Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/743

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
723
MATTER LIVING AND NOT-LIVING.

known causes has been proved, for, till then, the necessity of an additional cause can not appear. The maxim which imposes this condition on hypotheses, known in philosophical literature as Occam's razor, is declared by Sir William Hamilton, who calls it the law of Parcimony, to be "the most important maxim in the regulation of philosophical procedure, when it is necessary to resort to an hypothesis." Its soundness is questioned by no one. But Dr. Beale, as we have seen, admits by plain implication, repeatedly, that known causes have not yet been proved inadequate to explain the phenomena of life. His cautious statement is that they are inadequate "in the present state of scientific knowledge." Wherefore, as he must also admit, his assumption of a hyperphysical agent violates flatly the law of Parcimony; it falls under the first stroke of Occam's razor. It is thus doubly illegitimate, on his own showing.

Finally, the hypothesis, if admitted, would not explain the phenomena, since it merely refers them to a power of which confessedly we can know neither the existence nor the laws, assuming to explain that which we do not know now by that which we can never know or so much as represent in thought; and it goes without saying that an hypothesis which explains nothing is good for nothing. In branding it with illegitimacy, science but renews the stigma that common sense had set on it.

The hypothesis, it follows, has no standing in the court of science, which rules it out at the threshold; and to the court of science, be it remembered, Dr. Beale has appealed. One thing, then, is certain: whatever may be the merits or demerits of the hypothesis which he opposes, the hypothesis which he espouses has no merits at all. It is radically vicious, and wholly inadmissible. So far from being "in accordance with reason," it is in flagrant defiance of it.

It remains to inquire into the remaining hypothesis. If we may credit Dr. Beale, it is as spurious as his own. "If we assume," he tells us, "that phenomena peculiar to life will some day be explained by physics, we certainly act in a manner which is not sanctioned by science—we assume, we prophesy; and prophetic assumptions of every kind are contrary to the spirit of science." That depends on the character of the assumptions. If, like his hypothesis, they are incapable of proof or disproof, besides gratuitously multiplying causes, and explaining nothing after all, they undoubtedly are contrary not only to the spirit but to the letter of science; but, if they fulfill the conditions of a legitimate hypothesis, in lieu of violating them at all points, as his own assumption does, they as undoubtedly are in strict harmony with science. It would be passing strange if they were not. If "prophetic assumptions of every kind" were in truth "contrary to the spirit of science," that "star-eyed" creature would be more contrary than the privilege of her sex allows, for it is by "prophetic assumptions" that she has won her chief triumphs, nearly everything