Damien F. Mackey
This, by far my favourite book on the philosophy of modern sciences, I have found to be highly enlightening with its explanation of the clear distinction between science and philosophy – a distinction that is becoming more and more blurred with the passing of time.
Aquinas and Kant: The Foundations of the Modern Sciences (1950) is available on-line (for example at: https://archive.org/details/aquinasandkant032149mbp)
Chapter XVIII is the crucial one, for it is there that Gavin Ardley, following an insight from Immanuel Kant, puts his finger right on the nature of the sciences, or what the modern scientist is actually doing. Whilst the precise realisation of this had escaped some of the most brilliant philosophers of science, it had not escaped Kant – who, however, then managed to bury this gem of insight under a mountain of pseudo metaphysics.
Other minds went close to discovering the secret, but failed to recognize the Procrustean nature of modern science, that is, the active imposition of laws upon nature, rather than, as is generally imagined, the reading of laws in nature.
Ardley will finally sum up his findings in this splendid piece (but one will definitely need to read his chapter XVIII):
THE END OF THE ROAD
The solution to the problem is now before us. The quest of the modern cosmologist for a satisfactory harmony of Thomism with post-Galilean physical science is nearing its goal.
The bifurcation made by the Procrustean interpretation of physics rescues the dualist theory from the impasse in which it has been struggling. With our discussion of voluntary active phenomenalism in Ch. XVIII in view, we can see precisely how there come to be two orders, each autonomous. The Scholastic metaphysician functions in one order, the modern physicist in the other, and there is no immediate link whatever between them. There is a clean divorce between the ontological reality, and the physical laws and properties which belong to the categorial order.
The link between the physical laws and the underlying causes is no longer of the first remove but of the second. The fundamental dictum of Wittgenstein is our guide here. [See p. 98.]: that a law of physics tells us nothing about the world, but only that it applies in the way in which in fact it does apply, tells us something about the world.
This all-important consequence of the Procrustean character of modern physics provides the solution to Phillips’ difficulty. [See p. 224. The difficulty of course arises from the failure to distinguish the physicists’ data from phenomena. We are careful to distinguish them.] It furnishes the essential supplement to the otherwise admirable doctrines of O’Rahilly and Maritain.
This doctrine of the two orders, soundly based, is very much more satisfactory than such a palliative as hylosystemism.
Now we can retain the Thomist doctrine in all its purity, but we have added to it another chapter, so that the post-Renaissance physical science may at last find a home in the ample structure of the philosophia perennis.
It is from Immanuel Kant that this doctrine of the nature of modern physics ultimately derives. Scholastics thus owe to Kant the recognition that he, albeit unwittingly, has made one of the greatest contributions to the philosophia perennis since St. Thomas.
It is commonly stated that St. Thomas showed that there is no contradiction between faith and profane science. This is true of sciences of the real. But for sciences of the categorial we must look also to Kant. It is St. Thomas and Kant between them who have shown that there is no contradiction possible between faith and any profane science.
Let us now summarise the contents of these chapters.
The Bellarmine dichotomy between what actually is the case, and what gives the most satisfactory empirical explanation, has all along been the basic contention of the dualist philosophers. But the absence hitherto of an adequate explanation of how there can be these two separate orders has been the great stumbling block. It has driven other Scholastic philosophers virtually to abandon the dichotomy and try to work out a unitary theory. This has led to such a scheme as hylosystemism with its fundamental distortions of Thomism.
We have shown how illusory such unitary schemes must be, founded as they are on the shifting sands of current physical theories.
On the other hand we have supplied the missing explanation in the dualist theory. By pointing out the Procrustean categorial nature of modern physics, we have established its autonomy on a satisfactory basis. We have shown how the two orders can exist side by side without clashing. Hence the Thomist structure needs no alterations but only the extension of a wing to the house.
We have traced in outline the slow recognition by Scholastic philosophers of the part played by artifacts, or entia rationis, call them what we will, in the new physical learning which has been developing since the 17th century.
