Mind reading not science.—Experience a reconstruction.—The honest art of education.—Arbitrary readings of the mind.—Human nature appealed to rather than described.—Dialectic in psychology.—Spinoza on the passions.—A principle of estimation cannot govern events.—Scientific psychology a part of biology.—Confused attempt to detach the psychic element.—Differentia of the psychic.—Approach to irrelevant sentience.—Perception represents things in their practical relation to the body.—Mind the existence in which form becomes actual.—Attempt at idealistic physics.—Association not efficient.—- It describes coincidences.—Understanding is based on instinct and expressed in dialectic.—Suggestion a fancy name for automatism, and will another.—Double attachment of mind to nature.—Is the subject-matter of psychology absolute being?—Sentience is representable only in fancy.—The conditions and objects of sentience, which are not sentience, are also real.—Mind knowable and important in so far as it represents other things Pages 126-166
THE NATURE OF INTENT
Dialectic better than physics.—Maladjustments to nature render physics conspicuous and unpleasant.—Physics should be largely virtual, and dialectic explicit.—Intent is vital and indescribable.—It is analogous to flux in existence.—It expresses natural life.—- It has a material basis.—It is necessarily relevant to earth.—The basis of intent becomes appreciable in language.—Intent starts from a datum, and is carried by a feeling.—It demands conventional expression.—A fable about matter and form Pages 167-186
Dialectic elaborates given forms.—Forms are abstracted from existence by intent.—Confusion comes of imperfect abstraction, or ambiguous intent.—The fact that mathematics applies to existence is empirical.—Its moral value is therefore contingent.—Quantity submits easily to dialectical treatment—Constancy and progress in intent.—Intent determines the functional essence of objects.—Also the scope of ideals.—Double status of mathematics.—Practical role of dialectic.—Hegel's satire on dialectic.—Dialectic expresses a given intent.—Its empire is ideal and autonomous Pages 187-209
Empirical alloy in dialectic.—Arrested rationality in morals.—Its emotional and practical power.—Moral science is an application of dialectic, not a part of anthropology.—Estimation the soul of philosophy.—Moral discriminations are natural and inevitable.—A choice of proverbs.—Their various representative value.—Conflict of partial moralities.—The Greek ideal.—Imaginative exuberance and political discipline.—Sterility of Greek example.—Prerational morality among the Jews.—The development of conscience.—Need of Hebraic devotion to Greek aims.—Prerational morality marks an acquisition but offers no programme Pages 210-232
Moral passions represent private interests.—Common ideal interests may supervene.—To this extent there is rational society.—A rational morality not attainable, but its principle clear.—It is the logic of an autonomous will.—Socrates' science.—Its opposition to sophistry and moral anarchy.—Its vitality.—Genuine altruism is natural self-expression.—Reason expresses impulses, but impulses reduced to harmony.—Self-love artificial.—The sanction of reason is happiness.—Moral science impeded by its chaotic data, and its unrecognised scope.—Fallacy in democratic hedonism.—Sympathy a conditional duty.—All life, and hence right life, finite and particular. Pages 233-261
Socratic ethics retrospective.—Rise of disillusioned moralities.—The illusion subsisting in them.—Epicurean refuge in pleasure.—Stoic recourse to conformity.—Conformity the core of Islam, enveloped in arbitrary doctrines.—The latter alone lend it practical force.—Moral ambiguity in pantheism.—Under stress, it becomes ascetic and requires a mythology.—A supernatural world made by the Platonist out of dialectic.—The Hebraic cry for redemption.—The two factors meet in Christianity.—Consequent electicism.—The negation of naturalism never complete.—Spontaneous values rehabilitated.—A witness out of India.—Dignity of post-rational morality.—Absurdities nevertheless involved.—The soul of positivism in all ideals.—Moribund dreams and perennial realities. Pages 262-300
THE VALIDITY OF SCIENCE
Various modes of revising science.—Science its own best critic.—Obstruction by alien traditions.—Needless anxiety for moral interests.—Science an imaginative and practical art.—Arriere-pensee in transcendentalism.—Its romantic sincerity.—Its constructive impotence.—Its dependence on common-sense.—Its futility.—Ideal science is self-justified.—Physical science is presupposed in scepticism.—It recurs in all understanding of perception.—Science contains all trustworthy knowledge.—It suffices for the Life of Reason Pages 301-320
REASON IN SCIENCE
TYPES AND AIMS OF SCIENCE
[Sidenote: Science still young.]
Science is so new a thing and so far from final, it seems to the layman so hopelessly accurate and extensive, that a moralist may well feel some diffidence in trying to estimate its achievements and promises at their human worth. The morrow may bring some great revolution in science, and is sure to bring many a correction and many a surprise. Religion and art have had their day; indeed a part of the faith they usually inspire is to believe that they have long ago revealed their secret. A critic may safely form a judgment concerning them; for even if he dissents from the orthodox opinion and ventures to hope that religion and art may assume in the future forms far nobler and more rational than any they have hitherto worn, still he must confess that art and religion have had several turns at the wheel; they have run their course through in various ages and climes with results which anybody is free to estimate if he has an open mind and sufficient interest in the subject. Science, on the contrary, which apparently cannot exist where intellectual freedom is denied, has flourished only twice in recorded times: once for some three hundred years in ancient Greece, and again for about the same period in modern Christendom. Its fruits have scarcely begun to appear; the lands it is discovering have not yet been circumnavigated, and there is no telling what its ultimate influence will be on human practice and feeling.
[Sidenote: Its miscarriage in Greece.]
The first period in the life of science was brilliant but ineffectual. The Greeks' energy and liberty were too soon spent, and the very exuberance of their genius made its expression chaotic. Where every mind was so fresh and every tongue so clever no scientific tradition could arise, and no laborious applications could be made to test the value of rival notions and decide between them. Men of science were mere philosophers. Each began, not where his predecessor had ended, but at the very beginning. Another circumstance that impeded the growth of science was the forensic and rhetorical turn proper to Greek intelligence. This mental habit gave a tremendous advantage in philosophy to the moralist and poet over the naturalist or mathematician. Hence what survived in Greece after the heyday of theoretic achievement was chiefly philosophies of life, and these—at the death of liberty—grew daily more personal and ascetic. Authority in scientific matters clung chiefly to Plato and Aristotle, and this not for the sake of their incomparable moral philosophy—for in ethics that decadent age preferred the Stoics and Epicureans—but just for those rhetorical expedients which in the Socratic school took the place of natural science. Worse influences in this field could hardly be imagined, since Plato's physics ends in myth and apologue, while Aristotle's ends in nomenclature and teleology.
All that remained of Greek physics, therefore, was the conception of what physics should be—a great achievement due to the earlier thinkers—and certain hints and guesses in that field. The elements of geometry had also been formulated, while the Socratic school bequeathed to posterity a well-developed group of moral sciences, rational in principle, but destined to be soon overlaid with metaphysical and religious accretions, so that the dialectical nerve and reasonableness of them were obliterated, and there survived only miscellaneous conclusions, fragments of wisdom built topsy-turvy into the new mythical edifice. It is the sad task reserved for historical criticism to detach those sculptured stones from the rough mass in which they have been embedded and to rearrange them in their pristine order, thus rediscovering the inner Socratic principle of moral philosophy, which is nothing but self-knowledge—a circumspect, systematic utterance of the speaker's mind, disclosing his implicit meaning and his ultimate preferences.
[Sidenote: Its timid reappearance in modern times.]
At its second birth science took a very different form. It left cosmic theories to pantheistic enthusiasts like Giordano Bruno, while in sober laborious circles it confined itself to specific discoveries—the earth's roundness and motion about the sun, the laws of mechanics, the development and application of algebra, the invention of the calculus, and a hundred other steps forward in various disciplines. It was a patient siege laid to the truth, which was approached blindly and without a general, as by an army of ants; it was not stormed imaginatively as by the ancient Ionians, who had reached at once the notion of nature's dynamic unity, but had neglected to take possession in detail of the intervening tracts, whence resources might be drawn in order to maintain the main position.
