Popular Science Monthly/Volume 61/June 1902/On the Definition of Some Modern Sciences
|ON THE DEFINITION OF SOME MODERN SCIENCES.|
By Professor W. H. DALL,
IN the early days of this Society, as some of you may remember, it comprised those workers in science resident in Washington who were most eminent in varied branches of research. While in our Society, as in the firmament, one star differed from another star in glory, yet among those ready to contribute to the program or discussion, we might then count many of those reckoned as authorities in their special lines of work and in many different fields.
As the body of scientific men in government service, or local educational institutions, increased with the increasing importance of scientific method and the evolution of the sciences themselves, new bodies sprang into existence, aiming to exploit special provinces of the realm of science. To these naturally gravitated the members of the Philosophical Society chiefly concerned, and in the numerous flourishing organizations now existing in this city the original members of the parent association recognize its intellectual progeny.
With the differentiation of the avenues of communicating thought, it naturally came about that the chief papers in certain branches would be read in the society devoted to those specialties, and the programs of the Philosophical Society thus became less varied. But we have rather prided ourselves, and trust to the younger members to carry on the tradition, in still holding the doors open, so that any communication bearing on the increase or diffusion of knowledge is still as cordially welcome and as appropriately delivered before our Society as in the former time. It was frequently observed by the older members that among the benefits which they derived from our meetings none was greater than the opportunity of each to learn from the lips of a competent associate the conclusions formed in lines of research otherwise unfamiliar to the listener. Thus the mental horizon of each was broadened and the capacity for wider generalization and more philosophic views was duly enlarged.
As, by the operation of the causes already alluded to, the membership of the society has come to be devoted to fewer lines of research, it has still been possible to preserve our reputation for catholicity in science and its beneficial consequences, by calling from time to time on those eminent in particular branches, who may not be members of our body, to favor us with some account of the researches to which they are devoted, or of the present state of opinion as to the progress actually made.
To-night is one of those occasions; and I feel that I am only voicing the unuttered sentiments of all our members when I express our cordial appreciation of the courtesy our guests have shown us in their willingness to contribute to our program.
In considering the general subject of the evening, I was led to look up the definitions of science and law, as such, in the oldest available dictionaries of our language. The earliest noted is that of Phillips, in 1720, who tells us that science is 'knowledge founded upon or gained by certain clear and self-evident principles,' and Bailey, in 1737, holds it to be 'a framed system of any branch of knowledge comprehending the doctrine, reason or theory of the thing, without any immediate application of it to any uses or offices of life.' A study of other and subsequent definitions shows that the early lexicographers at least regarded science as a theoretical system divorced from practice.
Law, on the other hand, appears to have been regarded chiefly as a rule or measure imposed by some external authority on the subject of it. While the words used in defining these entities may have a modern meaning injected into them, it is practically certain that the minds which framed these definitions possessed no such comprehension of them.
For oar purposes science is: exact knowledge of facts and their inter-relations, and, by an extension common to the language, the methods used in attaining this knowledge and the systematic statement of it when attained are included under the same name.
No better definition of law than that of Blackstone appears anywhere. He calls 'A rule of action.' We now amplify this definition by discriminating under the single name two classes of law, namely, those imposed by authority human or divine; and the observed constant sequence of events which we codify as the 'Laws of Nature.'
As our possession of unclassified facts increases, the need of systematizing them becomes greater until of necessity a new science is framed to cover those categories not previously dealt with.
We hope to-night to learn something of some of the relatively new or modern sciences of which our program speaks.
The rapid development of what were a few years ago merely twigs of the tree of science into stout and fruitful branches is the most remarkable phenomenon of our times.
The majority of our grandfathers were content to declare that 'figures cannot lie,' a proverb which our fathers came to understand needed much qualification before it could be accepted. To-night we may hope to learn from a master in the science, something of the precautions by which the perversity of figures must be fenced about, in order to confine them to their useful and appropriate field.
It is not so long since eminent workers in economic questions believed it the duty of government to leave the operation of commercial forces to natural processes, the then unnamed 'Survival of the Fittest.' The bitter cry of ill-paid labor, the unreasoning fury of the strike riot, and the realization that in its essence civilization is the reversal of the processes of nature 'red in tooth and claw,' these, aided by an evergrowing consciousness of the brotherhood of man, were required to develop into a science the study of the wonderfully complex forces of economic civilization. Of this new science something will be told to us to-night.
For unnumbered centuries mankind has been slowly eliminating from the ranks of the hypernatural, phase after phase of the aspects of nature which he could come to understand. Slow indeed was the flow of grist from the mills of the goddess of wisdom unceasingly grinding. How should man account for that which was spiritual and impalpable, yet obvious, when he knew not the alphabet of that which was physical and material? Step by step must the stairway be laid on imperishable foundations before man might hope to ascend to the temple of knowledge. Thread by thread must the wires be spun and stretched from the verge of the known to the pillars of truth beyond the abyss of ignorance. What wonder if, even now, the great mass of mankind will hardly follow the investigator across the slender path of assured footing trembling in the higher air? Are not magicians, fortune tellers, mediums, all the phantasmagoria of magic and the occult still represented in our literature and life, and by hereditary transmission more or less imprinted on our instincts? The new science of psychology, still in the flush of youth, is pressing forward to lay these phantoms of the dusk and sweep the fogs away.
