Popular Science Monthly/Volume 4/March 1874/Editor's Table

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
EDITOR'S TABLE.

 
INFLUENCE OF SCIENCE UPON PHILOSOPHY.

IN his thoughtful little work on "Recent British Philosophy," Prof. Masson, of the University of Edinburgh, has the following suggestive passages upon the subject indicated in the present title:

"However earnestly we may contend for such a notion of Philosophy as shall keep up the tradition of it as something more than Science, yet the perpetual liability of Philosophy to modifications, at the hands of Science, is a fact obvious to all. Not a new scientific discovery can be made, not a new scientific conception can get abroad, but it exercises a disturbing influence on the previous system of thought, antiquating something, disintegrating something, compelling some readjustment of the parts to each other, some trepidation of the axis of the whole. Sometimes the action is almost revolutionary. What a derangement in men's ideas about every thing whatsoever, what a compulsion to new modes of thinking, and to new habits of speech, must have been caused by the propagation of the Copernican Astronomy! What a wrench to all one's habits of thought, to be taught that the little ball which carries us rotates on itself, and is one of a small company of celestial bodies that perform their periodical wanderings round the sun, in lieu of the older astronomical faith, according to which the earth was fixed in the centre, and the limitless azure with its fires was one vast spectacular sphere, composed of ten successive and independent spherical transparencies, made to wheel round the earth diurnally for her solitary pleasure! Man's thoughts, even about himself and his destinies, could not but be changed in some respects by this compulsion of his imagination to a totally new way of fancying physical immensity and our earth's share in its proceedings. . . .
"It is not every day, indeed nor every century, that there occurs such a vast compulsory shifting of the very axis of men's conceptions of the physical universe as that which our ancestors had so reluctantly to submit to only a century or two ago. But every generation, every year brings with it a quantum of new scientific conceptions, new scientific truths. They creep in upon us on all sides. Is Philosophy to stand in the midst of them haughtily and superciliously, taking no notice? She cannot do so and live. Whether she knows it or not, these are her appointed food. She must eat them up or perish. They do not constitute her vitality, any more than the food that men eat constitutes the life that is in them; but, just as men, in order merely to continue alive, must refresh themselves continually with food, so Philosophy, that she may not fall down emaciated and dead by the wayside, must not only not hold aloof from Science, but must regard what Science brings as her daily and delicious nutriment. Whatever definition of Philosophy we adopt—whether we call it simply and beautifully, with Plato in one passage, 'a meditation of death,' or adopt some of the more labored definitions that have been given expressly to indicate its relations to Science—it is equally certain that a philosophy that should be out of accord with any ascertained scientific truth or tendency to truth, or that should not in some efficient manner harmonize for the reason all the conceptions and informations of contemporary science, would be of no use for educated intelligences, and would exist as a refuge for others only by sufferance. Shall Philosophy pretend to regulate the human spirit, and not know what is passing within it to supervise and direct man's thinkings, and not know what they are?
"In no age so conspicuously as in our own has there been a crowding in of new scientific conceptions of all kinds to exercise a perturbing influence on Speculative Philosophy. They have come in almost too fast for Philosophy's powers of reception. She has visibly reeled amid their shocks, and has not yet recovered her equilibrium. Within those years alone which we are engaged in surveying there have been developments of native British science, not to speak of influxes of scientific ideas, hints, and probabilities from without, in the midst of which British Philosophy has looked about her scared and bewildered, and has felt that some of her oldest statements about herself, and some of the most important terms in her vocabulary, require reëxplication."

The truths here enunciated cannot be too carefully pondered. In its modern progress Science has been constantly warned off from the field of Philosophy, as having no concern whatever with its issues or interests. But Science has no more choice or responsibility in regard to the results of its work than it has with regard to the phenomena which it investigates. If it is to be suffered to exist at all, it must proceed with its labor of investigating facts and establishing principles; to what conclusions these will lead depends upon nobody's preference, but upon the constitution of the universe itself. If the scheme of being around us is a harmonized and unified order, where all the parts are in reciprocal sympathy, then he who strikes an impulse is not to be called to account for the sweep and compass of the undulations which follow. Science may be occupied in her legitimate duty with simple laboratory experiments, and establish results that will thrill through all spheres of thought, and reach to the very core of philosophy.