Nevertheless, as discoveries accumulated, they fell insensibly into a system, and philosophers like Descartes and Newton arrived at a general physics. This physics, however, was not yet meant to cover the whole existent world, or to be the genetic account of all things in their system. Descartes excluded from his physics the whole mental and moral world, which became, so far as his science went, an inexplicable addendum. Similarly Newton's mechanical principles, broad as they were, were conceived by him merely as a parenthesis in theology. Not until the nineteenth century were the observations that had been accumulated given their full value or in fact understood; for Spinoza's system, though naturalistic in spirit, was still dialectical in form, and had no influence on science and for a long time little even on speculation.
Indeed the conception of a natural order, like the Greek cosmos, which shall include all existences—gods no less than men, if gods actually exist—is one not yet current, although it is implied in every scientific explanation and is favoured by two powerful contemporary movements which, coming from different quarters, are leading men's minds back to the same ancient and obvious naturalism. One of these movements is the philosophy of evolution, to which Darwin gave such an irresistible impetus. The other is theology itself, where it has been emancipated from authority and has set to work to square men's conscience with history and experience. This theology has generally passed into speculative idealism, which under another name recognises the universal empire of law and conceives man's life as an incident in a prodigious natural process, by which his mind and his interests are produced and devoured. This "idealism" is in truth a system of immaterial physics, like that of Pythagoras or Heraclitus. While it works with fantastic and shifting categories, which no plain naturalist would care to use, it has nothing to apply those categories to except what the naturalist or historian may already have discovered and expressed in the categories of common prose. German idealism is a translation of physical evolution into mythical language, which presents the facts now in the guise of a dialectical progression, now in that of a romantic drama. In either case the facts are the same, and just those which positive knowledge has come upon. Thus many who are not brought to naturalism by science are brought to it, quite unwillingly and unawares, by their religious speculations.
[Sidenote: Distinction between science and myth.]
The gulf that yawns between such idealistic cosmogonies and a true physics may serve to make clear the divergence in principle which everywhere divides natural science from arbitrary conceptions of things. This divergence is as far as possible from lying in the merit of the two sorts of theory. Their merit, and the genius and observation required to frame them, may well be equal, or an imaginative system may have the advantage in these respects. It may even be more serviceable for a while and have greater pragmatic value, so long as knowledge is at best fragmentary, and no consecutive or total view of things is attempted by either party. Thus in social life a psychology expressed in terms of abstract faculties and personified passions may well carry a man farther than a physiological psychology would. Or, again, we may say that there was more experience and love of nature enshrined in ancient mythology than in ancient physics; the observant poet might then have fared better in the world than the pert and ignorant materialist. Nor does the difference between science and myth lie in the fact that the one is essentially less speculative than the other. They are differently speculative, it is true, since myth terminates in unverifiable notions that might by chance represent actual existences; while science terminates in concepts or laws, themselves not possibly existent, but verified by recurring particular facts, belonging to the same experience as those from which the theory started.
[Sidenote: Platonic status of hypothesis.]
The laws formulated by science—the transitive figments describing the relation between fact and fact—possess only a Platonic sort of reality. They are more real, if you will, than the facts themselves, because they are more permanent, trustworthy, and pervasive; but at the same time they are, if you will, not real at all, because they are incompatible with immediacy and alien to brute existence. In declaring what is true of existences they altogether renounce existence on their own behalf. This situation has made no end of trouble in ill-balanced minds, not docile to the diversities and free complexity of things, but bent on treating everything by a single method. They have asked themselves persistently the confusing question whether the matter or the form of things is the reality; whereas, of course, both elements are needed, each with its incommensurable kind of being. The material element alone is existent, while the ideal element is the sum of all those propositions which are true of what exists materially. Anybody's knowledge of the truth, being a complex and fleeting feeling, is of course but a moment of existence or material being, which whether found in God or man is as far as possible from being that truth itself which it may succeed in knowing.
[Sidenote: Meaning of verification.]
The true contrast between science and myth is more nearly touched when we say that science alone is capable of verification. Some ambiguity, however, lurks in this phrase, since verification comes to a method only vicariously, when the particulars it prophesies are realised in sense. To verify a theory as if it were not a method but a divination of occult existences would be to turn the theory into a myth and then to discover that what the myth pictured had, by a miracle, an actual existence also. There is accordingly a sense in which myth admits substantiation of a kind that science excludes. The Olympic hierarchy might conceivably exist bodily; but gravitation and natural selection, being schemes of relation, can never exist substantially and on their own behoof. Nevertheless, the Olympic hierarchy, even if it happened to exist, could not be proved to do so unless it were a part of the natural world open to sense; while gravitation and natural selection, without being existences, can be verified at every moment by concrete events occurring as those principles require. A hypothesis, being a discursive device, gains its utmost possible validity when its discursive value is established. It is not, it merely applies; and every situation in which it is found to apply is a proof of its truth.
The case would not be different with fables, were their basis and meaning remembered. But fables, when hypostatised, forget that they, too, were transitive symbols and boast to reveal an undiscoverable reality. A dogmatic myth is in this sorry plight: that the more evidence it can find to support it the more it abrogates its metaphysical pretensions, while the more it insists on its absolute truth the less relevance it has to experience and the less meaning. To try to support fabulous dogmas by evidence is tantamount to acknowledging that they are merely scientific hypotheses, instruments of discourse, and methods of expression. But in that case their truth would no longer be supposed to lie in the fact that somewhere beyond the range of human observation they descended bodily to the plane of flying existence, and were actually enacted there. They would have ceased to resemble the society of Olympus, which to prove itself real would need to verify itself, since only the gods and those mortals admitted to their conclave could know for a fact that that celestial gathering existed. On the contrary, a speculation that could be supported by evidence would be one that might be made good without itself descending to the plane of immediacy, but would be sufficiently verified when diffuse facts fall out as it had led us to expect. The myth in such a case would have become transparent again and relevant to experience, which could continually serve to support or to correct it. Even if somewhat overloaded and poetical, it would be in essence a scientific theory. It would no longer terminate in itself; it would point forward, leading the thinker that used it to eventual facts of experience, facts which his poetic wisdom would have prepared him to meet and to use.
[Sidenote: Possible validity of myths.]
If I say, for instance, that Punishment, limping in one leg, patiently follows every criminal, the myth is obvious and innocent enough. It reveals nothing, but, what is far better, it means something. I have expressed a truth of experience and pointed vaguely to the course which events may be expected to take under given circumstances. The expression, though mythical in form, is scientific in effect, because it tends to surround a given phenomenon (the crime) with objects on its own plane—other passions and sensations to follow upon it. What would be truly mythical would be to stop at the figure of speech and maintain, by way of revealed dogma, that a lame goddess of vindictive mind actually follows every wicked man, her sword poised in mid-air. Sinking into that reverie, and trembling at its painted truth, I should be passing to the undiscoverable and forgetting the hard blows actually awaiting me in the world. Fable, detaining the mind too long in the mesh of expression, would have become metaphysical dogma. I should have connected the given fact with imagined facts, which even if by chance real—for such a goddess may, for all we know, actually float in the fourth dimension—are quite supernumerary in my world, and never, by any possibility, can become parts or extensions of the experience they are thought to explain. The gods are demonstrable only as hypotheses, but as hypotheses they are not gods.
[Sidenote: Any dreamed-of thing might be experienced.]
