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into the doctrine of method. Here it is to be hoped that recent
tendencies will result in effectively breaking down the artificial dis-
tinctions which have prevailed between deduction and induction.
Differences in method do not result from differences in points of de-
parture, or between the universal and the particular, but from the
categories, again, which give the method direction and aim, and
result in different types of synthesis. In this direction, the logician
may hope for an approximately correct classification of the various
departments of knowledge. Such a classification is, perhaps, the
ideal of logical theory.



SECTION D — METHODOLOGY OF SCIENCE



SECTION D — METHODOLOGY OF SCIENCE



{Hall 6, September 22, 3 p. m.)

Chairman: Professor James E. Creighton, Cornell University.
Speakers: Professor Wilhelm Ostwald, University of Leipzig.
Professor Benno Erdmann, University of Bonn.
Secretary: Dr. R. B. Perry, Harvard University.



ON THE THEORY OF SCIENCE

BY WILHELM OSTWALD

{Translated from the German by Dr. R. M. Yerkes, Harvard University)

[Wilhelm Ostwald, Professor of Physical Chemistry, University of Leipzig,
since 1887. b. September 2, 1853, Riga, Russia. Grad. Candidate Chemistry,
i877; Master Chemistry, 1878; Doctor Chemistry, Dorpat. Dr. Hon.
Halle and Cambridge; Privy Councilor; Assistant, Dorpat, 1875-81;
Regular Professor, Riga, 1881-87. Member various learned and scientific
societies. Author of Manual of General Chemistry; Electro Chemistry; Foun-
dation of Inorganic Chemistry; Lectures on Philosophy of Nature; Artist's
Letters; Essays and Lectures; and many other noted works and papers on
Chemistry and Philosophy.]

One of the few points on which the philosophy of to-day is united is
the knowledge that the only thing completely certain and undoubted
for each one is the content of his own consciousness; and here the
certainty is to be ascribed not to the content of consciousness in '
general, but only to the momentary content.

This momentary content we divide into two large groups, which
we refer to the inner and outer world. If we call any kind of content
of consciousness an experience, then we ascribe to the outer world
such experiences as arise without the activity of our will and cannot
be called forth by its activity alone. Such experiences never arise
without the activity of certain parts of our body, which we call
sense organs. In other words, the outer world is that which reaches \
our consciousness through the senses.

On the other hand, we ascribe to our inner world all experiences y
which arise without the immediate assistance of a sense organ./
7 Here, first of all, belong all experiences which we call remembering
and thinking. An exact and complete differentiation of the two
territories is not intended here, for our purpose does not demand
that this task be undertaken. For this purpose the general orienta-
tion in which every one recognizes familiar facts of his consciousness
, is sufficient.
^*^ ■ Each experience has the characteristic of uniqueness. None of us
doubts that the expression of the poet " Everything is only repeated
in life" is really just the opposite of the truth, and that in fact no-



334 METHODOLOGY OF SCIENCE

thing is repeated in life. But to express such a judgment we must
be in position to compare different experiences with each other, and
this possibility rests upon a fundamental phenomenon of our con-
sciousness, memory. Memory alone enables us to put various ex-
periences in relation to each other, so that the question as to their
likeness or difference can be asked.

We find the simpler relations here in the inner experiences. A
certain thought, such as twice two is four, I can bring up in my
consciousness as often as I wish, and in addition to the content of
the thought I experience the further consciousness that I have
already had this thought before, that it is familiar to me.

A similar but somewhat more complex phenomenon appears in
the experiences in which the outer world takes part. After I have
eaten an apple, I can repeat the experience in two ways. First, as
an inner experience, I can remember that I have eaten the apple
and by an effort of my will I can re-create in myself, although with
diminished strength and intensity, a part of the former experience
— the part which belonged to my inner world. Another part, the
sense impression which belonged to that experience, I cannot re-create
by an effort of my will, but I must again eat an apple in order to
have a similar experience of this sort. This is a complete repetition
of the experience to which the external world also contributes.
Such a repetition does not depend altogether on my own powers,
for it is necessary that I have an apple, that is, that certain condi-
tions which are independent of me and belong to the outer world
be fulfilled.

