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Chapter IV: The Art of Acceptance and the Art of Control

There was a time when “art” and “science” were virtually equivalent terms. There is a reminiscence of this period in university organization in the phrase “faculty of arts and sciences.” A distinction was drawn between the “mechanical” and the “liberal” arts. In part, this distinction was between industrial arts and social arts, those concerned with things and those concerned directly with persons. Grammar and rhetoric, for example, in dealing with speech, the interpretation of literature and the arts of persuasion, were higher than blacksmithing and carpentry. The mechanical arts dealt with things which were merely means; the liberal arts dealt with affairs that were ends, things having a final and intrinsic worth. The obviousness of the distinction was reënforced by social causes. Mechanics were concerned with mechanical arts; they were lower in the social scale. The school in which their arts were learned was the school of practice: apprenticeship to those who had already mastered the craft and mystery. Apprentices literally “learned by doing,” and “doing” was routine repetition and imitation of the acts of others, until personal skill was acquired. The liberal arts were studied by those who were to be in some position of authority, occupied with some exercise of social rule. Such persons had the material means that afforded leisure, and were to engage in callings that had especial honor and prestige. Moreover, they learned not by mechanical repetition and bodily practice in manipulation of materials and tools, but “intellectually,” through a kind of study which involved mind, not body.

The situation is not recalled as if it had a merely historical significance. It describes in large measure a state of affairs that exists to-day. The distinction between “learned professions” and the occupations of the shop and factory, with corresponding differences of social status, of educational preparation, of concern chiefly with material things or with persons and social relations, is too familiar to call for recourse to past history. The chief difference in the present situation is due to the rise of technological industry and of a pecuniary economy, at the expense of the inherited status of the “gentleman,” the owner of large estates in land. So our allusion is pertinent not to history, but to still existing conditions that are influential in creating and maintaining the division between theory and practice, mind and body, ends and instrumentalities.

In addition to this distinction between higher and lower arts, there always hovered in the background a distinction between all arts and “science” in the true and ultimate sense of the words. The liberal arts involved much more of knowledge and of theoretical study, of use of “mind,” than did the mechanical. But in their ultimate import they were still connected with art, with doing, although with a mode of practice held in higher esteem. They remained within the limits of experience, although of an experience having a kind of value not found in the baser arts. The philosophic tradition, as for example it is formulated by Aristotle, ranked social arts lower than pure intellectual inquiry, than knowledge as something not to be put to any use, even a social and moral one. It is conceivable that historically this point of view might have remained a mere laudation of its own calling on the part of a small intellectual class. But, as we have already noted, in the expansion of the Church as a dominant power in Europe, religion affiliated this philosophic conception to itself. Theology was regarded as “science” in a peculiar, a unique, sense, for it alone was knowledge of supreme and ultimate Being. And the Church had a direct influence over the hearts and conduct, the beliefs and judgments, of men that a secluded intellectual class could never win. As the guardians and dispensers of the truths and sacraments that determined the eternal destiny, the eternal happiness or misery of the soul, they effected the embodiment of ideas originating in philosophy in the culture of Christendom.

In consequence, differences and distinctions characteristic of actual social life received the sanction not merely of the rational formulation of a few philosophic thinkers but of that power which had the highest authority and influence in the lives of men. For this reason, the survey that has been made of the classic philosophic statement of the dualism between theory and practice, between mind and body, between reason and experience (always thought of in terms of sense and the body) is much more than a piece of historic information. For in spite of enormous extension of secular interests and of natural science, of expansion of practical arts and occupations, of the almost frantic domination of present life by concern for definite material interests and the organization of society by forces fundamentally economic, there is no widely held philosophy of life which replaces the traditional classic one as that was absorbed and modified by the Christian faith.

Traditional philosophy thus has a treble advantage. It has behind it the multitude of imaginative and emotional associations and appeals that cluster about any tradition which has for long centuries been embodied in a dominant institution; they continue to influence, unconsciously, the minds of those who no longer give intellectual assent to the tenets on which the tradition intellectually rests. It has, secondly, the backing of the persistence of the social conditions out of which the formulation of the dualism between theory and practice originally grew—the familiar grading of activities from the servile and mechanical to the liberal, the free and socially esteemed. In addition, there is the enforced recognition of the peril and frustration in the actual world of meanings and goods most prized, a matter which makes men ready to listen to the story of a higher realm in which these values are eternally safe.

In the third place, and finally, there is the negative counterpart of these positive facts. Conditions and forces that dominate in actual fact the modern world have not attained any coherent intellectual expression of themselves. We live, as is so often remarked, in a state of divided allegiance. In outward activities and current enjoyments, we are frenetically absorbed in mundane affairs in ways which, if they were formulated for intellectual acceptance, would be repudiated as low and unworthy. We give our emotional and theoretical assent to principles and creeds which are no longer actively operative in life. We have retained enough of the older tradition to recognize that a philosophy which formulated what, on the whole and in the mass, we are most concerned with, would be intolerably materialistic in character. On the other hand, we are not prepared, either intellectually or morally, to frame such a philosophy of the interests and activities that actually dominate our lives as would elevate them to a plane of truly liberal and humane significance. We are unable to show that the ideals, values and meanings which the philosophy we nominally hold places in another world, are capable of characterizing in a concrete form, with some measure of security, the world in which we live, that of our actual experience.

On this account any sincere empirical philosophy that holds to the possibility of the latter alternative must be prophetic rather than descriptive. It can offer hypotheses rather than report of facts adequately in existence. It must support these hypotheses by argument, rather than by appeal to matters clearly within the range of easy observation. It is speculative in that it deals with “futures.” Candor demands that these considerations be frankly set forth. But there is also another side to the matter. There is a distinction between hypotheses generated in that seclusion from observable fact which renders them fantasies, and hypotheses that are projections of the possibilities of facts already in existence and capable of report. There is a difference between the imaginative speculations that recognize no law except their own dialectic consistency, and those which rest on an observable movement of events, and which foresee these events carried to a limit by the force of their own movement. There is a difference between support by argument from arbitrarily assumed premises, and an argument which sets forth the implications of propositions resting upon facts already vitally significant.

