01 November 2015

That Scientific Air

[I]n the popular mind, there is a manifest association of political innovation with scientific advance. It is not uncommon to hear a politician supporting an argument for a radical reform by asserting that this is an Age of Progress, and appealing for proof of the assertion to the railway, the gigantic steamship, the electric light, or the electric telegraph. Now it is quite true that, if Progress be understood with its only intelligible meaning, that is, as the continued production of new ideas, scientific invention and scientific discovery are the great and perennial sources of these ideas. Every fresh conquest of Nature by man, giving him the command of her forces, and every new and successful interpretation of her secrets, generates a number of new ideas, which finally displace the old ones, and occupy their room…[but] experience shows that innovating legislation is connected not so much with science as with the scientific air which certain subjects, not capable of exact scientific treatment, from time to time assume. 
- Sir Henry Sumner Maine, Popular Government.

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