Popular Science Monthly/Volume 28/March 1886/Editor's Table

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EDITOR'S TABLE.

 
A CASE IN MORAL EDUCATION.

IT is encouraging to observe, by the recent discussions in Congress, that there is a deepening conviction of the need of an international copyright law to put a stop to the scandalous robbery of those foreign authors who are doing 80 much to sustain and elevate our intellectual life. There are evinced a growing sense of reprobation of this practice, and much greater agreement than ever before, both as to the necessity of putting an end to it, and the means to be adopted for the purpose. The committee was addressed by but one downright opponent of international copyright, and he admitted that he was opposed to all copyright, and would take away the legal protection of their literary property from American authors. Mr. James Russell Lowell, President of the Copyright League, made an excellent address, putting the whole question on the high moral ground of the rights of men to property in their brain-work, and the outrage of allowing other men to appropriate it from mercenary motives and because they find it valuable; and he did not hesitate to say that the reasoning by which international copyright was there opposed was but a virtual defense of pocket-picking. We call attention to this matter here simply to show that there is an undoubted quickening of the moral sense of the community over this question, so that what was long regarded with indifference as but a venial wrong is now reprobated as a practice so bad that it can be no longer tolerated.

And even while the question is being thus debated, there comes a fresh and flagrant instance of that spoliation of foreign authors which will continue to be perpetrated until the law lays its hand upon men destitute of any restraining moral sense. The case is peculiarly aggravated in this respect, A foreign author writes a valuable book, which is found especially useful in this country for cultivating the minds of teachers; and their sense of obligation to him for his great service is expressed by a virtual conspiracy among them to steal it. Mr. James Sully, of London, is the author of the "Outlines of Psychology," The work was created by his labor. It was made at the cost of time, faculty, and blood; he consumed his vital energy in preparing it just as much as is done in producing any other piece of work of any kind that was ever constructed. If there be such a thing as property, Mr, Sully's book was his property by every principle of justice and right. That was recognized by his American publishers, who made an arrangement with him to pay a royalty on the sales at an equal rate that it is customary to pay American authors. The arrangement was doubly valid in the eyes of all honorable men, for it was Intrinsically just and equitable and was voluntarily made without any compulsion of law.

Mr. Sully's work was a large text-book of general psychology, but it gave prominence to the bearings of that science upon theoretical and practical education, and this was the feature that was specially appreciated by our educators. It was an obvious suggestion that to separate the educational part of the book from its connections and issue it separately in a cheaper form would be a desirable thing. Different parties, in fact, applied to the publishers to get the job of cutting the book down; but they answered that this was a matter belonging entirely to the author. He was written to, and, approving the plan, engaged to make a compend of his work for the use of teachers and to do it at once; and it was widely advertised by the American publishers that an authoritative abridgment of the "Outlines of Psychology" by the author himself would soon appear. It need hardly be said that the author, who knew the subject thoroughly, and had created the work, was the most competent man to prepare from it a briefer volume, which would require much adaptation and new statement; because justice to teachers and to a most important subject could not be done by merely ripping out mechanically a part of the larger book and printing it separately. But Principal Reinhart, of the Paterson High-School, paid no attention to any such consideration. He cut out what he wanted from the volume, added some notes, and applied to Messrs. Appleton to print it, which of course they declined to do; and he then found another publisher to carry out his very questionable project.

Now, our only concern hero is with the moral complexion of this affair, in connection with what goes for "higher education" in the public-school system of this country. A great deal is said about the low state of moral education in our public schools; but the grave question arises as to the competency of the directors of even our "high-schools" to teach it. Moral education is a matter of principles applied to practice; it inquires into the grounds of right and wrong in conduct, with a view of determining what things are proper to do and what are forbidden as immoral or unjust. It aims simply to ascertain and enforce upon the individual right rules for the guidance of personal action in daily and practical life. The obligations of morality are clear enough; what is wanted in the schools is the explanation of their fundamental importance, their sacredness, the sophistry by which they are evaded, and their pointed application to the conscience of the young.

Is the Principal of the Paterson High-School, a fit person to give such instruction? Could ho explain to his classes the moral difference between stealing Mr. Sully's book and stealing his watch? Could he explain to his Jersey students why they should not steal the paper and binding of Bardeen's volume as he has its contents? If ho should say to them that paper, ink, and binding are sacred things and not to be appropriated without payment, while the soul of the work, the part sought and prized as a power in our education, has no value which ho is bound to recognize, would they not be justified in replying to the argument by throwing the book at his head? The Principal of a high-school who, at this time, will appropriate literary property which he has no moral right to touch, who will rob an author simply because he is helpless and must intrust his book to the public honor, and who will mutilate a work which he knows the author is himself revising and making over for the specific objects recognized—such a Principal may comply with the State standard of competency to control a high-school, but, in our opinion, he is not fit to give instructions in moral education.

