MS 162: November-December 1869

There is nothing perhaps which in a university town we feel more strongly than the contrast not to say contradiction between the modes of thought of the scientific and literary men. This divergency has existed throughout modern times and we already have evidence of its existence in the thirteenth century from the poem by Henry d'Andeli called the "Battle of the Seven Liberal Arts." You will find it in the Library. As I am not in the least degree literary it would be impossible, I suppose, for me to state correctly the position of literary men but this position appears to me to be that we cannot regard things as they ought to be regarded unless we look at them broadly and from the entirety of human nature; while the scientific man thinks that things cannot be understood unless they are scrutinized closely and narrowly and with the entire exclusion of the passions and emotional sensibilities.

A literary man thinks a specialist is a piddling pedant--and speaks of "Science peddling with the names of things." A scientific man thinks that in specialty lies the only intellectual salvation.

Which of these views is right 'twould be foolish for me to try to say. But this much I think must be conceded, that be the necessity of breadth of view and of general culture as great as you please, yet to understand science well, its proceeding and its logic, one must have recourse besides to an interior view of science and therefore to a scientific specialist.

This I feel sure is the opinion of scientific men, for I have heard the opinion expressed many times by them and the contrary one never.

In this respect Dr. Whewell's qualifications for treating of science could hardly have been better than they were, for he was not only a scientific specialist but an eminent scientific investigator, his works upon the tides containing a research of no ordinary importance. Indeed they will never be forgotten.

But while he was a specialist positivè he was not so negativè for he made original researches also into dynamics, conic sections, engineering, meteorology, optics, chemistry, and mineralogy of which last science he was professor for many years at Oxford.

Nor was his knowledge confined to Natural Science for he wrote several works upon Ethics and the history of Ethical doctrines, a number of papers on Metaphysics in which he was well versed, two books on Natural Theology, two on University Education, one of them in 3 volumes, a book of Sermons, a book on the Plurality of Worlds, a work on the architecture of German churches, articles in Encyclopaedias on other subjects, besides many other things.

He was a man who made enemies and it was said of him by one of them that "Knowledge was his forte, but omniscience was his foible," and you can imagine how the man must really have been respected, whose extremely arrogant manners brought down no bitterer satire than this.


[Chinese Music]


But Whewell was not the man to write upon the Logic of Science solely on the basis of general qualifications. He prepared himself for his task by an exhaustive study of the history of all Natural Science, and the Results of that study he has embodied in two works. One, The History of the Inductive Sciences, is a work which I have never heard spoken of without admiration by anybody acquainted with the subject; the other, The History of Scientific Ideas, is also executed with great ability, and I do not think these two books can be rivalled by anything upon the same subjects in any language. He also made a study of all previous attempts to erect a philosophy of the sciences and embodied his strictures upon them in a third work called The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences. And then and then only did he begin the construction of his own Theory.

But when I have stated all these qualifications of Whewell for what he undertook, I have left one condition unmentioned the importance of which relatively is as that one which our Saviour mentioned to the young man who had kept all the commandments from his youth up. For the question comes now to be asked did Dr. Whewell with all his knowledge of the history of science really derive his theory from that, or did he only use his knowledge to give a colour of verisimilitude to a theory which had come down to him as a metaphysical tradition or which he had drawn from Kant or some other metaphysical writer? I have not time to answer this question as it should be answered. You will detect some of the grounds upon which I have formed my opinion, but to state them fully would not be possible at present. I can only give it then as my conviction, which I can truly say is impartial, and which you can take for what it is worth, that when I consider what are the characters which are found associated with real Scientific Induction and exert my best power of distinguishing true scientific work I must say that Whewell's Novum Organon Renovatum seems to me to possess every mark of such work. And I think that in running over in my mind such of his works as I have read that I should say that a genuine impartiality--a rare trait--was one of his. Indeed I am so forcibly impressed with his work's having all the characters of a Scientific Induction from the History of Science that superior as I think that he is to other English and French writers upon the philosophy of science in point of learning and specially in scientific training, I think that his preëminent superiority lies in the perfect singlemindedness with which he has derived his theories from his facts.

A theory of science which is thus founded on the history of science in a truly scientific spirit and by a genuine inductive method and which does not merely make use of facts of scientific history to support a theory which has really been derived not from these but from a general philosophical doctrine of a metaphysical origin, must be true to the grand features of scientific progress, to all those characters of scientific investigation which leave their mark upon its history, although there is doubtless something else which concerns the individual investigator and which does not appear in his publications which such a theory would be apt to overlook. But scientific progress is to a large extent public and belongs to the community of scientific men of the same department, its conclusions are unanimous, its interpretations of nature are no private interpretations, and so much must always be published to the world as will suffice to enable the world to adopt the individual investigator's conclusions. For this reason, I am inclined to think that a historical theory of science like that of Whewell is likely to contain the most representative conditions of the success of scientific thought. And I think that Whewell's theory in fact does so.

