Pages

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Aristotle and Common Sense

Here’s an excerpt from Edward Feser’s article, “Aristotle, Call Your Office”:
To untutored common sense, the natural world is filled with irreducibly different kinds of objects and qualities: people; dogs and cats; trees and flowers; rocks, dirt, and water; colors, odors, sounds; heat and cold; meanings and purposes. A man is a radically different sort of thing from a rose, which is in turn no less different from a stone. The warmth of the stone and the redness and fragrance of the rose are features no less real than their shapes or movements; the function of an ear or an eye and the meaning of a human thought or utterance are no less a part of objective reality than a man’s height or weight.  
Aristotle and the Scholastic tradition that built on his thought took the view that common sense was essentially correct. It needed to be systematized and refined, and when its implications were drawn out they would lead to metaphysical conclusions far beyond anything the man on the street is likely to have dreamed of, or even to understand. But a sound philosophy and science would nevertheless build on common sense rather than radically undermine it.  
The founders of modern philosophy and science overthrew Aristotelianism, and common sense along with it. On the new view of nature inaugurated by Galileo and Descartes, the material world is comprised of nothing more than colorless, odorless, soundless, meaningless, purposeless particles in motion, describable in purely mathematical terms. The differences between dirt, water, rocks, trees, dogs, cats, and human bodies are on this view superficial. 
Indeed, at bottom these are all just the same kinds of thing”arrangements within the one vast ocean of physical particles, the differences between the arrangements ultimately no deeper than the differences between waves on the same sea. Color, sound, odor, heat, and cold”understood in the qualitative way common sense understands them”are relegated to the mind, existing only in our conscious representation of the natural world, not in the world itself. Color, sound, and the rest as objective features would be redefined in quantitative terms”reflectance properties of physical surfaces, compression waves, and the like.

No comments: