Wednesday, December 24, 2014

'Scientism' 7 - Dawson on Clifford (1870s)

Seventh in a series of fourteen posts (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 910111213, & 14).

I've found an 1877 piece called 'Scientism' in a Canadian magazine. Here's a passage from the opening paragraph of 'Scientism' by S. E. Dawson (1877):
Although the word we have placed at the head of this paper [scientism] is not to be found in that repertory of neologisms, Webster's Dictionary, it is one nevertheless much needed concisely to denote a phase of thought which has seized upon the current literature of the day and is imposing its one-sided truths upon the world as a complete system of philosophy. Precisely as the sacerdotalist would compel all belief and duty to bow before his supernatural authority, so the professor would narrow the whole field of truth by ignoring or repudiating every belief and duty which is not commensurate with his methods. Naturally, there is bitter war between these two classes of thinkers, and the scientist, having found a suitable pulpit in the Fortnightly Review, deals out his monthly modicum of denunciation and sneers at the religious faith of others with the arrogance of a mediaeval prelate; and, in truth, considering how short a time it is since the scientists have got control of the leading channels of thought, it is amazing how quickly they have attained to the fullest measure of dogmatism ever reached by their antagonists during the many centuries of their domination. Apt scholars, as many of them are, in dogmatism, they have imitated also the unnecessary offensiveness of by-gone ages, and whether it be Mr. Morley, spelling God with a little 'g,' or Professor Clifford, imputing 'immorality' to everybody not belonging to his school, one can hardly take up a number of the Fortnightly without being struck with some instance of this literary brutality, showing how little the apostle, even of the new evangel of 'sweetness and light,' has been able to charm the native fierceness of the scientific Philistine. When the 'Great Being' — the 'Goddess Humanity' of Comte, or 'Man' of Professor Clifford — (all with capital letters) is duly installed, and society is reorganised on the most advanced principles of Sociology, we fear that the 'hierarchy of science' will be found as intolerant of heresy as their sacerdotal prototypes. (Dawson, Belford's Monthly Magazine 3 [1877]: 903-920, at 903)
W. K. Clifford is the main focus of Dawson's ire. A few pages on, Dawson has this to say against Clifford's epistemology:
It is, however, assumed too readily that, in scientific matters, we believe only upon demonstration, whereas in fact men receive the chief part of their knowledge upon authority alone. There are very few who have gone over the proofs of the heliocentric theory in astronomy, and the reasoning upon which it is based is beyond the powers of many, but yet it is believed contrary to the evidence of our senses, solely upon the authority of a few. Not one thousandth part of our daily working beliefs are actually verified. We are always ready to give faith to the chemist, biologist or geologist, working out results in their special spheres. Professor Clifford himself is incessantly using such phrases as 'Huxley has shown,' 'Tyndall has said,' 'Darwin has taught,' 'Haeckel has demonstrated.' He is willing enough to accept authority and to lend faith to those distinguished specialists, not only in their demonstrations, but in their metaphysical theories upon these demonstrations. (Ibid., at 906)

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