Popular Science Monthly/Volume 6/March 1875/Editor's Table
IN an elaborate article contributed to the January Fortnightly Review, Prof. Cairnes has attacked the social philosophy of Herbert Spencer. The paper is too long to be wholly transferred to our pages, and so we reprint the first half; but that, it happens, is the most important part, and a little examination of its quality will show that not much has been lost by omitting the remainder. Coming from the source it does, we read the article with not a little surprise, for its writer either has no clear understanding of his subject, or he is trifling with it in a very inexcusable way. The subject is undoubtedly an important one, and is entitled to be considered with the utmost intelligence and candor. The Saturday Review tells us that "Englishmen hate men who offer them new ideas." This may be extravagant, but if it had said they hate men who offer them new ideas upon social topics it would probably have been nearer the truth. Social science implies that there are great natural agencies by which society in the past has been developed, and by which it is still largely regulated; but, of all people in the world, the English should be the least sympathetic with such a view, for nowhere else has Nature been more overlaid and buried out of sight by human arts, arrangements, and conventions, than in that country. But, whether under a patriotic bias or not, Prof. Cairnes is at no pains to conceal his dislike of Spencer's social doctrines. As a politician and a philanthropist enlisted in the service of humanity, he takes ground against their general influence. From this point of view he opposes Mr. Spencer to Mr. Mill as follows:
"On the one hand there is the philosophy of Mr. Spencer contemplating the career of humanity as fixed with regard to its main direction, as predetermined to move along certain defined or at least definable lines of progress, constantly shaping itself under the influence of causes which produce their effects spontaneously. ... Can we have any doubt as to the tendency of such teaching? As to its paralyzing effect on laborers in the field of human improvement? ... Contrast with this the teaching of that other philosophy with which Mr. Spencer's has been confronted in this discussion—the philosophy of Mr. Mill, every line of whose writings is instinct with the belief that there is nothing fixed in human fortunes—that it rests with the individual men and women of each generation as they pass, each within the range of his or her influence, to make or to mar them—whose creed it is that social progress is largely dependent on political institutions, which do not 'grow' while men sleep, but 'are the work of men—owe their origin and their whole existence to human will.'" Now, all that Prof. Cairnes can make by this contrast, he makes, not against any special system of sociological doctrine, but against the conception of natural law in social affairs; and yet he admits that the very creation of the social state is the work of spontaneous natural forces, such as have produced the diversities of life. He says: "In that primitive stage (as Mr. Darwin has taught us) while man remained still a savage, and even perhaps for some time after he is emerged from the savage condition, the influences which mould his social development are substantially the same with those that govern the development of a species." Again, be admits that. "each stage in human progress is the outcome and result of the stage which has immediately preceded it, and that the whole series of stages, beginning with savage life and ending with the most advanced existing civilization, represents a connected chain, of which the links are bound together as sequences in precisely the same way as in the instances of causation presented by other departments of Nature. Some such assumption as this must necessarily form the basis of all attempts at a rational interpretation of history." But if Prof. Cairnes (without damping his reformatory ardor) can bold that society is bound in the chains of causation like "other departments of Nature," why should other laborers in the field of human improvement be paralyzed? If the holding of a belief in the utmost fatalism of law in social affairs is not sufficient to clip the wings or trip the heels of Prof. Cairnes's philanthropy, wherefore should Mr. Spencer be depressed, who avows no such extreme views? The effect, indeed, ought to be rather the contrary, for Prof. Cairnes maintains that his chain of causation, which is dragging the world's events along, is not raising or improving them, which would seem to be rather a gloomy reflection; while, on the other band, Mr. Spencer holds that the great and irresistible tendency of things is toward a higher and better state, a view which is fitted to inspire something like the joy of a religious hope in a happier future. But, however that may be, Prof. Cairnes brings to the discussion of the subject his prejudices as a politician, or an Englishman, or some other perversity, and, as we are now to see, they blind him to the truth of the subject he has taken up.
