A couple of posts ago I referred briefly to Auguste Comte and led you to expect that I would return to discuss what he saw as the third phase of humankind's journey towards understanding of itself.
Those of you who followed my advice to refer to Wikipedia and to the Stanford on-line Encyclopedia for a better understanding of the full extent of Comte's efforts to supplant the earlier modes of explanation he identified as the religious and the metaphysical will also by now be acquainted with the intellectual turmoil that apparently resulted from his envisagement of humanism as the inevitable replacement for those earlier unsatisfactory modes. He evidently accorded to his hypothesis about humanism the virtual status of a religion. Disaster! The intellectual community was clearly not ready for a hypothesis that accorded to humanism a god-like status which rendered it worthy of worship. The reasons for Comte's having done so I personally find very moving. It's also difficult not to be caught up in a sympathetic understanding of Comte's excitement about the possibilities for the future of humankind that are implicit in his new conceptualization.
Never mind! Comte not only foresaw the possibilities for understanding in what was to become the new science of sociology. He was also largely responsible for conceiving of altruism as a major factor in human relating; indeed, the significant development of humanistic modes of thinking which emerged in consequence of his own endeavours have undoubtedly enriched humanity. What kind of necessary precurser he was to Bauman and to Emmanuel Lévinas it is hard to say, but it does seem that humankind may be on the verge of a more balanced view of Comte's significance, since, as Norbert Elias himself showed, hegemonic accommodations do not contain instructions for the wholesale survival of humankind.
A most hopeful development that I feel is connected to Comte's overall significance is very apparent in the discussion referenced below, which deals in part with the interaction of religious and hegemonic tendencies in our present organizations of society. It can be found at
That its overall symbolic significance may be even more important is evidenced, I think, by the title that Tu Weiming now holds at the University of Peking. It is "Lifetime Professor of Philosophy at the Institute for Advanced Humanistic Studies." (An Institute of which he is the founding dean.)
It is almost impossible to summarize succinctly the extent of Professor Tu's activities and, indeed, the overall significance of them, but it is possible to see them as energizing a trend towards a reconciliation of apparently dissociative and associative efforts in the world arena.
Professor Weiming's habitus comprises both "Eastern" and "Western" elements. He is a child both of the Enlightenment and of Confucian exegesis, and he is acutely aware of the push and pull of both––as, indeed is his participant in the discussion referenced above, the sociologist Robert N. Bellah.
I don't think I can yet do justice to the overall concerns of both Tu and Bellah, nor to the enormity of the task they both confront, but it is the task that faces the whole of humankind, and they are clearly confronting it without the polarizing delusions that seem almost inexorably to characterize the present world political scene. We could do a lot worse than to consider carefully the substance of their discussion and its implications . . .
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