The following lecture was prepared for the students of Hillsdale College, MI, with the kind support of the Hillsdale Catholic Society.
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Common Sense, Science, and the Pursuit of Wisdom
John G. Brungardt
Lecture for the Hillsdale Catholic Society
5 December 2017
It is a commonplace to claim that science and religion offer conflicting viewpoints. Those who try to prove that they are in conflict are answered by as many who argue that they are not opposed. Some of these latter defenders of harmony have pointed out that the real conflict is not between science and religion but between poor philosophical arguments that use science and religious faith.1 However, some of those maintaining the opposition between science and religion are outdone by those who go a step further and proclaim that science and philosophy are also in conflict. For instance, consider these three philosophical topics: God, the universe, and the human soul. Scientist Stephen Hawking has proclaimed that philosophy is dead; astrophysicist Lawrence Krauss argues that the universe arose out of “nothing,” obviating the need for God as the ultimate cause.2 Evolutionary biologists, geneticists, and neuroscientists sometimes try to undermine the possibility of a spiritual human soul.3 But are science and philosophy truly opposed? Have they any meaningful connection? To answer such questions, we need the help of a third source of knowledge, “common sense.” Now, by “common sense” I do not have in mind Thomas Paine’s little book or the vague colloquial notion of everyday practical knowledge, at least not exclusively. The “common sense” we will be discussing does share aspects of this colloquial meaning. The more accurate terms are “common experience” and “common conceptions.” The connection between common experience, science, and the pursuit of wisdom (or philosophy) was easier for the ancients to see; it is more difficult for us today. Let us see how common sense, science, and philosophy work together.
2. The Manifest vs. the Scientific Image
It is best to start with a difficulty or problem to see why an answer to the question “Do common sense, science, and philosophy work together?” would be meaningful. To see why common sense, science, and philosophy might not work well together, let us consider an apparent conflict between common sense and science. The conundrum has been well expressed by the English astrophysicist Sir Arthur Eddington. His text is worth reading in full.4
I have settled down to the task of writing these lectures and have drawn up my two chairs to my two tables. Two tables! Yes; there are duplicates of every object about me—two tables, two chairs, two pens. This is not a very profound beginning to a course which ought to reach transcendent levels of scientific philosophy. But we cannot touch bedrock immediately; we must scratch a bit at the surface of things first. And whenever I begin to scratch, the first thing I strike is—my two tables.
Let us call the first table the “manifest table,” the one that clearly exists because we can see and touch it. The second table is the “scientific table.” Eddington first describes the manifest table:
One of them has been familiar to me from earliest years. It is a commonplace object of that environment which I call the world. How shall I describe it? It has extension; it is comparatively permanent; it is coloured; above all it is substantial. By substantial I do not merely mean that it does not collapse when I lean upon it; I mean that it is constituted of “substance” and by that word I am trying to convey to you some conception of its intrinsic nature. It is a thing; not like space, which is a mere negation; nor like time, which is— Heaven knows what! But that will not help you to my meaning because it is the distinctive characteristic of a “thing” to have this substantiality, and I do not think substantiality can be described better than by saying that it is the kind of nature exemplified by an ordinary table. And so we go round in circles. After all if you are a plain common-sense man, not too much worried with scientific scruples, you will be confident that you understand the nature of an ordinary table. I have heard of plain men who had the idea that they could better understand the mystery of their own nature if scientists would discover a way of explaining it in terms of the easily comprehensible nature of a table.
This description captures what “common experience” tells us about things like tables. Notice that Eddington himself also uses the term “common-sense” to describe this ordinary grasp that we have of things like tables and their solidity and other useful features. Let us consider what happens to this manifest table by comparison to the scientific table:
Table No. 2 is my scientific table. It is a more recent acquaintance and I do not feel so familiar with it. It does not belong to the world previously mentioned—that world which spontaneously appears around me when I open my eyes, though how much of it is objective and how much is subjective I do not here consider. It is part of a world which in more devious ways has forced itself on my attention. My scientific table is mostly emptiness. Sparsely scattered in that emptiness are numerous electric charges rushing about with great speed; but their combined bulk amounts to less than a billionth of the bulk of the table itself. Notwithstanding its strange construction it turns out to be an entirely efficient table. It supports my writing paper as satisfactorily as Table No. 1; for when I lay the paper on it the little electric particles with their headlong speed keep on hitting the underside, so that the paper is maintained in shuttlecock fashion at a nearly steady level. If I lean upon this table I shall not go through; or, to be strictly accurate, the chance of my scientific elbow going through my scientific table is so excessively small that it can be neglected in practical life. Reviewing their properties one by one, there seems to be nothing to choose between the two tables for ordinary purposes; but when abnormal circumstances befall, then my scientific table shows to advantage. If the house catches fire my scientific table will dissolve quite naturally into scientific smoke, whereas my familiar table undergoes a metamorphosis of its substantial nature which I can only regard as miraculous.