As for the last and most inclusive of all sciences, that which considers the interrelations which alone make civilization, science and progress possible; some of whose laws even the lowly ant and bee have unconsciously learned and applied; I must leave our guest of the evening to speak as one having authority. That man is a unit in a certain sense; that every individual carries with him determining atoms of his entire hereditary line, the unbroken continuity of which is the first condition of his existence; is a truism. That in another sense mankind is also a unit and that no member of the entire congregation can suffer or enjoy without effect upon the mass, is equally true if hard to realize. Once realized by the generality of mankind it seems conceivable that the flame of a genuine fraternity would illuminate the darker mysteries of life and labor, of good and evil, among us, as if from the refulgence of that shining city, not built with hands, of which the prophets tell.
By the Hon CARROLL D. WRIGHT,
DEPARTMENT OF LABOUR
GOTTFKIED ACHENWALL, who was born in 1719 and died in 1772, and was a professor of philosophy at Gottingen in 1750, is reported to have originated the modern statistical method. Undoubtedly others used it before Professor Achenwall, but it is as well to attribute the first specific use of the method in the modern sense to him as to any other.
The word 'statistics' is from the French 'statistique,' from the Greek 'statos,' meaning fixed or settled, from the stem 'sta,' to stand. Hence statistics means, a method by which fixed or settled conditions can be determined. According to definition, statistics is first a collection of facts relating to a part or the whole of a country or people, or of facts relating to a class of individuals or interests and different countries, especially those facts which illustrate physical, social, moral, intellectual, political, industrial and economic condition or changes of condition, and which admit of numerical statement and arrangement in tabular or graphic form. Second, it is that department of political science which classifies, arranges and discusses statistical data.
As we understand it, one of the most essential primary objects of statistics is to secure a simple, concrete statement of a mass of facts the essence of which could not otherwise be expressed except by means of long and tedious descriptive language, and even by the use of such language no concrete and clearly-defined conclusion could be reached. There is no method of expressing certain things except through the statistical method. This is true when we understand that statistics belongs to the historical or comparative method of study. The German historian, Schlosser, said that history is statistics ever advancing, and statistics is stationary history. Looking beneath the words of Schlosser, one must conclude that he meant that the constant accumulation of statistical data from period to period or from epoch to epoch—that is, statistics ever in motion—creates history, history being made up of the ever-advancing events of life which are shown through statistical methods, but that statistics of one epoch constitutes the permanent history thereof.
So the statistician, in the truest historical and comparative sense, writes history, but he writes it in the most crystallized form which can be adopted. He uses symbols, but with them he unlocks the facts of his own period so that they may be made plain to all students coming after him. He tells the story of our present state in such a way that when the age we live in becomes the past that story shall be found to exist in true and just proportions. The word 'statistics,' illustrating fixed and settled conditions, indicates the soundness of the German writer's thought and the true spirit in which the statistician should work.
The use of the statistical method in a scientific way is practically modern. In ancient times there were counts of the people, but no scientific use of the results that would warrant the application of the name statistics. These 'counts' were largely to ascertain military strength and divisions of geographical sections. David, you will remember, undertook to number the people. This effort on his part caused him a great deal of difficulty, and, so far as the history of the world is concerned, every man since David's time who has undertaken to number the people has met more or less opposition and had more or less trouble. All through history we read of counts or, as we say now, enumerations, but they were crude in the extreme and cannot be considered as statistical efforts.
Under our modern systems there are three kinds of statistics—I mean by 'kinds' methods which involve different systems to secure results. These are, first, statistics secured by the continuous record of official acts, as, for instance, the returns from the custom houses; those returns relating to imports and exports, immigration and other affairs are the results of a continuous record of events and are reported to a central office, tabulated and classified. School statistics, the returns of births, deaths and marriages—these come under this classification. They belong more clearly to the domain of bookkeeping, although statistical genius is essential in the classification and analysis of the entries.
The second class of statistics are those secured by actual enumeration, like census statistics, where aggregates are essential to the integrity of results. We must know the number of all the people, the total value of products and of capital, the aggregate wages paid in manufactures, and various other data where there would be little or no value unless all are included in the results. This class of statistics demands higher statistical qualifications, both in preparing for the enumeration and in the tabulation, classification and analysis of the results.
The third kind of statistics are those secured through a special investigation of certain representative facts. For instance if it is desired to learn the cost of producing iron and steel, it is not necessary, as in the previous case, to secure data for all the establishments engaged in such production. A few representative works offer ample information for determining cost of production. So, in endeavoring to ascertain the course of wages and prices, it is not essential to secure aggregates or data relating to all prices or to the wages paid to all the people employed.
The practical work of official statistical offices is divided into three parts also—first, the collection of data, which involves the preparation of schedules and instructions; second, the tabulation and the presentation of the results obtained, and, third, the analysis. No statistical table should ever be used without consulting carefully all textual treatment thereof, the accompanying notes and the analysis.
Facts may be presented in two ways—in tables, comparative and otherwise, and by the graphical method. The latter is popular and very effective in displaying proportions. The difficulty with it is that one cannot in a speech or in an article quote the diagrams, but it has a very important place in scientific statistics. The graphical method is carried to an absurd degree at times, but it nevertheless offers to a certain class of minds the very best method of determining results. In the final reflections upon statistics, however, one is drawn to the figures themselves.
