Popular Science Monthly/Volume 79/September 1911/Science and Social Progress
|SCIENCE AND SOCIAL PROGRESS|
SCIENCE is usually defined as a classified body of knowledge; but this definition implies a completeness in our knowledge which the present discussion can not assume. In considering the effects of science on social progress, it will be necessary to go back of the advanced stage of scientific thought and take account of positive knowledge in its beginnings, before it assumed the classified form. Science as here used, therefore, refers to the spirit of investigating phenomena, or studying facts, as over against the spirit of mere speculation and of superstitious belief. The growth of science represents not merely a new spirit or state of mind in society, but it presents an explanation of the universe based on intelligence and reason instead of the emotions.
The consequences of the growth of positive knowledge are so complicated and far-reaching that it is impossible to follow them in all their ramifications. Only their more general effects can be indicated. The difference between knowledge and ignorance seems at first to be sufficient to account for the entire difference between progress and stagnation; but such is not the case, for certain kinds of progress, such as those which result from selection, take place independently of science. The effects of scientific knowledge are of two kinds, those which influence the mind and those which affect the environment. The first effect of science is to expand the mental horizon, giving us broader conceptions and a more active mental life. This is especially true of astronomy, which tends to bring us out of ourselves by giving us enlarged ideas of space and time and by revealing something of the process of the creation of worlds; but the same thing is true of other sciences which reveal the phenomena of matter in our own world and teach the wonderful laws of life.
A second result of science, which has been emphasized by Fiske, is that it gives man a conception of law, an understanding of true cause and effect. This not only helps to develop man's mind, but it has an immediate effect upon his conduct, removing it from the influence of superstition to the domain of reason. When man learns to separate real cause and effect from the mere sequence of events, he can adapt himself to external influences and avoid much suffering. He learns also to take account of the future instead of confining himself entirely to the present. For example, when man understands the true nature of such phenomena as volcanoes, earthquakes and floods, instead of attributing them to the vengeance of an angry god, he is in a position to protect himself intelligently from their injurious effects.
A third effect of science is that it restrains and directs the emotional life. In helping to make reason instead of passion the guide of our actions, it has done more than seems at first apparent, even though at times it has tended to go too far in stifling the legitimate action of the feelings. Under the increasing domination of reason man has had a better perspective and has been able to discriminate between important and unimportant things. At the same time he has attained greater self control. Instead of giving way to blind passion he has acted with greater and greater deliberation. This increased power of discrimination and greater self-control have had a remarkable effect upon man's actions. In giving him greater toleration they have done much to decrease strife. Man is much less likely to go to war over fancied grievances or over petty differences. And in all kinds of activities man is much more likely to count the cost before entering upon them. He will not, from a passing impulse, enter upon great undertakings which are impossible of execution. Reason, therefore, in supplementing impulse, has done much to cause man to avoid destructive and useless activities and to economize time and strength in the pursuit of useful ones.
The final result of science upon progress is the one most generally recognized. Science is the basis of art, and the progress of knowledge has stimulated and perfected the useful arts. Science has enabled us to make great strides in the conquest of nature, and has made possible to some extent the control of different forms of life. The resulting increase of wealth has made possible far greater happiness and has opened new channels of social progress. This result of science is so far-reaching that only the general effects can be mentioned here, the more detailed results will be considered later in connection with the separate sciences.
As the progress of science has altered the course of human progress so materially in the past, and as it is likely to be the most important factor in determining social progress in the future, it will be of great advantage to study the immediate causes of the advancement of science, as well as the social conditions in which these causes are most likely to be active. The distinction between the causes and conditions of the advancement of science is not hard to understand, though it may not be possible always to follow the dividing line exactly in discussion. Science is advanced by individual effort, and stimuli to the individual form the immediate cause of its advancement. But these individual stimuli will act, or will act strongly, only under favorable social and physical conditions, and these last are what I have called the conditions of the advancement of science. They are a step farther removed from the product than the cause. As crops are cultivated in soils of different degrees of fertility, so science is pursued under conditions which are more or less favorable to its advancement; but science is not followed to any considerable extent, nor are the best results obtained, except under favorable social conditions.
