The classification of the sciences

The classification of the sciences

[First published as a brochure in April 1864. The preface to the second edition, published in April 1869, I reproduce because of certain facts contained in it which are not without interest.]

The first edition of this Essay is not yet out of print. But a proposal to translate it into French having been made by Professor Réthoré, I have decided to prepare a new edition free from the imperfections which criticism and further thought have disclosed, rather than allow these imperfections to be reproduced.

The occasion has almost tempted me into some amplification. Further arguments against the clas­si­fi­ca­tion of M. Comte, and further arguments in support of the clas­si­fi­ca­tion here set forth, have pleaded for utterance. But reconsideration has convinced me that it is both needless and useless to say more—needless because those who are not committed will think the case sufficiently strong as it stands; and useless because to those who are committed, additional reasons will seem as inadequate as the original ones. [In the preface to the third edition, however, a reason is given for a change of decision on this point at that time made (February 1871): the reason being “the publication of several objections by Prof. Bain in his Logic.”]

This last conclusion is thrust on me by seeing how little M. Littré, the leading expositor of M. Comte, is influenced by fundamental objections the force of which he admits. After quoting one of these, he says, with a candour equally rare and admirable, that he has vainly searched M. Comte’s works and his own mind for an answer. Nevertheless, he adds—“j’ai réussi, je crois, à écarter l’attaque de M. Herbert Spencer, et à sauver le fond par des sacrifices indispensables mais accessoires.” The sacrifices are these. He abandons M. Comte’s division of Inorganic Science into Celestial Physics and Terrestrial Physics—a division which, in M. Comte’s scheme, takes precedence of all the rest; and he admits that neither logically nor historically does Astronomy come before Physics, as M. Comte alleges. After making these sacrifices, which most will think too lightly described as “sacrifices indispensables mais accessoires,” M. Littré proceeds to rehabilitate the Comtean clas­si­fi­ca­tion in a way which he considers satisfactory, but which I do not understand. In short, the proof of these incongruities affects his faith in the Positivist theory of the sciences, no more than the faith of a Christian is affected by proof that the Gospels contradict one another.

Here in England I have seen no attempt to meet the criticisms with which M. Littré thus deals. There has been no reply to the allegation, based on examples, that the several sciences do not develop in the order of their decreasing generality; nor to the allegation, based on M. Comte’s own admissions, that within each science the progress is not, as he says it is, from the general to the special; nor to the allegation that the seeming historical precedence of Astronomy over Physics in M. Comte’s pages, is based on a verbal ambiguity—a mere sleight of words; nor to the allegation, abundantly illustrated, that a progression in an order the reverse of that asserted by M. Comte may be as well substantiated; nor to various minor allegations equally irreconcileable with his scheme. I have met with nothing more than iteration of the statement that the sciences do conform, logically and historically, to the order in which M. Comte places them; regardless of the assigned evidence that they do not.

Under these circumstances it is unnecessary for me to say more; and I think I am warranted in continuing to hold that the Comtean clas­si­fi­ca­tion of the sciences is demonstrably untenable.

In an essay on “The Genesis of Science,” originally published in 1854, I endeavoured to show that the Sciences cannot be rationally arranged in serial order. Proof was given that neither the succession in which the Sciences are placed by M. Comte (to a criticism of whose scheme the essay was in part devoted), nor any other succession in which the Sciences can be placed, represents either their logical dependence or their historical dependence. To the question—How may their relations be rightly expressed? I did not then attempt any answer. This question I propose now to consider.

A true clas­si­fi­ca­tion includes in each class, those objects which have more char­ac­ter­is­tics in common with one another, than any of them have in common with any objects excluded from the class. Further, the char­ac­ter­is­tics possessed in common by the colligated objects, and not possessed by other objects, involve more numerous dependent char­ac­ter­is­tics. These are two sides of the same definition. For things possessing the greatest number of attributes in common, are things that possess in common those essential attributes on which the rest depend; and, conversely, the possession in common of the essential attributes, implies the possession in common of the greatest number of attributes. Hence, either test may be used as convenience dictates.

If, then, the Sciences admit of clas­si­fi­ca­tion at all, it must be by grouping together the like and separating the unlike, as thus defined. Let us proceed to do this.

The broadest natural division among the Sciences, is the division between those which deal with the abstract relations under which phenomena are presented to us, and those which deal with the phenomena themselves. Relations of whatever orders, are nearer akin to one another than they are to any objects. Objects of whatever orders, are nearer akin to one another than they are to any relations. Whether, as some hold, Space and Time are nothing but forms of Thought 2; or whether, as I hold myself, they are forms of Things, that have generated forms of Thought through organized and inherited experience of Things; it is equally true that Space and Time are contrasted absolutely with the existences disclosed to us in Space and Time; and hence the Sciences which deal exclusively with Space and Time, are separated by the profoundest of all distinctions from the Sciences which deal with the existences contained in Space and Time. Space is the abstract of all relations of co-existence. Time is the abstract of all relations of sequence. And dealing as they do entirely with relations of co-existence and sequence, in their general or special forms, Logic and Mathematics form a class of the Sciences more widely unlike the rest, than any of the rest are from one another.

2 I have been charged with misrepresenting Kant and mis­un­der­stand­ing him, because I have used the expression “forms of Thought” instead of “forms of Intuition.” Elsewhere I have shown that my argument against him remains equally valid when the phrase “forms of Intuition” is used. Here I may in the first place add that I did but follow some Kantists in saying “forms of Thought,” and I may add in the second place that the objection is superficial and quite irrelevant to the issue. Thought when broadly used as antithetical to Things includes Intuition: it comprehends in this sense all that is subjective as distinguished from all that is objective, and in so doing comprehends Intuition. Nor is this all. There cannot be Intuition without Thought: every act of intuition implies an act of classing without which the thing intuited is not known as such or such; and every act of classing is an act of thought.

The Sciences which deal with existences themselves, instead of the blank forms in which existences are presented to us, admit of a sub-division less profound than the division above made, but more profound than any of the divisions among the Sciences individually considered. They fall into two classes, having quite different aspects, aims, and methods. Every phenomenon is more or less composite—is a manifestation of force under several distinct modes. Hence result two objects of inquiry. We may study the component modes of force separately; or we may study them as co-operating to generate in this composite phenomenon. On the one hand, neglecting all the incidents of particular cases, we may aim to educe the laws of each mode of force, when it is uninterfered with. On the other hand, the incidents of the particular case being given, we may seek to interpret the entire phenomenon, as a product of the several forces simultaneously in action. The truths reached through the first kind of inquiry, though concrete inasmuch as they have actual existences for their subject-matters, are abstract inasmuch as they refer to the modes of existence apart from one another; while the truths reached by the second kind of inquiry are properly concrete, inasmuch as they formulate the facts in their combined order, as they occur in Nature.

The Sciences, then, in their main divisions, stand thus:―

  • SCIENCE is
    • that which treats of the forms in which phenomona are known to us: ABSTRACT SCIENCE (Logic and Mathematics)
    • that which treats of the phenomena themselves:
      • in their elements: ABSTRACT-CONCRETE SCIENCE (Mechanics, Physics, Chemistry, etc.)
      • in their totalities: CONCRETE SCIENCE (Astronomy, Geology, Biology, Psychology, Sociology, etc.)

It is needful to define the words abstract and concrete as thus used; since they are sometimes used with other meanings. M. Comte divides Science into abstract and concrete; but the divisions which he distinguishes by these names are quite unlike those above made. Instead of regarding some Sciences as wholly abstract, and others as wholly concrete, he regards each Science as having an abstract part, and a concrete part. There is, according to him, an abstract mathematics and a concrete mathematics—an abstract biology and concrete biology. He says:—“Il faut distinguer, par rapport à tous les ordres de phénomènes, deux genres de sciences naturelles: les unes abstraites, générales, ont pour objet la découverte des lois qui régissent les diverses classes de phénomènes, en considérant tous les cas qu’on peut concevoir; les autres concrètes, particulières, descriptives, et qu’on désigne quelquefois sous le nom de sciences naturelles proprement dites, consistent dans l’application de ces lois a l’histoire effective des différens êtres existans.” And to illustrate the distinction, he names general physiology as abstract, and zoology and botany as concrete. Here it is manifest that the words abstract and general are used as synonymous. They have, however, different meanings; and confusion results from not distinguishing their meanings. Abstractness means detachment from the incidents of particular cases. Generality means manifestation in numerous cases. On the one hand, the essential nature of some phenomenon is considered, apart from disguising phenomena. On the other hand, the frequency of the phenomenon, with or without disguising phenomena, is the thing considered. Among the phenomena presented by numbers, which are purely ideal, the two coincide; but excluding these, an abstract truth is not realizable to perception in any case of which it is asserted, whereas a general truth is realizable to perception in every case of which it is asserted. Some illustrations will make the distinction clear. Thus it is an abstract truth that the angle contained in a semi-circle is a right angle—abstract in the sense that though it does not hold of act­u­al­ly-con­struct­ed semi-circles and angles, which are always inexact, it holds of the ideal semi-circles and angles abstracted from real ones; but this is not a general truth, either in the sense that it is commonly manifested in Nature, or in the sense that it is a space-relation that comprehends many minor space-relations: it is a quite special space-relation. Again, that the momentum of a body causes it to move in a straight line at a uniform velocity, is an ab­stract-con­crete truth—a truth abstracted from certain experiences of concrete phenomena; but it is by no means a general truth: so little generality has it, that no one fact in Nature displays it. Conversely, surrounding things supply us with hosts of general truths that are not in the least abstract. It is a general truth that the planets go round the Sun from West to East—a truth which holds good in several hundred cases (including the cases of the planetoids); but this truth is not at all abstract, since it is perfectly realized as a concrete fact in every one of these cases. Every vertebrate animal whatever, has a double nervous system; all birds and all mammals are warm-blooded—these are general truths, but they are concrete truths: that is to say, every vertebrate animal individually presents an entire and unqualified manifestation of this duality of the nervous system; every living bird exemplifies absolutely or completely the warm-bloodedness of birds. What we here call, and rightly call, a general truth, is simply a proposition which sums up a number of our actual experiences; and not the expression of a truth drawn from our actual experiences, but never presented to us in any of them. In other words, a general truth colligates a number of particular truths; while an abstract truth colligates no particular truths, but formulates a truth which certain phenomena all involve, though it is actually seen in none of them.

