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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 18.djvu/699

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MIND AS A MEASURE OF NATURE.

ture. Those who have the disposal of the superfluous produce of the country should employ their wealth not in refining material enjoyments, or in stimulating the unhealthy gratifications of vanity and pride, but in works of general utility, as many an American citizen and more than one European sovereign have done.

 

MIND AS A MEASURE OF NATURE.
By CHARLES T. HAVILAND.

IT has been said that every man is born a Platonist or an Aristotelian. This is an epigrammatic way of stating the fact that the general tendency in the pursuit of knowledge is to approach it from one or the other of two different standpoints, variously called the subjective and the objective; the mental and the material; the theological, or metaphysical, and the scientific. While this tendency is pretty clearly marked, yet the saying has the fault common to most apothegms, of sacrificing correctness to brevity—of overlooking the delicate gradations in Nature's continuity in its attempt to express her more salient diversities in a pithy utterance. This is the imperfection of all classifications. They necessarily separate what is continuous. It is only as they refer to genetic relationships that they most nearly correspond with nature, and this they can do in only a few of the natural sciences. For the most part, the act of classifying is the application of a mental scale to incommensurable quantities. The very impossibility of grouping phenomena into natural kinds renders an artificial classification necessary. Before science can advance a single step, the innumerable phenomena of nature must be reduced into classes. If not susceptible of natural arrangement, they must be arranged artificially; and, as long as the artificial character of the classification is comprehended, no harm is done; but when men, with but little knowledge of the objects dealt with, proceed to construct a procrustean bed to which they expect Nature to conform, and then, from this tortured witness, attempt to extort unwilling testimony, they may expect Science to enter a demurrer. As this method, however, has the merit of simplicity, as might be expected, it has long been the favorite with a certain class of philosophers.

Turning back to the early progress of human speculation, especially so far as it has reference to material objects, we see that all the first attempts at physical knowledge consisted, principally, of deductions from mental notions, with but little, if any, reference to phenomena. Beginning with the theories of the universe propounded by the Greek philosophers, we see that whatsoever progress was made in scientific acquisition was only in proportion to the occasional reactions from the