15 abril 2007

Sobre o "empirismo" de Augusto Comte


Um dos mitos mais difundidos a respeito do Positivismo, ao menos a respeito do pensamento comtiano, é o relativo ao empirismo. As citações nesse sentido são abundantes e cansativas e talvez a origem desse mito ligue-se à influência de uma versão norte-americana das idéias do Círculo de Viena; em todo caso, o fato é que se relaciona as versões mais radicais possíveis de empirismo ao nome de Augusto Comte e à sua doutrina positivista, quase como se fossem sinônimas.

Os esforços para desfazer esse mito têm que ser constantes; de modo geral, os críticos do “empirismo positivista” adotam uma postura quase irracionalista e – algo que não é tão estranhável – anti-“empirista” (no sentido de rejeitarem as evidências factuais e prenderem-se dogmaticamente ao discurso previamente ouvido).

Pois bem: a citação abaixo desmente cabalmente o mito do hiperempirismo comtiano. A origem do texto abaixo é a condensação da obra de Comte Cours de philosophie positive (depois renomeado para Système de philosophie positive), publicado em seis volumes entre 1830 e 1842. A condensação é da lavra da pensadora inglesa Harriet Martineau, que passou os seis volumes iniciais para apenas dois – com a aprovação a posteriori do próprio autor, que a recomendava no lugar de seus próprios livros (devido à menor extensão da versão condensada)[2]. O contexto da citação é a apresentação dos métodos específicos da ciência social, indicando, em particular, a importância da observação, o mais direta possível, dos fenômenos sociais; após criticar aqueles que supõem ser impossível uma observação da realidade social, Augusto Comte critica aqueles que misturam meras observações diversas com “ciência”; após a citação abaixo, o autor afirma a importância de estudar-se a história das sociedades como meio de observação e estende essa observação à eleição da “filiação histórica” (o que chamaríamos hoje, grosso modo, simplesmente de “método histórico) como método fundamental da Sociologia, cujas conseqüências teóricas e metodológicas serão importantes não apenas para a nova ciência como para as demais.