Limiting the words to their proper meanings as thus defined, it becomes manifest that the three classes of Sciences above separated, are not dis­tin­guish­able at all by differences in their degrees of generality. They are all equally general; or rather they are all, considered as groups, universal. Every object whatever presents at once the subject-matter for each of them. In every fragment of substance we have simultaneously illustrated the abstract truths of relation in Time and Space; the ab­stract-con­crete truths in conformity with which the fragment manifests its several modes of force; and the concrete truths resulting from the joint manifestation of these modes of force, and which give to the fragment the characters by which it is known as such or such. Thus these three classes of Sciences severally formulate different, but co-extensive, classes of facts. Within each group there are truths of greater and less generality: there are general abstract truths, and special abstract truths; general ab­stract-con­crete truths, and special ab­stract-con­crete truths; general concrete truths, and special concrete truths. But while within each class there are groups and sub-groups and sub-sub-groups which differ in their degrees of generality, the classes themselves differ only in their degrees of abstractness. 3

3 Some propositions laid down by M. Littré, in his book—Auguste Comte et la Philosophie Positive (published in 1863), may fitly be dealt with here. In the candid and courteous reply he makes to my strictures on the Comtean clas­si­fi­ca­tion in “The Genesis of Science,” he endeavours to clear up some of the inconsistencies I pointed out; and he does this by drawing a distinction between objective generality and subjective generality. He says—“qu’il existe deux ordres de généralité, l’une objective et dans les choses, l’autre subjective, abstraite et dans l’esprit.” This sentence, in which M. Littré makes subjective generality synonymous with abstractness, led me at first to conclude that he had in view the same distinction as that which I have above explained between generality and abstractness. On re-reading the paragraph, however, I found this was not the case. In a previous sentence he says—“La biologie a passé de la considération des organes à celles des tissus, plus généraux que les organes, et de la considération des tissus à celle des éléments anatomiques, plus généraux que les tissus. Mais cette généralité croissante est subjective non objective, abstraite non concrète.” Here it is manifest that abstract and concrete, are used in senses analogous to those in which they are used by M. Comte; who, as we have seen, regards general physiology as abstract and zoology and botany as concrete. And it is further manifest that the word abstract, as thus used, is not used in its proper sense. For, as above shown, no such facts as those of anatomical structure can be abstract facts; but can only be more or less general facts. Nor do I understand M. Littré’s point of view when he regards these more general facts of anatomical structure, as subjectively general and not objectively general. The structural phenomena presented by any tissue, such as mucous membrane, are more general than the phenomena presented by any of the organs which mucous membrane goes to form, simply in the sense that the phenomena peculiar to the membrane are repeated in a greater number of instances than the phenomena peculiar to any organ into the composition of which the membrane enters. And, similarly, such facts as have been established respecting the anatomical elements of tissues, are more general than the facts established respecting any particular tissue, in the sense that they are facts which the various parts of organized bodies exhibit in a greater number of cases—they are objectively more general; and they can be called subjectively more general only in the sense that the conception corresponds with the phenomena.

Let us pass to the sub-divisions of these classes. The first class is separable into two parts—the one containing universal truths, the other non-universal truths. Dealing wholly with relations apart from related things, Abstract Science considers first, that which is common to all relations whatever; and, second, that which is common to each order of relations. Besides the indefinite and variable connexions which exist among phenomena, as occurring together in Space and Time, we find that there are also definite and invariable connexions—that between each kind of phenomenon and certain other kinds of phenomena, there exist uniform relations. This is a universal abstract truth—that there is an unchanging order, or fixity of law, in Space and Time. We come next to the several kinds of unchanging order, which, taken together, form the subjects of the second division of Abstract Science. Of this second division, the most general sub-division is that which deals with the natures of the connexions in Space and Time, irrespective of the terms connected. The conditions under which we may predicate a relation of coincidence or proximity in Space and Time (or of non-coincidence or non-proximity) from the subject-matter of Logic. Here the natures and amounts of the terms between which the relations are asserted (or denied) are of no moment: the propositions of Logic are independent of any qualitative or quantitative specification of the related things. The other sub-division has for its subject-matter, the relations between terms which are specified quantitatively but not qualitatively. The amounts of the related terms, irrespective of their natures, are here dealt with; and Mathematics is a statement of the laws of quantity considered apart from reality. Quantity considered apart from reality, is occupancy of Space or Time; and occupancy of Space or Time is measured by units of one or other order, but of which the ultimate ones are simply separate places in con­scious­ness, either coexistent or sequent. Among units that are unspecified in their natures (extensive, protensive, or intensive), but are ideally endowed with existence considered apart from attributes, the quantitative relations that arise, are those most general relations expressed by numbers. Such relations fall into either of two orders, according as the units are considered simply as capable of filling separate places in con­scious­ness, or according as they are considered as filling places that are not only separate, but equal. In the one case, we have that indefinite calculus by which numbers of abstract existences, but not sums of abstract existence, are predicable. In the other case, we have that definite calculus by which both numbers of abstract existences and sums of abstract existence are predicable. Next comes that division of Mathematics which deals with the quantitative relations of magnitudes (or aggregates of units) considered as coexistent, or as occupying Space—the division called Geometry. And then we arrive at relations, the terms of which include both quantities of Time and quantities of Space—those in which times are estimated by the units of space traversed at a uniform velocity, and those in which equal units of time being given, the spaces traversed with uniform or variable velocities are estimated. These Abstract Sciences, which are concerned exclusively with relations and with the relations of relations, may be grouped as shown in Table I.

  • TABLE I.

      • Universal law of relation—an expression of the truth that uniformities of connexion obtain among modes of Being, irrespective of any specification of the natures of the uniformities of connexion.
      • Laws of relations
        • that are qualitative; or that are specified in their natures as relations of coincidence or proximity in Time and Space, but not necessarily in their terms the natures and amount of which are indifferent. (LOGIC.) 4
        • that are quantitative (MATHEMATICS)
          • negatively: the terms of the relations being def­i­nite­ly-re­lat­ed sets of positions in space; and the facts predicated being the absences of certain quantities. (Geometry of Position. 5)
          • positively: the terms being magnitudes composed of
            • units that are equal only as having independent existences. (Indefinite Calculus. 6)
            • equal units
              • the equality of which is not defined as extensive, protensive, or intensive (Definite Calculus)
                • when their numbers are completely specified (Arithmetic.)
                • when their numbers are specified only
                  • in their relations (Algebra.)
                  • in the relations of their relations. (Calculus of Operations.)
              • the equality of which is that of extension
                • considered in their relations of coexistence. (Geometry.)
                • considered as traversed in Time
                  • that is wholly indefinite. (Kinematics.)
                  • that is divided into equal units (Geometry of Motion. 7)

4 This definition includes the laws of relations called necessary, but not those of relations called contingent. These last, in which the probability of an inferred connexion varies with the number of times such connexion has occurred in experience, are rightly dealt with mathematically.

5 Here, by way of explanation of the term neg­a­tive­ly-quan­ti­ta­tive, it will suffice to instance the proposition that certain three lines will meet in a point, as a neg­a­tive­ly-quan­ti­ta­tive proposition; since it asserts the absence of any quantity of space between their intersections. Similarly, the assertion that certain three points will always fall in a straight line, is neg­a­tive­ly-quan­ti­ta­tive; since the conception of a straight line implies the negation of any lateral quantity, or deviation.

6 Lest the meaning of this division should not be understood, it may be well to name, in illustration, the estimates of the statistician. Calculations respecting population, crime, disease, etc., have results which are correct only numerically, and not in respect of the totalities of being or action represented by the numbers.

7 Perhaps it will be asked—how can there be a Geometry of Motion into which the conception of Force does not enter? The reply is, that the time-relations and space-re­la­tions of Motion may be considered apart from those of Force, in the same way that the space-re­la­tions of Matter may be considered apart from Matter.

