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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/161

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151
SPECULATIVE SCIENCE.

in the nebular regions, when they ought to be fighting and grubbing on the solid ground below. In course of time these individuals, despite the utter fatuity of their undertaking, persuaded themselves that they were engaged in something important, and became noisy and presumptuous. At one time they even clamored for admission into the ranks of the physicists and astronomers, on the ground that they had discovered phonetic and other laws, which they claimed to be as immutable as the laws of Kepler. Their application was, of course, scornfully denied, for the reason that they were either no scientists at all, or at best speculative scientists. Instead of submitting humbly to this just decree of the physicists (it is a pity they had not my present meekness before them as an example), these men grew wrathy and turned away with something like this objurgation: "Well, never mind, the time is not far distant when you will come as suppliants to us." And, thereupon, in sheer malice, having got well-nigh through with the roots and branches of words, they fell to attacking the history of their meanings—of concepts, as they called them—pretending to make legitimate employment of inductive methods, which they wholly mis-apprehended, no doubt, and which, at any rate, were among the clear prerogatives of the physicists. And now they pretend to have established, inductively, a number of laws relating to the operations of the intellect, which they again assert to be immutable, and, though controlling acts of consciousness, to be wholly independent of deliberate intent or set purpose. They say, for instance, that there runs throughout the history of speculative as well as of ordinary thinking an almost irrepressible tendency to hypostasize concepts, or (as I have called it, cribbing an outrageous barbarism from Professor Bain) to reify them. I will try to explain to you what that means, as nearly as possible in your own words. When people make or find a new "abstract noun," they instantly try to put it on a shelf or into a box, as though it were a thing; thus they reify it. In very early times they did worse than that—they undertook to incase it in a smock-frock or a pair of breeches. They personified it. There was a still earlier period when, worst of all, men blasphemously and impiously deified abstractions; and it is said that this class of persons has not wholly died out yet.

Now, the silly speculators I have just alluded to have already divided the science they pretend to be cultivating into several branches, to which, being word-mongers, they give all sorts of sesquipedalian names, such as comparative linguistics, comparative psychology, comparative mythology, and so forth. To give you an idea of the temerity of these pseudo-scientists, let me tell you that one of them, Professor Max Müller, of Oxford—who is, of course, a German at one time undertook to account for the monotheism of the Jewish race by a peculiarity of Semitic speech. It is even whispered that he and others, years ago, evolved $he whole city of Troy, with all its houses and