Popular Science Monthly/Volume 26/February 1885/Editor's Table

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THIS is the title of an article contributed by Mr. Lester F. Ward to the quarterly periodical "Mind." Mr. Ward, as is well known, is the author of "Dynamic Sociology," which contains an elaborate attack, with all the weapons of science and philosophy, upon the doctrine of laissez faire, as it is termed, or the policy of meddling less, and leaving things social more to their own natural courses. One of the chief arguments of the hook is reproduced in this paper, and, as the subject is important, we propose briefly to examine it, and offer some objections to the view taken.

Mr. Ward argues that the laissez-faire school of thinkers fail to recognize the true office of intelligence in controlling social activities and accomplishing social ends. He begins by stating that they make their constant appeal to Nature, to the laws of Nature, and the method of Nature, as all-sufficient for working out social good, BO that man's agency in the matter, where not mischievous, is superfluous. He then proceeds to show that this view leaves out of account the most momentous fact in the history of this world, namely, the advent of mind as a controlling agency in terrestrial affairs. He does not deny that there is, or has been, a method of Nature, and that in past times it has accomplished great things. He recognizes that it worked on, by the law of evolution, through vast periods, reaching higher and higher stages, until at length was ushered in the grand era of mind. A new order of things was now initiated. In the matured epoch of mind, advanced human intelligence took control of the planet. Its forces were subjugated and pressed into human service. The old method of Nature, by which progress came through destruction, wastefulness, and cruelty, gave place to a new method, that of art, which is the antithesis of Nature, and of humane protection of the weak instead of their remorseless destruction. The new era of mind was marked by invention?, constructions, and industries, by the rise of institutions of justice and beneficence, of governments, civilizations, and all the regulative agencies of human affairs.

Mr. Ward then takes the ground that those who still talk of following the method of Nature, and deferring to natural laws, quite overlook the meaning of these supreme facts, and seem unaware of the new dispensation upon which the world has entered. He makes "The open charge that the modern scientific philosophers fail to recognize the true value of the psychic factor; and again he says, "The laissez-faire doctrine fails to recognize that, in the development of mind, a virtually new power was introduced into the world."

Mr. Ward must not be here taken too literally, for certainly the laissez-faire people have some appreciation of mind as a factor in social progress. He can only mean that they have a very imperfect conception of it, because their do-nothing method does not imply the need of it. It is desirable, however, that we have first of all a correct idea of what this policy is. And here we must protest against some of Mr. Ward's extreme assertions. He declares that "the laissez-faire doctrine is a gospel of inaction"; and that, to be consistent, "its advocates must condemn all interference with physical laws and natural forces." He says they hold that "all schemes of social reform are unscientific"; that "they condemn all attempts to protect the weak, whether by private or public methods"; and that "in government every attempt to improve the condition of the state is condemned and denounced." These are unwarrantable exaggerations. The representatives of laissez faire have as much at heart the good of society, and work as hard to secure it, as any other class. It is not true that they hold to the method of Nature in social life in any such sense as absolves men from active effort in the direction of social improvement. Mr. Herbert Spencer is probably, as Mr. Ward himself recognizes, the leading living representative of the laissez-faire school, and he repeatedly, explicitly, and consistently in his earlier as in his later works, enforces the obligation of protecting the weak by sympathetic and discriminating aid, and he ever maintains that there is no more commendable or admirable social service than to help the weak and poor to help themselves. Moreover, his works throughout, from first to last, make imperative demands for radical and comprehensive scientific reforms in the policy of government with respect to the administration of social affairs. This is the common and distinctive ground of the laissez-faire school; and the question here is simply, What value does this give to "mind as a social factor"?

The believers in laissez faire, or in leaving things social more to themselves, hold that there is a natural order in the social state which has not been superseded or antiquated by the coming of man upon the stage, and that there are natural laws of human society, the understanding of which is the first condition of all real social advancement. They maintain that blind and ignorant intermeddling with these laws has been and is still productive of far more evil than good, and that therefore the first grand task of social science is their full and systematic elucidation, while it becomes the highest duty of education to disseminate knowledge of the laws thus gained. But the disentangling of social phenomena and the clear working out of their underlying principles are certainly among the highest efforts of the human mind. As yet we have only partial glimpses of these laws, insufficient for full guidance—but little more than sufficient to attest their existence. The most profound and fruitful intellectual work for generations to come is to be done here. Can it be said that those who contribute to the solution of these formidable social problems—so fundamental to practical success in social undertakings—are open to the charge of disparaging the function of "mind as a social factor"? On the contrary, is it not they who most eminently honor it? Mr. Ward not only admits that there are social laws which it is perilous not to know, but he recognizes that this is the essential fact of the laissez-faire view. He says: "What, then, remains of the laissez-faire doctrine? Nothing but this: that it is useless, and may be dangerous, to control natural forces until their character is at first well understood." "Nothing but this"! And is the thorough understanding of social forces in their complicated actions and reactions really so trivial a thing? We have been wont to consider sociology—the true social science inductively based and deductively verified as dependent for its establishment upon all other sciences—as the most intricate and difficult of all, as but just fairly reached in the progress of the human intellect, and as requiring the highest range of intelligence for its successful investigation; and, if so, then by insisting that the recognition and understanding of social laws is an indispensable prerequisite to safe and effective social action, the believers in laissez faire put the highest premium upon intelligence, both as an instrument of the establishment of truth and a means of general education.

