John Stuart Mill
John Stuart Mill
March 31, 2017

Utilitarianism and Positivism

Auguste Comte

I sidore Marie Auguste François Xavier Comte was a French philosopher who founded the discipline of praxeology and the doctrine of positivism. He is sometimes regarded as the first philosopher of science in the modern sense of the term.


19 January 1798 Montpellier, France


5 September 1857 (aged 59) Paris, France


19th-century philosophy


Western philosophy

Main interests

Positivism, law of three stages, encyclopedic law, altruism

Chapter Ⅸ. Utilitarianism and Positivism

Auguste Comte


Hayagriva dasa: Comte is the French founder of Positivism. He felt that theology dealt solely with the heart, or sentiments, and that metaphysics dealt solely with the intellect, but that Positivism reconciled the two. In A General View of Positivism, he writes: "It is a fundamental doctrine of Positivism.. .that the heart preponderates over the intellect. The intellect should devote itself exclusively to the problems which the heart suggests, the ultimate object being to find proper satisfaction for our various wants."

Srila Prabhupada: From Bhagavad-gita, we understand that above the gross senses are the mind, intelligence, or intellect, and then the soul. The soul is the original principle of all activities, which are manifest in grosser and grosser ways. First, there are the gross activities of the body, then the subtle activities of the mind, and then the still more subtle activities of the intellect, and finally the spiritual activities. In this way, the different platforms of knowledge and understanding are categorized.

Syamasundara dasa: Comte believed that theology, metaphysics and Positivism constitute three stages through which the perfect society evolves. In the beginning, the theological stage, man moves from polytheism to monotheism. In the second stage, the metaphysical, man abandons the first stages and places his faith in impersonal forces, like cause and effect, gravity, and so on.

Srila Prabhupada: This philosophy is imperfect. From the personal platform, you have to reach the person, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. How can the law of gravitation save you? It is an energy of God, a natural law. When we speak of law, we predicate the fact that someone makes the law.

Syamasundara dasa: Comte suggests that primitive man worships personal forms in nature, and that as man becomes more sophisticated, he worships impersonal forms.

Srila Prabhupada: That is backwards. The personal aspect is higher. Of course, if one does not know the Supreme Personality of Godhead, that is a different matter. Foolish men attempt to worship the impersonal. Primitive man by nature wants to worship a person. Because people do not know who that person is, out of frustration they turn to impersonalism. As far as our philosophy is concerned, we know the person because the personal God has told us, "Here I am." When He is present, He proves that He is God, the Supreme Lord. When people see Him, they write books about Him. When Vyasadeva saw Krsna, He abandoned all other literatures to write of Krsna's activities in Srimad-Bhagavatam. He knew by personal, meditative, and authoritative knowledge that Krsna is God. One who does not know Krsna may turn to impersonalism.

Syamasundara dasa: Comte believed that above the metaphysical platform is the Positivist stage wherein man abandons theological and metaphysical explanations in order to acquire positive knowledge. In this stage, man is sufficiently competent to ascertain facts and amass scientific data.

Srila Prabhupada: We don't agree with this. It is not that science is above metaphysics; rather, real scientific knowledge is metaphysical.

Syamasundara dasa: Comte maintained that the more facts that we discover through science, the more complicated science becomes. Thus science advances toward the positive stage.

Srila Prabhupada: We say that it becomes more superficial. Complete knowledge means finding the original cause. Sense perception is considered scientific, but the Vedas state that sense perception is misleading and is not independent. For instance, at the moment you can see me, but if there were no sunlight, you would not be able to see me. Your seeing is dependent on the sun, but you have not supplied the sun. The sun has come into being by someone else's arrangement, and your seeing is dependent on that arrangement. Therefore your seeing has no intrinsic value.

Syamasundara dasa: Comte considered sociology to be the most complex science because it depends on all the other sciences for its understanding. It is the science of human behavior, of group relations.

Srila Prabhupada: Sociology is already given by Krsna. It is not Comte's gift. In Bhagavad-gita, Krsna says:

catur-varnyam maya srstam
tasya kartaram api mam
viddhy akartaram avyayam

"According to the three modes of material nature and the work ascribed to them, the four divisions of human society were created by Me. And, although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the non-doer, being unchangeable." (Bg. 4.13) This is perfect sociology. If you try to create some system, that system will be imperfect because you are imperfect. There will not be peace. Certainly, human groups are necessary, but they must have a scientific basis. Krsna says that He has created the varnas; therefore we have to accept the system as it is given. Just as different parts of your body work in order to sustain the body, the different parts of society should work to maintain the social order. It is not that you can artificially create social orders. When people attempt this, they create only havoc.

