The Nature of Science

Charles S. Peirce (1905)

Este texto es un fragmento del MS 1334, Adirondack Summer School Lectures, 1905. Fue publicado en John Stuhr (ed.), Classical American Philosophy, Oxford University Press, 1987, pp. 46-48. El título, "The Nature of Science", fue puesto por Ken Ketner.

My classification of the sciences will give you a first inkling of my notion of the position that logic holds among the sciences.

This classification adopts the general idea of the classification called Comte's. When I speak of it as "the classification called Comte's", I must state that of my own knowledge, I know no reason for not simply calling it Comte's classification. But Dr. Robert Flint and other writers aver very solemnly, "If that classification possess any merits they must be ascribed to Dr. Burdin, who conceived and published it; not to Comte, although he showed how much could be made of it". Notwithstanding the scoundrelly character of the clerical profession in times past, I cannot believe that Dr. Flint would use such language without conclusive proof of its truth, convincing to every mind. I am sorry that I cannot quite suppress a lingering suggestion of doubt in my mind owing to the unspeakable mendacity of the cloth in times too recent. I certainly cannot for an instant believe that Comte was a conscious plagiarist.

This scheme, as you know, arranges what are called by Comte the "abstract sciences" in a ladder, with the idea that each derives its principles from the discoveries of the more abstract science that occupies the rung above, while all are at the same time pressing upwards, in the endeavor to become more "abstract". Since Comte first set forth that scheme, many others have been proposed; but among the score or more which have seemed to me to be at all deserving of study, including all that are widely known, I have not found one which was not manifestly founded upon which goes by Comte's name; and if my own has no other distinction it shall have that of honestly owning a filiation to a system of philosophy to which I am profoundly opposed, -a filiation of which too many of its offspring seem to be basely ashamed to own.

This, however, is not the only peculiarity of my classification. In order to make it useful I wished it to be a natural classification, that is, I wished it to embody the chief facts of relationships between the sciences so far as they present themselves to scientific and observational study. Now to my apprehension, it is only natural experiential objects that lend themselves to such a natural classification. I do not think, for example, that we can make a natural classification of plane curves or of any other mere possibilities. We do classify them, or rather, divide them, according to their orders and classes or their so-called deficiencies. But this is a mere enumeration of the logically possible cases. I embodies no positive information. It cannot therefore serve the same purpose as a natural classification. My notion is that what we call "natural classification" is, from the nature of thing limited to natural objects. Now the vast majority of classifications of the sciences are classifications of possible sciences, which are certainly not natural objects. What is a science as a natural object? It is the actual living occupation of an actual group of living men. It is in that sense only that I presume to attempt any classification of the sciences. A very considerable proportion of all the so-called classifications of the sciences are classifications of scientia, or επιστήμαι, in the ancient sense of perfect knowledge. Others are classifications not of sciences but of the objects of systematized knowledge.

But what I mean by a "science", both for the purpose of this classification and in general, is the life devoted to the pursuit of truth according to the best known methods on the part of a group of men who understand one another's ideas and works as no outsider can. It is not what they have already found out which makes their business a science; it is that they are pursuing a branch of truth according, I will not say, to the best methods that are known at the time. I do not call the solitary studies of a single man a science. It is only when a group of men, more or less in intercommunication, are aiding and stimulating one another by their understanding of a particular group of studies as outsiders cannot understand them, that I call their life a science. It is not necessary that they should all be at work upon the same problem, or that all should be fully acquainted with all that it is needful for another of them to know; but their studies must be so closely allied that any one of them could take up the problem of any other after some months of special preparation and that each should understand pretty minutely what it is that each one's of the others work consists in; so that any two of them meeting together shall be thoroughly conversant with each other's ideas and the language he talks and should feel each other to be brethrern. In particular, one thing which commonly unites them is their common skill, unpossessed by outsiders, in the use of certain instruments, and their common skill in performing certain kinds of work. The men of that group have dealings with the men of another group whose studies are more abstract, to whom they go for information about principles that the men of the second group understand better, but which the men of the first group need to apply. At the same time the men of this first group will probably have far more skill in their special applications of these principles than have the members of the second group who understand better the principles themselves. Thus the astronomer resorts to the student of optics, who understands the principles of optics better that he does. But he understands the applications of those principles to astronomical instruments and to work with them far better than the pure optical student does. One group may be in such wise dependent upon several other groups. Now I do not pretend that all the ramifications of dependence of one science upon another can be fully represented by any scheme of arrangement of the names of those sciences, even if we limit the kind of dependence that we seek to represent to dependence for principles. But I do undertake to represent somewhat vaguely the dependence for principles only of each science and each group of science upon others after the manner of Comte, or Charles Burdin, or whoever it was that made that wonderful discovery.

