Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/451

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TEE VALUE OF SCIENCE 447

shades, in number infinite, that my impressions might cover. When I say : It grows dark, that well expresses the impressions I feel in being present at an eclipse; but even in obscurity a multitude of shades could be imagined, and if, instead of that actually realized, had hap- pened a slightly different shade, yet I should still have enunciated this other fact by saying: It grows dark.

Second remark : even at the second stage, the enunciation of a fact can only be true or false. This is not so of any proposition; if this proposition is the enunciation of a convention, it can not be said that this enunciation is true, in the proper sense of the word, since it could not be true apart from me and is true only because I wish it to be.

When, for instance, I say the unit for length is the meter, this is a decree that I promulgate, it is not something ascertained which forces itself upon me. It is the same, as I think I have elsewhere shown, when it is a question for example of Euclid's postulate.

When I am asked: Is it growing dark? I always know whether I ought to reply yes or no. Although an infinity of possible facts may be susceptible of this same enunciation: it grows dark, I shall always know whether the fact realized belongs or does not belong among those which answer to this enunciation. Facts are classed in categories, and if I am asked whether the fact that I ascertain belongs or does not belong in such a category, I shall not hesitate.

Doubtless this classification is sufficiently arbitrary to leave a large part to man's freedom or caprice. In a word, this classification is a convention. This convention being given, if I am asked: Is such a fact true ? I shall always know what to answer, and my reply will be imposed upon me by the witness of my senses.

If, therefore, during an eclipse, it is asked: Is it growing dark? All the world will answer yes. Doubtless those speaking a language where bright was called dark, and dark bright, would answer no. But of what importance is that ?

In the same way, in mathematics, when I have laid down the definitions, and the postulates which are conventions, a theorem hence- forth can only be true or false. But to answer the question: Is this theorem true? It is no longer to the witness of my senses that I shall have recourse, but to reasoning.

A statement of fact is always verifiable, and for the verification we have recourse either to the witness of our senses, or to the memory of this witness. This is properly what characterizes a fact. If you put the question to me : Is such a fact true ? I shall begin by asking you, if there is occasion, to state precisely the conventions, by asking you, in other words, what language you have spoken; then once settled on this point, I shall interrogate my senses and shall answer yes or no. But it will be my senses that will have made answer, it

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