Cornhill Magazine,  4 (1861), 584–98.

National Character

[J Fitzjames Stephen]




Race, Natural History, Philosophy, Breeding, Darwinism, Electromagnetism, Methodology, Imagination

    Reports that 'a certain school of modern speculators' attribute 'differences of race and national character' to 'physical facts, such as differences in climate, [...] the aspect of natural objects, and other circumstances independent of human control' (584). As with the theories of this 'necessarian school of historical inquirers', so with 'philosophical theories of natural history', the 'existence of closely analogous differences among animals [...]. Poodles [...] not [being] bred from mastiffs, nor crows from pigeons [...] furnish the conditions which such theories, if they are to be valuable, must fulfil' (585). Also describes the method of physical science by which 'we compare [...] inferences with facts, and we then argue back to the premises from the difference between the facts and the conclusion'. For example, after 'observing a variety of facts [...] various physical philosophers were led to imagine that there was such a thing as an electrical fluid', and from the 'existence of this creature of their own imaginations, they inferred that certain results ought to follow'. When these results did not follow they 'modified their notions of the electrical fluid; but without the first imperfect notion on the subject, they would never have arrived at the more correct ones which they afterwards succeeded in reaching'. (588)

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