Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

treatise on rhetoric, though not himself an orator and practical rhetorician. Clerk's work on naval tactics is another instance of a scientific treatise by an unprofessional writer. In other cases, scientific inquiries and treatises are due to practicians, as on medical and physiological subjects.1

When a science has been fully developed, and the principles of the corresponding art fixed, its rules are recognised or adopted with little dispute, and the practice is in as good a state as the bounds of our knowledge permit. The arts of navigation and of geodesy may be cited as examples in point. When an art is in this matured state, there is an agreement between theorists and practicians, and the rules of the latter conform with the principles laid down by the former. But when a science is still in an immature state, or when its conclusions are still unrecognised, the practical men continue to follow certain traditional maxims which have become current among the people, and have obtained authority. A conflict then takes place between these two classes as to the standard by which practice is to be tried. The theorists urge the application of their doctrines to practice; the practicians deny their competency as judges, and contest their capacity of applying their principles to actual life. Sometimes this conflict arises from the real difficulty which exists in applying all abstract principles and rules to concrete cases; inasmuch as they are necessarily founded on hypotheses, which do not exhaust all the circumstances of the actual case. But while a theory is still in an imperfect state, practical men, attempting to apply it in reality, discover its defects, and often condemn it overhastily in toto, because they have satisfied themselves that a part is erroneous. Now, a precipitate and indiscriminating rejection of a theory, which contains the seeds of truth, though mixed with error, is always to be regretted, for it is by the successive experiments of practical men, verifying what is sound in a theory, rejecting what is unsound, and suggesting the requisite corrections, that sciences are established and enlarged. Art, indeed, in an empirical form, or a technical practice of some sort, is necessarily, in almost every case, anterior to the corresponding science; the principles and maxims of which are suggested by the facts with which the art has to deal.2

1 On the relations of science and art, or of theory and practice, see Comte, Cours de Philos. Positive, Tom. iii. p. 280; Tom. vi. pp. 751, 870. Mill, System of Logic, B. VL. c. xi.

2 See Whewell, Hist. of Ind. Sciences, vol. i., p. 333.

When any science is in an imperfect but constantly advancing state, the weight of authority increases as the tendency to agreement begins to exhibit itself; as the lines of independent thought converge; as rival opinions coalesce under a common banner; as sects expire; as national schools and modes of thought and expression disappear; as the transmission of erroneous and unverified opinions from one generation to another is interrupted by the recognition of newly-ascertained truths. It is by the gradual diminution of points of difference, and by the gradual increase of points of agreement, among men of science, that they acquire the authority which accredits their opinions, and propagates scientific truths. In general, it may be said that the authority of the professors of any science is trustworthy, in proportion as the points of agreement among them are numerous and important, and the points of difference few and unimportant.

The doctrine of Agreement applies to scientific or speculative opinions; it does not apply to advice given on a single question of practice. In the latter case, the professional person consulted advises about the facts of a given case, and as his opinion is founded on a knowledge of those facts, no general agreement can exist. It is only indirectly that the doctrine of agreement applies to opinions on practical questions. When a person has mastered the system which is sanctioned by the general consent of competent judges, and has combined experience with this knowledge, he is likely to advise well in any question belonging to his subject.

§ 12. A further assistance in the selection of guides to opinion may be derived from a consideration of the marks of Imposture or Charlatanism, in respect both to science and practice. If such marks can be found, they will afford an additional means of distinguishing mock sciences from true ones,-the charlatan from the true philosopher or sound practitioner.

In the first place, we may observe that mock sciences are rejected, after a patient examination and study of facts, and not upon a hasty first impression, by the general agreement of competent judges. Such was the case with astrology, magic, and divination of all sorts, at the beginning of the last century; which, having been reduced to a systematic form, and received by the general credulity, have since yielded to the light of reason.

1

The

Upon the prevalence of the belief in astrology among educated and enlightened persons at the end of the 17th century, see some remarks by Dr. Johnson, in his Life of Butler.

errors of the ancients in natural history, which were repeated by subsequent writers after the revival of letters, have been exploded by a similar process. The same may be said of the influence of the heavenly bodies upon diseases, believed at no distant date by scientific writers.' Mesmerism, homoeopathy, and phrenology, have now been before the world a sufficient time to be fairly and fully examined by competent judges; and as they have not stood the test of impartial scientific investigation, and therefore have not established themselves in professional opinion, they may be safely, on this ground alone, set down under the head of mock sciences; though, as in the case of alchemy, the researches to which they give rise, and the new hypotheses which they promulgate, may assist in promoting genuine science.2

True sciences establish themselves after a time, and acquire a recognised position in all civilised countries. Moreover, they connect themselves with other true sciences; analogies and points of contact between the new truth and truths formerly known are perceived. Such has been the case with Geology, which has only taken its place as a science founded on accurate and extensive observation during the present century. But while it has assumed an independent position, it has received great assistance from comparative anatomy and other apparently unconnected sciences, and has thrown light upon them in return. Discoveries in medicine, too, which rest on a firm basis, as vaccination and the operation for aneurism, are after a few years brought to a certain test, and make their way in all countries. Pseudo-sciences, on the other hand, are not accredited by the consentient reception of professional judges, but remain in an equivocal and unaccepted state. No analogies or affiliations with genuine sciences are discovered; the new comer continues an alien, unincorporated with the established scientific system; if any connection is attempted to be proved, it is with another spurious science, as in the case of phreno-mesmerism, where one delusion is supported by another. Mock sciences, again, not making their way universally, are sometimes confined to a particular nation; or, at all events, to a limited body

1 See Dr. Mead's treatise concerning the influence of the sun and moon upon human bodies, and the diseases thereby produced.—Medical Works, p. 151.

