M. Lévy-Bruhl then explains that, whilst recognising the entire coherence of Comte’s collective labours, he proposes to confine his present study to the earlier and principal work, the Philosophy, which in M. Lévy-Bruhl’s opinion is the dominant and more fruitful composition.
This he regards as the representative work of the nineteenth century, as shown by the intellectual history of the period. He points to its influence on thought in England, in Europe, and in America. It will surprise many persons to learn that in M. Lévy-Bruhl’s opinion two eminent French writers, who assuredly neither were, nor were supposed to be, Positivists, “have done more for the diffusion of the ideas and method of Comte than Littré and all the other Positivists together.”
These two are Taine and Renan, much as they differed from Comte’s actual scheme and doctrines. Renan indeed spoke of Comte as destined to prove one of the typical names of the century. The present writer remembers Renan saying to him with a most genial welcome, “I too am a believer in the religion of humanity.”
Professor Lévy-Bruhl followed up his History of Modern Philosophy in France by a substantial work on the philosophy of Auguste Comte. It forms a volume of the Bibliothèque de Philosophie Contemporaine, which has already devoted four other works to the Positive Philosophy. It is as well to premise that this treatise dealt solely with the philosophy, not with the polity, or any part of the religious scheme of Comte. Professor Lévy-Bruhl writes as a student, but not as an adherent of Auguste Comte. His entire work is rather an exposition, not a refutation, or a criticism, or an advocacy of Comte’s philosophical system. But it may be said at once that no one abroad or at home, certainly neither Mill, nor Lewes, nor Spencer, nor Caird, has so truly grasped and assimilated Comte’s ideas as M. Lévy-Bruhl has done.
In his Introduction M. Lévy-Bruhl very clearly states the scope of his work, and his own general attitude. He traces the origin of Comte’s philosophy in the mental effervescence of the first generation of the present century towards a reorganisation of society, after the upheaval left by the Revolution and its consequences. He correctly states the relation of St. Simon to Comte as being that of an initial stimulus.
The cardinal difference between Comte and all the socialists and founders of social and religious Utopias consisted in this, that Comte saw the necessity of a new system of philosophy as the indispensable preliminary to any reorganisation of society.