The causes leading to the advancement of science are somewhat difficult to trace, so many and varied are the influences affecting the intellectual life. Doubtless our knowledge of science has been increased to some extent by chance discovery, but the amount of credit which should be given to this influence will depend upon our ideas of what is really accidental in discovery. The alchemists, in trying to produce gold from the baser metals, discovered a number of valuable chemical compounds. These discoveries were accidental in the sense that they were not the real objects of the researches, yet the compounds would not have been discovered if the alchemists had not been experimenting in the field of chemistry and with those particular chemical elements. Chance discoveries are seldom made far from the field which is attracting attention. Certain discoveries, like the properties of saltpeter, may have been wholly accidental; but such discoveries are rare. Therefore instead of making pure accident an important cause of the advancement of knowledge, it is more nearly correct to say that an unexpected element often enters into scientific discovery.
Another minor influence leading to the progress of knowledge is idle curiosity. Probably the early observations of the stars and the planets were due to little else. Few discoveries, however, can be attributed to this stimulus alone, although curiosity in some form doubtless enters into the majority of scientific discoveries. Professor Ward quotes De Candolle as saying, "the principle of all discoveries is curiosity." But such an assertion gives us little help. Our task lies in attempting to discover the various influences which arouse curiosity. Mere curiosity, accompanied by no other motive, seems really to have had little influence in advancing science. It is true that students engaged in research may select one problem rather than another, simply because they have a greater interest in it; but their motive for investigating some problem is quite different from idle curiosity.
The greatest stimulus to the progress of science in its earliest stages is to be found in an attempt to achieve some great object. Although logically science is the basis of art, historically early art precedes science and is the greatest incentive to its advancement. The history of almost all the sciences shows that their beginnings lay in a desire to attain some practical end, and in later stages also the same object still holds an important place. The desire to observe religious festivals regularly has stimulated the study of astronomy in order to obtain exact measurements of time. Among the Hindoos mathematics was stimulated by the requirements of religious worship in making their altars and laying out their courts. And according to Max Mueller they also struggled with the problem of making a square altar of the same size as a round one. In Egypt, geometry got its stimulus from the need of parcelling out the land fertilized by the Nile. The progress of architecture also increased man's knowledge of mathematics and physics. The great European cathedrals were built before scientific works upon architecture appeared. It is said that the needs of Alexander's campaigns in Persia stimulated the study of mathematics and physics. And the desire to save human life has always been a great stimulus to the study of biology. These are simply a few illustrations of the kind of stimuli which have been most potent in the advancement of science.
After science has attained a start, if social conditions are favorable, it will progress without the immediate incentive of a practical need. As knowledge advances men begin to recognize its general value and try to extend it in every direction, believing in its ultimate, if not in its immediate, usefulness to mankind. This is science for the sake of science and is represented by the present period of scientific development. Such a method of increasing knowledge is never purely arbitrary, however. Not all truth is considered of the same value at a given epoch. If scientists have not always in view some practical end, they are more likely to be interested in those departments of knowledge which have a bearing on the immediate need of society. It will be observed, therefore, that this last influence, science for the sake of science, is not wholly separated from the preceding one, science for the sake of art, although a new motive is present. In addition to the need of solving an immediate problem, the value of all positive knowledge is recognized and becomes a new incentive in stimulating a study of the sciences.
With this brief enumeration of the chief causes of the progress of science, we may turn to the consideration of the conditions under which the pursuit of science is most likely to flourish. It seems probable that science is somewhat more likely to advance, at least after a start has been made, in cold or in temperate climates, than in warm climates. According to Professor Cattell's "Study of Eminent Men" France has produced the largest number of scientists of any country, and England the next largest. This order is true not only in the absolute number, but also in the percentages of the total number of eminent men. Italy surpasses all countries in the proportionate number of artists. If the ancient civilizations were included in this comparison, the supremacy of the north would not be so evident; but it is hardly fair to include the ancient civilizations, for when they were flourishing, societies in northern countries had not advanced. When northern societies did develop they produced their quota of scientists, though they did not produce their proportionate number of artists.