Passing from the Sciences concerned with the ideal or unoccupied forms of relations, and turning to the Sciences concerned with real relations, or the relations among realities, we come first to those Sciences which treat of realities, not as they are habitually manifested, but with realities as manifested in their different modes, when these are artificially separated from one another. While the Abstract Sciences are wholly ideal, relatively to the Ab­stract-Con­crete and Concrete Sciences; the Ab­stract-Con­crete Sciences are partially ideal, relatively to the Concrete Sciences. Just as Logic and Mathematics generalize the laws of relation, qualitative and quantitative, apart from related things; so, Mechanics, Physics, Chemistry generalize the laws of relation which different modes of Matter and Motion conform to, when severally disentangled from those actual phenomena in which they are mutually modified. Just as the geometrician formulates the properties of lines and surfaces, independently of the irregularities and thicknesses of lines and surfaces as they really exist; so the physicist and the chemist formulate the manifestations of each mode of force, independently of the disturbances in its manifestations which other modes of force cause in every actual case. In works on Mechanics, the laws of motion are expressed without reference to friction and resistance of the medium. Not what motion ever really is, but what it would be if retarding forces were absent, is asserted. If afterwards any retarding force is taken into account, then the effect of this retarding force is dealt with by itself: neglecting the other retarding forces. Consider, again, the gen­er­al­i­za­tions of the physicist respecting molecular motion. The law that light varies inversely as the square of the distance, is absolutely true only when the radiation goes on from a point without dimensions, which it never does; and it also assumes that the rays are perfectly straight, which they cannot be unless the medium differs from all actual media in being perfectly homogeneous. If the disturbing effects of changes of media are investigated, the formulæ expressing the refractions take for granted that the new media entered are homogeneous; which they never really are. Even when a compound disturbance is allowed for, as when the refraction undergone by light in traversing a medium of increasing density, like the atmosphere, is calculated, the calculation still supposes conditions that are unnaturally simple—it supposes that the atmosphere is not pervaded by heterogeneous currents, which it always is. Similarly with the inquiries of the chemist. He does not take his substances as Nature supplies them. Before he proceeds to specify their respective properties, he purifies them—separates from each all trace of every other. Before ascertaining the specific gravity of a gas, he has to free this gas from the vapour of water, usually mixed with it. Before describing the properties of a salt, he guards against any error that may arise from the presence of an uncombined portion of the acid or base. And when he alleges of any element that it has a certain atomic weight, and unites with such and such equivalents of other elements, he does not mean that the results thus expressed are exactly the results of any one experiment; but that they are the results which, after averaging many trials, he concludes would be realized if absolute purity could be obtained, and if the experiments could be conducted without loss. His problem is to ascertain the laws of combination of molecules, not as they are actually displayed, but as they would be displayed in the absence of those minute interferences which cannot be altogether avoided. Thus all Ab­stract-Con­crete Sciences have for their object, analytical interpretation. In every case it is the aim to decompose the phenomenon, and formulate its components apart from one another; or some two or three apart from the rest. Wherever, throughout these Sciences, synthesis is employed, it is for the verification of analysis. 8 The truths elaborated are severally asserted, not as truths exhibited by this or that particular object; but as truths universally holding of Matter and Motion in their more general or more special forms, considered apart from particular objects, and particular places in space.

8 I am indebted to Prof. Frankland for reminding me of an objection that may be made to this statement. The production of new compounds by synthesis, has of late become an important branch of chemistry. According to certain known laws of composition, complex substances, which never before existed, are formed, and fulfil anticipations both as to their general properties and as to the proportions of their constituents—as proved by analysis. Here it may be said with truth, that analysis is used to verify synthesis. Nevertheless, the exception to the above statement is apparent only,—not real. In so far as the production of new compounds is carried on merely for the obtainment of such new compounds, it is not Science but Art—the application of pre-established knowledge to the achievement of ends. The proceeding is a part of Science, only in so far as it is a means to the better interpretation of the order of Nature. And how does it aid the interpretation? It does it only by verifying the pre-established conclusions respecting the laws of molecular combination; or by serving further to explain them. That is to say, these syntheses, considered on their scientific side, have simply the purpose of forwarding the analysis of the laws of chemical combination.

The sub-divisions of this group of Sciences, may be drawn on the same principle as that on which the sub-divisions of the preceding group were drawn. Phenomena, considered as more or less involved manifestations of force, yield on analysis, certain laws of manifestation which are universal, and other laws of manifestation, which, being dependent on conditions, are not universal. Hence the Ab­stract-Con­crete Sciences are primarily divisible into—the laws of force considered apart from its separate modes, and laws of force considered under each of its separate modes. And this second division of the Ab­stract-Con­crete group, is sub-divisible after a manner essentially analogous. It is needless to occupy space by defining these several orders and genera of Sciences. Table II. will sufficiently explain their relations.


      • Universal laws of forces (tensions and pressures), as deducible from the persistence of force: the theorems of resolution and composition of forces.
      • Laws of forces as manifested by matter
        • in masses (MECHANICS)
          • that are in equilibrium relatively to other masses
            • and are solid. (Statics.)
            • and are fluid. (Hydrostatics.)
          • that are not in equilibrium relatively to other masses
            • and are solid. (Dynamics.)
            • and are fluid. (Hydrodynamics.)
        • in molecules (MOLECULAR MECHANICS)
          • when in equilibrium: (Molecular Statics)
            • giving statical properties of matter
              • general, as impenetrability or space-occupancy.
              • special, as the forms resulting from molecular equilibrium.
            • giving statico-dynamical properties of matter (cohesion, elasticity, etc.)
              • when solid.
              • when liquid.
              • when gaseous.
          • when not in equilibrium: (Molecular Dynamics)
            • as resulting in a changed distribution of molecules
              • which alters their relative positions homogeneously
                • causing increase of volume (expansion, liquefaction, evaporation).
                • causing decrease of volume (condensation, solidification, contraction).
              • which alters their relative positions heterogeneously (Chemistry)
                • producing new relations of molecules (new compounds).
                • producing new relations of forces (new affinities).
            • as resulting in a changed distribution of molecular motion,
              • which, by integration, generates sensible motion.
              • which, by disintegration, generates insensible motion, under the forms of {Heat. Light. Electricity. Magnetism.}

We come now to the third great group. We have done with the Sciences which are concerned only with the blank forms of relations under which Being is manifested to us. We have left behind the Sciences which, dealing with Being under its universal mode, and its several non-universal modes regarded as independent, treat the terms of its relations as simple and homogeneous; which they never are in Nature. There remain the Sciences which, taking these modes of Being as they are habitually connected with one another, have for the terms of their relations, those heterogeneous combinations of forces that constitute actual phenomena. The subject-matter of these Concrete-Sciences is the real, as contrasted with the wholly or partially ideal. It is their aim, not to separate and generalize apart the components of all phenomena, but to explain each phenomenon as a product of these components. Their relations are not, like those of the simplest Ab­stract-Con­crete Sciences, relations between one antecedent and one consequent; nor are they, like those of the more involved Ab­stract-Con­crete Sciences, relations between some few antecedents cut off in imagination from all others, and some few consequents similarly cut off; but they are relations each of which has for its terms a complete plexus of antecedents and a complete plexus of consequents. This is manifest in the least involved Concrete Sciences. The astronomer seeks to explain the Solar System. He does not stop short after generalizing the laws of planetary movement, such as planetary movement would be did only a single planet exist; but he solves this ab­stract-con­crete problem, as a step towards solving the concrete problem of the planetary movements as affecting one another. In astronomical language, “the theory of the Moon” means an interpretation of the Moon’s motions, not as determined simply by centripetal and centrifugal forces, but as perpetually modified by gravitation towards the Earth’s equatorial protuberance, towards the Sun, and even towards Venus: forces daily varying in their amounts and combinations. Nor does the astronomer leave off when he has calculated what will be the position of a given body at a given time, allowing for all perturbations; but he goes on to consider the effects produced by reactions on the perturbing masses. And he further goes on to consider how the mutual perturbations of the planets cause, during a long period, increasing deviations from a mean state; and then how compensating perturbations cause continuous decrease of the deviations. That is, the goal towards which he ever strives, is a complete explanation of these complex planetary motions in their totality. Similarly with the geologist. He does not take for his problem only those irregularities of the Earth’s crust that are worked by denudation; or only those which igneous action causes. He does not seek simply to understand how sedimentary strata were formed; or how faults were produced; or how moraines originated; or how the beds of Alpine lakes were scooped out. But taking into account all agencies co-operating in endless and ever-varying combinations, he aims to interpret the entire structure of the Earth’s crust. If he studies separately the actions of rain, rivers, glaciers, icebergs, tides, waves, volcanoes, earthquakes, etc.; he does so that he may be better able to comprehend their joint actions as factors in geological phenomena: the object of his science being to generalize these phenomena in all their intricate connexions, as parts of one whole. In like manner Biology is the elaboration of a complete theory of Life, in each and all of its involved manifestations. If different aspects of its phenomena are investigated apart—if one observer busies himself in classing organisms, another in dissecting them, another in ascertaining their chemical compositions, another in studying functions, another in tracing laws of modification; they are all, consciously or un­con­scious­ly, helping to work out a solution of vital phenomena in their entirety, both as displayed by individual organisms and by organisms at large. Thus, in these Concrete Sciences, the object is the converse of that which the Ab­stract-Con­crete Sciences propose to themselves. In the one case we have analytical interpretation; while in the other case we have synthetical interpretation. Instead of synthesis being used merely to verify analysis; analysis is here used only to aid synthesis. Not to formulate the factors of phenomena is now the object; but to formulate the phenomena resulting from these factors, under the various conditions which the Universe presents.

