The Philosophy of the Act

By George Herbert Mead; Charles W. Morris et al. | Go to book overview

VI
HISTORY AND THE EXPERIMENTAL METHOD

HISTORY has enrolled itself among the sciences that make use of the experimental or observational method, i.e., the historian professes to be ready to approach the solution of any problems that appear within his field in terms of scientific method. If he finds that some of his material belongs to the fields where the scientific method is not welcomed, he is likely to undertake to free his own problem of the reconstruction of past events from these other issues and attempt to keep within his own field a clean scientific conscience. That this has proved again and again an impossible program is abundantly shown in fields of higher criticism and evolution. In fact, it has been the history of dogmas that has brought more than one metaphysical problem into the range of scientific investigation. The scientific treatment of religious institutions, beliefs, and experiences has arisen in each case out of the history of these subjects. Given an orderly statement of the situations out of which these have arisen, it is impossible to avoid the hypothesis of the causal relation of these conditions to the appearance of the institutions and beliefs, and the testing of this hypothesis is found in the observation of the changes which it undergoes in the presence of like conditions.

There is one question which I should like to broach upon which scientific method in history has a direct bearing. Does the import of significance of the results of historical investigation and consequent reconstruction belong to the past where these events lie, or is it to be found in the present and future? Otherwise stated, do we know the past through the present, and the future in so far as the test of our hypotheses depends upon future observation and discovery, or is the knowledge we are gaining knowledge of the present and future through the

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