The groundwork of fact that is selected for especial examination and description in the hypothesis which is to be set forth is the procedure of present scientific inquiry, in those matters that are most fully subject to intellectual control—namely, the physical sciences. The state of inquiry in them is an observable fact, not a speculation nor a matter of opinion and argument. The selection of this field of fact rather than some other as that from which to project a hypothesis regarding a future possible experience in which experience will itself provide the values, meanings and standards now sought in some transcendent world, has both theoretical and practical justification. From the point of view of technical philosophy, the nature of knowledge has always been the foundation and point of departure for philosophies that have separated knowing from doing and making, and that in consequence have elevated the objects of knowledge, as measures of genuine reality, above experiences of objects had by the way of affection and practical action. If, accordingly, it can be shown that the actual procedures by which the most authentic and dependable knowledge is attained have completely surrendered the separation of knowing and doing; if it can be shown that overtly executed operations of interaction are requisite to obtain the knowledge called scientific, the chief fortress of the classic philosophical tradition crumbles into dust. With this destruction disappears also the reason for which some objects, as fixed in themselves, out of and above the course of human experience and its consequences, have been set in opposition to the temporal and concrete world in which we live.

The practical reason for selecting such a technical matter as the method of physical science is the fact that the application of natural science, through the medium of inventions and technologies, is the finally controlling and characteristic fact of modern life. That western civilization is increasingly industrial in character is a commonplace; it should be an equally familiar fact that this industrialization is the direct fruit of the growth of the experimental method of knowing. The effects of this industrialization in politics, social arrangements, communication and intercourse, in work and play, in the determination of the locus of influence, power and prestige, are characteristic marks of present experience in the concrete. They are the ultimate source of that waning of the effective influence of older beliefs that has been alluded to. They also provide the reason why a philosophy which merely reflected and reported the chief features of the existing situation as if they were final, without regard to what they may become, would be so repulsively materialistic. Both the positive fact that our actual life is more and more determined by the results of physical science, and the negative fact that these results are so largely an obstacle to framing a philosophy consonant with present experience—so influential in inducing men to hold on to elements of the older tradition—are reasons for selecting the procedure of natural science as the main theme of our examination.

There will be little time and opportunity for discussion of the problem in its immediately practical form—the potential significance of that industrial society which has emerged in consequence of the conclusions and methods of physical knowledge. But it may be pointed out that, in principle, it signifies simply that the results of intelligence, instead of remaining aloof and secluded from practice, are embodied in influential ways in the activities and experience which actually obtains. Say what we please in derogation of “applied science,” in principle this is what the latter signifies. And there are few persons, I imagine, who would wittingly proclaim that incarnation of knowledge and understanding in the concrete experiences of life is anything but a good. Derogation on principle of application of knowledge is, in itself, merely an expression of the old tradition of the inherent superiority of knowledge to practice, of reason to experience.

There is a genuine and extremely serious problem in connection with the application of science in life. But it is a practical, not theoretical, one. That is to say, it concerns the economic and legal organization of society in consequence of which the knowledge which regulates activity is so much the monopoly of the few, and is used by them in behalf of private and class interests and not for general and shared use. The problem concerns the possible transformation of social conditions with respect to their economic and pecuniary basis. This problem time and space will not permit me to consider. But the pecuniarily economic phase of society is something radically different from industrialization, and from the inherent consequences of technology in current life. To identify the two affairs breeds only confusion. It must also be noted that this is a question which has of itself nothing to do with the matter of the relations of theory and practice, of knowledge and its application in doing and making. The practical and social problem is one of effecting a more general equitable distribution of the elements of understanding and knowledge in connection with work done, activities undertaken, and a consequent freer and more generously shared participation in their results.

Before engaging in consideration of the significance of the method of science for formation of the theory of knowledge and of mind, we shall take up some general points. These are all connected, at bottom, with the contrast between the idea of experience framed when arts were mainly routine, skills acquired by mere exercise and practice, and the idea of experience appropriate when arts have become experimental: or, put briefly, between experience as empirical and as experimental. “Experience” once meant the results accumulated in memory of a variety of past doings and undergoings that were had without control by insight, when the net accumulation was found to be practically available in dealing with present situations. Both the original perceptions and uses and the application of their outcome in present doings were accidental—that is, neither was determined by an understanding of the relations of cause and effect, of means and consequences, involved. In that sense they were non-rational, non-scientific. A typical illustration is a bridge builder who constructs simply on the basis of what has been done and what happened in the past, without reference to knowledge of strains and stresses, or in general of physical relationships actually involved; or the art of medicine, as far as it rests simply upon the accidents of remedial measures used in the past without knowledge of why some worked and others did not. A measure of skill results, but it is the fruit of cut and dried methods, of trial and error—in short it is “empirical.”

The disparaging notion of experience framed under such conditions is an honest report of actual conditions; philosophers in setting experience down as inherently inferior to rational science were truthful. What they added was another matter. It was a statement that this inferiority was inherently connected with the body, with the senses, with material things, with the uncertainly changing as over against the certain because immutable. Unfortunately their theories in explanation of the defects of experience persisted and became classic after experience itself, in some of its forms, had become experimental in the sense of being directed by understanding of conditions and their consequences. Two points are especially significant with reference to the split thus produced between the traditional theory of experience and that which results from noting its experimental character.

