Unformatted text preview: rfectly inert. See section 25.
Hence, to try to explain the production of colours or sounds by shape, motion, size, and
the like, has to be wasted labour. That is why attempts of that kind can always be seen to
be unsatisfactory. (The same can be said in general, of any ‘explanation’ that assigns one
idea or quality as the cause o f another. I need not say how many hypotheses and
speculations we are spared by my doctrine, and how much simpler it makes the study of
103. The great mechanical principle that is now in vogue is attraction, which seems to
some people to provide a good enough explanation of a stone’s falling to the earth, or the
sea’s swelling towards the moon. But how are we enlightened by being told this is done by
attraction? Is it that this word signifies the kind of tendency ·that is involved·, telling us
that the event comes from bodies’ pulling one another, rather than from their being pushed
towards each other? But that tells us nothing about the manner of action, which (for all we
know to the contrary) might as well be called pushing as pulling. Again, we see the parts 40
of steel hold firmly together, and this also is accounted for by attraction; but here as in the
other examples I can’t see that this does more than merely to describe the effect. As for
how the effect is produced, or the cause that produces it, the ‘explanation’ in terms of
attraction does not even try to tell us that.
104. It is true that if we consider a number of phenomena together, and compare them, we
may observe some likeness and conformity amongst them. For example, in Ÿthe falling of a
stone to the ground, in Ÿthe rising of the sea towards the moon, and in Ÿcohesion and
crystallization, there is a similarity because each involves bodies’ combining or
approaching one another. So any phenomenon that is like that may not seem strange or
surprising to a man who has accurately observed and compared the effects of nature.
When we find an event strange or surprising, it is always something that is uncommon, a
thing by itself, out of the ordinary course of our observation. We don’t find it strange that
bodies tend towards the centre of the earth, because that is what we perceive every
moment of our lives. But bodies’ having a similar gravitation towards the centre of the
moon may seem odd and unaccountable to most men, because we see it only in the tides.
But a scientist, whose thoughts take in a larger extent of nature, having observed that
certain events in the heavens bear some likeness to ones on the earth, indicating that
innumerable bodies tend to move towards each other, he gives this tendency the general
name ‘attraction’, and thinks he has explained anything that can be shown to be an
instance of it. Thus he explains the tides by the attraction of our earth-and-water globe
towards the moon; he does not find that odd or anomalous, but sees it as only a particular
example of a general rule or law of nature.
105. So if we consider how natural scientists differ from other men in respect of their
knowledge of phenomena, we shall find that the difference consists, not in Ÿa more exact
knowledge of the causes that produce phenomena (for that can only be the will of a spirit),
but rather in Ÿa greater breadth of comprehension. Through this - ·that is, through the
amount of data they take account of· - scientists can discover analogies, harmonies, and
agreements among the works of nature, and can explain particular effects. Such
‘explaining’ consists in bringing events under general rules (see section 62) that are based
on the analogy and uniformness observed in the production of natural effects. We like
such rules, and try to find them, because they extend our view beyond what is ·temporally·
present and ·spatially· near to us, and enable us to make very probable conjectures about
things that may have happened at very great distances of time and place, as well as to
predict things to come. This sort of striving towards omniscience is something that the
mind likes greatly.
106. But we should proceed cautiously in matters like this, for we are apt to lay too great
a stress on analogies, and - at the expense of truth - to indulge the mind in its eagerness to
extend its knowledge into general theorems. For example, g ravitation, or mutual
attraction, appears in many instances; and this leads some people to rush into calling it
universal, maintaining that attracting and being attracted by every other body is an
essential quality inherent in all bodies whatsoever. Whereas it appears that the fixed stars
have no such tendency to move towards each other; and so far is gravitation from being
essential to bodies that in some instances a quite contrary principle seems to show itself; as
in the upward growth of plants, and the elasticity of the air. There is nothing necessary or 41
essential about any of this; it depends entirely on the will of the governing spirit, who
causes certain bodies to stick together or ten...
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This note was uploaded on 03/12/2013 for the course PHIL 105 taught by Professor Mendetta during the Spring '13 term at SUNY Stony Brook.
- Spring '13