Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Foundations of Jaki's Philosophy

Fr. Jaki notes in his autobiography (p.162) that a fellow priest physicist could not figure out his stance as a philosopher from reading The Relevance. Jaki does provide some clues and it doesn't take long to realise that he had little esteem for positivism or materialism and especially not Kantian Idealism. The less said the better about the transcendental Thomists, or Aquikantians as he christened them.
Yet Fr. Jaki was reluctant to be called a Thomist also, unless Thomism was to be equated with metaphysical realism. (p. 169, A Mind's Matter) This should not seem too surprising. While Thomas' great service to science was his unyielding defence of realism and the Christian Creed, his lack of interest in experimentation and critically his concordist stance on Aristotle's physics, makes it difficult to construct a uniquely Thomist Philosophy of Science.
Of course, if Jaki considered himself a fully-fledged Thomist I would merely be repeating myself by referring to my philosophical stance as a 'Jakian Thomist'! However, it is Jaki's integration of a Thomist realist perspective into the Philosophy of Science and crucially in a non-concordist manner with the science of the moment that I think will give Jaki's thought perennial credence.
The following quotation provides one of the clearest statements of how Jaki builds the foundations of his philosophy:

[The basic constant of philosophy] consists in the necessity of taking one or the other of the alternatives: Does man create reality by having ideas about it, or do ideas depend on man's registering reality? Moreover, since reality is registered primarily through the registering of the size, the magnitude, or quantity of a thing, does it follow that the reality of a thing is exhausted by its quantitative parameters?

In fact, it seems to me that these choices are so fundamental that it is not possible to work out a consistent system of philosophy without adopting one or the other of those alternatives. Of course, only if one takes the realist alternative, is it possible to work out a philosophical system which can be communicated by a real means, such as a book. Although physical things reveal their reality primarily through their quantitative size, a set of quantitative measures is never equivalent to physical reality, let alone the source of it. If, however, such is the case, the exactness of quantities will never become an arbiter over ontological questions such as causality, freedom, and purpose.
[Numbers Decide: Planck's Constant and the Constants of Philosophy, Numbers Decide and Other Essays, p. 18-19]

Jaki concludes that such a system will give justice to both philosophy and science through the strict demarcation line between quantities and everything else. Or put simply, it's about recognising the fundamental difference between 123's and ABC's.

~ Jakian Thomist

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