Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 16.djvu/790

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
756
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

that Lord Bacon, though a truly clever man, was a mere dabbler in inductive science, the true methods of which he quite misapprehended. At best, he put into elegant and striking language an estimate of the tendency of science toward experimentalism, and a forecast of the results to be obtained. The regeneration of these last centuries is due to a long series of philosophers, from Copernicus, Galileo, Descartes, Newton, Leibnitz, down to Watt, Faraday, and Joule. Such men followed a procedure very different from that of Francis Bacon.

Now we come to the point of our inquiry. Is the experimental method necessarily restricted to the world of physical science? Do we sufficiently apply to moral, social, and political matters those methods which have been proved so invaluable in the hands of physical philosophers? Do our legislators, in short, appeal to experiment in a way which excepts them from the definition of Erasmus Darwin? English legislation, no doubt, is usually preceded by a great amount of public discussion and Parliamentary wrangling. Sometimes there is plenty of statistical inquiry—plenty, that is, if it were of the right sort and conducted according to true scientific method. Nevertheless, I venture to maintain that as a general rule Parliament ignores the one true way of appealing directly to experience. Our Parliamentary Committees and Royal Commissions of Inquiry pile up Blue-books full of information which is generally not to the point. The one bit of information, the actual trial of a new measure on a small scale, is not forthcoming, because Parliament, if it enacts a law at all, enacts it for the whole kingdom. It habitually makes a leap in the dark, because I suppose it is not consistent with the wisdom and dignity of Parliament to grope its way, and feel for a safe footing. Now, I maintain that, in large classes of legislative affairs, there is really nothing to prevent our making direct experiments upon the living social organism. Not only is social experimentation a possible thing, but it is in every part of the kingdom, excepting the palace of St. Stephen's, the commonest thing possible, the universal mode of social progress. It would hardly be too much to say that social progress is social experimentation, and social experimentation is social progress. Changes effected by any important act of Parliament are like storms, earthquakes, and cataclysms, which disturb the continuous course of social growth. Sometimes they do much good; sometimes much harm; but in any case it is hardly possible to forecast the result of a considerable catastrophic change in the social organism. Therefore I hold unhesitatingly that, whenever it is possible, legislation should observe the order of nature and proceed tentatively.

Social progress, I have said, is social experimentation. Every new heading that is inserted in the London Trades' Directory is claimed by those private individuals who have tried a new trade and found it to answer. The struggle for existence makes us all look out for chances of profit. We are all perhaps in some degree inventors, but