Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 17.djvu/278

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.

266

THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

make up the truths of the science. It is perfectly well known that the history of all the sciences shows that in their early stages one of the most formidable tasks of the investigator has been to get rid of the mass of irrational and superstitious beliefs by which the subjects have been overlaid and obscured. Social science is no exception, and in its present formative stage it presents precisely the same difficulties that other sciences have encountered, except that the errors and prejudices are here older, more inveterate, and deeply rooted than in any of the former spheres of scientific inquiry. In physics and chemistry the phenomena dealt with have been fully surrendered to the experimentalist and the reasoner, and there is no longer any interference with him in pushing his conclusions to the farthest limit. But sociology has not reached this fortunate stage. Its investigation is interfered with and impeded by theologians on religious grounds.

We are not at liberty to suppose that the intelligent authorities of Yale College were ignorant of what they were doing when they formally recognized that human society is to be studied in future by the method which has created all the other sciences, and made provision for its teaching in this manner. They knew that the first allegiance of the man of science is to truth as it is determined by processes of reason, and that he is bound to make no terms with preconceived erroneous opinions. That the trustees understood this and acted accordingly, is sufficiently shown by their selection of a professor to fill the new chair of Political Economy and Social Science. They could easily have chosen a facile man for perfunctory work, who would have occupied himself in expounding the miscellaneous matters that now pass current with the public under the name of "social science." But they sought and obtained a thoroughgoing student of the subject, a man of intellectual force and independence, who would give character to the position, and reflect honor upon the college, by his own original contributions to the science committed to his care. That among the considerable number of men who compose the governing body of Yale College—a majority of them clergymen, as we are told there—would have been some more narrow-minded than others, who would be disposed to interfere with the Professor's work and hamper his teaching, was perhaps inevitable; but the liberality and good faith of the institution were virtually pledged to maintain the rights of science in the liberty of its official representative.

Professor Sumner adopted as his text-book Spencer's "Study of Sociology," to be used by the senior class, consisting of young men from twenty to twenty-three years of age, of mature mind, and who have for years had the benefit of Yale College teaching. He adopted the book because it was the only one to be had at all suited to his purpose. It is an introduction to social science by its ablest living investigator. Profoundly impressed with the difficulties of the study in the present state of knowledge, with the misconceptions that are formed of it, and the causes of erroneous thinking in regard to it, Spencer deviated from his regular line of work to make this useful preparatory volume for those who propose to devote themselves to the general inquiry. He explained, in a succession of chapters, how men's judgments are liable to be warped in considering social questions by their habits of thought and their preconceived ideas. One of these chapters was entitled "The Theological Bias," and we are informed that this was considered by some of the faculty so objectionable as to render the volume unfit to be put into the hands of the Yale seniors.

Now, it is to be remembered that Yale College was committed, through the action of its authorities, to the