§23. Economy of Research


122. Dr. Ernst Mach, who has one of the best faults a philosopher can have, that of riding his horse to death, does just this with his principle of Economy in science.1) But of course there is a doctrine of the Economies of Research. One or two of its principles are easily made out. The value of knowledge is, for the purposes of science, in one sense absolute. It is not to be measured, it may be said, in money; in one sense that is true. But knowledge that leads to other knowledge is more valuable in proportion to the trouble it saves in the way of expenditure to get that other knowledge. Having a certain fund of energy, time, money, etc., all of which are merchantable articles to spend upon research, the question is how much is to be allowed to each investigation; and for us the value of that investigation is the amount of money it will pay us to spend upon it. Relatively, therefore, knowledge, even of a purely scientific kind, has a money value.

This value increases with the fullness and precision of the information, but plainly it increases slower and slower as the knowledge becomes fuller and more precise. The cost of the information also increases with its fullness and accuracy, and increases faster and faster the more accurate and full it is. It therefore may be the case that it does not pay to get any information on a given subject; but, at any rate, it must be true that it does not pay (in any given state of science) to push the investigation beyond a certain point in fullness or precision.

123. If we have a number of studies in which we are interested, we should commence with the most remunerative and carry that forward until it becomes no more than equally remunerative with the commencement of another; carry both forward at such rates that they are equally remunerative until each is no more remunerative than a third, and so on.

124. If two or more kinds of knowledge are so related that one can replace the other so that the possession of one renders the other less profitable, this will diminish the investigation of either while increasing the investigation of all.

125. If two or more kinds of information are of use only as supplementing one another, that is, only when combined together, this will increase the investigations until there is little or no profit from the least profitable kind of research.


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