This third class of Sciences, like the other classes, is divisible into the universal and the non-universal. As there are truths which hold of all phenomena in their elements; so there are truths which hold of all phenomena in their totalities. As force has certain ultimate laws common to its separate modes of manifestation, so in those combinations of its modes which constitute actual phenomena, we find certain ultimate laws that are conformed to in every case. These are the laws of the re-dis­tri­bu­tion of force. Since we can become conscious of a phenomenon only by some change wrought in us, every phenomenon necessarily implies re-dis­tri­bu­tion of force—change in the arrangements of matter and motion. Alike in molecular movements and the movements of masses, one great uniformity may be traced. A decreasing quantity of motion, sensible or insensible, always has for its concomitant an increasing aggregation of matter; and, conversely, an increasing quantity of motion, sensible or insensible, has for its concomitant a decreasing aggregation of matter. Give to the molecules of any mass, more of that insensible motion which we call heat, and the parts of the mass become somewhat less closely aggregated. Add a further quantity of insensible motion, and the mass so far disintegrates as to become liquid. Add still more insensible motion, and the mass disintegrates so completely as to become gas; which occupies a greater space with every extra quantity of insensible motion given to it. On the other hand, every loss of insensible motion by a mass, gaseous, liquid, or solid, is accompanied by a progressing integration of the mass. Similarly with sensible motions, be the bodies moved large or small. Augment the velocities of the planets, and their orbits will enlarge—the Solar System will occupy a wider space. Diminish their velocities, and their orbits will lessen—the Solar System will contract, or become more integrated. And in like manner we see that sensible motions given to bodies on the Earth’s surface involve partial disintegrations of the bodies from the Earth; while the loss of their motions are accompanied by their re-integration with the Earth. In all changes we have either an integration of matter and concomitant dissipation of motion; or an absorption of motion and concomitant disintegration of matter. And where, as in living bodies, these processes go on simultaneously, there is an integration of matter proportioned to the dissipation of motion, and an absorption of motion proportioned to the disintegration of matter. Such, then, are the universal laws of that re-dis­tri­bu­tion of matter and motion everywhere going on—a re-dis­tri­bu­tion which results in Evolution so long as the aggregation of matter and dispersion of motion predominate; but which results in Dissolution where there is a predominant aggregation of motion and dispersion of matter. Hence we have a division of Concrete Science which bears towards the other Concrete Sciences, a relation like that which the Universal Law of Relation bears to Mathematics, and like that which Universal Mechanics (composition and resolution of forces) bears to Physics. We have a division of Concrete Science which generalizes those concomitants of this re-dis­tri­bu­tion that hold good among all orders of concrete objects—a division which explains why, along with a predominating integration of matter and dissipation of motion, there goes a change from an indefinite, incoherent homogeneity, to a definite, coherent heterogeneity; and why a reverse re-dis­tri­bu­tion of matter and motion, is accompanied by a reverse structural change. Passing from this universal Concrete Science, to the non-universal Concrete Sciences; we find that these are primarily divisible into the science which deals with the re-dis­tri­bu­tions of matter and motion among masses in space, consequent on their mutual actions as wholes; and the science which deals with the re-dis­tri­bu­tions of matter and motion consequent on the mutual actions of the parts of each mass. And of these equally general Sciences, this last is re-divisible into the Science which is limited to the concomitants of re-dis­tri­bu­tion among the parts of each mass when regarded as independent, and the Science which takes into account the molecular motion received by radiation from other masses. But these sub-divisions, and their sub-sub-divisions, will be best seen in the annexed Table III.


      • Universal laws of the continuous re-dis­tri­bu­tion of Matter and Motion; which results in Evolution where there is a predominant integration of Matter and dissipation of Motion, and which results in Dissolution where there is a predominant absorption of Motion and disintegration of Matter.
      • Laws of the redistributions of Matter and Motion actually going on
        • among the celestial bodies in their relations to one another as masses: comprehending (ASTRONOMY)
          • the dynamics of our solar system. (Planetary Astronomy.)
          • the dynamics of our stellar universe. (Sidereal Astronomy.)
        • among the molecules of any celestial mass; as caused by
          • the actions of these molecules on one another (ASTROGENY)
            • resulting in the formation of compound molecules. (Solar Mineralogy.)
            • resulting in molecular motions and genesis of radiant forces. 9
            • resulting in movements of gases and liquids. (Solar Meteorology. 10)
          • the actions of these molecules on one another, joined with the actions on them of forces radiated by the molecules of other masses: (GEOGENY)
            • as exhibited in the planets generally.
            • as exhibited in the Earth
              • causing composition and of decomposition of inorganic matters. (Mineralogy.)
              • causing re-dis­tri­bu­tions of gases and liquids. (Meteorology.)
              • causing re-dis­tri­bu­tions of solids. (Geology.)
              • causing organic phenomena; which are (Biology)
                • those of structure (Morphology)
                  • general.
                  • special.
                • those of function
                  • in their internal relations (Physiology)
                    • general.
                    • special.
                  • in their external relations (Psychology)
                    • general
                    • special
                      • separate.
                      • combined. (Sociology. 11)

9 This must not be supposed to mean chem­i­cal­ly-pro­duced forces. The molecular motion here referred to as dissipated in radiations, is the equivalent of that sensible motion lost during the integration of the mass of molecules, consequent on their mutual gravitation.

10 Embracing the interpretation of such phenomena as the solar spots, the faculæ and the coronal flames.

11 Want of space prevents anything beyond the briefest indication of these subdivisions.

That these great groups of Sciences and their respective sub-groups, fulfil the definition of a true clas­si­fi­ca­tion given at the outset, is, I think, tolerably manifest. The subjects of inquiry included in each primary division, have essential attributes in common with one another, which they have not in common with any of the subjects contained in the other primary divisions; and they have, by consequence, a greater number of attributes in which they are severally like the subjects they are grouped with, and unlike the subjects otherwise grouped. Between Sciences which deal with relations apart from realities, and Sciences which deal with realities, the distinction is the widest possible; since Being, in some or all of its attributes, is common to all Sciences of the second class, and excluded from all Sciences of the first class. And when we divide the Sciences which treat of realities, into those which deal with their component phenomena considered in ideal separation and those which deal with their component phenomena as actually united, we make a profounder distinction than can exist between the Sciences which deal with one or other order of the components, or than can exist between the Sciences which deal with one or other order of the things composed. The three groups of Sciences may be briefly defined as—laws of the forms; laws of the factors; laws of the products. When thus defined, it becomes manifest that the groups are so radically unlike in their natures, that there can be no transitions between them; and that any Science belonging to one of the groups must be quite incongruous with the Sciences belonging to either of the other groups, if transferred. How fundamental are the differences between them, will be further seen on considering their functions. The first, or abstract group, is instrumental with respect to both the others; and the second, or ab­stract-con­crete group is instrumental with respect to the third or concrete group. An endeavour to invert these functions will at once show how essential is the difference of character. The second and third groups supply subject-matter to the first, and the third supplies subject-matter to the second; but none of the truths which constitute the third group are of any use as solvents of the problems presented by the second group; and none of the truths which the second group formulates can act as solvents of problems contained in the first group.

Concerning the sub-divisions of these great groups, little remains to be added. That each of the groups, being co-extensive with all phenomena, contains truths that are universal and others that are not universal, and that these must be classed apart, is obvious. And that the sub-divisions of the non-universal truths, are to be made according to their decreasing generality in something like the manner shown in the Tables, is proved by the fact that when the descriptive words are read from the root to the extremity of any branch, they form a definition of the Science constituting that branch. That the minor divisions might be otherwise arranged, and that better definitions of them might be given, is highly probable. They are here set down merely for the purpose of showing how this method of clas­si­fi­ca­tion works out.

I will only further remark that the relations of the Sciences as thus represented, are still but imperfectly represented: their relations cannot be truly shown on a plane, but only in space of three dimensions. The three groups cannot rightly be put in linear order as they have here been. Since the first stands related to the third, not only indirectly through the second, but also directly—it is directly instrumental with respect to the third, and the third supplies it directly with subject-matter. Their relations can thus only be truly shown by branches diverging from a common root on different sides, in such a way that each stands in juxta-position to the other two. And only by a like mode of arrangement, can the relations among the sub-divisions of each group be correctly represented.

The foregoing exposition, highly abstract as it is, will by some readers be less readily followed than a more concrete one. With the view of carrying conviction to such I will re-state the case in two ways: the first of them adapted only to those who accept the doctrine of Evolution in its most general form.

