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Essay on the age of positivism and Comte’s philosophy

The historical cultural context

Scientific development and the Industrial Revolution produce profound transformations not only in economic and social structures, but also in culture and philosophy, with the affirmation of Positivism.

One of the characteristics of this philosophy is the awareness of the historical crisis that European society and culture have to face after the French Revolution.

There is, among the Positivists, the conviction that the revolution has led to a break with respect to previous history, that a world has collapsed; this leads them to oppose the theorists of the Restoration.

This critique of the culture of restoration, however, does not at all imply, for the Positivists, a choice of opposite sign, in favor of a revolution which they consider, simply, as the last act of a phase of crisis. The new order must be achieved with gradual reforms.

The new world should no longer lay its foundations in faith but in science, from which a positive policy capable of guaranteeing order and progress should spring.

Social transformation must be closely linked to the processes of technical-scientific innovation which represent the greatest guarantee of progress, marginalization of the parasitic classes and the affirmation of productive classes.

The Positivists, then, unlike the socialists, communists and anarchists, consider the bourgeoisie as the very expression of modernity and the highest moment reached by civilization.

Trust in science and in a positive vision will become a weapon against spiritualism and philosophical traditionalism, turning into anticlerical polemics. A new model of intellectual is also affirmed, identified in the scientist, the engineer, the doctor and the teacher: all figures committed to eradicating diseases and ignorance from society, creating new conditions of safety and health.

The positivist philosophy

The main features are:

a) the idea that only the knowledge and processes of science are concrete and rich in (positive) results. The primacy of science is the result of its great development, both theoretically and practically, and of successes.

b) a new division of tasks between science and philosophy, in which science is entrusted with the task of providing the empirical knowledge of reality and philosophy with the task of analyzing the general laws discovered by science. Positivism denies philosophy an autonomous space of knowledge and attributes to it only the task of reflecting on the methods and results of science, seeking to establish common principles and to extend the scope of science itself in society, society and culture. so that a scientific spirit can prevail.

Positive philosophy wants us to stick only to what is observable or what is deductible from what is observable or what is deducible from what is observable. Knowledge can only concern phenomena and relations between phenomena. The primacy of science is due to its ability to look at facts, phenomena, and to grasp natural laws. What we claim to know must be verified empirically: only the knowledge of the facts has value, only it is certain and it protects against verbalism and error. The result is an open criticism of metaphysics, from which the definitive overcoming is proclaimed. For the Positivists, art is sentimental activity, it is a factor of progress. Although different from science, it is not opposed to it.

Auguste Comte: the spiritual reorganization of society

In the empty space left by the ancien regime he wants to place the building of science. Politics, morals and philosophy must contribute to creating social happiness. The basis of this company is industry, order and progress are its main characteristics.

The law of the three stages

Each field of knowledge has gone through 3 theoretical stages: the theological, the metaphysical and the positive.

The theological (or fictitious) stage: in it men have shown interest in the most inaccessible questions. They have produced, thanks to the imagination, absolute knowledge concerning the origin and root causes of reality. The spiritual power of the papacy and the temporal power of a feudal or military caste prevailed.
The 2 powers, established in the same period, went into crisis at the same time, proving the fact that they were linked to each other. With their crisis a long period of transition has opened: that of the metaphysical (or abstract) stage: in which men have replaced fantasy with reason and supernatural agents with abstract entities and forces, considered generators of phenomena.

In this phase the ability to argue more than to observe prevailed. The most important principles are freedom of conscience and the sovereignty of the people. Only entering

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