Jude stood ready at the front of the lecture hall waiting for the students to arrive. He had not had a drink for a few days and he was feeling strange: a combination of anxiety and a numb trance- like state. He was looking down at his rather sparse notes which he had fished out of his waste paper basket, when Robert and Sophia arrived. He began the lecture exactly on time:
“Today I am going to talk about Science and the Theory of Knowledge. I begin with a quote from Aristotle’s “Nichomachean Ethics” which I believe I have mentioned before:
“Every art and every inquiry and similarly every action and choice seems to aim at some good, accordingly the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim.”
“Let me say right away for those of you who have heard firstly, my ethical criticisms of some forms of science and, secondly, my criticisms of those scientists who believe that science is more concerned with exploration and experimentation than explanation and understanding, that I believe the pretensions of this subject exceed its achievements especially when it concerns the understanding of the human sphere of existence. I, of course, acknowledge the considerable achievement of scientists in the realm of physics, chemistry and biology and am keenly awaiting the general unified theory of all regions of Science, which is lacking at present
Let me also say that I am largely in agreement with both Plato and Aristotle’s definition of knowledge as Justified True Belief. In spite of the modern remonstrations of many scientists claiming that their theories only provide models of reality, which is probably true in the absence of a general unified theory, their aim must surely be at the good that in this context must be, understanding the truth. Aristotle as part of his method asks us to take heed of what the common man regards as the truth, because even here amongst common men if someone claims something to be true which they know to be false, it is said that such men lack understanding. Another aspect of Aristotle’s method is to consult the wise man who uses the same criterion as the common man, the only difference being that the wise man will be considerably more rigorous in his examination of his beliefs and will not cease his investigations until an understanding of principles is reached: principles which can be philosophically defended and justified.
Understanding is also aimed at in the so called practical sciences such as ethics where it is claimed that the good to be aimed at is related to our understanding of action and its relation to ultimate ends such as the flourishing life. The term used by the Greeks was eudaimonia that as mentioned earlier has unfortunately been problematically translated into the English term “happiness”. According to Aristotle the flourishing life lacks nothing and will therefore include both theoretical and practical understanding of reality. Through the flourishing man’s theoretical understanding of reality there will be an understanding of reality as an infinite continuum that brings with it a realisation that one of the problems with searching for a general unified theory of all physical phenomena, is that these phenomena are conceptualisable in different ways. It may be useful in this respect to talk about the mathematical scientists’ activity of describing and explaining motion in the world. He regards the motion as starting at a particular point and as coming to rest at another. These points divide the infinite continuum of space into a discrete length or unit. The motion thus traces a line in infinite space between the two points. The distance may be measured purely spatially in terms of length or more complexly in terms the time the motion takes. The scientist may proceed further and using a category of his understanding, namely causality, ask the question “What caused the motion?” In the inanimate physical world the cause would lie outside the object that was moving. If the object moving was a billiard ball, and had been caused by the impact of another billiard ball, we can continue asking the causal question until we arrive at a cue striking the ball, and a man acting to bring about the first movement. We can, that is, map a history of motion in a theatre of space all the way to the biological flexions and contractions of the muscles of the billiard player’s body, the chemical actions and reactions, in and amongst the cells involved, and the chemical elements involved. Notice how the transcendental question of causation that, by the way, is not directly derived from experience as Hume so acutely proved, is organising this whole field of experience. The field can also be organised by so called metaphysical laws such as matter and energy cannot be created or destroyed and, which like transcendental categories such as causality or transcendental intuitions of space and time, cannot in themselves be experienced but function as conditions of experience. If we wished to completely map the psychological theatre of human space we might begin to look at a non- physical elements such as the choice of a human to play billiards, to focus their attention on just this segment of the billiard table in order to play their shot, in order to score points in order to win the billiard game, in order to win some money, in order to pay the rent, in order to have a safe base to bring up the family etc. etc. Had the billiard player lost the game and lost his money for the rent we could have then posed the ethical ought- question: “ought he to be gambling and risking the security of his family?” Notice