Scientist: Science Is Anti-Rationalistic, Naive

Political absolutism, scholastic philosophy, determinism, history of science: we are all over the place in this week’s readings. Let’s get to it.

Here are the readings for the coming week:

  1. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, Book VI (GBWW Vol. 51, pp. 235-274)
  2. Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes, Part I, Chapters 8-12 (GBWW Vol. 21, pp. 66-84)
  3. The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, Part I, Questions 86-89 (GBWW Vol. 17, pp. 461-480)
  4. Sonnets LI-LV by William Shakespeare (GBWW Vol. 25, p. 594)
  5. Principles of Psychology by William James, Chapter XXIII, beginning to heading “Special Human Instincts” (GBWW Vol. 53, pp. 700-712)
  6. Science and the Modern World by Alfred North Whitehead, Chapters II-III (GBWW Vol. 55, pp. 144-162)

I hope no one minds my confessing that I’m pretty tired of William James.

Here are some observations from the last week’s readings:

  1. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, Book V: Here come the Freemasons. Pierre joins and attempts to recruit Prince Andrew. Tolstoy cleverly describes how Pierre’s newfound humanitarianism doesn’t do anyone any good despite his efforts. Meanwhile, Denisov gets into trouble for thrashing the corrupt official who had withheld food from his soldiers, and Nicholas has his faith in the emperor shaken when he witnesses the proceedings at the signing of the peace with Napoleon in 1807.
  2. hobbes-leviathanLeviathan by Thomas Hobbes, Introduction and Part I, Chapters 1-7: I haven’t read these chapters since graduate school. Today I have even less sympathy for Hobbes’s attempts to reason from materialistic first principles. It is interesting that he anticipates certain ideas in Newton and Hume a generation or two later. There’s also that naivete common in the mid- to late 17th century that if we could all just define our terms clearly enough, all disagreements would vanish. We need to do everything like geometry, “which is the only science that it hath pleased God hitherto to bestow on mankind.”
  3. The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, Part I, Questions 84-85: Here begins a new section dealing with “the acts and habits of the soul in regard to the intellectual and appetitive powers.” These two questions are part of a discussion of “how the soul understands when united to the body.” St. Thomas argues that we can gain intellectual knowledge through the senses, and that the soul when united to the body is hindered if the senses are diminished. Article 4 of Q. 85 argues that we cannot understand multiple things at the same time.
  4. Sonnets XLVI-L by William Shakespeare: “My grief lies onward and my joy behind.” The poet writes these words of #50 not while he is heading to the dentist, but as he is journeying away from his friend. I am tempted to reproduce all of #46 here because it’s about as perfect as love poetry can get: “Mine eye and heart are at a mortal war / How to divide the conquest of thy sight.” That, my friends, is passion.
  5. Principles of Psychology by William James, Chapter XXIII: This is a transitional chapter. After hundreds of pages discussing what James himself characterizes as a “jungle of purely inward processes and products” (memory, sensation, imagination, perception), the author pivots to a treatment of the “final or emergent operations, the bodily activities, and the forms of consciousness connected withal.” The chapter runs for a mere seven pages. James makes brief references to certain involuntary bodily operations: sweating, the catching of one’s breath, contraction of pupils, the patellar reflex, etc. But these are just pauses on the way to lengthier treatments of other movements in subsequent chapters.
  6. Science and the Modern World by Alfred North Whitehead, Chapter I: We’re off to a promising start, with Whitehead’s description of science as “anti-rationalistic” and “naïve.” Those were the good old days when even the intellectuals who had rejected religion recognized and gave due credit to Christianity for disciplining the Greek philosophical inheritance and laying the foundations of modern science. Whitehead (in 1925) says that it’s time for science to get philosophical and critique its own foundations. Otherwise it’s in danger of degenerating into “a medley of ad hoc hypotheses.” Tell me more.

I was thinking while composing this post that I desperately need to update the list of completed works on the main page for this project on the site. I won’t have time to attend to that in the next two weeks, in all likelihood. Travels and graduation this week, then more travels next week. Thank goodness for ebooks!

About Dr. J

I am Professor of Humanities at Faulkner University, where I chair the Department of Humanities and direct online M.A. and Ph.D. programs based on the Great Books of Western Civilization. I am also Associate Editor of the Journal of Faith and the Academy and a member of the faculty at Liberty Classroom.
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