We set out with concentrating nebulous matter. Tracing the re-dis­tri­bu­tions of this, as the rotating contracting spheroid leaves behind successive annuli and as these severally form secondary rotating spheroids, we come at length to planets in their early stages. Thus far we consider the phenomena dealt with purely astronomical; and so long as our Earth, regarded as one of these spheroids, was made up of gaseous and molten matters only, it presented no data for any more complex Concrete Science. In the lapse of cosmical time a solid film forms, which, in the course of millions of years, thickens, and, in the course of further millions of years, becomes cool enough to permit the precipitation, first of various other gaseous compounds, and finally of water. Presently, the varying exposure of different parts of the spheroid to the Sun’s rays, begins to produce appreciable effects; until at length there have arisen meteorological actions, and consequent geological actions, such as those we now know: determined partly by the Sun’s heat, partly by the still-retained internal heat of the Earth, and partly by the action of the Moon on the ocean? How have we reached these geological phenomena? When did the astronomical changes end and the geological changes begin? It needs but to ask this question to see that there is no real division between the two. Putting pre-conceptions aside, we find nothing more than a group of phenomena continually complicating under the influence of the same original factors; and we see that our conventional division is defensible only on grounds of convenience. Let us advance a stage. As the Earth’s surface continues to cool, passing through all degrees of temperature by infinitesimal gradations, the formation of more and more complex inorganic compounds becomes possible. Later, its surface sinks to that heat at which the less complex compounds of the kinds called organic can exist; and, finally, the formation of the more complex organic compounds takes place. Chemists now show us that these compounds may be built up synthetically in the laboratory—each stage in ascending complexity making possible the next higher stage. Hence it is inferable that, in the myriads of laboratories, endlessly diversified in their materials and conditions, which the Earth’s surface furnished during the myriads of years occupied in passing through these stages of temperature, such successive syntheses were effected; and that the highly complex unstable substance out of which all organisms are composed, was eventually formed in microscopic portions: from which, by continuous integrations and dif­fer­entia­tions, the evolution of all organisms has proceeded. Where then shall we draw the line between Geology and Biology? The synthesis of this most complex compound, is but a continuation of the syntheses by which all simpler compounds were formed. The same primary factors have been co-operating with those secondary factors, meteorologic and geologic, previously derived from them. Nowhere do we find a break in the ever-complicating series; for there is a manifest connexion between those movements which various complex compounds undergo during their isomeric trans­for­ma­tions, and those changes of form undergone by the protoplasm which we distinguish as living. Strongly contrasted as they eventually become, biological phenomena are at their root inseparable from geological phenomena—inseparable from the aggregate of trans­for­ma­tions continually wrought in the matters forming the Earth’s surface by the physical forces to which they are exposed. Further stages I need not particularize. The gradual development out of the biological group of phenomena, of the more specialized group we class as psychological, needs no illustration. And when we come to the highest psychological phenomena, it is clear that since aggregations of human beings may be traced upwards from single wandering families to tribes and nations of all sizes and complexities, we pass insensibly from the phenomena of individual human action to those of corporate human action. To resume, then, is it not manifest that in the group of sciences—Astronomy, Geology, Biology, Psychology, Sociology, we have a natural group that admits neither of disruption nor change of order? Here there is both a genetic dependence, and a dependence of in­ter­pre­ta­tions. The phenomena have arisen in this succession in cosmical time; and complete scientific interpretation of each group depends on scientific interpretation of the preceding groups. No other science can be thrust in anywhere without destroying the continuity. To insert Physics between Astronomy and Geology, would be to make a break in the history of a continuous series of changes; and a like break would be produced by inserting Chemistry between Geology and Biology. It is true that Physics and Chemistry are needful as interpreters of these successive assemblages of facts; but it does not therefore follow that they are themselves to be placed among these assemblages.

Concrete Science, made up of these five concrete sub-sciences, being thus coherent within itself, and separated from all other science, there comes the question—Is all other science similarly coherent within itself? or is it traversed by some second division that is equally decided? It is thus traversed. A statical or dynamical theorem, however simple, has always for its subject-matter something that is conceived as extended, and as displaying force or forces—as being a seat of resistance, or of tension, or of both, and as capable of possessing more or less of vis viva. If we examine the simplest proposition of Statics, we see that the conception of Force must be joined with the conception of Space, before the proposition can be framed in thought; and if we similarly examine the simplest proposition in Dynamics, we see that Force, Space, and Time, are its essential elements. The amounts of the terms are indifferent; and, by reduction of its terms beyond the limits of perception, they are applied to molecules: Molar Mechanics and Molecular Mechanics are continuous. From questions concerning the relative motions of two or more molecules, Molecular Mechanics passes to changes of aggregation among many molecules, to changes in the amounts and kinds of the motions possessed by them as members of an aggregate, and to changes of the motions transferred through aggregates of them, as those constituting light. Daily extending its range of in­ter­pre­ta­tions, it is coming to deal even with the components of each compound molecule on the same principles. And the unions and disunions of such more or less compound molecules, which constitute the phenomena of Chemistry, are also being conceived as resultant phenomena of essentially kindred natures—the affinities of molecules for one another, and their reactions in relation to light, heat, and other modes of force, being regarded as consequent on the combinations of the various mech­an­i­cal­ly-de­ter­mined motions of their various components. Without at all out-running, however, this progress in the mechanical interpretation of molecular phenomena, it suffices to point out that the indispensable elements in any chemical conception are units occupying places in space, and exerting forces on one another. This, then, is the common character of all these sciences which we at present group under the names of Mechanics, Physics, Chemistry. Leaving undiscussed the question whether it is possible to conceive of force apart from extended somethings exerting it, we may assert, as beyond dispute, that if the conception of force be expelled, no science of Mechanics, Physics, or Chemistry remains. Made coherent, as these sciences are, by this bond of union, it is impossible to thrust among them any other science without breaking their continuity. We cannot place Logic between Molar Mechanics and Molecular Mechanics. We cannot place Mathematics between the group of propositions concerning the behaviour of homogeneous molecules to one another, and the group of propositions concerning the behaviour of heterogeneous molecules to one another (which we call Chemistry). Clearly these two sciences lie outside the coherent whole we have contemplated; separated from it in some radical way.

By what are they radically separated? By the absence of the conception of force through which alone we know objects as existing or acting. However true it may be that so long as Logic and Mathematics have any terms at all, these must be capable of affecting con­scious­ness, and, by implication, of exerting force; yet it is the distinctive trait of these sciences that not only do their propositions make no reference to such force, but, as far as possible, they deliberately ignore it. Instead of being, as in all the other sciences, an element that is not only recognized but vital; in Mathematics and Logic, force is an element that is not only not vital, but is studiously not recognized. The terms in which Logic expresses its propositions, are symbols that do not profess to represent things, properties, or powers, of one kind more than another; and may equally well stand for the attributes belonging to members of some connected series of ideal curves which have never been drawn, as for so many real objects. And the theorems of Geometry, so far from contemplating perceptible lines and surfaces as elements in the truths enunciated, consider these truths as becoming absolute only when such lines and surfaces become ideal—only when the conception of something exercising force is extruded.

Let me now make a second re-statement, not implying acceptance of the doctrine of Evolution, but exhibiting with a clearness almost if not quite as great, these fundamental distinctions.

The concrete sciences, taken together or separately, contemplate as their subject-matters, aggregates—either the entire aggregate of sensible existences, or some secondary aggregate separable from this entire aggregate, or some tertiary aggregate separable from this, and so on. Sidereal Astronomy occupies itself with the totality of visible masses distributed through space; which it deals with as made up of identifiable individuals occupying specified places, and severally standing towards one another, towards sub-groups, and towards the entire group, in defined ways. Planetary Astronomy, cutting out of this all-including aggregate that relatively minute part constituting the Solar System, deals with this as a whole—observes, measures, and calculates the sizes, shapes, distances, motions, of its primary, secondary, and tertiary members; and, taking for its larger inquiries the mutual actions of all these members as parts of a coordinated assemblage, takes for its smaller inquiries the actions of each member considered as an individual, having a set of intrinsic activities that are modified by a set of extrinsic activities. Restricting itself to one of these aggregates, which admits of close examination, Geology (using this word in its comprehensive meaning) gives an account of terrestrial actions and terrestrial structures, past and present; and, taking for its narrower problems local formations and the agencies to which they are due, takes for its larger problems the serial trans­for­ma­tions undergone by the entire Earth. The geologist being occupied with this cosmically small, but otherwise vast, aggregate, the biologist occupies himself with small aggregates formed out of parts of the Earth’s superficial substance, and treats each of these as a coordinated whole in its structures and functions; or, when he treats of any particular organ, considers this as a whole made up of parts held in a sub-coordination that refers to the coordination of the entire organism. To the psychologist he leaves those specialized aggregates of functions which adjust the actions of organisms to the complex activities surrounding them: doing this, not simply because they are a stage higher in speciality, but because they are the counterparts of those aggregated states of con­scious­ness dealt with by the science of Subjective Psychology, which stands entirely apart from all other sciences. Finally, the sociologist considers each tribe and nation as an aggregate presenting multitudinous phenomena, simultaneous and successive, that are held together as parts of one combination. Thus, in every case, a concrete science deals with a real aggregate (or a plurality of real aggregates); and it includes as its subject-matter whatever is to be known of this aggregate in respect of its size, shape, motions, density, texture, general arrangement of parts, minute structure, chemical composition, temperature, etc., together with all the multitudinous changes, material and dynamical, gone through by it from the time it begins to exist as an aggregate to the time it ceases to exist as an aggregate.

