The Education of Henry Adams By Henry Adams Summary and Analysis Chapter XXXI - The Grammar of Science

Summary

Karl Pearson's classic approach to scientific method, The Grammar of Science, first published in 1899, evokes both praise and condemnation from Adams. Henry deletes some of his stronger criticism from the 1907 edition of Education; but his written opinions, criticizing scientists for their reluctance to draw broad conclusions, exist elsewhere, including the margins of his copy of Pearson's book. Pearson emphasizes the importance of experiments, measurements, and observation. He is remembered as the first scientist to use statistics extensively in biological science, a practice soon extended to the social sciences. Adams observes that the only conclusion science offers is "ultimate chaos. In plain words, Chaos was the law of nature; Order was the dream of man." Henry seeks something more.

Analysis

As Ernest Samuels points out, "By this time in the Education, 'historian' obviously had become to Adams a generic name for speculative philosopher or metaphysician." Prior to this, Henry has looked to the past for unity, speaking nostalgically of the guidance of the Virgin and the Church in medieval philosophy. Although he is impressed with scientific method and would like to apply it to the study of history, Adams is annoyed with scientists such as Pearson because they see their roles as observers, measurers, and recorders. They refuse to make judgments about ultimate reality beyond what they can observe and measure. The passage that Adams expurgates from his Education condemns Pearson for being overly devoted to experimentation and measurement; Henry wants some ultimate answers, a guide to metaphysics. In one of his better-known epigrams, Adams writes, "No one means all he says, and yet very few say all they mean." He wants scientists to say more, to become philosophers along with the ideal historian.

Formerly, Adams points out, mankind could count on such certainties as "Unity, Continuity, Purpose, Order, Law, Truth, the Universe, God"; science takes these away and replaces them with "Multiplicity, Diversity, Complexity, Anarchy, Chaos." Adams admires the method, but the conclusion — or lack of one — at least privately annoys him. On the other hand, he offers this caveat: "The historian must not try to know what is truth, if he values his honesty; for, if he cares for his truths, he is certain to falsify his facts." To this extent, then, he accepts scientific method, in that he realizes that the result must come from observation and not a priori. But he does seek some conclusion, some guide through the maze of chaos. He is close to the creation of his "Dynamic Theory of History."

Glossary

Civitas Dei, Civitas Romae (Latin) City of God, City of Rome; the former refers to Saint Augustine's (354-430) De civitate Dei; the later is a secular reference.

simian of or like an ape or monkey.

fecund fruitful or fertile.

aperture an opening, hole, or gap.

fabulist a person who writes or tells fables.

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