Note how this second table does not “spontaneously appear” to us and is less “familiar.” We need experimental effort and scientific inquiry to discover the existence of this second table. Also, note how both the manifest and the scientific table have the same practical utility; despite the “emptiness” of the scientific table in comparison to the continuity of the first table, both are solid. Their opposing properties are pragmatically indistinguishable in “ordinary” circumstances. But in “abnormal” circumstances, such as the fire he describes, Eddington prefers the second table. The scientific table is superior when it comes to explaining what is happening. So, first, the scientific table exists in some way at a more fundamental level, at a smaller or more detailed scale, than the manifest table does, but it preserves the properties appearing to us, such as solidity; second, this allows the scientific table to explain what really happens to the manifest table during what we would call a chemical change.
Let us step back and review this situation. Notice how Eddington begins: there are duplicates of every object around him. That is, what we did to the table we could also do for any other familiar object of our experience, including ourselves. Some philosophers conclude from this that there are two co-existing mental models or “images” of the world around us: the “manifest image” and the “scientific image.”5 These philosophers say that the manifest image of the world contains our common-sense understandings and the philosophies about the human, the cosmic, and the divine that grow out of such understandings of the world—the sort of philosophies we find in Plato, Aristotle, and Thomas Aquinas. The scientific image, because it seems to captures a more fundamental level and explain what goes on in the world of everyday experience, is deemed superior and “more real”. Besides Eddington’s examples of solidity and chemical change, perhaps we could recall a notion from high school physics or first-year college physics: Newton’s first law. Some physics textbooks even include a little reflection on the inadequacy of our common experience when it is a question of understanding motion.6 Newton’s first law of motion tells us: “Every body perseveres in its state of rest or of uniform motion in a [straight] line unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed [upon it].”7 This idea leads to the apparent implication that a body at a constant velocity, if unimpeded, would move forever.8 This is counterintuitive at the very least, but the principle of inertia is crucial to the development of modern physics. Indeed, the principle of inertia is a key component in the argument undermining a “common-sense notion” that the earth is at rest and the heavens go around it.9
Perhaps we could sharpen our three examples and put them in the form of arguments that the scientific image would make against the manifest image. These arguments are not necessarily sound arguments but they may seem persuasive. First we have argument (A):
1: The manifest table depends exhaustively for its existence upon its atomic parts.
2: Whatever depends exhaustively for its existence upon its atomic parts has no reality apart from its parts.
∴ 3: The “manifest table” has no reality apart from its parts.
The key premise here is #2. Notice that we could change this argument and instead of making it about solidity make it about any whole that is made up of atoms, such as our brain. So this argument is really about the existence of wholes and parts.
Now for argument (B):
1: The manifest table, when burned to ashes, is a collection of atoms energetically rearranged.
2: A collection of atoms energetically rearranged does not truly change as a whole.
∴ 3: The manifest table, when burned to ashes, does not truly change as a whole.
Here again, the key premise is #2. It claims that the true changes occur to the parts and not the whole as some independent thing. Perhaps the scientific image would defend premise #2 using the conservation of mass and energy. (Now, you might object and say that scientists will say that mass and energy are neither created nor destroyed but do change “in form.” But by “form” they do not mean tables and chairs and people as wholes, but properties of a set of parts called potential energy, heat energy, chemical compounds or mixtures, etc.) Notice that this argument can also be made more general, so as to include any object that appears to change as a whole. So this argument is really about the changing of wholes and parts.
Lastly, argument (C):
1: Our common-sense understanding of motion misleads us regarding a fundamental principle of physics (inertia).
2: What misleads us regarding fundamental principles of physics is untrustworthy for understanding nature.