In the traditional theory, which still is the prevailing one, there were alleged to exist inherent defects in perception and observation as means of knowledge, in reference to the subject-matter they furnish. This material, in the older notion, is inherently so particular, so contingent and variable, that by no possible means can it contribute to knowledge; it can result only in opinion, mere belief. But in modern science, there are only practical defects in the senses, certain limitations of vision, for example, that have to be corrected and supplemented by various devices, such as the use of the lens. Every insufficiency of observation is an instigation to invent some new instrument which will make good the defect, or it is a stimulus to devising indirect means, such as mathematical calculations, by which the limitations of sense will be circumvented. The counterpart of this change is one in the conception of thought and its relation to knowing. It was earlier assumed that higher knowledge must be supplied by pure thought; pure because apart from experience, since the latter involves the senses. Now, it is taken for granted that thought, while indispensable to knowledge of natural existence, can never in itself provide that knowledge. Observation is indispensable both to provide authentic materials to work upon and to test and verify the conclusions reached by theoretical considerations. A specified kind of experience is indispensable to science instead of all experience setting a limit to the possibility of true science.

There is an objective counterpart of this shift. In the older theory, sense and experience were barriers to true science because they are implicated in natural change. Their appropriate and inevitable subject-matter was variable and changing things. Knowledge in its full and valid sense is possible only of the immutable, the fixed; that alone answers the quest for certainty. With regard to changing things, only surmise and opinion are possible, just as practically these are the source of peril. To a scientific man, in terms of what he does in inquiry, the notion of a natural science which should turn its back upon the changes of things, upon events, is simply incomprehensible. What he is interested in knowing, in understanding, are precisely the changes that go on; they set his problems, and problems are solved when changes are interconnected with one another. Constants and relative invariants figure, but they are relations between changes, not the constituents of a higher realm of Being. With this modification with respect to the object comes one in the structure and content of “experience.” Instead of there being a fixed difference between it and something higher—rational thought—there is a difference between two kinds of experience; one which is occupied with uncontrolled change and one concerned with directed and regulated change. And this difference, while fundamentally important, does not mark a fixed division. Changes of the first type are something to be brought under control by means of action directed by understanding of relationships.

In the old scheme, knowledge, as science, signified precisely and exclusively turning away from change to the changeless. In the new experimental science, knowledge is obtained in exactly the opposite way, namely, through deliberate institution of a definite and specified course of change. The method of physical inquiry is to introduce some change in order to see what other change ensues; the correlation between these changes, when measured by a series of operations, constitutes the definite and desired object of knowledge. There are two degrees of control of change which differ practically but are alike in principle. In astronomy, for example, we cannot introduce variation into remote heavenly bodies. But we can deliberately alter the conditions under which we observe them, which is the same thing in principle of logical procedure. By special instruments, the use of lens and prism, by telescopes, spectroscopes, interferometers, etc., we modify observed data. Observations are taken from widely different points in space and at successive times. By such means interconnected variations are observed. In physical and chemical matters closer at hand and capable of more direct manipulation, changes introduced affect the things under inquiry. Appliances and re-agents for bringing about variations in the things studied are employed. The progress of inquiry is identical with advance in the invention and construction of physical instrumentalities for producing, registering and measuring changes.

Moreover, there is no difference in logical principle between the method of science and the method pursued in technologies. The difference is practical; in the scale of operations conducted; in the lesser degree of control through isolation of conditions operative, and especially in the purpose for the sake of which regulated control of modifications of natural existences and energies is undertaken; especially, since the dominant motive of large scale regulation of the course of change is material comfort or pecuniary gain. But the technique of modern industry, in commerce, communication, transportation and all the appliances of light, heat and electricity, is the fruit of the modern application of science. And this so-called “application” signifies that the same kind of intentional introduction and management of changes which takes place in the, laboratory is induced in the factory, the railway and the power house.

The central and outstanding fact is that the change in the method of knowing, due to the scientific revolution begun in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, has been accompanied by a revolution in the attitude of man toward natural occurrences and their interactions. This transformation means, as was intimated earlier, a complete reversal in the traditional relationship of knowledge and action. Science advances by adopting the instruments and doings of directed practice, and the knowledge thus gained becomes a means of the development of arts which bring nature still further into actual and potential service of human purposes and valuations. The astonishing thing is that in the face of this change wrought in civilization, there still persist the notions about mind and its organs of knowing, together with the inferiority of practice to intellect, which developed in antiquity as the report of a totally different situation.

The hold which older conceptions have gained over the minds of thinkers, the sway of inertia in habits of philosophic thought, can be most readily judged by turning to books on epistemology and to discussions of problems connected with the theory of knowledge published in the philosophical periodicals. Articles on logical method will be found which reflect the procedures of actual knowing, that is of the practice of scientific inquiry. But logic is then usually treated as “mere” methodology, having little (probably nothing would be nearer the mark) to do with the theory of knowledge. The latter is discussed in terms of conceptions about mind and its organs; these conceptions are supposed to be capable of adequate formation apart from observation of what goes on when men engage in successful inquiry. Of late, the main problem in such discussions is to frame a theory of “consciousness” which shall explain knowing, as if consciousness were either a fact whose meaning is self-evident, or something less obscure in content and more observable than are the objective and public procedures of scientific investigation. This type of discussion persists; it is, in current conception, the theory of knowledge, the natural and inevitable way in which to discuss its basic problems! Volumes could not say more for the persistence of traditional ideas. The import of even a rudimentary discussion of actual experimental method can hardly be gathered, then, without bearing in mind its significance as a contrast effect.

While the traits of experimental inquiry are familiar, so little use has been of them in formulating a theory of knowledge and of mind in relation to nature that a somewhat explicit statement of well known facts is excusable. They exhibit three outstanding characteristics. The first is the obvious one that all experimentation involves overt doing, the making of definite changes in the environment or in our relation to it. The second is that experiment is not a random activity but is directed by ideas which have to meet the conditions set by the need of the problem inducing the active inquiry. The third and concluding feature, in which the other two receive their full measure of meaning, is that the outcome of the directed activity is the construction of a new empirical situation in which objects are differently related to one another, and such that the consequences of directed operations form the objects that have the property of being known.

