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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/721

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EDITOR'S TABLE.

mere business, for the modern languages have literatures as well as the ancient. There exists a French literature which comprises books of poetry, devotion, philosophy, science, history, politics—a literature not less but more extensive and various than Greek and Roman literatures themselves. This literature indisputably excites the same sort of emotions and exerts the same influence as classical literature. It elevates the mind, stimulates the imagination, and forms the taste; in short, there is absolutely no good effect produced by the classical literature which is not also in some degree produced by this literature."

 

 

THE CONTRADICTIONS OF SCIENCE.

Much ado is often made by persons hostile to science or—which is the same thing—having a partisan interest in opinions which they wish to maintain in spite of science, about the contradictions that mark the development of scientific theory. Because the theories which served a good purpose a year ago, or twenty-five years ago, or a century ago, have been put aside in favor of others that more nearly meet the facts as they are known to-day, science, they argue, is not in the least to be depended on; and therefore objections made in the name of science to any opinion or set of opinions should not be allowed to carry any weight. This is a very popular line of argument, but it is also very fallacious, as a moment's consideration will show. In the investigation of Nature the mind necessarily forms theories as it goes along. Some kind of a theory is almost necessary even to observation; and the theory which, at the moment, best accounts for the facts is the one toward which the mind must incline. This is a law which no one can hope to escape. The most reasonable thing any man can do is to accept from moment to moment the soundest and most comprehensive generalization offered to his thought. If that generalization should be incomplete, or in any way unsound, the quickest way to discover its weakness is to put it to the strain of daily use. The question to ask regarding Science—the only really pertinent question—is as to whether she has not, from the dawn of rational thought, been extending her observations and improving her theories. Is she not, has she not always been, on the road to truth? Has she not already established a great many substantially true theories, and is she not daily adding to the number? If scientific men have been too confident in times past as to the absolute truth of their hypotheses, one good result at least has followed from their over confidence: their partial views have all the sooner been displaced by more comprehensive ones. But because science is progressive, because its work is never done, is it never to venture to criticise opinions that are not progressive? We say that the holder of even an imperfect scientific theory, provided it is the best obtainable at the time, has a perfect right to say to one who holds a view that embodies no scientific theory whatever, but simply contradicts all scientific theory, that he is wrong in holding that view. Grant that the view in question may be in unsuspected harmony with some higher truth or principle not yet discovered, we may still say that, in the absence of a present justification in fact, it is not right to hold it as true now. Better far to take one's humble place in the great procession that is moving steadily onward toward the goal of a true scientific philosophy, and let the higher views dawn on us in their own good time.

It is a strange accusation to bring against science that it is progressive, that it provides means, from age to age, of expressing all the truth that is at the time obtainable, while reserving full liberty to widen, as circumstances may permit, the circle of its inductions, and consequently the basis of its theories.