Prof. Cairnes, as we have said, either does not understand Spencer, or he culpably misrepresents him. Everybody knows, or, at least, every one who writes upon the subject ought to know, that Mr. Spencer's labors for the last fifteen years have been only preparatory to the elucidation of the principles of sociology. He has but just entered upon that work which will occupy him, if he lives, for the next five or six years. The doctrine of social evolution he has not yet developed; and by that alone can he be fairly judged as a sociologist. Prof. Cairnes condemns him before he begins. His article is a review of the "Study of Sociology" which he assumes to embody "the elementary doctrines of the new science." But that work attempts no such thing; it, in fact, carefully avoids the consideration of the principles or science of the subject. It discusses outlying questions, which have, indeed, a bearing upon the general subject, but it is neither an exposition nor a defense of its elementary doctrines.
But, although Mr. Spencer's views upon sociology have hitherto only been put forth partially and incidentally, there is no excuse for such erroneous conceptions of them as Prof. Cairnes entertains. He goes back to an old essay on the "Social Organism," in which Mr. Spencer, nearly twenty years ago, pointed out some analogies between the structure and actions of the body politic and those of individual organisms, and says that Spencer's doctrine of social evolution is based upon this analogy. He asserts that Spencer's theory of social evolution "represents a speculation transferred from the domain of physiology and zoology into that of social inquiry, and the speculation so transferred is applied without question or scruple to the interpretation of human affairs;" and, again, he speaks of "that analogy between the social and animal organisms on which the whole speculation is built up." We cannot conceive a grosser misapprehension than this. Mr. Spencer maintains that the law of evolution is universal because the evidence of it is found in each of the great divisions of natural phenomena. In the social sphere the principle rests upon observed effects, and is an induction from the facts belonging to that sphere, just as strictly as the law of organic evolution is derived from facts in the biological field. This is abundantly shown in "First Principles," where the law, as applied to society, rests upon its own independent basis, and not upon the analogy of the social to the individual organism. So far, indeed, from proceeding by the method stated by Prof. Cairnes, Mr. Spencer actually proceeded by the reverse method: instead of beginning with biology and carrying out his conclusions to be applied to society, he began first, and early in life, the direct study of social phenomena, and pursued that line of inquiry many years before taking up biology. With Prof. Cairnes's criticism of the "analogy" we have nothing to do; nor is it of any importance that Huxley and Spencer had a controversy about it. The question is as old as Plato, and both Cairnes and Huxley admit that the analogy has some value—Mr. Spencer never claimed for it any thing more. We only say that the use the reviewer makes of it proves that he has taken but little pains to inform himself of Mr. Spencer's real doctrines.
Let us now consider Prof. Cairnes's main ground of attack upon Spencer's theory of social evolution. Calling attention to the fact that the social condition of the largest portion of the human race is stationary, and that there are numerous examples of social retrogression, he charges Mr. Spencer with ignoring these facts because they have no place in his theory of evolution. We have now, he says, three thousand years of history, and "surely, before propounding his speculation as a law of human society, from which he is at once justified in deducing consequences of the largest kind bearing upon human conduct, Mr. Spencer was bound to consider what amount of countenance or support it received from the evidence derivable from such fields of research; but from the application of this test he has wholly abstained" (the italics are ours). And, after referring to the backward movement of human affairs in Europe, for many centuries, he adds that "the verdict of history, as now understood by its most competent interpreters, is distinctly opposed to the theory of social evolution enunciated by Mr. Spencer. Now, this is a fact that has been completely ignored by that distinguished writer: he has simply passed it by as not concerning his argument; and, in doing so, has, as I contend, set at naught one of the best-understood canons of the inductive method." These passages, and the whole argument in which their thought is expanded, simply show (if we may be allowed to speak plainly) that Prof. Cairnes does not know what he is talking about. His statements are squarely against all the facts. So far is it from being true that Mr. Spencer ignores history in his social theories, that he has made the most elaborate and extensive preparations in this direction for future use in working out the principles of sociology. Nor were these preparations mere projects yet to be executed. The facts of the sociological history of England, on a most comprehensive plan, had been collated, and organized, and published a year and a half, when Prof. Cairnes comes forward to charge him with neglecting history. The professor, indeed, seems not to have the faintest idea of Mr. Spencer's real attitude toward his subject. Had he examined the work just referred to, which was his bounden duty as a reviewer, he would have discovered that, so far from ignoring history in social affairs, Mr. Spencer is doing more than any other man to bring it forward and give it its true place in the scientific study of society. He would have found that, of the three great social groups into which the human race is divided by Mr. Spencer, one is classified as low and stationary, and another as decaying or retrograding; and that the social career of the declining and dead civilizations, Jewish, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Mexican, and Peruvian, are made the subjects of investigation, as well as the advancing communities of the present time. Prof. Cairnes declares that Mr. Spencer has "completely ignored" the phenomena of social retrogression, when within a year Mr. Spencer has issued the first volume ever printed on the sociological history of a group of decayed communities.
