Mo.) Congress of Arts and Science (1904 : Saint Louis.

Congress of Arts and Science : universal exposition, St. Louis, 1904 online

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so-called applied sciences. But incomparably more intense in that
respect is the spirit of all theoretical disciplines. Philosophy and
mathematics, history and philology, chemistry and biology, astro-
nomy and geology, may be and ought to be helpful to practical
civilization everywhere; and every step forward which they take
will be an advance for man's practical life too. And yet their real
meaning never lies in their technical by-product. It is not the
scholar who peers in the direction of practical use who is most loyal
to the deepest demand of scholarship, and every relation to prac-
tical achievement is more or less accidental or even artificial for
the real life interests of productive scholarship.

But if the contrast between his real intention and his social tech-
nical successes may not appear striking to the physicist or chemist,
it would appear at least embarrassing to the scholars in many other
departments and directly bewildering to not a few. Perhaps two
thirds of the sciences to which the best thinkers of our time are faith-
fully devoted would then be grouped together and relegated to a
distant corner, their only practical technical function would be to
contribute material to the education of the cultured man. For what
else do we study Sanscrit or medieval history or epistemology? And
finally even the uniform topic of practical use would not have
brought the different sciences nearer to each other; the Congress
would still have remained a budget of disconnected records of scholar-
ship. If the practical side of the Exposition was to suggest anything,
it should then not be more than an appeal not to overlook the impor-
tance of the applied sciences which too often play the role of a mere
appendix to the system of knowledge. The logical one-sidedness
which considers practical needs as below the dignity of pure science
was indeed to be excluded, but to choose practical service as the one
controlling topic would be far more anti-scientific.



THE UNITY OF KNOWLEDGE 91

2. The Unity of Knowledge

There was another side of the Exposition plan which suggested a
stronger topic. The World's Fair was not only an historical memorial
work, and was not only a show of the practical tools of technical civil-
ization; its deepest aim was after all the effort to bring the energies of
our time into inner relation. The peoples of the whole globe, sepa-
rated by oceans and mountains, by language and custom, by politics
and prejudice, were here to come in contact and to be brought into
correlation by better mutual understanding of the best features of
their respective cultures. The various industries and arts, the most
antagonistic efforts of commerce and production, separated by the
rivalry of the market and by the diversity of economic interests
were here to be brought together in harmony, were to be correlated
for the eye of the spectator. It was a near-lying thought to choose
correlation as the controlling thought of a scientific World's Congress
too. That was the topic which was finally agreed upon: the inner
relation of the sciences of our day.

The fitness and the external advantages of such a scheme are
evident. First of all, the danger of disconnectedness now disappears
completely. If the sciences are to examine what binds them together,
their usual isolation must be given up for the time being and a con-
certed effort must control the day. The bringing together of scholars
of all scientific specialties is then no longer a doubtful accidental fea-
ture, but becomes a condition of the whole undertaking. More than
that, such a topic, with all that it involves, makes it a matter of course
that the call goes out to the really leading scholars of the time. To
aim at a correlation of sciences means to seek for the fundamental
principles in each territory of knowledge and to look with far-seeing
eye beyond the limits of its field; but just this excludes from the
outset those who like to be the self-appointed speakers in routine
gatherings. It excludes from the first the narrow specialist who does
not care for anything but for his latest research, and ought to exclude
not less the vague spirits who generalize about facts of which they
have no concrete substantial knowledge, as their suggestions towards
correlation would lack inner productiveness and outer authority.
Such a plan has room only for those men who stand high enough to
see the whole field and who have yet the full authority of the special-
istic investigator; they must combine the concentration on specialized
productive work with the inspiration that comes from looking over
vast regions. With such a topic the usual question does not come up
whether one or another strong man would feel attracted to take part
in the gathering, but it would be justified and necessary to confine the
active participation from the outset to those who are leaders, and
thus to guarantee from the beginning a representation of science



92 THE SCIENTIFIC PLAN OF THE CONGRESS

equal in dignity to the best efforts of the exhibiting countries in all
other departments. In this way such a plan had the advantage of
justifying through its topic the administrative desire to bring all
sciences to the same spot, and at the same time of excluding all par-
ticipants but the best scholars: with isolated gatherings or with
second-rate men, this subject would have been simply impossible.

Yet all these halfway external advantages count little compared
with the significance and importance of the topic for the inner life of
scientific thought of our time. We all felt it was the one topic which
the beginning of the twentieth century demanded and which could
not be dealt with otherwise than by the combined labors of all nations
and of all sciences. The World's Fair was the one great opportunity
to make a first effort in this direction; we had no right to miss this
opportunity. Thus it was decided to have a congress with the definite
purpose of working towards the unity of human knowledge, and with
the one mission, in this time of scattered specializing work, of bringing
to the consciousness of the world the too-much neglected idea of the
unity of truth. To quote from our first tentative programme: " Let
the rush of the world's work stop for one moment for us to consider
what are the underlying principles, what are their relations to one
another and to the whole, what are their values and purposes; in
short, let us for once give to the world's sciences a holiday. The work-
aday functions are much better fulfilled in separation, when each
scholar works in his own laboratory or in his library; but this holiday
task of bringing out the underlying unity, this synthetic work, this
demands really the cooperation of all, this demands that once at least
all sciences come together in one place at one time."

