Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 2.djvu/26

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14
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

syllable of the præterite in our Church service, down to the oyez shouted in a law-court to secure attention, down to the retention of epaulets for officers, and down to the Norman-French words in which the royal assent is given, this persistence is everywhere traceable. And when we find this persistence manifested throughout all ages in all departments of the regulative organization—when we see it to be the natural accompaniment of the function of that organization, which is essentially restraining—when we estimate the future action of the organization in any case, by observing the general sweep of its curve throughout long periods of the past—we shall see how misleading may be the conclusions drawn from recent facts taken by themselves. Where the regulative organization is anywhere made to undertake additional functions, we shall not form sanguine anticipations on the strength of immediate results of the desired kind; but we shall suspect that, after the phase of early activity has passed by, the plasticity of the new structure will rapidly diminish, the characteristic tendency toward rigidity will begin to show itself, and in place of a progressive effect there will come a restrictive effect.

The reader will now understand more clearly the meaning of the assertion that true conceptions of sociological changes are to be reached only by contemplating their slow genesis through centuries; and that basing inferences on results shown in short periods is as illusory as would be judging of the Earth's curvature by observing whether we are walking up or down hill. After recognizing which truth he will perceive how great is another of the obstacles in the way of the Social Science.

 

"But does not all this prove too much? If it is so difficult to get sociological evidence that is not vitiated by the subjective states of the witnesses, by their prejudices, enthusiasms, interests, etc.—if, where there is impartial examination, the conditions of the inquiry are of themselves so apt to falsify the result—if there is so general a proneness to assert as facts observed what were really inferences from observations, and so great a tendency also to be blinded by exterior trivialities to interior essentials—if, even where accurate data are accessible, their multitudinousness and diffusion in Space make it impracticable clearly to grasp them as wholes, while their unfolding in Time is so slow that antecedents and consequents cannot be mentally represented in their true relations—is it not manifestly impossible that a Social Science can be framed?"

It must be admitted that the array of objective difficulties thus brought together is formidable: and were it the aim of the Social Science to draw quite special and definite conclusions, which must depend for their truth upon exact data accurately coordinated, it would obviously have to be abandoned. But there are certain classes of general facts which remain after all errors in detail, however pro-