Popular Science Monthly/Volume 3/September 1873/Editor's Table



IN a leading article on "The Proper Study of Mankind," the Nation recently entered a protest against scientific education; and, as we think it gave its influence to strengthen a current misconception on the subject, it will be in our way to offer a few words of reply.

It is a common opinion, and one which the advocates of the old system of study do all they can to maintain, that Science means merely the physical sciences, which treat of heat, light, electricity, chemical substances, and rock formations; that the value of scientific knowledge consists in its application to arts and industries, by which wealth can be accumulated; and that scientific education simply means the extension of mining, engineering, medical and agricultural schools, while its advocates would be glad to have these overrun the country, and root out all other educational institutions. In other words, the friends of scientific education are constantly charged with being animated by a narrow and sordid utilitarianism. We protest against this view as a gross misrepresentation. Science is not a mere acquaintance with physical things—it is a method of knowing, and is as comprehensive as the phenomena of the world we live in. It is not merely knowledge, it is the most perfect form of knowledge, upon all subjects which it is possible to know. Science is the investigator of Truth––truths of all orders, and by all the mental operations through which truth can be established. The first fact about knowledge is, that it grows; it begins in the common observations and reflections of untaught minds, and gradually develops into clearness, certainty, and precision; is it grovelling utilitarianism to demand that the highest and most perfect forms of knowledge shall be employed in the work of mental cultivation? But few can now be found who will deny that the study of the sciences has great value for mental discipline, and we hazard little in saying that, if pursued systematically, they are capable of giving the mind a training that is more varied and complete than that afforded by any other class of studies. That the influential and representative advocates of scientific education rest its claims upon any grounds of mere selfish utility is not true. No class of men protest more vehemently than they against such low and unworthy motives. They certainly believe in the value of knowledge, and in the eminent value of scientific knowledge; but they hold to a broader and more liberal culture than their adversaries; for, while not rejecting the study of the past, they would enlighten and vivify it by a deeper knowledge of the present. Nor is it true that they are the enemies of literary studies, although the writer in the Nation makes them say of the student, "Literature he had better let alone." But they protest against what Dr. Whewell calls the "narrow and enfeebling education" of an exclusive literary culture; and they demand such a restriction of it as will allow room and time for more solid acquisitions and a proper discipline of the faculties that literature neglects. The strongest advocates of scientific education urge increasing attention to the study of English literature; and, more than that, many of them prove, by their fine command of the language, that they have by no means themselves neglected it.

And the writer in the Nation not only reaffirms the current error that scientific education can only afford a narrow, utilitarian culture, but his main point is that it breaks down in presence of the higher human interests in which we are all mainly concerned. He declares of its expositors:

"It is assumed, in nearly all that many of them say about education, that it is with Nature only that man has to struggle in the pursuit of happiness; and that, if he can only discover what to eat, drink, and avoid, how mines may best be worked, and crops raised, and distance traversed, and storms foreseen, and the state of the market transmitted, he will have solved the problem of living.... It now begins to be discovered, however, that, no matter how successful we may be in wresting her secrets from Nature, or how familiar we make ourselves with her processes, or however conscientiously we may adapt our lives to her requirements, the best scientific education, after all, only half fits us for the battle of life, and for the simple reason that the battle has to be fought not only with hard, inexorable physical surroundings, but with very troublesome and mysterious social surroundings. In other words, in making a career, we have to deal with our brother man as well as with earth and air and water. Let us mine never so successfully, we have to settle with the crowd at the mouth of the shaft before we can carry home our earnings. Let us manufacture never so deftly, we have to establish a rule of distribution before our science or our dexterity does us any good. Let us build railroads as we may, we have to come to an agreement as to who shall work them, and what he shall receive, before they profit us. Heat, and light, and electricity, and steam, are great monarchs, but they cannot raise us out of grovelling barbarism, unless we can come to some understanding with our neighbors as to the ends and modes of living. The study of man, therefore, is really the most important of all studies, and must always continue to be so. Nothing can take its place in any curriculum. People must learn how to live in society before they can get any lasting benefit from science, and before they can have and retain any thing worth the name of art; and this they cannot do without observing human nature as it is, and without making themselves acquainted with the past experience of the race. Now, the past experience of the race is found in literature, and Languages, and laws, and monuments, or, in other words, in things of which our physicists are apt to make light."

