AUGUSTE COMTE 1798-1857
1798Born Isidore-Auguste-Marie-François-Xavier Comte, in Montpellier, France, on January 19, of Catholic and Royalist parents. His father, Louis-Auguste, was a tax official. Comte entered the local Lycée Impérial in 1807.
1814 Comte's education was "technical," rather than humanistic. He passed the entrance examination for the École Polytechnique (Paris) a year earlier than usual age of fifteen. He later said he had "naturally ceased believing in God" by now.
1816 After leading a student rebellion against an unpopular teacher, Comte is dismissed from the École and never resumes formal studies.
1817 Following a series of jobs teaching mathematics, becomes the secretary to the utopian socialist philosopher Claude Henri Saint-Simon. Collaborated on a series of articles announcing a new "science of society." Comte "discovers" his law of the three states of mind in 1822, in an attempt to supply some framework to Saint-Simon's erratic ideas. Eventually, this led to a parting of their ways, though Comte remained fundamentally "Saint-Simonian" throughout his life.
1824 Parts ways with Saint-Simon, and devotes himself completely to the elaboration of his own position, a "course" in philosophy comprised of seventy-two lectures.
1825 Marries Caroline Massin, a prostitute and mistress of a Parisian lawyer, in a civil ceremony.
1826 Begins a series of public lectures, but has an attack of insanity after the third, induced by overwork and his unfortunate marriage. He is hospitalized, and discharged after eight months, to the care of his wife, though officially still designated "uncured." Comte continued to have episodes of violent behavior and depression afterward, including a suicide attempt in the Seine, but slowly regained his health.
1829 Resumes his lectures, and publishes the first volume of Cours de philosophie positive (Course in Positive Philosophy) in 1830. He described his purpose as trying to "transform science into philosophy."
1832 Secured a position as part-time lecture at École Polytechnique. Five years later he becomes the entrance examiner.
1842 Last (fifth) volume of Cours de philosophie positive published. Caroline leaves him immediately after, ending a difficult and often violent marriage. Two years later Comte lost his position at the École because, allegedly, of the hostility caused in the academic world by the ideas of the fifth volume of the Cours. He is supported by friends and followers for the rest of his life (a "positivist subsidy" he called it).
1844 Met and fell passionately in love with Mme. Clotilde de Vaux, the wife of a convicted felon, which he described as the turning point of his "two lives." Unable to make her his mistress, (she was too ill), Comte settles for a "Platonic" relationship, worshipping Clotilde as a kind of Beatrice. She died of tuberculosis two years later, testing Comte's mental stability, and ending the "unparalleled year."
1848 Published Discourse on the Positivist Outlook, emphasizing the culmination of the positivist development not merely in sociology but in a practical worship of "humanity." The Positivist Calendar (1849) listed "feast days" in a new 13-month calendar, commemorating great men and events in human history. He founded the "Positivist Society" and the somewhat tacky "Universal Church of the Religion of Humanity."
1850 Comte devoted his later life to writing and to his new Religion of Humanity. He wrote a political treatise, Systéme de politique positive ou traité de sociologie instituant la religion de l'humanité (four volumes, 1851-1854). His attempt was to "transform philosophy into religion." He began to refer to himself as the "prophet of a new religion" and composed the Catéchisme positiviste (1852). His attempt to construct a philosophy of history, has by now become a religion of humanity, which included prophecy, doctrine, cult, etc. Yet he read as little as possible (it impoverishes a man, lessening his originality) and denied any firsthand knowledge of Vico, Kant, or Hegel (called this practice "cerebral hygiene"). He spent hours in prayer and in commemoration of Clotilde, the "perfect representative of the great Being, Humanity." He even excommunicated disciples and supporters, (like John Stuart Mill), when they objected to his excessive demands for complete acceptance of his ideas or his reactionary support for Louis Napoleon.
1856 Comte completed the first section of a proposed compendium, Synthése subjective (1856). He died the next year, leaving it incomplete.
Cours de philosophie positive (Course in Positive Philosophy,1830)
Systéme de politique positive ou traité de sociologie instituant la religion de l'humanité (four volumes, 1851-1854)