Whether the outer world takes part in the repetition of an experi-
ence or not has no influence upon the possibility of the content of
consciousness which we call memory. From this it follows that this
content depends upon the inner experience alone, and that we
remember an external event only by means of its inner constituents.
The mere repetition of corresponding sense impressions is not suffi-
cient for this, for we can see the same person repeatedly without
recognizing him, if the inner accompanying phenomena were so
insignificant, as a result of lack of interest, that their repetition
does not produce the content of consciousness known as memory.
If we see him quite frequently, the frequent repetition of the exter-
nal impression finally causes the memory of the corresponding inner
experience.

From this it results that for the " memory "-reaction a certain
intensity of the inner experience is necessary. This threshold can be
attained either at once or by continued repetition. The repetitions
are the more effective the more rapidly they follow each other.
From this we may conclude that the memory- value of an experience,
or its capacity for calling forth the " memory "-reaction by repetition,



ON THE THEORY OF SCIENCE 335

decreases with the lapse of time. Further, we must consider the
fact mentioned above, that an experience is never exactly repeated,
and that therefore the " memory "-reaction occurs even where there
is only resemblance or partial agreement in place of complete agree-
ment. Here, too, there are different degrees; memory takes place
more easily the more perfectly the two experiences agree, and vice
versa. - —

If we look at these phenomena from the physiological side, we
may say we have two kinds of apparatus or organs, one of which
does not depend upon our will, whereas the other does. The former '
are the sense organs, the latter constitutes the organ of thought.
Only the activities of the latter constitute our experiences or the ^
content of our consciousness.

The activities of the former may call forth the corresponding pro-
cesses of the latter, but this is not always necessary. Our sense organs
can be influenced without our "noticing" it, that is, without the
thinking apparatus being involved. An especially important reaction
of the thinking apparatus is memory, that is, the consciousness that,
an experience which we have just had possesses more or less agreement
with former experiences. With reference to the organ of thought,
it is the expression of the general physiological fact that every process
influences the organ in such a way that it has a different relation to
the repetition of this process, from the first time, and moreover that
the repetition is rendered easier. This influence decreases with time.

It is chiefly upon these phenomena that experience rests. Experi- |
ence results from the fact that all events consist of a complete series of
simultaneous and successive components. When a connection between
some of those parts has become familiar to us by the repetition of
similar occurrences (for instance, the succession of day and night), we
do not feel such an occurrence as something completely new, but as
something partially familiar, and the single parts oi6 phases of it do ■
not surprise us, but rather we anticipate their coming or expect
them. From expectation to prediction is only a short step^ and so '?
experience enables us to prophesy the future from the past and pre-
sent.

Now this is also the road to science; for science is nothing but
systematized experience, that is, experience reduced to its simplest ^vi cL«t-i«vN
and clearest forms. It^ purposes to predict from a part of a phe-
nomenon which is known another part which is not yet known. <ttAux.^t»,
Here it may be a question of spatial as well as of temporal phenom-
ena. Thus the scientific zoologist knows how to "determine," that
is, to tell, from the skull of an animal, the nature of the other parts
of the animal to which the skull belongs; likewise the astronomer
is able to indicate the future situation of a planet from a few obser-
vations of its present situation; and the more exact the first obser-



336 METHODOLOGY OF SCIENCE

vations were, fhe more distant the future for which he can predict.
All such scientific predictions are limited, therefore, with reference to
their number and their accuracy. If the skull shown to the zoologist
is that of a chicken, then he will probably be able to indicate the
general characteristics of chickens, and also perhaps whether the
chicken had a top-knot or not; but not its color, and only uncertainly
its age and its size. Both facts, the possibility of prediction and its
limitation in content and amount, are an expression for the two
fundamental facts, that among our experiences there is similarity,
• but not complete agreement.

