Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 38.djvu/276

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Editor Popular Science Monthly:

SIR: Being a diligent reader of the review which you direct, and which I consider one of the best exponents of scientific progress, and spending a short time in this city, I have read with satisfaction in the number for August the article entitled Mr. Spencer's Place in Philosophy. Only ignorance of the influence which the scientific philosophy of Mr. Spencer is exercising in the modern world, and of the place which philosophy in general occupies in the order of human knowledge, could have permitted the editor of the New York Times to question the position which the superior intelligence of the English philosopher has conquered.

While I do not know what the respondents of the writer who calls himself "Outsider" have brought forward, and while I have no books at hand and can only follow the tone of your reply, I hope I may be permitted to indicate a few of the points in which specialists in different sciences have been anticipated by Mr. Spencer.

When he wrote his Principles of Biology, organic chemistry was in its infancy: Gerhart had not yet occupied himself with the serial classification; Kekulé had not yet discussed the molecular constitution of the carbon compounds; and the mind of the philosopher was still only occupied with the application of mechanical principles. Nevertheless he was able to anticipate the true function of organic carbon and the peculiar chemical properties of nitrogen. Many chemists were not agreed respecting the importance to be ascribed to nitrogen in vital reactions. But the inertness of that body; its strange manner of entering into combination; the inverse reactions which it provokes; the variations of its equilibrium with the proportions in which it forms part of compounds; the different modes of its behavior under the influence of electricity; the personality, as we might say, which it possesses in every reaction; and, especially, the difficulties which chemists like Schoenbein, Deville, Munst, Marcam, and Berthelot have met in accounting for the method of its entering into combinations to form vegetable substances, now proceeding from the air and now from fertilizers—all these features Mr. Spencer's paper assigned to this body and illustrated before chemical studies demonstrated them. We will not concern ourselves with the later spectroscopic observations, nor with the discussions, of which the two very different spectral systems that nitrogen presents have been the occasion, for they are not in question here.

Until a recent date, chemists held to a conception of the atom not widely different from that which was accepted in the time of Epicurus, and his atoms were identical with those which Dalton conceived. But Mr. Spencer, before William Crookes had resolved yttrium into its more simple components, before he conceived the idea of protyle, had spoken of the physical atoms that constitute the chemical atom.

If he who calls himself "Outsider" had read a letter of Mr. Spencer's addressed to the North American Review, which was inserted at the end of the first volume of the French edition of the Principles of Biology, in which he declared himself against the theory of spontaneous generation, not only as it then existed among students, but also as Haeckel afterward denned it in his theory of perigenesis of the plastidules, he would have been convinced that the philosopher had anticipated the results obtained by the latest biological studies and the conceptions of the chemists of to-day on the complexity of organic molecules.

Mr. Darwin introduced an epoch in the history of thought. But, before the Origin of Species appeared, Mr. Spencer had formulated the doctrine of transformism in a manner so universal that the truths demonstrated by Mr. Darwin are seen to be a necessary consequence of the laws of evolution.

The opinions of the philosopher on the constitution and mechanical function of the nervous system, as well as respecting the office which is filled by the system of the great sympathetic in the higher animals, occupy a distinguished place in modern physiology.

In the subjective analysis of thought, Mr. Spencer has reached a point that no one had attained till his time; and his incontrovertible criticism of the concepts of Kant, and of the ideas of time and space, reveals a profundity of intelligence which was not surpassed in Aristotle.

His social studies are instructive to the statesmen of the present. His criticisms of the parliamentary systems of Europe have modified the ideas of political men. The recrudescence of the military régime, with all its consequences, was foreseen by Mr. Spencer; the exposure of the absurdities of much modern law making by constituted states is his work; no one has demonstrated as he has done the wonderful power of individual initiative as opposed to the Attila's horse of state intervention; the