Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

even with a high degree of probability. But meteorology not only has in itself every natural requisite for being, but actually is, a science; though the science is extremely imperfect.

No one doubts that Tidology (as Dr. Whewell proposes to call it) is really a science. But circumstances of a local or casual

a nature, such as the configuration of the bottom of the ocean, the degree of confinement from shores, the direction of the wind, etc., influence, in many or all places, the height and time of the tide ; and a portion of these circumstances being either not accurately knowable, not precisely measurable, or not capable of being certainly foreseen, the tide în known places commonly varies from the calculated result of general prin. ciples by some difference that we are not able to foresee or conjecture.

And this is what is or ought to be meant by those who speak of sciences which are not exact sciences. Astronomy was once a science, without being an exact science.

It has become an exact science.

The science of human nature is of this description. It falls far short of the standard of exactness now realized in Astronomy ; but there is no reason that it should not be as much a science as Tidology is, or as Astronomy was when its calculations had only mastered the main phenomena, but not the perturbations.

The phenomena with which this science of (human) nature is conversant being the thoughts, feelings, and actions of human beings, it would have attained the ideal perfection of a science if

a

it enabled us to foretell how an individual would think, feel, or act throughout life, with the same certainty with which astronomy enables us to predict the places and the occultations of the heavenly bodies. It need scarcely be stated that nothing approaching to this can be done. The actions of individuals could not be predicted with scientific accuracy, were it only because we can not foresee the whole of the circumstances in which those individuals will be placed. But further, even in any given combination of (present) circumstances, no assertion, which is both precise and universally true, can be made respecting the manner in which human beings will think, feel, and act. This is not, however, because every person's modes of thinking, feeling, and acting do not depend on causes ; nor can we doubt that if, in the case of any individual, our data could be complete, we even now know enough of the ultimate laws by which mental phenomena are determined, to enable us in many cases to predict, with tolerable certainty, what, in the greater number of supposable combinations of circumstances, his conduct or sentiments would be. But the impressions and actions of human beings are not solely the result of their present circumstances, but the joint result of those circumstances and of the characters of the individuals; and the agencies which determine human character are so numerous and diversified (nothing which has happened to the person throughout life being without its portion of influence),

[ocr errors]

that in the aggregate they are never in any two cases exactly similar. Hence, even if our science of human nature were theoretically perfect, that is, if we could calculate any character as we can calculate the orbit of any planet, from given data; still, as the data are never all given, nor ever precisely alike in different cases, we could neither make positive predictions, nor lay down universal propositions.

Inasmuch, however, as many of those effects which it is of most importance to render amenable to human foresight and control are determined, like the tides, in an incomparably greater degree by general causes, than by all partial causes taken together ; depending in the main on those circumstances and qualities which are common to all mankind, or at least to large bodies of them, and only in a small degree on the idiosyncrasies of organization or the peculiar history of individuals ; it is evidently possible with regard to all such effects, to make predictions which will almost always be verified, and general propositions which are almost always true. And whenever it is sufficient to know how the great majority of the human race, or of some nation or class of persons, will think, feel, and act, these propositions are equivalent to universal ones. For the purpose of political and social science this is sufficient. As we formerly remarked, an approximate generalization is, in social inquiries, for most practical purposes equivalent to an exact one ; that which is only probable when asserted of individual human beings indiscriminately selected, being certain when affirmed of the character and collective conduct of masses.

“ It is no disparagement, therefore, to the science of Human Nature, that those of its general propositions which descend sufficiently into detail to serve as a foundation for predicting phenomena in the concrete, are for the most part only approximately true. But in order to give a genuinely scientific character to the study, it is indispensable that these approximate generalizations, which in themselves would amount only to the lowest kind of empirical laws, should be connected deductively with the laws of nature from which they result ; should be resolved into the properties of the causes on which the phenomena depend. In other words, the science of Human Nature may be said to exist in proportion as the approximate truths, which compose a practical knowledge of mankind, can be exhibited as corollaries from the universal laws of human nature on which they rest ; whereby the proper limits of those approximate truths would be shown, and we should be enabled to deduce others for any new state of circumstances, in anticipation of specific experience.

The proposition now stated is the text on which are based the · Laws of Mind,' and ' Ethology, or the science of the Formation of Character." (Mill, System of Logic, pp. 586–596, 8° ed. 1874.)

[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »