§3. The Observational Part of Philosophy 2


133. Every science has a mathematical part, a branch of work that the mathematician is called in to do. We say, »Here, mathematician, suppose such and such to be the case. Never you mind whether it is really so or not; but tell us, supposing it to be so, what will be the consequence.« Thus arise mathematical psychology, mathematical stylometry, mathematical economics, mathematical physics, mathematical chemistry, mathematical meteorology, mathematical biology, mathematical geology, mathematical astronomy, etc., etc., etc. But there is none of these mathematical offices which constitutes quite so large a proportion of the whole science to which it is annexed as mathematical philosophy, for the obvious reason that the observational part of philosophy is a simple business, compared, for example, with that of anatomy or biography, or any other special science.

134. To assume, however, that the observational part of philosophy, because it is not particularly laborious, is therefore easy, is a dreadful mistake, into which the student is very apt to fall, and which gives the death-blow to any possibility of his success in this study. It is, on the contrary, extremely difficult to bring our attention to elements of experience which are continually present. For we have nothing in experience with which to contrast them; and without contrast, they cannot excite our attention. We can only contrast them with imaginary states of things; but even what we imagine is but a crazy-quilt of bits snipped off from actual experiences. The result is that roundabout devices have to be resorted to, in order to enable us to perceive what stares us in the face with a glare that, once noticed, becomes almost oppressive with its insistency. This circumstance alone would be sufficient to render philosophical observation difficult — much more difficult, for example, than the kind of observation which the painter has to exercise. Yet this is the least of the difficulties of philosophy. Of the various hindrances more serious still, I may mention once more the notion that it is an extremely easy thing to perceive what is before us every day and hour. But quite the worst is, that every man becomes more or less imbued with philosophical opinions, without being clearly aware of it. Some of these, it is true, may be right opinions; if he is a quite uneducated man, they doubtless will be so. But even if they are right, or nearly right, they prevent true observation as much as a pair of blue spectacles will prevent a man from observing the blue of the sky. The man will hold the right opinion, but not knowing that it might be founded upon direct observation, he will class it among articles of faith of a pretty dubious character. The more a man is educated in other branches, but not trained in philosophy, the more certain it is that two-thirds of his stock of half-conscious philosophical opinions will be utterly wrong, and will completely blind him to the truth, which he will gradually become unable so much as to conceive. I remember a really eminent French savant, who had sojourned for very many months in America, but who must have imbibed in his childhood the notion, then common in France, that Englishmen and Americans interject into every second sentence a certain word which the French imagine to be English. He belonged to one of the most observant of races; he was naturally a keen observer; and he was trained in an observational science; and yet, in order to assimilate himself as much as possible to American ways, he used to think it necessary to greet one every morning with a »How do you do, goddam?« and to keep it up all day. He actually believed that he had observed that such was the American style. The educated man who is a beginner in philosophy is just like that man, who (be it remembered) had been moving about in America for years; — and by a beginner in philosophy I wish to be understood as meaning, in the case of an educated man, one who has not been seriously, earnestly, and single-mindedly devoted to the study of it for more than six or eight years. For there is no other science for which the preparatory training requires to be nearly so severe and so long, no matter how great the natural genius of the student may be. For a plain man or a boy who should be early taken in hand by an instructor capable of making him comprehend both sides of every question, the time, without doubt, can be greatly reduced, with untiring industry and energy on the pupil's part.


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