James Pyle Wickersham.

Methods of instruction .. online

. (page 6 of 31)
Online LibraryJames Pyle WickershamMethods of instruction .. → online text (page 6 of 31)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


ments of knowledge.



THE CLASSIFICATION OF KNOWLEDGE. 85

All science must rest upon the basis now pointed
out, but the arts have science itself for a basis ; and
soon after a child is in possession of the elements
of the sciences, he begins to operate with, or upon,
them in such a way as to produce what may be
called the elements of the arts. He imitates sounds ;
he carves sticks, and moulds clay; he paints his face
or clothes with berries ; he builds houses with stones
or blocks ; he makes figures in the sand ; indeed, it
is not difficult to trace in the plays of children the
rude beginnings of many of the arts which have
now, in civilized countries, reached such a high
degree of perfection.

The first of our classes then includes the elements
of knowledge, the elements of the sciences, and the
elements of the arts. The discussion of each class
of knowledge might embrace the elements upon
which it rests ; but as teaching must begin by im-
parting a knowledge of the elements of knowledge
in general, without regard to the class to which they
belong, the plan adopted is considered the best.

Second Class. — Language. — Language might be
classed among the arts, since, like them, it is in
part, at least, the product of human skill. It might
be classed with the Empirical sciences, since, like
them, many of the laws which govern it have been
derived from observation and experiment. And,
again, it might be classed with the Formal Sciences,
since its laws are often identical with the laws of
thought. Its great importance, in an educational
point of view, however, determines me to consider
it by itself.
8



86 BUILDING THE FOUNDATION.

The class is intended to embrace all those branches
of instruction which relate to the acquisition of skill
in the use of language, or which treat of language
as a science.

Third Class. — The Formal Sciences. — Two sciences
are desiarned to be included in this class -^ Mathe-
matics and Logic. Mathematics gives precise ex-
pression to the relations of forms and numbers, and
Logic gives precise expression to the laws of thought.
Matter could not exist but for Mathematical condi-
tions, and thought is known to us only under
Logical conditions. Logic is the more general of
the two sciences, for Mathematical reasoning itself
is subject to its forms; but their relationship is
sufficiently obvious.

Fourth Class. — The Empirical Sciences, — Laws
learned by induction are called Empirical laws, and
the sciences composed of systems of these laws have
received the name of Empirical sciences. ■ Or, the
Empirical sciences are the sciences which are made
up of that knowledge of which experience is the
source. Among these sciences are Geography,
'Chemistry, Natural Philosophy, Physiology, Zool-
ogy, Botany, Geology, Astronomy, Psychology, &c.

Fifth Class. — The Rational Sciences. — The basis
of the Rational sciences is the self-evident, neces-
sary, and universal principles which can be directly
apprehended by the reason without the intervention
of any discursive process. Or, the Rational sciences
are the sciences which are evolved from those ideas



THE CLASSIFICATION OF KNOWLEDGE. 87

of which experience is the occasion, but not the
source. The term Metaphysics might be applied
to the whole class ; and of its subdivisions I will
name but three: Philosophy, or the science of The
True ; Esthetics, or the science of The Beautiful;
and Ethics, or the science of The Good.

Sixth Class. — The Historical Sciences. — History
collects the facts relating to the life of man upon
the earth, and presents them in systematic narra-
tions. In its higher departments it essays to solve
the problem of man's condition and destiny. Into
all calculations respecting the Historical sciences,
the elements of a free-will and a superintending
Providence enter, and these render it necessary to
place the Historical sciences in a class by themselves.

Events cannot be recorded or accounted for before
they have occurred, and hence History complements
all other sciences, and cannot be finished until all
the future becomes the past.

Seventh Class. — The Arts. — Art in its beginnings
may precede science, but in its more advanced stages
it must always follow it. Says Mill, "Art neces-
sarily presupposes knowledge; art, in any but its
infant state, presupposes scientific knowledge; and
if every art does not bear the name of the science
upon which it rests, it is only because several
sciences are often necessary to form the ground-
work of a single art." This explains sufficiently
well the place occupied by " The Arts" in our classi-
fication of knowledge. The class will be divided
into the Empirical arts and the Rational arts.



