Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/446

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
442
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY
 

PART THIRD. The Objective Value of Science

Chapter X. Is Science Artificial?

§ 1. The Philosophy of M. LeRoy

There are many reasons for being sceptics; should we push this scepticism to the very end or stop on the way? To go to the end is the most tempting solution, the easiest, and that which many have adopted, despairing of saving anything from the shipwreck.

Among the writings inspired by this tendency it is proper to place in the first rank those of M. LeRoy. This thinker is not only a philosopher and a writer of the greatest merit, but he has acquired a deep knowledge of the exact and physical sciences, and even has shown rare powers of mathematical invention. Let us recapitulate in a few words his doctrine, which has given rise to numerous discussions.

Science consists only of conventions, and to this circumstance solely does it owe its apparent certitude; the facts of science and, a fortiori, its laws are the artificial work of the scientist; science therefore can teach us nothing of the truth; it can only serve us as rule of action.

Here we recognize the philosophic theory known under the name of nominalism; all is not false in this theory; its legitimate domain must be left it, but out of this it should not be allowed to go.

This is not all; M. LeRoy's doctrine is not only nominalistic; it has besides another characteristic which it doubtless owes to M. Bergson, it is anti-intellectualistic. According to M. LeRoy, the intellect deforms all it touches, and that is still more true of its necessary instrument 'discourse.' There is reality only in our fugitive and changing impressions, and even this reality, when touched, vanishes.

And yet M. LeRoy is not a sceptic; if he regards the intellect as incurably powerless, it is only to give more scope to other sources of knowledge, to the heart for instance, to sentiment, to instinct or to faith.

However great my esteem for M. LeRoy's talent, whatever the ingenuity of this thesis, I can not wholly accept it. Certes, I am in accord on many points with M. LeRoy, and he has even cited, in support of his view, various passages of my writings which I am by no means disposed to reject. I think myself only the more bound to explain why I can not go with him all the way.

M. LeRoy often complains of being accused of scepticism. He could not help being, though this accusation is probably unjust. Are not appearances against him? Nominalist in doctrine, but realist at heart, he seems to escape absolute nominalism only by a desperate act of faith.

The fact is that anti-intellectualistic philosophy in rejecting