Literature, Science, and Dogma. A review of Science and Poetry, by I. A. Richards
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44 ] Literature, Science, and Dogma1 A review of Science and Poetry, by I. A. Richards New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1926. Pp. 96. The Dial, 82 (Mar 1927) [239]-243 Mr. I. A. Richards is both a psychologist and a student of literature; he is not a psychologist who has chosen to exercise his accomplishments at the expense of literature, nor is he a man of letters who has dabbled in psychology . One might expect, in our time, to come across numerous individuals of his species; but the double gift, rarer than the double training, is rarely given; and Mr. Richards is almost alone.2 The Foundations of Aesthetics and The Meaning of Meaning (works of collaboration) are books which will certainly gain in importance and estimation.3 His first wholly original book, The Principles of Literary Criticism, is a milestone, though not an altogether satisfactory one.4 Mr. Richards had difficult things to say, and he had not wholly mastered the art of saying them; it is probable that what he has there said with much difficulty, he will be able to say better. The presentlittlebookmarksadistinctadvanceinMr.Richards’powerofexpression and arrangement. It is very readable; but it is also a book which everyone interested in poetry ought to read.5 The book is notable not because of providing the answer to any question. Such questions as Mr. Richards raises are usually not answered; usually they are merely superseded. But it will be a long time before the questions of Mr. Richards will be obsolete: in fact, Mr. Richards has a peculiar gift for anticipating the questions which the next generations will be putting to themselves. And the question which he asks here is one of the greatest moment;torealizethisandkindredquestionsisalmosttobeunablethenceforth to keep one’s mind on any others.6 Exactly what these questions are will cause us some trouble to explain. This book of ninety-six small pages is, first of all, an enquiry into a new and unexplored aspect of the Theory of Knowledge: into the relation between truth and belief, between rational and emotional assent. It is an essay in The Grammar of Belief; the first intimation that I have met with that there is a problem of different types of belief.7 It touches on the immense problem of the relation of Belief to [ 45 Literature, Science, and Dogma Ritual.8 It sketches a psychological account of what happens in the mind in theprocessofappreciationofapoem.Itoutlinesatheoryofvalue.9 Inciden­ tally,itcontainsmuchjustobservationonthedifferencebetweentruepoetry and false. One cannot swallow all these concentrated intoxicants in ninetysix small pages without becoming a little dizzy. Mr. Richards’ importance – and I have suggested that he is indeed important – is not in his solutions but in his perception of problems. There is a certain discrepancy between the size of his problems and the size of his solutions. That is natural: when one perceives a great problem, one is the size of one’s vision; but when one supplies a solution, one is the size of one’s training. There is something almost comic about the way in which Mr. Richards can ask an unanswerable question which no one has ever asked before, and answer it with a ventriloqual voice from a psychological laboratory situated in Cambridge. Some of his faiths seem to be knocking each other on the head. “. . . Our thoughts are the servants of our interests,” he says on page 22: it is the up-to-date psychologist speaking. But as we read on we find our thoughts turning out to be very poor servants indeed. For it appears to be to our interest (what is to our interest, we ask) to hold some kind of belief: i.e. a belief in objective values issuing from objective reality. One would expect Mr. Richards to maintain – and he does maintain in part – that “science” is purely a knowledge of how things work, and that it tells us nothing of what they ultimately are. “Science,” he says, “can tell us nothing about the nature of things in any ultimate sense” (63). In that case, we should expect that science would leave “the nature of things in their ultimate sense” quite alone, and leave us free to “believe,” in the “ultimate” sense, whatever we like. Yet science does interfere with the “ultimate,” or Mr. Richards would not have had to write this book; for his view is just that science (restricted though it be) has squashed the religious, ritual, or magical view of nature upon which poetry has...