Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 6.djvu/55

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.

the logical processes of science, and to decry mere theorizing and speculation. They forget that facts of themselves are not science, and only become so by being placed in true relations, and that the function of the thinker is therefore supreme; while the work of organizing facts and establishing general truths is, after all, just as much a specialty as that of observation or experiment in any branches of inquiry. The prevalence of these narrow views has been unfavorable to the recognition of Mr. Spencer's work by a large class of the cultivators of science; and the more so, as he has been mainly occupied in the highest spheres of generalization. For this reason it is only by the comparatively small number of scientific men, who possess marked philosophic power, that his labors have been justly appreciated.

But, while considerations of this kind are not to be overlooked in assigning the responsibilities of criticism, neither are they to be construed into excuses for prejudiced opinions, or crude and hasty judgments. It is the business of critics to inform themselves on important matters of which they speak, or to hold their peace. And, where there is peculiar difficulty or liability to error, they are all the more bound to caution, and to refrain from injurious interpretations. Reverting, now, to the criticisms cited at the outset of this discussion as typical of a class, we are prepared to rate them at what they are worth.

From what has been stated, I think it will be sufficiently evident that Mr. Spencer is no follower of Comte, Darwin, or any other man, and that he has pursued his own independent course in his own way. As to M. Taine's statement that "Mr. Spencer has the merit of extending to the phenomena of Nature and of mind" Mr. Darwin's principle of Natural Selection, the facts given show how mistaken was his view of the case. Strange to say, M. Taine, who claims to be a psychologist, puts forth this idea in a review of Mr. Spencer's "Principles of Psychology," a work which treated the subject of mind throughout, and for the first time from the point of view of Evolution, and this years before Mr. Darwin had published a word upon the subject.

As this error of M. Taine is frequently repeated,[1] and indicates a gross misapprehension of the subject, it is desirable to add a word or two regarding Mr. Darwin's relation to the question. While he has contributed immensely toward the extension and establishment of a theory of organic development, he has never made even an attempt to elucidate the law of Evolution as a general principle of Nature. His works do not treat of this problem at all, and nothing has tended

  1. Another example of it has just been furnished by the Saturday Review, which, in commenting upon Prof. Tyndall's late address, remarks: "What Darwin has done for physiology, Spencer would do for psychology by applying to the nervous system particularly the principles which his teacher (!) has already enunciated for the physical system generally."