Henri Poincaré - Science and Hypothesis (1902)
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Principles are conventions and definitions in disguise.
But, one will say, if raw experience can not legitimatize reasoning by recurrence, is it so of experiment aided by induction? We see successively that a theorem is true of the number 1, of the number 2, of the number 3 and so on; the law is evident, we say, and it has the same warranty as every physical law based on observations, whose number is very great but limited. But there is an essential difference. Induction applied to the physical sciences is always uncertain, because it rests on the belief in a general order of the universe, an order outside of us. Mathematical induction, that is, demonstration by recurrence, on the contrary, imposes itself necessarily, because it is only the affirmation of a property of the mind itself.
We can not... escape the conclusion that the rule of reasoning by recurrence is irreducible to the principle of contradiction.... Neither can this rule come to us from experience... This rule, inaccessible to analytic demonstration and to experience, is the veritable type of the synthetic a priori judgment. On the other hand, we can not think of seeing in it a convention, as in some of the postulates of geometry.... it is only the affirmation of the power of the mind which knows itself capable of conceiving the indefinite repetition of the same act when once this act is possible. The mind has a direct intuition of this power, and experience can only give occasion for using it and thereby becoming conscious of it.
When we say force is the cause of motion, we talk metaphysics, and this definition, if one were content with it, would be absolutely sterile. For a definition to be of any use, it must teach us to measure force; moreover that suffices; it is not at all necessary that it teach us what force is in itself, nor whether it is the cause or the effect of motion.
Is the position tenable, that certain phenomena, possible in Euclidean space, would be impossible in non-Euclidean space, so that experience, in establishing these phenomena, would directly contradict the non-Euclidean hypothesis? For my part I think no such question can be put. To my mind it is precisely equivalent to the following, whose absurdity is patent to all eyes: are there lengths expressible in meters and centimeters, but which can not be measured in fathoms, feet, and inches, so that experience, in ascertaining the existence of these lengths, would directly contradict the hypothesis that there are fathoms divided into six feet?