Such a step was taken in the last century in establishing the indestructibility of matter. The problem that had baffled philosophy, for thousands of years, was settled by the experimenters. The truth which was inaccessible to speculation was arrived at by the physicists and chemists. It had been believed, for centuries, that in the changes of form—the appearances and disappearances of Nature—existence itself was implicated, and matter, the substratum of being, was continually created and destroyed. The poetic divination—

"The eternal Pan,

Bideth never in one shape,
But forever doth escape
Into new forms"—

only became a demonstrated truth when the mechanics had perfected the chemical balance and made it possible to pursue the course of material transformations. It was then found that the old belief in the destructibility of matter was without foundation, and that the persistence of material elements through all changes of form was demonstrated by every particle of evidence that bore upon the case. Philosophy, which aims at the deepest explanation of the order of things around us, if it has any aim worth pursuing, thus derived a new datum from the workshop; but how foolish to assume that, in elaborating it, the chemists were inspired with any purpose to trench upon the domain of Philosophy!

But this research, which ended in the establishment of the law that matter is indestructible, was but an apprenticeship for deeper and more delicate investigations of the same kind. The use of the balance led to the discovery of quantitative chemistry, the highest phase of the science, and strengthened the mental habit of regarding phenomena in their quantitative relations. Matter is not only associated with forces, but it is manifested and known through its essential and inseparable activities. It is not only determined by its forces, but it is measured by them. The very instrument by which matter was proved to be indestructible, was but a device for showing the constant relation of material bodies to the force of gravity. Cohesion, affinity, heat, light, and magnetism, are but dynamic affections of matter, which are involved in all its changes, and it was simply inevitable that when one element of things was proved to be essentially indestructible, through every mutation of form, the same inquiry should be pressed in regard to this character of the other forces. Naturally, and quite necessarily, the disciplined scientific thinkers of different countries, with no knowledge of each other's purposes, and proceeding from different points of view, were led to engage with the experimental problem of the quantitative interactions of the molecular forces. The consequence of this was another step forward, of the greatest possible importance. It was shown that the physical forces are as obedient to quantitative laws as matter itself had been proved to be, and that, while they are mutually convertible into each other, force, like matter, is indestructible in its nature. The various forms of energy by which effects are produced in the surrounding world, although changing incessantly, were discovered to be never created and never annihilated. With the evidence that every form of force is derived from some preexisting form of it, the hope of a mechanism generating its own power perpetually, passed away among impossibilities, and the science of forces became limited to problems of transformation. It was much to have exploded the fallacy of the perpetual motion, upon which the ingenuity and wealth of generations had been wasted, but it was far more to have seized upon a principle of Nature which Dr. Faraday could pronounce to be the highest law in physical science which our faculties permit us to perceive. And are the discoverers of this principle to be held accountable for the reach and play of its applications? No doubt a law of Nature's activities, thus supreme and far-extending, cannot be limited to the field of physical phenomena. The probabilities are strong that, wherever effects are produced in degrees of more or less, they are strictly conformable to quantitative conditions, although the proof of it may be indirect and difficult, and exact results quite unattainable. But with this point we have here no concern, and only say that it is no business of Science if the law be found to pervade domains of thought which Philosophy has hitherto claimed to be exclusively her own. Nor is there any just ground for arraigning men of science as transgressing the proper limits of their inquiries by pursuing the principle of the conservation of energy into the spheres of life, mind, and social activity. Science could not evade the necessity of entering upon the earlier steps of the investigation, any more than it can now evade the necessity of pursuing it; and it would be a worthier proceeding on the part of philosophers, gratefully to accept what she contributes for their use, rather than to raise an outcry against the scientists for interfering with matters which, it is assumed, do not belong to them.

 

 
ANOTHER "SPENCER-CRUSHER."

