It should not even be said that action is the goal of science; should we condemn studies of the star Sirius, under pretext that we shall probably never exercise any influence on that star? To my eyes, on the contrary, it is the knowledge which is the end, and the action which is the means. If I felicitate myself on the industrial development, it is not alone because it furnishes a facile argument to the advocates of science; it is above all because it gives to the scientist faith in himself and also because it offers an immense field of experience where clash forces too colossal to be interfered with. Without this ballast, who knows whether it would not quit the earth, seduced by the mirage of some scholastic novelty, or whether it would not despair, believing it had fashioned only a dream?
§ 3. The Crude Fact and the Scientific Fact
What was most paradoxical in M. LeRoy's thesis was that affirmation that the scientist creates the fact; this was at the same time its essential point and it is one of those which have been most discussed.
Perhaps, says he (I well believe that this was a concession), it is not the scientist that creates the fact in the rough; it is at least he who creates the scientific fact.
This distinction between the fact in the rough and the scientific fact does not by itself appear to me illegitimate. But I complain first that the boundary has not been traced either exactly or precisely; and then that the author has seemed to suppose that the crude fact, not being scientific, is outside of science.
Finally, I can not admit that the scientist creates without restraint the scientific fact since it is the crude fact which imposes it upon him.
The examples given by M. LeRoy have greatly astonished me. The first is taken from the notion of atom. The atom chosen as example of fact! I avow that this choice has so disconcerted me that I prefer to say nothing about it. I have evidently misunderstood the author's thought and I could not fruitfully discuss it.
The second case taken as example is that of an eclipse where the crude phenomenon is a play of light and shadow, but where the astronomer can not intervene without introducing two foreign elements, to wit, a clock and Newton's law.
Finally, M. LeRoy cites the rotation of the earth; it has been answered: but this is not a fact, and he has replied: it was one for Galileo, who affirmed it, as for the inquisitor, who denied it. It always remains that this is not a fact in the same sense as those just spoken of and that to give them the same name is to expose one's self to many confusions.
Here then are four degrees:
1°. It grows dark, says the clown.