Popular Science Monthly/Volume 4/February 1874/Correspondence

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IN reply to Herbert Spencer's last paper on the "Study of Sociology" (in Popular Science Monthly for December, 1873, p. 134), Mr. Gladstone sent the following letter to the editor of the Contemporary Review:

10 Downing Street, Whitehall,
November 3, 1873. 

My dear Sir: I observe in the Contemporary Review for October, p. 670, that the following words are quoted from an address of mine at Liverpool:

"Upon the ground of what is termed evolution, God is relieved of the labor of creation: in the name of unchangeable laws, He is discharged from governing the world."

The distinguished writer in the Review says that by these words I have made myself so conspicuously the champion (or exponent) of the anti-scientific view, that the words may be regarded as typical.

To go as directly as may be to my point, I consider this judgment upon my declaration to be founded on an assumption or belief that it contains a condemnation of evolution, and of the doctrine of unchangeable laws. I submit that it contains no such thing. Let me illustrate by saying, What if I wrote as follows:

"Upon the ground of what is termed liberty, flagrant crimes have been committed: and (likewise) in the name of law and order, human rights have been trodden under foot."

I should not by thus writing condemn liberty, or condemn law and order; but condemn only the inferences that men draw, or say they draw, from them. Up to that point the parallel is exact: and I hope it will he seen that Mr. Spencer has inadvertently put upon my words a meaning they do not bear.

Using the parallel thus far for the sake of clearness, I carry it no farther. For while I am ready to give in my adhesion to liberty, and likewise to law and order, on evolution and on unchangeable laws I had rather be excused.

The words with which I think Madame de Staël ends "Corinne," are the best for me: "Je ne veux ni la blámer, ni l'absoudre." Before I could presume to give an opinion on evolution, or on unchangeable laws, I should wish to know, more clearly and more fully than I yet know, the meaning attached to those phrases by the chief apostles of the doctrines: and very likely, even after accomplishing this preliminary stage, I might find myself insufficiently supplied with the knowledge required to draw the line between true and false.

I have, then, no repugnance to any conclusions whatever, legitimately arising upon well-ascertained facts or well-tested reasonings: and my complaint is that the functions of the Almighty as Creator and Governor of the world are denied upon grounds, which, whatever be the extension given to the phrases I have quoted, appear to me to be utterly and manifestly insufficient to warrant such denial.

I am desirous to liberate myself from a supposition alien, I think, to my whole habit of mind and life. But I do not desire to effect this by the method of controversy; and if Mr. Spencer does not see, or does not think, that he has mistaken the meaning of my words, I have no more darts to throw; and will do myself, indeed, the pleasure of concluding with a frank avowal that his manner of handling what he must naturally consider to be a gross piece of folly is as far as possible from being offensive.

Believe me, most faithfully yours,
W. E. Gladstone. 


To the second edition of Mr. Spencer's "Study of Sociology," he appends the fore, going letter, and remarks as follows (page 425):

Mr. Gladstone's explanation of his own meaning must, of course, be accepted; and, inserting a special reference to it in the stereotype-plate, I here append his letter, that the reader may not be misled by my comments. Paying due respect to Mr. Gladstone's wish to avoid controversy, I will say no more here than seems needful to excuse myself for having misconstrued his words. "Evolution," as I understand it, and "creation," as usually understood, are mutually exclusive: if there has been that special formation and adjustment commonly meant by creation, there has not been evolution; if there has been evolution, there has not been special creation. Similarly, unchangeable laws, as conceived by a man of science, negative the current conception of divine government, which implies interferences or special providences: if the laws are unchangeable, they are never traversed by divine volitions suspending them: if God alters the predetermined course of things from time to time, the laws are not unchangeable. I assumed that Mr. Gladstone used the terms in these mutually-exclusive senses; but my assumption appears to have been a wrong one. This is manifest to me on reading what he instances as parallel antitheses; seeing that the terms of his parallel antitheses are not mutually exclusive. That which excludes "liberty," and is excluded by it, is despotism; and that which excludes "law and order," and is excluded by them, is anarchy. Were these mutually-exclusive conceptions used, Mr. Gladstone's parallel would be transformed thus:

"Upon the ground of what is termed liberty, there has been rebellion against despotism: and (likewise) in the name of law and order, anarchy has been striven against."

As this is the parallel Mr. Gladstone would have drawn had the words of his statement been used in the senses I supposed, it is clear that I misconceived the meanings he gave to them; and I must, therefore, ask the reader to be on his guard against a kindred misconception.

I have not, however, thought it needful to change the description given of Mr. Gladstone's position, or to suppress the comments made upon it; because the substantial truth of this description is shown by the other passage quoted, the manifest meaning of which he does not disclaim. By characterizing Science as having "gone to war with Providence"—by displaying an unhesitating belief that great men are providentially raised up at the needful times, and by speaking with alarm and reprobation of the belief that their rise is due solely to natural causes, Mr. Gladstone does, I think, give me adequate warrant for taking his view as typical of the anti-scientific view in general—at any rate, in so far as the Social Science is concerned. Though this view may not be incongruous with the conception he entertains of Science, yet it is certainly incongruous with the conception entertained by scientific men; who daily add to the evidence, already overwhelming, that the Power manifested to us throughout the Universe, from the movements of stars to the unfolding of individual men and the formation of public opinions, is a Power which, amid infinite multiformities and complexities, works in ways that are absolutely uniform.



To the Editor of the Popular Science Monthly:

I have read, with much interest, the elaborate articles, by Judge Stallo, on "The Primary Concepts of Modern Physical Science," hoping, from the scholarly manner in which the author discusses the subject, that he would conduct us to some more acceptable conclusion than has hitherto been arrived at. I was disappointed, however, to find him surmounting the difficulties of the subject by assuming that the "typical and primary state of matter is a gas," which "is not a group of absolute solids, but is elastic to the core."

I do not propose to review nor criticise these learned articles of Judge Stallo, though there are various portions that I think quite vulnerable to criticism; but I must confess that the idea of an unparticled elastic body is to me an utter impossibility.

The subject presents very grave difficulties under any view of the case. For, if we assume the existence of an ultimate solid particle, universal force cannot be conserved, because the interference of solid particles must destroy motion, and therefore force. Hence, in that view of the case, we must have a continual destruction, and therefore a continual creation of force. This conclusion I am not willing to accept, as I fully believe in the indestructibility of both matter and force.

The least objectionable view that I have been able to arrive at is, that all ideas are sensations excited primarily by material impressions, and hence that we can have absolutely no idea of space independent of matter.

And, as a stellar system in the universe of matter consists of millions of aggregated masses which are individually very small in proportion to the inter-spaces, so I believe that the chemical molecule is very small in proportion to the space between the molecules. And as each sun has (probably) various attendants (the planets), so each chemical molecule consists in general of several different bodies that may be easily separated (in consequence of the space between them being of the same order as the spaces between the molecules). But, like the different bodies of the solar system, or of a stellar system, each of these bodies is a compound mass consisting of millions of units of a different order, holding probably the same relation to the chemical molecule that the chemical molecule does to the matter of the solar system; and so on, both upward and downward, to infinity.

There is, therefore, as I conceive, absolutely no limit to the division of matter, physically as well as mathematically; but our organization is such that, of the infinite series of terms in which it manifests itself, we can know, experimentally, only two: viz., the stellar universe, constituting the first order, of which the stars and the planets are the units; and, secondly, the chemical molecule, which constitutes the second order.

According to this view, the material universe might be represented, in orders, by the following series: d—mx,... d—3x, d—2x, d—1x, d0x, dx d2x, d3x,... dn—1x, dnx, in which x is the unknown quantity, which we call matter, and m and n are both infinitely great.

In this series, d0x, or simply x, would represent all tangible matter; and dx, which is the next term descending, would represent chemical molecules and their constituents, the atoms of all known and unknown elementary bodies.

As in the analogous expression used in mathematical investigations, d2x is infinitely small in respect to dx, which in its turn is infinitely small in respect to d0x, and so on; yet each represents the elements of which the next preceding order is constituted. So in the physical world, as represented by the above series: the units in x, which are represented by the visible worlds in space, are infinitely large when compared with the units in dx, which are represented by the chemical molecules; the units in each preceding order, in both series, being aggregations of the units in the next succeeding order.

This view of the constitution of matter, though it necessitates the assumption of its actual infinite division, yet, to my mind, involves much less absurdity than to suppose it imparticled, and yet "elastic to the core," or to suppose that the chemical molecule, or even the chemical atom, is an absolute solid. J. E. Hendricks.

Des Moines, Iowa, November 21, 1873.



To the Editor of the Popular Science Monthly:

Judge Stallo's valuable contributions to the Popular Science Monthly, on the "Primary Concepts of Modern Science," can scarcely fail to give the reader a clearer conception of elementary being. But it seems to me that his criticism of Mr. Faraday's "complex forces," and Baine's assertion that "matter, force, and inertia, are substantially three names for the same fact," is clearly illogical.

On the ground that the existence of all reality lies in relation and contrast, the author assumes that inertia and force are ever coexisting contrasts. He says: "We know nothing of force except by its contrast with mass, or (what is the same thing) inertia; and, conversely, as I have already pointed out in my first article, we know nothing of mass, except by its relation to force. Mass, inertia (or, as it is sometimes though inaccurately called, matter per se) is indistinguishable from absolute nothingness; for matter reveals its presence, or evinces its reality, only in its action, its force, its tension or motion.... It is impossible, therefore, to construct matter by a mere synthesis of forces."

Now, as all conceptions result from motion in the brain, it is self-evident that motion is the primordial reality whence all concepts arise, and that different conceptions of realities are solely different modes of motion, each distinct attribute being a distinct mode, and modified attributes are modified modes. Therefore a conception of matter, mass, inertia, or momentum, being solely a product of motion in the brain, and a conception of color being solely a product of motion in the brain, it is again self-evident that the only possible difference, between the primordial realities we call inertia and color, is difference in modes of motion.

Hence it is seen that the idea—almost universal—that inertia, or momentum, necessarily coexists with motion, may have no foundation in fact; its error being further evidenced by our non-perception of their coexistence in the invisible, or molecular motions. In fact, inertia or momentum is only perceived in that single mode of motion which produces the sensation of touch; and which we designate as mechanical or mass-motion.

But whether or not momentum necessarily accompanies motion, it was shown above that the same reason for conceiving color to be solely a mode of motion equally obtains in our conception of matter, mass, or inertia, as a mode of motion; and that "all the reality we know" exists, primarily, in changing, but ever-existing, relations and contrasts of modes of motion.

A. Arnold.