Popular Science Monthly/Volume 51/August 1897/Anthropology a University Study
|ANTHROPOLOGY A UNIVERSITY STUDY.|
By JOHN S. FLAGG,
PROFESSOR OF BIOLOGY AND EMBRYOLOGY, AND LECTURER ON ANTHROPOLOGY AT THE COLLEGE OF PHYSICIANS AND SURGEONS, BOSTON, MASS.
ANTHROPOLOGY, the science of man, has been in the past a term of comparatively narrow significance. Journals of anthropological societies all show a habit of thought along a few restricted lines. Under the old scholastic régime the departments of archæology and written history comprised nearly the sum total of anthropological study, all other studies appearing to be related, though but slightly, in a fixed cosmogony. Later, ethnology, as a truly scientific study, apart from history and comparative philology, has crept in as a growing realization of the interdependence of all knowledge arose.
The marvelous results of scientific investigation with which the workers of this century have blessed us, and above all the far-reaching generalizations which great but exact minds like Darwin's and Spencer's have given us, have so unified scientific thought that the student has been obliged to enlarge his use of the term anthropology to embrace the new and broader concept. He now realizes that every department of study is necessarily a department of anthropology, in that every branch of knowledge has some contribution to make toward the solution of that greatest of all problems to us. What is man—how did he originate, and how arose his characters and customs? As it was realized that man was a result of all precedent causes that had acted in his line, and as no activity, however remote, but had some effect on this line, either mediately or immediately, the concept became ever larger, until now the term anthropology really conveys the idea of a broad synthetic philosophy, built up from verified and ever-verifiable data alone—the great law of the evolution of all things and the harmonious mass of laws relating to detail, which shows the universe a logical series of causes and effects. While each separate department of science is busy adding new data to the mass of detail, correcting by careful and constant verification and a juster appreciation of values the false concept that some previous fact has given birth to, anthropology fits each new fact, so far as it bears on the problem of man, into its proper place in the whole; sees hitherto unknown relationships to facts discovered in other lines of research; traces further and further through the web of things the warp threads of unvarying law. As the master builder carries within his mind the concept of the finished building, to whose realization every workman contributes by adding each his stone, so a perfect anthropology can be realized only by the contribution of every fact dug out by tireless and devoted research, fitted together by workers equally tireless, equally devoted. Isolated facts are of little value for the advancement of human knowledge; it is only when correlated—brought into their proper relationship to other data—that they are able to yield their full quota of aid.
For more than two thousand years speculative philosophy has dominated the schools, and in all that time has made no actual advance toward explaining the nature of man or his relationship to his environment.
Tied to the ever-varying and unverifiable personal equation, there could not be a sound basis for a worthy superstructure. It was not until Herbert Spencer, taking as the basis of his deductions those objective activities from which alone the subjective states of another can be judged, reared his splendid synthetic philosophy, which is destined to supplant all others as a system, even if every detailed deduction made by him were disproved.
If anthropology, then, comprises every department of human learning, it might seem that a university is as a whole devoted to the study of anthropology, that its various departments are branches of this one universal study. Were universities ideal institutions of learning, and had they been reared at once on a true scientific basis, this might be so. Then, again, anthropology views the details of each branch of research chiefly with reference to its bearing on the evolution and present status of man, while the active specialist as an earnest searcher for truth must wrest from the unknown each minutest fact in his own domain.
Were a university curriculum arranged on a perfect scheme of anthropological unity, the time at a student's disposal would not permit him to gain any adequate acquaintance therewith. Desirable as it might be to have a university founded on such a scheme of logical unity, yet it would fail in giving the student a complete grasp of the interdependence of all phenomena through its very multiplicity of detail.
As our universities are constituted, where is there one that has a definite curriculum so arranged that its various departments bear any true relationship to the whole, whose scheme of training is so arranged that there arises in the student's mind any conception of unity?
The very requirements for admission and the consequent training furnished by the preparatory school are based almost wholly on the old scholastic mode and Platonic cosmogony. The minor colleges, having set courses, are still controlled by the same influences. The larger colleges, having professional schools attached, and aspiring to the broader title of universities, pile all the intellectual food on the table at once, and the hungry rush in and help themselves to whatever is within their reach, and come away at least self-satisfied. The few minds that are synthetic either by nature or early training are those that reap the highest good; the rest have at most sharpened their wits or gained a pert self-esteem, while many are unfitted for a life of action.
Ingersoll's brilliant sentence in his Lincoln lecture has not a little truth in it: "Colleges are places where pebbles are polished but diamonds are dimmed." The truth that lies in this sentence will be true so long as colleges remain a series of parthenogenetic scholasticisms unfit to cope with the hard environment in which mankind must live.
Our higher schools have in the past had to deal with only a limited and favored portion of mankind, but with each succeeding generation of students they have had to go down deeper among the producing people, and at each succeeding stage they have more or less closely reflected the general average of those with whom they dealt. People, colleges, and civilization have all evolved together, pari passu. Just now all are in a state of transition. In the colleges even scholasticism is slowly giving way before the assaults of exact knowledge. One is encouraged at seeing the rapid increase of laboratories, and the lengthening courses in English and economics, and the diminishing proportion of time devoted to the classics. Would that one might say the same of speculative philosophy! Its value as now studied, save as an exercise in mental gymnastics, was aptly characterized by one of the best-known professors of philosophy in this country, when he said to me, "Philosophy is wind, and he that can sell his wind at the highest figure is the greatest philosopher."
The history of the growth of philosophic thought, studied as a branch of anthropology, is of value, as the history of the slow growth in any other department of human thought or effort is valuable—no more.
The real value of anthropology, then, as a university study is to take the place that philosophy occupied in the old scholastic system, save that synthetic philosophy, under whatever name, requires a broad basis of accurate knowledge. He that would teach must have a mind of largest grasp, capable of far-reaching generalizations, rigidly ruled by absolute fact. To this end preliminary training in exact investigation is indispensable, that he may be familiar with the road to truth and readily detect the verified from the speculative. On the other hand, he must not be a mere delver for facts. Men who are justly noted as investigators are constantly proving themselves unfit for generalized deductions even in their own departments. The teacher of anthropology must be accurately acquainted with results in astronomy, geology, paleontology, biology and embryology, ethnology and archæology, philology, sociology, and economics.
Above all, he must be a devoted lover of truth and unwavering in its search. He must never be led away by an unsupported theory, however seductive.
It has been said in the past that great men make great men, that the influence of a great mind on plastic youth is invaluable; and it is as true now as ever. But the concept of what makes a great mind has changed. In an age of scholasticism, with an almost universal adherence to a fixed cosmogony, that man was great who by his personality and the influence that it carried could transfer that cosmogony as a whole to the minds of his pupils and the code of its ethics to the guidance of their lives. It is one of the glories of the new scientific thought that there can be no completed cosmogony, that it is ever growing and being rectified with each new truth discovered. The example of noble men of the past and the study of their deeds may stimulate others to live like them still. But for building up a stable character, the baseless, shifting philosophy of the past can never equal the study of exact truth as expressed in natural law and the humble facts of our own being. Nature never lies to her children if they stop and listen. There is more rigid, unprevaricating response to an honest query in a right angle than in all the sophistry of the schools. The young man that is thrust out into the world of action now, with only the scholastic cosmogony as a support for his moral code, is to be pitied when he finds his foundation swept away, as it surely will be if he truly thinks. How much more sturdy he would have been had he been led to clearly see the social necessities that step by step gave rise to moral law law that grows higher and broader with social need and raises ever to its own level its own creators!