From the fact of motion we can go two ways: either we can treat motion according to its quantity, in which will divide motion according to a physical, numeral unit (which we get to make) or we can view it according to its way of being, which will divide it according to its principles of existence. In the first way, we get numerical values that can be combined and manipulated to yield an immense amount of power and knowledge; in the second way we get at what is most foundational and governing in our understanding of things. In practice, the first way requires a method that involves a specialized and controlled experience; the second method requires an analysis that stays on the level of our initial experience of things. To say that it relies on our initial experiences is not to say that it it uncritical or takes the experiences at face value. Both the kinds of endeavor are highly critical, analytic, and rigorous; but not according to the same methods.  

The success of the division of motion according to its quantity- modern physics- serves as a model for all the other sciences of its kind, are now called simply “science”. The success of this brach of science makes it seem to many that it is the only possible kind o critical, rigorous and analytic account of physical experience. This is unnecessary. Would it be less true if it were not the only kind of analysis? This would be like thinking that man is less true since he is studied by anatomy and anthropology; or because he’s seen and heard. 


  1. Peter said,

    June 26, 2008 at 3:09 pm

    If both are knowledge of nature, both are required for a full understanding of nature. It would be lopsided to develop one without the other. Why, then, do you think quantitative knowledge was not developed only until comparatively recently? (Ignorance of that approach or something else?)

  2. a thomist said,

    June 26, 2008 at 4:27 pm

    Maybe best to answer a question with a question: why has the more basic and foundational study of nature fallen into oblivion? Everyone gives a knowing and condescending chortle at the Aristotelians of Galileo’s time who wouldn’t look up the telescope. Our modern “scientific arguments against God’s existence”, or the immateriality of the soul, for example, are every bit as ridiculous- and in fact are the same sorts of arguments as the Aristotelians gave against the moon having bumps (and I’m not even convinced that this was anything other than a small, vocal, group- if not a mostly myth).

    A large part of it was the awareness of the importance of things that can only be grasped by a specialized experience: electricity, magnetism, radioactivity, nuclear force, EM waves, etc.

  3. Peter said,

    June 26, 2008 at 7:22 pm

    What kind of contribution does the one make to the other?
    It seems to be generally admitted among thomists that the more fundamental study of nature exercises the role of wisdom in regard to the sciences. I take that to mean that if they come up with some boneheaded new theory that entails the denial of a demonstrated truth, true philosophy can say, “quiet, you….” But this seems to hold only when science ventures off the reservation and into philosophical concerns. Is there, then, no positive role for the philosophy of nature in relation to science? And what about the other way around?

    I see how they differ in approach but I’m not clear on how they are related, other than having the same object.

  4. a thomist said,

    June 27, 2008 at 3:42 am

    Well, for example, everyone agrees that Aristotle’s idea of a pulse wave in the air keeping the projectile going isn’t the case, even though this was used in Aristotle’s PoN. It turns out we needed a more particularized and specialized experience to really verify what keeps projectiles moving. There are grey areas in the PoN that require a more specialized experience to answer, just as there are grey areas in science which require the modes of analysis proper to PoN. Teleology seems to be a good example. It seems very often that we should be able to get it out of science, but this is a chimera. There are other examples too.

    Science also has a positive role to play in the PoN. One example is the theory of evolution. PoN could not have come up with this on its own- it required a specialized experience- but having come up with it, it explains a good deal in the PoN, and the latter can make a contribution to evolutionary science as well.

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