The same distinction is sometimes expressed by saying that science deals only with objects of possible experience. But this expression is unfortunate, because everything thinkable, no matter how mythical and supernatural or how far beyond the range of mortal senses, is an object of possible experience. Tritons and sea-horses might observe one another and might feel themselves live. The thoughts and decrees said to occupy the divine mind from all eternity would certainly be phenomena there; they would be experienced things. Were fables really as metaphysical and visionary as they pretend to be, were they not all the while and in essence mere symbols for natural situations, they would be nothing but reports about other alleged parts of experience. A real Triton, a real Creator, a real heaven would obviously be objects open to properly equipped senses and seats of much vivid experience. But a Triton after all has something to do with the AEgean and other earthly waters; a Creator has something to do with the origin of man and of his habitat; heaven has something to do with the motives and rewards of moral action. This relevance to given experience and its objects is what cuts those myths off from their blameless and gratuitous role of reporting experiences that might be going on merrily enough somewhere else in the universe. In calling them myths and denying that what they describe falls within the purview of science, we do not assert that, absolutely taken, they could not be objects of a possible experience. What we mean is rather that no matter how long we searched the sea waves, in which it is the essence of our Tritons to disport themselves, we should never find Tritons there; and that if we traced back the history of man and nature we should find them always passing by natural generation out of slightly different earlier forms and never appearing suddenly, at the fiat of a vehement Jehovah swimming about in a chaos; and finally that if we considered critically our motives and our ideals, we should find them springing from and directed upon a natural life and its functions, and not at all on a disembodied and timeless ecstasy. Those myths, then, while they intrinsically refer to facts in the given world, describe those facts in incongruous terms. They are symbols, not extensions, for the experience we know.
[Sidenote: But science follows the movement of its subject-matter.]
A chief characteristic of science, then, is that in supplementing given facts it supplements them by adding other facts belonging to the same sphere, and eventually discoverable by tracing the given object in its own plane through its continuous transformations. Science expands speculatively, by the aid of merely instrumental hypotheses, objects given in perception until they compose a congruous, self-supporting world, all parts of which might be observed consecutively. What a scientific hypothesis interpolates among the given facts—the atomic structure of things, for instance—might come in time under the direct fire of attention, fixed more scrupulously, longer, or with better instruments upon those facts themselves. Otherwise the hypothesis that assumed that structure would be simply false, just as a hypothesis that the interior of the earth is full of molten fire would be false if on inspection nothing were found there but solid rock. Science does not merely prolong a habit of inference; it verifies and solves the inference by reaching the fact inferred.
The contrast with myth at this point is very interesting; for in myth the facts are themselves made vehicles, and knowledge is felt to terminate in an independent existence on a higher or deeper level than any immediate fact; and this circumstance is what makes myth impossible to verify and, except by laughter, to disprove. If I attributed the stars' shining to the diligence of angels who lighted their lamps at sunset, lest the upper reaches of the world should grow dangerous for travellers, and if I made my romance elaborate and ingenious enough, I might possibly find that the stars' appearance and disappearance could continue to be interpreted in that way. My myth might always suggest itself afresh and might be perennially appropriate. But it would never descend, with its charming figures, into the company of its evidences. It would never prove that what it terminated in was a fact, as in my metaphysical faith I had deputed and asserted it to be. The angels would remain notional, while my intent was to have them exist; so that the more earnestly I held to my fable the more grievously should I be deceived. For even if seraphic choirs existed in plenty on their own emotional or musical plane of being, it would not have been their hands—if they had hands—that would have lighted the stars I saw; and this, after all, was the gist and starting-point of my whole fable and its sole witness in my world. A myth might by chance be a revelation, did what it talks of have an actual existence somewhere else in the universe; but it would need to be a revelation in order to be true at all, and would then be true only in an undeserved and spurious fashion. Any representative and provable validity which it might possess would assimulate it to science and reduce it to a mere vehicle and instrument for human discourse. It would evaporate as soon as the prophecies it made were fulfilled, and it would claim no being and no worship on its own account. Science might accordingly be called a myth conscious of its essential ideality, reduced to its fighting weight and valued only for its significance.
[Sidenote: Moral value of science.]
A symptom of the divergence between myth and science may be found in the contrary emotions which they involve. Since in myth we interpret experience in order to interpret it, in order to delight ourselves by turning it poetically into the language and prosody of our own life, the emotion we feel when we succeed is artistic; myth has a dramatic charm. Since in science, on the contrary, we employ notional machinery, in itself perhaps indifferent enough, in order to arrive at eventual facts and to conceive the aspect which given things would actually wear from a different point of view in space or time, the emotion we feel when we succeed is that of security and intellectual dominion; science has a rational value. To see better what we now see, to see by anticipation what we should see actually under other conditions, is wonderfully to satisfy curiosity and to enlighten conduct. At the same time, scientific thinking involves no less inward excitement than dramatic fiction does. It summons before us an even larger number of objects in their fatal direction upon our interests. Were science adequate it would indeed absorb those passions which now, since they must be satisfied somehow, have to be satisfied by dramatic myths. To imagine how things might have been would be neither interesting nor possible if we knew fully how things are. All pertinent dramatic emotion, joyous or tragic, would then inhere in practical knowledge. As it is, however, science abstracts from the more musical overtones of things in order to trace the gross and basal processes within them; so that the pursuit of science seems comparatively dry and laborious, except where at moments the vista opens through to the ultimate or leads back to the immediate. Then, perhaps, we recognise that in science we are surveying all it concerns us to know, and in so doing are becoming all that it profits us to be. Mere amusement in thought as in sportive action is tedious and illiberal: it marks a temperament so imperfectly educated that it prefers idle to significant play and a flimsy to a solid idea.
[Sidenote: Its continuity with common knowledge.]
The fact that science follows the subject-matter in its own movement involves a further consequence: science differs from common knowledge in scope only, not in nature. When intelligence arises, when the flux of things begins to be mitigated by representation of it and objects are at last fixed and recognisable, there is science. For even here, in the presence of a datum something virtual and potential is called up, namely, what the given thing was a moment ago, what it is growing into, or what it is contrasted with in character. As I walk round a tree, I learn that the parts still visible, those that have just disappeared and those now coming into view, are continuous and belong to the same tree.
This declaration, though dialectic might find many a mare's nest in its language, is a safe and obvious enough expression of knowledge. It involves terms, however, which are in the act of becoming potential. What is just past, what is just coming, though sensibly continuous with what is present, are partially infected with nonentity. After a while human apprehension can reach them only by inference, and to count upon them is frankly to rely on theory. The other side of the tree, which common sense affirms to exist unconditionally, will have to be represented in memory or fancy; and it may never actually be observed by any mortal. Yet, if I continued my round, I should actually observe it and know it by experience; and I should find that it had the same status as the parts now seen, and was continuous with them. My assertion that it exists, while certainly theoretical and perhaps false, is accordingly scientific in type. Science, when it has no more scope than this, is indistinguishable from common sense. The two become distinct only when the facts inferred cannot be easily verified or have not yet been merged with the notion representing the given object in most men's minds.
Where science remains consciously theoretical (being as yet contrasted with ordinary apperception and current thought), it is, ideally considered, a pis aller, an expedient to which a mind must have recourse when it lacks power and scope to hold all experience in hand and to view the wide world in its genuine immediacy. As oblivescence is a gradual death, proper to a being not ideally master of the universal flux, but swamped within it, so science is an artificial life, in which what cannot be perceived directly (because personal limitations forbid) may be regarded abstractly, yet efficaciously, in what we think and do. With better faculties the field of possible experience could be better dominated, and fewer of its parts, being hidden from sight, would need to be mapped out symbolically on that sort of projection which we call scientific inference. The real relations between the parts of nature would then be given in intuition, from which hypothesis, after all, has borrowed its schemata.
[Sidenote: Its intellectual essence.]