With these preliminary statements, the general subject for discussion to-night brings us to the question: Is statistics a science or a method? It is not a matter of much consequence whether statistics constitutes a science or is simply a method. English writers on statistics generally consider it a method; continental writers, a science. American students often lean to the continental view. It is true that statistical research can be called a scientific method of determining facts and for studying various phenomena from which laws relating to life, production, distribution, consumption, etc., etc., can be drawn; and the method must be considered scientific, because by it the facts can be clearly stated, classified and analyzed, elements which make science in every department.
We speak of the science of botany, for one reason because all the facts relating to botany can be classified, and so, as to other departments of human knowledge, classification or the lack of it may determine the scientific character of the knowledge. Science demands a classification of facts so rigid that all men will consent to its use and to the conclusions to which it may point.
Notwithstanding statistics is a science or a scientific method, its. use is often empirical, deceptive, illusory and dishonest, and because of these things the method itself is often condemned. No one thinks, however, of condemning anæsthetics because the burglar chloroforms his victim, or the elementary features of arithmetic, the means by which all honest accounts are kept, simply because dishonest accounts are made possible by the same means. So many instances of the lying use of honest statistics meet one's observation that it is not remarkable that many make surprising denunciation of statistics and the assertion that anything can be proved by it is made to belittle the importance and value of the method.
It is true that one so disposed can, by dropping an essential element of a table, show the exact reverse of the truth, just as the foolish man said he could prove by the Bible itself there was no God, referring to the statement 'there is no God,' leaving out part of the whole statement, which is 'The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God.' So writers and speakers who have a particular economic theory to sustain will drop out of the statistical presentation of the facts the elements which work against them, using the others as the whole truth. This is seen very often in political speeches. The attempt to make comparison between the percentage of growth of population and the percentage of growth in the expenditures of the Federal Government, using no facts relative to the great increase in mechanical production and of wealth, is a vicious use of statistical data. Such showings are the results of the work of the statistical mechanic, the man who constructs statistical tables to order.
Statistics really take the place of observation. The latter is not trustworthy. Enumerations, counts, or records of continuous events are essential to establish accurate knowledge. But statistical science in this direction differs from the exact sciences. A few experiments may establish the fact that water freezes at a certain point or that the intermingling of two chemical agents will produce certain results, and the conclusion is that the same results will always be secured when the same elements are brought in contact; but the phenomena of life conditions and productions may not so easily be ascertained. Statistical work is full of fallacious details. Fallacies are found in the ordinary practice of striking averages. These things add to the disturbing influences resulting from any great enumeration, to perplexing differences among international trade accounts and to miscalculation by individual inquirers.
M. Quetelet, who was the first to use statistics in moral directions, explained the principles which ought to guide us in the matter of averages. He pointed out that an average may indicate two different things. For instance, one measures Nelson's monument ten times, and always with a slightly different result, and then adds the measurements together and divides the same by ten, the quotient, it is alleged, being an average or mean. So one may accurately measure the Duke of York's Pillar, the Parisian Obelisk and the Column Vendome, add the measurements together, divide the sum by three, and declare the quotient to be the average or mean height of those monuments. Quetelet contended, and very properly, that the results in the two instances are of such different significance as to require two separate names. He would limit the average or mean to cases represented by the first illustration—repeated measurements of one monument—and he would apply the term 'arithmetical mean to cases represented by the second illustration—the measurement of several monuments. The repeated measurings of one monument result in a mean approximation to something actually existing, and this is an excellent definition of an average. Tbe measurings and calculations having reference to a number of monuments result in no knowledge of anything existing; they simply and only indicate a relation among things actually existing.
This difficulty often appears in reporting average wages. Take, for instance, a works employing 20 men at $1 per day, 40 men at $2 per day, and 60 men at $3 per day. The ordinary bookkeeper in a counting room would add these rates together—$1, $2 and $3—making a total of $6 as the result of the different rates. He would divide 6 by 3, the number of rates, and declare that the average wages in his works was $2 per day. This is an arithmetical mean. The true average is to be obtained by a more elaborate calculation. Twenty men at $1 earn $20, 40 men at $2 earn $80 and 60 men at $3 earn $180 per day. Thus, 120 men earn $280 per day. Dividing $280 by 120, we have the true average, which is $2.33 instead of $2, the arithmetical mean. So also there are many fallacious calculations drawn from the use of percentages.
Some amusing incidents happen from this method. A writer recently declared that 300 per cent, of the Turks in the city of Washington were criminals. On investigation it appeared that there was one Turk in the city, and he had been convicted three times. So of the young student who took for his thesis the assertion that women in coeducational colleges more frequently married during their college course than men in the same institution. He found a college in which there were 100 men and 2 women. One of the men married one of the women. Hence he sustained his conclusion that 1 per cent, of the men married, while 50 per cent, of the women married. Thorold Rogers' work 'Six Centuries of Work and Wages' contains several instances of this pernicious use of percentages. So, also, many are constantly using the unscientific conclusions drawn from concomitants—because one thing exists another logically exists contemporaneously.