∴ 3: Our common-sense understanding of motion is untrustworthy for understanding nature.
Notice also that this argument could be generalized based on other ways our common-sense would mislead us. So the third argument is really about a source of our knowledge of nature.
In what follows, we will examine ways to respond to these arguments. First, we will investigate what “common experience” means. Then, we will investigate the relationship between common experience and science and see if we can refute arguments (A), (B), and (C).
3. What is “common experience”?
So, what is common experience? Let’s start with “experience.” What I do not mean is that use of the word when we say, “Wow, that was quite an experience!” This “experience” is too transitory; it denotes an event or period of time and our living through it. Instead, the sense of experience I mean is closer to the use of the word when we say, “This job requires four years’ experience.” This usage indicates something built up over time. However, it also implies a practical skill set or a set of habits and abilities that are not necessarily what I want to pick out by the word. Aristotle describes “experience” as follows: “From perception there comes memory . . . and from memory (when it occurs often in connection with the same thing), experience; for memories that are many in number form a single experience.”10 That is, from what we sense and remember about the world around us, our cognitive faculties respond by receiving from the materials of memory “something one” or unified about a certain subject comes into being; a “unity” is formed out of many memories, not just one memory, as long as there is a sameness about the objects we remember. This is not quite conceptual or intellectual knowledge, but if we reflect upon it, this experience can be conceptualized and then we begin to make arts, skills, and theories. In this respect, “experience” is very broad.
What do we add by saying that there is a sort of thing called “common” experience? By “common” I mean an experience that is not “private”—along the lines of saying that “common property” and “private property” are opposites. Thus, my experience of the passage of time is my own private experience, and yours belongs to you, but there is still a common experience of the passage of time and we thus all have common conceptions about time based on this common experience of time. Furthermore, this experience is “common” in two senses: all human beings possess it and it is about things that exist ubiquitously or are present in more than one object. So we might say, first, that common experience is “the experience that all healthy adults have and cannot avoid having,” while a proper or specialized experience is “any of the sort that only some people have.”11 Second, common experience draws upon what is to be experienced in all natural bodies, for instance: changes, being in place, existing in time, acting upon and being acted upon, colors and other sensible qualities, as well as relationships of kind and general ideas about causality. Proper experience can answer to features not found in all natural things (not all liquids taste like wine). However, a proper experience can still be about something present in all natural bodies, but not immediately knowable; what is more knowable or clearer to us at first is the common. For example, “weight” would be based on common experience, while “mass” is based on proper experiences and conceptions gained when learning first year physics. So common experience, we should say, is that experience that all healthy adults have and cannot avoid having because it concerns what is most knowable about all or nearly all natural things. From common experience we derive ideas that we could call “common conceptions” about reality.
Now, among our common conceptions, some are “primitive” and others are “primary.”12 Primitive conceptions are those which we clarify, correct, and (if corrected) we progress beyond. By contrast, primary conceptions cannot be outgrown. What is primary could not be eliminated without kicking away the ladder by means of which we make corrective arguments or discoveries and progress beyond primitive conceptions. Both primitive and primary notions are, at first, blended together in our common experience. Distinguishing them is not an easy conceptual exercise. This clarification can fall on more on the sensation side of common experience, or more on the conceptual side. Let us take model examples from sensation and from our intellectual growth to illustrate how we distinguish the primitive from the primary.
On the side of sensation, we frequently sense the whole of an object before distinctly recognizing its parts. Especially in sight, the whole object appears to us before we can discern its parts precisely as parts. As an object approaches from a distance, we progress from a vague grasp of what is approaching to a more determinate grasp: it’s something, it’s alive, it’s a man, it’s this man, Socrates.
On the side of our concepts, we also progress from more vague and general ideas to more specific ones. Aristotle gives the example that “children at first call all men ‘fathers’ and all women ‘mothers,’ but later they distinguish each of them.”13 That is, children at first use the name ‘father’ or ‘mother’ too broadly. They confuse, for instance, ‘adult male with offspring’ with ‘adult male.’ They think that an animal or person that is grown up must also be a parent, but this is not necessarily the case. They learn than some adults have children, and others do not. Note that this clarifies their conception while leaving its core of truth intact (i.e., their vague idea of ‘adults’). In the example, the notion of ‘adults’ is primary and becomes clarified.
