Monday, April 17, 2017

Aristotle and the philosophy of science


Aristotle (384-322 BC) is an influential philosopher best known for systematically analyzing many topics including: physics, biology, zoology, logic, ethics, aesthetics, poetry, metaphysics, music, rhetoric, linguistics and politics. Mathematician Bertrand Russell says,
Aristotle, as a philosopher, is in many ways very different from all his predecessors. He is the first to write like a professor: his treatises are systematic, his discussions are divided into heads, he is a professional teacher, not an inspired prophet. His work is critical, careful, pedestrian, without any trace of Bacchic enthusiasm. (A History of Western Philosophy, 1945)
Galileo Galilei also describes Aristotle's research style,
I do believe for certain, that he [Aristotle] first procured, by the help of the senses, such experiments and observations as he could, to assure him as much as was possible of the conclusion, and that he afterwards sought out the means how to demonstrate it; for this is the usual course in demonstrative sciences. (Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, 1661)
The rest of this post is a collection four quotes from Aristotle describing his philosophy of science.

What is knowledge?


"The natural way of doing this [seeking scientific knowledge or explanation of fact] is to start from the things which are more knowable and obvious to us and proceed towards those which are clearer and more knowable by nature... Now what is to us plain and obvious at first is rather confused masses, the elements and principles of which became known to us by later analysis..." (Physics)

"Of things said without any combination, each signifies either substance or quantity or qualification or a relative or where or when or being in a position or having or doing or being affected. To give a rough idea, examples of substance are man, horse; of quantity: four-foot, five-foot; of qualification: white, grammatical; of a relative: double, half, larger; of where: in the Lyceum, in the market-place; of when: yesterday, last year; of being in a position: is lying, is sitting; of having: has shoes on, has armour on; of doing: cutting, burning; of being affected: being cut, being burned." (Categories)

"Knowledge of the fact differs from knowledge of the reason for the fact." (Posterior Analytics)

"It is the mark of an educated man to look for precision in each class of things just so far as the nature of the subject admits." (Nicomachean Ethics)

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