The rudimentary prototype of experimental doing for the sake of knowing is found in ordinary procedures. When we are trying to make out the nature of a confused and unfamiliar object, we perform various acts with a view to establishing a new relationship to it, such as will bring to light qualities which will aid in understanding it. We turn it over, bring it into a better light, rattle and shake it, thump, push and press it, and so on. The object as it is experienced prior to the introduction of these changes baffles us; the intent of these acts is to make changes which will elicit some previously unperceived qualities, and by varying conditions of perception shake loose some property which as it stands blinds or misleads us.

While such experimentations, together with a kind of experimental playing with things just to see what will happen, are the chief source of the everyday non-scientific store of information about things around us, forming the bulk of “common-sense” knowledge, the limitations of the mode of procedure are so evident as to require no exposition. The important thing in the history of modern knowing is the reinforcement of these active doings by means of instruments, appliances and apparatus devised for the purposes of disclosing relations not otherwise apparent, together with, as far as overt action is concerned, the development of elaborate techniques for the introduction of a much greater range of variations—that is, a systematic variation of conditions so as to produce a corresponding series of changes in the thing under investigation. Among these operations should be included, of course, those which give a permanent register of what is observed and the instrumentalities of exact measurement by means of which changes are correlated with one another.

These matters are so familiar that their full import for the theory of knowing readily escapes notice. Hence the need of comparing this kind of knowledge of natural existences with that obtaining before the rise of the experimental method. The striking difference is, of course, the dependence placed upon doing, doing of a physical and overt sort. Ancient science, that is, what passed as science, would have thought it a kind of treason to reason as the organ of knowing to subordinate it to bodily activity on material things, helped out with tools which are also material. It would have seemed like admitting the superiority of matter to rational mind, an admission which from its standpoint was contradictory to the possibility of knowledge.

With this fundamental change goes another, that in the attitude taken toward the material of direct sense-perception. No notion could be further away from the fact than the somewhat sedulously cultivated idea that the difference between ancient and modern science is that the former had no respect for perception and relied exclusively upon speculation. In fact, the Greeks were keenly sensitive to natural objects and were keen observers. The trouble lay not in substitution of theorizing from the outset for the material of perception, but in that they took the latter “as is”; they made no attempt to modify it radically before undertaking thinking and theorizing about it. As far as observation unaided by artificial appliances and means for deliberate variation of observed material went, the Greeks went far.

Their disrespect for sensibly observed material concerned only its form. For it had to be brought under logical forms supplied by rational thought. The fact that the material was not exclusively logical, or such as to satisfy the requirements of rational form, made the resulting knowledge less scientific than that of pure mathematics, logic and metaphysics occupied with eternal Being. But as far as science extended, it dealt with the material of sense-perception as it directly offered itself to a keen and alert observer. In consequence, the material of Greek natural science is much closer to “common sense” material than are the results of contemporary science. One can read the surviving statements of it without any more technical preparation than say a knowledge of Euclidean geometry, while no one can follow understandingly the reports of most modern investigations in physics without a highly technical preparatory education. One reason the atomic theory propounded in antiquity made so little headway is that it did not agree with the results of ordinary observation. For this presented objects clothed with rich qualities and falling into kinds or species that were themselves marked by qualitative, rather than by merely quantitative and spatial, differences. In antiquity it was the atomic theory which was purely speculative and “deductive” in character.

These statements would be misunderstood if they were taken to imply an allegation that in ancient science sense gives knowledge, while modern science excludes the material of sense; such an idea inverts the facts. But ancient science accepted the material of sense-material on its face, and then organized it, as it naturally and originally stood, by operations of logical definition, classification into species and syllogistic subsumption. Men either had no instruments and appliances for modifying the ordinary objects of observation, for analyzing them into their elements and giving them new forms and arrangements, or they failed to use those which they had. Thus in content, or subject-matter, the conclusions of Greek science (which persisted till the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century), were much closer to the objects of everyday experience than are the objects of present scientific thought. It is not meant that the Greeks had more respect for the function of perception through the senses than has modern science, but that, judged from present practice, they had altogether too much, respect for the material of direct, unanalyzed sense-perception.

They were aware of its defects from the standpoint of knowledge. But they supposed that they could correct these defects and supplement their lack by purely logical or “rational” means. They supposed that thought could take the material supplied by ordinary perception, eliminate varying and hence contingent qualities, and thus finally reach the fixed and immutable form which makes particulars have the character they have; define this form as the essence or true reality of the particular things in question, and then gather a group of perceived objects into a species which is as eternal as its particular exemplifications are perishable. The passage from ordinary perception to scientific knowledge did not therefore demand the introduction of actual, overt and observed changes into the material of sense perception. Modern science, with its changes in the subject-matter of direct perception effected by the use of apparatus, gets away not from observed material as such, but from the qualitative characteristics of things as they are originally and “naturally” observed.

It may thus be fairly asserted that the “categories” of Greek description and explanation of natural phenomena were esthetic in character; for perception of the esthetic sort is interested in things in their immediate qualitative traits. The logical features they depended upon to confer scientific form upon the material of observation were harmony, proportion or measure, symmetry: these constitute the “logos” that renders phenomena capable of report in rational discourse. In virtue of these properties, superimposed upon phenomena but thought to be elicited from them, natural objects are knowable. Thus the Greeks employed thinking not as a means of changing given objects of observation so as to get at the conditions and effects of their occurrence, but to impose upon them certain static properties not found in them in their changeable occurrence. The essence of the static properties conferred upon them was harmony of form and pattern. Craftsmen, architects, sculptors, gymnasts, poets had taken raw material and converted it into finished forms marked by symmetry and proportion; they accomplished this task without the prior disintegrative reduction which characterizes modern making in the factory. Greek thinkers performed a like task for nature as a whole. Instead, however, of employing the material tools of the crafts, they depended upon thought alone. They borrowed the form provided them in Greek art in abstraction from its material appliances. They aimed at constructing out of nature, as observed, an artistic whole for the eye of the soul to behold. Thus for science nature was a cosmos. It was composed, but it was not a composite of elements. That is, it was a qualitative whole, a whole as is a drama, a statue or a temple, in virtue of a pervading and dominant qualitative unity; it was not an aggregate of homogenous units externally arranged in different modes. Design was the form and pattern intrinsically characteristic of things in their fixed kinds, not something first formed in a designing mind and then imposed from without.