Common, primary conceptions provide a starting point for science. Our common conceptions—such as notions about objects, things, kinds of things, motion, change, process, time, life, function, and utility—these are all taken up, clarified, and deepened in various ways when we learn sciences such as physics, chemistry, or biology. The primary notions remain useful to us in the sciences. One philosopher who writes on this subject notes that:
Sometimes what everyone naturally thinks at first, before being taught otherwise, is called ‘common sense.’ Taken in this way, it is common sense, for example, that a sailboat cannot sail faster than the wind that is pushing it. Scientists and sailors assure us that this piece of ‘common sense’ is actually false. It is noteworthy that even those who have never sailed before (perhaps I should say especially those who have never sailed before) will resist the notion that a sailboat can sail faster than the wind. Clearly their resistance is due not to any experience of sailboats but to their experience of some more general thing. They know that ‘No effect can exceed its cause.’ They are quite right about this; they are only mistaken in thinking that the sailboat sailing faster than the wind violates that principle. It is up to the physicists to explain how a sailboat can sail faster than the wind that is pushing it, without doing violence to that very general principle, upon which scientists also depend.14
What is helpful about this example is that is shows how a common conception about cause and effect is not overturned by the example with sailboats. Rather, we merely clarify our common experience by clarifying our common conceptions of cause and effect. Common experience and proper or specialized experience work together.
4. What has science to do with “common experience”?
Let us now return to our previous three arguments with this notion of “common experience” in mind. One idea that might come to mind is that we should investigate what we mean by words like “whole,” “part,” “existence,” “real,” “change” or even “fundamental” that those three arguments rely upon to sound convincing. This is indeed what philosophers do sometimes. But perhaps someone playing devil’s advocate would preempt us and say: You just want to find out the meanings of words; the arguments have to be expressed in words, but that is unavoidable. Science is really telling us about a new meaning behind these “ordinary” or “manifest” words. So, perhaps instead of trying to define words, we could instead find a way to answer both this new objection and our three arguments at once. This answer will be more general (and therefore not as satisfying as detailed answers) but it will also be easier to see that it must be true.
The general way around the objection about the meaning of ordinary words and the three arguments is something called the “test of self-reference.” What is this test? It is a philosophical test administered to a particular theory (whether in philosophy or science). We administer the test by asking this question: Is the theory in question, proposed by theory-making human beings, such that the theory is incompatible with the existence of theory-making human beings? That is, a scientific theory cannot eliminate the being, thoughts, or desires of the theorizing person, because that person proposes the theory as a way to satisfy a desire for true knowledge about reality. A theory in any given scientific domain must, at the very least, be neutral to and not eliminate the reality of the theory-making human being who possesses a desire for truth and the ability to understand true things. At best, a scientific theory contributes in some positive way to the overall account of how theorizers co-exist with the object of the given theory. If a theory fails this test, what happens is what philosophers call a performative self-contradiction. That is, a scientist or philosopher has proposed a theory that implies that proposing theories or theory-proposing beings are impossible or meaningless.
Now, it might seem as though thoughtful people such as scientists and philosophers would never do such a thing. However, it has been known to happen. At any rate, let’s see if our three arguments run afoul of the test of self-reference in some way. We can refute the arguments by refuting their premises (which is the only way to refute an argument).
Argument (A) asserts that “Whatever depends exhaustively for its existence upon its atomic parts has no reality apart from its parts.” The proponent of this argument then uses premise #1 to assert that what occurs at the level of our common experience contains nothing really new or different when compared with what occurs on the atomic scale. Thus, the atomic scale is what is “really real.” In our example argument (A) we were only talking about a table, but remember that this conclusion generalizes to include things like you and me. Thus, the meaning of a theory about atoms, our desire for truth about atoms, and our purposes in building tables upon which to write lectures about scientific theories must somehow coexist with truth about atoms. Yet argument (A) picks only one side, saying that meaning, desires, and human purposes are “not as real” as the atoms of which we are made. This means that our understanding of atomic theory, our desire to learn it, and our purposes in taking classes on it are “not real.” So, argument (A) is really proposing what is called eliminativism by some philosophers (the whole is eliminated from reality). Thus, argument (A) fails the test of self-reference when applied generally.