The time has now come for this recognition to be extended to a wider field than merely that of modern physics. We have seen in this work how systems of artifacts are to be found in a great variety of human pursuits. In nearly all our activities we avail ourselves of their assistance; we find at almost every turn a fabric woven of myths. Such a fabric is necessary to facilitate our passage through the world. But we must never lose sight of the fact that it is only myths and phantoms. We should never allow ourselves to be enslaved by our own creations: there are no bonds more insidious than those we impose on ourselves.
Behind the shadowy world we have created to be our servant, there lies the real world. A phantom is but a sorry companion to any man. It is the real world, the world which ever is, to which we must turn our eyes, and from which comes our strength.
[End of quote]
Gavin Ardley’s Marvellous Perception of the Nature of the Modern Sciences
Why is Modern Physics so Successful?
A reader queries:
“I did read one review of Ardley’s book and the reviewer (who seemed sympathetic to the philosophia perennis) said that [Ardley] doesn’t really answer the question as to why modern physics is so successful”.
This is the review to which the reader refers
Aquinas and Kant, Gavin Ardley, Longmans Green & Co., London, 1950.
Pp. x + 256. 18s.
THE author of this book is greatly perturbed about the ultimate basis of our knowledge of the universe, and the conflicting character of modern thought in philosophy and physics. And well he may be. The rise of Neo-Thomism in one form or another is a feature of our generation. No less marked, however, is the advance of theoretical physics associated with the names of Poincaré, Eddington, and one or two others of comparable calibre. Again, as Mr Ardley remarks, St Thomas Aquinas and Kant seem strange bedfellows indeed, as Aristotle and the Fathers were aforetime. Observing that the latter pair were eventually ‘reconciled,’ he believes that a corresponding state of bliss for the former couple is only a matter of time. Kant’s idea of a physicist was that of an extremely active person, by no means content to receive laws from nature, but perpetually engaged in the task of formulating laws of his own which he ‘fastened’ upon nature, and to which she was obliged to conform. All that is said about the Procrustean bed and the chopper is most apt, and indeed on this view, deserved. Nevertheless, according to Mr Ardley, it is a grave error to imagine that this coercive technique is intrinsically necessary; it is merely a device to secure power for mankind.
Over against this stands metaphysics in serene detachment, ready as always to admit the practical advantages of ‘saving appearances,’ whether in classical physics or in modern metrical technology, but claiming the absolute title to the possession of philosophical truth. Seldom has the precept ‘between us and you there is a great gulf fixed . . .’ been restated in starker form. Why, therefore, it is asked, are we in fact confronted with physics heaping triumph upon triumph in almost every department of twentieth-century life? Mr Ardley replies in effect that had a divergent system of ‘categorisation’ been set up, things might have worked out differently. This riposte is very disappointing, being nothing short of wholly irrelevant, since what we want to know is why physics, as commonly understood, should be any good at all.
No reasonable person has anything but reverence for the philosophia perennis, yet this book cannot be said to have helped to bring the natural sciences of to-day within its broad and generous frontiers. Unfortunately, too, Mr Ardley’s style lacks attractiveness; it is rather that of a school-teacher admonishing an unwilling class, and underlining for them, as he goes along, what they are meant to learn by heart.
That modern science and technology (centred around modern physics) have been stupendously successful no alert human being today would probably deny. And it is due to its stunning success in our modern world that we humans have tended to elevate “science” to the virtual status of ‘deity’. We, for all intents and purposes, idolise it.
Gavin Ardley, author of the book under consideration in this series, Aquinas and Kant: The Foundations of the Modern Sciences (1950), already introduced in Part One: https://www.academia.edu/23250163/Gavin_Ardley_s_Marvellous_Perception_of_the_Nature_of_the_Modern_Sciences was not critical at all of the modern sciences as a legitimate human endeavour – a part of God’s invitation to man to “subdue the earth” (Genesis 1:28). Ardley’s Chapter XI: “The Quest for a Scientific Method” is relevant to this present article. Speaking of the early efforts to comprehend the methodology that was leading to such scientific success, Ardley wrote:
The great success of physical science in the post-Renaissance world led to much speculation about the secret of its success. It has been the general opinion that this secret must lie in some way in the method employed in the new sciences. If we could discover precisely what this method is, and make it explicit, then, so it was thought, we should be able to use it more effectively, and, no doubt, extend its employment to even wider fields. Consequently ever since the 17th century much attention has been paid to the quest for this scientific method.
