Philosophy vs other types of knowledge (IntroPhil 102.1)

    /    Sep 19, 2016   /     Mind builder  /    Comments are closed  /    368 Views

We are in a new week and starting a new chapter of the lecture series. This new chapter looks at philosophy and other forms or types of knowledge like the special sciences, theology, common sense etc. Let’s intensify the interaction on our various platforms to enhance learning.

Philosophy and the Special Sciences

We have now to define the relationship between philosophy (particularly the first philosophy or metaphysics as noted in our first chapter) and the other sciences.

Every science is a mistress in her own house, inasmuch as every science possesses the indispensable and sufficient means of attaining truth within its own sphere and no one is entitled to deny the truths thus proved.

Science, however, or rather a scientist, may happen to make a mistake in its own domain. In such a case the science in question is no doubt competent to judge and correct itself.

But it is obvious that a superior science has also the right to judge and correct it, if the mistake should contradict one of its own results and thus come under its jurisdiction.

Now, philosophy, and especially philosophy in the highest sense, that is metaphysics, is the sovereign science. Therefore it is competent to judge every other human science, rejecting as false every scientific hypothesis which contradicts its own results.

Take for example a hypothesis of physics which appears to contradict a truth of philosophy. Physics is competent to judge that hypothesis by the laws of physics. But philosophy is also competent to judge it by the principles of philosophy, determining whether and how far it really contradicts the philosophic truth in question.

(If the contradiction is real, it is evident that the hypothesis of physics in question must be false for one truth cannot contradict another. The physicist must therefore bow to the verdict of philosophy, revise his arguments and make further experiments.

Let us now take a conclusion of philosophy which appears to contradict a truth established by physics: for example, when the philosophical doctrine of free will appears to the mechanists to contradict the physical law of the conservation of energy.

It is for philosophy to judge that conclusion in accordance with the principles of philosophy, to decide whether and how far it is really in conflict with the physical truth in question. But physics is incompetent to determine the question by the principles and data of physics.

If the contradiction is real, it is up to philosophy to investigate whether the alleged conclusion of philosophy is false, for one truth cannot contradict another.

The philosopher will therefore bow:

Not indeed to the verdict of physics, but to the verdict of philosophy judging itself by means of physics, and he will revise his arguments accordingly.

Moreover, since the laws of one science are subordinate to the laws of a superior science, it clearly follows that it is the office of the superior science to govern the inferior.

But since the principles of philosophy (the first philosophy or metaphysics) are the absolutely first principles of all human knowledge, they possess an authority over the principles of all other human sciences, which are in a certain sense dependent upon them.

That is to say, philosophy (the first philosophy or metaphysics) governs the other sciences. Since the principles of philosophy (the first philosophy or metaphysics) are the absolute first principles of all human knowledge, the principles or postulates of all human sciences are in a certain sense dependent upon them.

These principles or postulates of sciences might be self-evident by the light of natural reason, but they are not absolutely speaking first principles. Therefore, although they carry conviction independently of metaphysics, nevertheless they presuppose in fact the principles of metaphysics.

They can be known without an explicit knowledge of the principles of metaphysics, but they cooed not be true, unless the latter were true. And in this sense they are indirectly subordinate to the latter.

For instance, the mathematical axiom, two quantities which are equal to a third quantity are equal to one another, can be resolved into the metaphysical axiom of which it is a special case: two beings identical with a third are identical with one another (take a moment to reason this out).

To govern or direct anything is to prescribe its object or end. The sciences are not directed by philosophy to their end, in the sense that they could not attain it without the aid of philosophy.

Philosophy, however, determines the distinctive object of each, and what constitutes their specific unity and differentiation from the rest (classification of the sciences).

And so doing it assigns the order in which they stand one to another and this order may be regarded as the common transcendent goal towards which all the special sciences converge.

From all we have just said it follows that: to be proficient in the sciences it is not necessary to be a philosopher or to base one’s work on a philosophy; neither need the scientist – while engaged in his special task – seek advice from the philosopher or attempt to play the philosopher himself.

But “philosophy alone enables the man of science to understand: the position and bearings of his special science in the sum-total of human knowledge”

Or “to acquire a notion either of the principles implicit in all experimental knowledge or the true foundations of the special sciences.” It follows, further, that a period in the history of human culture in which philosophy is not allowed her rightful suzerainty over the sciences (as the organizing science) inevitably ends in a condition of intellectual chaos and a general weakening of the reasoning faculty.

In this respect, two errors have been made in the history of scientific development: Descartes, exaggerated the leading role of philosophy, while Auguste Comte wished to reduce philosophy to a mere systematisation of the special sciences, the existence of philosophy as organizing science.

Philosophy of Aristotle and Aquinas Philosophy of Descartes Philosophy of those who reject Philosophy
The principles of the special sciences are subordinate to the principles of philosophy, but only indirectly. Philosophy therefore governs the other sciences, but its government is such hat it may be termed on constitutional. (The special sciences are autonomous.’ The study of the first philosophy (metaphysics) should be undertaken, not at the beginning, but at the end of intellectual research. The principles of the special sciences are directly subordinate to those of philosophy. The latter therefore exercises over other sciences a government which may be termed despotic. The study of the first philosophy (metaphysics) should be undertaken at the beginning of intellectual research The principles of the special sciences are not subordinate to the principles of any science of a higher order. There is no supreme science or first philosophy (metaphysics).These sciences therefore are in no sense governed but are in a condition which may be termed anarchy.


Finally, if a science bases its demonstrations on certain postulates or data, which it can neither explain nor defend, there must be a superior science whose function it is to defend these postulates or data.

Sciences are based upon (or derive their) postulates and data provided to them by common sense, or from the natural evidence of the intellect and experience and these are sufficient bases to build upon.

By they are incapable to prove or defend these postulates if they came to be attacked.  Therefore another science (philosophy) would be the one defending them. For instance physics does not investigate what is the nature of matter or whether matter really exists. If the existence of matter were denied (for instance by idealism) it is the role of philosophy to prove its existence.

Philosophy appeals to the facts, the data of experience and to the conclusions of scientific investigation to pursue its endeavours. But it used these elements only as instruments provided by them. Then philosophy judges by his own light in using the materials provided by experience and science. The findings of science only confirm the conclusions of philosophy obtained by its own thinking upon data supplied by the evidence of the senses.

Because of the relationship of philosophy with sciences some scientific errors might influence philosophy, but only temporarily and accidentally. This would only prove that philosophy has confided too much on sciences. Instead of using its specific means dad ways. Coming back to its own specificity philosophy can, eventually, rid itself of these scientific errors.

It is clear from everything which has been said that: the philosopher should keep himself as fully acquainted as he can with the scientific knowledge of his period; although he should preserves intact the freedom of philosophic truth.

The philosopher ought to make use of this scientific knowledge to illustrate aptly his principles, to confirm his conclusions, to interpret, throw light upon, and assimilate, the assured results of the sciences so far as questions of philosophy are involved, to refute objections and errors which claim support from its results.

Before undertaking the study of wisdom the philosopher should undergo the training of the sciences. It is not therefore surprising that all the great philosophers have been thoroughly acquainted with contemporary science.

Some have even been great scientists (for example Aristotle, Albertus Magnus, and Leibniz), and several scientific discoveries of the first magnitude have been made by philosophers, for instance the mathematical discoveries of Pythagoras, Descartes, and Leibniz.


Written by Kombian SOMTUAKA

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