Hayagriva dasa: Comte believed that man's scientific attempt to improve nature is more desirable than a passive belief in God. He writes: "Even the laws of the solar system are very far from perfect...the increasing imperfection of the economy of nature becomes a powerful stimulus to all our faculties, whether moral, intellectual, or practical....The conception of man becoming, without fear or boast, the arbiter within certain limits, of his own destiny, has in it something far more satisfying than the old belief in Providence, which implied our remaining passive."

Srila Prabhupada: This means that he has no knowledge of God. There is no question of passivity. God is the ultimate controller of everything, and although He may act through different agents, the ultimate decision is given by Him. He is sitting in everyone's heart observing the activities of the individual soul, and without His permission, no one can act. He gives intelligence, and He also causes one to forget. By God's grace, we can have the power to remember activities long past. In any case, God is the ultimate director. Man cannot be independent, because man's actions are impelled by the three modes of material nature.

prakrteh kriyamanani
gunaih karmani sarvasah
kartaham iti manyate

"The bewildered spirit soul, under the influence of the three modes of material nature, thinks himself to be the doer of activities, which are in actuality carried out by nature." (Bg. 3.27) The ultimate director is the Supersoul situated in the heart of every living entity and within every atom.

Syamasundara dasa: Comte believed that social reforms are implemented more by love than anything else. His motto was: "Love for the principle, order for the basis, progress for the end."

Srila Prabhupada: Unfortunately, he does not know what the end is. He is simply theorizing. The end is Visnu. Srimad-Bhagavatam states:

na te viduh svartha-gatim hi visnum
durasaya ye bahir-artha-maninah
andha yathandhair upaniyamanas
te 'pisa-tantryam uru-damni baddhah

"Persons who are strongly entrapped by the consciousness of enjoying material life, and who have therefore accepted as their leader or guru a similar blind man attached to external sense objects, cannot understand that the goal of life is to return home, back to Godhead, and engage in the service of Lord Visnu. As blind men guided by another blind man miss the right path and fall into a ditch, materially attached men led by another materially attached man are bound by the ropes of fruitive labor, which are made of very strong cords, and they continue again and again in materialistic life, suffering the threefold miseries." (Bhag. 7.5.31) Unless we know the end, all our theorizing will not help. All their humanitarian work will never be successful because they have missed the main point: Krsna.

Hayagriva dasa: Comte would agree with Protagoras's saying, "Man is the measure of all things." He writes: "The universe is to be studied not for its own sake, but for the sake of man, or rather of humanity. To study in any other spirit would not only be immoral, but also highly irrational."

Srila Prabhupada: Our view is that man should be anxious to understand the Absolute Truth. Human intelligence is meant for searching out the ultimate source of everything. It is useless to try to improve man's material situation. Every living being is destined to undergo a certain amount of happiness and distress. By virtue of our past activities, we get a particular type of body destined to suffer or enjoy. That cannot be changed. You may call this either fatalism or destiny, but it is a fact that every man is destined in this way, and his destiny cannot be changed. However, his intelligence can change his position in reference to God. Presently, man is forgetful of God and his relationship with God. Human life is meant for changing this position. Man's economic position is already fixed by destiny and cannot be changed. This is also confirmed in Srimad-Bhagavatam. When we engage in devotional service, we can change our destiny. Otherwise, destiny is fixed.

Hayagriva dasa: Comte distinguishes between atheism and Positivism in this way: "Atheism, even from the intellectual point of view, is a very imperfect form of emanicipation; for its tendency is to prolong the metaphysical stage indefinitely by continuing to seek for new solutions to theological problems instead of setting aside all inaccessible researches on the grounds of their utter inutility....The true Positivist spirit consists in studying the How instead of the Why." Since religious questions can never be answered, they had best be forgotten.

Srila Prabhupada: How can man forget? If man does not believe in God, God comes as death. How can man counteract death? From Bhagavad-gita we understand that God appears as death for the atheists, and in this way God convinces the atheists, "Here I am." No one can avoid this. No one can become independent by atheistic speculation.

Hayagriva dasa: Comte equated intellectual and moral improvement with material progress. He writes: "A nation that has made no efforts to improve itself materially will take but little interest in moral or mental improvement."

Srila Prabhupada: The standard of material improvement is not actually fixed. One person may be satisfied with certain material conditions, while another may be dissatisfied with the same conditions. The question is, "What should the standard of material life be?" As far as Vedic civilization is concerned, the material necessities are eating, sleeping, mating, and defending. These are present in both the animal and human kingdoms. Standards, however, vary, according to different cultures.

