Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 2.djvu/190

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not only be the height of presumption in me to attempt to fix the meaning of a word which has been used by so grave authority in so many and various senses; but it would seem a thankless task to do that once more which has been done so often at sundry times and in divers manners before. And yet without this we cannot determine what we mean by saying that the order of Nature is reasonable. I shall evade the difficulty by telling you Mr. Grote's opinion.[1] You come to a scarecrow and ask, "What is the cause of this?" You find that a man made it to frighten the birds. You go away and say to yourself: "Every thing resembles this scarecrow. Every thing has a purpose." And from that day the word "cause" means for you what Aristotle meant by "final cause." Or you go into a hair-dresser's shop, and wonder what turns the wheel to which the rotatory brush is attached. On investigating other parts of the premises, you find a man working away at a handle. Then you go away and say: "Every thing is like that wheel. If I investigated enough I should always find a man at a handle." And the man at the handle, or whatever corresponds to him, is henceforth known to you as "cause."

And so generally. When you have made out any sequence of events to your entire satisfaction, so that you know all about it, the laws involved being so familiar that you seem to see how the beginning must have been followed by the end, then you apply that as a simile to all other events whatever, and your idea of cause is determined by it. Only when a case arises, as it always must, to which the simile will not apply, you do not confess to yourself that it was only a simile and need not apply to every thing, but you say, "The cause of that event is a mystery which must remain forever unknown to me." On equally just grounds, the nervous system of my umbrella is a mystery which must remain forever unknown to me. My umbrella has no nervous system; and the event to which your simile did not apply has no cause in your sense of the word. When we say, then, that every effect has a cause, we mean that every event is connected with something in a way that might make somebody call that the cause of it. But I, at least, have never yet seen any single meaning of the word that could be fairly applied to the whole order of Nature.

From this remark I cannot even except an attempt recently made by Mr. Bain to give the word a universal meaning, though I desire to speak of that attempt with the greatest respect. Mr. Bain[2] wishes to make the word "cause" hang on in some way to what we call the law of energy; but, though I speak with great diffidence, I do think a careful consideration will show that the introduction of this word "cause" can only bring confusion into a matter which is distinct and clear enough to those who have taken the trouble to understand what energy means. It would be impossible to explain that this evening; but I may mention that "energy" is a technical term out of mathe-

  1. Plato, vol. ii. (Phædon).
  2. "Inductive Logic," chap. iv.