Aristotle and modern sciences, part I

One of the passages that sheds a great amount of light on the success of Modern science is from Posterior Analytics, where Aristotle, after showing that science is not possible through an act of sensation, qualifies his statement by saying:

There are cases when an act of vision would terminate our inquiry, not because in seeing we would be knowing, but because we would illicit the universal from seeing; if, for example, we saw pores in the magnifying glass and the light passing through, the reason for the burning would be clear to us, because we would know what must be so in all cases as soon as we saw one instance.

APo 1: 31, 88a. 11

Aristotle here eludes to an optical hypothesis held in his day; sc. that light focused by being channeled through pores in the magnifying glass (like happens with fiber optics). If the pores could simply be seen, then science- even in Aristotle’s strict sense of science- would be had immediately.

Much of the great success of modern sciences is from this kind of augmenting of sense power allowing us to see the middle term immediately: the telescope shows that there is a stellar parallax and that all the planets are rough and bumpy and breakable; the microscope shows that living things are made of cells, and that all animals come to be from eggs; perfectly milled machines show that light moves and that its speed does not increase when the light source moves, and that a change in a gas can be understood by change in either temperature, pressure, or volume. None of these things are hypothetical, even though many started out as hypotheses, nor do they fall short of even Aristotle’s rigorous standard of scientific knowledge, for we can simply see that they are true. All we have to do is look- or at least, in most cases, believe the one who has actually looked.

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