Cornhill Magazine,  4 (1861), 25–41.

The Study of History. II.  [2/2]

[J Fitzjames Stephen]


Essay, Serial


Methodology, Mathematics, Statistics, Observation, Political Economy, Natural Law, Progress, Positivism

    Urges that even though 'applied mathematics' seems to present 'an exhaustive system of eternal unqualified truth', it must be remembered that in all cases 'science is not a self-existing, overruling power, but a mere classification devised to enable the minds which conceive it to understand the phenomena to which it applies' (25). Statistics are 'the science not of omniscient, but of ignorant and limited observers' (26). While they afford rough data concerning its effects, 'they prove nothing whatever as to the causes of human action. They are simply a numerical expression of the state of the observer's expectations' (27). Also cautions that even assuming that 'it contains (as no doubt it does) a considerable degree of truth', 'Auguste Comte's theory that human thought must of necessity pass through three stages' is only 'an assertion which may be true or false, but which is nothing more than an assertion' (34–35). After detailing Comte's immense egotism, Stephen remarks nevertheless that the 'individual follies of a single man and the faults of style of his admirers, however characteristic' must not prevent the serious examination of the Comtean system of philosophy (36).

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