Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 66.djvu/180

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176
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.
THE CONCEPTIONS AND METHODS OF PSYCHOLOGY.[1]
By Professor J. McKEEN CATTELL,
COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY.

ONE of the verses in the treasure-house of Greek letters warns us against calling any man happy before he is dead. The greatest living English author lets one of his favorite characters say: 'But does incessant battling keep the intellect clear?' Such reflections may well lead us to distrust any attempt, by one in the ranks, to sum up the fundamental conceptions and methods of a science, especially of a young and growing science. It may be the prerogative of the student of psychology to write the biography of an infant, but he has not hitherto penetrated very far into its real life. I disagree completely with the eminent psychologist to whom the plan of this great congress is chiefly due when he claims that 'the presuppositions with which a science starts decide for all time the possibilities of its outer extension.' Sciences are not immutable species, but developing organisms. Their fundamental conceptions and methods at any period can only be approached by a research into work actually accomplished. Had time and circumstance permitted, I should have attempted to make an inductive study of the contents and methods of psychology rather than to prepare three quarters of an hour of generalities and platitudes. But as even the pedant knows, 'die Kunst ist lang, und kurz ist unser Leben.' The court poet must console himself for the deficiencies of his ceremonial verses by reflecting on the honor of being permitted to write them.

 

The concept of a science is an abstraction from an abstraction. The concrete fact is the individual experience of each of us. Certain parts of this experience are forcibly and artificially separated from the rest and become my science of psychology, your science of psychology, his science of psychology. From all these individual sciences, shifting not only from person to person but also from day to day, there arises by a kind of natural selection a quasi objective science of psychology. In a well-bred science, such as chemistry, the conventions have become standardized; the dogmas impose themselves on the neophyte. But projectiles as small as ions or electrons break up the idols, and the map

  1. An address at the International Congress of Arts and Science, St. Louis, September, 1904.