Syamasundara dasa: Comte felt that we should deal only with information that can be verified by experiment, or demonstration.

Srila Prabhupada: Then, how are these planets floating in the air? What is the scientific explanation for that? Who made this cosmic arrangement? If they don't know, then what is the value of their scientific knowledge? Because they cannot answer these questions, they say that they are not worth knowing.

Syamasundara dasa: Comte would feel that such knowledge is not very useful.

Srila Prabhupada: But knowledge means finding out the source of knowledge, the source of everything. You are seeing only a portion of someone's actions and reactions, but you do not know who that someone is. If you don't know, you cannot pose as a man of knowledge.

Syamasundara dasa: Comte is interested in knowledge dealing with sense phenomena, knowledge that can be directly, scientifically utilized.

Srila Prabhupada: Well, naturally you can perceive a tree growing, but a man interested in knowledge wants to know the origin of that tree. One who does not or cannot know says, "It doesn't matter," but if you are serious about knowledge, it matters. Knowledge of the tree's origin is certainly practical. We understand that a tree comes from a seed, but where does the seed come from? How is it that so much potency is given to the seed? Who gives that seed such potency?

Syamasundara dasa: Is that knowledge useful?

Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Of course, it may not be useful for a fool. For a fool, such scientific knowledge is of no use, but for a real scientist, knowledge of the origin of things is most essential. Only a fool would say that such knowledge is useless. A scientific man wants to find the cause of things, whether knowledge of that cause is immediately useful or not. Higher knowledge has no value for an ordinary man. In this Kali-yuga, the ordinary man is a fool. He thinks, "Why are people wasting their time searching for God?" For a fool, the search for God is unimportant, but for a scientist, it is most important.

Hayagriva dasa: Comte felt that it was the working man, the sudra, who is most apt to be the arbiter of Positivism, not the scientist or philosopher. He writes: "The occupations of working men are evidently far more conducive to philosophical views than those of the middle classes, since they are not so absorbing as to prevent continuous thought, even during the hours of labor."

Srila Prabhupada: How can the working man become an arbiter? Every working man requires some manager to direct him, and in Communist countries we have seen that there is a managerial class as well as a Working class. If this is the case, how can the worker help us? He is always subordinate to some manager.

Hayagriva dasa: Comte wanted to form working men's clubs that would be dedicated to the philosophy of Positivism. These would form "a provisional substitute for the church of old times, or rather to prepare the way for the religious building of the new form of worship, the worship of humanity."

Srila Prabhupada: His conception of humanity is not very clear. What does he mean by humanity? What does the working class know of humanity? If by "humanity" he means the totality of all human beings, he must still admit that every human being has some individuality. Even if you consider all humanity to be the same, how will you account for individuality?

Hayagriva dasa: Well, it is his contention and that of Communism in general that all men are basically the same in relation to the state.

Srila Prabhupada: Yes, they are all under the laws of the state, but their thinking, feeling, and willing are not under the state. Men think, feel, and will differently. How, then, can they be one? Of course, human beings have two arms, two legs, and one head, but the working of the brain differs according to the individual. It is not possible to adjust these differences and reconcile all humanity as a whole. Everyone will not be in total agreement. People have their own tastes even in eating, sleeping, mating, and defending—to say nothing of thinking, feeling, and willing. If you try to force uniformity, you will create dissatisfaction.

Hayagriva dasa: Comte felt that Positivism and Communism—which was then in its formative stage—could go hand in hand. He writes: "Positivism has nothing to fear from Communism; on the contrary, it will probably be accepted by most Communists among the working classes...."

Srila Prabhupada: He speaks of a working class but not a managerial class. He wants a classless society, but he wants it populated only by working men. But the fact is that working men require direction, just as the legs and hands require directions from the brain. That is quite natural. It is not possible for the working classes not to be under someone's direction.

Hayagriva dasa: Concerning the different qualities of men and women, Comte wrote: "In all kinds of force, for the physical, intellectual or practical, it is certain that men surpass women, in accordance with a general law which prevails throughout the animal kingdom....If there were nothing else to do but to love...women would be supreme."

Srila Prabhupada: This is a natural distinction between men and women. How can it be changed? Women are meant for certain activities, just as men are. You may try to change this artificially, but basically it cannot be changed. A woman becomes pregnant, but a man does not. How can this be changed?

Hayagriva dasa: Well, from this he concludes that women, being dominated by love, are morally superior to men. He envisioned woman as "the spontaneous priestess of humanity. She personifies in the purest form the principle of love upon which the unity of our nature depends."