All human lives separate themselves and segregate themselves into three grand groups whose members understand one another in a general way, but can['t] for the life of them understand sympathetically the pursuits and aims of the others. The first group consists of the devotees of enjoyment who devote themselves to carving their bread and eating as fine bread as they can and who seek the higher enjoyments of themselves and their fellows. This is the largest and most necessary class. The second group despise such a life and cannot fully understand it. Their notion of life is to accomplish results. They build up great concerns, they goy into politics, not at the heeler1 does, for a living, but in order to wield the forces of state, they undertake reforms of one and another kind. This group makes civilization. The men of the third group who are comparatively few cannot conceive at all a life for enjoyment and look down upon a life of action. Their purpose is to worship God in the development of ideas and of truth. These are the men of science. They again segregate themselves into three great groups distinguished by their different conceptions of the purpose of science. There are those who look upon themselves as the tutors and superiors of the doers. Science to their minds tells how the world's work is to be done; and the sciences they cultivate are the Practical Sciences. But in order to develope any practical science, a man must have the equivalent of a digest of science [,] a systematized account of all human knowledge. Therefore there must be a second class of men whose purpose it is to produce such digests, one working upon one part of it and another upon another. For these men, science is what Coleridge defined it as being, organized knowledge. This very business I am engaged in, of classifying the sciences is a necessary part of this work of systematizing and digesting human knowledge. I have called such sciences the Sciences of Review, and also Tactics, or Taxospude, the endeavor to arrange science. The third great division of science I call heuretics or heurospude, the endeavor of discover. It is true that all scientific men are engaged upon nothing else than the endeavor to discover. This is true of taxospudists and the prattospudists as much as of the heurospudists. But the difference is that the prattospudists endeavor to discover for the ultimate purpose of doing, and the taxospudists endeavor to discover for the purpose of applying knowledge in any way, be it in action or more especially in cognition. But the heurospudists look upon discovery as making acquaintance with God and as the very purpose for which the human race was created. Indeed as the very purpose of God in creating the world at all. They think it a matter of no consequence whether the human race subsists and enjoys or whether it be exterminated, as [in] time it very happily will be, as soon as it has subserved its purpose of developing a new type of mind that can love and worship God better.

You must not think that I mean to say in any wooden sense that God's notion in creating the world was to have somebody to admire him. We cannot possibly put ourselves in God's shoes, even so far as to say in any definite, wooden sense that God is. I only mean that the purpose of creation as it must appear to us in our highest approaches to an understanding of it, is to make an answering mind. It is God's movement toward self reproduction. And when I say that God is, I mean that the conception of a God is the highest flight toward an understanding of the original of the whole physico-psychical universe that we can make. It has the advantage over the agnostics and other views of offering to our apprehension an object to be loved. Now the heurospudist has an imperative need of finding in nature an object to love. His science cannot subsist without it. For science to him must be worship in order not to fall down before the feet of some idol of human workmanship. Remember that the human race is but an ephemeral thing. In a little while it will be altogether done with and cast aside. Even now it is merely dominant on one small planet of one insignificant star, while all that our sight embraces on a starry night is to the universe far less than a single cell of brains is to the whole man.


1. [Slang for "hack politician"; see The Century Dictionary].

Fecha del documento: 12 de abril 2010
Ultima actualización: 24 de noviembre 2020

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