Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Thinking about why our Society exists

Yes, I've been busy... I wish I could give you a full report, but it's boring, and not useful for us.

On the other hand, I continue to struggle with the idea of an introduction, or at least a suggestion of which SLJ book to start with. Sooner or later I will have to try to get something together, even if it is just a series of blogg-postings - but that will depend on time and other complexities. As time may permit, I will try to sift and collect and organize; should you have suggestions regarding this, do let me know.

For today, please consider this brief excerpt:
Socrates argued that the motion of matter was expressive of purpose, namely, that all bits of matter tried to achieve what was best for them. Therefore, so Socrates thought, if one looked in such a way on matter, one could not object to assuming that man also sought what was best for him in that fullest sense which is an eternal reward (or punishment) for man's actions.

This train of thought of Socrates was first developed into a systematic explanation of the physical world in Plato's Timaeus, where the world is described in terms of an organism in which every part acts for a purpose. An even more systematic treatment of the same organismic (animistic) notion of the universe was given in Aristotle's Meteorologica, which deals with the sublunary world, and in his De coelo or his account of the nature and motion of the heavenly bodies. In both works the notion of an organism, of a living body, is the framework of explanation. In De coelo Aristotle explicitly states about the cosmos that it is a living being or animal that has the perfect shape, the shape of a sphere. Quite crudely organismic or animistic are, however, the analogies which Aristotle uses in the Meteorologica. Thus he presents earthquakes as the results of a digestive process that goes on in the bowels of the earth.

This organismic perception of the physical world invited man to view nature, as he does his own nature, introspectively and volitionally. This could but discourage the genuinely scientific, that is, quantitative approach to matter and motion among the Greeks. It did the same, as was noted above, in all ancient cultures in all of which science suffered a stillbirth. In other words, in spite of some promising insights and technological achievements, science failed to emerge as a self-sustaining enterprise. Only one culture, the premodern Christian West avoided that failure through a process that began with Buridan and Oresme, continued with Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo, and culminated in Newton.

[SLJ "Giordano Bruno's Place in Science" in Numbers Decide and Other Essays 214-5]
Here, we need to grasp not so much the animistic error of the ancient Greeks, but the error of proposing an "impassable divide" between Science and Philosophy. This sort of error is all too common in current institutes of higher learning, nearly all of which have forgotten (or vetoed) Newman's warning about the matter:
...if you drop any science out of the circle of knowledge, you cannot keep its place vacant for it; that science is forgotten; the other sciences close up, or, in other words, they exceed their proper bounds, and intrude where they have no right.
[JHN "Discourse IV. Bearing of Other Knowledge on Theology" in The Idea of a University]
Newman uses the word "science" to stand for any ordered field or discipline of study. Note, of course, that by symmetry what applies to Theology applies to Science and each of its divisions as well - but we'll examine that interesting topic some other day. (And yes there is lots more to say.)

For Science and Philosophy what matters is the Real World. (Otherwise, we have only fantasy, and one might enjoy that, but cannot do reasoning about it: that way leads solipsism and then Nothing.) We live in the Real World, the world of water, rocks and iron, of sun and moon, of trees and wheat and grapes, of lambs and scorpions, fish and turtledoves; the world in which "Jesus Christ suffered under Pontius Pilate" - and this Truth is the culmination of both Science and Philosophy, for as St. Paul tells us, in Him are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. [see Col 2:3] Some people use the world "anthropocentric" about the universe; in reality it ought to be Christocentric, which is not a new idea: we attest it every Sunday the Nicean creed when we say Per quem omnia facta sunt = "Through Him all things were made."

Only when Christianity gave us that key - the right relation of Man to the Universe, revealed in Christ - could we cease making those absurd mistakes of the ancients: uranocentrically treating the "heavens" (the "superlunary regions" as they used to be called) as divine and hence beyond our study, or the egocentric mistakes of the moderns, applying philosophy or science to matters out of their rightful arenas. And this key principle was not revealed by Newton or by Galileo, who derived his work from Stevin and Cardanus, who built on Jordanus Nemorarius (fl. 1320) and who is linked to Buridan and Oresme, by whom that key WAS revealed. (All this is explained at length in several places in SLJ's writing, e.g. Science and Creation.)

And this revelation was itself revealed to us by Duhem's work of a century ago, as Jaki's work now reveals it by revealing Duhem's.

Remember: "...for a Catholic [such as Duhem] the Middle Ages could not be the Dark Ages. He [Duhem] knew that there was more genuine light in a single page of Thomas Aquinas than in entire volumes written by the champions of the Enlightenment." [SLJ "Christ and the History of Science" in A Late Awakening and Other Essays]

Let us then do as Chesterton stated, and "revert to the doctrinal methods of the thirteenth century, inspired by the general hope of getting something done." [GKC Heretics CW1:46]

For "all depends on what is the philosophy of Light." [ibid]


Postscript. As I re-read this before posting, I realized that some of it may be considered "fighting words". That may be the case - but I have no "opponent" to whom I am addressing them, neither real nor imaginary. If I failed to state things in a positive sense, that is because I am limited, and perhaps all too rushed in trying to get SOMETHING written during a brief pause in other business. But let me say this: if they are fighting words, perhaps we can speak about them at a Duhem Society Conference - which, please God, we shall have one day. These bloggs and comment-boxes can only do so much, alas. But maybe after all I have written poorly - and so I suggest you read more Jaki, rather than my own fumblings.

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