What about argument (B)? It depends upon the claim that “A collection of atoms energetically rearranged does not truly change as a whole.” Now, remember, this premise means that the true changes accrue to the parts. While Eddington uses the example of a table burning, I’d like to use the example of a human being coming into existence after a long period of evolutionary development. (The following is an adapted from Alvin Plantinga’s evolutionary argument against naturalism.) Here, the atoms that constitute the human being have for billions of years been rearranged (in various ways) in accordance with the processes and stages of the course of natural selection. This ends with the coming into existence of a particular human being, say, Charles Darwin, who then goes on to formulate a theory of evolution about how human beings that make theories of evolution come about.
Now, what is the test of self-reference in this case? Interestingly enough, Darwin himself raises it about his own theory. He writes: “With me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?”15 A contemporary philosopher, Patricia Churchland, makes clearer what is implied by Darwin’s “horrid doubt”:
Boiled down to essentials, a nervous system enables the organism to succeed in . . . feeding, fleeing, fighting and reproducing. The principle chore of nervous systems is to get the body parts where they should be in order that the organism may survive . . . . Improvements in sensorimotor control confer an evolutionary advantage: a fancier style of [perceiving its environment] is advantageous so long as it is geared to the organism’s way of life and enhances the organism’s chances of survival. Truth, whatever that is, definitely takes the hindmost.16
That is, Darwin’s doubt is “horrid” because if only changes at the level of parts are really real—even if we say that these parts are changed according to a process that we call evolution by natural selection—the mere parts do not guarantee that the whole organism produced at the end is a truth-seeking organism. A purely natural process working only with atomic compounds and even organic compounds in natural selection is not aiming at truth, but survival, or so goes the theory. That is, the theory does not guarantee the accuracy of our cognitive faculties by which we make true theories, but we must rely on those cognitive faculties to believe that the theory is true. Atoms and proteins do not have truth-seeking as a function. In order for theory-making animals to be possible, there must be at least several levels of real activity at work (and most likely many more): the atomic level, the biological level (originating from evolutionary development), and a rational level.17 The changes of at least some wholes cannot be merely changes of their parts. The clearest case is the coming into being of animals that make theories about where animals come from. This coming into being requires something really new at the level of the whole organism.
Let’s pause to review. What both of our answers to (A) and (B) have shown us is that the very meaning of the words that we use to propose theories cannot be self-undermining. That is, the objector who claimed that “Science is really telling us about a new meaning behind these ‘ordinary’ or ‘manifest’ words” has to be wrong if he leaves his claim unqualified, because this results in failing the test of self-reference. The meaning of words that we understand with our common conceptions must somehow “extend” to more detail when we learn a specific science.
We can see how this would work when we answer argument (C). In answering this argument, we should focus on premise 1: “Our common-sense understanding of motion misleads us regarding a fundamental principle of physics (inertia).” If our distinction between primitive common notions and primary common notions is correct, we should be able to see how the principle of inertia corrects a primitive notion but leaves a primary one untouched. This can be seen by considering in what way inertia is more specific or refined that our common notions. Consider: The idea of an inertial body moving free of all forces through interstellar space is an idealization. A body with zero net forces on it would behave as Newton’s first law dictates, but bodies in our experience are not force-free. Gravitational, electromagnetic, and frictional forces all interfere with their motion. Indeed, when Newton introduces his first law, none of the examples which he gives are of such kinds of motion, but rather of curving projectiles, spinning tops, and orbiting planets; none of these are force-free motions. Indeed, some are motions and changes that we ordinarily experience. The work of the student at the beginning of a physics course is therefore to distinguish between his common experience of bodies in motion under concrete physical conditions and this idealized concept of force-free motion. A primitive conception about the concrete experience of moving bodies would be the notion that the natural or innate motions of bodies can be both along a straight line (falling down) or along curves (as appear to happen with the stars and planets). However, the principle of inertia clarifies this notion by claiming that natural or innate motion is in principle only along straight lines; curvilinear motions as in projectiles or planets arise from a confluence of causes. However, some of our primary conceptions about moving bodies still remain: they do in fact have natural motions that only occur in concrete circumstances with external forces. Thus, premise #1 of argument (C) is not true without qualification. We can and indeed do use common conceptions when we begin inquiring about fundamental physical principles.
