The term “science” is now commonly employed to designate a band of special knowledges, headed by physics, pushing rapidly into the as yet unknown, and converting it first into knowledge, then into invention, and finally into civilization. Science is patronized and subsidized by common sense; and it is a profitable investment. But science, although often like Peter it repudiates philosophy and disclaims ever having known it, is of philosophical extraction and has philosophical connections that it cannot successfully conceal. Precisely as you and I were philosophers before the exigencies of life put a constraint upon the natural movements of the mind, so human knowledge was philosophical before it was “scientific,” and became divided into highly specialized branches, each with a technique and plan of its own. There are many ways in which the philosophical roots and ligaments of the sciences are betrayed. The different sciences, for example, all have to do with the same world, and their results must be made consistent. Thus physics, chemistry, physiology, and psychology all meet in human nature, and have to be reconciled. Man is somehow mechanism, life, and consciousness all in one. How is this possible? The question is evidently one that none of these sciences alone can answer. It is not a scientific problem, but a philosophical problem; and yet it is inseparably connected with the work of science and the estimate that is to be put on its results.

Again, science employs many conceptions with no thorough examination of their meaning. This is the case with most, if not all, of the fundamental conceptions of science. Thus mechanics does not inform us concerning the exact nature of space and time; physics does not give us more than a perfunctory and formal account of the nature of matter; the greater part of biology and physiology proceeds without attempting carefully to distinguish and define the meaning of life; while psychology studies cases of consciousness without telling us exactly what, in essence, consciousness is. All of the sciences employ the notions of law and of causality; but they give us no theory of these things. In short, the special sciences have certain rough working ideas which suffice for the purposes of experimentation and description, but which do not suffice for the purposes of critical reflection. All of the conceptions which I have mentioned furnish food for thought, when once thought is directed to them. They bristle with difficulties, and no one can say that science, in the limited sense in which the specialist and expert use the term, accomplishes anything to remove these difficulties. Science is able to get along, to make astonishing progress, and to furnish the instruments of a triumphant material civilization, without raising these difficulties. But suppose a man to ask, “Where do I stand, after all is said and done? What sort of a world do I live in? What am I myself? What must I fear, and what may I hope?” and there is no answering him except by facing these difficulties. There is no one who will even attempt to answer such questions except the philosopher.

All Directories