Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 17.djvu/277

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SOME weeks ago an attempt was made to get up a public sensation out of a reported disagreement in the faculty of Yale College, concerning the teaching of sociology. It was alleged that a conflict had arisen between President Porter and Professor Sumner of the chair of Social Science, in regard to the use as a text-book of Spencer's "Study of Sociology"—a conflict in which the faculty participated, and which might lead to difficulty. Professor Sumner was interviewed, and said it was an old affair, and had been greatly exaggerated; and he hoped that the press would not disquiet itself by working up a discussion of the subject which could do no good to anybody. This was, of course, the signal of a general outbreak; both the secular and the religious journals "going in" with extraordinary unction. Though much interested in the matter, we acted upon the hint of Professor Sumner, and refrained from any remark in the May "Monthly." But the occasion has been used in such a way that some further comment is needful.

It was a wise and an appropriate thing on the part of the authorities of Yale College to establish a professorship for the teaching of social science. The subject is one of growing public importance in all civilized countries, and it is of transcendent interest in this country, where everybody takes so deep an interest in the administration of public affairs. The step was, moreover, imperatively demanded by the progress of knowledge. No intelligent man will deny that social order is based upon natural laws, and exemplifies cause and effect. Social phenomena may be analyzed and classified, and reduced to general expressions or principles, like the other phenomena of Nature. Notwithstanding the apparent chaos of politics, and the discords of legislation, there is nevertheless an underlying regularity in the action of social forces which makes rational politics and legislation possible. Laws are bad or good because there is a constitution of society by which their goodness or badness is determined. It is no longer a question that these social laws shall be worked out as an independent body of science; and this has been already so far accomplished as to lead to valuable practical results, and make it in the highest degree expedient that our eminent institutions of learning should recognize the subject, and enter upon the duty of teaching what is known of it, and of contributing to its further development.

In creating this chair, therefore, Yale College was only conforming to the intellectual requirements of the time; but it was nevertheless a courageous proceeding, for which the institution is to be honored. There is no mistaking the significance of the term social science. It implies that human society is a part of Nature to be studied by observation and induction, like the other parts of Nature, and to be pursued in conformity with established scientific method. That method is occupied with the determination of facts and those orderly relations of facts which are expressed as generalizations. As in astronomy or in botany so in sociology, the inquirer has to observe and compare phenomena throughout the whole field, so as to formulate the great activities that are displayed in each sphere, and thus arrive at a connected and comprehensive body of natural laws which