§1. Theory and Practice


638. Now there are two conceivable ways in which right sentiment might treat such terrible crises; on the one hand, it might be that while human instincts are not so detailed and featured as those of the dumb animals, yet they might be sufficient to guide us in the greatest concerns without any aid from reason, while on the other hand, sentiment might act to bring the vital crises under the domain of reason by rising under such circumstances to such a height of self-abnegation as to render the situation insignificant. In point of fact, we observe that a healthy natural human nature does act in both these ways.

639. The instincts of those animals whose instincts are remarkable present the character of being chiefly, if not altogether, directed to the preservation of the stock and of benefiting the individual very little, if at all, except so far as he may happen as a possible procreator to be a potential public functionary. Such, therefore, is the description of instinct that we ought to expect to find in man, in regard to vital matters; and so we do. It is not necessary to enumerate the facts of human life which show this, because it is too plain. It is to be remarked, however, that individuals who have passed the reproductive period, are more useful to the propagation of the human race than to [?] any other. For they amass wealth, and teach prudence, they keep the peace, they are friends of the little ones, and they inculcate all the sexual duties and virtues. Such instinct does, as a matter of course, prompt us, in all vital crises, to look upon our individual lives as small matters. It is no extraordinary pitch of virtue to do so; it is the character of every man or woman that is not despicable. Somebody during the Reign of Terror said: Tout le monde croit qu'il est difficile de mourir. Je le crois comme les autres. Cependant je vois que quant on est là chacun s'en tire. It is less characteristic of the woman because her life is more important to the stock, and her immolation less useful.

640. Having thus shown how much less vitally important reason is than instinct, I next desire to point out how exceedingly desirable, not to say indispensable, it is for the successful march of discovery in philosophy and in science generally that practical utilities, whether low or high, should be put out of sight by the investigator.

641. The point of view of utility is always a narrow point of view. How much more we should know of chemistry today if the most practically important bodies had not received excessive attention; and how much less we should know, if the rare elements and the compounds which only exist at low temperatures had received only the share of attention to which their utility entitled them.

642. It is notoriously true that into whatever you do not put your whole heart and soul in that you will not have much success. Now, the two masters, theory and practice, you cannot serve. That perfect balance of attention which is requisite for observing the system of things is utterly lost if human desires intervene, and all the more so the higher and holier those desires may be.

643. In addition to that, in philosophy we have prejudices so potent that it is impossible to keep one's sang-froid if we allow ourselves to dwell upon them at all.

644. It is far better to let philosophy follow perfectly untrammeled a scientific method, predetermined in advance of knowing to what it will lead. If that course be honestly and scrupulously carried out, the results reached, even if they be not altogether true, even if they be grossly mistaken, can not but be highly serviceable for the ultimate discovery of truth. Meantime, sentiment can say »Oh well, philosophical science has not by any means said its last word yet; and meantime I will continue to believe so and so.«


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