Popular Science Monthly/Volume 21/July 1882/A Premature Discussion
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A Premature Discussion
By Z. D. Underhill
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IN her clever article upon "Science and the Woman Question," in "The Popular Science Monthly" of March, 1882, Miss Hardaker arrives at the definite conclusion that woman is and must necessarily for ever remain the intellectual inferior of man. In view of the importance of this conclusion, it will perhaps be worth while for a critic committed to neither side of the question to point out several flaws in Miss Hardaker's argument, which show that, whether or not her final conclusion be correct, the proofs and reasoning which she adduces to sustain it do not fulfill that purpose.
In the first place, Miss Hardaker brings forward prominently the argument that, as the brain of man is larger than that of woman, therefore his intellectual ability must be greater. But she omits to first prove that size is an essential attribute of superiority. Some of the most intelligent members of the animal kingdom have also, as far as actual size is concerned, the smallest brains. Excluding man, no other animals have elaborated for themselves such complicated social systems as have ants and bees. There are many similar facts which tend to show that size of brain has only a relative instead of an independent value, and scientific investigations have not yet been carried far enough to establish the physiological bases upon which this relative value of brains is to be estimated. It is quite possible that it may ultimately be found to depend upon factors of which we as yet know nothing.
The argument that, as man has larger stomach and lungs than woman, he must consequently have more energy and more mental ability, is equally without a base in any such accumulation of exact facts as must always be the only foundation for trustworthy inductions. The fact that the elephant and horse have also larger stomach and lungs than those of man has not enabled them to surpass human beings in that complex evolution of mental and moral qualities which we agree to denominate superiority. The real material causes from which such superiority proceeds we have yet to discover; and, while it looks at present as though relative size of body and brain might be one among them, we have no such positive proof of this as would warrant resting an argument upon it.
As to the other arguments founded upon the supposed inferiority of intellectual vigor in women, owing to the discharge of their peculiar physiological functions, it is only necessary to repeat that the solution of this question involves a knowledge of the complicated workings and balances of the human system which we do not yet possess.
The argument for the intellectual superiority of man, based upon the supposed superiority of his intellectual achievements, shows the same unscientific disposition to draw conclusions before investigating facts. The mass of the female sex has been engaged since the beginning of civilization in two functions—the regulating of household life and the training of children—both undoubtedly involving intellectual activity. . Reflection must make it obvious that it would be impossible to arrive at a correct conclusion as to woman's mental powers by comparing her achievements with those of man in fields which, as a sex, she has never entered. In order to rightly estimate her brain-power, it would be necessary to discover by long-extended and carefully collated research the amount of intellectual ability involved in the discharge of those functions to which her energies and intelligence have been directed. The observations of one person are of no value as a foundation for argument; but it would perhaps here be pertinent for the writer to mention that, in her own experience of life, she has seen women who have not impressed her as inferior in mental ability to the men with whom they associated, and to whom the exercise of their duties, as the heads of households and the guardians of childhood (involving the many questions, abstract and practical, which these duties do involve), has seemed to afford scope for the greatest intellectual activity.
Considering the want of knowledge, of all but the most fragmentary facts, which meets us at the threshold of this question, it would seem that all the arguments on either side are wasted breath, and that those advocates deserve reprobation who would throw a false veil of scientific reasoning over their ignorance. It is a sufficient sign that no real study of the question has yet been made, when we find on. both sides suppositions and feelings brought forward as arguments.
The only way in which such a problem can be properly approached is by the scientific methods of study which are now applied to other subjects: the painstaking accumulation, from all available sources and by many collaborators, of all the statistics and facts bearing upon it, the patient search for such truths connected with it as we are still ignorant of, and the application to all alike of unprejudiced investigation and strict logic. This has never yet been attempted.