Wednesday, September 06, 2006


Only hylomorphism can account for substantial and accidental change; any form of materalism will turn out to be reductionistic--it's just a question of how much. Take for example the generation of water from oxygen and hydrogen. (What is normally called synthesis in chemistry.) The properties and behavior of water are very different from oxygen and hydrogen.

Knowing how oxygen and hydrogen behave will not enable you to make an a priori prediction of how water will behave. Moreover, water is quite different from a a mixture of oxygen and hydrogen gas--continguity or proximity is not the same as generation, even if generation depends on local motion and continguity. While the generation of complex substances does depend on the constituents being present (the "matter," in one sense), the substance generated is more than the constituents taken singly.

(Hence we see how materialism within chemistry has affected how chemists explain things--bonding within compounds, for example, as if water were simply hydrogen and oxygen "bonded" to one another, and the constituents plus the bond are enough to explain water.)

Today Dr. Pakaluk writes:
But today I wish to press another difficulty, namely, that the natural scientific doctrine of the mean (as we may call it) is evidently different from the Doctrine of the Mean as stated in the ethics. They are two different notions of an intermediate or mean (meson).

The natural scientific doctrine of the mean, I take it, is something like the following. In a teleological system, it often happens that extremes, or opposites, need to be somehow 'neutralized', in order to make the required contribution to the good of the whole. This neutralization can take place either through a balancing (in which we imagine that the extremes continue to have their force, but in equiposition), or a mixture (in which we imagine that each extreme acts on the other to produce some resultant product that falls in between).

One might regard this doctrine as Aristotle's view about what is right in Heraclitus' view of co-dependent opposites.

Now two points about this.

First, it is not a whacky doctrine at all. Indeed, one might think that something like this must be true, simply given the nature of a teleological system. One might of course doubt that such systems exist (in which case it is 'teleology', and undoubtedly also 'hylomorphism', which one must regard as pseudoscience). But what such a system would be, is a system in which parts that otherwise would not operate together harmoniously, to some single effect, are so adapted that they now do so. This very description requires that its parts somehow be balanced or mutually opposed, so that the effects that each would otherwise produce are moderated.

It would be easy to think of examples of this. Consider for instance how electrical impulses are propagated along the membrane of a nerve cell. The movement of the charge is achieved not by the conduction of electrons within the cell (as in a copper wire), but rather by a change and transmission in potential effected by sodium and potassium ions. As this potential is propagated, the charge at each location is 'neutralized' and effected at the immediately continguous location. Thus the 'extremes' of positive and negative charges are used against each other to achieve safely an effect (the propagation of an electric signal) that might otherwise be hazardous to living tissue. Furthermore, through this neutralization the tissue immediately regenerates its capacity to propagate an impulse. (See for instance the Introduction here.)

The point is that it is natural to speak of living systems, or perhaps even natural systems generally, as 'harnassing' and 'moderating' forces that, operating on their own outside of such systems, would work to an extreme that would be incompatible with the good functioning of such systems. This I take it is what the 'natural scientific doctrine of the mean' is meant to capture.
It's a bit disappointing to see Aristotle's teaching on hylomorphisms dismissed just like that, solely because of the success or practical value that we have come to associate with contemporary explanations by scientists. Now what is meant by pseudoscience? Something that does not achieve the epistemic status of a real science, especially because it does not employ the scientific method (whether taken in its positivistic form or not)? But what of Aristotle's conception of science, as an explanation of a thing through its causes? And his analysis of change? Do were reject his principles of change, form, matter, and privation, in favor of a materialist account? We could easily supplement the various materialist accounts given in the first book of the physics with contemporary chemistry, and show how the physical theory present in contemporary chemistry is just as flawed, even if it is not as reductionistic as the ancient ones. (Though it depends on the chemist or the physicist--some wish to reduce chemistry to physics.)

How do we know if two things are contraries, or opposites? Througuh opposing qualities? Or because they have opposite effects? I think Dr. Pakaluk's example works in showing how in a complex ordered system, something must bring about a blanace of opposites so that one is not dominated by another. Another example of a balance or mean might be homeostasis in an animal. Within a living thing, this is in some way initiated by the living thing itself, though not at the level of the whole organism, but at a lower level of organisation, whether it be system or cell. I would have to see what examples Aristotle employs in his presentation of the mean in his natural philosophy. Within a system of more than one substances, this balancing must be done, ultimately, by the First Mover. (In Christian terms, God through His Providence.)

(See Aquinas' argument for the existence of God from the need for an intelligence to govern substances that have no intelligence.)

The notion of balance and harmony is also found in Chinese philosophy--a sign perhaps that at a "prescientific" level, we can readily intuit that opposing contraries need to be balanced out in some way for the sake of the whole (or the cosmos).

Through a thing's sensible qualities we come to know the nature of a thing. Through the senses we are able to observe how it interacts with other things (including with other things of the same kind). Moreover, the sensible qualities of a thing, which can enable us to come up with a nominal definition, involve causality, since our senses are acted upon by the thing in some way.

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