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LIST OF AUTHORS REVIEWED.

BAIN, ALEXANDER

BOYD, WILLIAM

BRANDFORD, V. V..

BRYCE, JAMES

CAIRD, EDWARD

CALDECOTT, ALFRED

CARPENTER, EDWARD

CROOKER, JOSEPH H...

DEVINE, EDWARD T..

DOLE, CHARLES F..

DUFF, ARCHIBALD

DURKKEIM, E.

FINCK, HENRY T.....

FIVE HINDU SCHOLARS.

FOERSTER, FR. W.....

FRANKLAND, F. W...

GALTOX, FRANCIS

GAYE, R. K.....

GEDDES, P.

GIBSON, W. R. Boyce.

GILMAN, N. P.......

GODFREY, W. S.......

GRIGGS, EDWARD HOWARD.

HAGGARD, H. RIDER...

HALDANE, RICHARD BURDON.

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INTERNATIONAL

JOURNAL OF ETHICS.

OCTOBER, 1904.

THE BIAS OF PATRIOTISM.

I. Bias is that attribute of the mind which causes it to accept as true, on relatively slight evidence, that which agrees with its sympathies, and to reject or minimise that which is opposed to its sympathies, although the evidence be relatively strong. Of all the characteristics of the human mind, this is, perhaps, the most constant; and yet, striking as it is in others, of its existence in ourselves we are but faintly conscious. Each individual may be said to enter the world obliquely; he is the center or meeting point of forces, all tending to distort his outlook upon the universe of which he is part. First, there are those strongest and most comprehensive of all forms of bias, the bias of self and the bias of sex. On the social side there are the sympathies which draw the individual towards a certain class; which identify his interests with those of a certain profession or trade, a certain family, town, district, or country. On the intellectual side he is impelled towards certain forms of education, certain schools of thought, certain ideals of culture, certain political or social creeds. On the religious side he may accept with the utmost avidity everything which favours a certain belief or doctrine, or may have a strong natural bent towards some phase of agnosticism. And so on through all branches of literature and art. Vol. XV-No. 1.

I

No one would contend for a moment that these leanings were in themselves bad. It may be safely asserted that without them we should have no enthusiasm, no heroism, possibly, also, very little character. If we were to eliminate bias, we should at the same time destroy the element which gives piquancy and zest to life, for it is the tendency to see things wrongly, and not as they really are, which is one of the prime causes of interest. In the views of strongly biased people, there is always something picturesque and charming. It is thus that personality reveals itself. A man's emotions are allowed to emphasise, to colour his case, without exciting in us any repugnance; we are content to listen and enjoy. We may say, then, that inasmuch as bias gives variety to life, it is good. It quickens the intelligence, fires the imagination, calls forth unsuspected powers.

It is only when we approach the problem of the value and function of truth, that the really mischievous side of bias comes into view. Few would assert that to know the exact truth, under all circumstances, is either desirable, or would be conducive to the greatest happiness. To see things and people precisely as they are is happily not possible to understandings such as ours; but if it were, it is clear that some of the greatest joys of life would be gone. How far happiness depends upon the purest illusion is a perfectly legitimate subject of philosophic inquiry. But ignorance, even if sometimes conducive to bliss, is far oftener the cause of innumerable forms of suffering; and for the purpose of the present inquiry, it must be assumed that it is in the direction of greater knowledge that we must look for the true development and happiness of mankind. Now the sum of truths that it is possible for the individual to discover for himself, is relatively very small. In the vast majority of cases, they are limited to the ordinary facts of everyday life. The truths which relate to other lives, other things and times, pass into his experience through the minds of other men. Human life being at best a mere flash, and the sum of knowledge practically infinite, the utmost that any single mind can accomplish is to make a hasty selection. Now if all knowledge could be reduced to the condition of science, the effect of bias would be no more serious than the production of an army of specialists, each with an exaggerated view of the importance of his own department, but each disseminating some small portion of recognized truth. But the knowledge which is not “reasoned and classified,” and the conclusions which are waiting for verification, form, and will probably always form, the main object of interest to the ordinary mind. In every department of thought we are confronted with opinions having all the weight of an ill-defined authority, which are greatly divergent, and often diametrically opposed. The position of the lay mind is thus one of difficulty and responsibility. Consciously or unconsciously it will select, and it is of much importance to determine on what principle this selection is to be made. Are we honestly desirous of getting hold of the truth-or what must correspond to the truth in this world in which the absolute is unattainable; or is the acquisition of truth to be regarded as subordinate to the agreeable process of having our existing beliefs confirmed? It is owing to the baneful influences of bias, that the essential difference of these two positions is not clearly seen. As a consequence the progress of knowledge, despite the more perfect arrangement for its dissemination, is retarded. Brilliantly expressed errors, cunning appeals to the affections, mistaken zeal, make a long fight against a prosaic truth. Energy is wasted in endless correction, and unwelcome discoveries are ignored or suppressed.

Bias is an affair of feeling, and it would be absurd to expect, even in an ideal society, an invariable enthusiasm for pure truth. As a practical question, all that may be hoped for is to bring home to the average mind a more or less clear consciousness of bias. Under ordinary circumstances, this quickened consciousness is manifested by a certain difference in attitude towards supposed authority on debatable questions. It is recognized that here also bias is at work. The conclusions towards which the sympathies of the teacher lead him are subjected to close scrutiny, and conversely the admissions made with evident reluctance are freely accepted.

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