We have already considered Francis Bacon as the ‘politician’ of the new movement to extend man’s power over Nature (Ch. IV). Francis Bacon was also the author of one of the first attempted formulations of the method of the new science. He laid down rules which he believed would, if followed, lead automatically to our complete mastery over Nature. His method consisted in collecting and recording all available facts, performing all practicable experiments, and finally, by means of certain rules, making out connections between all the phenomena so observed.
However, this procedure or method, as laid down by Bacon, turns out on closer acquaintance to be barren. It is much too simple and naïve to meet the situation. Nature in fact is not nearly as simple and orderly as Bacon had supposed. The practising scientists went on developing their sciences along their own lines without reference to Bacon’s supposed automatic method.
[End of quote]
Ardley, who was both philosopher and scientist, far from reviling the “world of physics”, which he regarded as “a world of deep and abiding beauty”, was at pains, nonetheless, to explain just what kind of world it actually is, and – relevant to the question posed in this article – “why is it so successful?”:
THE NATURE OF MODERN PHYSICS
Physics and Nature
The world of modern physics is not the natural world. It is a remote domain of artifacts more removed from the world of Nature than the worlds in which Mr Pickwick and Hamlet dwell. The world of physics is austere and exacting, but withal a world of deep and abiding beauty. It is this aesthetic quality, perhaps even more than the satisfaction of intellectual curiosity and the desire for power, which explains its hold on its exponents. The beauty of pure mathematics has been recognised at least since the days of Plato. Pure physics has this beauty too, and in addition an intangible quality peculiar to itself which is well known to those who have entered its inner temples. This, rather than the exploration of nature, must be the physicist’s apology.
But it may well be asked now: what is the relation between physics and Nature? If physics dwells apart, how does it come into contact with Nature. And furthermore, it may be asked, why is it so successful?
In a general way, the solution of the first part of this question lies in the fact that the process of systematic experiment is selective and transforming. Hence it is that the transition is made from Nature to the abstract world, and vice versa. This is the link between the two worlds.
As regards the second question – why, if physics is an abstract and arbitrary system, is it so successful? – we might ask in return, what is the standard of success? How much more or less successful physics might have been had it been developed in different ways from the way it was in fact developed, we do not know. If the net dragged through the world by the physicists had been quite different, the outcome might have been very different too. It may have been much more successful, or much less so. We have no standard of comparison for success, so the question is scarcely profitable.
In discussing success it may be helpful to compare together two different branches of physics. The classical mechanics as applied to the solar system was generally regarded as a dazzling success. But on the other end of the scale the theory of electromagnetics is regarded today by most students of the subject as being in a state of well-nigh hopeless confusion, although with experience it can be made to work moderately well. Evidently some wrong turning was made early in the development of this latter branch of physics, and with the root trouble, whatever it is, firmly entrenched, the subject appears to be growing in disorder and chaos rather than improving. Evidently it would be better to start afresh from the beginning and drag some quite different net through the world in this particular realm.
Such considerations as these should give us pause before we speak lightly of the ‘success’ of physical science.
A variant on this question Why if arbitrary then success? is to insist that if a law or theory enjoys success, then, in the same measure, it is probable that Nature is really like the situation envisaged by that law or theory. E.g. if the law of Gravitation is well established in physics, then there must really be this Gravitation in the world, and so on. In answer to this objection we cannot do better than quote the words of Wittgenstein in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, where he propounds much the same doctrine concerning the laws of physics as we have in this chapter. In the course of a most penetrating discussion of the subject he remarks:
The fact that it can be described by Newtonian mechanics asserts nothing about the world; but this asserts something, namely, that it can be described in that particular way in which as matter of fact it is described. The fact, too, that it can be described more simply by one system of mechanics than by another says something about the world. [Tractatus, 6.342.]
