Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 15.djvu/722

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vestigated. A hundred years ago it was objected that the legitimate methods of science can not be applied to the study of living things. Science had been created by investigations in the inorganic sphere, and true science was held to be limited to that sphere. When the inquirer left his gases, ores, and metals, to cross the boundary and begin a search into the nature of things that live, he was told that life is a mysterious realm where vitality suspends inorganic laws, and holds sway above nature and in opposition to it. Yet the province was long since conquered, and annexed to the domain of "natural science." The question in any case is simply this: Are we dealing with phenomena that may be observed, compared, analyzed, generalized, and reduced to a body of principles?

Mr. Harris discredits the method of natural science in its application to society, as follows: "From the fact that all merely natural beings—whether mineral, plant, or animal—never rise to the form of self-knowing and self-realizing, it follows that the application of scientific method to the explanation of human institutions in the ordinary form is not valid. In nature we explain the present by the past. If we attempt to explain the institutions of the family, society, and the state, by the rudimentary forms found in the childhood of the race, or, still worse, by the habits of the higher animals as the ape tribe, for example—we shall invert the true method for social science. Since all of man's institutions arise as forms of combination, which he has made in order to realize an ideal, it follows that the first ones, historically, are so rudimentary as scarcely to indicate their object, while the later and latest ones contain the explanation of themselves and of their predecessors."

We gather from this that Mr. Harris's "Method of Study in Social Science" is to ignore the historical aspect of the subject, and begin with the study of the most complex institutions. Then why not adopt the same method in the study of other subjects? Fancy him addressing a mathematical teacher as follows: "Since the advanced rules of arithmetic arise as forms of combination, which the mathematician has made in order to realize an ideal, it follows that the first rules are so rudimentary as scarcely to indicate their object, while the later and latest contain the explanation of themselves and of their predecessors; therefore, begin your class and keep it occupied with problems in the last portions of the text-book." On the contrary, it is the law of method in all study to proceed from the simple to the complex, from the lower to the higher, and to explain the more developed by the less developed. Mr. Harris's "method" would put an end to all embryological study; for, if society is not to be studied historically because its first forms "are so rudimentary as scarcely to indicate their object," is not that equally true of all rudimentary forms? His method is false everywhere. Adult institutions, like adult animals, can only be explained by beginning with their germs and tracing the course of organization.

But Mr. Harris does not leave us to infer the character of his new social science; he gives the formula of its method in explicit terms, as follows: "For the study of society, then, one must seek his principle of explanation not in the child or the savage, but in the ideals of the prophets of humanity. We are to understand Greek life through a study of Homer and Plato; the middle ages through Dante and Thomas Aquinas; modern times through Shakespeare and Goethe."

So we are to omit the child and the savage in the study of society; and Mr. Harris adds, "Above all, we must not make the mistake of studying man as a simple individual." But what will then be left to study? We have always