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DEFINITION AND HISTORY OF THE SCIENCE.
$ 1. POLITICAL or NATIONAL ECONOMY is that branch of the science of man which treats of man as existing in society, and in relation to his material wants and welfare. It is therefore a subdivision of the science of Sociology, or the science of social relations, which itself is a subdivision of the greater science of Anthropology, or the science of man.
$ 2. It has been objected by some that there can be no such thing as a science of man. “Science,” they say, “ deals only with things whose actions and reactions can be foretold, after we have mastered the general laws by which they are governed. The test of science, as Comte says, is the power of prediction. There is a science of Chemistry, because there is a possibility of foretelling what compound will be produced by the union of any two elements or known compounds. But man is not governed by laws of that sort; he is a being possessed of affec tions and a will, which often act in the most arbitrary way,-in a way that no one can foresee or predict.”
This objection expresses a truth which can never be left out of sight. If we ignore it we shall miss the conditions under which man's material welfare is to be achieved. Men can never be pu: to a good use of any sort, while they are regarded or treated as things. To do so will be to keep them poor, as well as to degrade them morally; for the best work and the wisest economy can be got out of them, only by bringing their free will into play in the desirable direction.
But the possibility of constructing a science of man does not rest upon the power to foresee the line of action that each individual man will pursue. Man lives in a world which his will did not create, and whose " constitution and course of nature" he cannot change. If he act in violation of its laws, he must take the penalty. Thus if he indulge in habits that contravene the constitution of his moral nature, then moral degradation, unhappiness and remorse will be the necessary results. Because there is such a moral “constitution and course of nature,” there is a science of ethics, which enables us to predict, not the conduct of each individual man, but the consequences of such conduct, whatever it may be. And there exists equally for society an economic “constitution and course of nature;" the nation that complies with its laws attains to material well-being or wealth, and the nation that disobeys them inflicts poverty upon itself as a whole, or upon the mass of its people. To learn what those laws are, is the business of the student of social science; to govern a nation, according to them is the business of the statesman, and is the art of national economy.
While men are beings possessed of a will, they ordinarily act from motives. This is especially true of their conduct in regard to their material welfare; in this connection the same motives act with great uniformity upon almost all men. The same wants exist for all; the same welfare is desired by all; so that in this department of the science of man there is so little caprice, that there is nearly as much power to foresee and foretell what men will do, as in some of the sciences to foresee the actions of things. Nearly, but not quite so much ; for while men are agreed as to the end here, there is room for dif. ference of opinion as to the means, and consequently for variety of action—for wise and unwise ways of procedure.
$ 3. What the science of man and of society lacks in certainty,
SOCIETY A PRIMARY FACT.
as compared with the sciences of nature, it more than makes up in the higher interest that it excites. Whatever science deals with our own species and its fortunes, comes very close to each one of us. Whatever it can tell us of the probable future of our nation, or our race, concerns us more than predicted eclipses or chemical discoveries. The most brilliant chemical or astronomical certainty could not move an Englishman so deeply as that bare conjecture of Macaulay, that the time may come “ when some traveller from New Zealand shall take his seat on a broken arch of Westminster bridge to sketch the ruins of St. Paul's.” The other sciences have an independent value ; but they interest us most when we see that they have a bearing upon this, when they open still larger utilities of nature to human possession, and add to the welfare of mankind. We ask the chemist : 5. Shall the time ever come when we shall no longer be dependent upon our coal deposits for light and warmth, but shall be able to produce both from the decomposition of water ?” We ask the physicist : “ Shall we soon be able to use this subtle, omnipresent electric force as a motive power ? Shall we ever be able to move through the air in manageable balloons, with speed and safety ?” These are not the greatest problems that science has to solve, but they have an interest for us all that more abstract questions can never possess.
§ 4. Our Science considers man as existing in society; we find him, indeed, nowhere else. The old lawyers and political philosophers talked of a state of nature, a condition of savage isolation, out of which men emerged by the social contract, through which society was first constituted. But no one else has any news from that country; everywhere men exist in more or less perfectly organized society;—they are born into the society of the family without any choice of their own; and they grow up as meinbers of tribes or nations, that grew out of families. All their material welfare rests upon this fact, and must be considered in connection with it. The coöperation by which they emerge from the most utter poverty to wealth, is possible only within society and under its protection. Upon