88 BUILDIN-Q THE FOUNDATION".

11. The Genesis of Knowledge.

It is proposed to inquire how the human race came
into possession of the knowledge they now have?
Volumes would he required to push the inquiry to
its limits ; hut it is hoped that enough concerning
the subject may he stated in a few pages to throw
considerable light upon Methods of Instruction.
The growth of knowledge in the individual mind
must correspond to its historic growth in the mind
of the race.

Sufficient has already been said, or will he said
in other connections, concerning the genesis of the
"Elements of knowledge," and hence this topic
will be omitted in the present discussion. The order
followed in the discussion of the other topics under
this head will be that of the preceding classification.

The Genesis of our Knowledge of Language. —
Several theories of the origin of language have been
proven fallacious. It is now acknowledged that no
ready-formed vocabulary could have been the gift
of God. While some words, in all languages, are
imitations of sounds heard in nature, the vast ma-
jority of them cannot be accounted for by any
system of Onomatopoeia. Interjections are, doubt-
less, found in all languages, but that all other parts
of speech are derived from these has never been
proven, and is past belief. The most profound of
modern Philologists have reached the conclusion
that man was endowed by his Creator with the
power of naming, and that he exercises this power in
the same way as a bird sings. Multitudes of words
were produced in the early ages which perished, but



THE GENESIS OF KNOWLEDGE. 89

certain root-word?, four or five liunclred in number,
survived the "struggle for life," and now form the
basis of all languages'. These root- words are the
generous parents of whole tribes of other words,
which, b}'' being modified in meaning, compounded
and inflected, swell the number of words in some
languages to eighty or a hundred thousand.

But a teacher is not so directly interested in ques-
tions concerning the origin of language as he is in
those concerning the manner in which children, in
ordinary circumstances, acquaint themselves with
human speech.

I do not doubt that the same speech-forming
instinct or faculty exists now as in the early ages of
the world's history, and that if the race were to lose
all knowledge of the words they now use they would
produce new ones. But children do not create a
new language, they merely acquire the power to use
one already in existence. How do they acquire it?
First, they notice objects or actions. Then they
hear certain verbal sounds associated with them, and
finally learn to imitate these sounds. They are
aided in the whole process by an innate desire to
know and to speak. An English child learns English
because he hears English words and English forms
of expression. Other languages are learned in the
same way. The words a child first learns are those
that stand for objects or actions which are most
prominently presented to him, or in which he feels
most interest. Of this class are pa, ma, puss, dog,
horse, door, hat, dock, bell, &c., &c., or ru7i, walk, ride,
burn, bark, sing, &c., &c. The same principle holds
good with regard to the manner in which the ability

8*



90 BUILDING THE FOUNDATION.

to use forms of expression consisting of two or more
words is acquired. The parts of speech a child
generally uses first are the noun and the verb, and
those he next uses are the adjective and the adverb ;
and it requires much practice before he constructs
whole sentences in talking.

It may be fairly inferred from what has been said
that the best mode of teaching young children the
use of language is to make their acquaintance with
things as extensive as possible, and to allow them
full opportunity of hearing things talked about, and
of talkino; about them themselves.

The Genesis of our Knowledge of the Formal
Sciences. — There can be no doubt that Mathematics
arose from very humble beginnings. I am not
aware that any savage tribe has yet been found who
had not some idea of number, but some are known
to exist who cannot count beyond five. Pressed by
necessity, primitive men began to enumerate present
objects. Afterwards they desired to count absent
objects, but finding the mental effort too great they
resorted to counting their fingers as children do now,
hence the application of the word, digit,, to a num-
ber less than ten. When they did not count their
fingers, they may have used pebbles, as is indicated
by the word calculus, or sticks, or leaves, or grains of
corn. Some nations were found to use five as the
basis of their scale of notation, probably because five
is the number of fingers on one hand; and many use
ten, probably because that is the number of fingers
on both hands. Weights and measures, too, arose
in the same way. No one can be mistaken in the



