Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/168

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and have been for a long time, a real means of subsistence for the people. This enviable fact is no argument against the injuriousness of a continuous and severe fishing of the beds. . . . But as the number of consumers increases in America the price will also surely advance, and then there will arise the desire to fish the beds more severely than hitherto; and, if they do not accept in time the unfortunate experience of the oyster-culturists of Europe, they will surely find their oyster-beds impoverished for having defied the bioconotic[1] laws."

How nearly correct he has been in his prophecy I have attempted to show, and it is with the intention of seconding his advice, and with the hope that it will be heeded, that this article has been written.



"A national superstition is a national misfortune. No pious fraud has ever advantaged the world, for every popular delusion becomes the mother of a noxious and numerous progeny."—Helvetius.

LOGICIANS distinguish between inferential and presumptive fallacies, the first being founded upon illogical conclusions from correct premises, the second upon logical conclusions from incorrect premises. With few exceptions the most mischievous popular delusions of all ages have arisen from the latter—the "presumptive" fallacies. Where their own interests are involved, men seem gifted with an instinctive faculty for looking through the tricks by which a word-juggler appears to support his sophisms with axioms known to be true, but, where that knowledge itself has been falsified (by repeating fictions till they assume the semblance of truisms), all thus biased will accept as sound whatever logical superstructure dupes or impostors may choose to erect upon such sham facts. If a man had been persuaded that cold is a panacea, he would naturally conclude that Siberia must be the healthiest country in the world. In Hindostan, where the sanctity of horned cattle is an established dogma, no true believer would hesitate to indict an irreverent bull-driver for blasphemy, or to preserve a beefsteak as a sacred relic. As long as the Bible passed for infallible, it seemed perfectly logical to ascribe diseases to witchcraft and their cure to prayer, to regard a man's natural instincts as his natural foes, to deny the difference between one and three, and treat mathematicians as enemies of the human race. The systematic application of spurious principles has led to strange

  1. Derived from bioconosm, a word signifying complete within itself.