The chief explanation of any advantage which cold countries may have in the development of science is to be found in their greater needs. The environment is harder to subdue and at the same time man's requirements are greater, hence there is a continual incentive to improve the useful arts: and the attempt to improve the arts is, as has already been said, the most important stimulus to the advancement of science. In addition to this, life in northern countries seems somewhat better adapted to the development of a thoughtful people. In southern countries social life is more continuous and the conditions are therefore less favorable for meditation. In northern countries social life is interspersed to a greater extent with periods of isolation, and this condition is most favorable to the development of new ideas. A more completely isolated life, however, with little social intercourse would not be stimulating enough to develop new ideas. Of course the most desirable balance between the social and the solitary life may exist in particular cases in warm countries, but their general conditions for society, as a whole, seem to be less favorable than those of colder countries.
Physical conditions are, however, less potent than social conditions in stimulating the advancement of science as well as that of art. Three conditions in social life may be mentioned as especially important in preparing the way for scientific development. First, society should be far enough advanced in numbers and in wealth to have evolved a class with opportunities to devote their time to intellectual pursuits. This condition is brought about comparatively early in society by the caste or class system, and later is made much more effective by the system of division of labor. New societies cultivate science but little because they have neither produced a leisure class nor have they extended the system of division of labor far enough to permit individuals to devote their whole time to scientific pursuits. Secondly, a society should be active, for such a society undertakes new enterprises and stimulates society through the medium of the arts. Rigid societies, such as China and India, are satisfied with past achievements in knowledge, but when such societies become active, as in the case of Japan, they feel the need of devoting themselves to the acquisition and the extension of knowledge. Thirdly, social conditions should be such that man may easily free his mind from the influences of the past. He must emancipate himself from tradition. This is a different thing from what is commonly understood by freedom of thought. Under certain conditions men seem incapable of thinking outside of traditional ways, while under other conditions they may show great mental vigor in the face of severe persecution. As rigidly prescribed beliefs in society are usually due to the authority of religion, emancipation from theological restrictions must usually precede periods of mental activity. History gives us two well-marked periods of scientific advance, the Greek period of scientific thought and the modern period beginning in the sixteenth century, and both movements began under similar circumstances. In both cases emancipation from theological dogmas preceded scientific activity, and this emancipation was accomplished by the stimulating effects of geographical discoveries. In Greece some of the old religious myths were actually disproved by these discoveries, while belief in others was undermined by the enlarged ideas resulting from them. Similarly in modern times the intellectual life was greatly stimulated by the discovery of America and the circumnavigation of the globe; and the authority of the church was weakened by its strong opposition to the Copernican system. In 1616 the Inquisition issued an edict, which has never been repealed, declaring that to suppose the sun the center of the solar system was false and contrary to the Scriptures. In the modern period of enlightenment, it is true that society was by no means stagnant when the discoveries were made; in fact, the discoveries themselves were due to an awakening intellect which may be traced to several sources, the chief of which is doubtless the travel and trade resulting from the crusades. Traced back to their source, therefore, it will be seen that the religious superstitions were themselves responsible for the movement which finally exterminated them. If the intellectual development of the Arabians is considered to be a third period of scientific growth, we shall find that that also was preceded by extended migrations and conquests, which affected greatly the active religious beliefs of the Mohammedan conquerors. The whole intellectual attitude of the Saracens changed after their conquest of Africa. Although in the three cases just cited geographical discoveries were responsible for the change in the mental attitude, no one event can be held responsible in all cases for the emancipation of the mind. If the forces of conservatism are very strong, a powerful social upheaval may be necessary to prepare the way for the reception of new truths. If, however, the intellectual condition is less rigidly fixed, milder influences may serve to stimulate thought. After scientific development has once begun, the succession of new truths themselves is the best guarantee against the excessive influences of tradition.
Ordinarily an active society will free itself from the bonds of tradition. But that is not always the case, as is shown by the history of Spain during the period of intellectual activity which followed the geographical discoveries. Spain was an active country from the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries, but its activity was not sufficient to overcome its intellectual conservatism; and this seems to be the reason why Spain took no part in the scientific progress of that period.
