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  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: August 2014

20

Summary

All this may seem very obvious, but even here there is often a good deal of confusion, since the most ‘useful’ subjects are quite commonly just those which it is most useless for most of us to learn. It is useful to have an adequate supply of physiologists and engineers; but physiology and engineering are not useful studies for ordinary men (though their study may of course be defended on other grounds). For my own part I have never once found myself in a position where such scientific knowledge as I possess, outside pure mathematics, has brought me the slightest advantage.

It is indeed rather astonishing how little practical value scientific knowledge has for ordinary men, how dull and commonplace such of it as has value is, and how its value seems almost to vary inversely to its reputed utility. It is useful to be tolerably quick at common arithmetic (and that, of course, is pure mathematics). It is useful to know a little French or German, a little history and geography, perhaps even a little economics. But a little chemistry, physics, or physiology has no value at all in ordinary life. We know that the gas will burn without knowing its constitution; when our cars break down we take them to a garage; when our stomach is out of order, we go to a doctor or a drugstore.