now the difference between the physical and non- physical chains of causation: notice how the former seem to move backward in time until we encounter a source and notice how the former “causes” stretch forward in time in order to rest at an end. With the introduction of the action and choice of an agent we leave the domain of the forever fluctuating continuum of the physical world and enter into the world of the mind or soul which can perceive think and reason in relation to its actions. We encounter therewith a stream of reality where the principle of movement no longer lies outside of the object moving but rather within the moving object. The human billiard player is not caused to move by outside forces as he would be if he fell off a cliff, but rather causes himself to move by amongst other things his tactical and strategic thoughts concerning which ball to play and how to position his white after the play in order to pot as many balls as possible and win the game. His actions occur in the field of physical causes and these can be investigated by the sciences mentioned above. The billiard ball of course is an artifact and has therefore a mixed theoretical and practical history that would take us outside the immediate theatre of the game of billiards. The same is true of the agent who is a composite of causes of different kinds. We have referred in earlier lectures to the importance of Aristotelian hylomorphism in our explanations of such diverse kinds of phenomena. In a complex human situation such as the game of billiards all 4 causes or kinds of explanation will be needed for a complete explanation and understanding of all of the phenomena involved. Two kinds of explanation will be needed for the material involved in the motion and the immediate proximal causes of the bringing about of motion in the game. Two of the causes or kinds of explanations will refer to the intentions, tactics and strategies tied up with the agents involved in the game and also perhaps to life projects and plans extending beyond the space-time continuum of the game. These latter two types of explanation will combine what Aristotle called the formal and final causes. All 4 causes are interwoven.”
Robert raised his hand and asked:
“Is there a science of game-playing?
“Interesting question given the fact that you major in Physical Education. Aristotle used the term “Science” much more broadly than contemporary science would countenance. For him there were the theoretical sciences, the practical sciences and the productive sciences. We moderns need to bear in mind that the word “aitiai” in Greek, which we translate as “cause”, actually bears the meaning of the basis or ground for something. Aristotle’s 4 cause’s schema then translates into 4 kinds of foundation or explanation. Modern science would probably reject at least one if not two of these foundations. The formal cause or foundation in contemporary science is certainly of secondary importance in comparison to the material cause or foundation. The inner structural organisation of the material will explain the forms it takes and not vice versa. To the physicist the teleological movement forward to an end instead of backward to a source will be an anthropomorphic view of the process of material motion. To the biologist the study of animate forms of life must involve teleological explanation that in its turn perhaps involves a hierarchy of principles all moving the organism towards maturity or a flourishing life or telos. Perception and locomotion needs are integrated with nourishment growth and reproduction needs. If one needs the language of mathematics to express everything here perhaps one can say that the flourishing life equation will be composed of the values of these variables. Now to directly answer your question: animals do not engage in game playing in general or billiards in particular but in terms of our human playing billiards, Aristotle would examine these activities in accordance with their contribution to a form of life which has a need for theoretical understanding of the world, a need for acting with the best practical intentions, and he would investigate how these higher level activities transform and integrate with such lower level activities as nutrition, growth and reproduction. To take just one example: the flourishing human life would engage in having friends for dinner and conversation where all manner of things would be discussed and reasoning about these things would occur. After dinner activities may include billiards or cards or other games where the point of the activities will be to show ones knowledge or skill by playing well: winning or losing gracefully and in the latter case hopefully having learned something in the process of losing. All of this will occur as part of the flourishing life—the full account of which we will get only by combining both Aristotle’s and Kant’s thoughts about the matter. For Aristotle, Ethics is a practical science and involves practical modes of understanding. For Kant, Ethics is logical and systematic and the following of principles of action is not merely connected to pleasure, as is the case with game playing: for Kant one has an obligation to follow the principles of ethics as a matter of character. So, in answer to your question, there can be a science of game playing but only in relation to the broader meaning of “science” embraced by Aristotle. But someone who thinks that theoretical science with the rules of procedure which constitute its method can explain game playing is confusing the theoretical with the practical.”