5. Conclusion: What has science to do with the pursuit of wisdom?
Let us review before arriving at a conclusion about science and the pursuit of wisdom. Note that by answering arguments (A), (B), and (C) I have not argued that atomism, evolution, and basic Newtonian physics are false. Rather, as arguments made against the “manifest image” of our common experience by utilizing the “scientific image,” they fail to work conclusively. By answering argument (A) we have seen that the existence and unity of objects at higher levels or “scales” of reality (namely, animals like us that make theories about atoms) have to be at least as real as the atoms, if not more real. By answering argument (B) we have provided reason for thinking that the coming-into-existence and operation of our cognitive faculties must be at least as real as basic chemical changes, if not more real. By answering argument (C) we have provided reasons to think that some scientific concepts, such as inertia, work by “abstracting” or “idealizing” aspects of the concrete physical world, and are therefore not in necessary conflict with truths of our common conceptions about things.
In this way, our three examples serve to illustrate perennial ideas in philosophy such as being, activity, and truth. Typically, the philosophical task of answering arguments such as (A) and (B) falls under what philosophers call a defense of holism or top-down causality. This is the idea that familiar things (especially living things) require analysis at the level of the whole object and not merely its parts. Philosophers like Aristotle or theologians like St. Thomas Aquinas would use this approach to defend the existence and explain the nature of the soul.18 Answering arguments like (C) falls under our philosophical understanding of knowledge and how scientific theories give us access to the truth. In the case we looked at, inertia is “counterfactually true,” that is, bodies would behave like that were there the required force-free conditions.19 But in concrete physical circumstances such conditions are impossible.
Usually when we think about philosophy as the “pursuit of wisdom,” we might think this involves discovering arguments for the existence of God. This is, of course, true. The height of natural wisdom aims at understanding the ultimate cause of all things that exist. However, Aristotle teaches us that wisdom is also an ordering type of knowledge. That is, philosophical wisdom is able to see how all of the things that God causes fit together and how all types of true human knowledge fit together. Thus, in our example of the table and Sir Arthur writing on it, the philosophical pursuit of wisdom requires that we see how the words “real” or “one thing” apply both to the author and to the atoms. The words would not apply in the same way; they would have analogous meanings (definitions that are different but have a rational connection between them). In this way, the philosophical wise man is able to harmonize the manifest and the scientific image of the world.
With this idea of a unifying and ordering philosophical wisdom, I would like to conclude with a practical corollary. Attaining philosophic wisdom is difficult, as all serious philosophers attest. They say that one must be old before wisdom becomes a real possibility. What should we (who are still on the younger side) do in the meantime? The short answer is pursue an education. But of what sort? Here is what an ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, observed: “The hidden harmony is better than the apparent [one].” He also stated that: “The opposite is useful and from those differing comes the most beautiful harmony, and all things come to be by strife.”20 That is, working out the disputes between common sense and science, just as those between faith and reason, is often the work of finding a “hidden harmony.” Indeed, we should expect “hidden harmonies” between science and philosophy because the same mind that philosophizes about the manifest image of the world also builds the scientific image of the world. This educational disputation and an expectant hope for finding the unifying harmony of truth in different disciplines is the spirit of a liberal education. It is this type of education that frees the mind from apparent contradictions and incomplete images, so as to draw closer to the single true image of the world, what Heraclitus (and others) have named the logos of the cosmos.
1 Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism (New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2011).
2 See Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design (New York: Bantam, 2012); Lawrence Krauss, A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing (New York: Atria Books, 2012).
3 Against this materialism, see Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False (Oxford University Press, 2012); also, Raymond Tallis, Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity (Durham: Acumen Publishing, 2011).
4 Sir Arthur S. Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World (New York/Cambridge: Macmillan Co./Cambridge University Press, 1929) ix–x.
5 Wilfrid Sellars, “Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man,” in Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind, 1–40 (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd., 1963). Sellars also cites Eddington’s two tables as the popularized version of his contention; see 35–36: “It is worth noting that we have here a recurrence of the essential features of Eddington’s ‘two tables’ problem—the two tables being, in our terminology, the table of the manifest image and the table of the scientific image. There the problem was to ‘fit together’ the manifest table with the scientific table. Here the problem is to fit together the manifest sensation with its neurophysiological counterpart. And, interestingly enough, the problem in both cases is essentially the same: how to reconcile the ultimate homogeneity of the manifest image with the ultimate non-homogeneity of the system of scientific objects.”