Again, and in another aspect, laissez faire implies, and by its nature provides for the best mental development. Its advocates insist that, in dealing with social subjects, there should be more reliance upon individual action, more personal responsibility, more spontaneous co-operation, and larger demands upon private enterprise. But this view obviously makes intelligence the controlling factor in social life, for successful self-direction is only possible with increasing knowledge, keener discrimination, and greater mental activity on the part of the actors. Not only is the highest pressure thus put upon individuals, but the conditions are favorable for what is most needed—self-improvement. There is no such thing as corporate intelligence, it is ever an individual thing. Whatever view we take of the nature of mind, it is essentially a personal attribute. If we hold it to be a special divine gift, it is still a gift to the individual primarily for individual uses. If we hold that mind has been naturally evolved, its development has come through individual experiences as a preparation for the care of individual interests. On any view mind is a personal endowment, its aptitudes a personal inheritance, its unfolding a result of personal exertion, and its exercise a matter of personal responsibility. The system, therefore, which calls for greater self-reliance and more independent self-direction, must not only assign a prerogative value to the social function of mind, but it adopts the only possible means of attaining its highest advantages. If it be said that the idea of sufficient general intelligence for social guidance is a chimera, that only shows that the laissez-faire view overestimates what mind can be made to do. Can it be for a moment maintained that the opposite school, which favors corporate and wholesale social regulation, the tendency of which is to paralyze the incentives to personal effort, places a higher estimate upon "mind as a social factor" than that which insists that citizens should rely more upon themselves and not shirk their individual duties? And what less is this higher trust in state compulsion as against voluntary action than a virtual abdication of the function of intelligence in the control of social activities? Working by deputy is assuredly not the best way of securing intelligent action. Is it too much to say that the system of coercive regulation flourishes best in ignorance? Ignorant constituencies clamor for endless legislative intermeddling, and equally ignorant representatives give them what they want. Notwithstanding all Mr. Ward says about the ascendency of laissez-faire ideas, do they control the public policy, or are they not limited to a few teachers who are generally disparaged as mere speculative doctrinaires? Are the members of Congress and of the State Legislatures and their accompanying lobbyists, who devote themselves to the regulation of social affairs, well-instructed men who have availed themselves of what there is of social science, or are they not as a class distinguished by their ignorance and contempt of the subject? Not much knowledge is required to make laws; much to make them wisely and intelligently. Laws of every sort for the control of society are blindly enacted, amended, repealed, or left to become dead letters, while only so much of legislation gets executed as happens to conform to the actual state of general intelligence. Such hap-hazard, ill adapted action does not give a very exalted idea of "mind as a social factor."


Culture may, we think, be properly described as that knowledge or training which is essential to, at least, a provisional completeness of human nature. To secure such provisional completeness all the lines of a normal human activity must be more or less occupied, all the permanent faculties and capacities of the normal human intellect must have a certain exercise and development, and so be made channels of happiness and of usefulness to the individual. Viewing the matter in this light, we see that while this or that special piece of knowledge may not be necessary to culture, each 'branch of knowledge and of thought must bring some contribution to it. Culture implies understanding, appreciation, and some power of action. To have a mind wholly unexercised in some important region or regions of knowledge, and therefore wholly incapable of appreciating what may thence be drawn for the general nourishment of thought and advancement of civilization, is to have a culture so far incomplete; and an incomplete culture is, according to our present definition, the negation of culture. It may be that in the case of no human being is our idea of culture fully realized; still, for all that, the idea may be a good one. Manifestly, the aim of culture is to give such perfection to human nature as it is capable of—to develop not one set of faculties only, but all faculties; and so far it is correct to speak of (realized) culture as "a provisional completeness of human nature."

It may, perhaps, be objected by some that the definition of culture here given is calculated to lend aid and comfort to that spirit of dilettanteism which has proved itself so serious an impediment in the past to the progress of true knowledge. Under the pretext, it will be said, of aiming at some kind of completeness of intellectual outfit, many will be found contenting themselves with mere surface knowledge, and shirking all the hard work inseparable from a proper grounding in any one branch of study. To this we can only reply that the requirements of our definition would not really be met by such a course as this, and that nothing would be easier than to expose the charlatan who, not only knew nothing well, but had no proper measure of his own ignorance. A large part of culture, as we here understand it, consists in having some due appreciation of the extent and importance of those fields of knowledge which we have not been able to make our own. We recognize the man of culture not less by his diffidence in regard to those things he has not mastered, and upon which he does not venture even to have an opinion, than by the confidence and precision with which he moves in subjects that he has more or less made his own. Show us the man who, on the strength of a little general reading, will express opinions right and left, or who argues deductively, with reckless confidence, from a few general principles settled in his own mind, and we shall show you one who has never risen to the conception of culture which we are here endeavoring to set forth. "The fear of the Lord," says an admirable proverb, "is the beginning of wisdom"; and the first lesson in culture is the correction of that error to which, as Bacon has pointed out, all untutored minds are prone, of supposing in nature a greater simplicity than really exists.