These illustrations show the necessity of making statistics, the statistical method, thoroughly scientific in all directions, but this scientific conception of statistics does not warrant statisticians in using algebraic formula or in resorting to the calculus to secure results. The results under such methods rarely vary from those secured by the simple common-sense method of statistics; on the other hand, they disturb the reader and the common mind cannot understand them. All statistics should be simple, straightforward and clear, and any confusing element which disturbs this clearness is detrimental to the real purpose of the statistical method. While there are very many illustrations going to show the misuse of the method, nevertheless all right-minded men understand that, in economic questions especially, the comparative and historical method of study is the correct one, and the concrete, historical and comparative method is best carried on through the scientific use of statistics.
By ROLAND P. FALKNER,
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS.
THE problem of definitions is a perplexing one, and some of the most distinguished writers on political economy make no attempt to introduce their treatment by a definition. Marshall, for instance, tells us 'Political economy is a study of man's actions in the ordinary business of life; it inquires how he gets his income and how he uses it.' A definition is, at the best, but a guide-post whose accuracy cannot be tested until the path has been tried. Its principal service is as a preliminary line of demarkation in comparison with other things supposed to be more familiar than the field to be entered upon. One definition which has become commonplace is that political economy is the science of wealth, and if we abstain from any discussion of what constitutes a science and what constitutes wealth, it may be deemed measurably satisfactory.
After all, the phraseology of a definition is far less important than the matter which follows it, and while economists, in common with the devotees of other studies, have not been lacking in verbal controversies as to the definition of their subject, the subject matter of their discussions, apart from mere questions of emphasis, has been in the main identical. The question of definition resolves itself, therefore, into an inquiry as to the scope of political economy and the methods which it pursues.
The division between the various fields of human knowledge is largely a matter of convenience, a sort of intellectual division of labor. This is particularly the case with those subjects which deal with the various aspects of human relation's, especially political science, political economy and sociology. Human activities are so interlaced that it is comparatively easy, from whatever standpoint we begin their investigation, to extend the field of inquiry so as to embrace them all. There has been therefore, respecting these three subjects, much unprofitable controversy as to which should be deemed the dominant or master science and to which priority should be given. If, however, the study of each of these aspects of human society calls for peculiar aptitudes on the part of the investigator, it would seem that the best results should be obtained when each laborer cultivated his own patch without indulging in border controversies with his neighbors.
Political economy, the science of wealth, deals with man's relation to nature in the satisfaction of his material wants. Since nature does not shower its bounties abundantly, man's wants cannot be satisfied without human effort. Economics seeks to discover the general rules which govern man in this effort. Certain of the conditions of this activity are axiomatic and fundamental, while others are dependent upon time, place and circumstance.
Primary conditions are nature's limits and man's wants, and both have hitherto been accepted without inquiry. Of late years, however, economists have sought to measure man's wants, to determine their direction and intensity, and to thus ascertain their effects as molding forces in the economic activities which result from them. This has given us an analysis of demand which has been useful in pointing out the subjective elements in our economic activities, though it has led its adherents to trench closely upon the domain of psychology and has exposed them to the criticism that they have been digging in other men's gardens with inefficient instruments. The results of this analysis have been extremely interesting, and despite the protest of the psychologists, promise a restatement of economic theory based upon a more exact formulation of the laws of demand. Yet it can hardly be said that these views and the treatment which follows from them have become commonplaces of economic reasoning, and as it is the general consensus of opinion with which we are concerned, we may pass them over.
It was not until the economic processes became somewhat differentiated that the necessity for an explanation of them was felt. When men awoke to the idea that the affairs of every-day life were subject to rules and order, they observed that the processes involved were by no means simple. They saw men cooperating in the production of goods, the fruits of this cooperation divided among the participants, the products themselves change hands from one person to another before they were used directly for the satisfaction of desire. In other words, they saw the economic sequence of production, exchange, distribution and consumption, and it became the object of political economy to discover the conditions and rules under which these phenomena were enacted in the daily affairs of men. As parts of one sequence they had relations one to another in which were enmeshed the relations of the human beings who conducted them. Upon what principle do the latter act?
Observation that to most men labor is irksome led to the axiom that in all economic activity men sought the maximum result with the minimum effort. This homely psychological generalization is as fundamental to the interpretation of economic phenomena as the equally homely physical generalization that nature's wants, with reference to man's desires, are limited. It has appeared in various guises, of which perhaps the most obnoxious is the concept of the economic man, who in all his doings follows the precepts of an enlightened self-interest—a being unknown to actual observation, who has merited the scorn which has been heaped upon him. Man in his economic dealings follows his self-interest according to the measure of his enlightment, but it cannot be denied that very frequently the light which is in him is darkness. The economic man is an ideal towards which, solely in their economic dealings and without reference to other activities, the men of every-day life strive. No adequate explanation of the affairs of life can be made on any other assumption than that men follow their rational interests so far as they perceive them and that foremost among them is the desire to obtain the largest result with the least expenditure of effort.
Thus understood, the economic man is the key by which the economist seeks to interpret the affairs of every-day life. It is simply the key, and not the subject matter to be interpreted. This the economist finds around him, varying at different stages of the world's progress with the growth of knowledge, the order of society and the diffusion of wealth.