We entirely agree with the writer as to the supreme importance of the study of man and his relations, but we totally dissent from his method of studying them. What we want to know concerning man and society is the laws of their constitution and action, and this it is the proper business of science to ascertain. It is not the office of literature to elucidate natural laws. We have had the literary method in its full power for thousands of years, without dispelling the illusions and obscurities which have shrouded the nature of man and human society. Literature was both incompetent in method and destitute of all the necessary data. Before man and society could be understood, it was necessary first to have correct notions of the workings and order of Nature. Light could only be thrown upon the higher phenomena, as the lower were first explained. To the preliminary work, literature and the literary method contributed absolutely nothing. We owe entirely to modern science that whole series of preliminary revelations concerning the method and operations of Nature, by which it becomes possible to interpret the individual and social phenomena of man. And to science we owe not only the solution of the preliminary problems, upon which the higher depend, but we are also indebted to it for that long and severe discipline, in the quest of truth—that apprenticeship of centuries in the mastery of mental methods—which are necessary to engage with the most difficult of all investigations, the unravelling of the complexities of human nature and the social state. Is all this preparation to go for nothing? Are we to be told that science is incapable of carrying on its own work, and that the agency which was incompetent to begin it is still able to complete it? Undoubtedly "the past experience of the race is found in literature, and languages, and laws, and monuments," and they have their value, which men of science by no means deny; but we have man before us, and society around us, as living and present facts open to immediate inquiry. Why go back to the ages when such a thing as the order of Nature was not even suspected, to get opinions concerning the constitution of things which are displayed before our very eyes. It is true that the study of the past can aid in the understanding of the present; but it is a deeper truth that the study of that which comes within the range of actual experience is the only key to the understanding of the past—Science must be the interpreter of History. The nature of man; the laws of his physical, mental, and moral constitution; their interdependence and reactions; and how he has come to be what he is: the nature of social aggregations; the natural laws by which they are regulated, and how they have come to be what we see them—are strict and legitimate scientific questions, and are no more to be determined by the literary method than the constitution of the sun or the origin of species. Biology, psychology, ethnology, and anthropology, are the names of branches of knowledge, imperfect indeed, but firmly established, which have been created by modern science, and which have already thrown a flood of light upon the nature of man. The scientific knowledge thus obtained is also the only indispensable basis for understanding the constitution and course of human society; and, if the reader cares to understand how essential one of those sciences is to the proper understanding of social phenomena, we recommend him to read the article in the present number of the Monthly on the bearings of biology upon sociological studies.

We have seen that the assumption of the writer in the Nation, that science is confined to the lower sphere of physical phenomena, is altogether gratuitous; and that man and society, if they are ever to be understood, must in future be mainly studied by the method of science which seeks for the establishment of natural laws. On what ground, then, can it be pretended that the study of man and human interests does not fall within the compass of scientific education? The writer seems to take it as a foregone conclusion that science has nothing to do with "the proper study of mankind;" yet scientific education has been long urged by its ablest advocates upon the very ground that it has every thing to do with it. Mr. J. S. Mill, although no partisan upon this question, explicitly denies the position taken by the Nation. In his celebrated address at the University of St. Andrew's, in 1867, he said: "Scientific education, apart from professional objects, is but a preparation for judging rightly of man and of his requirements and interests;" and he advocated compendious methods of classical study to allow more science in the universities, with a view to this very object.

In an article published in an English review in 1859, discussing the worth and claims of different kinds of knowledge, and which is one of the most powerful pleas for scientific education that have yet appeared—an article which was translated into half a dozen European languages, and which has been republished in all shapes and a score of times in this country—the claims of scientific education were placed upon the distinctive ground of its bearing upon the highest human interests. We extract a closing passage:

"Thus, to the question with which we set out—What knowledge is of most worth?—the uniform reply is—science! This is the verdict on all the counts. For direct self-preservation, or the maintenance of life and health, the all-important knowledge is—science. For that indirect self-preservation which we call gaining a livelihood, the knowledge of greatest value is—science. For the due discharge of parental functions,

the proper guidance is to be found only in—science. For that interpretation of national life, past and present, without which the citizen cannot regulate his conduct, the indispensable key is—science. Alike for the most perfect production and highest enjoyment of art in all its forms, the needful preparation is still—science. The question which at first seemed so perplexed has become, in the course of our inquiry, comparatively simple. We have not to estimate the degrees of importance of different orders of human activity and different studies as severally fitting us for them; since we find that the study of science, in its most comprehensive meaning, is the best preparation for all these orders of activity. We have not to decide between the claims of knowledge of great though conventional value, and knowledge of less though intrinsic value; seeing that the knowledge which we find to be of most value in all other respects is intrinsically most valuable; its worth is not dependent upon opinion, but is as fixed as is the relation of man to the surrounding world. Necessary and eternal as are its truths, all science concerns all mankind for all time. Equally at present, and in the remotest future, must it be of incalculable importance for the regulation of their conduct, that men should understand the science of life, physical, mental, and social: and that they should understand all other science as a key to the science of life."