Now, the contribution which science brings to culture is this:

1. It imparts actual knowledge of the condition and constitution of the external world.
2. It trains the observing and reasoning faculties.
3. It imparts a knowledge of its own methods, and by so doing gives the mind a new consciousness of its powers; for the methods of science are simply the labor-saving methods of the mind itself.

We see, therefore, its relation to culture. That wholeness of the mind of which we have spoken is manifestly incompatible with gross ignorance and error in regard to the source whence all sense-impressions flow. It is not culture to be floundering amid hopelessly erroneous hypotheses, nor to see things only with the untrained eye of sense instead of with the inward eye of instructed reason. Culture—intellectual wholeness—requires that we should see the world as those see it who have studied its phenomena and laws; not that we should know all that each specialist knows—a manifest impossibility—but that we should in a general way know what report has been brought from each great field of inquiry. So in the days of Columbus culture did not require that each man should visit the new continent for himself; but culture did require that each should know that a new continent had been discovered, and what its general features were, so far as it had been explored. The man of culture to-day should be able to speak of the world as it is now known to be, not as it was supposed to be fifty, or a hundred, or two hundred years ago. Secondly, science trains the observing and reasoning faculties. The habit of direct observation of Nature is one of the most important that any human being can acquire. By bringing the observer into direct contact with Nature, it gives a healthy concreteness to his conceptions. He who misses this training in early life will not be likely to make good the deficiency in later years. Many men, who have naturally good reasoning powers, find themselves condemned to more or less of intellectual sterility, simply because what we may call the fact-grasping faculty has never been developed in them. If they had materials to work with, they could do good work; but they have not the materials, and do not seem to know how to gather them. They live in a too attenuated air: like the ancestral ghosts whom Myrtle Hazard saw in her dream, they call for "breath! breath!"—the breath that no living soul need lack who will but go to Nature for a supply. It may be said, indeed, that a logical faculty without a strong sense for the concrete is a source of danger to its possessor, leading him afar on the seas of speculation, with no guide but a few charts and his own dead-reckoning. He who can observe Nature, on the other hand, is like the mariner who can "take the sun," and know his exact position from day to day. Many of the intellectual evils of the present time spring from the too wide-spread use of intellectual faculties untrained by the study of Nature, and therefore unchecked by any due sense of the complexities which the problems of life present. Science teaches caution; it teaches the paramount importance of verification, and creates not only a distrust of, but a certain lack of interest in, conclusions that have not been reached by proper methods, and which do not admit of verification. Scientific men, in general, it will be observed, are not revolutionary in their opinions; they work on patiently, and hate nothing so much as premature production of results. They often have occasion to smile at the confidence with which mere theorizers undertake to tell the world what the whole significance of their work is.

The methods of science are, as we have said, the labor-saving devices of the human mind. They are the choicest and most precious results of the travail of the human intellect upon the phenomena of its environment. Not to know something of them is, in a wide sense, one of the worst forms of self-ignorance, for the intellect that has worked out and established these methods is not any individual intellect, but the intellect of the race. We are all entitled to our share in what the race has accomplished. And shall we supinely and ingloriously consent to be ignorant of the intellectual triumphs that the race has won? The man of culture must have a consciousness of his own best self, and must have it in his power to live his best habitually, and not be dependent upon critical occasions to reveal what his capacities are. The function of culture is to redeem us from the sway of chance, and make us fully masters of ourselves. We see, then, what it must be, from the point of view of culture, to know the ways of Science, and to be able to trace her shining footsteps along some of the grander paths of discovery. We see, too, what, from the same point of view, it must be not to know anything of all this, but to live in a world the phenomena of which never reflect back the light of law into the understanding, or convey any clear suggestion of the conquests which the human mind has achiever!. To think that, not so long ago, this condition of mind was thought by many, yes, by most, quite compatible with "culture"! Times are changing, fortunately, and we trust that few men of intelligence are now to be found who would dispute our definition of culture as a certain provisional completeness of the human mind in the sum and development of its faculties, or who would deny that, to constitute such completeness, a liberal scientific training is wholly indispensable. Each of the points on which we have touched would admit, as every one can see, of much expansion; but we thought it well to present the general argument for once in this very summary form, reserving the liberty of returning to the subject and treating it in more detail as occasion may serve.