Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

A.

And you think that they have not been true to themselves?

B.

Why what have they done with this work since he left it? There it lies to speak for itself, sticking in the middle of the Novum Organum. No attempt has been made, that I can hear of, to carry it out further. People seem hardly to know that it is not complete. John Mill observes that Bacon's method of inductive logic is defective, but does not advert to the fact that of ten separate processes which it was designed to include, the first only has been explained. The other nine he had in his head, but did not live to set down more of them than the names. And the particular example which he has left of an inductive inquiry does not profess to be carried beyond the first stage of generalization, vindemiatio prima as he calls it.

A.

the

It may be so; but why have they not attempted to carry his process out further? Is it not because they have found that they can get on faster with their old tools?

B.

Because they think they can get on faster; you cannot say they have found it until they have tried.

A.

Have they not tried Bacon's way partially, and found it not so handy? Has not Sir John Herschel, for instance, tried the use of his famous classification of Instances, and pronounced it " more apparent than real?" And is it not a fact that no single discovery of importance has been actually made by proceeding according to the method recom

mended by Bacon? I am sure I have heard as much reported upon the authority of a very eminent modern writer upon these subjects.

B.

So have I. And I can well believe that the use of Bacon's "Prerogatives of Instances," in the way they have been used, is not much; and for the reason given by Herschel, viz., because the same judgment which enables you to assign the Instance its proper class, enables you, without that assignation, to recognize its proper value. Therefore so long as the task of gathering his Instances as they grow wild in the woods is left to the Interpreter of Nature himself, there is little use in a formal classification; he knows exactly what he wants; what is not to his purpose he need not trouble himself with; what is to his purpose he can apply to that purpose at once. And each several man of genius will no doubt acquire a knack of his own by which he will arrive at his results faster than by any formal method. But suppose the Interpreter wants to use the help of other people, to whom he cannot impart his own genius or his peculiar gift of knowing at first sight what is to the purpose and what not. He wants them to assist him in gathering materials. How shall he direct them in their task so that their labours may be available for himself? I take it, he must distribute the work among several and make it pass through several processes. One man may be used to make a rough and general collection, what we call an omnium gatherum. Another must be employed to reduce the confused mass into some order fit for reference. A third to clear it of superfluities and rubbish. A fourth must be taught to classify and arrange what remains. And here I cannot but think that Bacon's arrangement of Instances according to what he calls their Prerogatives, or some better arrangement of the same kind which experience ought to suggest, would be found to be of great value; especially when it is proposed to make through all

[ocr errors]

the regions of Nature separate collections of this kind such as may combine into one general collection. For though it be true that as long as each man works only for himself, he may trust to the usus uni rei deditus for finding out the method of proceeding which best suits the trick of his own mind, and each will probably pursue a different method, yet when many men's labours are to be gathered into one table, any collector of statistics will tell you that they must all work according to a common pattern. And in the subject we are speaking of which is coextensive with the mind of man on one side and the nature of things on the other, that will undoubtedly be the best pattern which is framed upon the justest theory of the human understanding; - for which distinction Bacon's would seem to be no unlikely candidate.

However I am here again getting out of my province. It may be that Bacon's project was visionary; or it may be that it is only thought visionary, because since his death no heart has been created large enough to believe it practicable. The philosophers must settle that among themselves. But be the cause what it will, it is clear to me on the one hand that the thing has not been seriously attempted; and on the other, that Bacon was fully satisfied that nothing of worth could be hoped for without it; therefore that we have no right to impute to him either the credit of all that has been done by the new philosophy, or the discredit of all that has been left undone.

A.

Certainly not; if you are right as to the fact. But I still think there must be some mistake. How is it possible that among so many distinguished men as have studied Bacon's philosophy with so much reverence, such a large feature can have been overlooked?

B.

I cannot pretend to explain that. But an appeal to one's

own eyes is always lawful. Here is one passage which is enough by itself to settle the question. If you are not satisfied with it, I can quote half a dozen more to the same effect: "Illud interim quod sæpe diximus etiam hoc loco præcipue repetendum est

[ocr errors]

A.

Translate; if you would have me follow.

B.

[ocr errors]

"I must repeat here again what I have so often said; - that though all the wits of all the ages should meet in one, though the whole human race should make Philosophy their sole business, -though the whole earth were nothing but colleges and academies and schools of learned men, - yet without such a natural and experimental history as I am going to describe, no progress worthy of the human race in Philosophy and the Sciences could possibly be made: whereas if such a history were once provided and well ordered, with the addition of such auxiliary and lightgiving experiments as the course of Interpretation would itself suggest, the investigation of Nature and of all sciences would be the work only of a few years. Either this must be done, therefore, or the business must be abandoned. For in this way and in this way only can the foundation be laid of a true and active Philosophy."

Where does he say that?

A.

B.

[ocr errors]

In the Preface to what he calls the "Parasceve ad Historiam naturalem et experimentalem," which is in fact nothing more than a description of the sort of history which he wanted, - such a history as a true Philosophy might be built upon, - with directions to be observed in collecting it. He published it (somewhat out of its proper place) in the same volume with the Novum Organum, in order that, if possible, men might be set about the work at once; of such primary importance did he hold it to be. If you dis

trust my translation, take it in his own English. In presenting the Novum Organum to the King, after explaining the nature and objects of the work and his reason for publishing it in an imperfect shape, he adds, "There is another reason for my so doing; which is to try whether I can get help in one intended part of this work, namely the compiling of a natural and experimental history, which must be the main foundation of a true and active philosophy." And again about a week after, in reply to the King's gracious acknowledgement of the book, "This comfortable beginning makes me hope further that your Majesty will be aiding to me in setting men on work for the collecting of a natural and experimental history, which is basis totius negotii." And this was no after-thought, but an essential feature of his design as he had conceived it at least sixteen years before. There is extant a description of this proposed history, which appears to have been written as early as 1604; and though the only copy that I know of is in an imperfect and mutilated manuscript, enough remains to show that in all its material features it agreed exactly with the description set forth in the Parasceve.

Now you know I am not going to discuss the merit of his plan. It may (as I said) have been all a delusion. But grant it a delusion still it was a delusion under which he was actually labouring. If every man of science that ever lived had considered it and pronounced it puerile and ridiculous, still their unanimous verdict could not, in the face of his own repeated and earnest declarations, persuade me that it was not an essential part of Bacon's scheme; that it was not (in his perfect and rooted judgment) the one key to the cipher in which the fortunes of the human race are locked up, the one thing with which all might be done; without which nothing. And this is all that is necessary for our present business. For we are not discussing his philosophical capacity, but his personal character and purposes as illustrated by the tenour of his life.

[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]
« AnteriorContinuar »