Anti-Aristotelianism

Anti-Aristotelianism can be abstractly described as a paradigm shift in the belief about how nature works, what we can know about nature, and how we can go about obtaining knowledge. Aristotelian metaphysics holds that matter moves by virtue of intrinsic conjoined motivation (a moving cause) that comes with any piece of matter, that the world of matter is imperfect "copies" of pure essences, and that our senses give us the ability to perfectly "know" true knowledge. By contrast, the anti-Aristotelian perspective, which began many centuries ago, denied that the world is divided into the perfect essences and imperfect physical copies, or that we can know with any perfection about the world.  We must learn about the world by experiment - empirically testing our theories (maps). There are no "essences", and motion is the result of outside forces acting on bodies.

The following quotations from various sources show the anti-Aristotelian perspective.  It primarily represents the beginnings of modern, empirical, science and philosophy. While the ancient Greeks understood both the inability to know the absolute truth as well as the need for theories to agree with experience, this knowledge was essentially lost to civilization during the dark ages. The roots of anti-Aristotelianism as the foundation of modern science can be found as early as the 13th century. 

Review the following quotations:

"In search of origins, Duhem became convinced that the source of the flourishing of anti-Aristotelian science was the decision in March 1277 by Etienne Tempier, bishop of Paris, to condemn as heretical 219 propositions. Duhem claimed that Tempierís action freed natural philosophers from the straight-jacket of Aristotelian science and encouraged them to examine ways of understanding the world which Aristotle would reject. Duhem thought that the work of Jean Buridan on projectile motion was one of the key developments in the 14th century which entitles Buridan to be called a precursor of Galileo. Buridanís theory of impetus, and its relation to the principle of inertia, will be the subject of my next lecture; here I only want to mention that, according to Duhem, as a result of the rejection of the authority of Aristotle, scholars such as Buridan were able to consider new ways of explaining the phenomena of nature. Freed from the shackles of the Aristotelian principle that all motion requires a conjoined moving cause, Buridan and others, according to Duhem, lay the foundations of modern mechanics." ( Condemnations of Paris 1277 and the Birth of Modern Science - Carroll) (Posted by Colin G. Hughes on September 09, 19100 at 07:17:34:)

IV. THE ANTI-ARISTOTELIAN PREMISE:  ... In contradiction of Aristotleís theory of species, evolutionary biology maintains that for (just about) any given intrinsic characteristic T that some present day humans possess, it is possible for some past, present, or future human to lack T. A species is a mutually interacting group of individuals, and though there are forces that push the group towards uniformity, there are also forces that mitigate in favour of heterogeneity, or at least donít interfere with it. Thus, even if it so happens that every member of a species possesses a certain trait, it is still possible that there have been or will be members of that species which lack that trait. This is why no intrinsic trait is essential to species-membership; species have no intrinsic characteristics as essence. Letís call this the Anti-Aristotelian Premise. Origins are not Essences in Evolutionary Systematics

Burnet had stressed continuing change and decay, against the Aristotelian notion of an eternal universe. (Nathanael Carpenter had introduced this "entropy" argument early in the seventeenth century-what is now called an appeal to the Second Law of Thermodynamics-as Suzanne Kelly noted, in Schneer, Cecil J. (ed.), 1969. Toward a History of Geology (Cambridge, MA: M. IT. Press), 1969, pp. 223, 224.)

  1. Methodology:
    1.  Hermetism:
    2. Anti-Aristotelian Sentiment:
      1. Invective by men like Peter Ramus who felt that Aristotelian methodology was totally sterile--attempts to devise new and better methodologies.
        1. This sort of attitude was reflected in alchemists like Agrippa and Paracelsus who extolled practical experience over book-learning.
    3. Francis Bacon:
      1. Spokesman and symbol for Experimentation (inductive)--probable roots in the Natural Magic tradition.
      2. Utilitarianism: Science must be beneficial to society--ideal of progress.
      3. Thus Bacon's methodology, though simple, was conceived to be totally new and anti-Aristotelian. (The Scientific Revolution)

But not all philosophers were willing to overthrow Aristotelianism. Kenelm Digby (1603-65) attempted to conserve many of the Aristotelian doctrines, and to make aspects of the mechanical science compatible with these doctrines. And there were many camps of anti-Aristotelian naturalists who rejected the picture of nature as a grand machine, and who endorsed various "vitalist" views of corporeal nature as self-moving, living, and knowing. Among these thinkers were the physicians and chemists, for example, Johannes Baptista Van Helmont (1579-1644), who followed in the tradition of the vitalist naturalist Paracelsus (1493-1541); while others included practitioners of natural magic, for example, Robert Fludd (1574-1637), who were part of the hermetic and occult traditions. Finally, Joseph Glanvill (1636-80), who despaired of producing the true system of nature, and who fully endorsed neither Aristotle nor the mechanists, rehabilitated arguments from the ancient [skeptics]. (Cavendish)

