Dialectical Spiritualism: Auguste Comte

BY: SUN STAFF - 2.8 2017

Conversations wtih HDG A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, excerpted from  Dialectical Spiritualism: A Vedic View of Western Philosophy.

Auguste Comte (1798 - 1857)

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 srstarh 
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 concep tion 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.