chapter  II
13 Pages

OF THE COMPARATIVE METHOD

The immanence in history of the philosophical datum by no means implies that, in philosophy, the positive method reduces to the historical. Were it otherwise, philosophy would consist only in its own history; and, since the theory of the influence exerted upon humanity by the material conditions of existence is called historical materialism, philosophy would be conceived as a sort of historical spiritualism-the theory of the part played by thought in human evolution. It is, however, as much the duty of philosophy to prosecute investigations into that total, that unique storehouse of facts which we call history, as it is for her to be mistress of the situation-that is to say, to preserve liberty to seek documentation where she will, to appraise by appropriate standards, to vary the field of exploration, and independently to analyse the ground surveyed in accordance with the hypothesis selected. We only plan to extend our knowledge in order that the more we know, the better we may understand ; we only peer more distantly in order that we may see more plainly and more clear. Both ends are secured when we discern fundamental likeness beneath apparent dissimilitude. All judgment is comparison : every comparison an interpreta­ tion of diversity by way of identity. Positive philosophy as conceived by a Comte or a Durkheim, and especially

as we try to define it, differs from history in so far as, in the quest of the same throughout the other, she finds a succedaneum for the Utopian search for laws in a series of facts which (for so it seems) do never recur. Let us observe that this discipline, far from leading back to history, will be in principle inverse and complementary thereto. For the historian is only concerned with resemblances that he may the better establish, by their light, the secret and subtle distinctions that finally differentiate the concrete data into irreconcilable disparities: whilst the positive philosopher insists that all variety should reveal before his eyes, if not a systematization of hard and fast laws, at any rate the constancy of certain conditions and some generality of certain facts.