No ab­stract-con­crete science makes the remotest attempt to do anything of this sort. Taken together, the ab­stract-con­crete sciences give an account of the various kinds of properties which aggregates display; and each ab­stract-con­crete science concerns itself with a certain order of these properties. By this, the properties common to all aggregates are studied and formulated; by that, the properties of aggregates having special forms, special states of aggregation, etc.; and by others, the properties of particular components of aggregates when dissociated from other components. But by all these sciences the aggregate, considered as an individual object, is tacitly ignored; and a property, or a connected set of properties, exclusively occupies attention. It matters not to Mechanics whether the moving mass it considers is a planet or a molecule, a dead stick thrown into the river or the living dog that leaps after it: in any case the curve described by the moving mass conforms to the same laws. Similarly when the physicist takes for his subject the relation between the changing bulk of matter and the changing quantity of molecular motion it contains. Dealing with the subject generally, he leaves out of consideration the kind of matter; and dealing with the subject specially in relation to this or that kind of matter, he ignores the attributes of size and form: save in the still more special cases where the effect on form is considered, and even then size is ignored. So, too, is it with the chemist. A substance he is investigating, never thought of by him as distinguished in extension or amount, is not even required to be perceptible. A portion of carbon on which he is experimenting, may or may not have been visible under its forms of diamond or graphite or charcoal—this is indifferent. He traces it through various disguises and various combinations—now as united with oxygen to form an invisible gas; now as hidden with other elements in such more complex compounds as ether, and sugar, and oil. By sulphuric acid or other agent he precipitates it from these as a coherent cinder, or as a diffused impalpable powder; and again, by applying heat, forces it to disclose itself as an element of animal tissue. Evidently, while thus ascertaining the affinities and atomic equivalence of carbon, the chemist has nothing to do with any aggregate. He deals with carbon in the abstract, as something considered apart from quantity, form, appearance, or temporary state of combination; and conceives it as the possessor of powers or properties, whence the special phenomena he describes result: the ascertaining of all these powers or properties being his sole aim.

Finally, the Abstract Sciences ignore alike aggregates and the powers which aggregates or their components possess; and occupy themselves with relations—either with the relations among aggregates, or among their parts, or the relations among aggregates and properties, or the relations among properties, or the relations among relations. The same logical formula applies equally well, whether its terms are men and their deaths, crystals and their planes of cleavage, or plants and their seeds. And how entirely Mathematics concerns itself with relations, we see on remembering that it has just the same expression for the characters of an infinitesimal triangle, as for those of the triangle which has Sirius for its apex and the diameter of the Earth’s orbit for its base.

I cannot see how these definitions of these groups of sciences can be questioned. It is undeniable that every Concrete Science gives an account of an aggregate or of aggregates, inorganic, organic, or super-organic (a society); and that, not concerning itself with properties of this or that order, it concerns itself with the co-ordination of the assembled properties of all orders. It seems to me no less certain that an Ab­stract-Con­crete Science gives an account of some order of properties, general or special; not caring about the other traits of an aggregate displaying them, and not recognizing aggregates at all further than is implied by discussion of the particular order of properties. And I think it is equally clear that an Abstract Science, freeing its propositions, so far as the nature of thought permits, from aggregates and properties, occupies itself with relations of co-existence and sequence, as disentangled from all particular forms of being and action. If then these three groups of sciences are, respectively, accounts of aggregates, accounts of properties, accounts of relations, it is manifest that the divisions between them are not simply perfectly clear, but that the chasms between them are absolute.

Here, perhaps more clearly than before, will be seen the untenability of the clas­si­fi­ca­tion made by M. Comte. Already, after setting forth in a general way these fundamental distinctions, I have pointed out the incongruities that arise when the sciences, conceived as Abstract, Ab­stract-Con­crete, and Concrete, are arranged in the order proposed by him. Such incongruities become still more conspicuous if for these general names of the groups we substitute the definitions given above. The series will then stand

  • MATHEMATICS . . . An account of relations (including, under Mechanics, an account of properties).
  • ASTRONOMY . . . An account of aggregates.
  • PHYSICS . . . An account of properties.
  • CHEMISTRY . . . An account of properties.
  • BIOLOGY . . . An account of aggregates.
  • SOCIOLOGY . . . An account of aggregates.

That those who espouse opposite views see clearly the defects in the propositions of their opponents and not those in their own, is a trite remark that holds in philosophical discussions as in all others: the parable of the mote and the beam applies as well to men’s appreciations of one another’s opinions as to their appreciations of one another’s natures. Possibly to my positivist friends I exemplify this truth,—just as they exemplify it to me. Those uncommitted to either view must decide where the mote exists and where the beam. Meanwhile it is clear that one or other of the two views is essentially erroneous; and that no qualifications can bring them into harmony. Either the sciences admit of no such grouping as that which I have described, or they admit of no such serial order as that given by M. Comte.


Among objections made to any doctrine, those which come from avowed supporters of an adverse doctrine must be considered, other things equal, as of less weight than those which come from men uncommitted to an adverse doctrine, or but partially committed to it. The element of prepossession, distinctly present in the one case and in the other case mainly or quite absent, is a well-recognized cause of difference in the values of the judgments: supposing the judgments to be otherwise fairly comparable. Hence, when it is needful to bring the replies within a restricted space, a fit course is that of dealing rather with independent criticisms than with criticisms which are really indirect arguments for an opposite view, previously espoused.

For this reason I propose here to confine myself substantially, though not absolutely, to the demurrers entered against the foregoing clas­si­fi­ca­tion by Prof. Bain, in his recent work on Logic. Before dealing with the more important of these, let me clear the ground by disposing of the less important.

Incidentally, while commenting on the view I take respecting the position of Logic, Prof. Bain points out that this, which is the most abstract of the sciences, owes much to Psychology, which I place among the Concrete Sciences; and he alleges an incongruity between this fact and my statement that the Concrete Sciences are not instrumental in disclosing the truths of the Abstract Sciences. Subsequently he re-raises this apparent anomaly when

“Nor is it possible to justify the placing of Psychology wholly among Concrete Sciences. It is a highly analytic science, as Mr. Spencer thoroughly knows.”

For a full reply, given by implication, I must refer Prof. Bain to § 56 of The Principles of Psychology, where I have contended that “while, under its objective aspect, Psychology is to be classed as one of the Concrete Sciences which successively decrease in scope as they increase in speciality; under its subjective aspect, Psychology is a totally unique science, independent of, and antithetically opposed to, all other sciences whatever.” A pure idealist will not, I suppose, recognize this distinction; but to every one else it must, I should think, be obvious that the science of subjective existences is the correlative of all the sciences of objective existences; and is as absolutely marked off from them as subject is from object. Objective Psychology, which I class among the Concrete Sciences, is purely synthetic, so long as it is limited, like the other sciences, to objective data; though great aid in the interpretation of these data is derived from the observed correspondence between the phenomena of Objective Psychology as presented in other beings and the phenomena of Subjective Psychology as presented in one’s own con­scious­ness. Now it is Subjective Psychology only which is analytic, and which affords aid in the development of Logic. This being explained, the apparent incongruity disappears.

A difficulty raised respecting the manner in which I have expressed the nature of Mathematics, may next be dealt with. Prof. Bain

“In the first place, objection may be taken to his language, in discussing the extreme Abstract Sciences, when he speaks of the empty forms therein considered. To call Space and Time empty forms, must mean that they can be thought of without any concrete embodiment whatsoever; that one can think of Time, as a pure abstraction, without having in one’s mind any concrete succession. Now, this doctrine is in the last degree questionable.”

I quite agree with Prof. Bain that “this doctrine is in the last degree questionable;” but I do not admit that this doctrine is implied by the definition of Abstract Science which I have given. I speak of Space and Time as they are dealt with by mathematicians, and as it is alone possible for pure Mathematics to deal with them. While Mathematics habitually uses in its points, lines, and surfaces, certain existences, it habitually deals with these as representing points, lines, and surfaces that are ideal; and its conclusions are true only on condition that it does this. Points having dimensions, lines having breadths, planes having thicknesses, are negatived by its definitions. Using, though it does, material representatives of extension, linear, superficial, or solid, Geometry deliberately ignores their materiality; and attends only to the truths of relation they present. Holding with Prof. Bain, as I do, that our con­scious­ness of Space is disclosed by our experiences of Matter—arguing, as I have done in The Principles of Psychology, that it is a consolidated aggregate of all relations of co-existence that have been severally presented by Matter; I nevertheless contend that it is possible to dissociate these relations from Matter to the extent required for formulating them as abstract truths. I contend, too, that this separation is of the kind habitually made in other cases; as, for instance, when the general laws of motion are formulated (as M. Comte’s system, among others, formulates them) in such way as to ignore all properties of the bodies dealt with save their powers of taking up, and retaining, and giving out, quantities of motion; though these powers are inconceivable apart from the attribute of extension, which is intentionally disregarded.

Taking other of Prof. Bain’s objections, not in the order in which they stand but in the order in which they may be most conveniently dealt with, I quote as

“The law of the radiation of light (the inverse square of the distance) is said by Mr. Spencer to be Ab­stract-Con­crete, while the disturbing changes in the medium are not to be mentioned except in a Concrete Science of Optics. We need not remark that such a separate handling is unknown to science.”

