Page images
[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]


THE SCOPE AND METHOD OF SCIENCE $ 1. By naturalism is meant the philosophical generalization of science — the application of the theories of science Naturalism and to the problems of philosophy. Both philosNatural Science ophy and science have, as we have seen, a permanent and institutional character. Each has its own traditions, its own classic authorities, and its own devotees. But naturalism proposes to make the institution of science serve also as the institution of philosophy. This attempted unification of knowledge is perennial. Each epoch of European thought has had its characteristic variety of naturalism; in which its favorite scientific theories have been used to satisfy its peculiar philosophical needs. Thus the atomic theory of the ancients, the mechanical theory of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and the 'energetics' of more recent times, have each in turn been presented in the form of a Weltanschauung or general view of life.

The scientist proper, the man of special research, becomes a naturalistic philosopher only when he acts in a new capacity. As scientist, in the strict sense, he is non-committal with reference to philosophical problems. He adopts and employs a technique which is authorized by the consensus of experts within his own field. His problems are the unsolved problems of his forerunners and fellowworkers; his method, a variation or refinement of methods which have already proved fruitful. He is not troubled by the supposed paradoxes of space and time, or by such problems as the nature of causality, the unity of the world, and the meaning of truth. He moves, in short, within intellectual limits which he does not question, and

of which he may be even unconscious. But a scientist is also a man, and hence may readily become a philosopher as well. In hours of unprofessional meditation, his mind may turn to those more ultimate problems which are perpetually pressing for solution. And he may then assert that the solution of these problems lies in the application of the discoveries of science. Such an assertion he cannot prove in his laboratory; he can justify it only after the manner of the philosopher. The principal source of naturalism lies in this disposition of scientists, not infrequently men of weight, to assume the rôle of philosophers, and to carry with them into the forum of philosophy the traditions and hypotheses with which they are already familiar.

There is a less evident, though scarcely less important, source of naturalism in the popularization of science. When science is diffused, and transmuted into the form of common sense, it is almost invariably merged with philosophy. As a rule it is not substituted for theories emanating from philosophical sources, but is held along with them. Common sense has no nice regard for the spheres of the several branches of knowledge, and no repugnance whatsoever to contradictions. The mechanical and the spiritual theories of man, or the hypothesis of cosmic evolution and of divine creation, are accepted in the same sense and accorded equal weight; the one being learned from popular science, and the other from the pulpit. There is, furthermore, as we shall presently see, a peculiar readiness on the part of the vulgar mind to fall in with the naturalistic view of things, and to regard it as prior to all other views. For the naturalistic view is, in a certain respect, the same as the ‘practical' view, and has a source in organic habit independently of the diffusion of science.

§ 2. Since naturalism is but science in the rôle of The Prestige philosophy, it has during the last century

shared the unusual prestige which science has acquired. Science has come to stir the imagination of

of Science

« PreviousContinue »