing her children, and think it preferable to leave them to the abstract benevolence of the State. But in the Positivist theory of marriage and of the family the principal service to be rendered by Woman is one quite unconnected with the function of procreation. It is directly based upon the highest attributes of our nature.

Vast as is the moral importance of maternity, yet the position of wife has always been considered even more characteristic of woman’s nature; as shown by the fact that the words woman and wife are in many languages synonymous. Marriage is not always followed by children; and besides this, a bad wife is very seldom indeed a good mother. The first aspect then under which Positivism considers Woman, is simply as the companion of Man, irrespective of her maternal duties.

Viewed thus, Marriage is the most elementary and yet the most perfect mode of social life. It is the only association in which entire identity of interests is possible. In this union, to the moral completeness of which the language of all civilized nations bears testimony, the noblest aim of human life is realized, as far as it ever can be. For the object of human existence, as shown in the second chapter, is progress of every kind; progress in morality, that is to say, in the subjection of Self-interest to Social Feeling, holding the first rank. Now this unquestionable principle, which has been already indicated in the second chapter, leads us by a very sure and direct path to the true theory of marriage.

Different as the two sexes are by nature, and increased as that difference is by the diversity which happily exists in their social position, each is consequently necessary to the moral development of the other. In practical energy and in the mental capacity connected with it, Man is evidently superior to Woman. Woman’s strength, on the other hand, lies in Feeling. She excels Man in love, as Man excels her in all kinds of force. If is impossible to conceive of a closer union than that which binds these two beings to the mutual service and perfection of each other, saving them from all danger of rivalry. The voluntary character too of this union gives it a still further charm, when the choice has been on both sides a happy one. In the Positive theory, then, of marriage, its principal object is considered to be that of completing and confirming the education of the heart by calling out the purest and strongest of human sympathies.

It is true that sexual instinct, which, in man’s case at all events, was the origin of conjugal attachment, is a feeling purely selfish. It is also true that its absence would, in the majority of cases, diminish the energy of affection. But woman, with her more loving heart, has usually far less need of this coarse stimulus than man. The influence of her purity reacts on man, and ennobles his affection. And affection is in itself so sweet, that when once it has been aroused by whatever agency, its own charm is sufficient to maintain it in activity. When this is the case, conjugal union becomes a perfect ideal of friendship; yet still more beautiful than friendship, because each possesses and is possessed by the other. For perfect friendship, difference of sex is essential, as excluding the possibility of rivalry. No other voluntary tie can admit of such full and unrestrained confidence. It is the source of the most unalloyed happiness that man can enjoy; for there can be no greater happiness than to live for another


But independently of the intrinsic value of this sacred union, we have to consider its importance from the social point of view. It is the first stage in our progress towards that which is the final object of moral education, namely, universal Love. Many writers of the so-called socialist school look upon conjugal love and universal benevolence, the two extreme terms in the scale of affections, as opposed to each other. In the second chapter, I pointed out the falseness and danger of this view.

The man who is incapable of deep affection for one whom he has chosen as his partner in the most intimate relations of life, can hardly expect to be believed when he professes devotion to a mass of human beings of whom he knows nothing. The heart cannot throw off its original selfishness without the aid of that affection which, by virtue of its concentration on one object, is the most complete and enduring. From personal experience of strong love we rise by degrees to sincere affection to all mankind, strong enough to modify conduct: although, as the scope of feeling widens, its energy must decrease. The connection of these two states of feeling is instinctively recognized by all; and it is clearly indicated by the Positive theory of human nature, which has now placed it beyond the reach of metaphysical attacks. When the moral empire of Woman has been more firmly established by the diffusion of Positivist principles, men will see that the common practice of looking to the private life of a statesman as the best guarantee of his public conduct had deep wisdom in it. One .of the strongest symptoms of the general laxity of morals to which mental anarchy has brought us, is that disgraceful law passed in France thirty years ago, and not yet repealed, the avowed object of which was to surround men’s lives with a ‘wall’ of privacy; a law introduced by psychologist politicians who no doubt needed such a wall.

The purpose of marriage once clearly understood, it becomes easy to define its conditions. The intervention of society is necessary; but its only object is to confirm and to develop the order of things which exists naturally.

It is essential in the first place to the high purposes for which marriage has been instituted, that the union shall be both exclusive and indissoluble. So essential indeed are both conditions, that we frequently find them even when the connection is illegal. That anyone should have ventured to propound the doctrine that human happiness is to be secured by levity and inconstancy in love, is a fact which nothing but the utter deficiency of social and moral principles can explain. Love cannot be deep unless it remains constant to a fixed object; for the very possibility of change is a temptation to it. So differently constituted as man and woman are, is our short life too much for perfect knowledge and love of one another? Yet the versatility to which most human affection is liable makes the intervention of society necessary. Without some check upon indecision and caprice, life might degenerate into a miserable series of experiments, ending in failure and degradation. Sexual love may become a powerful engine for good: but only on the condition of placing it under rigorous and permanent discipline. Those who doubt the necessity for this, have only to cast a glance beyond Western Europe at the countries where no such discipline has been established. It has been said that the adoption or rejection of polygamy is a simple question of climate. But this frivolous hypothesis is as contrary to common observation as to philosophic theory. Marriage, like every other human institution, has always been improving. Beginning in all countries with unrestricted polygamy, it tends in all to the purest monogamy. Tracing back the history of Northern Europe to a sufficiently early date, we find polygamy there as well as in the South; and Southern nations, like Northern, adopt monogamy as their social life advances. We see the tendency to it in those parts of the East which come into contact with Western civilization.

Monogamy, then, is one of the most precious gifts which the Middle Ages have bequeathed to Western Europe. The striking superiority of social life in the West is probably due to it more than to any other cause. Protestant countries have seriously impaired its value by their laws of divorce.

But this temporary aberration is alien to the purer feelings of women and of the people, and the mischief done by it is limited to the privileged classes.

France is now threatened with a revival of the metaphysical delusions of the Revolution, and it is feared by some that the disastrous example of Germany in this respect will be imitated.

But all such tendencies, being utterly inconsistent with the habits of modern life, will soon be checked by the sounder philosophical principles which have now arisen. The mode of resistance to these errors which Positivism adopts will render the struggle most useful in hastening the adoption of the true theory of marriage. The spirit of Positivism being always relative, concessions may be made to meet exceptional cases, without weakening or contradicting the principle; whereas the absolute character of theological doctrine was incompatible with concession. The rules of morality should be general and comprehensive; but in their practical application exceptions have often to be made. By no philosophy but the Positive can these two conditions be reconciled.

eh_ben_as_tu_touche_jean_louis

Revolution of 1830

To the spirit of anarchy, however. Positivism yields nothing.

The unity essential to marriage, it renders more complete than ever. It develops the principal of monogamy by inculcating, not as a legal institution, but as a moral duty, the perpetuity of widowhood. Affection so firmly concentrated has always been regarded with respect, even on man’s side. But hitherto no religion has had sufficient purity or influence to secure its adoption.Positivism, however, from the completeness of its synthesis, and from the fact that its rules are invariably based on the laws of nature, will gain such influence and will find little difficulty in inducing all natures of delicate feeling to accept this additional obligation. It follows from the very principle which to the Positivist is the object of all marriage the raising and purifying of the heart. Unity of the tie which already recognized as necessary in life, is not less so in death. Constancy in widowhood was once common among women; and if its moral beauty is less appreciated now, it is because a systematic morality has been forgotten. But it is none the less, as careful study of human nature will show, a most precious source of moral good, and one which is not beyond the reach of nobler natures, even in their youth. Voluntary widowhood, while it offers all the advantages which chastity can confer on the intellectual and physical as well as on the moral nature, is yet free from the moral dangers of celibacy. Constant adoration of one whom Death has implanted more visibly and deeply on the memory, leads all high natures, and philosophic natures especially, to give themselves more unreservedly to the service of Humanity; and thus their public life is animated by the ennobling influence of their innermost feelings. Alike from a sense of their own truest happiness and from devotion to public duty, they will be led to this result.

Deep as is the satisfaction in this prolongation of the sacredness of marriage, it may be carried by those who recognize its value yet further. As the death of one did not destroy the bond, so neither should the death of both. Let then those whom death could not divide be laid in the same grave together. A promise of this solemn act of perpetuation might be given beforehand, when the organs of public opinion judged it merited. A man would find a new motive for public exertion, if it were felt to be a pledge that the memory of her whom he loved should be for ever coupled with his own. We have a few instances where this union of memories has taken place spontaneously, as in the case of Laura and Petrarch, and of Dante and Beatrice. Yet these instances are so exceptional, that they hardly help us to realize the full value of the institution proposed. There is no reason for limiting it to cases of extraordinary genius. In the more healthy state of society to which we are tending, where public and private life will be far more closely connected than they have been hitherto, this recompense of service may be given to all who have deserved it, by those who have come within their circle of influence.


Such, then, are the consolations which Positivist sympathy can give. They leave no cause to regret the visionary hopes held out by Christianity, hopes which now are as enfeebling to the heart as to the intellect. Here, as in all other respects, the moral superiority of Positivism is shown, for the comfort which it gives to the bereaved implies a strengthening of the tie. Christian consolation, of which so much has been said, rather encourages a second union. By so doing it seriously impairs the value of the institution; for a division of affection arises, which indeed seems hardly compatible with the vague utopia of a future life. The institutions of perpetual widowhood and of union in the tomb have found no place in any previous system, though both were wanting to make monogamy complete. Here, as elsewhere, the best reply which the new philosophy can give to ignorant prejudice or malignant calumny, is to take new steps forward in the moral advancement of Man.

Thus the theory of marriage, as set forward by the Positivist, becomes totally independent of any physical motive. It is regarded by him as the most powerful instrument of moral education; and therefore as the basis of public or individual welfare. It is no overstrained enthusiasm which leads us to elevate the moral purity of marriage. We do so from rigorous examination of the facts of human nature. All the best results, whether personal or social, of marriage may follow when the union, though more impassioned, is as chaste as that of brother and sister. The sexual instinct has no doubt something to do in most cases with the first formation of the passion; but it is not necessary in all cases to gratify the instinct. Abstinence, in cases where there is real ground for it on both sides, will but serve to strengthen mutual affection.

We have examined the position of Woman as a wife, without supposing her to be a mother. Completing the sociological theory of the subject, we shall find that maternity, while it extends her sphere of moral influence, does not alter its nature.

As a mother, no less than as a wife, her position will be improved by Positivism. She will have, almost exclusively, the direction of household education. Public education given subsequently will be, as I have explained in the preceding chapter, little but a systematic development of that which has been previously given at home.

For it is a fundamental principle that education, in the normal condition of society, must be entrusted to the spiritual power; and in the Family the spiritual power is represented by Woman. The strong prejudices by which such a course would, now be resisted are but symptoms of the revolutionary tendency prevalent since the close of the Middle Ages, to place the intellect above the heart.

We have neglected the moral side of education, and have given undue importance to its intellectual side But Positivism having superseded this revolutionary phase by demonstrating the preponderance of the heart over the intellect, moral education will resume its proper place. Certainly the present mode of instruction is not adapted for Woman’s teaching. But their influence over the education of the future will be even greater than it was in the Middle Ages. For in the first place, in every part of it, moral considerations will be paramount: and moreover, until puberty, nothing will be studied continuously except Art and Poetry.


The knights of old times were usually brought up in this way under feminine guidance, and on them most assuredly it had no enervating influence. The training can hardly be supposed less adapted to a pacific than to a warlike state of society.

For instruction, theoretical and practical, as distinguished from education, masters are no doubt necessary. But moral education will be left entirely to women, until the time arrives for systematic teaching of moral science in the year’s immediately preceding majority. Here the philosopher is necessary. But the chief duties of the philosopher lie with adults; his aim being to recall them, individually or collectively, to principles impressed on them in childhood, and to enforce the right application of these principles to special cases as they may arise. That part of education which has the greatest influence on life, what may be called the spontaneous training of the feelings, belongs entirely to the mother. Hence it is, as I have already observed, of the greatest importance to allow the pupil to remain with his family, and to do away with the monastic seclusion of our public schools.

The peculiar fitness of women for inculcating the elementary principles of morality is a truth which every true philosopher will fully recognize. Women, having stronger sympathies than men, must be better able to call out sympathies in others. Men of good sense have always felt it more important to train the heart than the head; and this is the view adopted by Positive Philosophy. The reality characteristic of that philosophy saves us from the danger of exaggerating the importance of system and of forgetting the conditions on which its utility depends. In morals, even more than in other subjects, we can only systematize what has existed previously without system. The feelings must first be stimulated to free and direct action, before we attempt to bring them under philosophic discipline. And this process, which begins with birth, and lasts during the whole period of physical growth, should be left for women to Superintend. So especially are they adapted for it, that failing the mother, a female friend, if well chosen, who could make herself a member of the family, would in most cases do better than the father himself. The importance of cultivating feeling can only be appreciated by minds in which feeling is preponderant. It is only Women who really understand that most human actions, and certainly those of early life, ought not to be judged in themselves so much as by the tendencies which they show or by the habits to which they lead. Viewed with reference to their influence on character, no actions are indifferent. The simplest events in a child’s life may serve as an occasion for enforcing the fundamental principle by which the early as well as the later stages of Positivist education should be directed; the strengthening of Social Feeling, the weakening of Self-love. In fact, actions of an unimportant kind are precisely those in which it is easiest to appreciate the feelings which prompted them; since the mind of the observer, not being occupied with the consequences of such actions, is more free to examine their source. Moreover, it is only by teaching the child to do right in small things that he can be trained for the hard inward struggle that lies before him in life; the struggle to bring the selfish instincts more and more completely under the control of his higher sympathies. In these respects the best tutor, however sympathetic his nature, will be always inferior to a good mother. A mother may often not be able to explain the reason of the principle on which she acts, but the wisdom of her plans will generally show itself in the end. Without formal teaching, she will take every opportunity of showing her children, as no other instructor could show them, the joy that springs from generous feelings, and the misery of yielding to selfishness.