A Science major raised their hand and asked:
“But surely has not science shown time and again that reducing a whole to its parts and examining the functioning of those parts is the road to discovering important things about the whole. Was it not Aristotle who divided the phenomenon of the weather into four elements and two processes: earth, water, air, fire, hot and cold, wet and dry?
“In a sense the infinite continuum has to be divided but the question is how and into what kinds of parts. Perception obviously begins the process on the basis of discriminating differences, and the understanding subsequently unites the manifold parts under a basic unit of thought whose basic function is to connect things. Thought can connect particulars such as those that make up the meaning of the name Socrates, and particulars which have something in common with each other such as the past present and future exemplars of wise people…”
The Science major interrupted:
“It would be useful to know what mechanisms are involved in the thinking of universals.”
“The process begins with experience and memory of, for example, manifold exemplars of men which are initially discriminated by the processes of perception but then subsequently these differences are abstracted away and the exemplars are subsumed under one concept or term which we call “man”. Perception itself becomes organised in this process and we learn to perceive wholes on the basis of having conceived these wholes. These processes or mechanisms allow us then to move on to the next stage of thought when we say or think that “Socrates is mortal”: this latter is a true judgment that has the structure of thinking something about something. This stage of the process allows propositions to be connected in valid arguments and it also allows demonstrations or proofs to be constructed and understood. This would very roughly be Aristotle’s account. The point of all processes for Aristotle must be connected to actualising forms potentially contained in the material concerned. Remember that he was committed to an idea of matter that lacked form and as such matter was something fundamentally indefinite, which cannot therefore be thought to have a nature. To return to your weather example: a weather system is obviously an organised system containing 4 elements and two processes. Take any of these elements or processes out of the system and the remaining elements would behave in different ways. The so called elements in themselves will not be pure material but rather be form-ed . This can actually be more clearly seen if we focus our attention on biological life forms: on animals and their parts, for example bones, limbs, heart, liver, kidneys, lungs, brain etc. which in themselves are composites of form and matter. Confronted with these parts we have a choice posed by the modern chemist or the ancient biologist, Aristotle: we can move backward in time linearly and look for the material cause, eventually resting at the material of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen nitrogen, sulphur, phosphate and a few trace materials: we could, however on the other hand look instead for the formal and final cause, proceeding forward in time and discovering that these parts are in service of the life principle of the organism if we are dealing with the parts of non- rational animals or, alternatively, the flourishing life principle if we are dealing with the parts of rational animals.
Robert raised his hand:
“So Aristotle is definitively saying that the body is there for the sake of the soul”
“Yes, this would be essential to his holistic program. He would seriously question any analysis of the whole into parts that did not have reference to the whole. Saying as some scientists do that bodies are merely swarms of particles would have been incoherent as far as Aristotle was concerned.”
“What about the slogan “Mens sana in corpore sano”?”
Well Latin may be regarded as a classical language but its translation of Greek terms has not always been very useful for scholars seeking to academically reconstruct Greek thought. The above quote seems to be neutral on the question of the priority of its elements. It may, that is, be purely descriptive and translatable into the dualist statement “A healthy mind in a healthy body” or more neutrally “a healthy mind healthily embodied”. The quote also, I suppose raises the question of the relation of the mind to the soul. Some commentators feel the two terms are identical, but I think that identification is mistaken. The soul, for me, is the more universal comprehensive idea because it more naturally includes the idea of something physical as a substrate and bearer of potentialities that will be actualised during a complex process of development. I say, “includes” here but perhaps the better term would be “regulates”, not in the way something physical regulates something else physical but rather in the way in which a law regulates an event. On this continuum of development powers will build upon powers and lead the organism from merely being alive to the possession of a flourishing life. These powers or capacities will include discriminatory perception, conceiving, the perceiving of something as something, the thinking of something and the thinking something about something, and finally, acting, in order to bring about the various forms of the good. To use the concept of a mind here appears to be unnecessarily cumbersome because it seems more difficult to think of the mind as containing an idea of the body as Spinoza hypothesized. It also seems difficult to believe that the mind can be the bearer of powers or capacities. The term “mind” goes back to Old English and perhaps there was this non- physical spiritualist aspect already present in the old English use of the word, or alternatively, it could have been the Latin translation which introduced the spiritualist connotation. There also seems to be a natural tendency to attribute minds to humans only. It does not, for example, make sense to say of animals that they have lost their mind. This particular fact inclines one to the position that mind is a power, but a power of what? The body? The person? I do not deny that some of these difficulties will also haunt the idea of the soul. If animals cannot lose their minds in the way humans can, then this may suggest that frogs either are not capable of leading flourishing lives or that the word “flourishing” in the context of animals has purely a biological significance.