There is one defect which I think belongs to Whewell's system and which I should think would be apt to belong to any systematic exposition of the proceedure of science. Such an exposition must of course divide scientific investigation into different parts, it must separate it into different kinds, and it must also distinguish between the different steps taken. I should think that it was a fault to be expected in any such system and one which is found in Whewell's, that the necessity of making these divisions would lead to drawing the line between them too sharply and to representing them as existing in a degree of isolation in which they neither are nor ought to be found.

Whewell's chief strength was in the physical sciences as distinguished from Natural History--and in the former observation and reasoning are much more separated than in the latter--and his chief work was done in that part of the physical sciences in which they are separated the most. I think that his books show this distinctly. His exposition of astronomy, optics, etc., is most admirable but I should imagine that his treatment of the classificatory sciences was less satisfactory. It seems to me, at least, that he has not represented the importance in all such sciences as chemistry, geology, zoology, &c. of observing and thinking together nor the fusion which there is and ought to be in those fields between observation and analysis.

Whewell's general conception of a science is that a scientific conclusion is composed of facts on the one hand and ideas on the other. This sentence really contains the essence or rather the germ of his theory of science, although it cannot at the outset convey any adequate notion to you. A scientific conclusion is composed of facts and of ideas. To reach it, the facts must be brought together--colligated--and the conceptions must be rendered distinct--explicated. Then the colligation of facts and the explication of conceptions are the two parts of scientific investigation.

I have stated this as though it were a conclusion à priori. I have so set it forth because it admits of such a presentation and because in such a mode of statement the unity of the theory is clearly brought out.

But that is not the way in which Whewell enforces it, for he has shown with great elaboration that in every science two processes have taken place. One, the observation and grouping of facts. The other, controversies which resulted in the establishment of clear conceptions.

This I have said is the central point of Whewell's theory; and it has been urged that it has been drawn from the Kantian philosophy.

The distinction in Kantism between the matter and form of cognition.

Double origin of knowledge.

This to be seen in Whewell, but yet common experience in scientific reasoning shows it to hold good.

Example of a cipher. Facts easily enough obtained. First difficulty is in getting the appropriate idea.

History of science also shows it.

If then it does happen to be in accord with the results of the profound analysis of cognition by Kant--a result which must be allowed by all who would avoid the extremes of sensualism and absolute idealism--I say if Whewell's theory accords with this--as well as with the History of Science--that ought to be regarded rather as a powerful support of the theory rather than as a disproof of it.

Professor Bowen, for example, has declared that Whewell's Philosophy of Science is "mere Kantism." So far as this means that it receives no support from the experience of scientific men, the question must be decided by those who have such experience. But so far as it is intended that Whewell's theory will not hold true if Kantism is false, I reply that Whewell's theory does not involve the whole of Kantism, but only the general proposition that cognition consists of two elements one of which is idealistic and the other empirical, a proposition which seems to be virtually admitted by Hamiltonians when they hold that all knowledge reposes in part ultimately on "Faith." I admit that besides this general agreement with Kant, Whewell also has the same conception of Space and Time in its most general outlines, but not by any means to such an extent as is peculiar to Kantism,--he goes no further than Cudworth did before Kant or than Sir Wm. Hamilton has since. I do not see therefore what Kantian propositions Whewell holds which Hamilton denies.

The process of explication of conceptions has according to Whewell been effected by means of controversies. And there can be no doubt that to take the controversies concerning the single science of mechanics as an example, men's thoughts were confused and hazy before the controversies about Galileo's time concerning the definition of uniform force, the question concerning the measure of the force of Percussion,--the war of the vis viva--the controversy of the centre of oscillation--of the principle of heart Action--&c. &c.--and that at the end of these debates their minds were so much clearer as to make a vast difference in the progress of science.

This calls our attention again to Whewell's theory being drawn from the public history of science. It is I have no doubt true that scientific conceptions have always first become clear in debates. And this is an important truth. But what was the mental process, what was the change and what the law of the change in the individual mind by which an obscure idea became clear? This Whewell tells us nothing of and indeed seems to have no conception of the question. A metaphysician's mind would have been wholly engrossed in this question to the entire exclusion of that one about the public process of controversy.

The final result of the clearing up of a conception, as it takes place in science along with observation and induction is that the conception is seen to be necessary.

Uniform force.

Parallelogram of forces.


This identification of inductive conclusions with à priori truths has been eagerly seized by J. S. Mill who makes his sensualistic theory of knowledge rest in large measure on this result of Whewell's. Others have ignorantly characterized it as mere Kantism to which in truth it bears no analogy.

This is decidedly the most theoretical and the weakest part of Whewell's theory but it is one which no man who moves in metaphysics with scientific caution can peremptorily deny. It should be regarded as an open question still and one to the solution of which we are not very near.

A consideration of Whewell's arguments in the Cambridge Philosophical Transactions to show that all matter is heavy leads me to the belief that the more convincing ones only go to show that we may be sure that we can adopt the formula "All matter is heavy" as long as we leave other formulae to be determined as may be necessary in order to be consistent with this one.