Science is a half-way house between private sensation and universal vision. We should not forget to add, however, that the universal vision in question, if it were to be something better than private sensation or passive feeling in greater bulk, would have to be intellectual, just as science is; that is, it would have to be practical and to survey the flux from a given standpoint, in a perspective determined by special and local interests. Otherwise the whole world, when known, would merely be re-enacted in its blind immediacy without being understood or subjected to any purpose. The critics of science, when endowed with any speculative power, have always seen that what is hypothetical and abstract in scientific method is somehow servile and provisional; science being a sort of telegraphic wire through which a meagre report reaches us of things we would fain observe and live through in their full reality. This report may suffice for approximately fit action; it does not suffice for ideal knowledge of the truth nor for adequate sympathy with the reality. What commonly escapes speculative critics of science, however, is that in transcending hypothesis and reaching immediacy again we should run a great risk of abandoning knowledge and sympathy altogether; for if we became what we now represent so imperfectly, we should evidently no longer represent it at all. We should not, at the end of our labours, have at all enriched our own minds by adequate knowledge of what surrounds us, nor made our wills just in view of alien but well-considered interests. We should have lost our own essence and substituted for it, not something higher than indiscriminate being, but only indiscriminate being in its flat, blind, and selfish infinity. The ideality, the representative faculty, would have gone out in our souls, and our perfected humanity would have brought us back to protoplasm.
In transcending science, therefore, we must not hope to transcend knowledge, nor in transcending selfishness to abolish finitude. Finitude is the indispensable condition of unselfishness as well as of selfishness, and of speculative vision no less than of hypothetical knowledge. The defect of science is that it is inadequate or abstract, that the account it gives of things is not full and sensuous enough; but its merit is that, like sense, it makes external being present to a creature that is concerned in adjusting itself to its environment, and informs that creature about things other than itself. Science, if brought to perfection, would not lose its representative or ideal essence. It would still survey and inform, but it would survey everything at once and inform the being it enlightened about all that could affect its interests. It would thus remain practical in effect and speculative in character. In losing its accidental limitations it would not lose its initial bias, its vital function. It would continue to be a rational activity, guiding and perfecting a natural being.
Perfect knowledge of things would be as far as possible from identifying the knower with them, seeing that for the most part—even when we call them human—they have no knowledge of themselves. Science, accordingly, even when imperfect, is a tremendous advance on absorption in sense and a dull immediacy. It begins to enrich the mind and gives it some inkling, at least, of that ideal dominion which each centre of experience might have if it had learned to regard all others, and the relation connecting it with them, both in thought and in action. Ideal knowledge would be an inward state corresponding to a perfect adjustment of the body to all forces affecting it. If the adjustment was perfect the inward state would regard every detail in the objects envisaged, but it would see those details in a perspective of its own, adding to sympathetic reproduction of them a consciousness of their relation to its own existence and perfection.
[Sidenote: Unity of science.]
The fact that science expresses the character and relation of objects in their own terms has a further important consequence, which serves again to distinguish science from metaphorical thinking. If a man tries to illustrate the nature of a thing by assimilating it to something else which he happens to have in mind at the same time, it is obvious that a second man, whose mind is differently furnished, may assimilate the same object to a quite different idea: so myths are centrifugal, and the more elaborate and delicate they are the more they diverge, like well-developed languages. The rude beginnings of myth in every age and country bear a certain resemblance, because the facts interpreted are similar and the minds reading them have not yet developed their special grammar of representation. But two highly developed mythical systems—two theologies, for instance, like the Greek and the Indian—will grow every day farther and farther apart. Science, on the contrary, whatever it may start with, runs back into the same circle of facts, because it follows the lead of the subject-matter, and is attentive to its inherent transformations.
If men's fund of initial perceptions, then, is alike, their science is sure to be so; while the embroideries they make upon perception out of their own resources will differ as much as do the men themselves. Men asleep, said Heraclitus, live each in his own world, but awake they live in the same world together. To be awake is nothing but to be dreaming under control of the object; it is to be pursuing science to the comparative exclusion of mere mental vegetation and spontaneous myth. Thus if our objects are the same, our science and our waking lives will coincide; or if there is a natural diversity in our discoveries, because we occupy different points in space and time and have a varying range of experience, these diversities will nevertheless supplement one another; the discovery that each has made will be a possible discovery for the others also. So a geographer in China and one in Babylonia may at first make wholly unlike maps; but in time both will take note of the Himalayas, and the side each approaches will slope up to the very crest approached by the other. So science is self-confirming, and its most disparate branches are mutually illuminating; while in the realm of myth, until it is surveyed scientifically, there can be nothing but mutual repulsion and incapacity to understand. Languages and religions are necessarily rivals, but sciences are necessarily allies.
[Sidenote: In existence, judged by reflection, there is a margin of waste.]
The unity of science can reach no farther than does coherent experience; and though coherence be a condition of experience in the more pregnant sense of the word—in the sense in which the child or the fool has no experience—existence is absolutely free to bloom as it likes, and no logic can set limits or prescribe times for its irresponsible presence. A great deal may accordingly exist which cannot be known by science, or be reached from the outside at all. This fact perhaps explains why science has as yet taken so little root in human life: for even within the limits of human existence, which are tolerably narrow, there is probably no little incoherence, no little lapsing into what, from any other point of view, is inconceivable and undiscoverable. Science, for instance, can hardly reach the catastrophes and delights, often so vivid, which occur in dreams; for even if a physiological psychology should some day be able to find the causes of these phenomena, and so to predict them, it would never enter the dream-world persuasively, in a way that the dreamer could appreciate and understand, while he continued to dream. This is because that dream-world and the waking world present two disjointed landscapes, and the figures they contain belong to quite different genealogies—like the families of Zeus and of Abraham. Science is a great disciplinarian, and misses much of the sport which the absolute is free to indulge in. If there is no inner congruity and communion between two fields, science cannot survey them both; at best in tracing the structure of things presented in one of them, it may come upon some detail which may offer a basis or lodgment for the entire fabric of the other, which will thus be explained ab extra; as the children of Abraham might give an explanation for Zeus and his progeny, treating them as a phenomenon in the benighted minds of some of Japhet's children.
This brings the Olympian world within the purview of science, but does so with a very bad grace. For suppose the Olympian gods really existed—and there is nothing impossible in that supposition—they would not be allowed to have any science of their own; or if they did, it would threaten the children of Abraham with the same imputed unreality with which the latter boast to have extinguished Olympus. In order, then, that two regions of existence should be amenable to a science common to both and establishing a mutual rational representation between them, it is requisite that the two regions should be congruous in texture and continuous inwardly: the objects present in each must be transformations of the objects present in the other. As this condition is not always fulfilled, even within a man's personal fortunes, it is impossible that all he goes through should be mastered by science or should accrue to him ideally and become part of his funded experience. Much must be lost, left to itself, and resigned to the unprofitable flux that produced it.
[Sidenote: Sciences converge from different points of origin.]
A consequence of this incoherence in experience is that science is not absolutely single but springs up in various places at once, as a certain consistency or method becomes visible in this or that direction. These independent sciences might, conceivably, never meet at all; each might work out an entirely different aspect of things and cross the other, as it were, at a different level. This actually happens, for instance, in mathematics as compared with history or psychology, and in morals as compared with physics. Nevertheless, the fact that these various sciences are all human, and that here, for instance, we are able to mention them in one breath and to compare their natures, is proof that their spheres touch somehow, even if only peripherally. Since common knowledge, which knows of them all, is itself an incipient science, we may be sure that some continuity and some congruity obtains between their provinces. Some aspect of each must coincide with some aspect of some other, else nobody who pursued any one science would so much as suspect the existence of the rest. Great as may be the aversion of learned men to one another, and comprehensive as may be their ignorance, they are not positively compelled to live in solitary confinement, and the key of their prison cells is at least in their own pocket.
[Sidenote: Two chief kinds of science, physics and dialectic.]
Some sciences, like chemistry and biology, or biology and anthropology, are parted only, we presume, by accidental gaps in human knowledge; a more minute and better directed study of these fields would doubtless disclose their continuity with the fields adjoining. But there is one general division in science which cuts almost to the roots of human experience. Human understanding has used from the beginning a double method of surveying and arresting ideally the irreparable flux of being. One expedient has been to notice and identify similarities of character, recurrent types, in the phenomena that pass before it or in its own operations; the other expedient has been to note and combine in one complex object characters which occur and reappear together. The latter feat which is made easy by the fact that when various senses are stimulated at once the inward instinctive reaction—which is felt by a primitive mind more powerfully than any external image—is one and not consciously divisible.
