a1 Department of Romance Studies, University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, Dyfed SY23 3DY.
In a paper which examined the ‘simultaneous emergence of evolutionary theories in biology and sociology in the nineteenth century’, J. C. Greene said of Comte that ‘it was not from biology that his inspiration [the inspiration of his evolutionary view] was drawn; his writings and letters in the formative period sing the praises of Bichat and Gall but not of Lamarck. His intellectual debt in social theory lay in a different direction—to Condorcet's Sketch of an historical picture of the progress of the human mind, to the historical writings of Hume and Robertson, and to the ideas of Saint-Simon’. This statement from a paper published almost twenty years ago as an exploratory reconnaissance of virgin territory is representative of the kind of confused judgements which still surround a discussion of the inter-relations between social, biological and medical thought in the century 1750 to 1850. It makes some valid points which a critical examination should not be allowed to overwhelm, the most significant being that Comte is unequivocally identified with the Enlightenment tradition represented here by Condorcet, Robertson and Hume. But since it is a very condensed statement about a complex set of relationships, it invites interpretations which the author did not necessarily intend.