In order to explain ourselves clearly as to the conception of method, and method of action, which play such an important part in War, we must be allowed to cast a hasty glance at the logical hierarchy through which, as through regularly constituted official functionaries, the world of action is governed.
Law, in the widest sense strictly applying to perception as well as action, has plainly something subjective and arbitrary in its literal meaning, and expresses just that on which we and those things external to us are dependent. As a subject of cognition, law is the relation of things and their effects to one another; as a subject of the will, it is a motive of action, and is then equivalent to command or prohibition.
Principle is likewise such a law for action, except that it has not the formal definite meaning, but is only the spirit and sense of law in order to leave the judgment more freedom of application when the diversity of the real world cannot be laid hold of under the definite form of a law. As the judgment must of itself suggest the cases in which the principle is not applicable, the latter therefore becomes in that way a real aid or guiding star for the person acting.
Principle is objective when it is the result of objective truth, and consequently of equal value for all men; it is subjective, and then generally called maxim if there are subjective relations in it, and if it therefore has a certain value only for the person himself who makes it.
Rule is frequently taken in the sense of law, and then means the same as Principle, for we say “no rule without exceptions,” but we do not say “no law without exceptions,” a sign that with rule we retain to ourselves more freedom of application.
In another meaning rule is the means used of discerning a recondite truth in a particular sign lying close at hand, in order to attach to this particular sign the law of action directed upon the whole truth. Of this kind are all the rules of games of play, all abridged processes in mathematics, &c.
Directions and instructions are determinations of action which have an influence upon a number of minor circumstances too numerous and unimportant for general laws.
Lastly, method, mode of acting, is an always recurring proceeding selected out of several possible ones; and methodicism (METHODISMUS) is that which is determined by methods instead of by general principles or particular prescriptions. By this the cases which are placed under such methods must necessarily be supposed alike in their essential parts. As they cannot all be this, then the point is that at least as many as possible should be; in other words, that Method should be calculated on the most probable cases. Methodicism is therefore not founded on determined particular premises, but on the average probability of cases one with another; and its ultimate tendency is to set up an average truth, the constant and uniform, application of which soon acquires something of the nature of a mechanical appliance, which in the end does that which is right almost unwittingly.