Professor Ward thinks the most important stimulus to the development of the mind has been the formation of the system of caste, because it produced a leisure class. A caste system is certainly important in the early stages of mental development, but such a society is likely to become conservative in its attempt to safeguard the interests of the leisure class. And when a caste system becomes rigid and traditional its usefulness is gone. If the idle class is also a priestly class, it is usually of service in preserving knowledge, but the very tenacity with which it clings to old ideas prevents it from discovering or accepting new ones. In the long run, therefore, a caste system has many disadvantages, and at no time is it so efficient in the advancement of knowledge as the system of division of labor.
Some of the conditions which help to stimulate science are also favorable to the production of art and it may be thought that all conditions favoring the two are sufficiently alike to cause science and art to develop together. But such is not always the case. Art, literature, and science developed in much the same period in France, and the same is also true of the Netherlands. Literature and science developed together in England. In the Arabian civilization also architecture, literature and science flourished simultaneously. In Italy, however, scientific activity followed art by at least a generation and it was relatively much less important. And in Spain science was almost disregarded when art and letters were cultivated with brilliant results. Furthermore, in Greece science developed at a considerably later period than art, and again in modern times science has made wonderful progress with only moderate achievements in art. The attainment of wealth and leisure is desirable for the development of both art and science and freedom from interference is essential for the best interests of both; but other circumstances may determine whether the intellect or the emotions will develop more fully. A society which is very rigid in its intellectual beliefs may produce a high grade of art in giving expression to those beliefs; or a society may encourage the fine arts while it does not develop the useful arts and hence does not give a special stimulus to the advancement of science. A wealthy luxurious upper class which may patronize the fine arts is likely to be conservative and intolerant of revolutionary discoveries. Scientific activity requires an underlying seriousness in the social life; and this was entirely lacking in Spain, for example, in the seventeenth century. On the other hand, young societies which are active are likely to show an interest in science before they make any headway in the production of the fine arts. The appearance of art requires an economic condition which produces luxury, and a social condition which will stimulate the emotional life; while science requires economic progress which will stimulate the useful arts and a social condition which will emancipate the mind from the domination of the past.
The discussion thus far has been confined to the origin and effects of positive knowledge in general; it now remains to consider the more detailed effects upon progress of the separate sciences. The origin, or at least the early development of the sciences, may in almost every case be traced to an attempt to improve the arts or to obtain some specific object, and the chief service to society of these sciences has usually been in solving those very problems which gave them their origin. A brief account therefore of the beginnings of the leading sciences will open the way to a discussion of their effects upon social progress.
Astronomy was one of the oldest sciences to take definite form, originating it is thought in Egypt or Chaldea, although China has very old astronomical records. In Egypt the study of astronomy was probably first stimulated by the phenomenon of the overflow of the Nile, upon which Egyptian civilization depended. The exact time of this phenomenon was a matter of importance and the passage of time was most easily marked by the movement of the stars. The first study of the heavenly bodies, made in order to mark the passage of time, soon led to a more detailed study for another purpose. It was noted that the Nile began to rise with the heliacal rising of Sirius. This coincidence was easily mistaken for cause and effect and if Sirius had such an extraordinary influence upon the affairs of men, the conclusion naturally followed that other stars must also have their influences. To ascertain the amount and character of these influences led to the study of astrology, which held man's attention for so long and enlarged considerably our knowledge of the heavenly bodies. In both Chaldea and China the desire to measure time accurately, as well as the wish to forecast the future, caused a careful study of the heavenly bodies. In Phœnicia the peculiar stimulus to the study of astronomy appears to have been the desire to obtain an accurate guide for traveling either by sea or land. The accurate marking of time, the requirements of travel and the desire to know the future were therefore the chief incentives for the study of astronomy, and the first two have been of continual service to society at all times.
The fact is worth noting that astronomy developed first in desert countries where the air is clear and the stars are easily visible the greater part of the time; in pastoral countries, too, where shepherds could follow the movements of the stars either out of curiosity, or to note the passage of time. Astronomy would have had an early origin even if it had not been for the overflow of the Nile, yet it is doubtful if it would have developed so soon under different atmospheric conditions.