THE GEN'ESIS OF KNOWLEDGE. 91

significance of words like grain, pennyweight, carat,
barleycorn, foot, span, hand, day, month, kc, &c. It is
clear that the art of numbering must have, for a long
time, consisted in performmg the simplest operations
upon objects — must have been wholly concrete. By
and by, however, the ability to use larger numbers
was acquired, abstractions were performed, symbols
were invented representing, at first, perhaps, only
lines or strokes, or combinations of lines or strokes,
more difficult calculations were made, and Arith-
metic began to assume something of its present form.
The annual overflowings of the river Nile, in
Egypt, rendered it difiicult to preserve the bounda-
ries of the lands owned by particular individuals,
and it is said that Geometry was first used for the
purpose of measuring land in that country, and
hence derived its name. Doubtless the land was
measured in Egypt, and the circumstance alluded
to may have rendered it necessary to measure it
with more than usual accuracy; but it is evident
that some of the principles of Geometry must have
been applied from the earliest dawn of the human
intellect. They were used in constructing dwellings,
in making domestic utensils, articles of clothing,
and weapons of warfare, in overcoming resistances,
and in calculating distances. Indeed, the idea of
form must be cotemporary in origin with the idea
of number, if it does not precede it, and both come
into the mind at a very early age. The arts now
referred to had probably made considerable advance-
ment before any particular notice was taken of the
Geometrical principles involved in them, but, by
and by, their further progress rendered such notice



92 BUILDING THE FOUNDATION.

necessary, and Geometrical truths began to be recog-
nized. Other truths were found by demonstration
to be contained in these, and a mass of loose Geo-
metrical knowledge floated about in the minds of
men, until such Philosophers as Thales, Pythagoras,
Plato and Euclid reduced the whole to systematic
order, and found fit expression for the universal and
necessary principles upon which it is based.

Sir William Hamilton defines Logic as the "Sci-
ence of the necessary Form of Thought." Abstract
as is the conception of this science in the minds
of Philosophers like Hamilton, and lofty as are now
its claims, it is probable that its beginnings consisted
in the simplest reasonings. Children reason now
almost from infancy, and we may well suppose that
men did so from the earliest times. The circum-
stances by which they were surrounded compelled
them to think. They must be protected from cold
and heat, they must have food, they must defend
themselves from animals and from enemies of their
own species, and all this required the exercise of
reason. Doubtless, it was soon observed that some
reasoned well, made safe calculations, managed skil-
fully. These were considered wise men, and often
became trusted rulers. In the course of time many
observations were made upon reasonings, their cor-
rect forms were in a measure determined, and sources
of error were pointed out. If the History of Logic
could be written, such fragments would be found
among all people who have attained any considerable
degree of civilization. They existed in ancient
India, in Egypt, in Greece, and most likely in other
countries of antiquity. It remained for the giant



THE GENESIS OF KNOWLEDGE. 93

mind of Aristotle to collect them, and construct of
them a system that has won the admiration of the
world.

From what has been said, it seems likely that
Logic at first consisted of descriptions of certain
disconnected forms of thinking which men made
use of in carrying on the common affairs of life ;
that afterwards these forms were compared and
simplified ; and that eventually they became entirely
abstracted from the matter which had filled them,
and Logic took its place along side of Mathematics
as a Pure science.

The Genesis of our Knowledge of the Empiri-
cal Sciences. — Efforts have been made to discover
the origin of the sciences belonging to this class, and
to write their history. Such efforts have been suc-
cessful in accumulating a vast amount of valuable
knowledge, but no one has ever been able to point
out the time at which men first began to observe
the facts upon which they are based. When well
considered, this is not at all wonderful, since the very
earliest inhabitants of the earth must have observed
some of the phenomena of nature, and these obser-
vations of which no record could be kept became
the basis of all knowledge.

Our American savages have among them no such
thing as science, and yet they are in possession of
many of the elements of the sciences. They have
marked the places of some of the stars, and can
calculate the lapse of time and the change of seasons.
They can find their way through the forests, and
have learned much concerning the properties of



94 BUILDING THE FOUNDATION".

trees and plants and the habits of animals. They
are familiar with the forms and motions of the clouds
and the phenomena of rain, hail, snow, &c. They
are acquainted with the^^ processes of fermentation
and distillation, and have noted those of growth
and decay. Indeed, they are remarkably close ob-
servers of nature, and I do not believe that any
science can be named of whose fundamental facts
they do not know something. What is true of these
untutored Indians is true of all tribes or nations of
uncivilized men. Among them there is needed but
the ability to colligate and generalize to commence
the evolution of the sciences.

