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The Method Of Science And Its Application To Metaphysics


64. HAVING agreed that Metaphysics, or the science of the highest generalities, is possible, we may now inquire whether it should be detached from the sciences which severally furnish those generalities, and be erected into a separate Discipline (to use the German term), just as there is a separate Discipline of Logic formed out of the several logics ; or whether, in conformity with Comte's classification, Metaphysics should not be thus detached, but distributed among the sciences from which its data are drawn.

Mr. Mill has objected to Comte's scheme, in relation to Logic, that while furnishing an organon of Discovery it omits the organon of Proof, so that the ancient Discipline finds no place assigned to it. The answer to this objection is, that in point of fact the organon of Discovery includes the organon of Proof ; to discover a process is to prove it ; and the several sciences furnish their own methods of Proof. But it may still be urged that Comte's scheme does not exhibit the extraction of these methods and their systematization in a special Discipline. He seems to have had some misgiving on this point when, in his latest work, he proposed to identify Logic (in its restricted sense) with Mathematics ; although by Logic in its widest sense he meant all intellectual construction. In the former sense, he identifies it with the Calculus, Geometry, and Mechanics, because the sole existence which is common to all appreciable beings is reducible to the three attributes, — number, extension, and movement.

65. Let us, pause a moment to consider the very different meanings assigned to the word Logic. It commonly stands for: 1°, the art of reasoning ; 2°, the theory of reasoning ; 3°, Reasoning itself ; 4°, the laws of mental operation, irrespective of the symbols operated on (Formal Logic) 5°, the rules of Proof.

The first of these I hold to be absurd. There is no more an art of Reasoning then there is an art of Breathing or Digesting. But so little is this understood that even thoughtful writers will be found declaring that we must learn how to reason, as we learn how to fence or to swim. In consequence of this misconception, certain studies, notably Mathematics, are popularly believed "to strengthen the Faculty," to develop the logical powers, to "invigorate the Judgment." The psychological notions which lie at the basis of such declarations are sadly defective.

The second and third meanings of the word are objectionable because restricting Logic to the process of Ratiocination when the ratios are abstract. This restriction is got rid of in the fourth and fifth meanings, which may be accepted as comprehensive. The fourth designates the universal Logic, it includes all Laws of Grouping means to bind together, to group), and is therefore applicable to Feeling and Thought (in the subjective world), and to Cause (in the objective world).

The fifth has the technical and restricted meaning of a Codification, of the rules of Proof In this last sense only can Logic be a separate Discipline. It may be likened to the science of Grammar apart from Language. Thus the speech of men of various nations embodies and exhibits certain general rules, or tendencies, according to which words are grouped. These tendencies grammarians detach and treat separately as Laws of Speech, Rules of Grammar. Logicians may in like manner detach certain general procedures of the investigating intellect, and treat them apart as the Rules of Rational Inquiry.

66. Having fixed on the meaning Logic may bear when employed for a special Discipline, namely, the Codification of the rules of Proof, we may complete it by assigning to Metaphysics the parallel position of a Codification of the laws of Cause. It will thus occupy very much the place assigned to it by Hegel, namely, that of Objective Logic. The Object and the Subject world have one general Logic, separately viewed as the Logic of Intelligence, and the Logic of the Cosmos. In the Cosmos, viewed objectively, things influence each other and events succeed each other according to invariant tendencies, or laws When these phenomena are reproduced in Consciousness they are also reproduced according to invariant tendencies ; and thus it is that a law of Cause becomes a rule of Proof. Logic in its widest sense is Grouping. The laws of Grouping are the general tendencies of Things and the general tendencies of Thought. The common separation of Thought from the Things thought of is an artifice ; but it is one so deeply inwoven with our philosophy and practice that the mind, untutored in such re-searches, is astonished and distressed at the statement of the identity between Thing and Thought, Object and Subject. With what qualifications this statement has to be received we shall hereafter discuss. Here I am only concerned to define the position of Metaphysics as Objective Logic,— the Codification of the most abstract laws of Cause. The subjective Logic takes no account of the special instruments and processes by which each science reaches Proof, it is occupied solely with the codification of the processes. In like manner the objective Logic disregards special details in the processes of Causation, solely occupied with codifying the most abstract results. Subjective Logic rejects whatever lies beyond the range of Verification, and thus demarcates Reality from Possibility, Fact from Fiction. Objective Logic rejects what-ever lies beyond that world of sensibles and extra-sensibles which can come within the range of Experience, and thus demarcates Metaphysics from Metempirics.

