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Book I Chapter 3 - § 3


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« on: January 08, 2023, 06:35:32 am »

§ 3. It remains, in concluding the present chapter, to utter a word of caution as to the relation between the two divisions of applied Metaphysics and the body of the empirical sciences. It is perhaps hardly necessary to warn the student that Rational Cosmology and Psychology would become worse than useless if conceived of as furnishing in any sense a substitute for the experimental study of the  physical, psychological, and social sciences. They are essentially departments of Metaphysics, and for that very reason are incapable of adding a single fact to the sum of our knowledge of ascertained fact. No doubt the discredit into which Metaphysics—except in the form of tacit and unconscious assumption—has fallen among students of positive science, is largely due to the unfortunate presumption with which Schelling, and to a less degree Hegel, attempted to put metaphysical discussion in the place of the experimental investigation of the facts of nature and of mind. At the present day this mistake is less likely to be committed; the danger is rather that applied Metaphysics  may be declared purely valueless because it is incapable of adding to our store of facts. The truth is, that it has a real value, but a value of a different kind from that which has sometimes been ascribed to it. It is concerned not with the accumulation of facts, but with the interpretation of previously ascertained facts, looked at broadly and as a whole. When the facts of physical Nature and of Mind and the special laws of their connection have been discovered and systematised by the most adequate methods of experiment, observation, and mathematical calculation at our disposal, the question still remains, how we are to conceive of the whole realm of such facts consistently with the general conditions of logical and coherent thought. If we choose to define positive science as the systematic establishment of the special laws of connection between facts, we may say that over and above the scientific problem of the systematisation of facts there is the further philosophical problem of their interpretation. This latter problem does not cease to be
legitimate because it has been illegitimately confounded by certain thinkers with the former.

Or we may put the case in another way. The whole process of scientific systematisation involves certain assumptions as to the ultimate nature of the facts which are systematised. Thus the very performance of an experiment for the purpose of verifying a suggested hypothesis involves the  assumption that the facts with which the hypothesis is concerned conform to general laws, and that these laws are such as to be capable of formulation by human intelligence. If "nature" is not in some sense "uniform," the conclusive force of a successful experiment is logically nil. Hence the necessity for an inquiry into the character of the presuppositions involved in scientific procedure, and the amount of justification which can be found for them. For practical purposes, no doubt, the presuppositions of inductive science are sufficiently justified by its actual successes. But the question for us as metaphysicians, as we have already seen, is that not of their usefulness but of their truth.

It may be said that the inquiry ought in any case to be left to the special student of the physical and psychological sciences themselves. This, however, would involve serious neglect of the great principle of division of labour. It is true, of course, that, other things being equal, the better stored the mind of the philosopher with scientific facts, the sounder will be his judgment on the interpretation and implications of the whole body of facts. But, at the same time, the gifts which make a successful experimentalist and investigator of facts are not altogether the same which are required for the philosophical analysis of the implications of facts, nor are both always conjoined in the same man.  There is no reason, on the one hand, why the able experimenter should be compelled to desist from the discovery of facts of nature until he can solve the philosophical problems presented by the very existence of a world of physical facts, nor, on the other, why the thinker endowed by nature with  powers of philosophical analysis should be forbidden to exercise them until he has mastered all the facts which are known by the specialists. What the philosopher needs to know, as the starting-point for his investigation, is not the specialist's facts as such, but the general principles which the specialist uses for their discovery and correlation. His study is a "science of sciences," not in the sense that it is a sort of universal encyclopædia of instructive and entertaining knowledge, but in the more modest sense of being a systematised reflection upon the concepts and methods with which the sciences, and the less methodical thought of everyday practical life work, and an attempt to try them by the standard of ultimate coherence and intelligibility.

Note. — If we retain Psychology, as is done, e.g., by Lotze, as the title of our Metaphysic of Mind, we ought in consistency to give the word a greatly extended sense. The facts which the Metaphysic of Mind attempts to interpret, comprise not only those of Psychology in the stricter sense (the abstract study of the laws of mental process), but those of all the various sciences which deal with the concrete manifestation of mind in human life (Ethics, Æsthetics, Sociology, the study of Religion, etc.). This is one reason for preferring the Hegelian designation "Philosophy of Mind" to the traditional one of Rational Psychology. The associations of the word Philosophy in English are, however, so vague that the adoption of the Hegelian title might perhaps be understood  as identifying this division of Metaphysics with the whole content of the mental sciences. But for the unfamiliarity of the expression, I should recommend some such phrase as Metaphysics of Human Society as the most adequate description of this branch of our science.

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