The commonest laws of physics as well as the simplest movements of the heavenly bodies were known so early that we are unable to trace their sources. The Egyptians, again, were probably the first to study physical laws. The pyramid builders must have had a considerable mechanical as well as astronomical knowledge. Later engineering feats, such as the canal of Ramases and the various contrivances for controlling the waters of the Nile, would be considered creditable achievements even at the present day, and hence they show considerable advance in engineering skill and in knowledge of physical laws. Thus a knowledge of physics seems to be traceable in early times to building enterprises and engineering achievements.
In ancient times the subject of chemistry was cultivated in a practical way in the shape of metallurgy, the manufacture of colored glass and the dyeing of fabrics. But interest was early turned aside from these practical problems to the visionary one of transforming the baser metals into gold. This quest of the alchemists was begun in ancient Egypt and was continued through the middle ages until the scientific awakening of the sixteenth century. On the whole it was more of a hindrance than a help to the development of chemical knowledge. A more profitable study lay in the search for curative agents. This first took the fanciful form of a search for the elixir of life, but after the time of Paracelsus in the sixteenth century, a more scientific attitude was fostered and medicine became the chief medium for the advancement of chemical knowledge. Up to the nineteenth century the only laboratory of chemistry was the pharmacist's shop. In comparatively recent times chemistry has found another incentive to progress in the desire to improve agriculture.
In their origins, chemistry and biology are more closely allied than any of the other sciences. Some knowledge of both animals and plants was of course gained in prehistoric times in the search for food. But in ancient civilizations and even down to modern times the one great stimulus to the growth of biological knowledge lay in the healing art. In ancient and medieval times almost all the contributors to biological knowledge were physicians with the possible exception of Aristotle, though it is doubtful if an exception should be made of a man who kept a pharmacy shop. At the Alexandrian museum the subjects of natural history and anatomy were carried on by the faculty of medicine, one of the four faculties originally established at the museum. In addition to medicine agriculture also forms a root for biology as well as for chemistry.
Psychology in early times had an indistinct origin in metaphysics, but as an inductive science it is of recent growth. In addition to the metaphysical problems which the study of mental processes was supposed to solve, two practical problems may be mentioned as stimulating the development of psychology. First the study and treatment of pathological mental states, which unites psychology with biology and chemistry in that all three have their origin to some extent in medicine. Secondly, the study of normal mental states and the course of mental development in order to improve the intellect and ameliorate human conditions through better methods of education.
As biology rests on the attempt to heal individual disease, so sociology arises from the desire to cure social ills and improve social relations. This statement would not be true of all the social sciences, especially economics, which found its chief incentive in the attempt to increase the material wealth of one social group at the expense of other groups. The general science of sociology, however, like that of biology, had its chief root in the desire to heal. The existence of poverty, crime, labor disputes, and similar problems has stimulated the desire to understand the principles of human association and the laws of social development.
With this brief review of the social origin of the sciences, we are prepared to consider in greater detail their effects upon social progress. In order to do this it will be advantageous to separate the sciences into three groups by diagonal lines, so to speak, the divisions not corresponding to the recognized boundaries of the different sciences. The first group includes astronomy, the greater part of physics and smaller parts of chemistry and biology. This group comprises what may be called the sciences of the environment. The second group includes a small part of physics and larger portions of chemistry, biology and psychology. This group comprises the sciences pertaining to individual life. Sociology and a part of psychology form the third group, treating of social life. If a larger number of the subsciences are included, the divisions would not be materially altered. A part of economics would be included in group one, as dealing with the environment; and a part of geology would fall into group two. These three groups may be designated for the sake of brevity as the natural sciences, the biological sciences and the social sciences, dealing respectively with the environment, with individual life, and with social life.
The historical development of the sciences is a complicated problem. Comte maintained that they developed in a serial order from the simplest to the most complex in the order of his classification—astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology and sociology. Spencer strongly opposed this theory and produced many facts to show that the serial order could not be upheld especially in the subdivisions of a science. Although Spencer appeared to have the best of this argument, there is, nevertheless, some ground for holding to the general principle expressed in Comte's theory. Following the three-fold division of the sciences, which I have given above, it seems clear that the sciences dealing with the environment developed before those dealing with life, and the latter group developed in advance of those dealing with society. This is, moreover, the order of their present degree of advancement as well as their early development.
The development of the sciences seems, in fact, to be influenced by two conditions, first the immediate interest of men, and secondly the complexity of the phenomena investigated. These two conditions account sufficiently for the relative growth of different branches of knowledge at different times. In early stages of civilization man's attention was concentrated chiefly upon the physical environment. To get a food supply and other necessaries of life more easily, to protect themselves against their enemies, to provide for the needs of the dead, and to satisfy the demands of the gods, were all important problems which stimulated a knowledge of the environment and brought at least a practical working knowledge of the simplest laws of mathematics, astronomy and physics, together with some knowledge of minerals, and of animal and vegetable life. The phenomena of life, the desire to live indefinitely and to overcome disease, attracted attention almost as soon as problems of the environment. But life is much stranger and more complicated than those objects of nature which may be readily examined, and a positive knowledge of the phenomena of life was much more slowly acquired. The heavenly bodies and other natural objects which were so far removed that their character was not easily perceived, and living things which were so complex that they were not understood, remained objects of superstition and speculation much longer than inanimate objects close at hand. The persistence of religious superstition delayed considerably knowledge of human anatomy and disease, favoring rather the pursuit of astrology and alchemy. The anatomical studies of the Alexandrian school were in opposition to the prevalent sentiments of the time, and the Mohammedan religion hindered the study of biology, as compared with other sciences among the Arabians. Biology, therefore, developed later than the physical sciences, not because it did not attract attention, but because it was too complicated to be understood in an early stage of mental development. The social sciences, on the other hand, developed last, both because they did not attract attention at an early period and because they dealt with complex phenomena. It is true, as Spencer points out, that some practical knowledge of social organization must have appeared at a very early time and conditioned, in a sense, all forms of progress. But this kind of knowledge was almost instinctive, and of such a nature as gregarious animals possess, or it was at least a product of gradual experience. For a long time social organization was not a subject of study like physical phenomena. Politics was the first social science to develop, if we may except ethics, which in its origin was connected with religion or philosophy, and was hardly an inductive social science. An interest in politics did not arise until different forms of social organization appeared and could be readily compared. A mere aggregation of people did not stimulate a study of politics, nor did more complicated organizations as long as they all rested on force. But when a change in social organization appeared possible, when different forms could be compared, and some were seen to be more efficient than others, social organization became an object of study. Under such conditions appeared Plato's "Republic," Aristotle's "Politics" and Machievelli's "Prince." Economics and other social sciences followed politics, but so difficult and complicated are the laws of association, that even with the present facilities for investigation, a general science of sociology can hardly be said to be established. The three comprehensive groups of sciences here outlined, seem, therefore, to have appeared in the order given in accordance with men's interests and the complexity of the phenomena to be studied; though it must be admitted that the subdivisions of the sciences did not develop according to their complexity alone. The additional influence of the immediate needs of mankind is strong enough to disturb materially Comte's theory of their historical development.
It is possible now to go a step farther and show that the growth of one group of sciences prepares the way both directly and indirectly for the growth of another group. The direct effect of the advance of one science upon others is a well-recognized fact and this influence is not by any means always in the direct order of their serial development, according to Comte's classification, but is frequently in the inverse order. A knowledge of physics has helped to advance astronomy as much as it has chemistry. This form of the interdependence of the sciences need not be enlarged upon.