Nor is this all; there is even less excuse than now appears for the absurd misrepresentations in Prof. Cairnes's article. Mr. Spencer has commenced the "Principles of Sociology," and two numbers of that work had appeared before Prof. Cairnes published his criticism. Again we say, that he was bound to have consulted these, or have held his peace in regard to Mr. Spencer's doctrines. The following quotation from the part last issued, and which was printed two months before the Fortnightly article, will settle the question, and render any further notice of the professor's argument unnecessary:
We pointed out some indications last month of the mitigated asperities in the Tyndall controversy, as evinced by the tone of the graver periodicals, and may now observe that a much more conciliatory and reasonable spirit begins to be manifested by the newspaper press. The topic is by no means worn out, and if our theological friends have the interests of education at heart, and are at all capable of gratitude, they will vote a medal of honor to Prof. Tyndall for his eminent services in arousing multitudes to think carefully upon important questions of which they have hitherto thought carelessly or not at all. There has not, in a long time, been such a general scientific and philosophic shaking-up as the Belfast Address has produced; and the result must be, that many will work their way to much clearer conceptions of the scope of science and its relations to religion.
A leading article appeared in the last issue of Church and State, in the most excellent temper, but still ingeniously protesting against some of Prof. Tyndall's views. In his late reply to his critics, the professor has said: "The kingdom of science, then, cometh not by observation and experiment alone, but is completed by fixing the roots of observation and experiment in a region inaccessible to both, and in dealing with which we are forced to fall back upon the picturing power of the mind." To this the writer takes exception, and questions whether it is right or advisable for the scientist "to fall back on the picturing power of the mind." He thinks it is allowable for the theologian to do this, but to scientists he says: "Why not go on observing, and leave others to conjecturing?" And, again, he remarks: "Of one thing we are sure, that, so far as the scientific investigators fall back upon the picturing power of the mind, they must relinquish the claims of positive science."
This strikes us as a quite erroneous view of the case. The scientific investigator can no more renounce the picturing faculty in his mind, than he can renounce the heart in his body; and he can no more confine himself to observing and leave conjecturing to others, than he can confine himself to digestion and leave respiration to others. To suppress the picturing power of the mind would put an embargo on all intellectual operations, and, in fact, put an end to thought itself. For what is thought but representation in consciousness, and what is it to represent but to reproduce mentally, to picture, to image, or exercise the image-forming faculty—the imagination? There are, of course, other mental operations, but they are performed upon the representations in consciousness—upon the objects of thought imagined, or imaged to the mind's eye. Not a step can be taken in science except by this mental procedure. The object of science is truth, and what is truth but the faithful representation in thought of the order and relations of natural things? Everybody imagines, but their mental images do not always correspond to the realities; their mental pictures misrepresent. The man of science imagines—frames a view as the initial step of all his procedures; and then, by the mental processes of comparison, reasoning, inference, proof—guided by observation and experiment—he strives to give truth to his view; that is, to harmonize it with facts, and all its parts with each other. Our writer says that science starts with observation and experiment, but the real starting-point is farther back. A mental representation must be made before it can be verified. A certain state of things is conceived or put together in thought, and is called an hypothesis; and then observation and experiment are appealed to, to test the correctness of the representation—the truthfulness of the mental picture. Science is not merely seeing with the eye or fumbling with instruments—any blockhead can do these—but it is to reconstruct Nature in thought, representing all her diverse objects, subtile relations, and complexities of change, so truly, that by every test the representation shall answer to the verities. To do this, the imagination or image-forming faculty comes into incessant play. And more than this, the genius of the discoverer depends, first of all, upon the vividness of his imagination and the power of keeping his pictures steadily before the mind's eye until their errors are detected or their accuracy established. The work of science, in fact, consists, from first to last, in the verification of mental pictures. The scientific man must be fertile in imaginative resources, but stern in his rejection of views that cannot be adjusted to facts. The poet has no such discipline, for his object is not truth. The theologian has no such discipline, for he cannot submit his views to observation and experiment, so as to test their congruity with the objective world and with each other. The picturing faculty is employed by all minds, but only the trained scientist makes it subservient to the true understanding of the order of things around.