67. This distinction between the two aspects of Logic represents the distinction between Knowing and Being; and the identity underlying this diversity is also represented. In one we find the laws of Investigation, the abstract conditions to which all knowledge is subject. In the other we find the laws of the Investigated, the abstract conditions to which the Knowable is subject. Only on the assumption of the invariability of relations objective and subjective is Philosophy possible. In the most abstract of the sciences, that of Number, this identity is manifest. No arithmetical operation would be valid were there not this accord between the internal and external; .and the assumption of such an accord runs throughout Science. Indeed, the axioms of Logic and the axioms of Science are the concave and convex aspects of the same curve.*

68. The Positive Philosophy may in one sense be said to absorb Metaphysics, for it claims to be the Codification of the laws of the Cosmos. Nor, except as a matter of special classification, should I have any objection to this, were it not accompanied by the peremptory exclusion of certain questions which can and must be answered. And with respect to the classification there is precisely the same difficulty with Logic. Comte insists that Logic should never be separated from Science : "Car en n'étudiant chaque partie de la méthode inductive qu'avec les doctrines qui l'ont spécialement suscitée, on sent aussitôt que son usage doit être conforme aux notions fondamentales que cette science reçoit de la précédente." * True and valuable as this consideration is, there are nevertheless several considerations which justify the erection of Logic as a special Discipline ; and these equally apply to Metaphysics. There are many speculative advantages in having the highest generalizations of Objective and Subjective existence classed together and apart from the sciences which furnish them. When Logic is seen to embrace both, under its twofold aspect, the ancient barrier between Matter and Mind so long regarded as impassable vanishes, to reappear under the intelligible forms of concave and convex. Idealism is vindicated in all that it has of truth, and Realism is rescued. The Inner and Outer forms of Consciousness, the Subjective and Objective forms of. Existence, are no longer antagonistic, but homogeneous and differentiated.

69. The identity of Fact and Idea, general Law and general Conception, is more readily appreciated in the higher sphere of Reason than in the lower spheres of Perception, because in the higher sphere the Object seems detached from Sense and is transformed into pure Thought. Thus in investigating the processes of Induction and Deduction we abstract these operations from their sensible elements, we let drop all the ministrations of Sense and fix attention solely on the mechanism of Thought ; by a similar abstraction the mathematician detaches Extension from Matter and Motion from Solidity, although perfectly aware that pure Extension and pure Motion are impossible in the concrete. But no one believes that inductive and deductive processes can go on without at every step involving sensible correspondences. So long as we are observing and calculating the changes in objects, our conception of these changes as taking place in the objects, and not in us, is fixed, undisturbed. The objective aspect is the aspect presented to Consciousness. But no sooner do we pass from the observation of the changes to the conception of their Law, than the distinction between Conception and Law begins to fade : we recognize that the Law is not in the facts but in our minds ; if we elicited it from the facts we constructed it anew, and replaced it among the facts. Whether this construction is to be regarded as an objective Law or a subjective Conception depends on our point of view; it is both, or either.

70. This will seem very unacceptable to those, and they are the majority, who imagine that phenomena are ruled by law in a literal sense, and who think that laws exist in the objective world as general facts which determine particular facts. It is thus that, in Pindar's phrase, the very Gods are subject to law, like mortals : —

And if the Gods, of course the fleeting phenomena. And yet we may hear utterances of this kind: " The comets follow no law in their motions through space," — which simply means that no conception has been formed by astronomers of all the determining conditions, and by them placed among the facts observed of the planetary courses.

The purely ideal construction of Law will hereafter be expounded (Prob. I. Chap. VI.) ; suffice it here to say that it throws no uncertainty over the results of investigation. The conception we form of a process in Nature may be no less accurate as a symbolical expression of the reality, than the perception we form of an object in Nature is an accurate sensible expression of the reaction of Consciousness under the stimulus of the object, and of what that reaction will be under all similar conditions. Both conception and perception are logical constructions, and are verifiable by similar tests.