The readers of the Monthly may recollect that, in his article in the April number, Mr. Spencer criticised the position taken by Matthew Arnold in regard to the needs of English culture. Mr. Arnold is a great admirer of the French Academy, which, he says, was established "to work, with all the care and all the diligence possible, at giving sure rules to our (the French) language, and rendering it pure, eloquent, and capable of treating the arts and sciences," and he thinks something of the kind would be of great service in England. Mr. Spencer pinted out the inefficiency and absurdity of such an attempt at supervision, and prepared a note to the article, which was not printed with it. We insert it here, as it has both a personal interest and a significance in relation to classical studies, as a preparation for English:

"Before leaving the question of Academies and their influences, let me call attention to a fact which makes me doubt whether as a judge of style, considered simply as correct or incorrect, an Academy is to be trusted. Mr. Arnold, insisting on propriety of expression, and giving instances of bad taste among our writers, due, as he thinks, to absence of Academic control, tacitly asserts than an Academy, if we had one, would condemn the passages he quotes as deserving condemnation, and, by implication, would approve the passages he quotes as worthy of approval. Let us see to what Mr. Arnold awards his praise. He says:

To illustrate what I mean by an example. Addison, writing as a moralist on fixedness in religious faith, says:

"Those who delight in reading books of controversy do very seldom arrive at a fixed and settled habit of faith. The doubt which was laid revives again, and shows itself in new difficulties; and that generally for this reason—because the mind, which is perpetually tossed in controversies and disputes, is apt to forget the reasons which had once set it at rest, and to be disquieted with any former perplexity when it appears in a new shape, or is started by a different hand."

'It may be said, that is classical English, perfect in lucidity, measure, and propriety. I make no objection; but in my turn, I say that the idea expressed is perfectly trite and barren,' etc., etc.

"In Mr. Arnold's estimate of Addison's thought I coincide entirely; but I cannot join him in applauding the 'classical English' conveying the thought. Indeed, I am not a little astonished that one whose taste in style is proved by his own writing to be so good, and who to his poems especially gives a sculpturesque finish, should have quoted, not simply without condemnation but with tacit eulogy, a passage full of faults. Let us examine it critically, part by part.

"How shall we interpret into thought the words 'arrive at a . . . habit?' A habit is produced. But 'arrival' implies, not production of a thing, but coming up to a thing that preëxists, as at the end of a journey. What, again, shall we say of the phrase, 'a fixed and settled habit?' Habit is a course of action characterized by constancy, as distinguished from courses of action that are inconstant. If the word 'settled' were unobjectionable, we might define habit as a settled, course of action; and, on substituting for the word this equivalent, the phrase would read 'a fixed and settled settled course of action.' Obviously the word habit itself conveys the whole notion; and, if there needs a word to indicate degree, it should be a word suggesting force, not suggesting rest. The reader is to be impressed with the strength of a tendency in something active, not with the firmness of something passive, as by the words 'fixed and settled.' And then why 'fixed and settled?' Making no objection to the words as having inapplicable meanings, there is the objection that one of them would be sufficient: surely that which is fixed must be settled. Nor are these all the imperfections in this short sentence. The habit referred to is the habit of believing; and to call it the habit of faith is to imply that the words faith and believing are synonymous.

