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Scientific And Pseudo-Scientific Realism
by [?]


Next to undue precipitation in anticipating the results of pending investigations, the intellectual sin which is commonest and most hurtful to those who devote themselves to the increase of knowledge is the omission to profit by the experience of their predecessors recorded in the history of science and philosophy. It is true that, at the present day, there is more excuse than at any former time for such neglect. No small labour is needed to raise one’s self to the level of the acquisitions already made; and able men, who have achieved thus much, know that, if they devote themselves body and soul to the increase of their store, and avoid looking back, with as much care as if the injunction laid on Lot and his family were binding upon them, such devotion is sure to be richly repaid by the joys of the discoverer and the solace of fame, if not by rewards of a less elevated character.

So, following the advice of Francis Bacon, we refuse inter mortuos quaerere vivum; we leave the past to bury its dead, and ignore our intellectual ancestry. Nor are we content with that. We follow the evil example set us, not only by Bacon but by almost all the men of the Renaissance, in pouring scorn upon the work of our immediate spiritual forefathers, the schoolmen of the Middle Ages. It is accepted as a truth which is indisputable, that, for seven or eight centuries, a long succession of able men–some of them of transcendent acuteness and encyclopaedic knowledge–devoted laborious lives to the grave discussion of mere frivolities and the arduous pursuit of intellectual will-o’-the-wisps. To say nothing of a little modesty, a little impartial pondering over personal experience might suggest a doubt as to the adequacy of this short and easy method of dealing with a large chapter of the history of the human mind. Even an acquaintance with popular literature which had extended so far as to include that part of the contributions of Sam Slick which contains his weighty aphorism that “there is a great deal of human nature in all mankind,” might raise a doubt whether, after all, the men of that epoch, who, take them all round, were endowed with wisdom and folly in much the same proportion as ourselves, were likely to display nothing better than the qualities of energetic idiots, when they devoted their faculties to the elucidation of problems which were to them, and indeed are to us, the most serious which life has to offer. Speaking for myself, the longer I live the more I am disposed to think that there is much less either of pure folly, or of pure wickedness, in the world than is commonly supposed. It may be doubted if any sane man ever said to himself, “Evil, be thou my good,” and I have never yet had the good fortune to meet with a perfect fool. When I have brought to the inquiry the patience and long-suffering which become a scientific investigator, the most promising specimens have turned out to have a good deal to say for themselves from their own point of view. And, sometimes, calm reflection has taught the humiliating lesson, that their point of view was not so different from my own as I had fondly imagined. Comprehension is more than half-way to sympathy, here as elsewhere.

If we turn our attention to scholastic philosophy in the frame of mind suggested by these prefatory remarks, it assumes a very different character from that which it bears in general estimation. No doubt it is surrounded by a dense thicket of thorny logomachies and obscured by the dust-clouds of a barbarous and perplexing terminology. But suppose that, undeterred by much grime and by many scratches, the explorer has toiled through this jungle, he comes to an open country which is amazingly like his dear native land. The hills which he has to climb, the ravines he has to avoid, look very much the same; there is the same infinite space above, and the same abyss of the unknown below; the means of travelling are the same, and the goal is the same.