From the relation of mother we return by a natural transition to Woman’s position as a wife. The mother, though her authority of course tends to decrease, continues to superintend the growth of character until the ordinary age of marriage. Up to that time feminine influence over Man has been involuntary on his part. By marriage he enters into a voluntary engagement of subordination to Woman for the rest of his life. Thus he completes his moral education. Destined himself for action he finds his highest happiness in honorable submission to the ennobling influence of one in whom the dominant principle is affection.

The important field of public and private duty thus opened to Woman is therefore nothing but a larger and more systematic development of the qualities by which she is characterized. Her mission is so uniform in its nature, and so clearly defined, that there seems hardly room for much uncertainty as to her proper social position. It is a striking instance of the rule which applies universally to all human effort; namely, that the order of things instituted by man ought to be simply a consolidation and improvement of the natural order.


In all ages of transition, as in our own, there have been false and sophistical views of the social position of Woman. But we find it to be a natural law that Woman should pass the greater part of her life in the family; and this law has never been affected to any important extent. It has always been accepted instinctively, though the sophistical arguments against it have never yet been adequately refuted.

The institution of the family has survived the subtle attacks of Greek metaphysics, which then were in all the vigor of their youth, and which were acting on minds that had no systematic principles to oppose to them. Therefore, profound as the intellectual anarchy of the present day may be, we need not be seriously alarmed when we see that nothing worse comes of it than shallow plagiarisms from ancient Utopias, against which the vigorous satire of Aristophanes was quite enough to rouse general indignation. True, there is a more complete absence of social principles now than when the world was passing from Polytheism to Monotheism; but our intellectual powers are more developed than they were then, and in moral culture our superiority is even greater. Women in those times were too degraded to offer effective opposition, even by silence, to the pedants who professed to be taking up their cause; the only resistance offered was of a purely intellectual kind. But happily in modern times the women of the West have been free; and have consequently been able to manifest such unmistakable aversion for these ideas, and for the want of moral discipline which gives rise to them, that, though still unrefuted philosophically, their mischievous effects have been neutralized.Nothing but women’s antipathy has prevented the practical outrages which seem logically to follow from these subversive principles.

Among our privileged classes, the danger is aggravated by indolence; moreover, the possession of wealth has a bad influence on women’s moral nature. Yet even here the evil is not really very deep or widely spread. Men have never been seriously perverted, and women still less so, by flattery of their bad propensities. The really formidable temptations are those which act upon our better instincts, and give them a wrong direction. Schemes which are utterly offensive to female delicacy will never really be adopted, even by the wealthier classes, who are less averse to them than others. The repugnance shown to them by the people, with whom the mischief that they would cause would be irreparable, is far more decided. The life which working people lead makes it very clear to both sexes what the proper position of each should be. Thus it will be in the very class where the preservation of the institution of the family is of the greatest importance, that Positivists will find the least difficulty in establishing their theory of the social position of women, as consequent on the sphere of public and private duty which has been here assigned to them.

Looking at the relation of this theory to other parts of the Positive system, we shall see that it follows from the great principle which dominates every other social problem, the principle of separating spiritual and temporal power.

That Woman’s life should be concentrated in her family, and that even there her influence should be that of persuasion rather than that of command, is but an extension of the principle which excludes the spiritual power from political administration. Women, as the purest and most spontaneous of the moral forces of society, are bound to fulfill with rigorous exactness all the conditions which the exercise of moral force demands. Effectually to perform their mission of controlling and guiding our affections, they must abstain altogether from the practical pursuits of the stronger sex. Such abstinence, even when the arrangements of society may leave it optional, is still more desirable in their case than in the case of philosophers.

Active life, incompatible as it is with the clearness and breadth of philosophic speculation, is even more injurious to delicacy of feeling, which is women’s highest claim to our respect and the true secret of their influence, The philosophic spirit is incompatible with a position of practical authority, because such a position occupies the mind with questions of detail. But to purity of feeling it is even more dangerous, because it strengthens the self-regarding instincts, And for women it would be harder to avoid the danger of such a position than for men. Abounding as they do in sympathy, they are generally deficient in energy, and are therefore less able to withstand corrupting influences.

The more we examine this important subject, the clearer it becomes that the present condition of women does not hamper them in their true work; that on the contrary, it is well calculated to develop and even improve their highest qualities. The natural arrangements of society in this as in other respects are far less faulty than might be supposed from the blind declamations now being directed against them. Were it not for the natural exercise of strong material forces moral force would soon deteriorate, because its distinctive purpose would be gone. Philosophers and proletaries would soon lose their intellectual and moral superiority by the acquisition of power. But on women its effect would be still more disastrous. From instances in the upper classes of society where wealth gives them independence, and sometimes unfortunately even power, we see but too clearly what the consequences would be. And this is why we have to look to the poorer classes for the highest type of womanly perfection. With the people sympathy is better cultivated, and has a greater influence upon life. Wealth has more to do with the moral degradation of women among the privileged classes than even idleness and dissipation.


The continuous progress of Humanity in this respect, as in every other, is but a more complete development of the pre-existing order. Equality in the position of the two sexes is contrary to their nature, and no tendency to it has at any time been exhibited. All history assures us that with the growth of society the peculiar features of each sex have become not less but more distinct. Catholic Feudalism, while raising the social condition of women in Western Europe to a far higher level, took away from them the priestly functions which they had held under Polytheism; a religion in which the priesthood was more occupied with art than with science. So too, with the gradual decline of the principle of, caste, women have been excluded more and more rigidly from royalty and from every other kind of political authority. Again, there is a visible tendency towards the removal of women from all industrial occupations, even from those which might seem best suited to them. And thus female life, instead of becoming independent of the Family, is being more and more concentrated in it; while at the same time their proper sphere of moral influence is constantly extending. The two tendencies, so far from being opposed, are on the contrary inseparably connected.

Without discussing the absurd and retrograde schemes which have been recently put forward on the subject, there is one remark which may serve to illustrate the value of the order which now exists. If women were to obtain that equality in the affairs of life which their so-called champions are claiming for them without their wish, not only would they suffer morally, but their social position would be endangered. They would be subject in almost every occupation to a degree of competition which they would not be able to sustain; while in the meantime by rivalry in the pursuits of life mutual affection between the sexes would be corrupted at its source:

Leaving these subversive dreams, we find a natural principle woman to be which, by determining the practical obligations of the active to the sympathetic sex, averts this danger. It is one which no philosophy but Positivism has been sufficiently real and practical to bring forward systematically for general acceptance. It is no new invention, however, but a universal tendency, confirmed by careful study of the whole past history of Man.


The principle is, that Man should provide for Woman. It is a natural law of the human race; a law connected with the essentially domestic character of female life. We find it in the rudest forms of social life; and with every step in the progress of society its adoption becomes more extensive and complete. A still larger application of this fundamental principle will meet all the material difficulties under which women are now laboring. All social relations, and especially the question of wages, will be affected by it. The tendency to it is spontaneous; but it also follows from the high position which Positivism has assigned to Woman as the sympathetic element in the spiritual power. The intellectual class, in the same way, has to be supported by the practical class, in order to have its whole time available for the special duties imposed upon it. But in the case of women, the obligation of the other sex is still more sacred, because the sphere of duty in which protection for them is required is the home.

