FOM: Aristotle and the unity of science

Stephen G Simpson simpson at
Mon Jan 19 19:37:33 EST 1998

In his posting of 13 Dec 1997 09:32:56, Robert Tragesser writes:
 > Steve Simpson somehow puts the unification of the sciences together
 > with Aristotelianism.  But aren't these diametrically opposed? 

No, I don't think so.  On the contrary, it seems to me that
Aristotle has done more for the unity of science and "foundational
studies" (Harvey's phrase) than any other thinker.  Among Aristotle's

  1. formal logic -- a common scientific methodology (Prior Analytics).

  2. the deductive structure of science (Posterior Analytics) --
  definition, axiom, theorem, proof, ....

  3. detailed study of how science is organized into subjects, each
  with its own subject matter and specialized methodology, but all
  based on the primacy of individual substance and with rich

  4. analysis of the limits of scientific reasoning -- "There is no
  science of the accidental."

  5. analysis of correct but non-scientific reasoning.

  6. analysis of fallacious reasoning.

  7. detailed treatises on the foundations of many specific sciences:
  biology, psychology, physics, politics, ethics, economics,
  metaphysics (the science of being as such), mathematics (actually
  there is no single treatise on mathematics, but Aristotle's writings
  on mathematics provide a coherent foundational treatment), rhetoric,
  et cetera.

Tragesser says that Aristotelianism may be somehow opposed to the
unity of science, and he cites studies of Funkenstein and Mancosu
which I haven't gotten around to reading.  (Could somebody please ask
Mancosu to join FOM?)  Apparently the fallacy of metabasis is at
issue.  Tragesser 12 Dec 1997 11:45:35 aptly formulates metabasis as

 > For Aristotle each subject matter had its own principles or causes.
 > It was for Aristotle a serious fallacy to transport techniques
 > germane to on subject matter to another subject matter.  He called
 > the fallacy(if I may butcher the Greek): metabasis eis allo genos).

My view is that metabasis is indeed a serious fallacy, and recognition
of this fallacy is one of the preconditions of a well-ordered
scientific community.  For example, it would be a serious error to
judge mathematical research by the standards of physics, and vice

Social analogy: In a well-ordered society, the recognition and
enforcement of individual rights (including property rights) enables
citizens to live in peace and harmony and to cooperate for mutual
benefit.  E pluribus unum!

-- Steve

PS.  For the record, I'd like to comment briefly on Harvey's "What is
FOMT?" of 14 Jan 1998 23:55:53.  I agree with the substance of
Harvey's remarks, but I would prefer a different terminology.  Namely,
I propose to designate to Harvey's Type 1 (respectively Type 2) FOMT
as f.o.m. (respectively foundations of X where X ranges over branches
of mathematics).  I feel that my terminology offers better protection
against the list 2 fallacy.

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