Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The Historical and Ontological Unification of Modern Knowledge

Lesson 9 is bringing a lot more theology into the mix. Bonsor's approach perplexes me a little, but I'm not always clear where his views stop and the views of the theologian or philosopher in question begin.

What is "historicism"? Illustrate the unification of knowledge by history.

Historicism is the use of history or the sequence of events as the means of unifying human experience and knowledge. Prior to the modern era, history was used solely as an object lesson. Thucydides wrote his history of the Greek states in an effort to teach Roman politicians about political problems. In the Pagan world, history was simply the cycles of change over time. However, the modern mind took the cyclical aspect and stretched it out to "reveal" an evolutionary aspect of history. Each stage of history demonstrated incremental advances in human knowledge determined solely by the conditions of those periods.

As evolution posits a series of random changes that lead to progression of forms, historicism is a series of random events that lead to a progression in societal/cultural terms.

Frankly, it's odd to speak of of evolution or history as progressions if taken in their modern usage. Progress imples a goal. In the case of both evolution and history, there is no goal. There is only change. One can suggest that survival is the goal, but that's inaccurate. Survival is a means toward something. It is not a state but a process, and a process can never be an end.

What is the difference between an Aristotelian metaphysics and a Scotistic metaphysics?

Scot's metaphysics are the starting point for all disciplines. It is the starting point from which other disciplines derive. In this sense, it's similar to Plato's metaphysics, which reduce all knowledge to a single source, the One.

For Aristotle, metaphysics is what follows the other disciplines and unifies them. Essentially, the goal of Aristotelian metaphysics is to unify human knowledge. To unify existing disciplines, it must follow those disciplines. However, as the unifying "science," it is the first science (or the supreme science).

Another distinguishing characteristic is that Scot's metaphyiscs wind up with God as the One or highest order of being. In Aristotle's metaphysics, the first mover is immaterial and not of the order of Being.

Why do many modern philosophers rejected the validity of metaphysics and claim that metaphysical concepts are meaningless?

For idealists working from the Kantian perspective, metaphysics are impossible because they would only reflect the catagories that our minds project onto our experience. At best, for Kant, we might have some commonality of our projections due to the similarity of those mental categories. For modern-day idealists, I assume that metaphysiscs is impossible solely because every subjective experience has been ratified as valid and legitimate, leaving no hope for a single, unified truth.

For empiricists, there's no need for metaphysics. Natural science is supposed to explain all based on the four foundational forces (gravitation, electromagnetism, string nuclear bonds, and weak nuclear bonds). Essentially, empiricists who hold this view see no means of critiquing natural science except through the lense of natural science, which leaves us in a question-begging death spiral.

The problem is that these forces may very well not be the only four forces. They're simply the only four forces of which we currently have empirical data. Empiricism traps itself in a fishbowl from which it can only look out and from which it can never escape.

What is "onto-theology"?

This term was coined by Heidegger to describe metaphysics that reduced God to the highest order of being. For Plato and Scotus, the concept of Being includes God (hence, is onto-theological), for Aristotle and Aquinas, God is the cause of or principle of Being, thus placing Him outside of Being.

How does an Aristotelian-Thomist metaphysics unify knowledge without a reduction of the autonomy of the special sciences and without falling into onto-theology?

An Aristotelian-Thomist metaphysics follows the disciplines, so it doesn't impose its own methods on them. Because it follows them, it can only presume the knowledge that derives from them, which means it can point to some first cause, but it cannot identify a Being within the horizon of the sciences that can be that first cause. Therefore, any first cause is apart from Being in the sense that can be confirmed with certainty by natural or any other human sciences.
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