The sciences have a less direct effect upon each other through the alteration of social conditions and the change of men's interests. Thus the earlier sciences have in a sense prepared the way for the later, and the development of the later sciences has often given a new impetus to the further advance of the older. The increasing knowledge of the physical sciences has produced two great results: First, it has increased man's power over nature, and, secondly, it has done much to free the mind from the bonds of superstition. The conquest of nature has increased the food supply, as well as other forms of wealth, and therefore made possible a larger population and permitted the concentration of population in small areas. This increase of population, however, which preceded an adequate knowledge of biology in the form of medical and sanitary knowledge, resulted in a high mortality rate, which is always a heavy drain on society, and therefore a great impediment to progress. Not only was the ordinary death rate high, but occasionally plagues swept over large areas making fearful havoc in the population. Authorities state that the black death in the fourteenth century took half the population of England. These pestilences were spread by the increased travel and trade made possible by the very progress which had been achieved in the control of nature. This period of the predominance of the natural sciences may be called the great period of natural selection. A denser population made possible by the increasing control of nature was held in check by a high death rate, uncontrolled because of the lack of medical knowledge. But these unfortunate conditions resulting from the unequal advancement of knowledge developed influences which were destined finally to reduce the evils. Disease and death have always seemed great enough evils to cause men to try to avoid them in more or less rational ways; but in a concentrated population these evils are brought forcibly to men's attention especially when they come in the form of a disastrous pestilence. Furthermore, increased association, which comes from a larger and denser population, is the chief means of developing sympathy and of arousing the desire to alleviate the sufferings of others. Hence the increased sympathy for others, and the more vivid realization of the amount of suffering in existence, became incentives for an increased effort to lessen the evils of disease. Moreover, other altered conditions caused these efforts to take a scientific turn. Previously superstitious beliefs had hindered the progress of science. Plagues were considered a visitation of the divine wrath, disease was treated with charms or with appeals to the saints, and the growth of anatomical knowledge was hindered by religious superstitions which forbade contact with dead bodies. But the new knowledge of the material world gradually lessened the hold of these superstitions and prepared the way for the scientific observation of the course of disease and the study of anatomy by the laboratory method.
In describing the effects of the natural sciences and the influences which have caused the development of the biological sciences, I do not mean to imply that the progress of knowledge has been continuous and uninterrupted, so that one particular period of history may be pointed out as having the conditions favorable for the origin of biology. There are a number of periods in which the forces here mentioned have been at work in greater or less degree and have influenced biological science. Perhaps at no time have they been more in evidence than at present, when, for example, modern conditions have turned people's attention to the ravages of tuberculosis, and have increased efforts to overcome this disease; or when the havoc caused by insect pests has become so disastrous as to cause a careful study of such forms of life in order to eradicate them. These influences, so clearly at work now, have, however, been in operation in greater or less degree since the sixteenth century. They were at work also during the later period of Greek civilization and had it not been for the persistence of religious superstition they would have been effective in the Arabian civilization.
Turning now to the effects of the biological sciences, three important influences may be mentioned: First, biological knowledge, through the prevention and cure of disease, has greatly decreased the rates of mortality; secondly, through the destruction of injurious pests and through the selection and cultivation of vegetable and animal life, it has multiplied and improved the food supply, and incidentally it has increased other forms of wealth. In these two ways then the sciences of life have made possible an increase in population at least as great as that made possible by the physical sciences. But it should be noted that the biological sciences are supplementary to the physical sciences. Both stimulate the growth of population, but the biological sciences do so without the suffering and waste prevalent before their development. Neither group can do its proper work without the other and each group has been a stimulus to the growth of the other. Sanitary measures could not be carried out without engineering knowledge, the present concentration of population would be impossible without sanitary precautions, and a large food supply would be useless without rapid means of transportation and communication. Finally, biological sciences have to some extent, and will to a greater degree, improve individuals and the race through selection and education. Medical science has been severely criticized because it has counteracted the effects of natural selection by making it possible for the unfit to live and propagate their kind. Without doubt a partial knowledge of the laws of life has produced some temporary evil effects along with the good. But the remedy lies not in a return to former conditions, but in the adoption of new methods through the perfection of our knowledge. Psychology has already enabled us to make rapid strides in our system of education and in our treatment of mental diseases; and a better knowledge of the laws of heredity and improved methods of social control will enable us consciously to improve the human species in ways most advantageous. And they will accomplish this more quickly and effectively than by the blind process of natural selection.
The past century may be regarded as preeminently a period of biological discovery, not because the physical sciences have not advanced also in a marked degree, but because biological discovery is the new factor which has been added to science to influence social progress. This new factor is destined to further in a wonderful degree individual efficiency and well being. It has already diminished human suffering and will in the future enable us to conquer some of the most serious evils still existing. But our rapid conquest of nature and our increasing control of different forms of life have introduced certain new evils which instead of being self-corrective seem likely to increase unless new forces in the shape of social sciences arise to correct them.