Children, too, become acquainted with a vast
number of facts — facts belonging technically to all
the sciences, especially the Empirical sciences ; and
these they can be taught when older to arrange into
systems of science.

The history of science and the condition of the
knowledge in the possession of uncivilized men and
of children indicate that the Empirical sciences are
merely the extension by means of reasoning of the
accumulated facts which experience has made
known. Common knowledge becomes scientific
knowledge by classification and generalization. A
common man becomes a philospher by learning to
reason.

For the purpose of illustrating the position now
taken, a few facts will be stated in the histoiy of a
single science. Botany. " In the accounts of rudest
tribes," says "Whewell, "in the earliest legends,
poetry, and literature of nations, pines and oaks,
roses and violets, the olive and the vine, and the-



THE GENESIS OF KNOVrLEDGE. 95

thousand other productions of the earth, have a
place, and are spoken of in a manner which assumes
that, in such kinds of natural objects, permanent and
infallible distinctions had been observed and univer-
sally recognized." In the early stages of man's
career, however, plants and parts of plants received
names as individuals and of course were not care-
fully noticed in their connections and relations.
Then came a time when much inconvenience was
felt from the use of loose and ambiguous terms and
from the multitudes of objects which required nam-
ing, and men resorted to classification as a relief.

The first classifications of plants were very vague
and unscientific. Among them were that which
divided plants info trees^ shrubs, and Jierhs ; that of
Theophrastus which divided them according to size,
use, place of growth, lactescence, and generation ; and
that of Dioscorides, which arranged them according
to their qualities, as aromatic, alimentary, medicinal,
and vinous. It is easy to see in all these classifica-
tions, and in others like them, the attempt to system-
atize the results attained by the superficial observa-
tions of men. The work was rendered more difiicult
by the m.any qualities which an active fancy and
a love of the marvellous had attributed to plants.

The kind of classifications just named was
gradually displaced by others more systematic.
The fanciful gave way before the real. Step by
step, closer investigations revealed new facts, until,
at last, such ^Naturalists as Linnaeus and Jussieu
were enabled to place the science of Botany upon
the firm basis of the inherent resemblances and
differences existing in the vegetable world.



96 BUILDING THE FOUNDATION".

The Genesis of our knowledge of the Empirical
sciences generally, is believed to be fairly exem-
plified by the Genesis of our knowledge of
Botany.

The Genesis of our Knowledge of the Eational
Sciences. — We observe facts in the material world;
upon investigation these facts are found to have
certain relations which, when properly expressed,
are called laws — the law^s of matter. We observe,
by means of our consciousness, facts in the world
of mind; these, too, have their relations which can
be expressed in the form of laws — the laws of mind.
Thus are constituted the Empirical sciences. All
such, laws, however, are dependent, contingent, and
subject to modification or limitation.

This is not the place to enter upon a lengthy dis-
cussion in order to show that we are in the posses-
sion of principles wholly unlike those which make
up the Empirical sciences, and which, indeed, may
be made to form the basis of a class of sciences by
themselves; but among these principles I w^ould
place —

Certain Primary Ideas. — '^o one will maintain that
our idea of space or time corresponds with our con-
ception of the sum of our experienced spaces and
times. Our conception of the infinite and the abso-
lute is, at least, beyond our knowledge of the finite
and the relative. The ideas which we have of the
true, the beautiful, and the good, greatly transcend
the perfections of any object which our senses have
made known to us. We think of God, not merely
as a projection of our own personality with all its



THE GENESIS OF KNOWLEDGE. 97

human frailties, but as a Being endowed with all
possible virtues, without spot or blemish.