Sufficient has been said to show that imagination is indispensable to science; but it may be asked, "If observation and experiment are the means of science for controlling the imagination, and if they furnish the conditions of its valid exercise, why prolong the vision beyond the line of experimental evidence?" The reply is, that senses and instruments are imperfect, and their indications require to be supplemented by reason. They break down at a certain point, but that point is very far from being the limit of Nature. As experiments are perfected, the line of sensible demonstration is pushed backward constantly, disclosing a continuous order. It is a right of reason and a legitimate procedure of science, to pursue this order, if the explication of known phenomena require it. The results, of course, must conform to what is established—must harmonize with all that observation and experiment have gained; but thought may be compelled to go far deeper than experiment for the explanation of facts already known.
To make this statement more concrete, let us take the very case put by Prof. Tyndall—the ultimate constitution of matter. By various lines of proof, the physicist is brought to the conclusion that there are such things as amazingly-minute physical units which he calls molecules. In their smallness they are far beyond the border of all sensible observation; but he is driven to the conclusion that they exist as realities, and he has to represent them in thought. He mentally pictures a molecule as the smallest particle of matter that can exist separately and retain its physical properties. Prof. Thompson finds physical and mathematical evidence pointing down to the actual size of molecules. From this he infers that those of water have diameters that fall within the limits of1⁄250000000 an 1⁄500000000of an inch; and adds that, if we conceive a sphere of water as large as a pea to be magnified to the size of the earth, each molecule being magnified to the same extent, the magnified structure would be coarser-grained than a heap of small lead shot, but less coarse-grained than a heap of cricket-balls. The evidence in this case may be insufficient; it may become more complete; but the conception of physical units, in subsensible depths far beyond the reach of possible observation or experiment, is inevitable to the physicist and perfectly legitimate to science.
The chemist now steps in with a new view of the case. He accepts the molecule of the physicist, but to him it is no longer a unit. He decomposes it into new kinds of matter, with new properties. He resolves it into a still lower order of units, which he terms atoms. Chemistry presents us with a vast mass of observations and experiments, but they cannot be connected, resolved, interpreted, and stated, except in transsensible terms of the imagination—molecules and atoms. Physics and chemistry, in their latest and highest aspects, are compelled to fall back upon these conceptions of subsensible units as nothing less than the ultimate foundations of science.
"The higher education" advances apace. We chronicled in due time the great impulse that it received at Saratoga last summer, when a mob that no man could number hustled its dusty way over to the lake to see which set of collegians could pull through the water the fastest. One of the boats came out ahead—as was rather unavoidable—whereupon everybody shook hands and uproariously agreed that this college business must be in a very prosperous way.