In his Creative Evolution, Bergson remarks that to the Greek mind that reality which is the object of the truest knowledge is found in some privileged moment when a process of change attains its climactic apogee. The Ideas of Plato and the Forms of Aristotle, as he says, may be compared in their relation to particular things to the horses of the Parthenon frieze in relation to the casual movements of horses. The essential movement which gives and defines the character of the horse is summed up in the eternal moment of a static position and form. To see, to grasp, that culminating and defining form, and by grasping to possess and enjoy it, is to know.

This aperçu of Bergson illustrates the conception of the essentially artistic character possessed for Greek science by the object of knowledge. It is borne out by the details of Greek science. I know of no one thing more significant for an understanding of Greek science than Aristotle’s treatment of quantity as an accident, that is, as something which can vary within limits (set by the inherent essence and measure, logos) of a thing without affecting its nature. When we think of the Cartesian definition of quantity as the essence of matter, we appreciate that an intellectual revolution has taken place: a radical change in point of view and not just the product of more, and more accurately stated, information, but a change involving surrender of the esthetic character of the object. Contrast the place occupied in modern science by relations with the Aristotelian illustrations of their nature—namely, distinctions of more and less, greater and smaller, etc. For the point of Aristotle’s treatment is that relations, like quantity, are indifferent to the essence or nature of the object, and hence are of no final account for scientific knowledge. This conception is thoroughly appropriate to an esthetic point of view, wherein that which is internally complete and self-sufficing is the all-important consideration.

The addiction of Pythagorean-Platonism to number and geometry might seem to contradict what has been said. But it is one of the exceptions that proves the rule. For geometry and number in this scheme were means of ordering natural phenomena as they are directly observed. They were principles of measure, symmetry and allotment that satisfied canons essentially esthetic. Science had to wait almost two thousand years for mathematics to become an instrument of analysis, of resolution into elements for the sake of recomposition, through equations and other functions.

I pass by the evidence of the qualitative character of Greek science afforded by the central position of kinds or species in Peripatetic science. The instance is too obvious. More instructive is the purely qualitative treatment of movements, especially as this is the matter that gives the clue to the revolution wrought by Galileo. Movement was a term covering all sorts of qualitative alterations, such as warm things becoming cold, growth from embryo to adult form, etc. It was never conceived of as merely motion, i.e., change of position in a homogeneous space. When we speak of a musical movement, or a political movement, we come close to the sense attached to the idea in ancient science: a series of changes tending to complete or perfect a qualitative whole and fulfill an end.

Movement instead of continuing indefinitely spent itself; it tended inherently toward its own cessation, toward rest. The problem was not what external forces bring the arrow to a state of relative rest but what external forces, currents of air, etc., keep it moving and prevent its speedier attainment of its own natural goal, rest. Cessation of movement is either exhaustion, a kind of fatigue, or it marks the culmination of intrinsic proper being or essence. The heavenly bodies, just because they are heavenly, and therefore quasi-divine, are unwearied, never tiring, and so keep up their ceaseless round. For rest when it meant fulfillment was not dead quiescence but complete and therefore unchanging movement. Only thought is completely possessed of this perfect self-activity; but the constant round of heavenly bodies is the nearest physical manifestation of the self-enclosed changeless activity of thought, which discovers nothing, learns nothing, effects nothing, but eternally revolves upon itself.

The treatment of place—or rather places—is the counterpart of this qualitative diversification of movements. There is movement up from the earth, in the measure of their lightness, of those things which belong in the upper spaces; a downward movement to the earth of those things which because of their grossness attain their end and arrive at their home only in the gross and relatively cold earth. To the intermediate regions is appropriate neither upward nor downward movement but the back and forth and wavering movement characteristic of winds and the (apparent) motions of the planets. As the cold and heavy moves down, the light and fiery, the finest material moves upward. The stars of the firmament being the most nearly divine, the most purged of the irregular and merely potential, pursue that undeviating circular course which is the nearest approach in nature to the eternal self-activity of thought, which is at once beyond nature and its culmination or “final cause.”

These details are mentioned to make clear the completely qualitative character of antique science. There was no conflict with ideas about values, because the qualities belonging to objects of science are values; they are the things we enjoy and prize. Throughout nature as a qualitative whole there is a hierarchy of forms from those of lower value to those of higher. The revolution in science effectively initiated by Galileo consisted precisely in the abolition of qualities as traits of scientific objects as such. From this elimination proceeded just that conflict and need of reconciliation between the scientific properties of the real and those which give moral authority. Therefore to apprehend what the new astronomy and physics did for human beliefs, we have to place it in its contrast with the older natural science in which the qualities possessed by objects of scientific knowledge were precisely the same as those possessed by works of art, the properties which are one with beauty and with all that is admirable.

The work of Galileo was not a development, but a revolution. It marked a change from the qualitative to the quantitative or metric; from the heterogeneous to the homogeneous; from intrinsic forms to relations; from esthetic harmonies to mathematical formulæ from contemplative enjoyment to active manipulation and control; from rest to change; from eternal objects to temporal sequence. The idea of a two-realm scheme persisted for moral and religious purposes; it vanished for purposes of natural science. The higher realm which had been the object of true science became the exclusive habitat of objects connected with values that in their relation to man furnish the norm and end of human destiny. The lower realm of change which had been the subject of opinion and practice became the sole and only object of natural science. The realm in which opinion held sway was no longer a genuine although inferior portion of objective being. It was a strictly human product, due to ignorance and error. Such was the philosophy which, because of the new science, replaced the old metaphysics. But—and this “but” is of fundamental importance—in spite of the revolution, the old conceptions of knowledge as related to an antecedent reality and of moral regulation as derived from properties of this reality, persisted.