The obligation to provide for the intellectual class affects society as a whole; but the maintenance of women is, with few exceptions, a personal obligation.

Each individual should consider himself bound to maintain the woman he has chosen to be his partner in life. Apart from this, however, men must consider themselves as collectively responsible in an indirect way for the support of the other sex. Women who are without husbands or parents should have their maintenance guaranteed by society; and this not merely as a compensation for their dependent position, but with the view of enabling them to render public service of the greatest moral value.


The direction, then, of progress in the social condition of woman is this; to render her life more and more domestic; to diminish as far as possible the burden of out-door labor; and so to fit her more completely for her special office of educating our moral nature.

Among the privileged classes it is already a recognized rule that women should be spared all laborious exertion. It is almost the only point in the relations of the sexes in which the working classes would do well to imitate the habits of their employers. In every other respect the people of Western Europe have a higher sense of their duties to women than the upper classes. Indeed there are few of them who would not be ashamed of the barbarity of subjecting women to the tasks imposed now on so many of them, if the present state of our industrial system was compatible with the abolition of so monstrous a practice. But it is chiefly among the higher and wealthier classes that we find those degrading and very often fraudulent bargains in which immoral intervention of parents effects at once the humiliation of one sex, and the corruption of the other.

Among the working classes the practice of giving dowries is almost extinct; and as women’s true mission becomes more recognized, and choice in marriage becomes less restricted, this relic of barbarism, with all its debasing results, will rapidly die out.

With this view the application of our theory should be carried one step further. Women should not be allowed to inherit. If inheritance be allowed, the prohibition of dowries would be evaded in a very obvious manner by discounting the reversionary interest. Since women are to be exempt from the labor of production, capital, that is to say, the instruments of labor produced by each generation for the benefit of the next, should revert to men. This view of inheritance, so far from giving to men an unnatural privilege, places them under heavy responsibilities. It is not from women that any serious opposition to it will proceed. Wise education will show its value to them personally, as a safeguard against unworthy suitors. But important as the rule is, it should not be legally enforced until it has become established on its own merits as a general custom, felt by all to be conducive to the healthy organization of the Family as here described.


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                                                                                                                                    Wikimedia Commons / MuOwn work

Coming now to the subject of female education, we have only to make a further application of the theory which has guided us hitherto.

Since the vocation assigned by our theory to women is that of educating others, it is clear that the educational system which we have proposed in the last chapter for the working classes, applies to them as well as to the other sex with very slight alterations. Unencumbered as it is with specialties, it will be found, even in its more scientific parts, as suitable for the sympathetic element of the moderating power, as to the synergic element.

We have spoken of the necessity of diffusing sound historical views among the working classes; and the same necessity applies to women; for social sympathy can never be perfectly developed, without a sense of the continuity of the Past, as well as the solidarity of the Present. Since then both sexes alike need historical instruction as a basis for the systematization of moral truth, both should .alike pass through the scientific training which prepares the way for social studies, and which moreover has as intrinsic value for women as for men. Again, since the period of spontaneous education is entirely to be left to women, it is most desirable that they should themselves have passed through the systematic education which is its necessary complement. The only department with which they need not concern themselves, is what is called professional education. This, as I have before observed, is not susceptible of regular organization, and can only be acquired by careful practice and experience, resting upon a sound basis of theory. In all other respects women, philosophers, and working men will receive the same education.

But while I would place the sexes on a level in this respect, I do not take the view of my eminent predecessor Condorcet, that they should be taught together. On moral grounds, which of course are the most important consideration, it is obvious that such a plan would be equally prejudicial to both. In the church, in the club, in the salon, they may associate freely at every period of life. But at school such intercourse would be premature; it would check the natural development of character, not to say that it would obviously have an unsettling influence upon study. Until the feelings on both sides are sufficiently matured, it is of the greatest importance that the relations of the two sexes should not be too intimate, and that they should be superintended by the watchful eye of their mothers.


As, however, the subjects of study are to be the same for both, the necessity of separating the sexes does not imply that there should be special teachers for women. Not to speak of the increased expenditure that would thus be incurred, it would inevitably lower the standard of female education. It would always be presumed that their teachers were men of inferior attainments. To ensure that the instruction given is the same for both sexes, the instructors must be the same, and must give their lectures alternately to each sex. These conditions are perfectly compatible with the scheme described in the last chapter. It was there mentioned that each philosopher would be expected to give one, or, in some cases, two lectures every week. Now, supposing this were doubled, it would still come far short of the intolerable burdens which are imposed upon teachers in the present day. Moreover, as the Positivist educator will pass successively through the seven stages of scientific instruction, he will be able so to regulate his work as to avoid wearisome repetition of the same lectures in each year. Besides, the distinguished men to whom our educational system will be entrusted will soon discover that their two audiences require some difference in the manner of teaching, and that this may be done without in any way lowering the uniform standard which their method and their doctrines require.

But independently of the importance to female education of this identity of teachers, it will react beneficially on the intellectual and moral character of the philosopher who teaches.

It will preclude him from entering into useless details, and will keep him involuntarily to the broad principles of his subject. By coming into contact simultaneously with two natures, in one of which thought, and in the other emotion, is predominant, he will gain clearer insight into the great truth of the subordination of the intellect to the heart. The obligation of teaching both sexes will complete that universality of mind which is to be required of the new school of philosophers. To treat with equal ability of all the various orders of scientific conceptions, and to interest two audiences of so different a character, is a task which will demand the highest personal qualifications. However, as the number required by the conditions is not excessive, it will not be impossible to find men fit for the purpose, as soon as the proper means are taken to procure their services, and to guarantee their material subsistence. It must be borne in mind, too, that the corporation of teachers is not to be recruited from any one nation for itself, but from the whole of Western Europe; so that the Positivist educator will change his residence, when required, even more frequently than Catholic dignitaries in the Middle Ages.

Putting these considerations together, we shall find that Positivist education for both sexes may be organized on an ample scale for the whole of Western Europe, with less than the useless, or worse than useless, expenditure incurred by the clergy of the Anglican church alone. This would give each functionary an adequate maintenance, though none of them would be degraded by wealth. A body of twenty thousand philosophers would be enough now, and probably would always suffice, for the spiritual wants of the five Western nations; since it would allow the establishment of the septennial system of instruction in two thousand stations. The influence of women and of working men will never become so systematic as to enable them to dispense with philosophic assistance altogether. But in proportion as they become more effectually incorporated as elements of the spiritual power, the necessity of enlarging the purely speculative class, which under theological systems has been far too numerous, will diminish. The privilege of living in comfort without productive labor will then be so rare, and so dearly earned as to leave no rational ground of objection to it. It will be universally felt that the cost of maintaining these philosophic teachers, like that of maintaining women, is no real burden to the productive classes; on the contrary, that it conduces to their highest interest, by ensuring the performance of those intellectual and moral functions which are the distinctive features of Humanity.