These elementary considerations of the scope of political economy have briefly indicated the nature of its method. With a few simple generalizations it seeks to interpret the composite phenomena which it observes. Observation, therefore, and deduction are inextricably combined in it. If the concrete basis upon which it rests is forgotten and observation is thrown into the background, the result is a strongly deductive analysis which applies a few simple conditions to the successive phenomena of the economic sequence to be interpreted. This is the characteristic of the classical or orthodox school of political economy, against which in recent times there has been a strong reaction to bring to honor again the factor of observation. It insists that this observation shall not be preliminary only, but that each successive phenomenon shall be tested by it. Price, for instance, is not an abstraction, but a concrete thing, which must be studied before we can have any proper theory of price, and so with all the phenomena of every-day life. The principle of observation applied to the past is the principle of historical research, and as a knowledge of the past is the best key to the understanding of the present, so those who hold this view have engaged in considerable historical researches which have given to their tendencies the name of the historical school. These economists have performed a notable service in pointing out the relativity of economic laws. They have dispelled the notion that the principles of political economy were fixed and immutable and that their activity was necessary to quicken the germ of development which was hidden in the older and more deductive economics. But it will be recognized that they introduce no new principles of investigation nor any to which, had they then been formulated, the great writers of earlier days could not have subscribed. They have enriched political economy by showing us that the phenomena to be interpreted are far richer and more complex than they appeared to the older economists, but they have not dispensed with the necessity of interpretation, for that is the life blood of the science.
By Professor E. A. PACE,
CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY OF AMERICA.
TO define a priori the nature and scope of a science is always difficult; and it is especially difficult during periods of transition. Speculation as to what psychology ought to be is of course interesting and important; but its value depends largely upon the frank recognition of what psychology actually is, or perhaps what the psychologies actually are. Even the statement that psychology is the 'science of mental processes,' owes much to its elasticity; for the psychologists who accept it differ as to the meaning of the terms 'mental' and 'process.' They differ more widely as to the worth of particular methods and hypotheses: and they are by no means unanimous regarding generalizations and laws.
This situation is due in part to the fact that psychology, on taking its place in the midst of the empirical sciences, found that these, by their rapid accumulation of data, had both lightened and increased its task. If the way was open to the solution of older problems, it was also beset by new problems which belonged, on one side at least, to physiology and physics. How the methods and results of these sciences could be turned to profit, without any sacrifice of its own method or autonomy, was, for psychology, not easy to determine. Fortunately, with some friendly discussion regarding metes and bounds, psychology has not only held its own, but has also rendered service to its neighbors.
It has not abandoned its traditional method. For the analysis of the various states, processes, tendencies and activities which appear in the individual consciousness, introspection cannot be dispensed with. If it is supplemented, as we nowadays say, by other methods, this implies not that self-observation of a keener sort is our prerogative, but rather that, with clearer knowledge of the conditions upon which our mental life depends, we are enabled to study each process both in itself and in its manifold relations. Comparison is thus a conspicuous and even an essential feature of modern psychological methods.
Psycho-physical research, as the name indicates, seeks to determine the relations between mental processes and physical processes. Whether this determination and its quantitative results should be called measurement, is still a subject for discussion. But there can no longer be any question as to the value for psychology of experimental methods. With the aid of these it is now possible to compare accurately changes in sensation and variations in the quality and intensity of external stimuli, to observe closely the organic modifications which accompany emotion, and to fix, within reasonable limits, the time-rate of the most complex processes. In a general way, of course, it has always been known that there was some sort of connection between the psychical and the physical; what modern psychology accomplishes is the more detailed and more exact investigation of that connection. Similarly with the phenomena of association, memory, attention, inhibition and fatigue; their importance has long been recognized, but their thorough analysis is the outcome of experimental work.
A complete solution of the problems that are offered in this portion of the field would leave on our hands the larger problem as to the development of consciousness. That mind is a growth, that its behavior in any given moment is affected by its behavior in all the past moments, all psychologists admit. But there is much to be learned regarding the successive phases of this growth. By what steps does the mind advance from the earliest impressions of childhood to the complex activities of adult life? What share in the process shall be assigned respectively to heredity, to the influence of environment, to the mind's own reaction by impulse, imitation and the growing consciousness of ends to be attained? The answer to such questions involves obviously a comparison between later forms of mental life and its simpler beginnings which may lead us far into the province of biology. Certainly no theory of evolution can afford to disregard the mental factors any more than psychology can overlook the results established by biological research.
This becomes more evident in view of the fact that both mental and bodily life may and too often does vary from the course of normal development. Those modifications which, either suddenly or gradually, reduce the mind to chaos, have in the past been studied chiefly on their practical side. They possess none the less an interest for psychology. By contrast at least they throw light on the normal activities of mind.
It should be noted, however, that in mental pathology as in psychophysics and in the study of normal development, comparison is simply a means of getting new information concerning those processes which appear in the normal individual consciousness. To render this information available and to coordinate the multitude of facts which it contains or suggests, some sort of theory is necessary; and there is no lack of theorizing in modern psychology.