It is perfectly true that “such a separate handling is unknown to science.” But, unfortunately for the objection, it is also perfectly true that no such separate handling is proposed by me, or is implied by my clas­si­fi­ca­tion. How Prof. Bain can have so missed the meaning of the word “concrete,” as I have used it, I do not understand. After pointing out that “no one ever drew the line,” between the Ab­stract-Con­crete and the Concrete Sciences, “as I have done it,” he alleges an anomaly which exists only supposing that I have drawn it where it is ordinarily drawn. He appears inadvertently to have carried with him M. Comte’s conception of Optics as a Concrete Science, and, importing it into my clas­si­fi­ca­tion, debits me with the incongruity. If he will re-read the definition of the Ab­stract-Con­crete Sciences, or study their sub-divisions as shown in Table II., he will, I think, see that the most special laws of the redistribution of light, equally with its most general laws, are included. And if he will pass to the definition and the tabulation of the Concrete Sciences, he will, I think, see no less clearly that Optics cannot be included among them.

Prof. Bain considers that I am not justified in classing Chemistry as an Ab­stract-Con­crete Science, and excluding from it all consideration of the crude forms of the various substances dealt with; and he enforces his dissent by saying that chemists habitually describe the ores and impure mixtures in which the elements, etc., are naturally found. Undoubtedly chemists do this. But do they therefore intend to include an account of the ores of a substance, as a part of the science which formulates its molecular constitution and the constitutions of all the definite compounds it enters into? I shall be very much surprised if I find that they do. Chemists habitually prefix to their works a division treating of Molecular Physics; but they do not therefore claim Molecular Physics as a part of Chemistry. If they similarly prefix to the chemistry of each substance an outline of its mineralogy, I do not think they therefore mean to assert that the last belongs to the first. Chemistry proper, embraces nothing beyond an account of the constitutions and modes of action and combining proportions of substances that are taken as absolutely pure; and its truths no more recognize impure substances than the truths of Geometry recognize crooked lines.

Immediately after, in criticizing the fundamental distinction I have made between Chemistry and Biology, as Ab­stract-Con­crete and Concrete respectively, Prof. Bain

“But the objects of Chemistry and the objects of Biology are equally concrete, so far as they go; the simple bodies of chemistry, and their several compounds, are viewed by the Chemist as concrete wholes, and are described by him, not with reference to one factor, but to all their factors.”

Issue is here raised in a form convenient for elucidation of the general question. It is true that, for purposes of identification, a chemist gives an account of all the sensible characters of a substance. He sets down its crystalline form, its specific gravity, its power of refracting light, its behaviour as magnetic or diamagnetic. But does he thereby include these phenomena as part of the Science of Chemistry? It seems to me that the relation between the weight of any portion of matter and its bulk, which is ascertained on measuring its specific gravity, is a physical and not a chemical fact. I think, too, that the physicist will claim, as part of his science, all investigations touching the refraction of light: be the substance producing this refraction what it may. And the circumstance that the chemist may test the magnetic or diamagnetic property of a body, as a means of ascertaining what it is, or as a means of helping other chemists to determine whether they have got before them the same body, will neither be held by the chemist, nor allowed by the physicist, to imply a transfer of magnetic phenomena from the domain of the one to that of the other. In brief, though the chemist, in his account of an element or a compound, may refer to certain physical traits associated with its molecular constitution and affinities, he does not by so doing change these into chemical traits. Whatever chemists may put into their books, Chemistry, considered as a science, includes only the phenomena of molecular structures and changes—of compositions and decompositions. 12 I contend, then, that Chemistry does not give an account of anything as a concrete whole, in the same way that Biology gives an account of an organism as a concrete whole. This will become even more manifest on observing the character of the biological account. All the attributes of an organism are comprehended, from the most general to the most special—from its conspicuous structural traits to its hidden and faint ones; from its outer actions that thrust themselves on the attention, to the minutest sub-divisions of its multitudinous internal functions; from its character as a germ, through the many changes of size, form, organization, and habit, it goes through until death; from the physical characters of it as a whole, to the physical characters of its microscopic cells, and vessels, and fibres; from the chemical characters of its substance in general to the chemical characters of each tissue and each secretion—all these, with many others. And not only so, but there is comprehended as the ideal goal of the science, the consensus of all these phenomena in their co-existences and successions, as constituting a coherent individualized group definitely combined in space and in time. It is this recognition of individuality in its subject-matter, that gives its concreteness to Biology, as to every other Concrete Science. As Astronomy deals with bodies that have their several proper names, or (as with the smaller stars) are registered by their positions, and considers each of them as a distinct individual—as Geology, while dimly perceiving in the Moon and nearest planets other groups of geological phenomena (which it would deal with as independent wholes, did not distance forbid), occupies itself with that individualized group presented by the Earth; so Biology treats either of an individual distinguished from all others, or of parts or products belonging to such an individual, or of structural or functional traits common to many such individuals that have been observed, and supposed to be common to others that are like them in most or all of their attributes. Every biological truth connotes a specifically individualized object, or a number of specifically individualized objects of the same kind, or numbers of different kinds that are severally specific. See, then, the contrast. The truths of the Ab­stract-Con­crete Sciences do not imply specific individuality. Neither Molar Physics, nor Molecular Physics, nor Chemistry, concerns itself with this. The laws of motion are expressed without any reference whatever to the sizes or shapes of the moving masses; which may be taken indifferently to be suns or atoms. The relations between contraction and the escape of molecular motion, and between expansion and the absorption of molecular motion, are expressed in their general forms without reference to the kind of matter; and, if the degree of either that occurs in a particular kind of matter is formulated, no note is taken of the quantity of that matter, much less of its individuality. Similarly with Chemistry. When it inquires into the atomic weight, the molecular structure, the atomicity, the combining proportions, etc., of a substance, it is indifferent whether a grain or a ton be thought of—the conception of amount is absolutely irrelevant. And so with more special attributes. Sulphur, considered chemically, is not sulphur under its crystalline form, or under its allotropic viscid form, or as a liquid, or as a gas; but it is sulphur considered apart from those attributes of quantity, and shape, and state, that give individuality.

12 Perhaps some will say that such incidental phenomena as those of the heat and light evolved during chemical changes, are to be included among chemical phenomena. I think, however, the physicist will hold that all phenomena of re-distributed molecular motion, no matter how arising, come within the range of Physics. But whatever difficulty there may be in drawing the line between Physics and Chemistry (and, as I have incidentally pointed out in The Principles of Psychology, § 55, the two are closely linked by the phenomena of allotropy and isomerism), applies equally to the Comtean clas­si­fi­ca­tion, or to any other. And I may further point out that no obstacle hence arises to the clas­si­fi­ca­tion I am defending. Physics and Chemistry being both grouped by me as Ab­stract-Con­crete Sciences, no difficulty in satisfactorily dividing them in the least affects the sa­tis­fac­tor­i­ness of the division of the great group to which they both belong, from the other two great groups.

Prof. Bain objects to the division I have drawn between the Concrete Science of Astronomy and that Ab­stract-Con­crete Science which deals with the mutually-modified motions of hypothetical masses in space, as “not a little arbitrary.” He says:―

“We can suppose a science to confine itself solely to the ‘factors,’ or the separated elements, and never, on any occasion, to combine two into a composite third. This position is intelligible, and possibly defensible. For example, in Astronomy, the Law of Persistence of Motion in a straight line might be discussed in pure ideal separation; and so, the Law of Gravity might be discussed in equally pure separation—both under the Ab­stract-Con­crete department of Mechanics. It might then be reserved to a concrete department to unite these in the explanation of a projectile or of a planet. Such, however, is not Mr. Spencer’s boundary line. He allows Theoretical Mechanics to make this particular combination, and to arrive at the laws of planetary movement, in the case of a single planet. What he does not allow is, to proceed to the case of two planets, mutually disturbing one another, or a planet and a satellite, commonly called the ‘problem of the Three Bodies.’”

If I held what Prof. Bain supposes me to hold, my position would be an absurd one; but he misapprehends me. The mis­app­re­hen­sion results in part from his having here, as before, used the word “concrete” with the Comtean meaning, as though it were my meaning; and in part from the inadequacy of my explanation. I did not in the least mean to imply that the Ab­stract-Con­crete Science of Mechanics, when dealing with the motions of bodies in space, is limited to the interpretation of planetary movement such as it would be did only a single planet exist. It never occurred to me that my words might be so construed. Ab­stract-Con­crete problems admit, in fact, of being complicated indefinitely, without going in the least beyond the definition. I do not draw the line, as Prof. Bain alleges, between the combination of two factors and the combination of three, or between the combination of any number and any greater number. I draw the line between the science which deals with the theory of the factors, taken singly and in combinations of two, three, four, or more, and the science which, giving to these factors the values derived from observations of actual objects, uses the theory to explain actual phenomena.

It is true that, in these departments of science, no radical distinction is consistently recognized between theory and the applications of theory. As Prof. Bain says:―

“Newton, in the First Book of the Principia, took up the problem of the Three Bodies, as applied to the Moon, and worked it to exhaustion. So writers on Theoretical Mechanics continue to include the Three Bodies, Precession, and the Tides.”