Hobbes' emphasis of the dependence of knowledge upon mechanical principle, when logically extended, produces a worldview in which nothing incorporeal can be said to be truly known, only "believed", and that for generally less than adequate reasons. For this and similar reasons the appellation "Hobbs the atheist" would thereafter haunt him following the publication of Leviathan (1651). Locke, while echoing much of Hobbes' mechanical and anti-Aristotelian theory, would later soften several of Hobbes' conclusions by attempting to incorporate an effective and meaningful idea of God into an otherwise empirical framework. In other words, Locke proposes an empirical system which is not exclusively materialist. Locke's attempt however ultimately failed at sufficiently grounding the role of God within an empirical epistemology, and related philosophical inquiry soon dropped any meaningful notion of God from its endeavor. (The Physical Philosophy of Thomas Hobbes)

However, [Jesuit commentators] still ascribe final causation to physical things even though physical things lack cognition. The seventeenth century anti-Aristotelian [philosopher] Sebastian Basso attacks this teleological view of nature via his critique of the Jesuit view of God's concurrence. According to the Jesuits, created things act toward a goal by their own powers, but they do so simultaneously and by the same action as God. Basso argues that for this to be the case all created things must possess cognition so that they can anticipate God's goals and match their causal action to his. Since physical things lack cognition, Basso concludes that they only act insofar as they are moved by God as his instruments. Basso's attack on the Jesuit view of causation supports his anti-Aristotelian view of nature which does away with substantial forms and active powers in matter. For Basso, matter consists in particles that are moved externally by the physical ether. Basso's causal explanations have much in common with Renť Descartes'. Both philosophers explain natural phenomena in terms of the local motion of material parts. However, while Basso locates the source of motion in the world soul which pervades nature, Descartes [locates] it in God. Furthermore, Descartes draws on the Jesuit view of concurrence to distinguish between the first cause of motion and the second causes. Descartes' distinctly modern view of causation thus contains both Aristotelian and anti-Aristotelian elements. ("From Teleology to Mechanism: The Jesuits, Basso, and Descartes on Natural Causation")

Galileo was very much a man of the Renaissance. He was, like that portentous era, a
watershed in which the streams of past and present, coming from heterogeneous sources, mixed and
mingled. The current that emerged had certain clearly discernible characteristics that made of
Galileo a man much more of the future than of the medieval past. Because of this, he is a symbol of
the new age of modern science in a fuller sense than Descartes or Bacon. Descartes' impact was
mainly epistemological, and that of Bacon methodological. In Galileo, the epistemological and the
methodological are certainly present, but they are submerged in a powerful force of rhetorical
persuasion, a literary gift put to the service of a passion for convincing the world that he was right
about the new anti-Aristotelian descriptions of motion and about the Copernican astronomy. (GALILEO'S EMPIRICISM -- AND BEYOND)

What the kamikaze crafts of Cartesian Doubt and Rationalism hit were the "twin towers" of the Aristotelian philosophical system, 1) our trust that the ideas in our minds are simply perfect reflections of the perceived object in the natural world and 2) the understanding that the five senses provide us with a real and exact knowledge of the natures of things in the material world. These two attacks were definitely part of a philosophical jihad on Aristotle and his explanation of nature and the human mind and person. To forget this overarching anti-Aristotelian aim, would be to overlook the heart of the matter. (The Cogito and Philosophical Modernism)

A new form of "anti-Aristotelianism" is developing in the general semantics community.

See Non-Aristotelian Rather than Anti-Aristotelian in Alfred Korzybski and the Problem of Causation.

Many general semanticists rail against any use of logic which is based on the two values of true and false, forgetting that this logic is the foundation of the very mathematics that brought us to our current understanding of the world - the very mathematics and logic that Korzybski strongly advocates that we apply in our daily lives. - We should learn and use the methods of modern science in our everyday evaluations.

Korzybski cautioned against adopting a two-valued orientation that responds to our world with evaluations in terms of "either/or" propositions.  We must remember that our evaluations of situations is a classification process into a verbal and cognitive map, a map which is not the real thing. If we say that something either "is" A, or it "is not" A, we are performing such a classification.  However, this classification simply is not the territory being abstracted from.


Annotated bibliography of general semantics papers
General Semantics and Related Topics
This page was updated by Ralph Kenyon on 2009/11/16 at 00:27 and has been accessed 15839 times at 160 hits per month.