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The Contemporary Review, Volume 36, September 1879

L'univers doit etre etudie non pour lui meme


The

psychology implied in this theory is substantially that which found its fullest expression in Hume's Treatise on Human Nature. Hume, with that tendency to bring things to a distinct issue which is his best characteristic, declares boldly that "reason is, and ought to be, the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them." The passions or desires are tendencies of a definite character which exist in man from the first; the awaking intelligence cannot add to their number, or essentially change their nature. It can only take account of what they are, and calculate how best to satisfy them. "We speak not strictly and philosophically when we talk of the combat of reason and passion," for reason in itself determines the true and false, but it sets nothing before us as an end to be pursued and avoided. It does not constitute or transform the desires, which are given altogether apart from it, and the will is but the strongest desire. When we say that reason controls the passions what we mean is simply that a strong but calm tendency of our nature, which has reference to some remote object, overcomes some violent impulse towards a present delight; but for intelligence, in the strict sense of the word, to war with passion is a simple impossibility.

The modifications which Comte makes in this view of motive are comparatively trifling. He does not, indeed, like Hume, call reason the slave of the passions; rather

he says that "_l'esprit doit etre le ministre du coeur, mais jamais son esclave_;" but this change of language does not involve any important modification of Hume's theory. The intelligence has to give to the heart all kinds of information about the objects through which it may find satisfaction, but after all the end itself has to be determined solely by feeling and desire. In Comte's language the intellect is a "slave," when theology makes it acknowledge the existence of supernatural beings who are agreeable to our desires, but who have no reality as objects of experience; it is a "master," when it pursues its inquiries into the phenomena of the objective world, at the bidding of an errant curiosity, without reference to the well-being of man; it is in its true place as a "servant" when it studies the objective world freely, but only with reference to the end fixed for it by the affections. "_L'univers doit etre etudie non pour lui-meme, mais pour l'homme, ou plutot pour l'humanite_;" and this, Comte thinks, will not be done if the intelligence be left to itself, but only if it be made subordinate to the heart. To say, therefore, that the intelligence is not to be a slave but a servant, implies merely that it is to be left free to collect information about the means of satisfying the desires, without having its judgment anticipated by the imagination or the heart; but that, on the other hand, it must keep strictly to its position as an instrument to an end out of itself. For if it once emancipates itself from the yoke of feeling, it soon becomes altogether lawless, and disperses its efforts in every direction in the satisfaction of a vain curiosity. The intelligence, as the scholastic theologians said, is in itself, or when left to itself, a source of anarchy and confusion; it must be, not indeed the _serva_, but the _ancilla fidei_, or it defeats its own ends. The intellectual life, as such, is an unsocial, even a selfish existence; for, as reason is guided by no definite objective aim derived from itself, it must find its real motive in the satisfaction of personal vanity and self-conceit, whenever it is not subjected to the yoke of the altruistic affections.


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