"Passing to the next sentence, we are arrested by a conspicuous fault in its first clause—'The doubt which was laid revives again." To revive is to live again; so that the literal meaning of the clause is 'the doubt which was laid lives again again.' In the following line there is nothing objectionable; but at the end of it we come to another pleonasm. The words run: 'and that generally for this reason, because the mind. . . .' The idea is fully conveyed by the words, and that generally because the mind.' The words 'for this reason' are equivalent to an additional 'because.' So that we have here another nonsensical duplication. Going a little further there rises the question—Why 'controversies and disputes?' 'Dispute' is given in dictionaries as one of the synonymes of 'controversy;' and though it may be rightly held to have not quite the same meaning, any additional meaning it has does not aid, but rather interrupts, the thought of the reader. Though, where special attention is to be drawn to a certain element of the thought, two almost synonymous words may fitly be used to make the reader dwell longer on that element, yet, where his attention is to be drawn to another element of the thought (as here to the effect of controversy on the mind), there is no gain, but a loss, in stopping him to interpret a second word if the first suffices. One more fault remains. The mind is said 'to be disquieted with any former perplexity when it appears in a new shape, or is started by a different hand.' This portion of the sentence is doubly defective. The two metaphors are incongruous. Appearing in a shape, as a ghost might be supposed to do, conveys one kind of idea; and started by a hand, as a horse or a hound might be, conveys a conflicting kind of idea. This defect, however, is less serious than the other; namely, the unfitness of the second metaphor for giving a concrete form to the abstract idea. How is it possible to 'start' a perplexity? 'Perplexity,' by derivation and as commonly used, involves the thought of entanglement and arrest of motion; while to start a thing is to set it in motion. So that, whereas the mind is to be represented as enmeshed, and thus impeded in its movements, the metaphor used to describe its state is one suggesting the freedom and rapid motion of that which enmeshes it.

"Even were these hypercriticisms, it might be said that they are rightly to be made on a passage which is considered a model of style. But they are not hypercriticisms. To show that the defects indicated are grave, it only needs to read without its tautologies one of the sentences thus: 'The doubt which was laid revives, and shows itself in new difficulties; and that generally because the mind which is perpetually tossed in controversies is apt to forget the reasons which had once set it at rest,' etc., etc. Omitting the six superfluous words unquestionably makes the sentence clearer—adds to its force without taking from its meaning. Nor would removal of the other excrescences, and substitution of appropriate words for those which are unfit, fail similarly to improve the rest of the passage.

"And now is it not strange that two sentences which Mr. Arnold admits to be 'classical English, perfect in lucidity, measure, and propriety,' should contain so many defects: some of them, indeed, deserving a stronger word of disapproval? It is true that analysis discloses occasional errors in the sentences of nearly all writers—some due to inadvertence, some to confusion of thought. Doubtless, from my own books examples could be taken; and I should think it unfair to blame any one for now and then tripping. But, in a passage of which the diction seems 'perfect' to one who would like to have style refined by authoritative criticism, we may expect entire conformity to the laws of correct expression; and may not unnaturally be surprised to find so many deviations from those laws.

"Possibly, indeed, it will be alleged that the faults are not in Addison's English, but that I lack the needful æsthetic perception. Having, when young, effectually resisted that classical culture which Mr. Arnold thinks indispensable, I may be blind to the beauties he perceives; and my undisciplined taste may lead me to condemn as defects what are, in fact, perfections. Knowing absolutely nothing of the masterpieces of ancient literature in the original, and very little in translation, I suppose I must infer that a familiarity with them equal to Mr. Arnold's familiarity would have given me a capacity for admiring these traits of style which he admires. Perhaps redundance of epithets would have afforded me pleasure; perhaps I should have been delighted by duplications of meaning; perhaps from inconsistent metaphors I might have received some now unimaginable gratification. Being, however, without any guidance save that yielded by mental science—having been led by analysis of thought to conclude that, in writing, words must be so chosen and arranged as to convey ideas with the greatest ease, precision, and vividness; and having drawn the corollaries that superfluous words should be struck out, that words which have associations at variance with the propositions to be set forth should be avoided, and that there should be used no misleading figures of speech; I have acquired a dislike to modes of expression like these Mr. Arnold regards as perfect in their propriety. Almost converted though I have been by his eloquent advocacy of culture, as he understands it, I must confess that, now I see what he applauds, my growing faith receives a rude check. "While recognizing my unregenerate state, and while admitting that I have only psychology and logic to help me, I am perverse enough to rejoice that we have not had an Academy; since, judging from the evidence Mr, Arnold affords, it would, among other mischievous acts, have further raised the estimate of a style which is even now unduly praised."


The Buffalo Commercial Advertiser commends The Popular Science Monthly, but thinks that "it tends somewhat to a too materialistic nature in certain of its articles." The Advertiser is not alone in its objection; other newspapers, both religious and secular, frequently remind us that our pages are "too materialistic." As there seems to be so general an agreement upon this point, it is to be presumed that the subject is perfectly understood, and we have only to regret that our critics are not more explicit, and do not tell us exactly what they mean by materialism, and point out just how far we should go in that direction. If we are "too materialistic," how materialistic is it proper we should be?

