Article ID: CBB541460511

Auguste Comte and J. S. Mill on Physical Causes: The Case of Joseph Fourier’s Analytical Theory of Heat (2019)


Andreea Eșanu (Author)

Volume: 9
Issue: 2
Pages: 275-295
Publication date: 2019
Language: English

As Larry Laudan pointed out in the 1970s, in a convincing attempt to revive Auguste Comte’s positive philosophy, one overlooked aspect of Comte’s nineteenth-century philosophy of science was his categorical rejection of causal notions and their explanatory role in physical science. For example, Comte was skeptical about Laplace’s interpretation of Newtonian mechanics and the expansion of Laplace’s model of particles and forces to electricity, magnetism, and heat. But Laudan himself was not very clear on how Comte’s overall skepticism about causation was modern rather than, say, naive. Much earlier, John Stuart Mill made the case that Comte was in fact confused about the notion of cause, which impeded Comte from distinguishing between “metaphysical” and “physical” causes and which stemmed from a narrow and uncritical attachment to Comte’s antimetaphysical program. This article is an attempt to argue against Mill that Comte was not naive: he envisioned a construction of physical theories that did not need to rely on causal notions. By stressing this point, I hope to make more transparent the sense in which Comte’s rejection of causation in physical science had a “modern ring about it.”

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Authors & Contributors
Guillin, Vincent
Scharff, Robert C.
Braunstein, Jean-Françoise
Brown, Robert
Cobb, Aaron D.
Comte, Auguste
Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science
American Philosophical Quarterly
Annals of Science: The History of Science and Technology
British Journal for the Philosophy of Science
History and Philosophy of Logic
Transaction Publishers
Presses Universitaires de France
University of Chicago Press
History of philosophy of science
Philosophy of science
Science and gender
Mill, John Stuart
Comte, Auguste
Fourier, Jean Baptiste Joseph
Whewell, William
Bain, Alexander
Time Periods
19th century
20th century, early
Great Britain
British Isles

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