Popular Science Monthly/Volume 77/October 1910/The Progress of Science

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

William James



Is there left to us in this land a man so great as William James? If the list of our leaders is scanned, men eminent in philosophy, science, art or letters, in education, law, politics or business, is there a single one to be placed beside him? He excelled in so many ways, in science, in philosophy, in letters, as a teacher, as a leader in good causes and lost causes, before all as a man—kind and generous beyond measure, of remarkable individuality and distinction.

The "Principles of Psychology," published in 1890, is a scientific and literary classic. No one can foretell whether it will be permanently in the group of philosophical masterpieces, beginning with the dialogues of Plato, but there is no contemporary American work and possibly no European work since the "Origin of Species," which has an equal chance.

Wilhelm Wundt and William James are the founders of psychology, a science which in a single generation has assumed a place coordinate with the other leading sciences. Both men—like their forerunners, Lotze and von Helmholtz—had an education in medicine and the natural sciences, with strong natural interests in philosophy and metaphysics. They established laboratories of psychology at about the same time, neither of them did experimental work of consequence, both prepared treatises which to a remarkable extent established the lines of development for a science. Wundt's "Physiologische Psychologie" is more systematic than James's "Principles of Psychology"; it is more of an encyclopedia. For that reason it could be brought out in various editions, corrected and enlarged. James's "Psychology" is more of a work of art, exhibiting the subject as he left it twenty years ago.

It is truly a remarkable book, combining physiology, pathological psychology, comparative psychology, experimental psychology, introspective psychology and philosophy into one whole which has dominated the science. The author is always accurate in his scientific material and clear in his statements, but frank in his criticism and daring in his conclusions. His own contributions on the stream of thought, the perception of things and of space, the emotions, instinct, habit and in many other directions are of fundamental importance. The work has an extraordinary vitality and inviduality which make it a work of art and a classic.

In his "Talks to Teachers" and "Varieties of Religious Experience," James extended the field of psychology in two important directions. Nearly all his work was done in a somewhat opportunistic fashion. He made an engagement to give lectures, perhaps cancelled it or tried to do so, felt he could not prepare them and finally produced a masterpiece. "The Will to Believe" was a collection of addresses; the volume on "Religious Experience" was Gifford lectures, the "Pragmatism" Lowell lectures, "A Pluralistic Universe" Hibbert lectures.

Although the interest in problems of philosophy and the pluralism, pragmatism and empiricism may be traced backward to his earlier publications, they were given full and vigorous expression only in these later volumes, when James had passed the age of sixty and was already suffering from disease of the heart. It would be idle to attempt to give here an exposition of James's attitude in philosophy. Pragmatism—the term was first used by James's friend, Charles S. Peirce, in this journal—is called on the title page of his book "a new name for an old way of thinking." It is largely the method of science applied to philosophy, but it is after all what James thought and said and wrote. His personality and its expression, the intellect swayed by the will and the emotions, have made a deep impression not only on professional philosophy, but in the world of men.

James inherited his brilliant literary skill from his father and shared it with his brother. His education was long and irregular. He did not graduate from Harvard, but studied art and was with Agassiz in Brazil. From 1872 to 1880 he was instructor and assistant professor of comparative anatomy and physiology at Harvard, then professor of philosophy, then of psychology and then again of philosophy.

It is not probable that James left unpublished manuscripts, but his letters would form a volume of surpassing interest, though it may be that they are too personal for publication. The writer ventures to reproduce the concluding parts of the last two which he received, the one from Cambridge and the other from Bad Nauheim, where he had gone for treatment of the disease that so soon proved fatal. James at first declined on account of his health to accept the active presidency of the International Congress of Psychology to be held in this country.! There was no one else to take the place, so when difficulties arose he played his part with characteristic loyalty and self-sacrifice.


Among the various gatherings of scientific men held during the present summer two American meetings and several international congresses were of special importance. The national conservation congress held at St. Paul at the beginning of September was a truly notable event, bringing together men eminent in various pursuits to consider problems which are essentially scientific in character. President Taft's admirable address—printed in the present issue of the Monthly in its authorized form—shows how carefully he has considered questions which touch public policy on one side and science on the other. Mr. Taft stated that he inherited the policy of conservation from his predecessor, and Mr. Roosevelt and several leading members of his administration, Mr. Pinchot, Mr. Garfield and Mr. Wilson, took an active part in the proceedings. Governors of states and many men prominent in education, in philanthropy

and in affairs made addresses. Men eminent in scientific research were not so well represented as they should have been, but the names of Professor Bailey, of Cornell, Professor Wesbrook, of Minnesota, and Dr. W J McGee were on the program.

The American Chemical Society emphasized its national character by meeting in San Francisco. The American Association for the Advancement of Science had also planned a visit to the Pacific coast and to Hawaii, but transportation across the sea could not be arranged. The chemists had a special train from Chicago, which carried over a hundred to California, where arrangements were made for elaborate entertainments and excursions and a scientific program under the presidency of Professor Bancroft, of Cornell.

The International Geological Congress met this year at Stockholm, the International Zoological Congress at Buda Pesth, the first International Congress of Entomology and the International Congress of Anatomists at Brussels, and the International Physiological Congress at Vienna. These meetings were attended by scientific men from all parts of the world, including large numbers from this country. The Zoological Congress met last time in Boston and the Geological Congress will hold its next meeting in Canada. America and American scientific men are taking an increasing share in these international congresses, which within the past few years have assumed an important part in the advancement of science.


We regret to record the deaths of Dr. Charles Anthony Goessmann, since 1869 professor of chemistry at the Massachusetts Agricultural College, known for his important contributions to agricultural chemistry; of William Earl Dodge Scott, curator of ornithology at Princeton University, and of Dr. Paul Mantegazza, the eminent Italian anthropologist.

The national memorial to Grover Cleveland is to take the form of a tower to be erected at Princeton as part of the buildings of the graduate school, with which Mr. Cleveland was closely identified during the last years of his life. The tower will be about 150 feet high and 40 feet square. It will cost $100,000, of which sum $75,000 have already been given.

Professor Joseph A. Holmes, of the U. S. Geological Survey, formerly professor of geology and natural history at the University of North Carolina and state geologist, has been appointed by President Taft director of the newly-established Bureau of Mines.—Among the representatives appointed to attend the opening of the Mexican National University on September 22 are Professor F. W. Putnam and Roland B. Dixon, from Harvard University, and Professor Franz Boas, from Columbia University.