It appears, then, that the primary principle laid down at the beginning of this chapter enables us to solve all the problems that offer themselves on the subject of Woman. Her function in society is determined by the constitution of her nature. As the spontaneous organ of Feeling, on which the unity of human nature entirely depends, she constitutes the purest and most natural element of the moderating power; which, while avowing its own subordination to the material forces of society, purposes to direct them to higher uses. First as mother, afterwards as wife, it is her office to conduct the moral education of Humanity. In order the more perfectly to fulfill this mission, her life must be connected even more closely than it has been with the Family. At the same time she must participate to a more and more complete extent in the general system of instruction.

A few remarks on the privileges which the fulfillment of this vocation will bring, will complete this part of my subject.

Women’s mission is a striking illustration of the truth that happiness consists in doing the work for which we are naturally fitted. Their mission is in reality always the same; it is summed up in one word. Love. It is the only work in which there can never be too many workers; it grows by co-operation; it has nothing to fear from competition. Women are charged with the education of Sympathy, the source of human unity; and their highest happiness is reached when they have the full consciousness of their vocation, and are free to follow it. It is the admirable feature of their social mission, that it invites them to cultivate qualities which are natural to them; to call into exercise emotions which all allow to be the most pleasurable.

All that is required for them in a better organization of society is a better adaptation of their circumstances to their vocation, and improvements in their internal condition. They must be relieved from outdoor labor; and other means must be taken to secure due weight to their moral influence. Both objects are contemplated in the material, intellectual, and moral ameliorations which Positivism is destined to effect in the life of women.

But besides the pleasure inherent in their vocation, Positivism offers a recompense for their services, which Catholic Feudalism foreshadowed but could not realize. As men become more and more grateful for the blessing of their moral influence, they will give expression to this feeling in a systematic form. In a word the new doctrine will institute the Worship of Woman, publicly and privately, in a far more perfect way than has ever before been possible. It is the first permanent step towards the worship of Humanity; which, as the concluding chapter of this general view will show, is the central principle of Positivism, viewed either as a philosophy or as a polity.

Our ancestors in chivalrous times made noble efforts in Development of this direction, which, except by women, are now no longer appreciated. But these efforts, however admirable, were inadequate; partly owing to the military spirit of society in those times, partly because their religious doctrines had not a sufficiently social character. Nevertheless, they have left memories which will not perish. The refinement of life in Western Europe is in great part due to them, although much of it is already effaced by the anarchy of the present time.

Chivalry, if we are to believe the negative philosophers of the last century, can never revive; because the religious beliefs with which it was connected have become obsolete. But the connection was never very profound, and there is no reason whatever for its continuance. Far too much has been made of it by recent apologists for Catholicism; who, while laying great stress on the sanction which Theology gave to Chivalry, have failed to appreciate the sympathies to which this admirable institution is really due. The real source of Chivalry lies most unquestionably in the feudal spirit. Theological sanction for it was afterwards sought for, as the only systematic basis that offered itself at that time. But the truth is that Theology and Chivalry were hardly compatible. Theology fixed men’s thoughts upon a visionary future; Chivalry concentrated his energies upon the world around him. The knight of the Middle Ages had always to choose between his God and his Lady; and could therefore never attain that concentrated unity of purpose, without which the full result of his mission, so generously undertaken, could never be realized.


Placed as we are now near the close of the revolutionary period, we are beginning to see that Chivalry is not destined to extinction; that on the contrary when modern life has assumed its normal character, its influence will be greater than ever, because it will operate on a more pacific society, and will be based on a more human faith.

For Chivalry satisfies an essential want of society, one which becomes more urgent as civilization advances; the voluntary combination of the strong for the protection of the weak. The period of transition from the offensive military system of Rome to the defensive system of Feudalism, was naturally the time of its first appearance, and it received the sanction of the creed then dominant. But society is now entering upon a period of permanent peace; and when this, the most striking political feature of modern times, has become firmly established, the influence of Chivalry will be greater than ever. Its procedure will be different, because the modes of oppression are happily not now what they were formerly. The instruments of material force being now not military but industrial, it is no longer the person that is attacked, but his means of subsistence. The advantages of the change are obvious: the danger is less serious, and protection from it is easier and more effectual. But it will still remain most desirable that protectors should come forward, and this in an organized form. The destructive instinct will always show itself in various ways, wherever there is the means of indulging it. And therefore as an adjunct to the spiritual organization, Positivism will encourage a systematic manifestation of chivalrous feeling among the leaders of industry. Those among them who feel animated with the noble spirit of the heroes of the Middle Ages, will devote not their sword, but their wealth, their time, and if need be their whole energies to the defense of the oppressed in all classes. The objects of their generosity will principally be found, as in the Middle Ages, among the classes specially exposed to material suffering ; that is to say among women, philosophers, and working men. It would be strange indeed for a system like Positivism, the main object of which is to strengthen the social spirit, not to appropriate the institution which is the noblest product of that spirit.

So far, then, the restoration of Chivalry is merely a reconstruction of the medieval institution in a shape adapted to the altered state of ideas and feelings. In modern as in medieval, times, devotion of the strong to the weak follows as a natural consequence from the subordination of Politics to Morals. Now, as then, the spiritual power will be nobly seconded by members of the governing class in the attempt to bring that class to a stricter sense of social duty. But besides this Feudal Chivalry had a deeper and more special purpose in reference to women. And in this respect the superiority of Positivism is even more complete and obvious.

Feudalism introduced for the first time the worship of Woman. But in this it met with little support from Catholicism, and was in many respects thwarted by it. The habits of Christianity were in themselves adverse to real tenderness of heart; they only strengthened it indirectly, by promoting one of the indispensable conditions of true affection, purity of life. In all other respects Chivalry was constantly opposed by the Catholic system; which was so austere and anti-social, that it could not sanction marriage except as an infirmity necessary to tolerate, but hazardous to personal salvation. Even its rules of purity, valuable as they were, were often weakened by interested motives which seriously impaired their value. Consequently, notwithstanding all the noble and long-continued efforts of our medieval ancestors, the institution of the worship of Woman was very imperfectly effected, especially in its relation to public life. Whatever Catholic apologists may say, there is every reason to believe that if Feudalism could have arisen before the decline of Polytheism, the influence of Chivalry would have been greater.


It was reserved for the more comprehensive system of Positivism, in which sound practice is always supported by sound theory, to give full expression to the feeling of veneration for women. In the new religion, while tenderness of heart is looked upon as the first of Woman’s attributes, purity is held in due honor; its true source and its essential value, as the first condition of happiness and of moral growth, are for the first time clearly indicated. The shallow and sophistical views of marriage maintained in these unsettled times by men of narrow minds and coarse feelings, will be easily refuted by a more careful study of human nature. Even the obstacles presented by scientific materialism will rapidly disappear before the spread of Positivist morality. A physician of great sagacity, Hufeland, has remarked, with truth, that the well-known vigor of the knights of old times was a sufficient answer to men who talked of the physical dangers of continence. Positivism, dealing with this question in all its aspects, teaches that while the primary reason for insisting on purity is that it is essential to depth of affection, it has as close a connection with the physical and intellectual improvement of the individual and the race as with our moral progress.