Owing, perhaps, to the predominance of comparative methods, the theory of psycho-physical parallelism is just now in vogue. It is agreed, in general, that mental processes and physical processes take place simultaneously, and to this extent the one series may be said to parallel the other. But beyond this, discussion is rife and the end is not yet. If, on the more orthodox view, it is claimed that the two series are merely parallel, i.e., without any causal nexus, it is urged on the other hand, especially in these latter times, that there must be interaction, mind producing effects in the organism and vice versa. While, again, it is maintained that the conscious processes have causal relations of their own—a specific psychical causality; it is also asserted that the causal relation exists for the physical processes only, and that mind gets its connectedness as an accompaniment of the bodily series.
The final adjustment of these claims may depend, in a measure, upon the eventual acceptance or rejection of the hypothesis, now favorably regarded, that every conscious state has for its organic basis the passage from centripetal effects in the brain to centrifugal effects, and consequently has its efferent or motor phase as well as its afferent or sensory phase. This hypothesis, however, leaves untouched the inquiry as to the precise way in which mind acts on body and body on mind. The latter problem, in fact, is essentially metaphysical. It points at once to the remoter region in which epistemology and criticism hold sway.
More than any other science, psychology finds itself obliged to canvass its results in the light of philosophy. Of late the statement has been made quite frankly that the way to psychology has its starting-point in philosophy. Be this as it may, psychology is, for the time being, at the stage of self-examination, taking an account of its titles to existence as a science. Not that it doubts of its proper object; the whole range of experience and of scientific thought is before it. But the question is—how can this object be laid hold of? The spontaneous, unreflecting attitude of mind is confessedly beyond the reach of investigation. And if by reflection we endeavor to describe and to explain the mental life, do we not construct for our own purposes an object which is more or less artificial?
This criticism implies no skeptical tendency. It surely will not deter psychologists from their work of investigating the more subtle elementary processes of mind, its unfolding in the individual and its relations to the complex activities of its environment.
By LESTER F. WARD,
U. S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY.
SO far as the definition of sociology is concerned, it is simply the science of society, or the science of social phenomena. All the more specific definitions that have been proposed have created more confusion than they have cleared up. What is needed in sociology is not definitions, but a clear presentation of the scientific principles underlying it. There is one such principle, failure to recognize which causes most of the difficulty in endeavoring to establish the science. This principle, however, is one that also applies to psychology, biology, and all the other sciences classed as 'complex'—to the biological sciences and the moral sciences. This principle may be formulated as follows:
In the complex sciences the quality of exactness is only perceptible in their higher generalizations.
Or, since exactness, i. e., uniformity, invariableness, reliability, etc., is what constitutes scientific law, the same truth may be simplified and reduced to the following form:
Scientific laws increase in generality as the sciences to which they, apply increase in complexity.
In sociology, therefore, which is the most complex of the sciences, the laws must be the most highly generalized. I shall not attempt to do more here than bring forward a few illustrations of the above propositions. It is clear that the method of sociology is essentially that of generalization, i. e., of grouping phenomena and using the groups as units. Nature works by this method, for example, in chemistry, where it is believed that the higher compounds have as their units compounds of lower orders.
Social phenomena are obtrusive, ever-present, multitudinous. Their very proximity is a bar to their full comprehension. This I have called 'the illusion of the near,' and likened it to trying to see a city or a forest while in its midst. The near is indefinite and unsymmetrical. It presents a multitude of dissimilar, heterogeneous objects. They appear to be without order. To see order in them they must be seen from a distance. Beauty is almost a synonym of order. A landscape is beautiful because distance has reduced its chaos of details into order. A mountain seen at a distance is a symmetrical object of rare beauty, but when one is climbing it the rocks and crags, the ridges and gulches, the trees and prostrate logs, the brush and briars, constitute a disordered mass to which the term beauty does not apply. It is much the same with social phenomena. They must be seen, as it were, at long range, which brings groups of facts into relief and shows their relations.
What Dr. Edward B. Tylor has called 'ethnographic parallels,' viz., the occurrence of the same or similar customs, practices, ceremonies, arts, beliefs, and even games, symbols and patterns, in peoples of nearly the same culture at widely separated regions of the globe, proves, except in a few cases of known derivation through migration, that there is a uniform law in the psychic and social development of mankind at all times and under all circumstances working the same results. The details will vary with the climate and physical conditions, but if we continue to rise in the process of generalization we shall ultimately reach a plane on which all mankind are alike.
Even in civilized races there are certain things absolutely common to all. The great primary wants are everywhere the same, and they are supplied in substantially the same way the world over. Forms of government seem greatly to differ, but all governments aim to attain the same end. Political parties are bitterly opposed, but there is much more on which all agree than on which they differ. Creeds, cults and sects multiply and seem to present the utmost heterogeneity, but there is a common basis even of belief, and on certain occasions all may and sometimes do unite in a common cause.
Not only are the common wants of men the same, but their passions are also the same, and those acts growing out of them which are regarded as destructive of the social order and are condemned by law and public opinion, are committed in the face of these restraining influences with astonishing regularity. This is not seen by the ordinary observer, and every crime or breach of order is commonly looked upon as exceptional. But when accurate statistics are brought to bear upon this class of social phenomena they prove to be quite as uniform, though not quite so frequent, as the normal operations of life.
