Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Scientific Demonstration in Aristotle, Theoria, and Reductionism

Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Scientific Demonstration in Aristotle, Theoria, and Reductionism

Article excerpt

THE IDEA THAT SCIENTIFIC METHODOLOGY IS CONCERNED with the attainment of theoria or intellectual perception of substantial natures is articulated by Aristotle in, for instance, Parts of Animals: "Even these, by disclosing to intellectual perception the artistic spirit that designed them, give immense pleasure to all who can trace links of causation, and are inclined to philosophy." (1) Notions such as this do not usually arise in modern discussions of Aristotelian scientific methodology. In this paper, I wish to explore the notion that Aristotelian scientific methodology as formulated in the Posterior Analytics is in fact concerned with tracing such "links of causation" in a way that allows entities to disclose their "artistic spirits"--their substantial natures--to the theoretical intellect.

The scientific methodology to be considered offers a counter-reductionist approach to nature. Simply put, reductionism is interested in entities not for their own sake, but only insofar as they lead to effects. Our knowledge of entities is thus exhausted with the apprehension of the effects they produce. Aristotelian methodology as I interpret it, by contrast, is primarily concerned with entities in themselves. Entities are causes, to be sure, but their effects are not simply results, which, after they are produced, have no further relation to their causes. Rather, the effects that arise from entities are manifestations of their formative natures and so refer back to them. Scientific investigation, accordingly, can use such manifestations to gain knowledge of entities. It therefore grants an ontological integrity to entities above and beyond the effects to which they give rise.

Most accounts of Aristotelian methodology suppose that the primary concern of scientific demonstration is not entities and their substantial natures, but the attributes belonging to them. Of course, demonstration is also about attributes. But I contend that the ultimate aim of demonstration is not knowledge about attributes themselves, but knowledge of substantial natures through the attributes belonging to an entity. Indeed, the supposition that demonstration is principally about attributes is implicitly reductionist, for attributes are then taken as an effect in the sense that they are necessitated by their cause, the substance to which they belong. As I will show later, this reduces the subject to simply an occasion for attributes. A consideration of this necessitative concept of demonstration will help us to become aware of our own reductionist presuppositions and highlight the counter-reductionist features of the alternative I am presenting.

Because this paper is a conceptual exploration and does not attempt to give a definitive interpretation of Aristotle, I shall occasionally avail myself of the help of philosophers in the Aristotelian tradition, such as Thomas Aquinas. Moreover, I seek to make the ideas of Aristotle an active participant in the current discussion on an adequate approach to nature, and so I will make use of modern philosophers like Edmund Husserl and Ian Hacking. These authors will assist me to present the issues in a way that emphasizes their epistemic and counter-reductionist significance. I shall also bring in ideas from such philosophers as William Ockham and G. E. L. Owen, because they serve as a useful foil for the interpretations I will be advancing. In addition, works of Aristotle other than the Posterior Analytics will be found relevant, because Aristotle makes many comments throughout his corpus which help to clarify his scientific methodology.

In this paper, I will first give an overall presentation of how demonstration is used to attain knowledge of substantial natures. I will then discuss the metaphysical background of demonstration as understood in this way. Some elaboration of this background is required in that a methodological stance towards reality always corresponds to presuppositions as to the fundamental nature of the latter. …

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