Positivism then, as the whole tendency of this chapter indicates, encourages, on intellectual as well as on moral grounds full and systematic expression of the feeling of veneration for Women, in public as well as in private life, collectively as well as individually. Born to love and to be loved, relieved from the burdens of practical life, free in the sacred retirement of their homes, the women of the West will receive from Positivists the tribute of deep and sincere admiration which their life inspires. They will feel no scruple in accepting their position as spontaneous priestesses of Humanity; they will fear no longer the rivalry of a vindictive Deity. From childhood each of us will be taught to regard their sex as the principal source of human happiness and improvement, whether in public life or in private.

The treasures of affection which our ancestors wasted upon mystical objects, and which these revolutionary times ignore, will then be carefully preserved and directed to their proper purpose. The enervating influence of chimerical beliefs will have passed away; and men in all the vigor of their energies, feeling themselves the masters of the known world, will feel it their highest happiness to submit with gratitude to the beneficent power of womanly sympathy. In a word, Man will in those days kneel to Woman, and to Woman alone.

The source from which these reverential feelings for the sympathetic sex proceeds is a clear appreciation in the other sex of benefits received, and a spirit of deep thankfulness for them. The Positivist will never forget that moral perfection, the primary condition of public and private happiness, is principally due to the influence of Woman over Man, first as mother, then as wife. Such a conviction cannot fail to arouse feelings of loving veneration for those with whom, from their position in society, he is in no danger of rivalry in the affairs of life. In proportion as the feminine vocation is better understood and more fully realized, will the Woman be regarded by the Man as the best impersonation of Humanity.

Originating in spontaneous feelings of gratitude, the worship of Woman, when it has assumed a more systematic shape, will be valued for its own sake as a new instrument of happiness and moral growth. Inert as the tender sympathies are in Man, it is most desirable to strengthen them by such exercise as the public and private institution of this worship will afford. And here it is that Positivists will find all the elevating influences which Catholicism derived from Prayer,

It is a common but very palpable error to imagine that Prayer is inseparable from the chimerical motives of self-interest in which it first originated. In Catholicism there was always a tendency to rise above these motives, so far at least as the principles of theology admitted. From St. Augustine downwards all the nobler spirits have felt more and more strongly, notwithstanding the self-absorbing tendencies of Christian doctrine, that Prayer did not necessarily imply petition. When sounder views of human nature have become prevalent, the value of this important function will be more clearly appreciated; and it will ultimately become of greater importance than ever, because founded on a truer principle. In the normal state of Humanity the moral efficacy of Prayer will no longer be impaired by thoughts of personal recompense. It will be simply a solemn out-pouring, whether in private or in public, of men’s nobler feelings, inspiring them with larger and more comprehensive thoughts. As a daily practice, it is inculcated by Positivism as the best preservative against the selfish impulses and narrow ideas generated by the ordinary avocations of life. To men its value is even greater than to women; their life being less favorable to large views and generous sympathies, it is the more important to revive them at regular periods.

But Prayer would be of little value unless the mind could clearly define its object. The worship of Woman satisfies this condition, and may thus be of greater efficacy than the worship of God. True, the ultimate object of Positivist Prayer, as shown in the concluding chapter of this review, is Humanity. But some of its best moral effects would hardly be realized, if it were at once and exclusively directed to an object so difficult to conceive clearly. It is possible that Women with their stronger sympathies may be able to reach this stage without intermediate steps. However this may be, men certainly would not be able to do so; even the intellectual class, with all its powers of generalization, would find it impossible. The worship of Woman, begun in private, and afterwards publicly celebrated, is necessary in man’s case to prepare him for an effectual worship of Humanity.

No one can be so unhappy as not to be able to find some woman worthy of his peculiar love, whether in the relation of wife or of mother; someone who in his solitary prayer may be present to him as a fixed object of devotion. Nor will such devotion, as might be thought, cease with death; rather, when its object has been rightly chosen, death strengthens it by making it more pure.

The principle upon which Positivism insists so strongly, the union of the Present with the Past, and even with the Future, is not limited to the life of Society. It is a doctrine which unites all individuals and all generations; and when it has become more familiar to us, it will stimulate everyone to call his dearest memories to life; the spirit of the system being that the private life of the very humblest citizen has a close relation to his public duty.

We all know how intellectual culture enables us to live with our great predecessors of the Middle Ages and of Antiquity, almost as we should do with absent friends. And if Intellect can do so much, will it not be far easier for the strong passion of Love to effect this ideal resurrection? We have already many instances where whole nations have shown strong sympathies or antipathies to great historical names, especially when their influence was still sensibly felt. There is no reason why a private Life should not produce the same effect upon those who have been brought into contact with it.

Moral culture has been conducted hitherto on such unsatisfactory principles, that we can hardly form an adequate notion of its results when Positivism has regenerated it, and has concentrated the affections as well as the thoughts of Man upon human life. To live with the dead is the peculiar privilege of Humanity, a privilege which will extend as our conceptions widen and our thoughts become more pure. Under Positivism the impulse to it will become far stronger, and it will be recognized as a systematic principle in private as well as in public life. Even the Future is not excluded from its application. We may live with those who are not yet born; a thing impossible hitherto simply for want of a true theory of history of scope sufficient to embrace at one glance the whole course of human destiny. There are numberless instances to prove that the heart of Man is capable of emotions which have no outward basis, except what Imagination has supplied. The familiar spirits of the Polytheist, the mystical desires of the Monotheist, all point to a general tendency in the Past, which by the aid of a more complete and comprehensive philosophy, we shall be able in the Future to direct to a nobler and more real purpose. And thus even those who may be so unfortunate as to have no special object of love need not, on that account, be precluded from the act of worship ; they may choose from the women of the past some type adapted to their own nature. Men of powerful imagination might even form their own more perfect ideal, and thus open out the path of the future. This, indeed, is what was often done by the knights of chivalrous times, simple and uninstructed as they were. Surely then, we with our fuller understanding and greater familiarity with the Past, should be able to idealize more perfectly. But whether the choice lie in the Past or in the Future, its efficacy would be impaired unless it remained constant to one object; and Positivism will indicate fixed objective laws calculated to control the natural tendency to versatility of feeling.


I have dwelt at some length upon the personal adoration of Woman under its real or ideal aspects, because upon it depends preparation nearly all the moral value of any public celebration. Public assemblage in the temples of Humanity may strengthen and stimulate feelings of devotion, but cannot originate them. Unless each worshiper has felt in his own person deep and reverential love for those to whom our highest affections are due, a public service in honor of women would be nothing but a’ repetition of unmeaning formulas. But those whose daily custom it has been to give expression to such feelings in secret, will gain, by assembling together, all the benefit of more intense and more exalted sympathy. In my last letter to her who is forever mine, I said: ‘ Amidst the heaviest anxieties which Love can bring, I have never ceased to feel that the one thing essential to happiness is that the heart shall be always nobly occupied.’ And now that we are separated by Death, daily experience confirms this truth, which is moreover in exact accordance with the Positive theory of human nature. Without personal experience of Love no public celebration of it can be sincere.