The foregoing considerations deserve to be discussed and extended
in several directions. First, the objection will be made that a chicken
or a planet is not an experience; we call them rather by the most
general name of thing. But our knowledge of the chicken begins
with the experiencing of certain visual impressions, to which are
added, perhaps, certain impressions of hearing and touch. The
sight impressions (to discuss these first) by no means completely
agree. We see the chicken large or small, according to the distance;
and according to its position and movement its outline is very differ-
ent. As we have seen, however, these differences are continually
grading into one other and do not reach beyond certain limits; we
neglect to observe them and rest contented with the fact that certain
other peculiarities (legs, wings, eyes, bill, comb, etc.) remain and do
not change. The constant properties we group together as a thing,
and the changing ones we call the states of this thing. Among the
changing properties, we distinguish further those which depend
upon us (for example, the distance) and those upon which we have
no immediate influence (for instance, the position or motion): the
' first is called the subjective changeable part of our experience, while
the second is called the objective mutability of the thing.

This omission of both the subjectively and objectively changeable
portion of the experience in connection with the retention of the
constant portion and the gathering together of the latter into a
unity is one of the most important operations which we perform
with our experiences. We call it the process of abstraction, and its
_ product, the permanent unity, we call a concept. Plainly this pro-
cedure contains arbitrary as well as necessary factors. Arbitrary or
accidental is the circumstance that quite different phases of a given
experience come to consciousness according to our attention, the
amount of practice we have had, indeed according to our whole
intellectual nature. We may overlook constant factors and attend
to changeable ones. The objective factors, however, become neces-
sary as soon as we have noticed them; after we have seen that the
chicken is black, it is not in our power to see it red. Accordingly, in
general, our knowledge of that which agrees must be less than it



J



ON THE THEORY OF SCIENCE 337

actually could be, since we have not been able to observe every

agreement, and our concept is always poorer in constituents at any

given time than it might be. To seek out such elements of concepts

as have been overlooked, and to prove that they are necessary factors

;' of the corresponding experiences, is one of the never-ending tasks

of science. The other case, namely, that elements have been received

',! in the concept which do not prove to be constant, also happens, and

1' leads to another task. One can then leave that element out of the

concept, if further experiences show that the other elements are

found in them, or one can form a new concept which contains the

former elements, leaving out those that have been recognized as

unessential. For a long time the white color belonged to the concept

swan. When the Dutch black swans became known, it was possible

either to drop the element white from the concept swan (as actually

happened), or to make a new concept for the bird which is similar

to the swan but black. Which choice is made in a given case is largely

arbitrary, and is determined by considerations of expediency.

Into the formation of concepts, therefore, two factors are operat-

' ive, an objective empirical factor, and a subjective or purposive

_ factor. The fitness of a concept is seen in relation to its purpose,

which we shall now consider.

The purpose of a concept is its use for prediction. The old logic
set up the syllogism as the type of thought-activity, and its simplest
example is the well-known

All men are mortal,
Caius is a man,
Therefore Caius is mortal.

In general, the scheme runs

To the concept M belongs the element B,
C belongs under the concept M,
Therefore the element B is found in C,

One can say that this method of reasoning is in regular use even
to this day. It must be added, however, that this use is of a quite
different nature from that of the ancients. Whereas formerly the
setting up of the first proposition or the major premise was con-
sidered the most important thing, and the establishment of the
second proposition or minor premise was thought to be a rather
trifling matter, now the relation is reversed. The major premise con-
tains the description of a concept, the minor makes the assertion
that a certain thing belongs under this concept. What right exists
for such an assertion? The most palpable reply would be, since
all the elements of the concept M (including B) are found in C, C
belongs under the concept M. Such a conclusion would indeed be
binding, but at the same time quite worthless, for it only repeats the



338 METHODOLOGY OF SCIENCE

minor premise. Actually the method of reasoning is essentially
different; for the minor premise is not obtained by showing that all
the elements of the concept M are found in C, but only some of them.
The conclusion is not necessary, but only probable, and the whole
process of reasoning runs : Certain elements are frequently found to-
gether, therefore they are united in the concept M. Certain of these
elements are recognized in the thing C, therefore probably the other
elements of the concept M will be found in C.

