Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 9.djvu/343

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

legislators to use oaths, not merely in special and solemn matters, but as means of securing honesty in the details of public business. When this has been done, the consequences to public morals have been disastrous. There is no need to hunt up ancient or foreign proofs of this, seeing how conspicuous an instance is the state of England early in the present century, while it was still, as a contemporary writer called it, "a land of oaths," and the professional perjurer plied a thriving trade. A single illustration will suffice, taken from the valuable treatise on Oaths, published in 1834, by the Rev. James Endell Tyler: "During the continuance of the former system of custom-house oaths, there were houses of resort where persons were always to be found ready at a moment's warning to take any oath required; the signal of the business for which they were needed was this inquiry, 'Any damned soul here?'" Nowadays this enormous excess of public oaths has been much cut down, and with the best results. Yet it must be evident to students of sociology that the world will not stop short at this point. The wider question is coming into view, What effect is produced on the every-day standard of truthfulness by the doctrine that fraudulent lying is in itself a minor offense, but is converted into an awful crime by the addition of a ceremony and a formula? It is an easily-stated problem in moral arithmetic; on the credit side, Government is able to tighten with an extra screw the consciences of a shaky class of witnesses and public officers; on the debit side, the current value of a man's word is correspondingly depreciated through the whole range of public and private business. As a mere sober student of social causes and effects, following along history the tendencies of opinion, I cannot doubt for a moment how the public mind must act on this problem. I simply predict that where the judicial ordeal is already gone, there the judicial oath will sooner or later follow. Not only do symptoms of the coming change appear from year to year, but its greatest determining cause is unfolding itself day by day before observant eyes, a sight such as neither we nor our fathers ever saw before.

How has it come to pass that the sense of the sanctity of intellectual truth, and the craving after its full and free possession, are so mastering the modern educated mind? This is not a mystery hard to unravel. Can any fail to see how in these latter years the methods of scientific thought have come forth from the laboratory and the museum to claim their powers over the whole range of history and philosophy, of politics and morals? Truth in thought is fast spreading its wide waves through the outside world. Of intellectual truthfulness, truthfulness in word and act is the outward manifestation. In all modern philosophy there is no principle more fertile than the doctrine so plainly set forth by Herbert Spencer—that truth means bringing our minds into accurate matching with the realities in and around us; so that both intellectual and moral truth are bound up together in