Mention has just been made of some of the undesirable effects of medicine in counteracting the forces of natural selection. The correction of this evil will not be found in biological science alone. A thorough study of the dependent, defective and delinquent classes must be made before an adequate reform can be begun and this study is an important department of social science. Modern ideas of humanity will never be satisfied with an indiscriminate production of dependents, soon eliminated by selective forces because they can not adapt themselves to the environment, even though the vigor of the population is kept up by this method. And the sense of self preservation will not long suffer the indiscriminate production of dependents who are kept alive as burdens upon the community and are even permitted to multiply and thus lower the average vitality and efficiency of a society. The only solution consistent with modern sentiment lies in studying the causes of the evil and applying the remedy at the source, so that fewer dependents will be produced and the average vitality of the population will be raised. This will be accomplished only through the cooperation of the sciences of individual and social life. Another evil effect of the unrestrained production of wealth and of the irrational propagation of human beings has attracted still greater attention and has probably been most influential of all in stimulating the study of sociology as a general science of society. The greater control over nature made possible by the advance of the natural and biological sciences and the increased wealth resulting therefrom, has affected different parts of society very unequally. Certain persons, who, for various reasons, had an early advantage in the accumulation of wealth, have been able to retain that advantage and even to pass it on to their descendants. In some cases, advantage once obtained has become cumulative. On the other hand the descendants of those who lacked special advantage, or were hindered with positive disadvantage, suffered similar and even greater disadvantage. And in the older societies the possibility of improvement through individual effort becomes more and more difficult. The resulting divergence of classes, which may have been useful in certain stages of social progress, is now seen to be out of harmony with the present trend of development. Society suffers because such a large number lack opportunity. Forces at work in progressive societies have, it is true, been lessening this evil, but modern sentiment now demands a more rapid change. And this desire has stimulated the study of sociology in order that the reform, which would evidently be radical, may be made in accordance with the natural laws of growth and with as little shock as may be to the social body.
Finally the social sciences supplement the natural and biological sciences by making their work more effective. The science of politics should perfect the general social organization and promote efficiency in all kinds of collective activity. The science of economics should aid in the conquest of nature by a better direction of the agents of production and exchange and should further human efficiency and well being by improving the process of the distribution of wealth. Similarly, jurisprudence, ethics and other social sciences should help to eliminate those who seek to prey upon society and should smoothe out the social relations of the rest.
The social sciences, therefore, the last of the three groups, Contribute to progress by correcting certain evils left by the other sciences, by improving social conditions, and by perfecting social organization so as to increase social and, therefore, individual efficiency.
To sum up, the natural sciences developed first, because man was first interested in the conquest of nature and the simpler physical laws could be grasped at an early period. This period brought an increase of wealth but it was wasteful of human life. The desire to save life led the way to the study of biology and this study was made possible in a scientific way because of the enlightenment which came with the spread of knowledge. Knowledge of the physical environment and of life, however, did not prevent social disease from flourishing and did not greatly improve the social condition of a large part of society. To overcome these defects the social sciences within recent years have been cultivated with great seriousness. It is true that social conditions from very early times have been such as to demand a knowledge of the social sciences, but men's interests have not turned in that direction except in one or two cases, in a limited way. Interest in the social sciences has had to wait for the enlarged sympathies and the sense of solidarity which has appeared with the growing interdependence of dense populations, and these conditions have been dependent upon the advance of the other sciences.
With the cultivation of the social sciences, then, the chain of knowledge will be complete, at least so far as the needs which have already appeared are concerned. For each group of sciences will solve one or more of the great problems which man has encountered in the process of development. The physical sciences will solve the problems of environment, the biological sciences the problems of life, and the social sciences the problems of society.
- "Outlines of Cosmic Philosophy," Part II., Ch. XXI.; reprinted in Carver's "Sociology and Social Progress," p. 478.
- "Pure Sociology," p. 445.
- "Origin of Religion," p. 142.
- The Popular Science Monthly, Vol. LXII, No. 4, February, 1903.
- "The Cambridge Modern History," Vol. V., p. 714.
- Wm. H. Welch, "The Interdependence of Medicine and Other Sciences of Nature," Science, January 10, 1908.