Reforming Philosophy: A Victorian Debate on Science and Society
Laura J. Snyder
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Mill—philosopher, political economist, and Parliamentarian—remains a canonical author of Anglo-American philosophy, while Whewell—Anglican cleric, scientist, and educator—is now often overlooked, though in his day he was renowned as an authority on science. Placing their teachings in their proper intellectual, cultural, and argumentative spheres, Laura Snyder revises the standard views of these two important Victorian figures, showing that both men’s concerns remain relevant today.
A philosophically and historically sensitive account of the engagement of the major protagonists of Victorian British philosophy, Reforming Philosophy is the first book-length examination of the dispute between Mill and Whewell in its entirety. A rich and nuanced understanding of the intellectual spirit of Victorian Britain, it will be welcomed by philosophers and historians of science, scholars of Victorian studies, and students of the history of philosophy and political economy.
introduction of the Encyclopedia Metropolitana. Unlike some Cambridge admirers of Coleridge, such as Whewell’s friend Rose, Coleridge himself did not disparage natural science,91 and intended his treatise on method to illustrate the application of his philosophy to the scientific study of nature.92 Coleridge noted that discoveries of truth are not made by accident, but by the distinct presentation of an Idea. He claimed that the science of Electricity had progressed more rapidly than that of
Natural Theology, p. 239. 302. Isaac Newton, Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, 1:391. Newton also expressed the argument from design in four letters to Richard Bentley in 1692, which were published in 1756. Whewell cited these letters in his Astronomy and General Physics, with Reference to Natural Theology (see p. 136). 303. Isaac Newton, Opticks, pp. 402–3. 304. Newton explained that “if natural philosophy in all its Parts, by pursuing this Method, shall at length be perfected, the
of a circle is “not exactly true of any circle; it is only nearly true.”57 The definitions are, rather, “hypothetical,” in the sense that there is “the assumption that what is very nearly true is exactly so.”58 Thus the theorems of geometry that follow from the definitions “are so far from being necessary, that they are not even true; they purposely depart, more or less widely, from the truth.”59 His view, as he noted, here coincided with Dugald Stewart’s view of the hypothetical foundation of
age.”28 Understanding what Mill meant by mastering the premises and combining the methods of both men is crucial to understanding his project of reform in science, morality, and politics, as well as comprehending its ultimate outcome. In the essay on Coleridge, Mill detailed three main differences between the Benthamite and Coleridgian schools: the “purely abstract” or “philosophical” difference, the “concrete” or “practical” difference, and the political difference. On the level of the
the History in one important sense: by leading him to the view that learning about scientific method must be inductive and therefore historical. As he wrote to Jones in 1831, “I do not believe the principles of induction can be either taught or learned without many examples.”248 Examples, then, are needed to fill out the details of this broadly inductive view, and they are to come from knowledge of both current science and the history of science. That Whewell expected the required instances to