Summary and Conclusion of Chapter One (IntroPhil 101.12)
Philosophy is the science which by the natural light of reason studies the first causes or highest principles of all things. It is, in other words, the science of things in their first causes, in so far as these belong to the natural order.
The difficulty of such a science is proportionate to its elevation. That is why the philosopher, just because the object of his studies is the most sublime, should personally be the humblest of students.
This humility, however, which should not prevent his defending, as it is his duty to do, the sovereign dignity of wisdom as the queen of sciences.
The error of Descartes and August Comte
The perception that the sphere of science is universal led Descartes (17th century) to regard philosophy as the sole science (Nota al pié de la página) which the others were but parts. Auguste Comte, on the contrary, and the positivists generally (19th century), sought to absorb it in the other sciences, as being merely their “systematisation.”
It is evident that the cause of both errors was the failure to distinguish between the material and formal object of philosophy.
The distinction between material and formal objects
For Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, the material object of Philosophy is everything knowable. The corpus (whole, totality) of other sciences also have as their material object everything knowable. Therefore they have the same material object.
The Formal object of philosophy is first causes. The formal object of the other sciences is secondary causes.
But for Descartes
- Philosophy absorbs the other sciences
- Philosophy is the whole of science.
And for Auguste Comte
- The sciences absorb philosophy
- There is no philosophy.
We said above that philosophy is a science, and that it attains certain knowledge. By this we do not claim that philosophy provides solutions, with certitude, for every question that can be asked within its domain.
On many points the philosopher must be content with probable solutions:
- Either because the question goes beyond the actual scope of his science, for example in many sections of natural philosophy and psychology,
- Or because of its nature it admits only of a probable answer, for example the application of moral rules to individual cases.
But this element of mere probability is accidental to science as such. And philosophy yields a greater number of certain conclusions, and of those many more perfect, namely, the conclusions of metaphysics, than any other purely human science.
What shall we learn in the next chapter? But until next week, what questions and observations do you have on the lectures we have had so far? I really need to hear you out.
Written by Kombian SOMTUAKA