The old logic, also, was familiar with this kind of conclusion. It
was branded, however, as the worst of all, by the name of incomplete
induction, since the absolute certainty demanded of the syllogism
did not belong to its results. One must admit, however, that the whole
of modern science makes use of no other form of reasoning than
V^. incomplete induction, for it alone admits of a prediction, that is, an
indication of relations which haA^e not been immediately observed.

How does science get along with the defective certainty of this
process of reasoning? The answer is, that the probability of the
conclusion can run through all degrees from mere conjecture to the
maximum probability, which is practically indistinguishable from
certainty. The probability is the greater the more frequently an
incomplete induction of this kind has proven correct in later experi-
ence. Accordingly we have at our command a number of expressions
which in their simplest and most general form have the appearance :
If an element A is met within a thing, then, the element B is also
found in it (in spatial or temporal relationship).

If the relation is temporal, this general statement is known by
some such name as the law of causality. If it is spatial, one talks of
the idea (in the Platonic sense) , or the type of the thing, of substance,
etc.

From the considerations here presented we get an easy answer
to many questions which are frequently discussed in very different
senses. First, the question concerning the general validity of the
law of causality. All attempts to prove such a validity have failed,
and there has remained only the indication that without this law
we should feel an unbearable uncertainty in reference to the world.
From this, however, we see very plainly that here it is merely a
question of expediency. From the continuous flux of our experiences
we hunt out those groups which can always be found again, in order
to be able to conclude that if the element A is given, the element B
will be present. We do not find this relationship as "given," but
we put it into our experiences, in that we consider the parts which
correspond to the relationship as belonging together.

The very same thing may be said of spatial complexes. Such factors
as are always, or at any rate often, found together are taken by us as
"belonging together," and out of them a concept is formed which



ON THE THEORY OF SCIENCE 339

embraces these factors. A question as to the why has here, as with
the temporal complexes, no definite meaning. There are countless
things that happen together once to which we pay no attention
because they happen only once or but seldom. The knowledge
of the fact that such a single concurrence exists amounts to nothing, "s
since from the presence of one factor it does not lead to a conclusion
as to the presence of another, and therefore does not make possible
prediction. Of all the possible, and even actual combinations, only
those interest us which are repeated, and this arbitrary but expedient
selection produces the impression that the world consists only of
combinations that can be repeated ; that, in other words, the law of
causality or of the type is a general one. However general or limited
application these laws have, is more a question of our skill in finding
the constant combinations among those that are present than a ques-
tion of objective natural fact.

Thus we see the development and pursuit of all sciences going on in
such a way that on the one hand more and more constant combina-
tions are discovered, and on the other hand more inclusive relations
of this kind are found out, by means of which elements are united
with each other which before no one had even tried to bring together.
So sciences are increasing both in the sense of an increasing complica-
tion and in an increasing unification.

If we consider from this standpoint the development and procedure
of the various sciences, we find a rational division of the sum total of
science in the question as to the scope and multiplicity of the com-
binations or groups treated of in them. These two properties are in
a certain sense antithetical. The simpler a complex is, that is, the
fewer elements brought together in it, the more frequently it is met
with, and vice versa. One can therefore arrange all the sciences in
such a way that one begins with the least multiplicity and the greatest
scope, and ends with the greatest multiplicity and the least scope.
The first science will be the most general, and will therefore contain
the most general and therefore the most barren concepts; the last
will contain the most specific and therefore the richest.