Yet if our work stands for the unity of knowledge, aims to consider
the fundamental conceptions which bind together all the specialistic
results, and seeks to inquire into the methods which are common to
various fields, all this is after all merely a symptom of the whole spirit
of our times. A reaction against the narrowness of mere fact-diggers
has set in. A mere heaping up of disconnected, unshaped facts begins
to disappoint the world ; it is felt too vividly that a mere dictionary of
phenomena, of events and laws, makes our knowledge larger but not
deeper, makes our life more complex but not more valuable, makes
our science more difficult but not more harmonious. Our time longs
for a new synthesis and looks towards science no longer merely with
a desire for technical prescriptions and new inventions in the interest
of comfort and exchange. It waits for knowledge to fulfill its higher
mission, it waits for science to satisfy our higher needs for a view
of the world which shall give unity to our scattered experience. The
indications of this change are visible to every one who observes the
gradual turning to philosophical discussion in the most different
fields of scientific life.



THE UNITY OF KNOWLEDGE 93

When after the first third of the nineteenth century the great
philosophic movement which found its chmax in Hegelianism came
to disaster in consequence of its absurd neglect of hard solid facts, the
era of naturalism began its triumph with contempt for all philosophy
and for all deeper unity. Idealism and philosophy were stigmatized as
the enemies of true science and natural science had its great day. The
rapid progress of physics and chemistry fascinated the world and pro-
duced modern technique; the sciences of life, physiology, biology,
medicine, followed; and the scientific method was carried over from
body to mind, and gave us at the end of the nineteenth century mod-
ern psychology and sociology. The lifeless and the living, the physical
and the mental, the individual and the social, aU had been conquered
by analytical methods. But just when the climax was reached and all
had been analyzed and explained, the time was ripe for disillusion,
and the lack of deeper unity began to be felt with alarm in every
quarter. For seventy years there had been nowhere so much philo-
sophizing going on as suddenly sprung up among the scientists of
the last decade. The physicists and the mathematicians, the chemists
and the biologists, the geologists and the astronomers, and, on the
other side, the historians and the economists, the psychologists and
the sociologists, the jurists and the theologians — all suddenly found
themselves again in the midst of discussions on fundamental princi-
ples and methods, on general categories and conditions of knowledge,
in short, in the midst of the despised philosophy. And with those
discussions has come the demand for correlation. Everywhere have
arisen leaders who have brought unconnected sciences together and
emphasized the unity of large divisions. The time seems to have come
again when the wave of naturalism and realism is ebbing, and a new
idealistic philosophical tide is swelling, just as they have always alter-
nated in the civilization of two thousand years.

No one dreams, of course, that the great synthetic apperception, for
which our modern time seems ripe, will come through the delivery of
some hundred addresses, or the discussions of some hundred audiences.
An ultimate unity demands the gigantic thought of a single genius,
and the work of the many can, after all, be merely the preparation
for the final work of the one. And yet history shows that the one will
never come if the many have not done their share. What is needed
is to fill the sciences of our time with the growing consciousness of
belonging together, with the longing for fundamental principles, with
the conviction that the desire for correlation is not the fancy of
dreamers, but the immediate need of the leaders of thought. And in
this preparatory work the St. Louis Congress of Arts and Science
seemed indeed called for an important part when it was committed
to this topic of correlation.

To caU the scholars of the world together for concerted action



94 THE SCIENTIFIC PLAN OF THE CONGRESS

towards the correlation of knowledge meant, of course, first of all, to
work out a detailed programme, and to select the best authorities
for every special part of the whole scheme. Nothing could be left to
chance methods and to casual contributions. The preparation needed
the same administrative strictness which would be demanded for an
encyclopedia, and the same scholarly thoroughness which would be
demanded for the most scientific research. A plan was to be devised
in which every possible striving for truth would find its place, and
in which every section would have its definite position in the system.
And such a ground-plan given, topics were to be assigned to every
department and sub-department, the treatment of which would bring
out the fundamental principles and the inner relations in such a way
that the papers would finally form a close-woven intellectual fabric.
There would be plenty of room for a retrospective glance at the his-
torical development of the sciences and plenty of room for emphasis
on their practical achievements; but the central place would always
belong to the effort towards unity and internal harmonization.

