Classical Texts in Psychology
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Scientific Truth and the Scientific Spirit
Gibson Hume (1916)
Posted October 2001
After tactfully referring to the part played by Canadians in 1861 in assisting in the struggle against slavery, and the present effort of Canadians on behalf of liberty, he turns to the forces that should bring men together in peaceful co-operation, among these preeminently "scientific truth and the scientific spirit".
He then shows his versatility by discussing truth and the method of its discovery from the angle of the history of science and the discussions, of the two contending schools of philosophy at the present time, the Pragmatists and their opponents, whom he describes as believing in an Absolute "absolved from all limitations of time and capable of all that we can conceive and more".
It soon appears that Dr. Macallum enrols himself as an enthusiastic admirer of the Pragmatic school. He traces its rise and its affinities with historical, empirical and experimental methods in science.
The point of emphasis is laid on the progressive character of the discovery of truth and the danger of a dogmatic assumption of completed knowledge.
He lays the blame for the persecutions of the middle ages at the door of the school of the "Absolute" of that time.
A brief sketch of the rise and growth of the science of Biochemistry with a fine statement of the aims and [p. 444] ideals and aspirations of science in general, completes a very interesting and suggestive article.
It is not at all surprising that the statement philosophical principles and methods by William James should appeal to a Biochemist. James was first of all trained in biology, physiology and medicine and was a teacher in that field before turning to psychology and later to philosophical construction. He therefore had an intimate acquaintance with and sympathy for the work in biology and understood its problems and difficulties and methods.
But it is not so evident why Dr. Macallum should follow with such an implicit trust the Pragmatists in their misunderstanding amounting to misrepresentation of their philosophical opponents, charging them with a preposterous view of the Absolute that comes with it the supposition that any knowledge of any kind and to any degree of an Absolute is the belief in an alleged absolute knowledge or complete knowledge.
Dr. Macallum then naturally concludes that the Pragmatists allow for progress in science whereas the Anti-pragmatists deny such progressiveness, being already at their goal.
The injustice of
this interpretation may be easily demonstrated.
The list of "Absolutists" given by Dr. Macallum includes the
following names : Green, Caird, Bosanquet, Bradley and Royce. Until recently these
men were frequently referred to as Neo-Hegelians and Hegel was supposed to be
the arch offender in Absolutism. Now the truth is that just a half-century before
It is indeed a revelation to find the earlier rationalists guilty for the persecutions in the middle ages. We had supposed these were due to the school of the anti-rationalists who desired to accelerate the "will to believe".
Dr. Macallum has had a preliminary training for philosophical construction similar to that possessed by John Locke and by William James but with a more extended study of physiological science, and we should welcome further philosophical ventures on his part. As he has nailed to the mast the flag of "Progressiveness" it is not unlikely that he may yet, while extending his pragmatic views allow a more charitable interpretation to be put on the views and methods of the Constructive Idealists.
[*] Editor's note: The article to which Hume is responding in the present paper, "Scientific Truth and the Scientific Spirit" by Archibald Byron Macallum, is avaialable on-line at JSTOR (for those who have access through their academic institution or library). Macallum was a biochemistry professor at