Successful Method to Blindness. — “But the point to which I wish to draw attention is the mass of evidence lying outside the physiological method which is simply ignored in the prevalent scientific doctrine. The conduct of human affairs is entirely dominated by our recognition of foresight determining purpose, and purpose issuing in conduct. Almost every sentence we utter and every judgment we form, presuppose our unfailing experience of this element in life. The evidence is so overwhelming, the belief so unquestioning, the evidence of language so decisive, that it is difficult to know where to begin in demonstrating it. For example, we speak of the policy of a statesman or of a business corporation. Cut out the notion of final causation, and the word ‘policy’ has lost its meaning. As I write this lecture, I intend to deliver it in Princeton University. Cut out the notion of final causation, and this ‘intention’ is without meaning. Again consider the voyage of the battleship Utah round the South American continent. Consider first the ship itself. We are asked to believe that the concourse of atoms, of iron, and of nitrogen, and of other sorts of chemical elements, into the form of the ship, of its armour, of its guns, of its engines, of its ammunition, of its stores of food,—that this concourse was purely the outcome of the same physical laws by which the ocean waves aimlessly beat on the coasts of Maine. There could be no more aim in one episode than in the other. The activity of the shipbuilders was merely analogous to the rolling of the shingle on the beach.
Pass on now to consider—still presupposing the orthodox physiological doctrine—the voyage of the ship. The President-elect of the United States had nothing to do with it. His intentions with respect to South American policy and goodwill in the world were beside the question, being futile irrelevancies. The motions of his body, those of the bodies of the sailors, like the motions of the ship-builders, were purely governed by the physical laws which lead a stone to roll down a slope and water to boil. The very idea is ridiculous.
We shall of course be told that the doctrine is not meant to apply to the conduct of men. Yet the bodily motions are physiological operations. If these latter be blind, so are the motions. Also men are animals. Surely, the whole fight over evolution was about this very latter point.
Again we are told that we should look at the matter historically. Mankind has gradually developed from the lowliest forms of life, and must therefore be explained in terms applicable to all such forms. But why construe the later forms by analogy to the earlier forms. Why not reverse the process? It would seem to be more sensible, more truly empirical, to allow each living species to make its own contribution to the demonstration of factors inherent in living things.
I need not continue the discussion. The case is too clear for elaboration. Yet the trained body of physiologists under the influence of the ideas germane to their successful methodology entirely ignore the whole mass of adverse evidence. We have here a colossal example of anti-empirical dogmatism arising from a successful methodology. Evidence which lies outside the method simply does not count.
We are, of course, reminded that the neglect of this evidence arises from the fact that it lies outside the scope of the methodology of the science. That method consists in tracing the persistence of the physical and chemical principles throughout physiological operations.
The brilliant success of this method is admitted. But you cannot limit a problem by reason of a method of attack. The problem is to understand the operations of an animal body. There is clear evidence that certain operations of certain animal bodies depend upon the foresight of an end and the purpose to attain it. It is no solution of the problem to ignore this evidence because other operations have been explained in terms of physical and chemical laws. The existence of a problem is not even acknowledged. It is vehemently denied. Many a scientist has patiently designed experiments for the purpose of substantiating his belief that animal operations are motivated by no purposes. He has perhaps spent his spare time in writing articles to prove that human beings are as other animals so that ‘purpose’ is a category irrelevant for the explanation of their bodily activities, his own activities included. Scientists animated by the purpose of proving that they are purposeless constitute an interesting subject for study.”
Alfred North Whitehead, The Function of Reason (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1929), pp.9-12; original emphases.
To which may be appended a fitting word from Lord Acton:
“There is not a more perilous or immoral habit of mind than the sanctifying of success.”
John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, “The Puritan Revolution”, Lectures on Modern History (London: MacMillan & Co., 1906), p.204.