Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 41.djvu/865

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845
EDITOR'S TABLE.

a good citizen; a man may with the best of intentions, and even at great self-sacrifice, set himself in direct opposition to the best interests of the state. The trouble in such a case is that the man lacks knowledge, and, like an ignorant physician, either diagnosticates badly the evils he would remedy, or, if his diagnoses chance to be right—which is very unlikely—applies the wrong cure. Prof. Pearson does not pretend that as yet science can pronounce definitive and certain judgments upon all social questions; but he properly maintains that science should, as far as possible, be our guide to-day, and that it alone will ever lead us into a perfect comprehension of our social duties. "We are, therefore, in full accord with him when he formulates what he calls the first claim of science in the following words:

"Modem science, as training the mind to an exact and impartial analysis of facts, is an education especially fitted to promote sound citizenship."

The first claim of science being that it supplies the requisite method for dealing with social questions; the second, which flows naturally from the first, is that it brings actual principles to light which afford the most important guidance in social matters. Such Prof. Pearson holds to be Weismann's discovery—if it be one—of the non-inheritance of characteristics acquired during the lifetime of a parent organism. If Weismann's theory be correct, then, in Prof. Pearson's words, "no degenerate and feeble stock will ever be converted into healthy and sound stock by the accumulated effects of education, good laws, and sanitary surroundings. Such means may render the individual members of the stock passable, if not strong, members of society; but the same process will have to be gone through again and again with their offspring, and this in ever-widening circles, if the stock, owing to the conditions in which society has placed it, is able to increase in numbers. . . . If," our author significantly adds, "society is to shape its own future, we must be extremely cautious that, in following our strong social instincts, we do not at the same time weaken society by rendering the propagation of bad stock more and more easy." The argument under this head is not affected by the truth or falsity of Weismann's theory. If Weismann is right, we have to shape our conduct in such a way as to make the propagation of bad stock as difficult as possible, and we shall depend for the future welfare of society mainly upon a careful selection of stocks; if he is wrong, and stocks, no less than individuals, can be improved by education and outward circumstances, we shall apply ourselves more energetically to work in these directions. In either case, a verdict which science alone can render, is of the first importance in determining social action.

The third claim which Prof. Pearson makes for science is the obvious one that its suggestive discoveries afford means for the improvement of all the material conditions of human life. In the popular apprehension this is the one incontrovertible claim of science, and upon this point, therefore, it is not necessary to lay much stress. It may, however, be remarked that many of the greatest practical triumphs of science in the present age have flowed from discoveries or observations which at the outset it was hard to link, even in imagination, with any important practical result. In the words of our author, "The frog's legs of Galvani and the Atlantic cable seem wide enough apart, but the former was the starting-point of the series of investigations which ended in the latter." In like manner, it is suggested, the recent discovery of Hertz, that the action of electro-magnetism is propagated in waves like light, and that light, as conjectured by Maxwell, is only a special phase of electro-magnetic action, may in a generation or two do