We thus divided human knowledge into large parts, and the parts
into divisions, and the divisions into departments, and the depart-
ments into sections. As the topic of the general divisions — we pro-
posed seven of them — it was decided to discuss the Unity of the
whole field. As topic for the departments — we had twenty-four of
them — the addresses were to discuss the fundamental Conceptions
and Methods and the Progress during the last century; and in the
sections, finally — our plan provided for one hundred and twenty-
eight of them — the topics were in every one the Relation of the
special branch to other branches, and those most important Present
Problems which are essential for the deeper principles of the special
field. In this way the ground-plan itself suggested the unity of the
practically separated sciences; and, moreover, our plan provided
from the first that this logical relation should express itself externally
in the time order of the work. We were to begin with the meetings of
the large divisions, the meetings of the departments were to follow,
and the meetings of the sections and their ramifications would follow
the departmental gatherings.

3. The Objections to the Plan ^

It was evident that even the most modest success of that gigantic
undertaking depended upon the right choice of speakers, upon the
value of the ground-plan, and upon many external conditions; thus
no one was in doubt as to the difficulty in realizing such a scheme.
Yet there were from the scholarly side itself objections to the prin-
ciples involved, objections which might hold even if those other
conditions were successfully met. The most immediate reason for



THE OBJECTIONS TO THE PLAN ] 95

reluctance lies in the specializing tendencies of our time. Those
who devote all their working energy as loyal sons of our analyzing
period of science to the minute detail of research come easily into the
habit of a nervous fear with regard to any wider general outlook. The
man of research sees too often how ignorance hides itself behind gen-
eralities. He knows too well how much easier it is to formulate vague
generalities than to contribute a new fact to human knowledge, and
how often untrained youngsters succeed with popular text-books
which are rightly forgotten the next day. Methodical science must
thus almost encourage this aversion to any deviation from the path
of painstaking specialistic labor. Then, of course, it seems almost
a scientific duty to declare war against an undertaking which ex-
plicitly asks everywhere for the wide perspectives and the last prin-
ciples, and does not aim at adding at this moment to the mere treasury
of information.

But such a view is utterly one-sided, and to fight against such one-
sidedness and to overcome the specializing narrowness of the scat-
tered sciences was the one central idea of the plan. If there existed
no scholars who despise the philosophizing connection, there would
have hardly been any need for this whole undertaking; but to yield
to such philosophy-phobia means to declare the analytic movement
of science permanent, and to postpone a synthetic movement in-
definitely. Our time has just to emphasize, and the leaders of thought
daily emphasize it more, that a mere heaping up of information can
be merely a preparation for knowledge, and that the final aim is
a Weltanschauung, a unified view of the whole of reality. All that
our Congress had to secure was thus merely that the generalizing dis-
cussion of principles should not be left to men who generalized be-
cause they lacked the substantial knowledge which is necessary to
specialize. The thinkers we needed were those who through special-
istic work were themselves led to a point where the discussion of gen-
eral principles becomes unavoidable. Our plan was by no means
antagonistic to the patient labors of analysis; the aim was merely to
overcome its one-sidedness and to stimulate the synthesis as a neces-
sary supplement.

But the objections against a generalizing plan were not confined to
the mistaken fear that we sought to antagonize the productive work
of the specialist. They not seldom took the form of a general aver-
sion to the logical side of the ground-plan. It was often said that such
a scheme has after all interest only for the logician, for whom science
as such is an object of study, and who must thus indeed classify the
sciences and determine their logical relation. The real scientist, it
was said, does not care for such methodological operations, and should
be suspicious from the first of such philosophical high-handedness.
The scientist cannot forget how often in the history of civilization



96 THE SCIENTIFIC PLAN OF THE CONGRESS

science was the loser when it trusted its problems to the metaphy-
sical thinker who substituted his lofty speculations for the hard
work of the investigator. The true scholar will thus not only object
to generalizing " commonplaces" as against solid information, but he
wiU object as well to logical demarcation lines and systematization
as against the practical scientific work which does not want to be
hampered by such philosophical subtleties. Yet all these fears and
suspicions were still more mistaken.

Nothing was further from our intentions than a substitution of
metaphysics for concrete science. It was not by chance that we took
such pains to find the best specialists for every section. No one was
invited to enter into logical discussions and to consider the relations
of science merely from a dialectic point of view. The topic was every-
where the whole living manifoldness of actual relations, and the logi-
cian had nothing else to do than to prepare the programme. The
outlines of the programme demanded, of course, a certain logical
scheme. If hundreds of sciences are to take part, they have to be
grouped somehow, if a merely alphabetical order is not adopted; and
even if we were to proceed alphabetically, we should have to decide
beforehand what part of knowledge is to be recognized as a special
science. But the logical order of the ground-plan refers, of course,
merely to the simple relation of coordination, subordination, and
superordination, and the logician is satisfied with such a classification.
But the endless variety of internal relations is no longer to be dealt
with from the point of view of mere logic. We may work out the
ground-plan in such a way that we understand that logically zoology
is coordinated to botany and subordinated to mechanics and super-
ordinated to ichthyology; but this minimum of determination gives,
of course, not even a hint of that world of relations which exists from
the standpoint of the biologist between the science of zoology and
the science of botany, or between the biological and the mechanical
studies. To discuss these relations of real scientific life is the work of
the biologist and not at all of the logician.

