I FIND myself in fundamental agreement with Dr. Waddington, though I should base my argument on an epistemology more explicit than his own. To start off, I would aver, with Mach, that “bodies or things are compendious mental symbols for groups of sensations—symbols that do not exist outside of thought”. The basis of all knowledge is experience. So–called external objects are constructs from experience: equally the doctrine of evolution and the view of the universe summed up in the Ten Commandments are constructs from experience. Of course, the experience may be partial: elements in it may be false (that is to say, unconfirmed by the majority of our fellow–men). The activity of the mind which links together elementary perceptions and fashions the constructed symbol may be inadequate to make a symbol which shall cohere with other symbols as we try to picture some wide region of the universe in which we find ourselves. But by a process of trial and error, in which the individual constantly checks his experience by that of others, the race has gradually created, among other ideas, those which we distinguish as external objects, laws of Nature and ethical principles.

Author information

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

BIRMINGHAM, E. THE RELATIONS BETWEEN SCIENCE AND ETHICS. Nature 148, 274 (1941) doi:10.1038/148274a0

Download citation


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.