The first expedient imposes on the flux what we call ideas, which are concretions in discourse, terms employed in thought and language. The second expedient separates the same flux into what we call things, which are concretions in existence, complexes of qualities subsisting in space and time, having definable dynamic relations there and a traceable history. Carrying out this primitive diversity in reflection science has moved in two different directions. By refining concretions in discourse it has attained to mathematics, logic, and the dialectical developments of ethics; by tracing concretions in existence it has reached the various natural and historical sciences. Following ancient usage, I shall take the liberty of calling the whole group of sciences which elaborates ideas dialectic, and the whole group that describes existences physics.
The contrast between ideal science or dialectic and natural science or physics is as great as the understanding of a single experience could well afford; yet the two kinds of science are far from independent. They touch at their basis and they co-operate in their results. Were dialectic made clearer or physics deeper than it commonly is, these points of contact would doubtless be multiplied; but even as they stand they furnish a sufficient illustration of the principle that all science develops objects in their own category and gives the mind dominion over the flux of matter by discovering its form.
[Sidenote: Their mutual implication.]
That physics and dialectic touch at their basis may be shown by a double analysis. In the first place, it is clear that the science of existence, like all science, is itself discourse, and that before concretions in existence can be discovered, and groups of coexistent qualities can be recognised, these qualities themselves must be arrested by the mind, noted, and identified in their recurrences. But these terms, bandied about in scientific discourse, are so many essences and pure ideas: so that the inmost texture of natural science is logical, and the whole force of any observation made upon the outer world lies in the constancy and mutual relations of the terms it is made in. If down did not mean down and motion motion, Newton could never have taken note of the fall of his apple. Now the constancy and relation of meanings is something meant, it is something created by insight and intent and is altogether dialectical; so that the science of existence is a portion of the art of discourse.
On the other hand discourse, in its operation, is a part of existence. That truth or logical cogency is not itself an existence can be proved dialectically,[A] and is obvious to any one who sees for a moment what truth means, especially if he remembers at the same time that all existence is mutable, which it is the essence of truth not to be. But the knowledge or discovery of truth is an event in time, an incident in the flux of existence, and therefore a matter for natural science to study.
Furthermore, every term which dialectic uses is originally given embodied; in other words, it is given as an element in the actual flux, it conies by illustration. Though meaning is the object of an ideal function, and signification is inwardly appreciable only in terms of signification, yet the ideal leap is made from a material datum: that in which signification is seen is a fact. Or to state the matter somewhat differently, truth is not self-generating; if it were it would be a falsehood.
Its eternity, and the infinitude of propositions it contains, remain potential and unapproachable until their incidence is found in existence. Form cannot of itself decide which of all possible forms shall be real; in their ideality, and without reference to their illustration in things, all consistent propositions would be equally valid and equally trivial. Important truth is truth about something, not truth about truth; and although a single datum might suffice to give foothold and pertinence to an infinity of truths, as one atom would posit all geometry, geometry, if there were no space, would be, if I may say so, all of the fourth dimension, and arithmetic, if there were no pulses or chasms in being, would be all algebra. Truth depends upon facts for its perspective, since facts select truths and decide which truths shall be mere possibilities and which shall be the eternal forms of actual things. The dialectical world would be a trackless desert if the existent world had no arbitrary constitution. Living dialectic comes to clarify existence; it turns into meanings the actual forms of things by reflecting upon them, and by making them intended subjects of discourse.
[Sidenote: Their co-operation.]
Dialectic and physics, thus united at their basis, meet again in their results. In mechanical science, which is the best part of physics, mathematics, which is the best part of dialectic, plays a predominant role; it furnishes the whole method of understanding wherever there is any real understanding at all. In psychology and history, too, although dialectic is soon choked by the cross-currents of nature, it furnishes the little perspicuousness which there is. We understand actions and mental developments when the purposes or ideas contained in any stage are carried out logically in the sequel; it is when conduct and growth are rational, that is, when they are dialectical, that we think we have found the true secret and significance of them. It is the evident ideal of physics, in every department, to attain such an insight into causes that the effects actually given may be thence deduced; and deduction is another name for dialectic. To be sure, the dialectic applicable to material processes and to human life is one in which the terms and the categories needed are still exceedingly numerous and vague: a little logic is all that can be read into the cataract of events. But the hope of science, a hope which is supported by every success it scores, is that a simpler law than has yet been discovered will be found to connect units subtler than those yet known; and that in these finer terms the universal mechanism may be exhaustively rendered. Mechanism is the ideal of physics, because it is the infusion of a maximum of mathematical necessity into the flux of real things. It is the aspiration of natural science to be as dialectical as possible, and thus, in their ideal, both branches of science are brought together.
That the ideal of dialectic is to apply to existence and thereby to coincide with physics is in a sense no less true, although dialecticians may be little inclined to confess it. The direct purpose of deduction is to elucidate an idea, to develop an import, and nothing can be more irrelevant in this science than whether the conclusion is verified in nature or not. But the direct purpose of dialectic is not its ultimate justification. Dialectic is a human pursuit and has, at bottom, a moral function; otherwise, at bottom, it would have no value. And the moral function and ultimate justification of dialectic is to further the Life of Reason, in which human thought has the maximum practical validity, and may enjoy in consequence the richest ideal development. If dialectic takes a turn which makes it inapplicable in physics, which makes it worthless for mastering experience, it loses all its dignity: for abstract cogency has no dignity if the subject-matter into which it is introduced is trivial. In fact, were dialectic a game in which the counters were not actual data and the conclusions were not possible principles for understanding existence, it would not be a science at all. It would resemble a counterfeit paper currency, without intrinsic value and without commercial convenience. Just as a fact without implications is not a part of science, so a method without application would not be.
The free excursions of dialectic into non-natural regions may be wisely encouraged when they satisfy an interest which is at bottom healthy and may, at least indirectly, bring with it excellent fruits. As musicians are an honour to society, so are dialecticians that have a single heart and an exquisite patience. But somehow the benefit must redound to society and to practical knowledge, or these abstracted hermits will seem at first useless and at last mad. The logic of nonsense has a subtle charm only because it can so easily be turned into the logic of common sense. Empty dialectic is, as it were, the ballet of science: it runs most neatly after nothing at all.
[Sidenote: No science a priori.]
Both physics and dialectic are contained in common knowledge, and when carried further than men carry them daily life these sciences remain essentially inevitable and essentially fallible. If science deserves respect, it is not for being oracular but for being useful and delightful, as seeing is. Understanding is nothing but seeing under and seeing far. There is indeed a great mystery in knowledge, but this mystery is present in the simplest memory or presumption. The sciences have nothing to supply more fundamental than vulgar thinking or, as it were, preliminary to it. They are simply elaborations of it; they accept its pre-suppositions and carry on its ordinary processes. A pretence on the philosopher's part that he could get behind or below human thinking, that he could underpin, so to speak, his own childhood and the inherent conventions of daily thought, would be pure imposture. A philosopher can of course investigate the history of knowledge, he can analyse its method and point out its assumptions; but he cannot know by other authority than that which the vulgar know by, nor can his knowledge begin with other unheard-of objects or deploy itself in advance over an esoteric field. Every deeper investigation presupposes ordinary perception and uses some at least of its data. Every possible discovery extends human knowledge. None can base human knowledge anew on a deeper foundation or prefix an ante-experimental episode to experience. We may construct a theory as disintegrating as we please about the dialectical or empirical conditions of the experience given; we may disclose its logical stratification or physical antecedents; but every idea and principle used in such a theory must be borrowed from current knowledge as it happens to lie in the philosopher's mind.
[Sidenote: Role of criticism.]