If the laws of physics were really found in the world, then the laws would tell us something about the world. But if the laws of physics are superimposed on the world, then the laws themselves tell us nothing about the world. [Footnote: This incidentally provides the solution to the controversy which raged throughout the Middle Ages concerning the status of the various systems of astronomy. See Appendix.] Only the character of the particular description which we effect in terms of the super-imposed law has any bearing on the world. It is only in this second order manner that we make contact with the world. …. Hence there is no foundation for the assertion that in modern physics a law or theory, if successful, tells us what Nature is like.
This is a most important conclusion.
[End of quote]
Yes, the key issue is, as Ardley has put it, “what is the standard of success?”
In the writings of two recent popes, Benedict and the present pope, Francis – neither of whom could be accused of being anti-mathematics or anti-science (see below e.g. Benedict’s XVI “the magnificent mathematics of creation”) – one can discern the two orders about which Ardley has written, both legitimate, but with the higher order deserving of the more attention. Josef Ratzinger/Pope Benedict, writing in
has this to say about the limitations of modern science, of “functional truth”, and how the total pursuit (idolisation) of it can make one blind to ““truth” itself”:
Let us say plainly: the unredeemed state of the world consists precisely in the failure to understand the meaning of creation, in the failure to recognize truth; as a result, the rule of pragmatism is imposed, by which the strong arm of the powerful becomes the god of this world.
At this point, modern man is tempted to say: Creation has become intelligible to us through science. Indeed, Francis S. Collins, for example, who led the Human Genome Project, says with joyful astonishment: “The language of God was revealed” (The Language of God, p. 122). Indeed, in the magnificent mathematics of creation, which today we can read in the human genetic code, we recognize the language of God. But unfortunately not the whole language. The functional truth about man has been discovered. But the truth about man himself — who he is, where he comes from, what he should do, what is right, what is wrong — this unfortunately cannot be read in the same way. Hand in hand with growing knowledge of functional truth there seems to be an increasing blindness toward “truth” itself — toward the question of our real identity and purpose.
[End of quote]
Recently someone on TV remarked that “technology has made everything possible”. That it “has improved our health, provided us with a far better lifestyle, and can even bring about peace”. No one argues that science and technology have brought massive material, at least, benefits to our world. And, following Ardley (and having to disagree with his reviewer, Rawlins), one could say that perhaps it could have provided us with even greater benefits, here and there, if researchers had, say, ‘dragged some quite different net through the world in this particular realm’.
But has science and technology actually made our world a happier place in which to live?
And is there really a technologically-achieved peace?
No, because modern science has not within itself the capacity to bring a deeper peace. That is apparent from Benedict’s comment above that a full immersion in the pursuit of “the functional truth about man” must inevitably lead to “an increasing blindness toward “truth” itself — toward the question of our real identity and purpose”.
Hence, the modern phenomenon of ‘identity crisis’, hence alienation, often leading to suicide.
Pope Francis has, I believe, come to the rescue with his blueprint for the modern world, Laudato Si’, which, by no means decrying the pursuit of genuine scientific endeavour, warns of excess. Sometimes, less is more.
Pope Francis puts modern ‘progress’ into a real perspective when he writes:
Pollution, waste and the throwaway culture
- Some forms of pollution are part of people’s daily experience. Exposure to atmospheric pollutants produces a broad spectrum of health hazards, especially for the poor, and causes millions of premature deaths. People take sick, for example, from breathing high levels of smoke from fuels used in cooking or heating. There is also pollution that affects everyone, caused by transport, industrial fumes, substances which contribute to the acidification of soil and water, fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides, herbicides and agrotoxins in general. Technology, which, linked to business interests, is presented as the only way of solving these problems, in fact proves incapable of seeing the mysterious network of relations between things and so sometimes solves one problem only to create others.
