The Nature of Physical Reality: A Philosophy of Modern Physics

By Henry Margenau | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
Preliminary Survey of Reality

1.1. INTRODUCTORYREMARKS

To GAIN KNOWLEDGE of general principles by way of abstract exposition is a possible but not an expeditious course. It seems wiser to approach them with a large but well-defined project in view, a project which calls for continued and varied application of the principles to be studied, and which may serve at once as goal and as illustration. The principles under discussion in this book make up the subject known as the epistemology of science, or more simply as the philosophy of physics and its related disciplines. The project selected as the specific goal of our investigation is to determine the meaning of physical reality.

We do not start with a fixed set of ideas. In the earlier chapters of the book an attempt is made to condense the vague and unformed matrix of popular and semiscientific concepts that surround the problem of reality into increasingly definite concerns and into progressively specific questions. The terminology will be diffuse at the beginning but will attain sharpness as the work proceeds. A philosopher may, therefore, without harm to understanding (and perhaps to save himself annoyance) pass lightly over the first two or three chapters of the book. In the present chapter we desire to focus attention upon three rather obvious components of the real: the enduring, the thing-like, and the efficacious.

A quest for the real inspires most of the efforts of our race. It fills the scientist with curiosity and zeal for new adventures; it sets the mind of the philosopher to a contemplation of past pinnacles of thought; it leads the historian to scrutinize the recorded deeds of man for constant patterns. It flares in the exuberance of the mystic and congeals to dogmatism in the reliant

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