The work of putting down Herbert Spencer, which has been going on these dozen years, still flourishes and threatens to become a regular occupation. Obscure men are making reputations right and left, and famous men are adding to their laurels by taking down the great philosopher on all sides. If they do not succeed in getting him out of the way, this branch of criticism may grow into a thrifty business. Who shall be greatest in this little but increasing kingdom of criticism, it is as yet premature to say, although symptoms of gradation in the honors of the work are beginning to be disclosed. We explained, some time since, in the Monthly, that our friend Liefchild had brought forth a big book, which was evidently designed to interrupt Mr. Spencer's philosophical career. He did not, however, himself aspire to the distinction of wiping him out, but assigned that high function to President Porter, of Yale, whom he ranked as the great "Spencer-crusher." Mr. Liefchild would probably accord to others the minor grades of extinguishers, upsetters, depresses, etc. Meantime the work may be expected to proceed vigorously. Although we often hear that Mr. Spencer has at last been quite demolished and put an end to, he seems to be still alive and in a very vigorous condition, as the article replying to the Quarterly Reviewers in our present number will attest. The last aspirant for glory, in the Spencer-crushing line, is one Alexander Gibson, hitherto guiltless of fame, whose onslaught is contained in a late number of the London Academy. This periodical, it may be remarked, was started a few years ago, with an Oxford parentage, as an organ of old rubbishy scholarship and useless lore generally, and, having been knocked about among different publishers as a bad speculation, now turns up in new hands, and the transition is signalized by the present essay at the use of the critical scalping-knife.

Conscious, perhaps, of the trouble he has been causing to the critical fraternity, Mr. Spencer has lately changed his tactics. In his former works he expressed his own opinions very freely on various subjects, and it is these that have been the objects of attack by the increasing crowd of his assailants. They have shown, in a manner perfectly conclusive to themselves, that his views are weak, foolish, erroneous, false, absurd, dangerous, and wicked. And so he has now made a book containing no opinions of his own at all. It is a work simply of facts and authorities, and, as if scrupulously to avoid rousing the ire of his enemies, he hired a man to write out the facts and copy the authorities. His own agency was limited barely to drawing up a plan of presentation, which his assistant was to follow, and he indulges in not a word of comment upon the statements that are made. But all' in vain. Alexander Gibson hunts him out, even in this city of refuge, and is bound to crush him all the same. Let us gather up the fragments, and see what remains after this last assault.

In reviewing the "Descriptive Sociology" in the Academy, Mr. Gibson makes two points, which are—first, that the compilation of facts by Spencer's assistant, Mr. Collier, is badly done; and, second, that, if it had been well done, the work would still be good for nothing. Mr. Gibson begins by a representation that is quite misleading. He says: "It is clear at a glance that the work thus undertaken is one of great magnitude and difficulty; and, when one considers the high reputation Mr. Spencer has acquired by his sociological theories, it acquires a peculiar interest, as it will serve to show the nature and value of the material which he has used for constructing or testing his speculations." The implication here is, that Mr. Spencer has first theorized and speculated upon social questions, and then sought for facts to support his views. But Mr. Spencer's social philosophy has never yet been developed, and the collection of sociological data which was commenced five years ago is designed as the foundation for general principles yet to be derived from them. The relation of these materials to the uses for which Mr. Spencer himself proposes to employ them cannot therefore be judged until his principles of sociology are worked out. Mr. Gibson inverts the truth of the case, for Mr. Spencer's extensive collection and classification of facts were not made to sustain past speculations but as a guide to future theories.

In judging of his undertaking, it is important to remember that Mr. Spencer published first that division of it which is most open to criticism; that is, he deals first with the social elements of his own country, the history of which is generally familiar. It is also not to be forgotten that his aim was to bring forward just that order of facts for which historians have cared the least, and concerning which their statements have been most loose, careless, and conflicting. Added to this, the work of collection and arrangement had never before been attempted, and Mr. Spencer had to work as a pioneer in the field. It is also noteworthy that the plan of the work precluded all explanatory comment. That such a work—a work of "great magnitude and difficulty," as Mr. Gibson allows — cannot be free from errors is obvious, and from all the foregoing causes it is peculiarly exposed to unscrupulous criticism. When these considerations are taken into account, Mr. Gibson's case of alleged errors in the tabular statements on the part of Mr. Collier is simply pitiful. His six-column search for flaws and defects yields the following outcome.