And now the "higher education" has taken another spirited stride forward. Half a dozen colleges in different parts of the country having made up a grand spouting-match, hired the Academy of Music in the metropolis for the exhibition, got together three newspaper editors for judges, brought on their most promising young declaimers, and let off the show before a large and admiring audience. Nothing was wanting to call out the best efforts of the candidates, who were fired by personal ambition, collegiate rivalry, auditorial applause, and impending newspaper glory, while even more peppery and pungent incentives were by no means overlooked. It is related that, on a certain occasion, the sportsmen somewhere out West resolved to have a grand fox-hunt in the true old English style. And so they came together with horses and hounds, not forgetting to bring the indispensable little beast they were going to hunt, which came secure in its cage. When all was ready, they let the fox go. The animal might probably have been trusted to run by natural instinct, but, to furnish him with an immediate motive for making his best speed, they gave him a cut with a horse-whip as he escaped. In the case of the young orators the starting-fillip was different. The high incentives might perhaps have sufficed to unseal the fountains of eloquence, but, to insure a gushing flow, an additional stimulus of $175 was held out as a premium to the winner. Whether the greenbacks were put in a purse and placed in conspicuous view of the contestants, does not appear. Be this as it may, they strove with each other, the editorial discrimination was invoked, some one got the money, and the others of course didn't; and it was agreed all around that the cause of the higher education had been moved along several notches.
Well, if the potsherds of the earth may be permitted to strive with each other, why not the colleges?—if the boys of the street may pitch pennies for the sake of winning them, why should not the students secure a little pelf by a trial of skill with their tongues?—all we ask is that the policy shall be formulated and recognized. We hope that in future the advocates of the perfection of our college system of culture will consent to regard it as a composite system working in various ways, and appealing to divers motives for the attainment of its ends. Hitherto we have been assured with great emphasis that this system—the perfected and purified result of centuries of experience—has risen above all low and sordid inducements, and rests its superior claims on the dignity of scholarship, the value of knowledge for its own sake, and the intrinsic excellence of culture. When it has been urged that college studies are susceptible of wise amendment, and should be arranged with some reference to the future needs of the student's life, the suggestion has been repelled with indignation, as born of a base, utilitarian, bread-and-butter motive that would degrade the lofty and disinterested ideal that should ever be held before the student—the cultivation and discipline of his intellectual powers, as an end in itself, to be debased by none of the vulgar incentives which animate the beastly crowd in the practical scrambles of life. To be sure, we have known that, notwithstanding all this sounding talk, the higher institutions have not hesitated to use the vulgar spurs of action by which human nature is everywhere moved. They are very far from having disdained the appeal to mercenary motives. The great universities of England are notoriously worked by cash bribes, in the shape of fellowships—honorary positions with incomes attached, which are securable by proficiency in certain prescribed studies. The universities have immense incomes and are enabled to cling to their mediaeval courses of study in defiance of public opinion and the demand for reform, mainly through the pecuniary prizes which in this way they hold out to students. And this policy, in modified forms, is extending to other collegiate institutions as fast as they can get the money for the purpose. Rich people are inspired with the ambition of encouraging learning; that is, they get some crotchet or hobby of education, which they are willing to back with money, and then prizes are founded, and the students set into a fever of emulation to gain them. In this way sordid inducements become a part of the system, and, as most of the donors have been educated in the old way, their money goes to perpetuate it. But no sooner do the friends of science demand that modern studies shall have an equal chance with the ancient studies, and that the knowledge which is necessary for guidance in life shall be put upon an equality with dead languages, than the champions of the colleges are at once upon their dignity, and beg to know if the grand old liberal and ennobling culture consecrated by centuries is to go down before the narrow and selfish exactions of a materialistic and money-getting age. But these gentlemen are not, after all, unmindful of the educational potency of filthy lucre, nor that students may be plied with the motives of the gamester—the passion to win. The intercollegiate speaking-match had about it more of the ethics and incitements of the cockpit than is quite consistent with the lofty claims that are put forth in regard to the inspirations of the higher culture. We doubt if the multiplication of intercollegiate contests and ostentatious rivalries, whether for the winning of purses, or the beating of antagonists, or the exhibition of accomplishments, is either healthy in its influence upon the internal life of the institutions themselves, or favorable to that quiet, concentrated, uninterrupted mental exercise which is the indispensable condition of solid attainments and sterling scholarly character.