71. If Laws are simply our Conceptions, and these are the Notations of what Experience has revealed to be the Order in which phenomena coexist and succeed each other, it is clear that Idealism demands a basis in Realism, and that our Conceptions to be valid, when regarded objectively as Laws, must be capable of reduction to a sensible origin, each of their constituent elements must be a real experience, and the order of their combination must be real. If we find among the constituents any element not thus reducible to Sense or to Intuition, that element must be set apart and treated as a transcendental. Thus treated, there need be no misgiving as to its part in the construction, nor as to the certainty of the results reached through that construction. The identification of Law with. Conception will by no means warrant the too common procedure of metaphysicians who endeavor to ex-plain the Order in Things, by unfolding an Order in Thought, and propound theories of the Universe which rest mainly on the " clear ideas " whose genesis is not inductively verifiable. It is quite possible to have very clear ideas which are inexact expressions, and very logical arrangements which do not conform to the Order of Experience. Although Science constantly anticipates Observation by a far-reaching Deduction, and reveals hidden facts by simply unfolding the consequences shut up in general conceptions, this is only possible when the general conceptions have been framed from and express actual relations, and thus include what is deductively concluded. Because they are conceptions which were abstracted from realities, they can in turn be applied to all similar realities. Tangents, sines, and cosines are not things found isolated in Nature, but because they are abstractions from realities, they are applicable to Nature. No one observing a curvilinear motion can see in it the double motion in the tangent to the curve and towards the centre of the curve, — no one in watching a beam of light can see the slightest indication of. what the geometer finds there (or places there), viz. that the luminous vibrations are perpendicular to the line of propagation ; in other words, that each vibration takes place at each instant on the surface of a sphere which has for its centre the point from which the ray diverges. Tangents, centres, vibrations, perpendiculars, — these are constructions of the intellect, not facts of sensible concretes. Yet such constructions are by no means arbitrary, — they are all reducible to Sense and Intuition, they all conform to rigorous objective tests ; and because they are so, and because objectively found to reconcile Calculation with Observation, they are stamped upon phenomena as laws. Is it necessary to add, that, although every law is a .conception, every conception is not to be accepted for a law ? It is necessary, because we frequently overlook the distinction, and give out the forms of our own fancies for forms of phenomena. There is an order in our sensations, and an order in our thoughts but even these orders do not always coincide. There is, further, an order in things on which the order in sensations and thoughts depends. But the dependence is particular, — that is to say, the order in our sensations will depend on the momentary order in things, but this may or may not be an order which is general. Now it is only the general order in things with which Philosophy is concerned, and which' is expressed in laws ; particular events are evanescent and only interest the moment ; Philosophy seeks to frame conceptions which represent the Order in things, not at one instant and under particular exceptional conditions, but at all times, and under varying conditions. Such conceptions obviously cannot be framed irrespective of particular experiences, but they must nevertheless be abstracted from particulars and represent what is common to all.

72. What has been already said will perhaps suffice to justify confidence in the recognition of Metaphysics as a possible branch of Science. For what constitutes a science ? The co-ordination of facts. By what characters may it be recognized ? A science exists, 1°, when it has a clearly defined object; 2°, when it has a clearly defined place in the region of research, a place not occupied by any other ; and, 3°, when it has a clearly defined Method of applying the results of Experience to the extension of experience.

All these characters are recognizable in Metaphysics. Its object is the disengagement of certain most general principles, such as Cause, Force, Life, Mind, etc., from the sciences which usually imply these principles, and the exposition of their constituent elements, — the facts, sensible and logical, which these principles involve, and the relations of these principles. Its place, as a special Discipline, is that of an Objective Logic. Its method is that of dealing exclusively with the known functions of unknown quantities, and at every stage of inquiry separating the empirical from the metempirical data.

73. It may be expected that most metaphysicians will accept our premises, but with a reserve which will cause them to reject our conclusion. They will proclaim that what is here called Metempirics is equally the co-ordination of facts ; and they will urge that the range of facts to be co-ordinated and the Method of co-ordination are unwarrantably restricted to the facts of Experience and the procedures of positive Science. The facts which we declare to be unknowable, they affirm to be knowable and known. The debate on this point can only be settled by an analysis of Knowledge, and agreement as to its necessary limitations. We shall therefore have to treat this at length.

