Chapter recently published

b3a1f2_9100f52cda6347e2a5feee9c6aaea0a3~mv2I’m happy to announce that an essay of mine, “St. Thomas and Modern Natural Science: Reconsidering Abstraction from Matter,” has been published by RIL Editores (Chile) as part of the collection Cognoscens in actu est ipsum cognitum in actu: Sobre los tipos y grados de conocimiento. The book is available here. The book does feature, as an Easter egg, a Latin typo (much to the chagrin of one of my friends involved in the book’s production). However, that is among the greatest of the books faults, the other being my essay.

If you would like a personal copy of the essay, please contact me here.

The introduction of the essay is as follows:

The realism grounding St. Thomas Aquinas’s pre-modern natural science defends the reception of similitudes of the forms of things known by abstraction. Modern natural science challenges this abstractionist account by recasting «form» in the leading role of principle of intelligibility—instead of forms, modern science discovers laws. Thomistic realism is prima facie incompatible with this account. Following Charles De Koninck, this essay outlines a rapprochement between the epistemology of pre-modern, Thomistic natural science and its modern successor. I argue that natural forms are noetic limits towards which physical laws tend, and our grasp of this tendency uses a mode of knowledge comparable to what St. Thomas termed universal in repraesentando.

Is «form» still defensible as the causal cornerstone of our knowledge of the natural world? A generally Aristotelian-Thomistic doctrine about form maintains that form is a real, intrinsic cause of the actual being and intelligibility of substances. Yet the modern natural sciences developed along with a philosophical background that, by most accounts, has dismantled this doctrine piece by piece. Even further, it seems that philosophical disputes over the ground from which the sciences spring—like the metaphysical roots of Descartes’ tree of philosophy—need not be kept in mind by the one engaged in actively pruning and harvesting the fruits of scientific inquiry. A certain philosophical-scientific secularism can shield scientific practice from antecedent philosophical commitments and subsequent philosophical consequences.[2] Deeper philosophical truths are thereby pragmatically distinguished from the deliverances of scientific method and one may think that the former—like private, inscrutable beliefs—are inconsequential and disputable, while the latter are important and indisputable because they are publicly verifiable. Yet just as political secularism has its skeptics, so too for this scientific counterpart. The manifest self-referential tensions produced by such neutrality in the face of philosophical questions lead many to seek a unity between philosophy and the sciences. A resurgence of Aristotelian and Thomistic natural philosophy and metaphysics provides a welcome antidote to some problems found within early modern and contemporary schools of thought.[3] This leads one to have hope of a full recovery of the grounds for claiming that forms are real, intrinsic causes of being and intelligibility in nature.

The point of attack is to consider the Thomistic doctrine of the abstraction of form from matter in its problematic relationship to the paradigm of understanding nature in terms of physical laws. I will make use of the writings of Charles De Koninck as a useful and at times indispensable guide. This focus thereby contributes to the defense of a forgotten of office of metaphysics and natural philosophy, their sapiential care for the particular sciences.[4] Following De Koninck, and developing some of his views, I propose that natural forms are «noetic limits» towards which scientific or physical laws tend, and insofar as these latter are expressed by the use of symbolic constructs, grasping this noetic limit requires a mode of knowledge comparable to universals in repraesentando. Let us begin with a summary of the origins of «form» and «law» as scientific paradigms. . . .


[2] This generalizes the more particular practice that Hassing, Richard F., «History of Physics and the Thought of Jacob Klein», The New Yearbook for Phenomenology and Phenomelogical Philosophy 11 (2012), pp. 239-46, describes as «physico-mathematical secularism» which regards the difference between physical quantities and mathematical quantities as philosophically inconsequential. Key difficulties are passed over without notice. Hassing draws this idea from De Gandt, François, Force and Geometry in Newton’s Principia, Princeton University Press, 1995, pp. 271-73.

[3] Important authors to consider along these lines are to be found in the analytic- Thomistic, River Forest, and Laval schools of Thomism. The work of Charles De Koninck, William A. Wallace, James Weisheipl, Benedict Ashley, Richard Connell, Edward Feser, and many others. One should also consider the work of Jacob Klein, Richard Kennington, Hans Jonas, Leon Kass, and others cited in the course of this essay.

[4]  See the author’s «Charles De Koninck and the Sapiential Character of Natural Philosophy», American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 90.1 (2016), pp. 1-24.


Categories: Current Reading

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