If these speculative adventures do not turn out well, the scientific man is free to turn about and become the critic and satirist of his foiled ambitions. He may exhaust scepticism and withdraw into the citadel of immediate feeling, yielding bastion after bastion to the assaults of doubt. When he is at last perfectly safe from error and reduced to speechless sensibility, he will perceive, however, that he is also washed clean of every practical belief: he would declare himself universally ignorant but for a doubt whether there be really anything to know. This metaphysical exercise is simply one of those "fallings from us, vanishings, blank misgivings of a creature moving about in worlds not realised" which may visit any child. So long as the suspension of judgment lasts, knowledge is surely not increased; but when we remember that the enemy to whom we have surrendered is but a ghost of our own evoking, we easily reoccupy the lost ground and fall back into an ordinary posture of belief and expectation. This recovered faith has no new evidences to rest on. We simply stand where we stood before we began to philosophise, only with a better knowledge of the lines we are holding and perhaps with less inclination to give them up again for no better reason than the undoubted fact that, in a speculative sense, it is always possible to renounce them.
Science, then, is the attentive consideration of common experience; it is common knowledge extended and refined. Its validity is of the same order as that of ordinary perception, memory, and understanding. Its test is found, like theirs, in actual intuition, which sometimes consists in perception and sometimes in intent. The flight of science is merely longer from perception to perception, and its deduction more accurate of meaning from meaning and purpose from purpose. It generates in the mind, for each vulgar observation, a whole brood of suggestions, hypotheses, and inferences. The sciences bestow, as is right and fitting, infinite pains upon that experience which in their absence would drift by unchallenged or misunderstood. They take note, infer, and prophesy. They compare prophecy with event; and altogether they supply—so intent are they on reality—every imaginable background and extension for the present dream.
[Footnote A: For instance, in Plato's "Parmenides," where it is shown that the ideas are not in the mind. We may gather from what is there said that the ideas cannot be identified with any embodiment of them, however perfect, since an idea means a nature common to all its possible embodiments and remains always outside of them. This is what Plato meant by saying that the ideas lay apart from phenomena and were what they were in and for themselves. They were mere forms and not, as a materialised Platonism afterward fancied, images in the mind of some psychological deity. The gods doubtless know the ideas, as Plato tells us in the same place: these are the common object of their thought and of ours; hence they are not anybody's thinking process, which of course would be in flux and phenomenal. Only by being ideal (i.e., by being a goal of intellectual energy and no part of sensuous existence) can a term be common to various minds and serve to make their deliverances pertinent to one another.
That truth is no existence might also be proved as follows: Suppose that nothing existed or (if critics carp at that phrase), that a universe did not exist. It would then be true that all existences were wanting, yet this truth itself would endure; therefore truth is not an existence. An attempt might be made to reverse this argument by saying that since it would still "be" true that nothing existed, the supposition is self-contradictory, for the truth would "be" or exist in any case. Truth would thus be turned into an opinion, supposed to subsist eternally in the ether. The argument, however, is a bad sophism, because it falsifies the intent of the terms used. Somebody's opinion is not what is meant by the truth, since every opinion, however long-lived, may be false. Furthermore, the notion that it might have been true that nothing existed is a perfectly clear notion. The nature of dialectic is entirely corrupted when sincerity is lost. No intent can be self-contradictory, since it fixes its own object, but a man may easily contradict himself by wavering between one intent and another.]
[Sidenote: History an artificial memory.]
The least artificial extension of common knowledge is history. Personal recollection supplies many an anecdote, anecdotes collected and freely commented upon make up memoirs, and memoirs happily combined make not the least interesting sort of history. When a man recalls any episode in his career, describes the men that flourished in his youth, or laments the changes that have since taken place, he is an informal historian. He would become one in a formal and technical sense if he supplemented and controlled his memory by ransacking papers, and taking elaborate pains to gather evidence on the events he wished to relate. This systematic investigation, especially when it goes back to first sources, widens the basis for imaginative reconstruction. It buttresses somewhat the frail body of casual facts that in the first instance may have engaged an individual's attention.
History is nothing but assisted and recorded memory. It might almost be said to be no science at all, if memory and faith in memory were not what science necessarily rests on. In order to sift evidence we must rely on some witness, and we must trust experience before we proceed to expand it. The line between what is known scientifically and what has to be assumed in order to support that knowledge is impossible to draw. Memory itself is an internal rumour; and when to this hearsay within the mind we add the falsified echoes that reach us from others, we have but a shifting and unseizable basis to build upon. The picture we frame of the past changes continually and grows every day less similar to the original experience which it purports to describe.
[Sidenote: Second sight requires control.]
It is true that memory sometimes, as in a vision, seems to raise the curtain upon the past and restore it to us in its pristine reality. We may imagine at such moments experience can never really perish, but, though hidden by chance from the roving eye, endures eternally in some spiritual sphere. Such bodily recovery of the past, however, like other telepathic visions, can never prove its own truth. A lapse into by-gone perception, a sense of living the past over with all its vivid minutiae and trivial concomitants, might involve no true repetition of anything that had previously existed. It might be a fresh experience altogether. The sense of knowing constitutes only a working presumption for experiment to start with; until corroboration comes that presumption can claim no respect from the outsider.
[Sidenote: Nature the theme common to various memories.]
While memory remains a private presumption, therefore, it can be compared with nothing else that might test its veracity. Only when memory is expressed and, in the common field of expression, finds itself corroborated by another memory, does it rise somewhat in dignity and approach scientific knowledge. Two presumptions, when they coincide, make a double assurance. While memory, then, is the basis of all historical knowledge, it is not called history until it enters a field where it can be supported or corrected by evidence. This field is that natural world which all experiences, in so far as they are rational, envisage together. Assertions relating to events in that world can corroborate or contradict one another—something that would be impossible if each memory, like the plot of a novel, moved in a sphere of its own. For memory to meet memory, the two must present objects which are similar or continuous: then they can corroborate or correct each other and help to fix the order of events as they really happened—that is, as they happened independently of what either memory may chance to represent. Thus even the most miraculous and direct recovery of the past needs corroboration if it is to be systematically credited; but to receive corroboration it must refer to some event in nature, in that common world in space and time to which other memories and perceptions may refer also. In becoming history, therefore, memory becomes a portion of natural science. Its assertions are such that any natural science may conceivably support or contradict them.
[Sidenote: Growth of legend.]
Nature and its transformations, however, form too serried and complicated a system for our wayward minds to dominate if left to their spontaneous workings. Whatever is remembered or conceived is at first vaguely believed to have its place in the natural order, all myth and fable being originally localised within the confines of the material world and made to pass for a part of early history. The method by which knowledge of the past is preserved is so subject to imaginative influence that it cannot avail to exclude from history anything that the imagination may supply. In the growth of legend a dramatic rhythm becomes more and more marked. What falls in with this rhythm is reproduced and accentuated whenever the train of memory is started anew. The absence of such cadences would leave a sensible gap—a gap which the momentum of ideation is quick to fill up with some appropriate image. Whatever, on the other hand, cannot be incorporated into the dominant round of fancies is consigned more and more to oblivion.
This consolidation of legend is not intentional. It is ingenuous and for the most part inevitable. When we muse about our own past we are conscious of no effort to give it dramatic unity; on the contrary, the excitement and interest of the process consist in seeming to discover the hidden eloquence and meaning of the events themselves. When a man of experience narrates the wonders he has seen, we listen with a certain awe, and believe in him for his miracles as we believe in our own memory for its arts. A bard's mechanical and ritualistic habits usually put all judgment on his own part to sleep; while the sanctity attributed to the tale, as it becomes automatically more impressive, precludes tinkering with it intentionally. Especially the allegories and marvels with which early history is adorned are not ordinarily invented with malice prepense. They are rather discovered in the mind, like a foundling, between night and morning. They are divinely vouchsafed. Each time the tale is retold it suffers a variation which is not challenged, since it is memory itself that has varied. The change is discoverable only if some record of the narrative in its former guise, or some physical memorial of the event related, survives to be confronted with the modified version. The modified version itself can make no comparisons. It merely inherits the name and authority of its ancestor. The innocent poet believes his own lies.
Legends consequently acquire a considerable eloquence and dramatic force. These beauties accrue spontaneously, because rhythm and ideal pertinence, in which poetic merit largely lies, are natural formative principles for speech and memory. As symmetry in material structures is a ground for strength, and hills by erosion are worn to pyramids, so it is in thoughts. Yet the stability attained is not absolute, but only such stability as the circumstances require. Dramatic effect is not everywhere achieved, nor is it missed by the narrator where it is wanting, so that even the oldest and best-pruned legends are full of irrelevant survivals, contradictions, and scraps of nonsense. These literary blemishes are like embedded fossils and tell of facts which the mechanism of reproduction, for some casual reason, has not obliterated. The recorder of verbal tradition religiously sets down its inconsistencies and leaves in the transfigured chronicle many tell-tale incidents and remarks which, like atrophied organs in an animal body, reveal its gradual formation. Art and a deliberate pursuit of unction or beauty would have thrown over this baggage. The automatic and pious minstrel carries it with him to the end.
[Sidenote: No history without documents.]
For these reasons there can be no serious history until there are archives and preserved records, although sometimes a man in a privileged position may compose interesting essays on the events and persons of his own time, as his personal experience has presented them to him. Archives and records, moreover, do not absolve a speculative historian from paying the same toll to the dramatic unities and making the same concessions to the laws of perspective which, in the absence of documents, turn tradition so soon into epic poetry. The principle that elicits histories out of records is the same that breeds legends out of remembered events. In both cases the facts are automatically foreshortened and made to cluster, as it were providentially, about a chosen interest. The historian's politics, philosophy, or romantic imagination furnishes a vital nucleus for reflection. All that falls within that particular vortex is included in the mental picture, the rest is passed over and tends to drop out of sight. It is not possible to say, nor to think, everything at once; and the private interest which guides a man in selecting his materials imposes itself inevitably on the events he relates and especially on their grouping and significance.
History is always written wrong, and so always needs to be rewritten. The conditions of expression and even of memory dragoon the facts and put a false front on diffuse experience. What is interesting is brought forward as if it had been central and efficacious in the march of events, and harmonies are turned into causes. Kings and generals are endowed with motives appropriate to what the historian values in their actions; plans are imputed to them prophetic of their actual achievements, while the thoughts that really preoccupied them remain buried in absolute oblivion. Such falsification is inevitable, and an honest historian is guilty of it only against his will. He would wish, as he loves the truth, to see and to render it entire. But the limits of his book and of his knowledge force him to be partial. It is only a very great mind, seasoned by large wisdom, that can lend such an accent and such a carrying-power to a few facts as to make them representative of all reality.
[Sidenote: The aim is truth.]
Some historians, indeed, are so frankly partisan or cynical that they avowedly write history with a view to effect, either political or literary. Moralising historians belong to this school, as well as those philosophers who worship evolution. They sketch every situation with malice and twist it, as if it were an argument, to bring out a point, much as fashionable portrait-painters sometimes surcharge the characteristic, in order to make a bold effect at a minimum expense of time and devotion. And yet the truly memorable aspect of a man is that which he wears in the sunlight of common day, with all his generic humanity upon him. His most interesting phase is not that which he might assume under the lime-light of satirical or literary comparisons. The characteristic is after all the inessential. It marks a peripheral variation in the honest and sturdy lump. To catch only the heartless shimmer of individuality is to paint a costume without the body that supports it. Therefore a broad and noble historian sets down all within his apperception. His literary interests are forgotten; he is wholly devoted to expressing the passions of the dead. His ideal, emanating from his function and chosen for no extraneous reason, is to make his heroes think and act as they really thought and acted in the world.
Nevertheless the opposite happens, sometimes to a marked and even scandalous degree. As legend becomes in a few generations preposterous myth, so history, after a few rehandlings and condensations, becomes unblushing theory. Now theory—when we use the word for a schema of things' relations and not for contemplation of them in their detail and fulness—is an expedient to cover ignorance and remedy confusion. The function of history, if it could be thoroughly fulfilled, would be to render theory unnecessary. Did we possess a record of all geological changes since the creation we should need no geological theory to suggest to us what those changes must have been. Hypothesis is like the rule of three: it comes into play only when one of the terms is unknown and needs to be inferred from those which are given. The ideal historian, since he would know all the facts, would need no hypotheses, and since he would imagine and hold all events together in their actual juxtapositions he would need no classifications. The intentions, acts, and antecedents of every mortal would be seen in their precise places, with no imputed qualities or scope; and when those intentions had been in fact fulfilled, the fulfilments too would occupy their modest position in the rank and file of marching existence. To omniscience the idea of cause and effect would be unthinkable. If all things were perceived together and co-existed for thought, as they actually flow through being, on one flat phenomenal level, what sense would there be in saying that one element had compelled another to appear? The relation of cause is an instrument necessary to thought only when thought is guided by presumption. We say, "If this thing had happened, that other thing would have followed"—a hypothesis which would lapse and become unmeaning had we always known all the facts. For no supposition contrary to fact would then have entered discourse.
[Sidenote: Indirect methods of attaining it.]
This ideal of direct omniscience is, however, impossible to attain; not merely accidental frailties, but the very nature of things stands in the way. Experience cannot be suspended or sustained in being, because its very nucleus is mobile and in shifting cannot retain its past phases bodily, but only at best some trace or representation of them. Memory itself is an expedient by which what is hopelessly lost in its totality may at least be partly kept in its beauty or significance; and experience can be enlarged in no other way than by carrying into the moving present the lesson and transmitted habit of much that is past. History is naturally reduced to similar indirect methods of recovering what has lapsed. The historian's object may be to bring the past again before the mind in all its living reality, but in pursuing that object he is obliged to appeal to inference, to generalisation, and to dramatic fancy. We may conveniently distinguish in history, as it is perforce written by men, three distinct elements, which we may call historical investigation, historical theory, and historical romance.
[Sidenote: Historical research a part of physics.]
Historical investigation is the natural science of the past. The circumstance that its documents are usually literary may somewhat disguise the physical character and the physical principles of this science; but when a man wishes to discover what really happened at a given moment, even if the event were somebody's thought; he has to read his sources, not for what they say, but for what they imply. In other words, the witnesses cannot be allowed merely to speak for themselves, after the gossiping fashion familiar in Herodotus; their testimony has to be interpreted according to the laws of evidence. The past needs to be reconstructed out of reports, as in geology or archaeology it needs to be reconstructed out of stratifications and ruins. A man's memory or the report in a newspaper is a fact justifying certain inferences about its probable causes according to laws which such phenomena betray in the present when they are closely scrutinised. This reconstruction is often very difficult, and sometimes all that can be established in the end is merely that the tradition before us is certainly false; somewhat as a perplexed geologist might venture on no conclusion except that the state of the earth's crust was once very different from what it is now.
[Sidenote: Verification here indirect.]
A natural science dealing with the past labours under the disadvantage of not being able to appeal to experiment. The facts it terminates upon cannot be recovered, so that they may verify in sense the hypothesis that had inferred them. The hypothesis can be tested only by current events; it is then turned back upon the past, to give assurance of facts which themselves are hypothetical and remain hanging, as it were, to the loose end of the hypothesis itself. A hypothetical fact is a most dangerous creature, since it lives on the credit of a theory which in turn would be bankrupt if the fact should fail. Inferred past facts are more deceptive than facts prophesied, because while the risk of error in the inference is the same, there is no possibility of discovering that error; and the historian, while really as speculative as the prophet, can never be found out.
Most facts known to man, however, are reached by inference, and their reality may be wisely assumed so long as the principle by which they are inferred, when it is applied in the present, finds complete and constant verification. Presumptions involved in memory and tradition give the first hypothetical facts we count upon; the relations which these first facts betray supply the laws by which facts are to be concatenated; and these laws may then be used to pass from the first hypothetical facts to hypothetical facts of a second order, forming a background and congruous extension to those originally assumed. This expansion of discursive science can go on for ever, unless indeed the principles of inference employed in it involve some present existence, such as a skeleton in a given tomb, which direct experience fails to verify. Then the theory itself is disproved and the whole galaxy of hypothetical facts which clustered about it forfeit their credibility.