And with regard to Method they urge that what is usually understood as Science cannot fitly grapple with the highest problems of Metempirics, because, dealing only with the particular and contingent, it cannot rise to universal and necessary truths, — cannot pass into "the field behind phenomena." This also we shall have to debate. Without venturing here to assume that every reader will find me expressing his conclusions on these two deeply interesting points, I am content to rest my case on the indisputable ground occupied by both schools, namely, that whether we have, or have not, a class of facts which transcend Experience, and a special organ — the so-called Intellectual Intuition — by which such facts may be apprehended and co-ordinated into a system, there still remains that marked separation indicated in the terms Metaphysics and Metempirics; and hence I affirm that the only fruitful procedure in the treatment of metaphysical problems is the disengagement of their metempirical elements.

74. Kant tells us that a rational theory of Nature only deserves the name when its laws are â priori and cannot be gained through Experience ; indeed, only becomes rational in proportion as it admits of mathematical treatment. This is plausible if we accept his unacceptable definition of Experience, his eminently questionable view of â priori truths, and his assumption that Mathematics has not an empirical origin. Fichte consistently declared that all natural laws, from the law by which a blade of grass will grow to the law which keeps the planets in their orbits; might be deduced from first principles.* The deduction was attempted ; and whoever desires to see with what result, may open Oken or Hegel. Closely connected with this reliance on the â priori procedure is the significant fact that every metaphysical thinker, who pre-tends to bring a contribution towards the explanation of things, has his own personal system, and would be of-fended by any accusation which implied the contrary. Nay, it is a boast that " Philosophy is not 'to be learned like Mathematics, or like a trade." Each philosopher holds himself independent of fellow-workers, like an artist expressing his individual conceptions. Hence Fichte can truly say, " the kind of Philosophy which a man chooses depends upon the kind of man." Contrast this with Science. Who would think of choosing his astronomical or biological system ? Who would speak of Faraday's Physics or Liebig's Chemistry as he speaks of Kant's Psychology and Hegel's Logic ? Absurd as it is, this notion of a personal choice in Philosophy is very common, and finds its analogue in the personal choice of a Religion. Consistently with this there is a demand on the part of the public that the philosopher's system should sustain the Theology and Polity of his age and nation. The public, which insists, and rightly insists, on an artist's not outraging the taste and moral convictions of his audience, is consistent in demanding a like conformity to prejudices and doctrines on the part of the philosopher, if that philosopher desires recognition for his system as an individual conception. Schelling was justified in declaring that a system of Philosophy which contradicted the moral feelings could never be a system of Reason but only of Unreason.* But he omitted to add the qualification, namely, that men too readily assume their own personal views to be those which cannot be contradicted without contradiction of the moral consciousness. Unless Philosophy be an Art, and wholly personal, we must agree with Kant that there is something preposterous in demanding enlightenment from it, and at the same time prescribing the opinion it is to enforce.

75. Philosophy, like everything else, is evolved from pre-existing conditions, and the novelty of any valid system should consist in supplying some missing links or in formulating some unformulated evidence, thus extending ' and systematizing the known. When, therefore, I claim novelty for the conception of applying to Metaphysics the procedures consciously and unconsciously applied by men of science in all successful investigation, I do not mean that the conception is now for the first time originated, but that now for the first time it is definitely expressed in its principles and bearings. Many have thought, and some few have proclaimed, that Metaphysics should be based on facts, and its problems resolved on the principles of Experience. But no one — to my knowledge—has explicitly stated how this was to be effected.

After all, the question of originality is of quite minor importance ; that of efficiency most concerns us. Convinced that ' all germinal conceptions are the product of their age rather than of any individual mind, I should look at any conception of mine with extreme suspicion if it wore the air of other novelty than that of added precision or of extension ; for, as De Morgan felicitously remarks in tracing the discovery of the Differential Calculus, " A great method is always within the perception of many before it is within the grasp of one."

76. Is it not a justifiable hope that, by applying the Method of Science to all questions, England may some day possess a Philosophy, the absence of which during the last two hundred years has been a serious defect in her culture ? Science she has had, and Poetry, and Literature, rivalling when not surpassing those of other nations. But a Philosophy she has not had, in spite of philosophic thinkers of epoch-making power : Hobbes, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, have produced essays, not systems. There has been no noteworthy attempt to give a conception of the World, of Man, and of Society, wrought out with systematic harmonizing of principles. There has not been an effort to systematize the scattered labors of isolated thinkers. Mr. Herbert Spencer is now for the first time deliberately making the attempt to found a Philosophy..