Neither the scientific nor the philosophic change came at once, even after experimental inquiry was initiated. In fact as we shall see later, philosophy proceeded conservatively by compromise and accommodation, and was read into the new science, so that not till our own generation did science free itself from some basic factors of the older conception of nature. Much of the scientific revolution was implicit, however, in the conclusions which Galileo drew from his two most famous experiments. The one with falling bodies at the tower of Pisa destroyed the old distinction of intrinsic qualitative differences of gravity and levity, and thus gave an enormous shock to the qualitative explanatory principles of science. It thus tended to undermine the description and explanation of natural phenomena in terms of heterogeneous qualities. For it showed that the immanent motion of bodies was connected with a common homogeneous property, one measured by their resistance to being set in motion and to having their motion arrested or deflected when once set in operation. This property, called inertia, was finally identified by Newton with mass, so that mass or inertia became the scientific definition or stable co-efficient of matter, in complete indifference to the qualitative differentiations of wet-dry, hot-cold, which were henceforth things to be explained by means of mass and motion, not fundamental explanatory principles.

Taken in isolation, it is conceivable that this result would have been only a shock, or at most a ferment. Not so, however, when it was connected with his experiment of balls rolling down a smooth inclined plane (of which his experiment with the pendulum was a variation), the nearest approximation he could make to observation of freely falling bodies. His purpose was to determine the relation of the measured time of falling to the measured space passed through. Observed results confirmed the hypothesis he had previously formed, namely, that the space traversed is proportional to the square of the elapsed time. If we forget the background of Peripatetic science against which this conclusion was projected, it appears as a mathematical determination of acceleration, and in connection with the concept of mass, as affording a new and accurate definition of force. This result is highly important. But apart from the classic background of beliefs about nature, it would have been of the same type as important discoveries in physics to-day. In its opposition to the basic ideas of Peripatetic science, it ushered in the scientific revolution. Galileo’s conclusions were absolutely fatal to the traditional conception that all bodies in motion come naturally to rest because of their own intrinsic tendency to fulfill an inherent nature. The ingenious mind of Galileo used his results to show that if a body moving on a horizontal plane, not subjected to the independent force of uniform gravity, were substituted for the body on an inclined plane, it would when once set in motion continue in motion indefinitely—the idea later formulated in Newton’s first law of motion.

The revolution opened the way to description and explanation of natural phenomena on the basis of homogeneous space, time, mass and motion. Our discussion is not an account of the historic development, and details are passed over. But some of the generic results which followed must be summarily mentioned. Galileo’s conclusion did not at first affect the tradition that bodies at rest remained at rest. But his logic and the further use of his methods showed that that when a gross body is brought to rest, motion is transferred to its own particles and to those of the body which checked its movement. Thus heat became subject to mechanical treatment, and in the end the conversion of mechanical motion, heat, light, electricity into one another without loss of energy was established. Then it was shown by Newton, following Copernicus and Huygens, that the movements of the planets obey the same mechanical laws of mass and acceleration as mundane bodies. Heavenly bodies and movements were brought under the same laws as are found in terrestrial phenomena. The idea of the difference in kind between phenomena in different parts of space was abolished. All that counted for science became mechanical properties formulated in mathematical terms:—the significance of mathematical formulation marking the possibility of complete equivalence or homogeneity of translation of different phenomena into one another’s terms.

From the standpoint of the doctrine that the purpose of knowledge is to grasp reality and that the object of cognition and real objects are synonymous terms, there was but one conclusion possible. This, in the words of a recent writer, was that “the Newtonian astronomy revealed the whole heavenly realm as a dark and limitless emptiness wherein dead matter moved under the impulse or insensate forces, and thus finally destroyed the poetic dream of ages.”1

The conclusion holds good, however, only under condition that the premise be held to. If and as far as the qualitative world was taken to be an object of knowledge, and not of experience in some other form than knowing, and as far as knowing was held to be the standard or sole valid mode of experiencing, the substitution of Newtonian for Greek science (the latter being but a rationalized arrangement of the qualitatively enjoyed world of direct experience) signified that the properties that render the world one of delight, admiration and esteem, have been done away with. There is, however, another interpretation possible. A philosophy which holds that we experience things as they really are apart from knowing, and that knowledge is a mode of experiencing things which facilitates control of objects for purposes of non-cognitive experiences, will come to another conclusion.

To go into this matter at this point would, however, anticipate later discussion. Consequently we confine comment here to the one question: Just what did the new experimental method do to the qualitative objects of ordinary experience? Forget the conclusions of Greek philosophy, put out of the mind all theories about knowlege and about reality. Take the simple direct facts: Here are the colored, resounding, fragrant, lovable, attractive, beautiful things of nature which we enjoy, and which we suffer when they are hateful, ugly, disgusting. Just what is the effect upon them wrought by physical science?

If we consent for the time being to denude the mind of philosophical and metaphysical presuppositions, and take the matter in the most simple and naïve way possible, I think our answer, stated in technical terms, will be that it substitutes data for objects. (It is not meant that this outcome is the whole effect of the experimental method; that as we saw at the outset is complex; but that the first effect as far as stripping away qualities is concerned is of this nature.) That Greek science operated with objects in the sense of the stars, rocks, trees, rain, warm and cold days of ordinary experience is evident enough. What is signified by saying that the first effect of experimentation was to reduce these things from the status of objects to that of data may not be so clear.2 By data is signified subject-matter for further interpretation; something to be thought about. Objects are finalities; they are complete, finished; they call for thought only in the way of definition, classification, logical arrangement, subsumption in syllogisms, etc. But data signify “material to serve”; they are indications, evidence, signs, clues to and of something still to be reached; they are intermediate, not ultimate; means, not finalities.

