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THE METHOD OF STUDYING SOCIAL SCIENCE.
The most important' feature which characterizes the present advance in natural science, as contrasted with the natural science of the past generation, is the adoption of the historical method.
The day has gone by in which science was content to accept the momentary phases of things as their truth. That which offers itself to view -- now, while I am looking at it — is not the whole of the phenomenon ; it is only one of its manifestations, only a part of the entire process which r'eveals its essence. And this is not an abstruse, transcendental doctrine. It is not philosophy any more than it is natural science. It is not natural science any more than it is common human experience. The acorn which I pick up from the ground is a part of the process of the life of a plant; it is a temporary phase in the growth of an oak. In the course of time this acorn would sprout from the soil and become, first a sapling, and then a great tree, bearing acorns again. The acorn itself depends upon the whole process which forms the life of the oak, and is only to be explained by that process: So, likewise, any other phase or immediate appearance in the life of the oak, - its existence as a young sapling, or as a great tree, or as a crop of leaves, blossoms and acorns. Science sees the acorn in the entire history of the life of the oak. It sees the oak in the entire history of all its species, in whatever climes they grow. It sees the history of the oak in the broader and more general history of the life of all trees, all plants; and, finally, it considers plant life in its relations to the mineral below it and to the animal above it.
To see an object in its necessary relations to the rest of the world in time and space, is to comprehend it scientifically.
The object just before our senses now is only a partial revelation of some being that has a process or history, and we must investigate its history to gain a scientific knowledge of it. Its history will reveal what there is in it. No object is a complete revelation of itself at one and the same moment. The water which we lift to our lips to drink hastwo other forms; it may be solid, as ice, or an elastic fluid, as steam. It can be only one of these at a time. Science learns to know what water is, by collecting all its phases, solid, liquid, and gaseous, - and its properties as revealed in the history of its relations to all other objects in the world. So, likewise, the pebble which we pick up on the street is to be comprehended through its geological history, - its upheaval as primitive granite, its crushing by the glaciers of the Drift Period, and its grinding and polishing under icebergs.
We must trace whatever we see through its antecedent forms, and learn its cycle of birth, growth, and decay. This is the advice of modern science. We must learn to see each individual thing in the perspective of its history. All aspects of nature have been, or will be, brought under this method of treatment. Even the weather of to-day is found to be conditioned by antecedent weather, and the Signal Bureau now writes the history of each change in the temperature or moisture here as a progress of an atmospheric wil ve from south-west to north-east. The realm which was thought a few years since to be hopelessly under the dominion of chance, or subject to incalculably various conditions and causes, is found to be capable of quite exact investigation. This is all due to the method of studying each particular thing as a part of a process. When the stormsignal stations extend all over the world, we shall learn to trace the history of atmospheric waves and vortices back to the more general movements of the planet, diurnal and annual, and we shall find the connecting links which make a continuous history for the weather of to-day with the eternal process of exchange going on between the frigid and torrid air-zones, and trace the relation of this to the telluric process of earthquakes and the periodic variation of sun-spots and their dependence upon the orbital revolution of Jupiter and other planets. Doubtless, we shall not see a science of astrology, predicting the fortune of the individual man by the fore-ordained aspects of the planets under which he was born; but it is quite probable that, when the history of the meteorological process becomes better known,
own, we shall be able to cast the horoscope of the weather for an entire
This method of science, now consciously followed by our foremost men of science, is not an accidental discovery, but one which necessarily flows out of the course of human experience. For what is experience but the process of collecting the individual perceptions of the moment into one consistent whole? Does not experience correct the imperfection of first views and partial insights by subsequent and repeated observations? The present has to be adjusted to the past and to the future. Man cannot choose, - he must learn in the school of experience; and the process of experience, blindly followed upon compulsion, when chosen by .conscious insight as its method, becomes science.
The difference, therefore, between the scientific activity of the mind and the ordinary common-sense activity lies in this difference of method and point of view. · The ordinary habit of mind occupies itself with the objects of the senses as they are forced upon its attention by surrounding circumstances, and it does not seek and find their unity. The scientific habit of mind chooses its object, and persistently follows its thread of existence through all its changes and relations.
When Isaac Newton saw the apple fall to the ground, he saw involved in its process the fall of the moon to the earth, converted into a movement in its orbit, and this thought widened into the thought of universal gravitation. How different the scientific thought of Newton from the thought of the swine who also saw the fall of the apple, and ran from his sty to devour it!
Such being the method of natural science, it becomes us. now to inquire what is the proper method of social science, and wherein the nature of its subject causes a difference in the process of investigation.
Social science deals with Man. Man has a natural being as a mere animal, as well as a spiritual being of intellect and will, which he realizes in institutions. If social science devotes itself to man as an animal, it will certainly find its advantage in adopting the method of natural science and in studying him according to the historical method. The natural history of man will give us the physical conditions under which he thrives, and the physiological laws of his development. Doubtless, too, the history of physical man, if we can have his whole history, will give us a revelation of his nature, just as much as the history of the oak gives a revelation of its nature, or as a history of the whole movement of a storm-centre gives us its explanation. The historical method, in fact, is of universal application as regards all beings of nature, whether organic or inorganic.
But, if our method for social science is in some respects identical with that used in natural science, it differs in many particulars. For man is not only an animal having bodily wants of food, clothing, and shelter, but he is a spiritual being existing in opposition to nature. Man, as a child or a savage, is an incarnate contradiction ; his real being is the opposite of his ideal being. His actual condition does not conform to his true nature. His true human nature is Rea
his actual condition is irrational, for it is constrained from without, chained by brute necessity, and lashed by the scourges of appetite and passion. Thus there is a paradoxical contrast between nature and human nature; between nature as spread out in time and space — existing in mineral, vegetable, and animal — and human nature, or real
ized reason. The nature in time and space consists of beings limited by each other, and not of self-limited beings. Thus fate everywhere prevails in nature, and each natural thing is constrained by its circumstances, and cannot change itself, cannot realize an ideal of its own, in fact, has no ideal, and is no self. Man, as he begins his career, is such a natural being. His human nature is, then, only a possibility to him. Human nature must be made by the activity of man in order to exist. As man ascends out of nature in time and space into human nature, he ascends into a realm of his own creation, and, therefore, into a realm of freedom. The world of material nature is not self-limited. The chief attribute of matter is exclusiveness. Impenetrability is an essential quality of it. Two bodies cannot occupy the same place; nor can one body occupy two places. Hence the material necessities of life — food, clothing, and shelter — are essentially brute necessities, having selfishness or exclu-, siveness as their basis. The food, clothing, or shelter appropriated by one human being cannot be likewise appropriated by another at the same time. If participation exists in regard to material supplies, it exists through division and diminution of shares. But it is the opposite of this in spiritual things, — in things of the mind. Spiritual blessings always increase by being shared. In fact, they do not exist except in and through participation. It'is through combination of man with man that the individual is able to achieve a rational existence. By combination, each one is able to participate in the life of every other, -- forming a vast organism of institutions called human society, wherein each helps all and all help each.
Each particular individual hemmed in, hampered by circumstances, like a mere material thing, becomes a universal through the organization of institutions, - the family, civil society, the State, the Church, — that is to say: He takes hold of the helpful hand of the institution, and participates in the strength of the entire community. By institu