In its public celebration the superiority of the new Religion is even more manifest than in the private worship. A system in which the social spirit is uniformly preponderant, is peculiarly adapted to render homage for the social services of the sympathetic sex. When the knights of the Middle Ages met together, they might give vent to their personal feelings, at express to one another the reverence which each felt for his own mistress; but farther than this they could not go. And such personal feelings will never cease to be necessary. Still the principal object of public celebration is to express gratitude on the part of the people for the social blessings conferred by Woman, as the organ of that element in our nature on which its unity depends, and as the original source of moral power. In the Middle Ages such considerations were impossible, for want of a rational theory embracing the whole circle of social relations. Indeed the received faith was incompatible with any such conception, since God in that faith occupied the place really due to Humanity.

So naturally does celebration of this kind find its place in Positivism, that very anomalous cases are not excluded. The chief motive doubtless for public and private veneration is the mission of sympathy, which is Woman’s peculiar vocation. But there have been remarkable instances of women whose life has been one of speculation, or even, what is in most cases still more foreign to their nature, of political activity. They have rendered real service to Humanity, and they should receive the honor that is due to them. Theology, from its absolute character, could not make such concessions; they would have weakened the efficiency of its most important social rules. Consequently Catholicism was compelled, though at first with sincere regret, to leave some of the noblest women without commemoration; which indeed would have been more injurious to its moral standard than beneficial to its policy.

A signal instance is the Maid of Orleans, whose heroism saved France in the fourteenth century. Our great King Louis XI. applied very properly to the Pope for her canonization, and no objection was made to his request. Yet practically it was never carried into effect. It was gradually forgotten; and the clergy soon came to feel a sort of dislike to her memory, which reminded them of nothing but their own social weakness. It is easy to account for this result; nor is any one really to blame for it. It was feared, not without reason, that to consider Joan of Arc as a saint might have the effect of spreading false and dangerous ideas of feminine duty. The difficulty was insuperable for any absolute system, in which to sanction the exception is to compromise the rule. But in a relative system the case is different. It is even more inconsistent with Positive principles than it is with Catholic, for women to lead a military life, a life of all others the least compatible with their proper functions. And yet Positivists will be the first to do justice to this extraordinary heroine, whom theologians have been afraid to recognize, and whom metaphysicians, even in France, have had the hardihood to insult.

jeanne_d_arc_eugene_thirion

The anniversary of her glorious martyrdom will be a solemn festival, not only for France but for Western Europe. For her work was not merely of national importance: the enslavement of France would have involved the loss of all the influence which France has exercised as the center of the advanced nations of Europe. Moreover, as none of them are altogether clear from the disgrace of blackening her character, as Voltaire has done, all should aid in the reparation of it which Positivism proposes to institute. So far from her apotheosis having an injurious effect on female character, it will afford an opportunity of pointing out the anomalous nature of her career, and the rarity of the conditions which alone could justify it. It is a fresh proof of the advantages accruing to Morality from the relative character of Positivism, which enables it to appreciate exceptions without weakening rules.

The subject of the worship of Woman by Man raises a question of much delicacy; how to satisfy analogous feelings of devotion in the other sex. We have seen its necessity for men as an intermediate step towards the worship of Humanity; and women, stronger though their sympathies are, stand, it may be, in need of similar preparation. Yet certainly the direction taken should be somewhat different. What is wanted is that each sex should strengthen the moral qualities in which it is naturally deficient. Energy is a characteristic feature of Humanity as well as Sympathy; as is well shown by the double meaning of the word Heart. In Man Sympathy is the weaker element, and it requires constant exercise. This he gains by expression of his feelings of reverence for Woman. In Woman, on the other hand, the defective quality is Energy; so that should any special preparation for the worship of Humanity be needed, it should be such as to strengthen courage rather than sympathy. But my sex renders me incompetent to enter farther into the secret wants of Woman’s heart. Theory indicates a blank hitherto unnoticed, but does not enable me to fill it. It is a problem for women themselves to solve; and should have reserved it for the noble fellow-worker, whose premature death will, in the future, as I trust, be universally mourned.

Throughout this chapter I have been keenly sensible of the intellectual loss resulting from our objective separation. True, I have been able to show that Positivism is a matter of the deepest concern to women, since it incorporates them in the progressive movement of modern times. I have proved that the part allotted to them, in this movement is one which satisfies far more perfectly than Catholicism their highest aspirations for the Family or for Society. And yet I can hardly hope for much support from them until some woman shall come forward to interpret what I have said into language more adapted to their nature and habits of thought. Till then it will always be taken for granted that they are incapable even of understanding the new philosophy, notwithstanding all the natural affinities for it which I have shown that they possess.

All these difficulties had been entirely removed by the noble and loving friend to whom I have dedicated this new Treatise. The dedication is unusual in form, and some may think it over strained. But my own fear is rather, now that five years have past, that my words were too weak for the deep gratitude which I now feel for her elevating influence. Without it the moral aspects of Positivism would have lain very long latent.

800px-clotilde_de_vaux_maison_da-_comte_paris

Auguste Comte’s muse

Clotilde de Vaux was gifted equally in mind and heart and she had already begun to feel the power of the new philosophy to raise feminine influence from the decline into which it had fallen since the close of the Middle Ages, under modern revolutionary influences. Misunderstood everywhere, even by her own family, her nature was far too noble for bitterness. Her sorrows were as exceptional as they were undeserved; but her purity was even more rare than they; and it preserved her unscathed from all sophistical attacks on marriage, even before the true theory of marriage had come before her. In the only writing which she published, there is a beautiful remark, which to those who know the history of her life is deeply affecting: ‘Great natures should always be above bringing their own sorrows upon others.’ In this charming story, written before she knew anything of Positivism, she expressed a characteristic, and, from such a judge, a most decisive opinion on the subject of Woman’s vocation: Surely the true work of a woman is to provide a man with the comforts and delights of home, receiving in exchange from him the means of subsistence earned by his labors. I would rather see the mother of a poor family washing her children’s linen, than see her earning a livelihood by her talents away from home.

Of course I do not speak of women of extraordinary powers whose genius leads them out of the sphere of domestic duty. Such natures should have free scope given to them for great minds are kindled by the exhibition of their powers. These words coming from a young lady distinguished no less for beauty than for worth, are already a refutation of the subversive Utopias now prevalent. But in a large work which she did not live to finish, she had intended to refute the attacks upon marriage contained in the works of an eloquent contemporary, to whom she was intellectually no less than morally superior. Her nature was of rare endowment, moved by noble impulse, and yet allowing its due influence to reason. When she was beginning to study Positivism she wrote to me: ‘ No one knows better than myself how weak our nature is, unless it has some lofty aim beyond the reach of passion.’ A short time afterwards, writing with all the graceful freedom of friendship, she let fall a phrase of deep meaning, almost unawares : ‘ Our race is peculiarly one which must have duties, in order to form its feelings.’

