§4. The Divisions of Science


238. The first great division of science will be according to its fundamental purpose, making what I shall term branches of science. A modification of a general purpose may constitute a subbranch. All knowledge whatever comes from observation; but different sciences are observational in such radically different ways that the kind of information derived from the observation of one department of science (say natural history) could not possibly afford the information required of observation by another branch (say mathematics). I call groups based on such considerations classes, and modifications of the same nature subclasses. Observation is, in Agassiz's phrase, the »ways and means« of attaining the purpose of science. Of two departments of science A and B, of the same class, A may derive special facts from B for further generalization while supplying B with principles which the latter, not aiming so high, is glad to find ready-made. A will rank higher than B, by virtue of the greater generality of its object, while B will be richer and more varied than A. I call groups based on these considerations orders, or if based on modifications of the same sort of idea, suborders. A given science with a special name, a special journal, a special society, studying one group of facts, whose students understand one another in a general way and naturally associate together, forms what I call a family. A subdivision of it on the same principle, but taken more minutely, I term a subfamily. I can give no such definitions of genera and species, not having carried my classification of the sciences to these minutiae. For it is to be understood that I have not first fixed my definitions of branch, class, order, and family, and then adapted the classification to those definitions, but, on the contrary, the classification was first entirely formed (except that the categories of subbranches, subclasses, and suborders had, in some cases, not been interposed, and in others had been confounded with the classes above them) before any idea of employing the terms branch, class, order, and family entered my head, and it was not until this was done that first the appropriateness of these terms struck me. I can, however, say with some confidence that I should not regard a family as constituted merely by the class of facts studied, were there no concomitant difference of procedure, giving an all-round peculiar character to the study of that subject; nor do I believe that a mere difference in the things studied could appear to me a sufficient foundation for a difference between genera. Since writing that sentence, I notice that I have made inorganic and organic chemistry subgenera. But, then, everybody knows that there is far more difference between inorganic and organic chemistry than that the latter studies the compounds of a somewhat peculiar element. Their whole aims and ways of thinking, as well as their manipulation, are in distinct contrast.

239. I recognize two branches of science: Theoretical, whose purpose is simply and solely knowledge of God's truth; and Practical, for the uses of life. In Branch I, I recognize two subbranches, of which, at present, I consider only the first, [the sciences of discovery]. Among the theoretical sciences [of discovery], I distinguish three classes, all resting upon observation, but being observational in very different senses.P1)

240. The first is mathematics, which does not undertake to ascertain any matter of fact whatever, but merely posits hypotheses, and traces out their consequences. It is observational, in so far as it makes constructions in the imagination according to abstract precepts, and then observes these imaginary objects, finding in them relations of parts not specified in the precept of construction. This is truly observation, yet certainly in a very peculiar sense; and no other kind of observation would at all answer the purpose of mathematics.P2)

241. Class II is philosophy, which deals with positive truth, indeed, yet contents itself with observations such as come within the range of every man's normal experience, and for the most part in every waking hour of his life. Hence Bentham calls this class, coenoscopic.1) These observations escape the untrained eye precisely because they permeate our whole lives, just as a man who never takes off his blue spectacles soon ceases to see the blue tinge. Evidently, therefore, no microscope or sensitive film would be of the least use in this class. The observation is observation in a peculiar, yet perfectly legitimate, sense. If philosophy glances now and then at the results of special sciences, it is only as a sort of condiment to excite its own proper observation.

242. Class III is Bentham's idioscopic2); that is, the special sciences, depending upon special observation, which travel or other exploration, or some assistance to the senses, either instrumental or given by training, together with unusual diligence, has put within the power of its students. This class manifestly divides itself into two subclasses, the physical and the psychical sciences; or, as I will call them, physiognosy and psychognosy. Under the former is to be included physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, geognosy, and whatever may be like these sciences; under the latter, psychology, linguistics, ethnology, sociology, history, etc. Physiognosy sets forth the workings of efficient causation, psychognosy of final causation. But the two things call for different eyes. A man will be no whit the worse physiognosist for being utterly blind to facts of mind; and if we sometimes find observation in a psychognosist, it will, unless by exception, be found not to be of a purely physical fact. Thus, a philologist may have a fine ear for language-sounds; but it is by no means pure physical resemblance which determines whether a given sound is or is not »the« Italian close o, for example, as it is naïvely called: it is psychical habit. In any simple physical sense the sounds not distinguished from that differ much more from one another than almost any of them do from sounds which would not be tolerated for »the« close o. So, this fine phonetic observation of the linguist is a knack of understanding a virtual convention. The two kinds of observation are different; but they do not seem to be quite so different as both alike are from the observation of the philosopher and the mathematician; and this is why, though I, at first, was inclined to give each of them equal rank with those classes, it has at length appeared certain that they should be placed a little lower.


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