6 See Hugh D. Young, Roger A. Freedman, and A. Lewis Ford, University Physics With Modern Physics, 11th ed. (San Francisco: Benjamin-Cummings Publishing Co., 2004).
7 Isaac Newton, The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, trans. by A. Motte (New York: Daniel Adee, 1846) 83.
8 Ibid., 75: “And by increasing the velocity, we may at pleasure increase the distance to which it might be projected, and diminish the curvature of the line, which it might describe, till at last it should fall at the distance of 10, 30, or 90 degrees, or even might go quite round the whole earth before it falls or lastly, so that it might never fall to the earth, but go forward into the celestial spaces, and proceed in its motion in infinitum.”
9 This common sense notion, we should note, depends not just upon the “look” of the heavens but also the “feel” of heavy objects and how they behave when accelerated. Hence, Ptolemy’s arguments for the stability of the earth include arguments that appearances of heavy things in the atmosphere are not accelerated from an unknown source. That the “look” of things is found (unexamined) in our common and primitive conceptions is illustrated by this exchange between Anscombe and Wittgenstein: “The general method that Wittgenstein does suggest is that of ‘shewing that a man has supplied no meaning [or perhaps: ‘no reference’] for certain signs in his sentences.’ I can illustrate the method from Wittgenstein’s later way of discussing problems. He once greeted me with the question: ‘Why do people say that it was natural to think that the sun went round the earth rather than that the earth turned on its axis?’ I replied: ‘I suppose, because it looked as if the sun went round the earth.’ ‘Well,’ he asked, ‘what would it have looked like if it had looked as if the earth turned on its axis?’ This question brought it out that I had hitherto given no relevant meaning to ‘it looks as if’ in ‘it looks as if the sun goes round the earth’” See G. E. M. Anscombe, An Introduction to Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, 2nd ed. (1963), ch. 12.
10 Aristotle, Posterior Analytics, II.19, 100a3–5.
11 Michael Augros, “Reconciling Science with Natural Philosophy,” The Thomist: A Speculative Quarterly Review 68.1 (2004): 113.
12 Andreas Gerardus Maria van Melsen, The Philosophy of Nature, 3d ed. Duquesne Studies. Philosophical Series, 2 (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University, 1961) 13, 15.
13 Aristotle, Physics, I.1, 184b14.
14 Augros, “Reconciling Science with Natural Philosophy,” 115–16.
15 Letter to William Graham, Down, July 3rd, 1881. In The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin Including an Autobiographical Chapter, ed. Francis Darwin (London: John Murray, Albermarle Street, 1887), vol. 1, pp. 315–16. Quoted in Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies, Kindle Locations 4337-4339.
16 Churchland, Journal of Philosophy LXXXIV (October 1987), p. 548; quoted in Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies.
17 This argument of Plantinga’s is clearer in this quotation from the cosmologist George F. R. Ellis, How Can Physics Underlie the Mind?: Top-Down Causation in the Human Context (Berlin/Heidelberg: Springer, 2016) 29: “For science to take place as a human endeavour, our minds must have the power to examine the relevant arguments in a rational way and come to a conclusion based on the validity or otherwise of the rational argument. This is a higher level process of exploration that must be able to take place as a valid logical process at that level, free from any restrictions on such arguments arising from the lower level underpinnings of the operation of the brain.”
18 N.b.: Functionalism and dualism, among other positions, are not ruled out by the test of self-reference. These alternative answers to hylomorphism require further dialectical engagement.
19 The basic illustrations (such as an air-track) give us situations of zero net-force in the world. This is the “real lesson” of the air-track; see Richard F. Hassing, “Thomas Aquinas on Physics VII.1 and the Aristotelian Science of the Physical Continuum,” in Nature and Scientific Method, ed. by D. O. Dahlstrom, 22:127–57. Studies in Philosophy and the History of Philosophy (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1991) 148: “The gravitational effects of bodies in the universe necessitate the introduction of force components and external causes of motion acting along the direction of motion precisely to produce the condition of zero net force corresponding to constant velocity.”
20 Heraclitus, DK 54 and 8; D. Berquist translation.
This presentation was produced as part of my postdoctoral research project.
FONDECYT – POSTDOCTORADO, Proj. No. 3170446.
4 thoughts on “Common Sense, Science, and the Pursuit of Wisdom”