H. C. Carey Philosophy and Method

Henry Charles Carey, Philosophy and Method

Carey's philosophy is, after all, rather simple and easily understood. It is highly charged with that sort of idealism which has animated the growing American nation. He believed in the conquest of nature by man: associa­tion spreads; mental power supersedes muscular; man's control over nature grows. With similar significance the power of the state is confidently invoked to give America industrial inde­pendence. And there is manifest an allied tendency to take the subjective point of view.

Carey's method may be considered as a curiosity. It is truly unique. It is a mixture of all methods. He says in one and the same breath that the English were wrong in using too exclusively the deductive method, and that the mathematical method is the correct one. He accuses others of neglecting facts for hypotheses, and himself immediately makes the most astounding suppositions. He complains that political economy has not advanced beyond the metaphysical stage of knowledge, and at the same time represents inspiration and intuition as the highest branches of the tree of knowledge, since they are the sources of other sciences. But intuition is the source of the metaphysical method, and inspiration of the theological.

Carey's fundamental supposition, the one which would per­haps logically come first, is that the laws of physical science are those of social science, since one uniform and harmonious law governs mind and matter. The laws "instituted for the government of matter in the form of clay and sand" are "the same by which that matter was governed when it took the form of man, or of communities of men." It follows that one and the same method is to be pursued in the investigation of all sciences, a conclusion which at present it would be impossible to prove. To do him justice, Carey himself does not make any attempt to do so.

As, in his opinion, the same laws govern mind and matter, society and the material universe, it is not surprising to find him employing the technical terms of physical sciences, and making use of forced analogies between social phenomena and those of external nature. He speaks of man, for example, as the molecule of society, and describes his gregarious disposition as the law of molecular gravitation. Because large cities attract more people to them than small cities, and attract more people from their immediate neighborhood than from a great distance, he feels warranted in asserting that "gravitation is here, as everywhere, in the direct ratio of the mass and the inverse one of the dis­tance."

A little reflection shows that such a statement is extremely misleading and even absurd.

Inconsistency. — Carey possessed much originality, but lacked a scientific training. His work is unsystematic and not without glaring inconsistencies. Thus he holds that better and better lands are taken under cultivation and lower prices result; while elsewhere we are told that the growth of industry makes the price of subsistence higher. While admitting that in market centers the means of life are dearest, he asserts that a dense pop­ulation through the power of association makes things cheaper.