With such a nature my Saint Clotilda was, as may be supposed, fully conscious of the moral value of Positivism, though she had only one year to give to its study, A few months before her death, she wrote to me: ‘ If I were a man, I should be your enthusiastic disciple; as a woman, I can but offer you my cordial admiration.’ In the same letter she explains the part which she proposed to take in diffusing the principles of the new philosophy: ‘ It is always well for a woman to follow modestly behind the army of renovators, even at the risk of losing a little of her own originality.’ She describes our intellectual anarchy in this charming simile: ‘ We are all standing as yet with one foot in the air over the threshold of truth.’

With such a colleague, combining as she did qualities hitherto shared amongst the noblest types of womanhood, it would have been easy to induce her sex to co-operate in the regeneration of society. For she gave a perfect example of that normal reaction of Feeling upon Reason which has been here set forward as the highest aim of Woman’s efforts. When she had finished the important work on which she was engaged, I had marked out for her a definite yet spacious field of co-operation in the Positivist cause: a field which her intellect and character were fully competent to occupy. I mention it here, to illustrate the mode in which women may help to spread Positivism through the West; giving thus the first example of the social influence which they will afterwards exert permanently. What I say has special reference to Italy and to Spain. In other countries it only applies to individuals who, though living in an atmosphere of free thought, have not themselves ventured to think freely. Success in this latter case is so frequent, as to make me confident that the agencies of which I am about to speak may be applied collectively with the same favorable result.


The intellectual freedom of the West began in England and Germany; and it had all the dangers of original efforts for which at that time no systematic basis could be found. With the legal establishment of Protestantism, the metaphysical movement stopped. Its stagnation was a serious obstacle to subsequent progress; and is still, in the countries where Protestantism prevails, the chief impediment to all efficient renovation. Happily, France, the normal center of Western Europe, was spared this so-called Reformation. She made up for the delay, by passing at one stride, under the impulse given by Voltaire, to a state of entire freedom of thought; and thus resumed her natural place as leader of the common movement of social regeneration. But the French, while escaping the inconsistencies and oscillations of Protestantism, have been exposed to all the dangers resulting from unqualified acceptance of revolutionary metaphysics. Principles of systematic negation have now held their ground with us too long; and therefore useful as they once were in preparing the way for social reconstruction, they are now a hindrance to it. It may be hoped that when the movement of free thought extends, as it assuredly will, to the two Southern nations, where Catholicism has been more successful in resisting Protestantism and Deism, it will be attended with less injurious consequences. If France was spared the Calvinistic age, there seems no reason why Italy and even Spain should not be spared Voltairianism. As a compensation for this apparent stagnation, they might pass at once from Catholicism to Positivism without halting for any length of time at the negative stage. These countries could not have originated the new philosophy, owing to their insufficient preparation; but as soon as it has taken root in France, they will probably accept it with extreme rapidity. Direct attacks upon Catholicism will not be necessary. The new religion will simply put itself into competition- with the old by performing in a better way the same functions that Catholicism fulfills now, or has fulfilled in past times.

All evidence, especially the evidence of the poets, goes to prove that before Luther’s time there was less belief in the South of Europe, certainly less in Italy, than in the North. And Catholicism, with all its resistance to the progress of thought, has never been able really to revive the belief in Christianity. We speak of Italy and Spain as less advanced; but the truth is that they only cling to Catholicism because it satisfies their moral and social wants better than any system with which they are acquainted.

Morally they have more affinity to Positivism than other nations; because their feelings of fraternity have not been weakened by the industrial development which has done so much harm in Protestant countries.

Intellectually, too, they are less hostile to the primary principle of Positive Polity; the separation of spiritual and temporal power. And therefore they will welcome Positivism as soon as they see that in all essential features it equals and surpasses the medieval Church. Now as this question is almost entirely a moral one, their convictions in this respect will depend far more upon feeling than upon argument. Consequently, the work of converting them to Positivism is one for which women are peculiarly adapted.

Positivism has been communicated to England by men. Holland, too, which has been the vanguard of Germany ever since the Middle Ages, has been initiated in the same way still more efficiently. But its introduction in Italy and Spain will depend upon the women of those countries; and the appeal to them must come, not from a Frenchman, but from a French-Woman; for heart, must speak to heart. Would that these brief remarks might enable others to appreciate the inestimable worth of the colleague whom I had intended to write such an appeal; and that they might stimulate some one worthy to take her place!

Already, then, there is ground for encouragement. Already we have one striking instance of a woman ready to co-operate in the philosophical movement, which assigns to her sex a mission of the highest social consequence as the prelude to the function for which in the normal state they are destined. Such an instance, though it may seem now exceptional, does but anticipate what will one day be universal. Highly gifted natures pass through the same phases as others; only they undergo them earlier, and so become guides for the rest. The sacred friend of whom I speak had nothing that specially disposed her to accept Positivism, except the beauty of her mind and character, prematurely ripened by sorrow. Had she been an untaught working woman, it would perhaps have been still easier for her to grasp the general spirit of the new philosophy and its social purpose.

The result of this chapter is to show the affinity of the systematic element of the modifying power, as represented by philosophers, with women who form its sympathetic element; an affinity not less close than that with the people, who constitute its synergic element. The organization of moral force is based on the alliance of philosophers with the people; but the adhesion of women is necessary to its completion. The union of all three initiates the movement of social regeneration which is to bring the revolution to a close. But more than this; their union is at once an inauguration of the final order of society. Each of these three elements will be acting as it will be called upon to act in the normal state, and will be occupying its permanent position relatively to the temporal power. The philosophic class whose work it is to combine the action of the other two classes will find valuable assistance from women in every family, as well as powerful co-operation from the people in every city. The result will be a combination of all the classes who stand apart from political administration, formed with the view of subjecting all practical measures to the fixed rules of universal morality.

Exceptional cases will arise where moral influence is insufficient; in these it will be necessary for the people to interfere actively. But philosophers and women are dispensed from such interference. Direct action would be most injurious to their powers of sympathy or meditation. They can only preserve these powers by keeping clear of all positions of political authority.

But the moral force resulting from this combined action, while more efficient than that of the Middle Ages, will impose conditions of great difficulty on its systematic organs. From the Priest of Humanity high powers of intellect are required; and a heart worthy of such intellect. To secure the support of women, and the co-operation of the people, he must have the sympathy and purity of the first, the energy and disinterestedness of the second. Such natures are rare; yet without them the new spiritual power cannot obtain that ascendancy over society to which Positivism aspires. And with all the agencies, physical or moral, which can be brought to bear, we shall have to acknowledge that the exceeding imperfection of human nature interposes permanent obstacles to the object for which Positivism strives, the victory of social sympathy over self-love.


The System of Positive Polity or Treatise on Sociology, Instituting the Religion of Humanity 1830, 1851, 1875 Volume 1, Chapter IV The Influence of Positivism Upon Women by August Comte 1798-1857 p. 164-219 translated by John Henry Bridges and M.B. Oxon


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