The Growth of American Thought

By Merle Curti | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIII The Advance of Science and Technology

To one great lesson the world is beginning to listen: Faith in human power. The truth it enforces is all potent for good. Before it, every obstacle must eventually give way, and to it every element and influence in nature will be subject. Not till mechanical as well as ethical science is fully explored and universally applied can man attain his destiny and evil be swept from the earth.

-- THOMAS EWBANK, 1855

How many fine inventions are there which do not clutter the ground? We think that those only succeed which minister to our sensible and animal wants, which bake or brew, wash or warm, or the like. But are those of no account which are patented by fancy and imagination, and succeed so admirably in our dreams that they give the tone still to our waking thoughts?

-- HENRY THOREAU, 1843

Closely connected with the equalitarian currents of the second quarter of the nineteenth century was the continued progress of natural science. It was no longer the concern merely of learned men and the cultivated few; the life of the common people increasingly provided science with new problems, and common people even helped to solve them. The rapid progress in science was thus partly the result of the awakening of the people in the ordinary walks of life, and it was also one of the causes of this awakening.


The Continued Stimulus of Patriotism, Religion, and Utilitarianism

The advance of democracy as a factor in scientific thought and activity did not exclude the continued operation of traditional forces. The early patriotic zeal for initiative and achievement sufficient to free America from the charge of thralldom to Europe still motivated

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