Auguste Comte

Auguste Comte (1798–1857), born in the French city of Montpellier, grew up in the period of great political turmoil that followed the French Revolu- tion of 1789–1799. In school, Comte was an excel- lent student but a troublemaker. In 1817, Comte met the social philosopher Henri de Saint-Simon (1760–1825), who converted Comte from an ardent advocate of liberty and equality to a supporter of a more elitist view of society. The two men col- laborated on a number of essays, but after a bitter argument, they parted company in 1824. In 1826, Comte began giving lectures in his home over his own positivist philosophy—that is, the attempt to use the methods of the physical sciences to create a science of history and human social behavior. His lectures were attended by a number of illustrious individuals, but after only three lectures, Comte suffered a serious mental collapse. Despite being treated in a hospital for a while, he fell into deep depression and even attempted suicide. He was unable to resume his lectures until 1829.


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Between 1830 and 1842, his time was spent mainly on writing his six-volume work, Cours de Philosophe Positive (The Course of Positive Philos- ophy, 1830–1842). Comte’s Cours was translated into English by the philosopher-feminist Harriet the hands of Helvétius, empiricism became radical environmentalism. All manner of social skills, moral behavior, and even genius could be taught through the control of experiences (education). B. Russell (1945) said of Helvétius, “His doctrine is optimistic, since only a perfect education is needed to make men perfect. There is a suggestion that it would be easy to find a perfect education if the priests were got out of the way”.

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