In a less technical way the matter may be stated as follows: The subject-matter which had been taken as satisfying the demands of knowledge, as the material with which to frame solutions, became something which set problems. Hot and cold, wet and dry, light and heavy, instead of being self-evident matters with which to explain phenomena, were things to be investigated; they were “effects,” not causal principles; they set question marks instead of supplying answers. The differences between the earth, the region of the planets, and the heavenly ether, instead of supplying ultimate principles which could be used to mark off and classify things, were something to be explained and to bring under identical principles. Greek and medieval science formed an art of accepting things as they are enjoyed and suffered. Modern experimental science is an art of control.

The remarkable difference between the attitude which accepts the objects of ordinary perception, use and enjoyment as final, as culminations of natural processes and that which takes them as starting points for reflection and investigation, is one which reaches far beyond the technicalities of science. It marks a revolution in the whole spirit of life, in the entire attitude taken toward whatever is found in existence. When the things which exist around us, which we touch, see, hear and taste are regarded as interrogations for which an answer must be sought (and must be sought by means of deliberate introduction of changes till they are reshaped into something different), nature as it already exists ceases to be something which must be accepted and submitted to, endured or enjoyed, just as it is. It is now something to be modified, to be intentionally controlled. It is material to act upon so as to transform it into new objects which better answer our needs. Nature as it exists at any particular time is a challenge, rather than a completion; it provides possible starting points and opportunities rather than final ends.

In short, there is a change from knowing as an esthetic enjoyment of the properties of nature regarded as a work of divine art, to knowing as a means of secular control—that is, a method of purposefully introducing changes which will alter the direction of the course of events. Nature as it exists at a given time is material for arts to be brought to bear upon it to reshape it, rather than already a finished work of art. Thus the changed attitude toward change to which reference was made has a much wider meaning than that which the new science offered as a technical pursuit. When correlations of changes are made the goal of knowledge, the fulfillment of its aim in discovery of these correlations, is equivalent to placing in our hands an instrument of control. When one change is given, and we know with measured accuracy its connection with another change, we have the potential means of producing or averting that other event. The esthetic attitude is of necessity directed to what is already there; to what is finished, complete. The attitude of control looks to the future, to production.

The same point is stated in another way in saying that the reduction of given objects to data for a knowing or an investigation still to be undertaken liberates man from subjection to the past. The scientific attitude, as an attitude of interest in change instead of interest in isolated and complete fixities, is necessarily alert for problems; every new question is an opportunity for further experimental inquiries—for effecting more directed change. There is nothing which a scientific mind would more regret than reaching a condition in which there were no more problems. That state would be the death of science, not its perfected life. We have only to contrast this disposition with that which prevails in morals and politics to realize the difference which has already been made, as well as to appreciate how limited its development still is. For in higher practical matters we still live in dread of change and of problems. Like men of olden time—with respect to natural phenomena—we prefer to accept and endure or to enjoy—as the case may happen to be—what is, what we find in possession of the field, and at most, to arrange it under concepts, and thus give it the form of rationality.

Before the rise of experimental method, change was simply an inevitable evil; the world of phenomenal existence, that is of change, while an inferior realm compared with the changeless, was nevertheless there and had to be accepted practically as it happened to occur. The wise man if he were sufficiently endowed by fortune would have as little to do with such things as possible, turning away from them to the rational realm. Qualitative forms and complete ends determined by nature are not amenable to human control. They are grateful when they happen to be enjoyed, but for human purposes nature means fortune, and fortune is the contrary of art. A good that happens is welcome. Goods, however, can be made secure in existence only through regulation of processes of change, a regulation dependent upon knowledge of their relations. While the abolition of fixed tendencies toward definite ends has been mourned by many as if it involved a despiritualization of nature, it is in fact a precondition of the projection of new ends and of the possibility of realizing them through intentional activity. Objects which are not fixed goals of nature and which have no inherent defining forms become candidates for receiving new qualities; means for serving new purposes. Until natural objects were denuded of determinate ends which were regarded as the proper outcome of the intrinsic tendency of nature’s own operations, nature could not become a plastic material of human desires and purposes.

Such considerations as these are implicit in that changed attitude which by experimental analysis reduces objects to data: the aim of science becomes discovery of constant relations among changes in place of definition of objects immutable beyond the possibility of alteration. It is interested in the mechanism of occurrences instead of in final causes. In dealing with the proximate instead of with the ultimate, knowledge deals with the world in which we live, the world which is experienced, instead of attempting through the intellect to escape to a higher realm. Experimental knowledge is a mode of doing, and like all doing takes place at a time, in a place, and under specifiable conditions in connection with a definite problem.

The notion that the findings of science are a disclosure of the inherent properties of the ultimate real, of existence at large, is a survival of the older metaphysics. It is because of injection of an irrelevant philosophy into interpretation of the conclusions of science that the latter are thought to eliminate qualities and values from nature. Thus is created the standing problem of modern philosophy:—the relation of science to the things we prize and love and which have authority in the direction of conduct. The same injection, in treating the results of mathematical-mechanistic science as a definition of natural reality in its own intrinsic nature, accounts for the antagonism shown to naturalism, and for the feeling that it is the business of philosophy to demonstrate the being of a realm beyond nature, one not subject to the conditions which mark all natural objects. Drop the conception that knowledge is knowledge only when it is a disclosure and definition of the properties of fixed and antecedent reality; interpret the aim and test of knowing by what happens in the actual procedures of scientific inquiry, and the supposed need and problem vanish.