The Paterson Principal will, of course, have his excuses. lie may say: "The appropriation of foreign books is a common thing; it is done, and has been long done, by respectable people; I am no worse than they are." But this will not do. When a professional literary freebooter says: "I care nothing for the rights of foreign authors; I propose to take their works as long as I can profit by them and keep out of jail; 'what are you going to do about it?'"—his case is not a proper precedent for the principal of a high-school charged with the duty of forming the moral characters of pupils committed to his charge. He is to teach them that what is intrinsically wrong is not made anything else because others indulge in it. Of course, he can quote many bad examples which he has followed, but he is among those who pre-eminently have no business to follow bad examples, either in practice or in precept. But the Paterson Principal will search a long time before finding a precedent as bad as that which he himself has set. He goes voluntarily into the business of robbing foreign authors when nearly everybody else is trying to stop it; he cuts up his book at his own caprice while the author is himself revising and condensing it; and then he plots with other educators to secure the adoption of the dishonest edition, to the exclusion of the honest and superior book. Such things might be expected of a sordid and unprincipled huckster in the publication business, but they are to be reprobated in the principal of a high-school. That he is backed by other teachers does not help the matter, but only still further exemplifies the lax and dull state of mind in regard to right and wrong which they thus evince, and which goes far to explain the backwardness and neglect of moral education in our schools.

 

 
STABILITY IN SYSTEMS OF THOUGHT.

In the "Commercial Advertiser" of January 14th there is an able article, evidently from the master-mind of that journal, on Spencer's evolution philosophy, which, from the interest of the questions raised, as well as its very decided views, deserves some critical notice. After passing encomiums on Mr. Spencer for his noble and disinterested aims, the comprehensiveness of his work, his immense results considered as an intellectual achievement, his painstaking industry, and indefatigable persistency of purpose, the writer remarks that, admirable as it all is, it still has about it "a touch of the pathetic." Not that it may never be finished, as many fear, but that, even if completed, it will quickly take its place among the systems of futile speculation with which the human mind has teemed for these thousands of years. After referring to the sad experience of Buckle, the writer says: "Mr. Spencer's case is different; he may be able to finish his work, but the view of it that comes to us is, that when it is finished it may prove, in scope and substance, no more than a brilliant dream. The theory of evolution, in the construction of which he has spent so many laborious days and nights, lavished such wonderful powers of observation and generalization, and exhibited such an ingenuity of fancy, collecting such masses of knowledge and scintillating such flashes of suggestion, will, after all, share the fate of other merely speculative fabrics, and, like them, in spite of a certain color of science which he has been enabled to give it, fade away in the advancing light of real knowledge."

We can not help thinking that this judgment manifests an imperfect appreciation of the intellectual revolution which marks off ancient and mediæval from modern thought, in so far as this represents a new era of science. It can hardly be contended that science in the present state of its development counts for nothing in its influence upon systems of thought; nor is it difficult to see in what way it acts and must increasingly act in future to discredit or to conserve such systems. The old schemes of speculation and schools of philosophy ran their transient course under the influence of great teachers, and then declined and gave place to others, because they had no basis in any real knowledge of Nature. In metaphysics and religion, the two great spheres of mental activity, imagination went riot for lack of restraining data. They had no element that could give them permanent value; one man's opinion was as good as another's, and systems multiplied with the common and inevitable character of instability. Some were preserved by favoring accidents. The system of Plato, as intrinsically worthless as the rest, lived on as a power in the world of thought because of the ingenuity of his speculations, the impressive beauty of their literary forms, the vitality of classical superstition in later ages, and because his system of ideas has been supposed to favor the fundamental beliefs of Christian theology.

