As a general proposition, the history of science shows every science growing into a more abstract science, one higher in our scale.
The art of medicine grew from the Egyptian book of formulas into physiology. The study of the steam engine gave birth to modern thermodynamics. Such is the historical fact. The steam engine made mechanical precision possible and needful. Mechanical precision rendered modern observational precision possible, and developed it. Now every scientific development is due to some new means of improved observation. So much for the tendency of the arts. Can any man with a soul deny that the development of pure science is the great end of the arts? Not indeed for the individual man. He uses them, just as [he] uses the deer, which I yesterday saw out of my window; and just as in writing this lecture I am burning great logs in a fireplace. But we are barbarians to treat the deer and the forest trees in that fashion. They have ends of their own, not related to my individual stomach or skin. So, too, man looks upon the arts from his selfish point of view. But they, too, like the beasts and the trees, are living organisms, none the less so for being parasitic to man’s mind; and their manifest internal destiny is to grow into pure sciences.
Next consider the descriptive sciences. The proverb that history is philosophy teaching by examples, is another way of saying that the descriptive science of history tends to grow into a classificatory science of kinds of events of which the events of history are specimens. In like manner astronomy under the hands of Sir William Herschel rose from the tiers état of a descriptive science to the rank of a classificatory science. Physical geography is more or less following the same course. So likewise is geology. Galton, de Candolle, and others have endeavored to elevate biography into a classificatory science.
Next look at the classificatory sciences. Linguistics is becoming more and more nomological. Anthropology is tending that same way. On the physical side of the schedule, zoology and botany have made long strides toward nomology during the last half century. The wonderful law of Mendeléeff and the development of Williamson’s ideas go toward accomplishing the same result for chemistry. To become nomological is manifestly the destiny of such sciences.
Now let us proceed to the nomological sciences, general psychics, or psychology, on the one hand, general physics on the other. Both of these branches are surely developing into parts of metaphysics. That is their aim. We are far enough from that goal yet. Nevertheless, all the world plainly sees it before us in distance, “sparkling in the monstrous hill.”
Metaphysics in its turn is gradually and surely taking on the character of a logic. And finally logic seems destined to become more and more converted into mathematics.
Thus, all the sciences are slowly but surely converging to that center.
There is a lesson there.
—Charles S. Peirce, “Philosophy and the Conduct of Life”, CP 1.616-648, reprinted in The Essential Peirce: Selected Philosophical Writings, 1893-1913, Indiana University Press, 1998, pp. 38-39
(Posted in support of semi-idiotics.)