§1. Theory and Practice

 

630. Reasoning is of three kinds. The first is necessary, but it only professes to give us information concerning the matter of our own hypotheses and distinctly declares that, if we want to know anything else, we must go elsewhere. The second depends upon probabilities. The only cases in which it pretends to be of value is where we have, like an insurance company, an endless multitude of insignificant risks. Wherever a vital interest is at stake, it clearly says, »Don't ask me.« The third kind of reasoning tries what il lume naturale, which lit the footsteps of Galileo, can do. It is really an appeal to instinct. Thus reason, for all the frills it customarily wears, in vital crises, comes down upon its marrow-bones to beg the succour of instinct.

631. Reason is of its very essence egotistical. In many matters it acts the fly on the wheel. Do not doubt that the bee thinks it has a good reason for making the end of its cell as it does. But I should be very much surprised to learn that its reason had solved that problem of isoperimetry that its instinct has solved. Men many times fancy that they act from reason when, in point of fact, the reasons they attribute to themselves are nothing but excuses which unconscious instinct invents to satisfy the teasing »whys« of the ego. The extent of this self-delusion is such as to render philosophical rationalism a farce.

632. Reason, then, appeals to sentiment in the last resort. Sentiment on its side feels itself to be the man. That is my simple apology for philosophical sentimentalism.

633. Sentimentalism implies conservatism; and it is of the essence of conservatism to refuse to push any practical principle to its extreme limits — including the principle of conservatism itself. We do not say that sentiment is never to be influenced by reason, nor that under no circumstances would we advocate radical reforms. We only say that the man who would allow his religious life to be wounded by any sudden acceptance of a philosophy of religion or who would precipitately change his code of morals at the dictate of a philosophy of ethics — who would, let us say, hastily practice incest — is a man whom we should consider unwise. The regnant system of sexual rules is an instinctive or sentimental induction summarizing the experience of all our race. That it is abstractly and absolutely infallible we do not pretend; but that it is practically infallible for the individual — which is the only clear sense the word »infallibility« will bear — in that he ought to obey it and not his individual reason, that we do maintain.

634. I would not allow to sentiment or instinct any weight whatsoever in theoretical matters, not the slightest. Right sentiment does not demand any such weight; and right reason would emphatically repudiate the claim if it were made. True, we are driven oftentimes in science to try the suggestions of instinct; but we only try them, we compare them with experience, we hold ourselves ready to throw them overboard at a moment's notice from experience. If I allow the supremacy of sentiment in human affairs, I do so at the dictation of reason itself; and equally at the dictation of sentiment, in theoretical matters I refuse to allow sentiment any weight whatever.

635. Hence, I hold that what is properly and usually called belief, that is, the adoption of a proposition as a {ktéma es aei} to use the energetic phrase of Doctor Carus,1) has no place in science at all. We believe the proposition we are ready to act upon. Full belief is willingness to act upon the proposition in vital crises, opinion is willingness to act upon it in relatively insignificant affairs. But pure science has nothing at all to do with action. The propositions it accepts, it merely writes in the list of premisses it proposes to use. Nothing is vital for science; nothing can be. Its accepted propositions, therefore, are but opinions at most; and the whole list is provisional. The scientific man is not in the least wedded to his conclusions. He risks nothing upon them. He stands ready to abandon one or all as soon as experience opposes them. Some of them, I grant, he is in the habit of calling established truths; but that merely means propositions to which no competent man today demurs. It seems probable that any given proposition of that sort will remain for a long time upon the list of propositions to be admitted. Still, it may be refuted tomorrow; and if so, the scientific man will be glad to have got rid of an error. There is thus no proposition at all in science which answers to the conception of belief.

636. But in vital matters, it is quite otherwise. We must act in such matters; and the principle upon which we are willing to act is a belief.

637. Thus, pure theoretical knowledge, or science, has nothing directly to say concerning practical matters, and nothing even applicable at all to vital crises. Theory is applicable to minor practical affairs; but matters of vital importance must be left to sentiment, that is, to instinct.

 


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