Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Altruism of Auguste Comte by Julius Lloyd 1884


The Altruism of Auguste Comte by Julius Lloyd 1884

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The reasonableness and consistency of M. Comte's doctrine suffer by his arbitrary choice of certain names as representative of Humanity in the past. The selection of "those who have played their part worthily in life," assumes a power of deciding what is worthy or unworthy, which begs the whole question as to what is the governing principle of morals. The entire scheme depends on the manner in which this choice is exercised, for the ideal of Humanity is defined by means of the representative names which are taken. M. Comte's calendar of names exhibits his own ideal, but not that of any one who differs from him. Mankind are far from being agreed as to the chief characteristics of worth. If Dante, Milton, and Goethe, to take three of the most discerning intellects, were to nominate "those who have played their part worthily in life," their choice would differ widely in the result. A system of morals, in which so much depends on individual judgment, has no right to profess universality. It is really eclectic, and its pretended comprehensiveness is an illusion.

There is an obvious resemblance between Comte's Altruism and Christian morality, which makes it important to note the particulars in which they are agreed, and those in which they are opposed. They have in common the inculcation of brotherly love as a supreme duty, the worship and imitation of an ideal Humanity, the separation of a select body from the world at large. But Comte's system is in other respects not only distinct, but antagonistic to Christianity. God and Christ are excluded with a jealous intolerance. What is retained is a Brotherhood without a Fatherhood, a Body without a Head. What Comte offers as an ideal of Humanity is a Torso of Christianity, which he has mutilated. It is a curious contradiction of the first principle of Altruism, that the modern gospel of unselfishness should be a selfish plagiarism, in which a large part of the Christian morality is republished with the Author's name expunged.

On one point, however, Comte's Altruism advances beyond the limits of Christian doctrine. He teaches that, instead of loving our neighbour as ourselves, we should endeavour not to love ourselves at all. And this, which is the most original feature in Comte's doctrine, is claimed by his followers as an improvement on Christianity.

A fair comparison of the two will show that this fancied superiority is a dream of the study, and betrays a want of acquaintance with human nature. To exclude self-love is to take away the natural provision for self-preservation and self-culture, which are necessary conditions of the welfare of society. On the other hand, to make self-love a standard of brotherly love, as in the precept, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself," is to supply the most effective means by which brotherly love can promote its own object. Altruism without Egoism would be a vague yearning for the happiness of others, without any clear idea of happiness, what it is, or how it is to be obtained. If we suppose a company of pedestrians, each troubled in mind to be sure that his companions' boots fit them comfortably, and indifferent to his own, we should have a picture of a state of society in which Egoism was extinguished and Altruism remained. It would be necessary to find some kind of substitute for Egoism, in order to keep alive the sensibility to pleasure and pain, which is as necessary for the happiness of others as for our own. A man who wishes to make others happy has more power to do so in proportion as he feels sympathy in their pleasure; and thus Egoism has a function preparatory to Altruism. On strictly Altruist principles arts and sciences would languish. That which impelled Columbus to the discovery of America, and led on the inventors of the printing press and the steam engine, was not a prevision of the social benefits to follow, but rather an unsatisfied desire of the mind to accomplish a noble object.

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