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“The next great hindrance to the use of observation is the empiricism which is introduced into it by those who, in the name of impartiality, would interdict the use of any theory whatever. No logical dogma could be more thoroughly irreconcilable with the spirit of the positive philosophy, or with its special character in regard to the study of social phenomena, than this. No real observation of any kind of phenomena is possible, except in as far as it is first directed, and finally interpreted, by some theory: and it was this logical need which, in the infancy of human reason, occasioned the rise of theological philosophy, as we shall see in the course of our historical survey. The positive philosophy does not dissolve this obligation, but, on the contrary, extends and fulfils it more and more, the furthur the relations of phenomena are multiplied and perfected by it. Hence it is clear that, scientifically speaking, all isolated, empirical observatin is idle, and even radically uncertain; that science can use only those observations which are connected, at least hypothetically, with some law; that it is such a connection which makes the chief difference between scientific and popular observation, embracing the same facts, but contemplating them from differents points of view: and that observations empirically conducted can at most supply provisional materials, which must usually undergo an ulterior revision. The rational method of observation becomes more necessary in proportion to the complexity of the phenomena, amidst which the observer would not know what he ought to look at in the facts before his eyes, but for the guidance of a preparatory theory; and thus it is that by the connection of foregoing facts we learn to see the facts that follow. This is indisputed with regard to astronomical, physical, and chemical research, and in every branch of biological study, in which good observation of its highly complex phenomena is still very rare, precisely because its positive theories are very imperfect. Carrying on the analogy, it is evident that in the corresponding divisions, statical and dynamical, of social science, there is more need than anywhere else of theories which shall scientifically connect the facts that are happening with those those that have happened: and the more we reflect, the more distinctly we shall see that in proportion as known facts are mutually connected, we shall be better able, not only to estimate, but to perceive, those which are yet unexplored. I am not blind to the vast difficulty which this requisition imposes on the institution of positive sociology – obliging us to create at once, so to speak, observations and laws, on account of their indispensable connection, placing us in a sort of vicious circle, from which we can issue only by employing in the first instance materials which are badly elaborated, and doctrines which are ill-conceived. How I may succeed in a task so difficult and delicate, we shall see at its close; but, however that may be, it is clear that it is the absence of any positive theory which at present renders social observations so vague and incoherent. There can never be any lack of facts; for in this case even more than in others, it is the commonest sort of facts that are most important, whatever the collectors of secret anecdotes may think; but, though we are steeped to the lips in them, we can make no use of them, nor even be aware of them, for want to be speculative guidance in examining them. The statical observation of a crowd of phenomena cannot take place without some notion, however elementary, of the laws of social interconnection: and dynamical facts could have no fixed direction if they were not attached, at least by a provisional hypothesis, to the laws of social development. The positive philosophy is very far from discouraging historical or any erudition; but the precious night-watchings, now so lost in the laborious acquisition of a conscientious but barren learning, may be available by it for the constitution of true social science, and the increased honour of the earnest minds that are devoted to it. The new philosophy will supply fresh and nobler subjects, unhoped-for insight, a loftier aim, and therefore, a higher scientific dignity. It will discard none but aimless labours, without principle, and without character; as in Physics, there is no room for compilations of empirical observations; and at the same time, philosophy will render justice to the zeal of students of a past generation, who, destitute of the favourable guidance which we, of this day, enjoy, followed up their laborious historical researches with an instinctive perserverance, and in spite of the superficial disdain of the philosophers of the time. No doubt, the same danger attends research here as elsewhere: the danger that, from the continuous use of scientific theories, the observer may sometimes pervert facts, by erroneously supposing them to verify some ill-grounded speculative prejudices of his own. But we have the same guard here as elsewhere – in the further extension of the science: and the case would not be improved by a recurrence to empirical methods, which would be merely leaving theories that may be misappliedbut can always be rectified, for imaginary notions which cannot be substantiated at all. Our feeble reason may often fail in the application of positive theories; but at least they transfer us from the domain of imagination to that of reality, and expose us infinitely less than any other kind of doctrine to the danger of seeing in facts that which is not.

Is is now clear that social science requires, more than any other, the subordination of Observation to the statical and dynamical laws of phenomena. No social fact can have any scientific meaning till it is connected with some other social fact; without which connection it remains a mere anecdote, involving no rational utility. This condition so far increases the immediate difficulty that good observers will be rare at first, though more abundant than ever as the science expands: and here we meet with another confirmation of what I said at the outset of this volume – that the formation of social theories should be confined only to the best organized minds, prepared by the most rational training. Explored by such minds, according to rational views of coexistence and succession, social phenomena no doubt admit of much more varied and extensive means of investigation than phenomena of less complexity. In this view, it is not only the immediate inspection or direct description of events that affords useful means of positive exploration; but the consideration of apparently insignificant custums, the appreciation of various kinds of monuments, the analysis and comparison of languages, and a multitude of other resources. In short, a mind suitably trained becomes able by exercise to convert almost all impressions from the events of life into sociological indications, when once the connection of all indications with the leading ideas of the science is understood. This is a facility afforded by the mutual relation of the various aspects of society, which may partly compensate for the difficulty caused by that mutual connection: if it renders observation more difficult, it affords more means for its prosecution” (COMTE, 1893, p. 80-83).


COMTE, A. 1893. The Positive Philosophy of Auguste Comte. Condensed by Harriet Martineau. V. II. 3rd ed. London: K. Paul.

[1] Agradeço ao amigo e correligionário Ângelo Torres pela indicação deste material, com o fito de auxiliar-me em minhas pesquisas de doutorado. Da mesma forma, agradeço ao CNPq pelo auxílio prestado na forma de uma bolsa de doutorado.

[2] Isso também justifica o fato, à primeira vista estranhável, de que a citação seja em inglês, ao invés de em francês.

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