By materialism can hardly be meant in this case that speculative doctrine which denies spirit, and affirms that every thing is matter, because we have not gone into that question at all, and it is hardly to be expected that our monitors would tolerate that in any degree. It must, therefore, be meant that we give undue prominence to material subjects and material explanations of things; but the importance they assume is certainly not our fault, for we are responsible neither for the existence of matter nor for the part it plays in the economy of the universe. Matter—"mere gross, brute matter"—may be very undignified and objectionable stuff, and, if some people had been consulted at the creation, perhaps it would have been left out altogether. But it certainly was not left out; it is here, whatever it may be, the foundation of existence, and not to be got rid of. We are all made of it; and each of us has to add several pounds daily to his personal stock, upon penalty of death for non-compliance. The mass of mankind, moreover, are doomed to work in it, shaping and transforming it in a thousand ways all their lives long. The very instruments and conditions of all our feelings, enjoyments, and thoughts, are material, while the Divine Power employs matter as the great medium of working out the laws of being and the harmonies of existence. It was said by Plato that God ever geometrizes; but it is still a profounder truth that God ever materializes. We, therefore, dodge the criticism about being "too materialistic," and leave our newspaper friends to settle their differences with the higher powers. Science is a knowledge of the laws of Nature, and nothing remains for us but to take Nature as we find it; and, as matter is mixed up with every thing, we cannot ignore it. There have been systems of thought in which the consideration of matter was allowed no place, but they have been futile and fruitless; science, on the other hand, is a system of thought which respects the order of things, and includes matter as the first and constant object of inquiry; and it has opened a new realm of truth, and changed the course of human affairs. After the world had been long dominated by philosophies that were full of contempt for matter—philosophies that were espoused by theology and accredited in the great seats of learning—it was not surprising that science, which declared matter to be an excellent thing, and quite fit to be studied, should have been denounced and resisted; but it is surprising that after science has made an intellectual epoch, and created a new and nobler future for humanity by the study of the divine laws as embodied in matter, there should still be those who mumble the exploded prejudices of the past, and make themselves miserable about the "too materialistic" tendencies of modern thought. Read Papillon's article in the present number of the Monthly, and see what "matter" means in the light of recent science.

And, speaking of materialism, here comes the London Spectator, with more talk upon the subject. This journal affects philosophy, and, for years, has been in the habit of branding with opprobrious epithets doctrines it did not happen to like. It recently tried to fasten the imputation of materialism upon Mr. Douglas Spalding, on account of his psychological views; but that gentleman repelled the charge, and, apparently in much confusion over the subject, the Spectator now formally asks, "What is modern materialism?"—a question which it might better have settled, for its own guidance, some time ago. And the answer which the Spectator gives to its own question is certainly extraordinary. In the first place, it informs us what materialism is not; and, strange to stay, it declares that a belief in the materiality of the soul—that its qualities are physical, visible, or tangible, instead of spiritual—is not materialism. The editor says: "It is not properly, we think, materialism to believe, as some very eminent thinkers, and some very eminent and (in their day) orthodox ecclesiastics have believed, that the soul of man is a physical entity, existing only at some particular point of space." On the other hand, the Spectator affirms that the pure idealist, who goes so far as to deny the existence of matter, and to resolve all things into immaterial or spiritual agencies, may yet be a materialist. Hence, according to this oracle, he who believes in nothing but matter need not be a materialist; and he who believes in nothing but spirit may still be liable to the reproach of materialism. But, if materialism has nothing to do with the question of matter and spirit, in what does it consist? Why, according to the Spectator, it consists in believing that the universe unfolds from a lower into a higher state, and "that the higher order of phenomena are strictly dependent on the lower." Nor does it make any difference if the universe is held to have been caused and to be governed by a Creative Spirit; if that government proceeds by the method of a gradual unfolding from the lower to the higher, he who believes it is a materialist. And so, in the last exigency of polemics, an obnoxious term is wrenched from its strict and long-sanctioned significance to be used simply as a vehicle of opprobrium. The Spectator would have been equally honest and less absurd if it had compressed its article into two lines as follows: "What is modern materialism? A dirty label to be plastered upon the evolutionists."