While no one can deny that there has been this deficiency, many will declare it to have been an advantage. In some respects it was. So long as the ground was unprepared for a stable edifice, the collection and sifting of the materials was the best work to be done. In other respects the disadvantage has been palpable. Philosophic research has lost itself in out-of-the-way corners. It has never placed itself on a height from which a wide view of the universe could be had. This was inevitable, because its Method isolated it from Science. With our Philosophy, as with our Politics, the parochial point of view has supplanted the cosmopolitan. The same spirit which manages the affairs of the Nation too much through Parish Boards, forgetting that the Nation is an integrant part of the living world, has parcelled out the Universe into " Sections " of a British Association, and from those sections has carefully excluded not only Psychology, Ethics, Metaphysics, and Religion, but anything wearing the aspect of a general doctrine embracing all research.

77. In this respect Germany has had an advantage which has outweighed the serious evils of a radically false Method. The habit of philosophizing — that is, of taking general views, and connecting special truths with them has become, so to speak, organized in the German mind ; and its influence on culture has been highly beneficial. It percolates the soil, and is felt even when meta-physical problems are not directly touched on, — in the treatment of History, Language, Politics, Criticism, etc. No doubt this has its drawbacks. Our parochial system will sometimes be favorably contrasted with the results of their world-system ; sometimes also unfavorably. Our system has kept closer to reality theirs has oftener been allured by phantoms. We shook off Scholasticism; they retained it. But in shaking it off we also shook off the speculative passion for nice accuracy of distinction, and for wide general conceptions ; and they, now that they have learned to look more closely at realities and trust less in logical legerdemain, still retain the old love for systematic and exhaustive treatment. The German Philosophy of recent years has become more and more in-fused with the scientific spirit.

78. In conclusion, I may here simply state my conviction that the Philosophy in the construction of which the efforts of all nations converge, is that Positive Philosophy which began with Kepler and Galileo, Descartes and Bacon, and was first reduced to a system by Auguste Comte : the Doctrine embracing the World, Man, and Society on one homogeneous Method. The extension and perfection of this Doctrine is the work of the future. The following pages are animated by the desire of extending positive procedures to those outlying questions which hitherto have been either ignored or pronounced incapable of incorporation with the positive doctrine.

Kant asks : "If Metaphysics is a science, how-comes it that she cannot boast of the general and enduring approbation bestowed on other sciences ? If she is no science, how comes it that she wears this imposing aspect, and fascinates the human understanding with hopes inextinguishable yet never gratified ? We must either demonstrate the competency or incompetency ; for we cannot longer continue in our present uncertainty."

The answers to these questions which Kant gave not having been satisfactory, a new attempt, under more favorable conditions, is made in these pages. To render this attempt satisfactory we must first clearly understand the conditions of metaphysical inquiry. The initial condition — that of separating the insoluble from the soluble aspects of each problem — would be accepted by all. But the question would everywhere arise : What is insoluble ? How is this ascertainable ? There are problems which are recognized as insoluble because of their conditions. For example, it is impossible to extract the square root of a number which is not made by multiplication of any whole number or fraction by itself. To all eternity this must be impossible. Yet an approximation is possible which may be made near enough for any practical purpose. There are other problems, again, which do not admit of even approximative solutions. No one really tries to solve what he is already convinced is an insoluble problem:. But one man thinks the problem soluble which another pronounces not to be soluble. What then is our criterion ? We say the metempirical elements must be thrown out of the construction. But what are the metempirical elements ?

Here we find ourselves fronting the great psychological problems of the Limitations of Knowledge, and the Principles of Certitude. To settle these it will be necessary to examine the pretensions of the â priori school. Our first labor, then, will be to examine the principles of positive and speculative research, and then to show that the principles of metempirical research must either be unconditionally rejected, or, if accepted, must be isolated from all departments of Knowledge and restricted solely to the Unknowable.

By way of introduction to these, and to the problems which will succeed, it may be useful to group together in an accessible form the principal Rules of Philosophizing which ought to regulate our efforts.

( Originally Published 1874 )

Problems of Life and Mind:
The Method Of Science And Its Application To Metaphysics

The Method Of Science And Its Application To Metaphysics

The Method Of Science And Its Application To Metaphysics

The Method Of Science And Its Application To Metaphysics

The Method Of Science And Its Application To Metaphysics

The Rules Of Philosophizing

Psychological Principles

The Limitations Of Knowledge

The Sensational And A Priori Hypotheses

The Sensible, Extra-sensible, And Supra-sensible

Read More Articles About: Problems of Life and Mind

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