Let me conclude by distancing myself from the flat world of the billiard table, where the event of one billiard ball impacting another encourages the idea that we are witnessing two events happening and not just one holistic change. Aristotle takes us to the building- site to reflect upon such matters: houses are built on building sites, and, according to Aristotle there is only one activity going on and that is the builder building the house. One change is occurring. The divided whole, namely, the builder building and the finished house are theoretically possible at a descriptive level. But we should not then proceed from this theoretical possibility to ask about the practical relation between the two events. Answers will necessarily be two-dimensional and appeal to billiard- ball kinds of mechanisms linking these two “imaginative hypotheticals”. This process of the house being built is teleological. The process is conceptualized in terms of the end of the activity, or the good being brought about by the activity. Proceeding in the opposite direction in search of a linear regression and asking about the event preceding the part of the activity one is currently perceiving will cut the whole process into unrecognizable ribbons. One terminus of such a scientific regression could end somewhat paradoxically in Platonism. Here the search may end up at an idea of the house in the builders mind. Another possible outcome of this scientific regression is that the process is broken into so many fragments that no principle uniting them into a whole activity can be thought of or imagined. In the attempt to frantically re-introduce the whole into the fragments, mereological fallacies are committed such as “the brain understands language”: which a number of brain researchers believe to be true. A brain is a part of a man but only a man understands language. You can try, as some have, to avoid the issue by placing “understand” in quotation marks but that will not help matters. You will also need to make highly artificial stipulations to the effect that “by “understand” I mean that such and such brain circuits will jump into operation. Neural circuits of course jump into operation when I perceive a cat, or move a muscle or eat my food or when I am pricked by a pin. When this is pointed out the neural scientist then sets out to find differences between neural circuits. That is, he tries to find an Aristotelian form embedded in the neural circuits. The whole investigation at this point has become so convoluted that the philosopher does not have the heart to tell the scientist he is looking in the wrong place. Next week we will continue this Odyssey when we ask whether the Human Sciences or Psychology can contribute anything to this epistemological debate. Psychologists, when they detached themselves from Philosophy in 1870 took two life rafts with them: one was the method of science which we have discussed almost ad infinitum not to mention ad nauseam, and they also took a second life raft: the concept of consciousness. Will this method and the concept of consciousness permit a reunification of the two subjects or will we find in this concept, the attempt to restore dualism in more modern dress. What we will find is that there is a refusal to reduce red to anything physical: whether it be angstrom units or neural circuits but there is also a subsequent problem of defining consciousness so that it can be the home of holistic powers such as reasoning and the home of simple qualities such as the perception of the quality of redness. Now, the perception of red whilst being very physically dependent upon physical substrata is nonetheless never identical with such substrata.
The whole is greater than the sum of the parts or, perhaps more accurately the parts are less than the sum of the whole.
Finally I would like to recommend two impending events. Tomorrow our resident Welsh genius Dr. Glynn Samuels will be giving a lecture entitled “The World suffered and the world explored”. This will be the opening lecture of a series of four on Religion, Philosophy, and Education. The first lecture is open invitation in the lecture hall but the following lectures will require a signing up process. I believe there are only eighty places available. The second event will be a series of seminars given by Dr. Harold Middleton on “The Psychological aspects of the world suffered and the world explored”.