And this naturally brings us to Whewell's next remark which is that a clear conception resulting from a discussion is often formulated in a definition, but that in that case some proposition expressed or implied has always gone along with the definition. Thus along with the definition of the uniform force goes the proposition that gravity is a uniform force and along with the definition of the Vis Viva and in the whole discussion concerning it it is assumed that in the mutual action of bodies the whole effect of the force is unchanged.

This remark is excellent but somewhat inadequate to the subject. You often hear this and that called a question of words, but there are not nearly as many mere questions of words discussed as smatterers in logic are apt to imagine. As important a practical lesson as any other which I could indicate as derivable from the study of logic is how to distinguish a question of words from a question truly scientific and how to treat that class of questions which are apt to be mistaken for questions of words. In this department of logic, Whewell gives us but little assistance. He remarks however with perfect truth that in default of a definition Axioms may be made to fulfill the same function.

But clearness is not the only condition which a conception must satisfy in order that it may contribute to the progress of science. Besides being clear it must be appropriate. It seems to me that a good illustration of this is afforded us in chemistry. Chemistry presents the phenomenon of the perpetual recurrence of integral numbers. A few examples of these are the following: When two substances combine with one another in different proportions by weight, those proportions are to one another as two small integral numbers. Equivalent proportions of different vapours are either equal or bear to one another a ratio as between two small integral numbers. The specific heats of different substances divided by their chemical equivalents are in the ratio of two small integral numbers. The differences in the boiling points of adjacent members of two different series of organic compounds are in the ratio of two small integral numbers. The ratio of the equivalents of two elements usually approximates nearly to the ratio of two integral numbers.

It is a great and unsolved problem to find a theory which shall explain these things. In searching for such a theory we must look out for an idea which is appropriate to the subject.

Now the spectroscope has shown us that different chemical substances are distinguished by the greater or less refrangibility of the heat with which they vibrate. This greater or less refrangibility means a greater or less rapidity of vibration. And this again means that the elasticity or force which tends to draw a portion back to its original position when it has been disturbed is greater or less. Different chemical substances are therefore bodies of different elasticity and susceptible of different rates of vibration.

Now there is no part of the pure mathematical theory of force in which integral numbers come in to any great extent except that of vibrations. And then they come in constantly in the whole doctrine of nodes interferens etc.

Here then we have an idea appropriate to the subject. Not a clear conception as yet I admit--not a definite theory. But we have indicated to us the direction in which a theory should be sought.

What for example is the combining weight of a body? It is the weight of that body which contains a unit of chemical force.

And what is the specific gravity of a gas? It is the weight of the gas which contains a unit of elastic force. But it is a fact of chemistry that these two are equal. Then the elastic force of a gas is equal to its chemical force. But in certain vapours the specific gravity is only half the combining weight. So that the elasticity seems to be doubled just as if there were a sort of node in the vibration.

I have given this illustration of what appears to me to be an idea appropriate to this subject, in order that you might plainly see that the appropriate idea must contain the notion of elastic force. At least it must contain the idea of force.

But how have chemists endeavored to explain these things? By suppositions regarding the size, shape, and arrangement of the particles of bodies. Now these are mere geometrical ideas, which have no relation to the facts to be explained. And the consequence is that the atomic theory will not explain a single fact as it appears to me without the aid of subsidiary hypotheses, which subsidiary hypotheses taken by themselves, or else others equally probable, will suffice of themselves to account for all the facts which can be accounted for by the additional supposition of atoms.

No discoveries accidental.

We pass now, with Whewell, from the consideration of Ideas to the consideration of Facts, their observation and colligations. And here our author begins with the very fundamental proposition that all Facts involve Ideas.

This may remind the metaphysician of a metaphysical proposition, but nobody can understand Whewell who cannot look at these things from a practically scientific point of view.

All facts involve Ideas. This is the first lesson a man has to learn in studying science. What, is there not such a thing as pure observation?


[Drawings of nebulae.]


There is probably no one maxim of logic the ignorance of which by ordinary people produces such deplorable results as this that all Facts involve ideas. People detail to you some foolish story about Ghosts or Planchettes and seem to think that you must believe it or doubt their veracity. Now I certainly have no great confidence in the veracity of most people on speculative subjects; because a love of truth is very rarely strong without a really sound mental discipline; and nothing but the amiable desire of men to respect one another prevents this from being more generally perceived. But veracity apart, do these people suppose that they can make any pure observation unaffected by fancy passion or accidental moods or states of the nerves? The most trained scientific observers cannot do that; and as for those who are undisciplined and who are unaware of this weakness of human nature, especially when they are dealing with a subject so momentous as the other world, they are incapable of any approximation to it. A physician won't prescribe for himself. And if he has too much interest in the matter to keep his observations cold, ought not any ordinary person to be regarded as incompetent to keep cool when an immortal destiny is in question?


[Struve and 2nd satellite of Neptune]


But the influence of the mind upon observations is not necessarily evil. It may almost be said that we can only see what we look for.


[Rose-coloured protuberances]


And I only give this as a single instance of a proposition perfectly familiar among observers of all kinds.

Hence observation as distinct from mere gazing consists in perception in the light of a question.

[Enlarge a little on this--Whewell has not remarked this. Why.]