- Account must also be taken of the pollution produced by residue, including dangerous waste present in different areas. Each year hundreds of millions of tons of waste are generated, much of it non-biodegradable, highly toxic and radioactive, from homes and businesses, from construction and demolition sites, from clinical, electronic and industrial sources. The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth. In many parts of the planet, the elderly lament that once beautiful landscapes are now covered with rubbish. Industrial waste and chemical products utilized in cities and agricultural areas can lead to bioaccumulation in the organisms of the local population, even when levels of toxins in those places are low. Frequently no measures are taken until after people’s health has been irreversibly affected.
- These problems are closely linked to a throwaway culture which affects the excluded just as it quickly reduces things to rubbish. To cite one example, most of the paper we produce is thrown away and not recycled. It is hard for us to accept that the way natural ecosystems work is exemplary: plants synthesize nutrients which feed herbivores; these in turn become food for carnivores, which produce significant quantities of organic waste which give rise to new generations of plants. But our industrial system, at the end of its cycle of production and consumption, has not developed the capacity to absorb and reuse waste and by-products. We have not yet managed to adopt a circular model of production capable of preserving resources for present and future generations, while limiting as much as possible the use of non-renewable resources, moderating their consumption, maximizing their efficient use, reusing and recycling them. A serious consideration of this issue would be one way of counteracting the throwaway culture which affects the entire planet, but it must be said that only limited progress has been made in this regard.
[End of quote]
I have found some of what Pope Francis has to say in this Encyclical letter very Ardleian. This led me to write in my article:
‘For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing’.
Quality Over Quantity
What appeals to me personally about the pope’s Laudato Si’ encyclical letter is the resonance I find in parts of it with my favourite book on the philosophy of science, Dr. Gavin Ardley’s Aquinas and Kant: The Foundations of the Modern Sciences (1950). The book can be read at: http://brightmorningstar.blog.com/2008/10/21/gavin-ardleys-book-aquinas-and-kant/
Whereas the ancient sciences (scientiae) involved a study of actual reality, the more abstract modern sciences (e.g. theoretical physics), involve, as Immanuel Kant had rightly discerned, an active imposition of a priori concepts upon reality. In other words, these ‘sciences’ are largely artificial (or ‘categorial’) – their purpose being generally utilitarian.
Ardley tells of it (Ch. VI: Immanuel Kant):
Kant’s great contribution was to point out the revolution in natural science effected by Galileo and Bacon and their successors. This stands in principle even though all the rest of his philosophy wither away. Prior to Galileo people had been concerned with reading laws in Nature. After Galileo they read laws into Nature. His clear recognition of this fact makes Kant the fundamental philosopher of the modern world. It is the greatest contribution to the philosophia perennis since St. Thomas. But this has to be dug patiently out of Kant. Kant himself so overlaid and obscured his discovery that is has ever since gone well nigh unrecognised.
We may, in fact we must, refrain from following Kant in his doctrine of metaphysics. The modelling of metaphysics on physics was his great experiment. The experiment is manifestly a failure, in pursuit of what he mistakenly believed to be the best interests of metaphysics.
But, putting the metaphysical experiment aside, the principle on which it was founded abides, the principle of our categorial activity. Later, in Ch. XVIII, we will see in more detail how this principle is essential to the modern development of the philosophia perennis.
Kant was truly the philosopher of the modern world when we look judiciously at his work. As a motto for the Kritik Kant actually quotes a passage from Francis Bacon in which is laid down the programme for the pursuit of human utility and power. [Footnote: The passage is quoted again in this work on [Ardley’s] p. 47.] As we saw in Ch. IV, it was Bacon above all who gave articulate expression to the spirit behind the new science. Now we see that it was Kant who, for the first time, divined the nature of the new science. If Bacon was the politician of the new régime, Kant was its philosopher although a vastly over-ambitious one.
It appears to be this very sort of Baconian “régime” that pope Francis is currently challenging, at least, according to Stephen White’s estimation:
While much has been said about the pope’s embrace of the scientific evidence of climate change and the dangers it poses, the irony is that he addresses this crisis in a way that calls into question some of the oldest and most basic assumptions of the scientific paradigm.
Francis Bacon and René Descartes — two fathers of modern science in particular — would have shuddered at this encyclical. Bacon was a man of many talents — jurist, philosopher, essayist, lord chancellor of England — but he’s mostly remembered today as the father of the scientific method. He is also remembered for suggesting that nature ought to be “bound into service, hounded in her wanderings and put on the rack and tortured for her secrets.” Descartes, for his part, hoped that the new science he and men like Bacon were developing would make us, in his words, “masters and possessors of nature.”
At the very outset of the encyclical, before any mention of climate change or global warming, Pope Francis issues a challenge to the Baconian and Cartesian view, which sees the world as so much raw material to be used as we please. Neither Descartes nor Bacon is mentioned by name, but the reference is unmistakable. Pope Francis insists that humanity’s “irresponsible use and abuse” of creation has come about because we “have come to see ourselves as [the Earth’s] lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will.”
Not truth, but power lust, will be the prime motivation of these, the Earth’s “lords and masters”, or, as Ardley has put it, “not to know the world but to control it”:
What was needed was for someone to point out clearly the ‘otherness’ of post-Galilean physical science, i.e. the fact that it is, in a sense, cut off from the rest of the world, and is the creation of man himself. The new science has no metaphysical foundations and no metaphysical implications. Kant had the clue to this ‘otherness’ in the categorial theory, but he took the rest of the world with him in the course of the revolution and hence only succeeded in the end in missing the point.
Most people since then, rightly sceptical about Kant’s wholesale revolution, have been quite hostile to the Kantian system in general. Others, perhaps without realising it, have rewritten the revolution in their own terms, and thus have perpetuated Kant’s principal errors (as e.g. Wittgenstein in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus).
A thorough sifting out of Kant has long been required in order to separate the gold from the dross.
…. Kant’s mistake was to think that the world had to be transformed to know it. The truth is that the world may be transformed, if we so dictate, and then it is not to know the world but to control it. ….
[End of quote]
I went on to muse about a possible Ardleian connection:
From what follows, I wonder if the pope – or at least White in his comments – may have read Ardley’s book. Dr. Ardley had (on p. 5) pointed out that there are two ways of going about the process of analyzing or dissecting something, depending on one’s purpose. And he well illustrated his point by comparing the practices of the anatomist and the butcher. When an anatomist dissects an animal, he traces out the real structure of the animal; he lays bare the veins, the nerves, the muscles, the organs, and so on. “He reveals the actual structure which is there before him waiting to be made manifest”. The butcher, on the other hand, is not concerned about the natural structure of the animal as he chops it up; he wants to cut up the carcass into joints suitable for domestic purposes. In his activities the butcher ruthlessly cleaves across the real structure laid bare so patiently by the anatomist. “The anatomist finds his structure, the butcher makes his”.
Thus White: “Put another way, Pope Francis insists that the material world isn’t just mere stuff to be dissected, studied, manipulated, and then packaged off to be sold into service of human wants and needs”. And again: “The utilitarian mindset that treats creation as so much “raw material to be hammered into useful shape” inevitably leads us to see human beings through the same distorted lens”.
The pope repeatedly warns against the presumption that technological advances, in themselves, constitute real human progress. In a typical passage, he writes, “There is a growing awareness that scientific and technological progress cannot be equated with the progress of humanity and history, a growing sense that the way to a better future lies elsewhere.” The pope writes critically of “irrational confidence in progress and human abilities.” He writes hopefully of a time when “we can finally leave behind the modern myth of unlimited material progress.”
This isn’t to say that Pope Francis is anti-technology or even, as some have suggested, anti-modern, but he is deeply critical of both our technological mindset and modernity’s utilitarian propensities. While he acknowledges with gratitude the benefits humanity has derived from modern technology, which has “remedied countless evils which used to harm and limit human beings,” he also calls into question — forcefully — the idea that utility is the proper measure of our interaction with creation.
[End of quote]
There may be a better way of doing things in the pursuit of what pope Francis calls an “integral ecology [which] transcend[s] the language of mathematics and biology, and take[s] us to the heart of what it is to be human”.
A too rigid mathematics can make for a cruel master.