The Principles Giveth and the Principles Taketh Away

In Chapter 1 of Book I of the Physics, Aristotle touches on the nature of a science, by which he means a body of knowledge.  A science is anything about which you can have certain knowledge as opposed to mere opinion.  Both philosophy and geometry are sciences in Aristotle’s sense.

But the point he makes, or rather makes use of, is this.  Every science has certain principles on which it is founded.  By its nature it takes these principles as given.  For example, geometry assumes certain definitions and axioms; physics presumes multiple beings in motion.

A science is responsible only for those conclusions that can be drawn from its principles.  Indeed, it is only competent to judge propositions that purport to be drawn from its principles.  Other propositions are outside of its field of view, and it cannot address them.

Among these propositions is the one that says, "This principle, upon which you base your science, is wrong."  No science is competent to pass judgment on the principles upon which it is based.  This is not to say that this is a question of no importance to the practitioners of the science in question; clearly, it’s crucial.  But it cannot be addressed in terms of the science itself.  It must be addressed on some higher, prior basis.

And this is why, of course, that experimental science as it is practiced today is not competent to address questions such as the existence of God, or the nature of human consciousness, neither of which are explainable in terms of controlled experiments involving the movement of atoms. 

As a blog post I read recently pointed out, modern experimental psychology and neuro-biology takes great pains to eliminate the effects of rational human choice from its experiments.  Such experiments are testing Man not as Rational, but as Animal, and naturally they miss the mark here too.

Comments are closed.