What are these limiting concepts? The most general is the concept
oi thing, that is, any piece of experience, seized arbitrarily from the
flux of our experiences, which can be repeated. The most specific
and richest is the concept of human intercourse. Between the science
of things and the science of human intercourse, all the other sciences
are found arranged in regular gradation. If one follows out the
scheme the following outline results:

1. Theory of order. ^

2. Theory of numbers, or arithmetic. I ^.^r .»

~ rm i» . ■ / JMatnematyics.

3. Theory of time.

4. Theory of space, or geometry. J



340 METHODOLOGY OF SCIENCE

5. Mechanics. "|

6. Physics. V Energetics.

7. Chemistry, j

8. Physiology. )

9. Psychology. V Biology.
10. Sociology. J

This table is arbitrary in so far as the grades assumed can be
increased or diminished according to need. For example, mechanics
and physics could be taken together; or between physics and chem-
istry, physical chemistry could be inserted. Likewise between
physiology and psychology, anthropology might find a place; or the
first five sciences might be united under mathematics. How one
makes these divisions is entirely a practical question, which will be
answered at any time in accordance with the purposes of division;
and dispute concerning the matter is almost useless.

I should like, however, to call attention to the three great groups
of mathematics, energetics, and biology (in the wider sense). The}^
represent the decisive regulative thought which humanity has
evolved, contributed up to this time, toward the scientific mastery of
its experiences. Arrangement is the fundamental thought of mathe-
matics. From mechanics to chemistry the concept of energy is the
most important; and for the last three sciences it is the concept of
life. Mathematics, energetics, and biology, therefore, embrace the
totality of the sciences.

Before we enter upon the closer consideration of these sciences, it
will be well to anticipate another objection which can be raised on the
basis of the following fact. Besides the sciences named (and those
which lie between them) there are many others, as geology, history,
medicine, philology, which we find difficulty in arranging in the above
scheme, which must, however, be taken into consideration in some
way or other. They are often characterized by the fact that they
stand in relation with seA^eral of the sciences named, but even more
by the following circumstance. Their task is not, as is true of the
pure sciences above named, the discovery of general relationships,
but they relate rather to existing complex objects whose origin,
scope, extent, etc., in short, whose temporal and spatial relationships
they have to discover or to "explain." For this purpose they make
use of relations which are placed at their disposal by the first-named
pure sciences. These sciences, therefore, had better be called applied
sciences. However, in this connection we should not think only or
even chiefly of technical applications; rather the expression is used
to indicate that the reciprocal relations of the parts of an object are
to be called to mind by the application of the general rules found in
pure science.

While in such a task the abstraction process of pure science is



ON THE THEORY OF SCIENCE 341

not applicable (for the omission of certain parts and the concentra-
tion upon others which is characteristic of these is excluded by the
nature of the task) , yet in a given case usually the necessity of bringing
in various pure sciences for the purpose of explanation is evident.

Astronomy is one of these applied sciences. Primarily it rests upon
mechanics, and in its instrumental portion, upon optics; in its
present development on the spectroscopic side, however, it borrows
considerably of chemistry. In like manner history is applied sociology
and psychology. Medicine makes use of all the sciences before men-
tioned, up to psychology, etc.

It is important to get clearly in mind the nature of these sciences,
since, on account of their compound nature, they resist arrangement
amongst the pure sciences, while, on account of their practical
significance, they still demand consideration. The latter fact gives
them also a sort of arbitrary or accidental character, since their
development is largely conditioned by the special needs of the time.
Their number, speaking in general, is very large, since each pure
science may be turned into an apphed science in various ways; and
since in addition we have combinations of two, three, or more sciences.
Moreover, the method of procedure in the applied sciences is funda-



Online LibraryMo.) Congress of Arts and Science (1904 : Saint LouisCongress of Arts and Science : universal exposition, St. Louis, 1904 → online text (page 37 of 68)