Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 2.djvu/392

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.
376
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.
Hellenic, and Roman ideas. I am inclined to think he might have foreseen that it would arise in Palestine, that its spread would he confined to the area covered by Roman civilization, and that its work would be most thorough in the most thoroughly Romanized regions.
"I would not, however, insist upon this point; nor is it necessary to do so. In none of the concrete sciences is there any thing like thorough and systematic prevision, save in astronomy; and even in astronomy our foresight becomes precarious as soon as we pass beyond the solar system and begin to inquire into the mutual gravitation of the innumerable stellar bodies. We know that our sun is rushing with immense velocity toward the constellation Hercules; but we cannot yet trace his orbit as Kepler traced the orbit of Mars. When we come to biology and psychology, the power of accurate prevision is very small; yet no one denies that the phenomena of life and intelligence conform to fixed and ascertainable laws. In sociology we must expect to find still less ability to predict. The truth is, as Comte acutely pointed out, that while in the simpler sciences our object is gained if we can foretell the course of phenomena so as to be able to regulate our actions by it, in the more complex sciences our object is gained when we have generalized the conditions under which phenomena occur so as to be able to make our volitions count for something in modifying them. We cannot modify astronomic phenomena, but we can predict them. We cannot predict, save to a limited extent, biologic phenomena; but, knowing more and more thoroughly the conditions under which they occur, we can more and more skilfully modify them so as to insure health or overcome disease. And obviously even this limited ability to modify the phenomena implies a certain amount of prevision, enough to justify us in asserting that the phenomena conform to law. The case is similar in sociology. Though we may not be able definitely to predict a given political revolution, we may, nevertheless, understand the general movement of affairs, and the effects which certain kinds of legislation are likely to produce, so as to hasten a desired result or avert social mischief. Upon this possibility are based all our methods of government and of education. And, as in biology, this ability to modify the phenomena proves that the phenomena occur in some fixed order of sequence. For, where there is no definite order of sequence among phenomena, we can neither predict nor modify them; and, where there is a definite order of sequence, there is, or may be, a science.
"Now, in denying that there is or can be a science of history, Mr. Froude, if he means any thing, means that social affairs have no fixed order of sequence, but are the sport of chance. Either Law or Chance—these are the only alternatives, unless we have recourse, like the Mussulman, to Destiny, an illegitimate third idea, made up of the other two, misconceived and mutilated in order to fit together. But for the modern thinker there is no middle course. It is either symmetry or confusion, law or chance, and between the two antagonist conceptions there can be no compromise. If the law of causation is universal, we must accept the theory of law. If it has ever, in any one instance, been violated, we may be excused for taking up with the theory of chance. Now, we know that all the vast bodies in this sidereal universe move on for untold ages in their orbits in strict conformity to law. In conformity to law the solar system in all its complexity has grown out of a homogeneous nebula; and the crust of the cooling earth has condensed into a rigid surface fit for the maintenance of organic life. Out of plastic materials furnished by the surface, and the air and moisture by which it is enveloped, organic life has arisen and been multiplied in countless differing forms, all in accordance with law. Of this aggregate of organic existence, man, the most complex and perfect type, lives and moves and has his being in strict conformity to law. His periods of activity and repose are limited by cosmic rotations. His achievements, physical and mental, are determined by the rate of his nutrition, and by the molecular structure and relative weight of the nervous matter contained in him. His very thoughts must chase each other along definite paths and contiguous channels marked out by the laws of association. Throughout these various phenomena, already generalized for us by astronomers, geologists, biologists, and psychologists, we know that neither at any time nor in any place is law interfered with—that yesterday, to-day, and forever, the effect follows the cause with inevitable and inexorable certainty. And yet we are asked to believe that in one particular corner of the universe, upon the surface of our little planet, in a portion of the organism of one particular creature, there is one special phenomenon, called volition, in which the law of causation ceases to operate, and every thing goes helter-skelter!"