But, supreme though the authority of Newton may be as a mathematician and astronomer, and weighty as are the names of Laplace and Herschel, who in their works have similarly mingled theorems and the explanations yielded by them, it does not seem to me that these facts go for much; unless it can be shown that these writers intended thus to enunciate the views at which they had arrived respecting the clas­si­fi­ca­tion of the sciences. Such a union as that presented in their works, adopted merely for the sake of convenience, is, in fact, the indication of incomplete development; and has been paralleled in simpler sciences which have afterwards outgrown it. Two conclusive illustrations are at hand. The name Geometry, utterly inapplicable by its meaning to the science as it now exists, was applicable in that first stage during which its few truths were taught in preparation for land-measuring and the setting-out of buildings; but, at a comparatively early date, these comparatively simple truths became separated from their applications, and were embodied by the Greek geometers into systems of theory. 13 A like purification is now taking place in another division of the science. In the Géométrie Descriptive of Monge, theorems were mixed with their applications to projection and plan-drawing. But, since his time, the science and the art have been segregating; and Descriptive Geometry, or, as it may be better termed, the Geometry of Position, is now recognized by mathematicians as a far-reaching system of truths, parts of which are already embodied in books that make no reference to derived methods available by the architect or the engineer. To meet a coun­ter-il­lus­tra­tion that will be cited, I may remark that though, in works on Algebra intended for beginners, the theories of quantitative relations, as treated algebraically, are accompanied by groups of problems to be solved, the subject-matters of these problems are not thereby made parts of the Science of Algebra. To say that they are, is to say that Algebra includes the conceptions of distances and relative speeds and times, or of weights and bulks and specific gravities, or of areas ploughed and days and wages; since these, and endless others, may be the terms of its equations. And just in the same way that these concrete problems, solved by its aid, cannot be incorporated with the Abstract Science of Algebra; so I contend that the concrete problems of Astronomy, cannot be incorporated with that division of Ab­stract-Con­crete Science which develops the theory of the inter-actions of free bodies that attract one another.

13 It may be said that the mingling of problems and theorems in Euclid is not quite consistent with this statement; and it is true that we have, in this mingling, a trace of the earlier form of the science. But it is to be remarked that these problems are all purely abstract, and, further, that each of them admits of being expressed as a theorem.

On this point I find myself at issue, not only with Prof. Bain, but also with Mr. Mill, who contends that:―

“There is an abstract science of astronomy, namely, the theory of gravitation, which would equally agree with and explain the facts of a totally different solar system from the one of which our earth forms a part. The actual facts of our own system, the dimensions, distances, velocities, temperatures, physical constitution, etc., of the sun, earth, and planets, are properly the subject of a concrete science, similar to natural history; but the concrete is more inseparably united to the abstract science than in any other case, since the few celestial facts really accessible to us are nearly all required for discovering and proving the law of gravitation as an universal property of bodies, and have therefore an indispensable place in the abstract science as its fundamental data.”—Auguste Comte and Positivism, p. 43.

In this explanation, Mr. Mill recognizes the fundamental distinction between the Concrete Science of Astronomy, dealing with the bodies actually distributed in space, and a science dealing with hypothetical bodies hypothetically distributed in space. Nevertheless, he regards these sciences as not separable; because the second derives from the first the data whence the law of inter-action is derived. But the truth of this premiss, and the legitimacy of this inference, may alike be questioned. The discovery of the law of inter-action was not due primarily, but only secondarily, to observation of the heavenly bodies. The conception of an inter-acting force that varies inversely as the square of the distance, is an à priori conception rationally deducible from mechanical and geometrical considerations. Though unlike in derivation to the many empirical hypotheses of Kepler respecting planetary orbits and planetary motions, yet it was like the successful among these in its relation to astronomical phenomena: it was one of many possible hypotheses, which admitted of having their consequences worked out and tested; and one which, on having its implications compared with the results of observation, was found to explain them. In short, the theory of gravitation grew out of experiences of terrestrial phenomena; but the verification of it was reached through experiences of celestial phenomena. Passing now from premiss to inference, I do not see that, even were the alleged parentage substantiated, it would necessitate the supposed inseparability; any more than the descent of Geometry from land-measuring necessitates a persistent union of the two. In the case of Algebra, as above indicated, the disclosed laws of quantitative relations hold throughout multitudinous orders of phenomena that are extremely heterogeneous; and this makes conspicuous the distinction between the theory and its applications. Here the laws of quantitative relations among masses, distances, velocities, and momenta, being applied mainly (though not exclusively) to the concrete cases presented by Astronomy, the distinction between the theory and its applications is less conspicuous. But, intrinsically, it is as great in the one case as in the other.

How great it is, we shall see on taking an analogy. This is a living man, of whom we may know little more than that he is a visible, tangible person; or of whom we may know enough to form a voluminous biography. Again, this book tells of a fictitious hero, who, like the heroes of old romance, may be an impersonated virtue or vice, or, like a modern hero, one of mixed nature, whose various motives and consequent actions are elaborated into a semblance of reality. But no accuracy and completeness of the picture makes this fictitious personage an actual personage, or brings him any nearer to one. Nor does any meagreness in our knowledge of a real man reduce him any nearer to the imaginary being of a novel. To the last, the division between fiction and biography remains an impassable gulf. So, too, remains the division between the Science dealing with the inter-actions of hypothetical bodies in space, and the Science dealing with the inter-actions of existing bodies in space. We may elaborate the first to any degree whatever by the introduction of three, four, or any greater number of factors under any number of assumed conditions, until we symbolize a solar system; but to the last an account of our symbolic solar system is as far from an account of the actual solar system as fiction is from biography.

Even more obvious, if it be possible, does the radical character of this distinction become, on observing that from the simplest proposition of General Mechanics we may pass to the most complex proposition of Celestial Mechanics, without a break. We take a body moving at a uniform velocity, and commence with the proposition that it will continue so to move for ever. Next, we state the law of its accelerated motion in the same line, when subject to a uniform force. We further complicate the proposition by supposing the force to increase in consequence of approach towards an attracting body; and we may formulate a series of laws of acceleration, resulting from so many assumed laws of increasing attraction (of which the law of gravitation is one). Another factor may now be added by supposing the body to have motion in a direction other than that of the attracting body; and we may determine, according to the ratios of the supposed forces, whether its course will be hyperbolic, parabolic, elliptical, or circular—we may begin with this hypothetical additional force as infinitesimal, and formulate the varying results as it is little by little increased. The problem is complicated a degree more by taking into account the effects of a third force, acting in some other direction; and beginning with an infinitesimal amount of this force we may reach any amount. Similarly, by introducing factor after factor, each at first insensible in proportion to the rest, we arrive, through an infinity of gradations, at a combination of any complexity.

Thus, then, the Science which deals with the inter-action of hypothetical bodies in space, is absolutely continuous with General Mechanics. We have already seen that it is absolutely discontinuous with that account of the heavenly bodies which has been called Astronomy from the beginning. When these facts are recognized, it seems to me that there cannot remain a doubt respecting its true place in a clas­si­fi­ca­tion of the Sciences.

Let me endeavour to clear up this point:—There is, as M. Littré truly says, a decreasing generality that is objective. If we omit the phenomena of Dissolution, which are changes from the special to the general, all changes which matter undergoes are from the general to the special—are changes involving a decreasing generality in the united groups of attributes. This is the progress of things. The progress of thought, is not only in the same direction, but also in the opposite direction. The investigation of Nature discloses an increasing number of specialities; but it simultaneously discloses more and more the generalities within which these specialities fall. Take a case. Zoology, while it goes on multiplying the number of its species, and getting a more complete knowledge of each species (decreasing generality); also goes on discovering the common characters by which species are united into larger groups (increasing generality). Both these are subjective processes; and in this case, both orders of truth reached are concrete—formulate the phenomena as actually manifested. The truth that mammals of all kinds have seven cervical vertebræ (I believe there is one exception) is a generalization—a general relation in thought answering to a general relation in things. As the existence of seven cervical vertebræ in each mammal is a concrete fact, the statement of it is a concrete truth, and the statement colligating such truths is not made other than concrete by holding of case after case.

M. Littré, recognizing the necessity for some modification of the hierarchy of the Sciences, as enunciated by M. Comte, still regards it as substantially true; and for proof of its validity, he appeals mainly to the essential constitutions of the Sciences. It is unnecessary for me here to meet, in detail, the arguments by which he supports the proposition, that the essential constitutions of the Sciences, justify the order in which M. Comte places them. It will suffice to refer to the foregoing pages, and to the pages which are to follow, as containing the definitions of those fundamental char­ac­ter­is­tics which demand the grouping of the Sciences in the way I have pointed out. As already shown, and as will be shown still more clearly by and bye, the radical differences of constitution among the Sciences, necessitate the colligation of them into the three classes—Abstract, Ab­stract-Con­crete, and Concrete. How irreconcilable is M. Comte’s clas­si­fi­ca­tion with these groups, will be at once apparent on inspection. It stands thus:―

  • Mathematics (including rational Mechanics), . . . partly Abstract, partly Ab­stract-Con­crete.
  • Astronomy . . . Concrete.
  • Physics . . . Ab­stract-Con­crete.
  • Chemistry . . . Ab­stract-Con­crete.
  • Biology . . . Concrete.
  • Sociology . . . Concrete.