Mr. Collier enters his numerous and varied facts in their proper relations in the tables in the most condensed language possible, as he was compelled to do by the nature of the presentation; but this, of course, affords Mr. Gibson an opportunity, which he duly improves, to complain of the want of explanations. For the classified facts Mr. Collier gives in the accompanying text the exact words of the authorities which he has followed, and Mr. Gibson has no admiration for disjointed "scraps." Mr. Collier has made quotations from about one hundred and seventy works, which were of course sought as the best, and which the intelligent reader will see comprehend the great mass of authentic English history. Mr. Gibson impeaches none of these authorities, but sublimely discredits the whole, declaring that they "are not, in the historical sense of the word, authorities at all." This, of course, is mere assertion. The "historical sense" can be nothing else than common-sense applied to history, and that can only require the compiler to seek the best possible sources of information. If the regular historians have failed to furnish it, it must be gathered from other and scattered sources. Mr. Spencer's tables give strong evidence of being a faithful reflex of the social state. They are full of gaps where information could not be supplied; and the best authorities extant have been diligently searched for the statements, names and pages being carefully given; what more can be reasonably asked? Although he does not attempt to show wherein the authorities are untrustworthy, he tries to make out three or four instances in which the quotations are insufficient to justify the statements based upon them in the tables. Again, he says there is no clear trace that he (Mr. Collier) has any perception of the relative value of the different facts he has come across in the one hundred and seventy volumes which he has consulted. It is but just to Mr. Collier to say that, while he has quoted one hundred and seventy volumes, he has consulted a far larger number, and it is a sufficient reply to Mr. Gibson's insinuation regarding Collier's defective "perception" of the relative values of his facts, that their valuation was not his business, and if some are more valuable than others he could not very well help it. Mr. Spencer has pointed out in his preface the difficulty of reducing such multifarious details to a tabular statement in parallel columns, while the advance of society constantly gives rise to new elements. The exigencies of the classification required that, to a certain extent, diverse though kindred facts should be grouped together. But this does not protect him from the hypercritical Gibson, who carps at the distributions, and thinks that "most of the information under the head 'Morals' ought to be transferred to the heading of 'Law and Politics;'" while the diversity of objects that Mr. Collier has included under the head of "Tools and Implements" is gravely pointed out in the array of objections. Of Mr. Collier's omissions this keen-eyed critic has discovered one which he duly chronicles: it is the failure to mention "dramatic poetry." Mr. Gibson is captious over the deficiency of the statements, and thinks that more facts are wanted. He says: "It would be the merest impertinence for Mr. Spencer's sociological student to draw conclusions from such miserable data as, for example, are afforded, in the case of English religious ideas and superstitions from the Druids to the Gorham controversy, within the limits of seven columns an inch wide." Yet, in these seven long columns of compressed statements, with the copious authenticating extracts, there is a vast amount of valuable (though we suspect to Mr. Gibson), of unpalatable information, as he returns to them again and again with unhappy comments. But it is to be remembered that Mr. Spencer is far from proposing to formulate a sociological science on the basis of English experience alone. The plan of his work embraces all types and grades of the social state, and is so comprehensive that its complete publication is still a matter of question. Mr. Gibson's complaints at the paucity of the materials are, therefore, quite gratuitous.

Such is the quality of Mr. Gibson's critical work. It is approached in an ugly temper, and, a few petty inaccuracies and defects being found, the most absurd charges are made and the whole work declared unworthy of confidence. The complete break-down of his case, so far as Mr. Collier is concerned, affords excellent evidence of the judgment and fidelity with which the task has been executed.