For scientific inquiry always starts from things of the environment experienced in our everyday life, with things we see, handle, use, enjoy and suffer from. This is the ordinary qualitative world. But instead of accepting the qualities and values—the ends and forms—of this world as providing the objects of knowledge, subject to their being given a certain logical arrangement, experimental inquiry treats them as offering a challenge to thought. They are the materials of problems not of solutions. They are to be known, rather than objects of knowledge. The first step in knowing is to locate the problems which need solution. This step is performed by altering obvious and given qualities. These are effects; they are things to be understood, and they are understood in terms of their generation. The search for “efficient causes” instead of for final causes, for extrinsic relations instead of intrinsic forms, constitutes the aim of science. But the search does not signify a quest for reality in contrast with experience of the unreal and phenomenal. It signifies a search for those relations upon which the occurrence of real qualities and values depends, by means of which we can regulate their occurrence. To call existences as they are directly and qualitatively experienced “phenomena” is not to assign to them a metaphysical status. It is to indicate that they set the problem of ascertaining the relations of interaction upon which their occurrence depends.

It is unnecessary that knowledge should be concerned with existence as it is directly experienced in its concrete qualities. Direct experiencing itself takes care of that matter. What science is concerned with is the happening of these experienced things. For its purpose, therefore, they are happenings, events. Its aim is to discover the conditions and consequences of their happening. And this discovery can take place only by modifying the given qualities in such ways that relations become manifest. We shall see later that these relations constitute the proper objects of science as such. We are here concerned to emphasize the fact that elimination of the qualities of experienced existence is merely an intermediate step necessary to the discovery of relations, and that when it is accomplished the scientific object becomes the means of control of occurrence of experienced things having a richer and more secure equipment of values and qualities.

Only when the older theory of knowledge and metaphysics is retained, is science thought to inform us that nature in its true reality is but an interplay of masses in motion, without sound, color, or any quality of enjoyment and use. What science actually does is to show that any natural object we please may be treated in terms of relations upon which its occurrence depends, or as an event, and that by so treating it we are enabled to get behind, as it were, the immediate qualities the object of direct experience presents, and to regulate their happening, instead of having to wait for conditions beyond our control to bring it about. Reduction of experienced objects to the form of relations, which are neutral as respects qualitative traits, is a prerequisite of ability to regulate the course of change, so that it may terminate in the occurrence of an object having desired qualities.

As long, for example, as water is taken to be just the thing which we directly experience it to be, we can put it to a few direct uses, such as drinking, washing, etc. Beyond heating it there was little that could be done purposefully to change its properties. When, however, water is treated not as the glistening, rippling object with the variety of qualities that delight the eye, ear, and palate, but as something symbolized by H20, something from which these qualities are completely absent, it becomes amenable to all sorts of other modes of control and adapted to other uses. Similarly, when steam and ice are no longer treated as what they are in their qualitative differences from one another in direct experience, but as homogeneous molecules moving at measured velocities through specified distances, differential qualities that were barriers to effective regulations, as long as they were taken as finalities, are done away with. A single way of acting with respect to them in spite of their differences is indicated. This mode of action is capable of extension to other bodies, in principle to any bodies irrespective of qualitative differences of solid, liquid and gaseous, provided they are given a like mathematical formulation. Thus all sorts of modes of expansion and contraction, of refrigeration and evaporation, of production and regulation of explosive power, become possible. From the practical standpoint, bodies become aggregates of energies to be used in all kinds of ways, involving all sorts of substitutions, transformations, combinations and separations. But the object of direct or perceptible experience remains the same qualitative object, enjoyable and usable, it always was. Water as an object of science, as H20 with all the other scientific propositions which can be made about it, is not a rival for position in real being with the water we see and use. It is, because of experimental operations, an added instrumentality of multiplied controls and uses of the real things of everyday experience.

I am aware that this method of dealing with the great problem of modern philosophy will be regarded by many as too cavalier a disposition of a great issue; the solution if there be any (and many thinkers would perhaps feel any solution to be a real deprivation) is too simple and easy to be satisfactory. But I shall be content if the account leads anyone to reconsider the traditional beliefs which stand in the way of acceptance of the solution that is proposed. These preconceptions are the assumption that knowledge has a uniquely privileged position as a mode of access to reality in comparison with other modes of experience, and that as such it is superior to practical activity. Both of these ideas were formulated in a period when knowing was regarded as something which could be effected exclusively by means of the rational powers of mind. The development of scientific inquiry with its complete dependence upon experimentation has proved the profound error of the latter position. Is it not time to revise the philosophical conceptions which are founded on a belief now proved to be false? The sum and substance of the present argument is that if we frame our conception of knowledge on the experimental model, we find that it is a way of operating upon and with the things of ordinary experience so that we can frame our ideas of them in terms of their interactions with one another, instead of in terms of the qualities they directly present, and that thereby our control of them, our ability to change them and direct their changes as we desire, is indefinitely increased. Knowing is itself a mode of practical action and is the way of interaction by which other natural interactions become subject to direction. Such is the significance of the experimental method as far as we have as yet traced its course.

As was stated at the beginning of this part of the discussion, the examination of scientific knowing is undertaken not so much for its own sake as in order to supply material for projecting a hypothesis about something less technical and of wider and more liberal application. The ulterior issue is the possibility that actual experience in its concrete content and movement may furnish those ideals, meanings and values whose lack and uncertainty in experience as actually lived by most persons has supplied the motive force for recourse to some reality beyond experience: a lack and uncertainty that account for the continued hold of traditional philosophical and religious notions which are not consonant with the main tenor of modern life. The pattern supplied by scientific knowing shows that in this one field at least it is possible for experience, in becoming genuinely experimental, to develop its own regulative ideas and standards. Not only this, but in addition the progress of knowledge of nature has become secure and steady only because of this transformation. The conclusion is a good omen for the possibility of achieving in larger, more humane and liberal fields a similar transformation, so that a philosophy of experience may be empirical without either being false to actual experience or being compelled to explain away the values dearest to the heart of man.

  • 1.

    Barry, The Scientific Habit of Mind, New York, 1927, p. 249. I owe much more to this volume than this particular quotation.

  • 2.

    For this shift from objects to data see G. H. Mead’s essay in the volume entitled Creative Intelligence, New York, 1917.