Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 12.djvu/623

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a naturalist wishes to study a species, he collects a considerable number of specimens more or less similar. In contemplating them, he observes certain ones which are more or less alike in some particular respect. They all have, for instance, a certain S-shaped marking. He observes that they are not precisely alike, in this respect; the S has not precisely the same shape, but the differences are such as to lead him to believe that forms could be found intermediate between any two of those he possesses. He, now, finds other forms apparently quite dissimilar—say a marking in the form of a C—and the question is, whether he can find intermediate ones which will connect these latter with the others. This he often succeeds in doing in cases where it would at first be thought impossible; whereas, he sometimes finds those which differ, at first glance, much less, to be separated in Nature by the non-occurrence of intermediaries. In this way, he builds up from the study of Nature a new general conception of the character in question. He obtains, for example, an idea of a leaf which includes every part of the flower, and an idea of a vertebra which includes the skull. I surely need not say much to show what a logical engine there is here. It is the essence of the method of the naturalist. How he applies it first to one character, and then to another, and finally obtains a notion of a species of animals, the differences between whose members, however great, are confined within limits, is a matter which does not here concern us. The whole method of classification must be considered later; but, at present, I only desire to point out that it is by taking advantage of the idea of continuity, or the passage from one form to another by insensible degrees, that the naturalist builds his conceptions. Now, the naturalists are the great builders of conceptions; there is no other branch of science where so much of this work is done as in theirs; and we must, in great measure, take them for our teachers in this important part of logic. And it will be found everywhere that the idea of continuity is a powerful aid to the formation of true and fruitful conceptions. By means of it, the greatest differences are broken down and resolved into differences of degree, and the incessant application of it is of the greatest value in broadening our conceptions. I propose to make a great use of this idea in the present series of papers; and the particular series of important fallacies, which, arising from a neglect of it, have desolated philosophy, must further on be closely studied. At present, I simply call the reader's attention to the utility of this conception.

In studies of numbers, the idea of continuity is so indispensable, that it is perpetually introduced even where there is no continuity in fact, as where we say that there are in the United States 10.7 inhabitants per square mile, or that in New York 14.72 persons live in the average house.[1] Another example is that law of the distribu-

  1. This mode of thought is so familiarly associated with all exact numerical consideration, that the phrase appropriate to it is imitated by shallow writers in order to produce