Mr. Gibson's second point is that, "even supposing that Mr. Spencer had got them (the tables) done with as great accuracy and intelligence as possible, they would still be useless." But why expend so much vicious ingenuity in finding defects in an intrinsically worthless thing? One would naturally suppose that this second point would have been taken up first, because, if established, the former inquiry would be superfluous. But, if we ask for the reasons of this position, Mr. Gibson wisely declines to give them; only remarking that "we have had too much already of the tendency, on the part of framers of social and other sciences, to deal superficially with history." By the framers of sciences, we suppose that Mr. Gibson can only mean those cultivators of science who originate and organize this kind of knowledge, and the upshot of his charge, therefore, is that the scientific method of studying history is superficial. This raises the question, "What are the depths, and what the shallows, of history?" Of the descriptive sociology, one of the most eminent authorities in England, Mr. E. B. Tylor, writes in Nature: "So much information, encumbered with so little rubbish, has never before been brought to bear on the development of English institutions." Is it the information concerning the "development of English institutions" that is the superficial element? and is it the "rubbish" that constitutes the profound element wanting in Mr. Spencer's plan? There are two methods of dealing with history: the old method of chronicle, narration, and story-telling, which was in vogue before science arose; and the later or scientific method, which aims at the discovery of natural laws among historic phenomena. The old method occupied itself with the registration of surface effects, and whatever happened to be uppermost and obtrusive in any place or period. It was a biography of the conspicuous figures that chanced to emerge and occupy passing public attention. It was full of the doings and sayings of sovereigns, generals, diplomatists, and politicians; full of their gossip, rivalries, and crimes; the details of war, the quarrels of factions, and the intrigues of ambitious families; and it has consisted of so chaotic and incoherent and interminable a mass of details of this sort, that its cultivators scout the idea that there is or ever can be any thing like a science of history. This, we suppose, is to be taken as the deep part of the subject — its profundity being due to the fact that it cannot be reduced to order? On the other hand, science, which has disclosed the operation of law throughout all the workings of Nature, has entered with its new method upon the study of society. In what does the social structure consist? what are the nature and laws of its activities? what are the conditions of its development? These are its problems. Science always begins with the observation, determination, and classification, of facts. This is its first solicitude. To get at the facts with the highest certainty and the greatest exactness and fullness that are possible, is the primary and inexorable duty of the true scientific inquirer. To put these facts in their proper relations, so as to draw from them the principles and laws by which they are governed, is the essence of scientific method, and to this Mr. Spencer has rigorously conformed by devoting a separate and extensive work to the systematized data that are necessary for valid reasoning upon social subjects. All this, says Mr. Gibson, is of no use, because, if it is "done with as great accuracy and intelligence as possible," it is still worthless from its superficiality. And so, court frivolities and the trumperies and trivialities of personal incident are the deep things for which the "historical sense" must make research, while the investigation of principles and laws is the worthless work of shallow scientists! That will do for Mr. Gibson. Let him return to his dust-holes and rubbish-bins, and enjoy their obscurities and confusions as the profundities of history. We should not have meddled with him on his own account, but Mr. Spencer's work is a challenge to his party, and we were interested in seeing what they would do about it. Their champion has done the best and the only thing that he could, and that is to merge his attack upon Spencer into a final assault upon science itself.

 

 

We reproduce on another page the brief but suggestive address of Mr. George Ripley, upon laying the cornerstone of the new Tribune building. It was fitting that the paper which was founded by Mr. Greeley, and devoted to progressive ideas, and which has had so wide an influence in educating the American people, now that its founder and master-spirit has passed away, should be solemnly rededicated to the continued advance and diffusion of liberal thought and growing knowledge. A political partisan press we must, undoubtedly, continue to have, just as we must have war, pestilence, crime, corruption, and other evils; but it is coincident and will be coterminous with public ignorance, shortsightedness, and the general reign of demagogism. We accordingly hail with pleasure every indication of revolt against party domination, and the increasing recognition of those wider and deeper interests with which the permanent prosperity of society is involved. In the diffusion of science in cheap popular forms, the Tribune has always taken a leading part; and its recent efforts in this way add strength to the pledge now offered, that the same policy will be pursued in the future. In a few compressed sentences Mr. Ripley happily sketches the recent movements of philosophic thought, and discerns the full significance of that latest and largest synthesis of ideas to which scientific inquiry has brought the foremost minds of the age. Nothing is more significant of positive intellectual advance than to see a great newspaper, immersed as it must be in the practical concerns of daily life, yet holding its course in the world of thought by the higher lights of science and philosophy. The career and character of this journal have undoubtedly been, in a large measure, determined by the active mind of Mr. Greeley; but no estimate of its public influence would be just that should omit the prolonged and distinctive labors of its able literary editor, now president of the Tribune Association. For twenty-five years Mr. Ripley has interpreted the intellectual work of the age through its columns to millions of his countrymen; and this has not only been done with conscientious fidelity and rare discrimination, but with a broad and courageous liberality and a catholic sympathy with all that seemed true and excellent, whatever its source. May the paper, in the new epoch upon which it has entered, have all the success that shall be commensurate with its nobleness of aim, and its honorable and high-toned management!