But modern thought made a new starting-point when it began formally to build on the verities of Nature. A new element was then introduced into philosophy which was capable of giving it permanence. The discovery of the laws of motion, for example, was an intellectual acquisition to stand forever. When it was proved that the earth is not the stationary center of the universe, but only a revolving planet, there was given, not only a new fact for all time, but a fact that shattered whole systems of pre-existing opinion, and became a permanent element to fix and regulate the future thinking of mankind. In further instance, the discoveries of the circulation of the blood, of the laws of nutrition, of the double action and reflex functions of the nervvous system, revealed facts of enduring moment which threw new light upon the nature of man. The establishment of the indestructibility of matter, and that all mutations of material things are governed by this law, was a new key to the understanding of our world which can never be lost. And when the kindred truth of the conservation of energy, or that in the known course of Nature force is never created or destroyed—which Faraday pronounced to be "the highest law in physical science that our faculties permit ns to perceive"—when this mighty principle was demonstrated, whole systems of speculation were undermined, whole realms of previous error were destroyed, and the philosophical interpretation of Nature was put upon a new and indestructible basis. We have given a few illustrations of that element which it was the destiny of science to contribute, and by which it has formed a new epoch of thought; but all the sciences are full of this new element. It consists of contributions of fact and law standing in everlasting contrast with the baseless and transient assumptions of philosophers for the past two thousand years. But the two thousand years of empty philosophical speculation got a mighty headway; and, as our education is still dominated by tradition, the cultivated mind of the age, saturated with the "history of philosophy," remains blinded to the profound significance of that revolution of ideas which modern science has introduced. There are plenty of men whose culture is so full of the past that they are sure to go on spinning systems fanciful and futile as their predecessors; but such work is certain to become more and more anomalous and less and less regarded. For, with the development of science, there has come a new mental culture. Science forms habits of thought. Pursued in its true spirit it enforces a special discipline in the study of truth. It corrects credulity by a wholesome skepticism; it affirms the supremacy of personal observation, and demands caution in forming conclusions. All these requirements are repressive of that wanton exuberance of imaginative invention in which speculative genius is so prone to indulge. The system-maker of these times must know something, must build upon previous acquisitions, or he will neither be listened to by the present nor have a hold upon the future. The rapid growth of science in these days proves that its education and its disciplines have not been without effect, and it is not to be questioned that its method is gradually extending into all the spheres of mental activity. There is here a new element of stability in intellectual constructions of which nothing was known in all the historic epochs of speculation.

The writer in the "Commercial" says that the theory of evolution which Mr. Spencer has elaborated with such ingenuity "will share the fate of other merely speculative fabrics," and "fade away in the advancing light of real knowledge." The implication of course is that Mr. Spencer's work lacks the character of "real knowledge," and this the writer confirms by speaking of "a certain color of science" which he has been enabled to give it. This is a strange deliverance. A system born of science, and constructed warp and woof out of the accredited facts and truths of the sciences, is not well described as having imparted to it a superficial coloring of science. Mr. Spencer's allegiance to facts, his comprehensive grasp of the results of science, and his command of the scientific method and fidelity to it, are unchallenged. His system, given out in fragments favorable for the most critical examination, has been under fire for twenty-five years, and has extended in influence and steadily risen in consideration in a scientific age because it was recognized to embody more "real knowledge" than any other such system ever before presented. The writer in the "Commercial" thinks he sees indications that it is already declining; he merely misinterprets the subsidence of opposition.

The simple fact of the case is, that Mr. Spencer was the first to deal with evolution as a strictly scientific problem, lie withdrew it from the field of fanciful speculation, and subjected its investigation to the rigorous conditions of analytic and synthetic science. The time had come when, by the laws of advancing intelligence, the subject had to be taken up from this point of view. Its fundamental datum was given by Huxley in a few words. "It is now established, and generally recognized," said he, "that this universe and all that it contains did not come into existence in the condition in which we now see it, nor in anything like that condition." It is therefore self-evident that changes have taken place by which one condition of things has led to another and a different condition of things. Mr. Spencer took up the inquiry at this point by asking, What are the laws of these changes? It was an inquiry into the order of the phenomenal world and therefore strictly scientific in its nature, as not a step could be taken toward its solution except by the inexorable application of scientific methods. Postulating those universal and fundamental laws of scientific inquiry, the indestructibility of matter and force, the changes that have taken place had to be investigated as transformations by which one thing is derived from another, and the present evolved out of the past under that inflexible principle of all scientific inquiry, the law of cause and effect. Beyond doubt, one of the great secrets of the rapid acceptance of the doctrine of evolution by the best trained minds of the age is the thoroughly scientific character of the exposition in Spencer's system. It has the stability of a great law of Nature, fortified by results from all the sciences, and can only pass away as it is further developed under the principle of evolution, which itself gives law to the progress of knowledge; and the attempt to kick it into the limbo of speculative vagaries implies, as we have said, some considerable misapprehension of the situation.