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Professor Felix Adler of New York spoke last night at Appleton Chapel on the transition from University life to that of the outside world. University life, he said, is often thought to unfit a man for success in after life, and the question arises, is the scientific training of the University ethically so different from that necessary to attain a definite object, that in which worldly success exists, that it renders a man unable to accomplish anything after his college training? In this connection a college training is understood as a thorough training in science, the bringing of a man into the scientific spirit, of which the chief law is first to obtain facts and observations, then from them to form and verify ideas.
The exact sciences differ so much from actual work in the outside world that training in the former seems to make a man useless for the latter, for exact science calls for consideration of every detail, while in life we have as a rule no further calculations than rough approximations of probabilities. This fact tends to make the man trained in science hesitate when any question comes up, weighing so long the advantages and disadvantages of any plan of action that he cannot bring himself to act in any definite way. What then are the advantages of a scientific training, what is the ethical value of knowledge as training for the attainment of the end for which we are living? Before answering this let us consider what is the end towards which we are striving. We regard the world as striving towards perfection and our end is accomplished if we help it in that province over which we have control, that is by the elevation of society.
Scientific training is of ethical value in some indirect way, but of greatest value in the direct way that it teaches us to look at things in an objective way, that is, to eliminate our personal equation. This is of great importance in science, but of even more and of far greater difficulty in the domain of conduct, for this latter is the study of our relations with our fellow men. In the domain of conduct we must, not as in science, have first ideas and conform to them acts and facts. Such ideas are meant as those instinctive in the human mind, as personal freedom, popular autonomy, and social justice. These always have been controlling agencies of society.
We may see that while there may be much indifference and indecisiveness in the world, it need not be simply on account of scientific training. This we have seen may lead to indecision, but it need not if we make use of it only to fit our minds for an objective standpoint, and if we remember the distinction between the fundamental principles in the domains of science and of conduct.
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