IX. PHILOSOPHER-SCIENTISTS AND NEW INSTITUTIONS OF LEARNING

We saw that in the old Greek days there was no sharp line of demarcation between the field of the philosopher and that of the scientist. In the Hellenistic epoch, however, knowledge became more specialized, and our recent chapters have shown us scientific investigators whose efforts were far enough removed from the intangibilities of the philosopher. It must not be overlooked, however, that even in the present epoch there were men whose intellectual efforts were primarily directed towards the subtleties of philosophy, yet who had also a penchant for strictly scientific imaginings, if not indeed for practical scientific experiments. At least three of these men were of sufficient importance in the history of the development of science to demand more than passing notice. These three are the Englishman Francis Bacon (1561-1626), the Frenchman Rene Descartes (1596-1650); and the German Gottfried Leibnitz (1646-1716). Bacon, as the earliest path-breaker, showed the way, theoretically at least, in which the sciences should be studied; Descartes, pursuing the methods pointed out by Bacon, carried the same line of abstract reason into practice as well; while Leibnitz, coming some years later, and having the advantage of the wisdom of his two great predecessors, was naturally influenced by both in his views of abstract scientific principles.

Bacon's career as a statesman and his faults and misfortunes as a man do not concern us here. Our interest in him begins with his entrance into Trinity College, Cambridge, where he took up the study of all the sciences taught there at that time. During the three years he became more and more convinced that science was not being studied in a profitable manner, until at last, at the end of his college course, he made ready to renounce the old Aristotelian methods of study and advance his theory of inductive study. For although he was a great admirer of Aristotle's work, he became convinced that his methods of approaching study were entirely wrong.

"The opinion of Aristotle," he says, in his De Argumentum Scientiarum, "seemeth to me a negligent opinion, that of those things which exist by nature nothing can be changed by custom; using for example, that if a stone be thrown ten thousand times up it will not learn to ascend; and that by often seeing or hearing we do not learn to see or hear better. For though this principle be true in things wherein nature is peremptory (the reason whereof we cannot now stand to discuss), yet it is otherwise in things wherein nature admitteth a latitude. For he might see that a straight glove will come more easily on with use; and that a wand will by use bend otherwise than it grew; and that by use of the voice we speak louder and stronger; and that by use of enduring heat or cold we endure it the better, and the like; which latter sort have a nearer resemblance unto that subject of manners he handleth than those instances which he allegeth."[1]

These were his opinions, formed while a young man in college, repeated at intervals through his maturer years, and reiterated and emphasized in his old age. Masses of facts were to be obtained by observing nature at first hand, and from such accumulations of facts deductions were to be made. In short, reasoning was to be from the specific to the general, and not vice versa.

It was by his teachings alone that Bacon thus contributed to the foundation of modern science; and, while he was constantly thinking and writing on scientific subjects, he contributed little in the way of actual discoveries. "I only sound the clarion," he said, "but I enter not the battle."

The case of Descartes, however, is different. He both sounded the clarion and entered into the fight. He himself freely acknowledges his debt to Bacon for his teachings of inductive methods of study, but modern criticism places his work on the same plane as that of the great Englishman. "If you lay hold of any characteristic product of modern ways of thinking," says Huxley, "either in the region of philosophy or in that of science, you find the spirit of that thought, if not its form, has been present in the mind of the great Frenchman."[2]

Descartes, the son of a noble family of France, was educated by Jesuit teachers. Like Bacon, he very early conceived the idea that the methods of teaching and studying science were wrong, but be pondered the matter well into middle life before putting into writing his ideas of philosophy and science. Then, in his Discourse Touching the Method of Using One's Reason Rightly and of Seeking Scientific Truth, he pointed out the way of seeking after truth. His central idea in this was to emphasize the importance of DOUBT, and avoidance of accepting as truth anything that does not admit of absolute and unqualified proof. In reaching these conclusions he had before him the striking examples of scientific deductions by Galileo, and more recently the discovery of the circulation of the blood by Harvey. This last came as a revelation to scientists, reducing this seemingly occult process, as it did, to the field of mechanical phenomena. The same mechanical laws that governed the heavenly bodies, as shown by Galileo, governed the action of the human heart, and, for aught any one knew, every part of the body, and even the mind itself.