Srila Prabhupada: This is Comte's imagination. When a woman is misguided, she becomes dangerous, and there is no question of love. According to the Vedic conception, women and children are on the same level, and they should both be protected by men. In childhood a woman is protected by her father, in youth by her husband, and in old age by her grown sons. Women should never be given independence, but they should be given protection. In this way, their natural love for father, husband, and children will develop very smoothly. Thus the relationship between women and men should be established very happily so that both can execute their real function: cooperative spiritual life. The woman should look after the comfort of the man, and the man, who works hard, should also look after her comfort. Then both will be satisfied, and their spiritual lives will progress. A man is meant to work hard, and a woman is meant to give comfort and love in the home. In this way, man and woman can combine so that both can progress in spiritual life.

Hayagriva dasa: Comte felt that love of God is inconsistent with love for our fellow men, and that it has always interfered with man's love of woman. He writes: "It was impiety for the knight to love his lady better than his God; and thus the best feelings of man's nature were repressed by his religious faith. Women, therefore, are not really interested in perpetuating the old system (of religion); and the very instincts by which their nature is characterized will soon incline them to abandon it."

Srila Prabhupada: Generally, women are interested in a comfortable home life. That is their nature. They are not spiritually very advanced or interested, but if a man has spiritual interests, and the woman helps the man—either as a mother, wife, or daughter—both can make spiritual progress. However, the woman must remain subordinate, and the man must make spiritual progress. Because the woman helps the man, she shares his spiritual benefits.

Hayagriva dasa: Comte envisioned women primarily as companions of men. He writes: "The first aspect then, under which Positivism considers woman, is simply as the companion of man, irrespective of her maternal duties....For perfect friendship, difference of sex is essential, as excluding the possibility of rivalry."

Srila Prabhupada: According to the bodily demands, there are sexual necessities. Women should not only give sex pleasure to their husbands, but should also prepare good food. After coming home from a day of hard work, the man should be supplied good food, comfort, and sex. Then the home becomes very happy, and both husband and wife are satisfied.

Then they can improve their real business, which is spiritual understanding. Human life is meant for progressing spiritually, and people must first of all know that the spirit soul is at the basis even of material life. The body is built upon the soul. Although women are generally less intelligent, this understanding is required of both men and women. With the help of the husband, a woman can become more intelligent. In Vedic history, we have the example of Kapila-deva giving spiritual instructions to his mother Devahuti. Whether the woman is a daughter, wife, or mother, if she remains subordinate, she can receive knowledge from either her father, husband, or son. In the Puranas, there is the example of Lord Siva answering the spiritual questions of Parvati. Women supply the comforts of the tongue, belly, and genitals, and, remaining submissive, they are instructed in spiritual life. Thus there is cooperative advancement.

Hayagriva dasa: Comte felt that at least in the beginning stages of Positivism, women should take the place of God as an object of man's affection and love. He writes: "From childhood, each of us will be taught to regard women's sex as the principal source of human happiness and improvement, whether in public life or in private....In a word, man will kneel to women, and to women alone....She will be regarded by man as the most perfect personification of humanity....The worship of women, when it has assumed a more systematic shape, will be valued for its own sake as a new instrument of happiness and moral growth....The worship of women satisfies this condition, and is so far of greater efficacy, than the worship of God."

Srila Prabhupada: It is the duty of men to protect women and maintain them comfortably, not worship them. It is not a very good proposal to worship a woman as God. Then man will be henpecked. Worship is reserved for God only, and is not meant for others. However, cooperation between men and women for the sake of worshipping God is desirable. It is not that a man or a woman should be worshipped as God. Sometimes, affection is so strong that a person may see another person as God, but that is sentimentalism. God is different from men and women, who are but living entities meant to worship God. A woman should always be engaged in assisting a man in every respect in his religious, social, and family life. That is the real benefit of conjugal life.

Hayagriva dasa: Comte writes that "the whole effect of Positivist worship will be to make men feel clearly how far superior in every respect is the synthesis founded on the love of humanity to that founded on the love of God."

Srila Prabhupada:

Love of humanity means raising humanity to the point where people can understand the real goal of life. We do not serve humanity by keeping people in darkness. We must enlighten others with knowledge, and ultimate knowledge means understanding God, our relationship with God, and the activities of that relationship. That is real humanitarian work. Mankind must be informed of the nature of the body and the soul and the necessities and goal of the soul. In this way, we can really serve humanity. We do not serve it by encouraging the animal propensities.

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