2 See Nov. Org. I. aph. 85, where Bacon applies to the alchemists the fable of the old man, who told his sons, on dying, that a treasure was concealed in his vineyard, but he had forgotten the place; whereupon they fell to digging the ground in all directions, and found no gold, but improved the cultivation of the vines.

of sectarians, who stand aloof from the professors of the established science.

Another means of distinguishing real from unreal sciences, may be found in the character and objects of the persons by whom they are respectively cultivated. The professors of genuine sciences, for the most part, make the investigation or the communication of truth their primary object. Even teachers, who are remunerated for their services, are in general careful to communicate only true and sound opinions to their disciples, and would consider the inculcation of error as a breach of their duty. The desire of knowing the truth is, indeed, no preservative against error. No such preservative exists. But the desire of ascertaining the truth is a necessary condition for ascertaining it. He who does not seek will not find. The charlatan, on the other hand, is almost invariably actuated by the love of gain. His purpose is to dupe the world, and to extract money from the pockets of his dupes. Paracelsus and Mesmer afford an example on a large scale; a village mountebank on a small one. Occasionally, there may be the love of attracting attention, for its own sake, and a disinterested pleasure in cheating the world; but gain is the leading motive.

Some indications may likewise be derived from the form and method in which a new science is propounded. Genuine science is in general simple, precise, perspicuous, devoid of ornament, dry and unattractive, modest in its pretensions, free from all undue contrivances for exciting applause or obtaining attention. Charlatanism, on the other hand, is tricky, obtrusive, full of display — now wearing the mask of impassioned enthusiasm-now assuming an aspect of solemn gravity, vague and mystical in its language, sometimes propounding elaborate schemes of new classification and nomenclature, dealing in vast promises and undertakings.1

[ocr errors]

There are three forms of speaking, which are, as it were, the style and phrase of imposture. The first kind is of them who, as soon as they have gotten any subject or matter, do straight cast it into an art, inventing new terms of art, reducing all into divisions and distinctions; thence drawing assertions or positions, and so framing oppositions by questions and answers. Hence issueth the cobwebs and clatterings of the schoolmen.

'The second kind is of them who, out of the vanity of their wit, (as church poets,) do make and devise all variety of tales, stories, and examples, whereby they may lead men's minds to a belief, from whence did grow the legends and infinite fabulous inventions and dreams of the ancient heretics.

'The third kind is of them who fill men's cares [qu. ears] with mysteries, high parables, allegories, and illusions, which mystical and profound form many of the heretics also made choice of. By the first kind of these the capacity and wit of man

Imposture, however, particularly in the cases where it is combined with mysticism, is rarely altogether intentional, and the result of mere knavery. There is a close affinity between imposture and credulity: a credulous man is generally a deceiver, and believes the delusions with which he ensnares the faith of others.1 This is often the case with philosophical as well as religious enthusiasts. Pythagoras, for example, so far as we can discern him in the dim distance, may apparently be taken as a type of the union between the man of science and the impostor: and the same may doubtless be said of Van Helmont, and many of the other professors of mystical medicine, alchemists, astrologers, diviners, theosophs, and masters of occult sciences, whose lives are collected in the seven volumes of ADELUNG's curious History of Human Folly.2 Nothing is more striking, in this repertory of self-deceit and imposture, than the gigantic dimensions of the supposed discoveries of these pseudo-philosophers, compared with their actual performances, and with the powers which man really possesses over outward nature. At every turn we meet with infallible remedies, with universal medicines-with receipts for changing one substance into another with new methods of a universal philosophy. The performances of these homines vaniloqui et phantastici,' who, partly from credulity, and partly from imposture, genus humanum promissis onerarunt,' stand (according to Bacon's comparison) in the same relation to the works of genuine philosophers, as the exploits of Amadis de Gaul or King Arthur, to those of Julius Cæsar or Alexander the Great.3

6

No species of imposture is so captivating, so well-suited to the present time, and consequently so likely to meet with temporary success, as that which assumes the garb, and mimics the phraseology, of science. As hypocrisy has been said to be the homage which vice renders to virtue, so is the imitation of scientific forms the homage which imposture renders to science; it is, however, a species of homage by which the vassal often obtains, for a time, a superiority over the lord. Still, the existence of a scientific spirit,

is fettered and entangled; by the second, it is trained on and inveigled; by the third, it is astonished and enchanted; but by every of them the while it is seduced and abused.' --Lord BACON, Of the several Kinds of Imposture. Works, vol. i. p. 214; ed. Montagu. 1 See Adv. of Learning, vol. ii. p. 42.

2 Geschichte der menschlichen narrheit, oder lebensbeschreibungen berühmter schwarzkünstler, goldmacher, teufels banner, zeichen-und liniendeuter, schwärmer, wahrsager, und anderer philosophischer unholden. Leipzig, 1785-9. 7 vols. 3 Nov. Org. I. aph. 87.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »