Cambridge Essays on Education eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 229 pages of information about Cambridge Essays on Education.
that even if scientific knowledge be widely diffused, any great change in the composition of the ruling classes is scarcely attainable under present conditions of social organisation.  Even if science stand equal with classics in examinations for the services the general tenor of the public mind will in all likelihood be undisturbed.  Yet it is for such a revolution that science really calls, and come it will in any community dominated by natural knowledge.  Science saves us from blunders about glycerine, shows how to economise fuel and to make artificial nitrates, but these, though they decide national destinies, are merely the sheaf of the wave-offering:  the harvest is behind.  For natural knowledge is destined to give man not only a direct control of the material world but new interpretations of higher problems.  Though we in England make a stand upon the ancient way, peoples elsewhere will move on.  Those who have grasped the meaning of science, especially biological science, are feeling after new rules of conduct.  The old criteria based on ignorance have little worth.  “Rights,” whether of persons or of nations, may be abstractions well-founded in law or philosophy, but the modern world sooner or later will annul them.

The general ignorance of science has lasted so long that we have virtually two codes of right and duty, that founded on natural truth and that emanating from tradition, which almost alone finds public expression in this country.  Whether we look at the cruelty which passes for justice in our criminal courts, at the prolongation of suffering which custom demands as a part of medical ethics, at this very question of education, or indeed at any problem of social life, we see ahead and know that science proclaims wiser and gentler creeds.  When in the wider sphere of national policy we read the declared ideals of statesmen, we turn away with a shrug.  They bid us exalt national sentiment as a purifying and redeeming influence, and in the next breath proclaim that the sole way to avert the ruin now menacing the world is to guarantee to all nations freedom to develop, “unhindered, unthreatened, unafraid.”  So, forsooth, are we to end war.  Nature laughs at such dreams.  The life of one is the death of another.  Where are the teeming populations of the West Indies, where the civilisations of Mexico or of Peru, where are the blackfellows of Australia?  Since means of subsistence are limited, the fancy that one group can increase or develop save at the expense of another is an illusion, instantly dissipated by appeal to biological fact, nor would a biologist-statesman look for permanent stability in a multiplication of competing communities, some vigorous, others worthless, but all growing in population.  Rather must a people familiar with science see how small and ephemeral a thing is the pride of nations, knowing that both the peace of the world and the progress of civilisation are to be sought not by the hardening of national boundaries but in the substitution of cosmopolitan for national aspiration.

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