« EelmineJätka »
called practical man observes what his especial work forces upon him, and he forms his notions upon it with reference to this particular work. The man of science observes what he intends to observe, and knows why he intends it. The value which this peculiar object has in his eyes is not determined by accident, nor by an external cause-such as the mere connection with work to be performed—but by the place which he knows this object to hold in the general universe of knowledge-by the relation which it bears to other parts of that general knowledge. To arrange and classify that universe of knowledge becomes, therefore, the first and perhaps the most important object and duty of science. It is only when brought into a system, by separating the incongruous, and combining those elements in which we have been enabled to discover the internal connection which the Almighty has implanted in them, that we can hope to grapple with the boundlessness of His creation, and with the laws which govern both mind and matter.
The operation of science, then, has been systematically to divide human knowledge, and raise, as it were, the separate grounds of subjects for scientific consideration, into different and distinct sciences. The tendency to create new sciences is peculiarly apparent in our present age, and is perhaps inseparable from so rapid a progress as we have seen in our days. For the acquaintance with, and mastering of distinct branches of knowledge enables the eye, from the newly-gained points of sight, to see the new ramifications into which they divide themselves, in strict consecutiveness, and with logical necessity. But in thus gaining new centres of light from which to direct our researches, and new and powerful means of adding to its ever-increasing treasures, science approaches no nearer to the limits of its range, although travelling further and further from its original point of departure. For God's world is infinite, and the boundlessness of the universe whose confines appear ever to retreat before our finite minds, strikes us no less with awe, when, prying into the starry crowd of heaven, we find new worlds revealed to us by every increase in the power of the telescope, than when the microscope discloses to us in a drop of water, or an atom of dust, new worlds of life and animation, or the remains of such as have passed away.
Whilst the tendency to push systematic investigation into every direction enables the individual mind of man to bring all the power of which he is capable to bear on the specialities of his study, and enables a greater number of labourers to take part in the universal work, it may be feared that that consciousness of its unity which must pervade the whole of science, if it is not to lose its last and highest point of sight, may suffer. It has occasionally been given to rare intellects and the highest genius to follow the various sciences in their divergent roads, and yet to preserve that point of sight from which alone their totality can be contemplated and directed. Yet how rare is the appearance of such gifted intellects! and if they be found at intervals, they remain still single individuals, with all the imperfections of human nature. The only mode of supplying, with any certainty, this want, is to be sought in the combination of men of science, representing all the specialities and working together for the common object of preserving that unity, and presiding over that general direction. This has been to some extent done in many countries by the establishment of academies embracing the whole range of the sciences, whether physical or metaphysical, historical or political. In the absence of such an institution in this country, all lovers of science must rejoice at the existence and activity of this association, which embraces in its sphere of action, if not the whole range of the sciences, yet a very large and important section of them—those known as the inductive sciences, excluding all that are not approached by the inductive method of investigation. It has, for instance (and considering its peculiar organisation and mode of action, perhaps not unwisely), eliminated from its consideration and discussions those which came under the description of moral and political sciences. This has not been done from undervaluing their importance and denying their sacred rights to the special attention of mankind, but from a desire to deal with those subjects only which can be reduced to positive proof, and do not rest upon opinion or faith. The subjects of the moral and political sciences involve not only opinions but feelings, and their discussion frequently rouses passions, for feelings are subjective," as the German metaphysician has it; they are inseparable from the individual being-an attack upon them is felt as one upon the person itself; whilst facts are objective, and belong to everybody, they remain the same facts at all times, and under all circumstances. They can be proved, they have to be proved, and when proved, are finally settled; it is with facts only that the association deals. There may for a time exist differences of opinion on these also, but the process of removing them and resolving them into agreement, is a different one from that in the moral and political sciences. These are generally approached by the deductive process; but if the reasoning be ever so acute and logically correct, and the point of departure which may be arbitrarily selected is disputed, no agreement is possible. Whilst we proceed here by the inductive process, taking nothing on trust, nothing for granted, but reasoning upwards from the meanest fact established, and making every step sure before going one beyond it, like the engineer in his approaches to a fortress, we thus gain ultimately a roadway, a ladder, by which even a child may, almost without knowing it, ascend to the summit of truth, and obtain that immensely wide and extensive view which is spread out below the feet of the as, tonished beholder. This road has been shewn to us by the great Bacon,—and who can contemplate the prospects which it opens without almost falling into a trance similar to that in which he allowed his imagination to wander over future ages of discovery.
From amongst the political sciences it has been attempted in modern times to detach one which admits of being severed from individual political opinions, and of being reduced to abstract laws, derived from well authenticated facts. I mean political economy based upon general statistics.
A new association has lately been formed, imitating our perambulating habits, and striving to comprehend in its investigations and discussions, even a still more extended range of subjects in what is called “social science." These efforts deserve our warmest approbation and good-will. Our own association has since its meeting in Dublin recognised the growing claims of political economy to scientific brotherhood, and admitted it into its statistical sec. tion. It could not have done so under abler guidance and happier auspices than the presidency of the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Whateley, whose efforts in this direction are so universally appreciated. But even in this section, and whilst statistics alone were treated in it, the association, as far back as 1833, made it a rule that in order to ensure positive results, only those classes of facts should be admitted which were capable of being expressed by numbers, and which promised when sufficiently multiplied to indicate general laws. If, then, the main object of science—and I beg to be understood henceforth as speaking only of that section which the association has under its special care, viz., inductive scienceif, I say, the object of science is the discovery of the laws which govern natural phenomena, the primary condition for its success is accurate observation and collection of facts in such comprehensiveness and completeness, as to furnish the philosopher with the necessary material from which to draw safe conclusions. Science is not of yesterday; we stand on the shoulders of past ages, and the amount of observations made, and facts ascer. tained, has been transmitted to us, and carefully preserved in the various storehouses of science. Other crops have been reaped, but still lie scattered on the field. Many a rich harvest is ripe for cutting, but waits for the reaper. Economy of labour is the essence of good husbandry, and no less so in the field of science. Our association has felt the importance of this truth, and may well claim as one of its principal merits, the constant endeavour to secure that economy. One of the latest undertakings of the association has been a compilation of scientific memoirs, which, by combining under one lead the titles of all memoirs written on a certain subject, will, when completed, enable the student wiio wishes to gain information on that subject, to do so with the greatest ease. It gives him, as it were, the plan of the house, and the key to different apartments in which the treasures relating to his subject are stored, saving him at once a painful and laborious search, and affording him, at the same time, an assurance that what is there offered contains the whole of the treasures yet acquired. While this has been one of its latest attempts, the association has from its very beginning kept in view, that its main sphere of usefulness lay in that concentrated attention to all scientific operations which a general gives to the movements of his army, watching and regulating the progress of his impetuous soldiers in the different directions to which their orders may bave led them, carefully noting the gaps which may arise from their independent and eccentric action, and attentively observing what impediments may have stopped, or may threaten to stop, the progress of certain co