The ordinary events of life go unnoticed, but there are certain events that are popularly regarded as extraordinary, notwithstanding the fact that the newspapers every day devote more than half their space to them. One would suppose that people would some time learn that fires, and railroad accidents, and mine disasters, and boiler explosions, and robberies, and defalcations, and murders, and the whole list of events that make up the daily news, were normal social phenomena. Nearly every one of them has occurred nearly every day in nearly every country in the world during the lives of us all and those of our fathers and grandfathers. But this enormous mass of evidence has no effect whatever in dispelling the popular illusion that such events are extraordinary. There is nothing new in 'news' except a difference in the names. The events are always the same. All this applies equally to those larger events that make up the bulk of what is popularly understood as human history. Viewed from the stand-point of sociology, history contains nothing new. It is the continual repetition of the same thing under different names. This is what is meant by generalization. We have only to carry it far enough in order to arrive at unity. Society is a domain of law and sociology is an abstract science in the sense that it does not attend to details except as aids in arriving at the law that underlies them all.
We may call this the sociological perspective. It is the discovery of law in history, whether it be the history of the past or the present, and including under history social as well as political phenomena. There is nothing very new in this. It is really the oldest of all sociological conceptions. The earliest gropings after a social science consisted in a recognition of law in human affairs. The so-called precursors of sociology have been those who have perceived more or less distinctly a method or order in human events. All who have done this, however dimly, have been set down as the heralds of the new science. Such adumbrations of the idea of law in society were frequent in antiquity. They are to be found in the sayings of Socrates and the writings of Aristotle. Lucretius sparkles with them. In medieval times they were more rare, and we scarcely find them in St. Augustine, but Ibn Khaldoun, a Sarracen of Tunis, in the fourteenth century gave clear expression to this conception. His work, however, was lost sight of until recently, and Vico, who wrote at the close of the seventeenth century and beginning of the eighteenth, was long regarded as the true forerunner of Montesquieu. Still, there were many others both before and after Vico, and passages have been found reflecting this general truth in the writings of Machiavelli, Bruno, Campanella, Bacon, Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Adam Smith, Ferguson, Fontenelle, Buffon, Turgot, Condorcet, Leibnitz, Kant, Oken, etc.
The theologically inclined, when this truth was brought home to them, characterized it by the phrase 'God in history,' and saw in the order of events the divine hand guiding the acts of men toward some predestined goal. This is perhaps the most common view to-day outside of science. But science deals with phenomena. Sociology therefore can only become a science when human events are recognized as phenomena. When we say that they are due to the actions of men, there lurks in the word 'actions' the ghost of the old doctrine of free will, which, in its primitive form, asserts that any one may either perform a given action or not according as he may will. From this point of view it is not supposed that any event in human history need have occurred. If the men whose actions caused it had willed otherwise it would not have occurred.
The scientific view of history is that human events are phenomena of the same general character as other natural phenomena, only more complex and difficult to study on account of the subtle psychic causes that so largely produce them. It has been seen more or less clearly by the men I have named and by many others that there must be causes, and the philosophy of history that gradually emerged from the chaos of existing history was simply an attempt to ascertain some of these causes and to show how they produced the effects. To those who make the philosophy of history coextensive with sociology this is all that sociology implies. Certainly it was the first and most essential step in the direction of establishing a science of society. The tendency at first was strong to discover in the environment the chief cause of social variation, and some authors sought to expand the term climate to include all this. This doctrine was of course carried too far, as shown by the saying that 'mountains make freemen while lowlands make slaves,' It was found that this was only half of the truth, that it took account only of the objective environment, while an equally potent factor is the subjective environment: cælum non animum mutant qui trans mare currunt. Character, however acquired, is difficult to change and must be reckoned with in any attempt to interpret human events. Thus expanded, the study of society from this point of view becomes a true science, and recently it has been given the appropriate name of mesology. The great influence of climate and physical conditions must be fully recognized. It reaches back into the domain of ethnology and physiology and doubtless explains the color of the skin, the character of the hair, and the general physical nature of the different races of men. The psychic effects of the environment are scarcely less important, and the qualities of courage, love of liberty, industry and thrift, ingenuity and intelligence, are all developed by contact with restraining influences adapted to stimulating them and not so severe as to check their growth.
The social effects are still more marked. We first see them in the phenomena of migration and settlement and the ways in which men adapt themselves to the conditions, resources and general character of the region they may chance to occupy. The question asked by the traditional boy in the geography class, why the large rivers all run past the great cities, illustrates how clearly everybody sees natural law at work in society. It is the laws of society that determine the direction in which population moves. For example, in peoples at all advanced the head of navigation of rivers is usually the site of the principal towns. A short time ago, when water was more used than now as a power, there was usually combined with the advantages offered by the head of navigation (vessels being then smaller than now), the additional advantage of the fall in the stream, which is almost always greatest at the point where the piedmont plateau joins the coastal plain. As streams only reach their base level after emerging upon the coastal plain, this sudden fall almost always occurs a short distance above the head of navigation. As this is true of all the streams that drain a continent, a line may be drawn through this point on all the rivers and it will be approximately parallel to the coast. Such a line is called the 'fall line,' and it is a law of population that the first settlements of any country take place along the fall line of its rivers.
