Review of The Scientific Habit of Thought by Frederick Barry
The Scientific Habit of Thought. By FREDERICK BARRY. New York: Columbia University Press, 1927. Pp. ix+358. $3.50.
Philosophers of science have given much time and thought to the problem of scientific procedure, but their achievement is far out of proportion to their effort. The deficiency, the reviewer suspects, comes simply from the failure to study scientists as they are engaged in their scientific work. To interpret the basic ways of scientific thought in terms of formal logic; to construe them so as to bear out a particular philosophical bias; to select some particular scientific technique and project it as the method of science in general; to elaborate in verbose fashion some common aphorism concerning science—such approaches have been legion. But to inquire into scientific thought in a scientific manner is a rare attack, one getting hints of it only in such works as those of Mach, Clifford, and Poincaré.
Dr. Barry is eminent as a scientist, and is equally trained and able in the history of science. His experience and knowledge should fit him peculiarly well to study scientifically scientific thinking; but the reader who anticipates such a treatment in this book will experience keen disappointment. Dr. Barry gives us, instead, a number of essays, constructed and written in true essay form. This type of approach accomplishes his expressed aims but scarcely measures up to one's hopes.
As essays Dr. Barry's discussions are good. They are suggestive, argumentive, clever, and stimulating. He strives to tell us about the nature of science and the scientist, the nature of scientific fact and theory, and the rôle and opportunity of scientific thinking in modern life. In this he succeeds very well, subject to the inadequacies which mark an essay approach to a scientific problem. The depicting of the scientist as a cold-blooded, tough-minded, highly curious individual seems a little odd and unrepresentative. One misses any appreciation of the historical and accidental genesis of the "scientific attitude" which Dr. Barry somehow regards as the inevitable possession of a certain kind of individual. The discussion of the Nature of Fact could be improved by pondering over George Mead's unduly neglected article, "Scientific Method and the Individual Thinker." But such deficiencies are not to be regarded as serious for this type of work. Its reading will amply repay one who approaches it with the proper understanding of its character.
UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO