The Idea of Progress: An Inguiry Into Its Origin and Growth

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Author: John Bagnell Bury

1.

Auguste Comte did more than any preceding thinker to establish the idea of Progress as a luminary which could not escape men’s vision. The brilliant suggestions of Saint-Simon, the writings of Bazard and Enfantin, the vagaries of Fourier, might be dismissed as curious rather than serious propositions, but the massive system wrought out by Comte’s speculative genius—his organic scheme of human knowledge, his elaborate analysis of history, his new science of sociology—was a great fact with which European thought was forced to reckon. The soul of this system was Progress, and the most important problem he set out to solve was the determination of its laws.

His originality is not dimmed by the fact that he owed to Saint- Simon more than he afterwards admitted or than his disciples have been willing to allow. He collaborated with him for several years, and at this time enthusiastically acknowledged the intellectual stimulus he received from the elder savant. [Footnote: Comte collaborated with Saint-Simon from 1818-1822. The final rupture came in 1824. The question of their relations is cleared up by Weill (Saint-Simon, chap. xi.). On the quarrel see also Ostwald, Auguste Comte (1914), 13 sqq.] But he derived from Saint-Simon much more than the stimulation of his thoughts in a certain direction. He was indebted to him for some of the characteristic ideas of his own system. He was indebted to him for the principle which lay at the very basis of his system, that the social phenomena of a given period and the intellectual state of the society cohere and correspond. The conception that the coming age was to be a period of organisation like the Middle Ages, and the idea of the government of savants, are pure Saint-Simonian doctrine. And the fundamental idea of a POSITIVE philosophy had been apprehended by Saint-Simon long before he was acquainted with his youthful associate.

But Comte had a more methodical and scientific mind, and he thought that Saint-Simon was premature in drawing conclusions as to the reformation of societies and industries before the positive philosophy had been constructed. He published—he was then only twenty-two—in 1822 a "Plan of the scientific operations necessary for the re-organisation of society," which was published under another title two years later by Saint-Simon, and it was over this that the friends quarrelled. This work contains the principles of the positive philosophy which he was soon to begin to work out; it announces already the "law of the Three Stages."

The first volume of the "Cours de philisophie positive" appeared in 1830; it took him twelve years more to complete the exposition of his system. [Footnote: With vol. vi., 1842.]

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Chicago: John Bagnell Bury, "1.," The Idea of Progress: An Inguiry Into Its Origin and Growth in The Idea of Progress: An Inguiry Into Its Origin and Growth (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1932), Original Sources, accessed July 20, 2019, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=1GN8SIN41B69G95.

MLA: Bury, John Bagnell. "1." The Idea of Progress: An Inguiry Into Its Origin and Growth, in The Idea of Progress: An Inguiry Into Its Origin and Growth, New York, The Macmillan Company, 1932, Original Sources. 20 Jul. 2019. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=1GN8SIN41B69G95.

Harvard: Bury, JB, '1.' in The Idea of Progress: An Inguiry Into Its Origin and Growth. cited in 1932, The Idea of Progress: An Inguiry Into Its Origin and Growth, The Macmillan Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 20 July 2019, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=1GN8SIN41B69G95.