§1. Laboratory and Seminary Philosophies 1)


126. . . . The kind of philosophy which interests me and must, I think, interest everybody is that philosophy, which uses the most rational methods it can devise, for finding out the little that can as yet be found out about the universe of mind and matter from those observations which every person can make in every hour of his waking life. It will not include matters which are more conveniently studied by students of special sciences, such as psychology. Thus, everybody has remarked that there are four prominent qualities of the sense of taste, sweet, sour, salt, and bitter. But there may be other tastes, not so readily made out without special study; and in any case tastes are conveniently studied in connexion with flavors and odors, which make a difficult experimental inquiry. Besides, the four tastes are altogether special and throw no light on the problems which, on account of their extreme generality, will naturally be examined by a class of researchers of entirely different aptitudes from those which adapt men to the discovery of recondite facts.

127. If anybody asks what there is in the study of obvious phenomena to make it particularly interesting, I will give two answers. The first is the one which seems to me the strongest; the other is that which nobody can fail to feel the force of. The first answer is that the spirit in which, as it seems to me, philosophy ought to be studied is the spirit in which every branch of science ought to be studied; namely, the spirit of joy in learning ourselves and in making others acquainted with the glories of God. Each person will feel this joy most in the particular branch of science to which his faculties are best adapted. It is not a sin to have no taste for philosophy as I define philosophy. As a matter of fact, however, almost everybody does feel an interest in philosophical problems, especially at that time of life at which he is spoiling for an intellectual tussle.

128. It is true that philosophy is in a lamentably crude condition at present; that very little is really established about it; while most philosophers set up a pretension of knowing all there is to know — a pretension calculated to disgust anybody who is at home in any real science. But all we have to do is to turn our backs upon all such truly vicious conduct, and we shall find ourselves enjoying the advantages of having an almost virgin soil to till, where a given amount of really scientific work will bring in an extraordinary harvest, and that a harvest of very fundamental truth of exceptional value from every point of view.

129. This consideration touches upon the second reason for studying laboratory-philosophy (as contradistinguished from seminary-philosophy). It is that the special sciences are obliged to take for granted a number of most important propositions, because their ways of working afford no means of bringing these propositions to the test. In short, they always rest upon metaphysics. At one time, for example, we find physicists, Kelvin, Maxwell and others, assuming that a body cannot act where it is not, meaning by »where it is not« where its lines of force do not centre. At another time, we find them assuming that the laws of mechanics (including the principles of metric geometry) hold good for the smallest corpuscles. Now it is one thing to infer from the laws of little things how great things, that consist of little things, will act; but it is quite a different thing to infer from the phenomena presented by great things how single things billions of times smaller will act. It is like inferring that because in any country one man in so many will commit suicide, therefore every individual, once in such a period of time, will make an attempt at suicide. The psychical sciences, especially psychology, are, if possible, even more necessitated to assume general principles that cannot be proved or disproved by their ordinary methods of work. The philosopher alone is equipped with the facilities for examining such »axioms« and for determining the degree to which confidence may safely be reposed in them. Find a scientific man who proposes to get along without any metaphysics — not by any means every man who holds the ordinary reasonings of metaphysicians in scorn — and you have found one whose doctrines are thoroughly vitiated by the crude and uncriticized metaphysics with which they are packed. We must philosophize, said the great naturalist Aristotle 1) — if only to avoid philosophizing. Every man of us has a metaphysics, and has to have one; and it will influence his life greatly. Far better, then, that that metaphysics should be criticized and not be allowed to run loose. A man may say »I will content myself with common sense.« I, for one, am with him there, in the main. I shall show why I do not think there can be any direct profit in going behind common sense — meaning by common sense those ideas and beliefs that man's situation absolutely forces upon him. We shall later see more definitely what is meant.2) I agree, for example, that it is better to recognize that some things are red and some others blue, in the teeth of what optical philosophers say, that it is merely that some things are resonant to shorter ether waves and some to longer ones. But the difficulty is to determine what really is and what is not the authoritative decision of common sense and what is merely obiter dictum. In short, there is no escape from the need of a critical examination of »first principles.«


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