And Certain Creneralized Intuitions, — I mean by
Generalized Intuitions, the axioms of Mathematics
and Logic, the maxims of Philosophy, Esthetics,
and Ethics, and the foundation principles of all
other sciences. I call them "Intuitions," because
they are perceived by the mind directly, without the
intervention of any discursive process. They are
without doubt, an outgrowth of our Primary Ideas.
I describe them by the word "Generalized," since,
as it seems to me, they are not fotmd, or do not
come into the mind, except upon the presentation,
or representation, of an object or a succession of
objects, either material or mental. I distinguish
them from Empirical laws because they transcend
experience and are self-evident, universal, and neces-
sary. Take the axiom — two straight lines cannot
enclose a space, and its truth is perceived at once ;
but, although felt to be self-evident, universal, and
necessary, such a truth would never have occurred
to a mind wholly unacquainted with straight lines.

The Rational Sciences, then, are the sciences
which treat of those Ideas which are the primary
sources of knowledge, and those Intuitions which
may be generalized into principles that are self-
evident, universal, and necessarj^ What has been
their manner of growth ?

Primary Ideas, as previously stated, come into the
mind upon the presentation or representation of
some object. They are not innate in the sense in
which power of remembering or reasoning is innate ;
but they necessarily attend the function of cognition.



ya BUILDING THE FOUNDATION.

These Ideas do not comprehend the infinite or the
absolute, although a belief in the infinite and absolute
is founded upon them. They are things of degree,
widening as experience widens, but always trans-
cending experience. Children and savages have
ideas of space and time, of the true, the beautiful,
and the good, which all the matter of their experi-
ence cannot fill ; but they cannot fully realize these
ideas or find expression for them. As men ad-
vance in knowledge their Primar}^ Ideas become
more clear and more comprehensive, and finally
attract attention, and find articulate expression.
Once held up before the mind as objects of study,
philosophers evolve their contents and arrange them
iu scientific order, deduce from them certain defini-
tions, axioms, maxims, and fundamental truths, and
construct upon this foundation, as I suppose, all the
branches of Metaphysics. It will be noticed that I
base these sciences upon such ideas as we can form
of the object-matter now under consideration. I
do not maintain that a " PJdlosophy of the Uncondi-
tioned" is possible, but I do maintain that a Phi-
losophy of such of our knowledge as transcends
experience is possible, and I think I have shown
how it orio'inates.

o

The Genesis of our Knowledge of the Histori-
cal Sciences. — History is an account of what man
has done, and how, and why he has done it.

History may consist in a narration of facts, and in
that case the Genesis of our knowledge of it is very
obvious. All tribes of uncivilized men have their
traditions. They are related by parents to their



THE GENESIS OF KNOWLEDGE. 99

children, and by the old to the young. They con-
tam some truth intermixed, doubtless, with much
that is fabulous. When a people become a little more
advanced in civilization, these traditions, in the form
of myths or legends, are frequently sung or recited in
verse by individuals who make a profession of it.
They are sometimes commemorated by rude figures
cut upon the surface of rocks, or by rough piles of
stone. After having learned to write, it is not long
till men begin to compose History; at first full of
fancy and fiction, by and by it 'becomes more truth-
ful, and assumes its proper place in Literature.
Thus, the simple stories that may be told in the
cabins or around the council-fires of a tribe of
savages, become, in the course of centuries, the
basis of the great tomes written by a thousand pens,
which narrate in choice words and polished style the
teeming events of the past.^

History may be the exposition of a Philosophy,
and then our study of it can only properly begin
after we have acquired much other knowledge upon
which it depends. The Philosophy of History is
the Philosophy of man ; and as he was the last of
created things — the crowning glory of the whole, to
.understand him all else must be understood. A
knowledge of him, indeed, is necessary to complete
all other knowledge ; but, in the order of things,
we must approach the study of mind through the
Btudy of matter.

The Genesis of our Knowledge of the Arts. —
Man undoubtedly was created with the power of
making things. He was an artificer from the be-



100 BUILDIN^G THE FOUNDATION.

ginning. Birds build nests, beavers make dams,
bees construct combs in which to store their honey,
and the most primitive races of men were endowed
with similar but higher mechanical powers. It is



Online LibraryJames Pyle WickershamMethods of instruction .. → online text (page 6 of 31)