« PreviousContinue »
evolves its corresponding institutions. There is an economic structure in society as there is a political, as there is an ecclesiastical structure. Consisting of the whole body of arrangements, customs and laws, by which men of different abilities combine their industrial efforts and distribute the product, it is by no means inconspicuous, though one great school of economists has very nearly ignored it. The other part of the organic process is the reaction of social activities upon human nature. They shape the physical, mental and moral constitutions of individual men. The habitual activities become physiologically organized in brain cells and nerve fibers. The aptitude and taste for them are hereditarily transmitted. So, in time, traditional ideas and sentiments become the controlling agent in all further social activity. In this fact lies the conservation of institutions, the stability of social order. Modes, directions and relative amounts of social action, and with them customs and institutions, can be modified, henceforth, only in the slow measure that the inherited thought and feeling of the people are changed. Now if society is in truth an organism answering to this description, that scheme of Political Economy which finds the sufficient ground of economic phenomena in a human nature conceived of as undergoing no modification that the economist is bound to note, is unscientific. Professor Cairnes in a well-known passage, says that the economist "starts with a knowledge of ultimate causes. He is already, at the outset of his enterprise, in the position which the physicist only attains after ages of laborious search." "In the conclusions and proximate phenomena of other branches of knowledge” he has ready at hand premises for the discovery of which “no elaborate process of induction is needed.” This passage, unless very broadly inter
. preted, is a pre-Darwinian utterance. So long as
economists accept it in a narrowly literal sense their science will remain in a pre-Darwinian stage of development. We must read into it the evolutionary thought. We must accept the conclusions of other branches of knowledge as they stand to-day, not as they stood fifty years ago ; and among these conclusions the most important for the economist is the doctrine that human nature and social institutions are not fixed products, but are still undergoing incessant modifications produced by those modes of daily activity which varying circumstances involve. If this doctrine is true, then, from the very nature of the facts, the problem before the economist is a double one.
It includes the two questions: What and how does the social organism produce and distribute for its sustenance and growth ; and, How does the character of the thing produced and the manner in which it is produced and distributed react on the organism? These two parts of the inquiry must be pursued together if we hope to discover true answers to either. If we neglect to investigate the reactions of economic activities, as those do who regard human nature as fixed, we are ignoring some of the chief conditions that are to determine the production and distribution of wealth in the next stage of the process.
The answer to be expected to this is that, in scientific procedure, we have a process called abstraction, whereby we eliminate all the troublesome radical quantities from our problems and enable ourselves to have an easy time with the
simple equations. Now abstraction is a very good thing provided we know what it is and know how to use it; but the notion of abstraction that has crept into Political Economy has no counterpart in any other concrete science. It is only a relative abstraction that has any value in concrete science. Psychology affords us the most serviceable example. In all cognition there is some feeling; in all emotion there is some thought. The two elements are never absolutely separated. But in formulating a theory of cognition we make relative abstraction of feeling. In what does this consist? Simply in subordinating in the consciousness of the student, that element which is subordinate in fact in the objective phenomenon studied. The thought process, from which feeling has almost departed, engages almost the entire attention of the investigator; but the feeling, that never absolutely disappears, is never absolutely forgotten. This relative abstraction is the only kind that has any proper place in Political Economy. When production and distribution, as determined by existing human nature and social organization, are relatively predominant in economic phenomena, as they were in England after the repeal of the corn laws, they will naturally occupy a relatively large place in the economist's scientific scheme. On the other hand, if the reactions of the modes of production and distribution for some time in vogue, have begun to disturb the social order, we are sure to see a partial neglect of the older economic questions and a concentration of attention upon the physiological, moral and political aspects of the industrial regime. There could be no more striking proof of the essential truth of the view here pre
sented of the dual nature of the economic problem and the relativity of economic abstraction, than the phenomena of the world-wide labor movement, now in progress.
This great upheaval has compelled economists, whether they would or not, to seek its causes in the action of economic forces upon the natures of men, and, in so doing, to admit that these forces are not entirely expended in the immediate creation of wealth, and to perceive that among its effects will be considerable modifications of social structure and function, which, in their turn, will affect all subsequent production and distribution.
Political Economy, then, as the science of wealth, is necessarily the science of the reciprocal relations of wealth and the social organism. Among English writers, the one who approached nearest to this conception was Malthus, who said that Political Economy was the science of man in his relations to wealth.
This conception necessitates several important changes in the traditional plan of our science.
If one compares a systematic work on physiology with a systematic work on Political Economy, his attention will be arrested by the great amount of descriptive matter in proportion to the logical matter in the one work, and the great amount of logical matter in proportion to descriptive, in the other. If political economy is a science of organic phenomena, we must devote far more time and space to description than any systematic English writer has done since Adam Smith. But this description must be something more than a mere narrative of facts and events, or such collections of unorganized materials as fill the bulky volumes of Professor Roscher. It must be a description of economic phenomena in their relations to each other and to underlying principles, in a word, in their coördinations. I think we may say that this work has been most promisingly begun, and that our own association stands for most valuable contributions to it, already accomplished and to be accomplished in the future.
But we must guard against the mistake made by a few extremists of the historical school of undervaluing logical analysis. It is not quite creditable to the scientific sense of Political Economists that a dispute has arisen over the logical method of the science. In no other science, not even in psychology or ethics, is there any such dispute. In physics or chemistry or physiology it would be regarded by investigators of established reputation as evidence that the disputants were not quite within the scientific pale. The consensus of scientific opinion on this point has been well established since the publication of Mr. Mill's "Logic” and has been reduced to an exceedingly clear and simple statement by Professor Jevons. “ However useful. may be empirical knowledge,” he says, “it is yet of slight importance compared with the well connected and perfectly explained body of knowledge which constitutes an advanced and deductive science.
The history of science would show conclusively that deduction was the clue to all the greatest discoveries.
The complete method consists in the alternate use of induction and deduction.
Though observation and induction must ever be the ground of all certain knowledge of nature, their unaided employment could never have led to the results of modern science."
Accepting the organic conception as our starting point, and admitting that the matter of our science