The foregoing answers also at once an objection which might seem
more justified at the first glance. It has been said that we were under-
taking the work of bringing about a synthesis of scientific endeavors,
and that we yet had that synthesis already completed in the pro-
gramme on which the work was to be based. The scholars to be in-
vited would be bound by the programme, and would therefore have
no other possibility than to say with more words what the programme
had settled beforehand. The whole effort would then seem determined
from the start by the arbitrariness of the proposed ground-plan.
Now it cannot be denied indeed that a certain factor of arbitrariness
has to enter into a programme. We have already referred to the fact
that some one must decide beforehand what fraction of science is to be



THE OBJECTIONS TO THE PLAN 97

acknowledged as a self-dependent discipline. If a biologist were to
work out the scheme, he might decide that the whole of philosophy
was just one science; while the philosopher might claim a large num-
ber of sections for logic and ethics and philosophy of religion, and so
on. And the philosopher, on the other hand, might treat the whole of
medicine as one part in itself, while the physician might hold that even
otology has to be separated from rhinology. A certain subjectivity of
standpoint is unavoidable, and we know very well that instead of the
one hundred and twenty-eight sections of our programme we might
have been satisfied with half that number or might have indulged in
double that number. And yet there was no possible plan which would
have allowed us to invite the speakers without defining beforehand
the sectional field which each was to represent. A certain courage of
opinion was then necessary, and sometimes also a certain adjustment
to external conditions.

Quite similar was the question of classification. Just as we had to
take the responsibility for the staking-out of every section, we had
also to decide in favor of a certain grouping, if we desired to organ-
ize the Congress and not simply to bring out haphazard results. The
principles which are sufficient for a mere directory would never allow
the shaping of a programme which can be the basis for synthetic work.
Even a university catalogue begins with a certain classification, and
yet no one fancies that such catalogue grouping inhibits the freedom
of the university lecturer. It is easy to say, as has been said, that the
essential trait of the scientific life of to-day is its live-and-let-live
character. Certainly it is. In the regular work in our libraries and
laboratories the year round, everything depends upon this demo-
cratic freedom in which every one goes his own way, hardly asking
what his neighbor is doing. It is that which has made the specialistic
sciences of our day as strong as they are. But it has brought about at
the same time this extreme tendency to unrelated specialization with
its discouraging lack of unity; this heaping up of information without
an outer harmonious view of the world ; and if we were really at least
once to satisfy the desire for unity, then we had not the right to yield
fully to this live-and-let-live tendency. Therefore some principle of
grouping had to be accepted, and whatever principle had been chosen,
it would certainly have been open to the criticism that it was a pro-
duct of arbitrary decision, inasmuch as other principles might have
been possible.

A classification which in itself expresses all the practical relations in
which sciences stand to each other is, of course, absolutely impossible.
A programme which should try to arrange the place of a special disci-
pline in such a way that it would become the neighbor of all those other
sciences with which it has internal relation is unthinkable. On the
other hand, only if we had tried to construct a scheme of such exagger-



98 THE SCIENTIFIC PLAN OF THE CONGRESS

ated ambitions should we have been really guilty of anticipating a
part of that which the specialistic scholars were to tell us. The Con-
gress had to leave it to the invited participants to discuss the totality
of relations which practically exist between their fields and others,
and the organizers confined themselves to that minimum of classifica-
tion which just indicates the pure logical relations, a minimum which
every editor of encyclopedic work would be asked to initiate without
awakening suspicions of interference with the ideas of his contributors.

The only justified demand which could be met was that a system
of division and classification should be proposed which should give
fair play to every existing scientific tendency. The minimum of classi-
fication was to be combined with the maximum of freedom, and to
secure that a careful consideration of principles was indeed necessary.
To bring logical order into the sciences which stand out clearly with
traditional rights is not difficult; but the chances are too great that
certain tendencies of thought might fail to find recognition or might
be suppressed by scientific prejudice. Any serious omission would
indeed have necessarily inhibited the freedom of expression. To
secure thus the greatest inner fullness of the programme, seemed in-
deed the most important task in the elaboration of the ground-plan.
The fears that we might offer empty generalization instead of schol-
arly facts, or that we might simply heap up encyclopedic information



Online LibraryMo.) Congress of Arts and Science (1904 : Saint LouisCongress of Arts and Science : universal exposition, St. Louis, 1904 → online text (page 10 of 68)