There are many laws that can be similarly illustrated, and careful observation reveals the fact that all social phenomena are the results of its laws. The one example given must suffice in the present case. But these social, or sociological, laws may themselves be grouped and generalized, and higher laws discovered. If we carry the process far enough we arrive at last at the fundamental law of everything psychic, especially of everything affected by intelligence. This is the law of parsimony. It has, as we shall see, its applications in biology, and its homologue in cosmology, but it was first clearly grasped by the political economists, and by many it is regarded as only an economic law. Here it is usually called the law of greatest gain for least effort, and is the basis of scientific economics. But it is much broader than this, and not only plays an important rôle in psychology, but becomes, in that collective psychology which constitutes so nearly the whole of sociology, the scientific corner stone of that science also.
We have seen that the quality of scientific exactness in sociology can only be clearly perceived in some of its higher generalizations, where, neglecting the smaller unities which make its phenomena so exceedingly complex, and dealing only with the large composite unities that the minor ones combine to create, we are able to handle the subject, as it were, in bulk. Here we can plainly see the relations and can be sure of their absolute uniformity and reliability. When we reach the law of parsimony we seem to have attained the maximum stage of generalization, and here we have a law as exact as any in physics or astronomy. It is, for example, perfectly safe to assume that under any and all conceivable circumstances, a sentient and rational being will always seek the greatest gain, or the maximum resultant of gain—his 'marginal' advantage.
Those who affect to be shocked by such a proposition fail to understand it in its full breadth. They think that they themselves at least are exceptions to the law, and that they do not always seek their greatest gain, and they give illustrations of actions performed that result in a loss instead of a gain. This is because they understand by gain only pecuniary gain, or only gain in temporary enjoyment or immediate satisfaction. If they could analyze their feelings they would see that they were merely sacrificing a present to a future advantage, or what they regard as a lower to what they regard as a higher satisfaction. When Henry Clay said (if he did say it) that 'every man has his price,' he may have merely stated this law in a new form. If we make the important qualification that the 'price' is not necessarily a money price, we may see that the statement contains a truth. Even in the lobby, which he probably had in mind, it is well known that downright bribery is very rarely resorted to. It is among the least effective of the lobbyist's methods. There are other far more successful as well as less expensive ways of gaining a legislator's vote. Passes on railroads and other favors of that kind are much more common, but even these are relatively coarse and transparent, and the great vested interests of a country know how to accomplish their ends by much more subtle means. It is only necessary to put those whom they desire to influence under some form of obligation, and this is usually easy of accomplishment. Among the most effective means to this end are social amenities and the establishment in apparently the most disinterested ways of a friendly entente, which appeals to the sense of honor and makes any man ashamed to act contrary to the known wishes of a friend. Under such imperative influences as these constituencies are easily forgotten.
But this is by no means the whole meaning of the law. It deals solely with motives, and worthy motives are as effective as unworthy ones. It is based, it is true, on interest, but interest is not always bad. It is much more frequently good. It was necessarily good, at least for the individual, in the beginning, since it had the mission to impel life- and race-preserving activities. Interest may be perverted, but this is the exception. Men feel an interest in doing good, and moral interest is as real as any other. Ratzenhofer shows that men have been profoundly moved by what he calls 'transcendental interests,' which he defines as a reaching out after the infinite, and to this he attributes the great religious movements of society. If therefore we take into account all these different kinds of interest, physical, racial, moral, social and transcendental, it becomes clear that all action is based on supposed gain of one or other of these orders.
Still, the world has never reached a stage where the physical and temporary interests have not been paramount, and it is these upon which the economists have established their science. Self-preservation has always been the first law of nature, and that which best insures this is the greatest gain. So unerring is this law that it is easy to create a class of paupers or mendicants by simply letting it be known that food or alms will be given to those who ask. All considerations of pride or self-respect will give way to the imperious law of the greatest gain for the least effort. All ideas of justice which would prompt the giving of an equivalent vanish before it, and men will take what is proffered without thought of a return or sense of gratitude. In this respect men are like animals. In fact, this is precisely the principle that underlies the domestication of animals and the taming of wild beasts. So soon as the creature learns that it will not be injured or molested and that its wants will be supplied, it submits to the will of man and becomes a—parasite. Parasitism, indeed, throughout the organic world is only an application of the law of parsimony. Pauperism produced in the manner described is social parasitism. But parasitism always results in degeneracy, and pauperism, engendered in society by well-meaning persons ignorant of the law of parsimony, is social parasitic degeneracy.
While, therefore, in view of the number and variety of causes that combine to determine any single act, no law can be laid down as to how any individual will act under a given set of circumstances, we have a law which determines with absolute certainty how all men act under all circumstances. If there is any apparent exception to this law we may be sure that some element has been overlooked in the calculation. Just as, in the case of a heavenly body which is observed to move in a manner at variance with the established laws of gravitation and planetary motion, the astronomer does not doubt the universality of those laws, but attributes the phenomena to some undiscovered body in space of the proper size and in the proper position to cause the perturbation, and proceeds to search for that body; so in human society, if there are events that seem at variance with the fundamental sociological law of parsimony, the sociologist may safely trust the law and proceed to discover the cause of the social perturbation.
- Discussion before the Philosophical Society of Washington, March 15, 1902.