Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 80.djvu/32

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attempting to put in generalized form the first case of a locus which the class had studied, viz., that the perpendicular bisector of a straight line is the locus of all points (in the plane of the two lines) equally distant from the extremities of that line.

The method of the Chinese philosophers was a priori, and it seemsthat they adopted this course, not through ignorance of the experimental method, but from choice. The maxim of Confucius that "knowledge comes from the study of things" could not be more out of place than it is in his pages. The Chinese claim that their sage wrote a treatise on the experimental study of nature, but that it was lost; and thus they explain the backwardness of their country in experimental sciences.

Practical as the Chinese confessedly are, it is rather remarkable that in the study of nature their philosophers have made practically no use of the inductive method, though it appears that some of them at least had glimmers of its virtue as early as five hundred years before Gilbert and Bacon. In the writings of the brothers Cheng there is the following question and answer:

One asked whether, to arrive at a knowledge of nature, it is necessary to investigate each particular object; or may not some one thing be seized upon from which the knowledge of many things may be derived.

The master replied: "A comprehensive knowledge of nature is not so easily acquired. You must examine one thing to-day and another thing to-morrow, and when you have accumulated a store of facts, your knowledge will burst its shell and come forth into fuller light, connecting all the particulars by general laws!"

We say they had glimmers of the virtue of the inductive method, for it is hardly to be asserted that a philosopher really appreciated a method which neither he nor his disciples practised, but merely spoke of once. Contrast with the quotation just given this saying of Chang, the second of the five great thinkers of the Sung dynasty:

To know nature, you must first know Heaven. If you have pushed your science so far as to know Heaven, then you are at the source of all things. Knowing their evolution you can tell what ought to be, and what ought not to be, without waiting for any one to inform you.

Between these two dicta we see the parting of the ways—one leading only to a maze of hazy unverified and unverifiable speculations, the other destined to bring any philosopher who followed it into the presence of valid generalizations based on observation; and we see the sages of China choosing the wrong pathway, vainly seeking a short cut to universal knowledge by following what they considered by the light of inner reasoning to be the order of nature, instead of laboriously studying one thing at a time in order to connect "all the particulars by geaeral laws." Had her early thinkers taken the suggestion of the Chengs as their guiding star, China might to-day be the dean, instead of the most backward pupil in the school of science.

2. Spirit of Inaccuracy.—There is no more vexing factor in the life