ND   JMC : History of Medieval Philosophy / by Maurice De Wulf

279. Relations of Philosophy to the Special Sciences. -- To understand these relations, one must first have grasped the idea of the hierarchical gradations of human knowledge, culminating in philosophy. The special sciences study Nature in detail, each embracing some one group of things under the special aspect which constitutes its formal object. In accordance with the principles of scholastic ideology (300) the sciences of observation come first in the ascending scale of knowledge. We need only examine the regulations issued by the Paris Faculty of Arts in 1255 (231) to see that the full programme embraced purely scientific branches: astronomy, botany, physiology, zoology, chemistry and physics (in the modern sense). But these fragmentary, encyclopedic, ANALYTIC items of knowledge do not satisfy the mind. In the view of Aristotle and the scholastics, science par excellence (sapientia), or philosophy, is a SYNTHETIC knowledge of Nature. It is in a sense the knowledge of all things: in this sense, that the thought-object which it considers in the abstract, permeates the whole vast region of the real, and is the common intelligible element of every single reality in Nature. This common intelligible object is either movement, quantity or being, abstracted in the study of physics, mathematics or metaphysics, respectively: these latter forming the famous trilogy of the speculative sciences. In this view the experimental sciences are preparatory to physics, or the philosophical study of Nature.{1} Moral philosophy is accompanied, in this scheme, by historical studies, especially Bible history; by the science of education; and by a portion of that very wide department included in what are now called the social sciences. Logic is introduced by the preliminary study of grammar, or the forms of language. Hence we conclude: --

(1) That the SPECIAL SCIENCES -- at that time in a very rudimentary state -- were studied rather as a PREPARATION FOR PHILOSOPHY than for their own sake.

(2) That according to its very conception philosophy is SCIENTIFIC. The synthetic interpretation of the material universe must rest throughout on analysis. Without such permanent contact with the details of things, it would be devoid of reality.

(3) That between the special and the philosophical sciences there is no essential distinction, all alike being the natural outcome of one and the same intellectual process of abstraction; but only a difference in degree, corresponding with the degree of abstraction.

(4) That "like science, like philosophy". The Middle Ages knew no distinction between what we nowadays call scientific knowledge and common knowledge, respectively. Ordinary, unskilled observation, provided it was accurate, could and did lead to right synthetic views and generalizations; misinterpretations of facts naturally led to wrong generalizations.

{1} The philosophical study of Nature is thus distinguished from such scientific encyclopedias as the Speculum of Vincent of Beauvais, the Thesaurus Magnus of Brunetto Latini and the De Proprietatibus Rerum of Bartholemew the Englishman in the thirteenth century.

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