MOST of us, at those rare intervals when we think at all, do so in a slipshod sort of way. If we come across a mental difficulty we try to get rid of it in almost any kind of hit or miss manner. Even those few of us who think occasionally for the mere sake of thinking, generally do so without regard for method—indeed, are often unconscious that method could be applied to our thought. But what is meant by method? I may best explain by an example. From somewhere or other, a man gets hold of the idea that the proper subjects are not being taught in our schools and colleges. He asks himself what the proper subjects would be. He considers how useless his knowledge of Greek and Latin has been. He decides that these two subjects should be eliminated. Then he thinks how he would have been helped in business by knowledge of bookkeeping, and he concludes that this subject deserves a place in the curriculum. He has recently received a letter from a college friend containing some errors in spelling. He is convinced that this branch of knowledge is being left in undeserved neglect.
Or he is impressed by the spread of unsound theories of money among the poorer classes, and he believes that everybody should receive a thorough course in economics and finance. And so he rambles on, now on this subject, now on that. Compare this haphazard, aimless thinking with that of the man of method. This man is confronted with the same general situation as our first thinker, but he makes his problem a different one. He first asks himself what end he has in view. He discovers that he is primarily trying to find out not so much—what subjects should be taught in the schools? as— what knowledge is of most worth? He puts the problem definitely before himself in this latter form. He then sees that the problem—what knowledge is of most worth?, implies that what is desired is not to find what subjects are of worth and what are not, but what is the relative value of subjects. His next step, obviously, is to discover a standard by which the relative value of subjects can be determined; and this, let us say, he finds in the help a knowledge of these subjects gives to complete living. Having decided this, he next classifies in the order of their importance the activities which constitute human life, and follows this by classifying subjects as they prepare for these activities. Needless to say, the results obtained by this thinker will be infinitely more satisfactory than those arrived at by his unsystematic brother.