History 104: Western Civilization since 1648
Lecture: Industrialization

Philosophical Reaction Click here for Audio

In addition to efforts to reform labor practices, the transformation of society created by industrialization led to philosophical reactions as well.


Socialism was one reaction, as we will see later in the course. French scholar Charles Fourier, in his 1808 book The Social Destiny of Man, noted that "truth and commerce are as incompatible as Jesus and Satan." He advocated a socialist structure based on a cooperative system of production that would permit self-fulfillment among workers. His work was highly influential on later philosophers, though Karl Marx would call him "utopian".

New Lanark, Robert Owens' mill town

Robert Owen, Welsh manager of a larger spinning factory in Manchester, England, married into an industrial family and became owner of several mills. Some employed children as young as five. Believing in good treatment for workers and education to develop good human beings, he established schools and reformed child labor, eliminating harsh punishments. In his effort to establish a "new moral order", he ran his factories in a cooperative and responsible manner, and supported labor reform.

Henri de Saint-Simon called for a secular application of Christian morality to working conditions. He was one of the first to identify "industrialization" as it was happening, and insist that science be applied to social problems. This scientific approach was later developed further by Marx.


Auguste Comte developed positivism.

Web document: Comte's The Positive Philosophy

In positivism, humanity is seen as moving through three stages:
1. Theological: where humans attribute all phenomena to gods or the supernatural
2. Metaphysical: where they attribute things to abstract ideas
3. Positive: where they attribute things to scientific fact
He believed that humanity was entering the last stage. Ed Stephan of Western Washington University has helpfully given examples:

You'll note that some questions cannot be solved by positivism, and yet even today we live in Comte's world. Notice how you have to get your facts together to get anything done. Let's say you want a skateboard park in Cardiff, California. Do you go to the city council and say, "I want a skateboard park because God wills it?" Do you say, "I want a skateboard park because people like to ride skateboards"? No. You gather data. You find out how many people want a skateboard park, project where it might be and how much it would cost. You then present your facts to the council. That's positivism.