 

 
DEATH OF DR. LIVINGSTONE.

Tidings of the death of Dr. David Livingstone, the celebrated African explorer, have been received, and are generally credited. The particulars are meagre and uncertain, but it is said he died of dysentery after severe exposure, returning from Ujiji to Unyanyembe. The expedition of the British Government, under Lieutenant Cameron, is supposed to have met him in an encampment where he breathed his last, and embalmed his body to be taken to Zanzibar.

He was born in 1817, of poor Scottish parents, and, having a taste for books, his father helped him to attend the Glasgow University in the winter, while he helped himself by working in the cotton-mills in vacation. He studied medicine, and was admitted to general practice in surgery and physic in 1838. He desired to go to China as a missionary, but, hearing that a medical agent was wanted for the African missions, he applied, was accepted, ordained to preach, and in 1839 left for Natal. He here met the missionary, Rev. Mr. Moffatt, and married his daughter, by whom he had two sons born in Africa. His first effort at exploration was in the great Kalahari Desert in 1849, when he discovered the

Zonga River, and floated down its current into Lake Ngami, the most southerly of that great chain of lakes which occupies the centre of Africa. The next year he returned to this lake with wife and children, who suffered greatly. He afterward discovered the great Zambezi River, the chief stream of Southern Africa. He now formed the scheme of opening up the Zambezi by means of light steamers, and of evangelizing the inhabitants of the region. His family were sent to Europe, and he undertook a formidable search of this country in 1852. His wanderings, adventures, and discoveries, were continued until the latter part of 1856, when he returned to Europe, and was received with the greatest honors. In 1857 he published a narrative of his travels, and in 1858 returned to Africa to explore the Zambezi with steam-launches. During this expedition he discovered Lakes Nyassa and Shirvan, lost his wife, and the expedition was recalled by the Government in 1863, and he again reached England in 1864. In 1865 he left his native country for the last time, and his object was thus stated in the preface to his book on the Zambezi and its tributaries: "I propose," he wrote, "to go inland north of the territory which the Portuguese in Europe claim, and endeavor to commence that system in the East which has been so eminently successful on the west coast—a system combining the repressive effects of her Majesty's cruisers with lawful trade and Christian missions—the moral and material results of which have been so gratifying. I hope to ascend the Rovuma, or some other river north of Cape Delgado, and, in addition to my other work, shall strive, by passing along the northern end of Lake Nyassa, and round the southern end of Lake Tanganyika, to ascertain the water-shed of that part of Africa. In so doing I have no wish to unsettle what, with so much toil and danger, was accomplished by Speke and Grant, but rather to confirm their illustrious discoveries."

Of his travels, explorations, sufferings, and adventures, during the last nine years, not much is yet known, but it is hoped that records will be found giving additional information concerning the geography of interior Africa.

 

 
DEATH OF FERNAND PAPILLON

The readers of the Monthly will be pained to learn of the recent and sudden death of this brilliant young writer, with several of whose masterly papers they have become acquainted in the pages of this periodical. He died January 2d, at the age of twenty-six, of an attack of acute peritonitis, the result of a cold contracted by attending the funeral of a friend. The son of a distinguished physician, he was born at Belfort, in 1847. He studied at the Colmar Lycee, and there acquired a taste for chemistry. He attended the chemical lectures of Würtz at the College de France; and, at the age of sixteen, he made full abstracts of the course, which were so well done, that Würtz sent the copy to the printer with scarcely any alteration. He was recommended by Prof. Würtz to the editor of the Moniteur Scientifique, and had been employed upon that journal since 1864. He pursued original wort in chemical physiology, and discovered the possibility of substituting, in the bones of animals, phosphate of magnesia and of strontia for phosphate of lime. He has published several important papers besides those that have been reproduced in the Monthly, the most interesting of which will continue to appear in our pages. He was of very amiable disposition, strongly attached to his friends and teachers, and much beloved by all who knew him. His short career was in a remarkable degree successful, as he had attained a reputation and influence in France which is usually reached only by men in the riper years of life. His papers are being prepared for the press in Paris, and will be also separately republished in this country.