[Sidenote: Futile ideal to survey all facts.]
Historical investigation has for its aim to fix the order and character of events throughout past time in all places. The task is frankly superhuman, because no block of real existence, with its infinitesimal detail, can be recorded, nor if somehow recorded could it be dominated by the mind; and to carry on a survey of this social continuum ad infinitum would multiply the difficulty. The task might also be called infrahuman, because the sort of omniscience which such complete historical science would achieve would merely furnish materials for intelligence: it would be inferior to intelligence itself. There are many things which, as Aristotle says, it is better not to know than to know—namely, those things which do not count in controlling the mind's fortunes nor enter into its ideal expression. Such is the whole flux of immediate experience in other minds or in one's own past; and just as it is better to forget than to remember a nightmare or the by-gone sensations of sea-sickness, so it is better not to conceive the sensuous pulp of alien experience, something infinite in amount and insignificant in character.
An attempt to rehearse the inner life of everybody that has ever lived would be no rational endeavour. Instead of lifting the historian above the world and making him the most consummate of creatures, it would flatten his mind out into a passive after-image of diffuse existence, with all its horrible blindness, strain, and monotony. Reason is not come to repeat the universe but to fulfil it. Besides, a complete survey of events would perforce register all changes that have taken place in matter since time began, the fields of geology, astronomy, palaeontology, and archaeology being all, in a sense, included in history. Such learning would dissolve thought in a vertigo, if it had not already perished of boredom. Historical research is accordingly a servile science which may enter the Life of Reason to perform there some incidental service, but which ought to lapse as soon as that service is performed.
[Sidenote: Historical theory.]
The profit of studying history lies in something else than in a dead knowledge of what happens to have happened. A seductive alternative might be to say that the profit of it lies in understanding what has happened, in perceiving the principles and laws that govern social evolution, or the meaning which events have. We are hereby launched upon a region of physico-ethical speculation where any man with a genius for quick generalisation can swim at ease. To find the one great cause why Borne fell, especially if no one has ever thought of it before, or to expound the true import of the French Revolution, or to formulate in limpid sentences the essence of Greek culture—what could be more tempting or more purely literary? It would ill become the author of this book to decry allegorical expressions, or a cavalierlike fashion of dismissing whole periods and tendencies with a verbal antithesis. We must have exercises in apperception, a work of imagination must be taken imaginatively, and a landscape painter must be suffered to be, at his own risk, as impressionistic as he will. If Raphael, when he was designing the School of Athens, had said to himself that Aristotle should point down to a fact and Plato up to a meaning, or when designing the Disputa had conceived that the proudest of intellects, weary of argument and learning, should throw down his books and turn to revelation for guidance, there would have been much historical pertinence in those conceptions; yet the figures would have been allegorical, contracting into a decorative design events that had been dispersed through centuries and emotions that had only cropped up here and there, with all manner of variations and alloys, when the particular natural situation had made them inevitable. So the Renaissance might be spoken of as a person and the Reformation as her step-sister, and something might be added about the troubles of their home life; but would it be needful in that case to enter a warning that these units were verbal merely, and that the phenomena and the forces really at work had been multitudinous and infinitesimal?
[Sidenote: It is arbitrary.]
In fine, historical terms mark merely rhetorical unities, which have no dynamic cohesion, and there are no historical laws which are not at bottom physical, like the laws of habit—those expressions of Newton's first law of motion. An essayist may play with historical apperception as long as he will and always find something new to say, discovering the ideal nerve and issue of a movement in a different aspect of the facts. The truly proportionate, constant, efficacious relations between things will remain material. Physical causes traverse the moral units at which history stops, determining their force and duration, and the order, so irrelevant to intent, in which they succeed one another. Even the single man's life and character have subterranean sources; how should the outer expression and influence of that character have sources more superficial than its own? Yet we cannot trace mechanical necessity down to the more stable units composing a personal mechanism, and much less, therefore, to those composing a complex social evolution. We accordingly translate the necessity, obviously lurking under life's commonplace yet unaccountable shocks, into verbal principles, names for general impressive results, that play some role in our ideal philosophy. Each of these idols of the theatre is visible only on a single stage and to duly predisposed spectators. The next passion affected will throw a differently coloured calcium light on the same pageant, and there will be no end of rival evolutions and incompatible ideal principles crossing one another at every interesting event.
Such a manipulation of history, when made by persons who underestimate their imaginative powers, ends in asserting that events have directed themselves prophetically upon the interests which they arouse. Apart from the magic involved and the mockery of all science, there is a difficulty here which even a dramatic idealist ought to feel. The interests affected are themselves many and contrary. If history is to be understood teleologically, which of all the possible ends it might be pursuing shall we think really endowed with regressive influence and responsible for the movement that is going to realise it? Did Columbus, for instance, discover America so that George Washington might exist and that some day football and the Church of England may prevail throughout the world? Or was it (as has been seriously maintained) in order that the converted Indians of South America might console Saint Peter for the defection of the British and Germans? Or was America, as Hegel believed, ideally superfluous, the absolute having become self-conscious enough already in Prussia? Or shall we say that the real goal is at an infinite distance and unimaginable by us, and useless, therefore, for understanding anything?
In truth, whatever plausibility the providential view of a given occurrence may have is dependent on the curious limitation and selfishness of the observer's estimations. Sheep are providentially designed for men; but why not also for wolves, and men for worms and microbes? If the historian is willing to accept such a suggestion, and to become a blind worshipper of success, applauding every issue, however lamentable for humanity, and calling it admirable tragedy, he may seem for a while to save his theory by making it mystical; yet presently this last illusion will be dissipated when he loses his way in the maze and finds that all victors perish in their turn and everything, if you look far enough, falls back into the inexorable vortex. This is the sort of observation that the Indian sages made long ago; it is what renders their philosophy, for all its practical impotence, such an irrefragable record of experience, such a superior, definitive perception of the flux. Beside it, our progresses of two centuries and our philosophies of history, embracing one-quarter of the earth for three thousand years, seem puerile vistas indeed. Shall all eternity and all existence be for the sake of what is happening here to-day, and to me? Shall we strive manfully to the top of this particular wave, on the ground that its foam is the culmination of all things for ever?
There is a sense, of course, in which definite political plans and moral aspirations may well be fulfilled by events. Our ancestors, sharing and anticipating our natures, may have had in many respects our actual interests in view, as we may have those of posterity. Such ideal co-operation extends far, where primary interests are concerned; it is rarer and more qualified where a fine and fragile organisation is required to support the common spiritual life. Even in these cases, the aim pursued and attained is not the force that operates, since the result achieved had many other conditions besides the worker's intent, and that intent itself had causes which it knew nothing of. Every "historical force" pompously appealed to breaks up on inspection into a cataract of miscellaneous natural processes and minute particular causes. It breaks into its mechanical constituents and proves to have been nothing but an effet d'ensemble produced on a mind whose habits and categories are essentially rhetorical.
[Sidenote: A moral critique of the past is possible.]
This sort of false history or philosophy of history might be purified, like so many other things, by self-knowledge. If the philosopher in reviewing events confessed that he was scrutinising them in order to abstract from them whatever tended to illustrate his own ideals, as he might look over a crowd to find his friends, the operation would become a perfectly legitimate one. The events themselves would be left for scientific inference to discover, where credible reports did not testify to them directly; and the causes of events would be left to some theory of natural evolution, to be stated, according to the degree of knowledge attained, in terms more and more exact and mechanical. In the presence of the past so defined imagination and will, however, would not abdicate their rights, and a sort of retrospective politics, an estimate of events in reference to the moral ideal which they embodied or betrayed, might supervene upon positive history. This estimate of evolution might well be called a philosophy of history, since it would be a higher operation performed on the results of natural science, to give a needful basis and illustration to the ideal. The present work is an essay in that direction.