- Jul 15, 2014
Professor Thierry Hoquet of the University of Lyon III gave a series of four classes on the theme of « History of the philosophy of science », and looked at the classes held this year from various angles.
The first class was titled « General philosophy of science », and introduced various arguments focussing on « hypotheses » in science on the issue of how science is structured. The main theses raised were that of Pierre Maurice Marie Duhem (1861-1916), and, later, Williard Van Orman Quine (1908-2000) on the principle of induction that came to be known as the « Duhem-Quine thesis », the « Falisifiablity » of Karl Popper (1902-1994), and the « Deductive-nomogical model » and « Inductive-statistical model » of Carl Hempel (1905-1997). What we can say common to all is that so-called hypotheses can only be considered under some arbitrariness; in other words, such a thing as an independently functioning hyphothesis does not exist. So we can never have a pure, neutral and, so to speak, isolated, hypothesis. In Duhem, this weakens the « crucial experiment », and shows that newly attained facts from observation, that possess falsifiability and oppose the existing theory, must be based on some theory. Popper supports the above assertion by making the division of « central hypothesis » and « auxiliary hypothesis ». Lastly, as described by « Hempel's ravens », Hempel indicated the danger in carrying out deductive verification of a scientific hypothesis; that is, the danger of inductive verification of another hypothesis that is predictable and deducible from an initial hypothesis.
The second class was conducted under the title of « Historical epistemology ». Examples given were biology, which, due to Charles Darwin (1809-1882), shifted from the « Theory of creation » to the « Theory of evolution », and mathematics, where Euclidean geometry was embraced by non-Euclidean geometry. In this way, the inclusion and replacement of opposing notions is carried out within the same academic discipline. They were explained here as turning points in the history of science. First of all, however, we must ask, does science have a history? The thinking behind this question is as follows. Science searches for universal truths, and can make discoveries ; for this reason a retelling (of history) cannot exist in science. The truth of yesterday is still truth today. To advocate the history of science is to deny science itself, it might be said. This is closely connected to the problem of continuity and discontinuity in science. On the subject, Thomas Kuhn (1922-1996) refers to discontinuity in science in his The structure of scientific revolutions that uses the notion of « paradigm shifts » to clearly indicate fault lines and subsumption within science. He was, therefore, neither simply declaring relativism, nor eroding the actual significance of science. We can say that science sees recurring deviation and stagnation in its pursuit of theoretical truths. The second class also touched upon Gaston Bachelard (1884-1962) who preceded Kuhn in discussing discontinuity in science in his « La philosophie du non (The philosophy of no ; 1940) ». The class also explained the concepts, and the thought behind, « ruptures épistémologique (epistemological breaks) » and « obstacles épistémologiques (epistemological obstacles) » that he introduced late in life. These provided terminology that is deeply significant in relation to the history of science.
The third class handled « Feminist epistemology ». The following proved important points for discussion : is the female body only an epistemic object ? and, more specifically, when scientists talk about « we », does that « we » include women as subject rather than object ? Here, first of all, the two perspectives on « gender distinction » were raised that illustrate the fundamental issue. The problem of women as merely an object of sex is unexpectedly related to the problem of objectivity in science. The exclusion of women as subject means that women also require, in principle, to be the object of male desire, or, one might say, the object of value judgement by men. In other words, objectivity in science protects itself from pathos and values by excluding « women » in this way. Feminists insist that gender distinction is no more than a social division. However much we might talk of biological sex, humans will only talk of it in socio-biological terms. For that reason, Professor Hoquet criticised this view based on objectivity as, in fact, an ideology.
The fourth class was entitled « Sociology of science », and took an externalist approach to science to raise the issue of science as an ideology, in a Marxist sense. Professor Hoquet put forward the question, why did Galileo and Newton research ballistics ? He gave the answer that it was ultimately for war. If we add a simple explanation, « for war » really means that it made them money. A large amount of financing was necessary for their research. In other words, decisions over scientists' research themes, the consequent knowledge gained, and methods for securing finance are all intervened in by a society of non-scientists, or, dare we say it, politics. In contrast to this kind of science shaped within a certain society, we were then introduced to ethno-methodology as a science to transcend borders. The class finally went on to mention the reception of evolutionary theory in Japan.
- Jul 10, 2014
Professor Vincent Giraud of the University of Kyoto gave a series of three classes. The theme was « The medieval thought and the sign », with the first class focussing on Aurelius Augustinus (Saint Augustine ; 354~430), the second on Dionysius the Areopagite (Dionysios ho Areopagites) and Johannes Scotus Eriugena (810~877), and the third on Nicolaus Cusanus (1401~1464). Our attention was drawn to the signification held by signs in their works, and this told us about their understanding of existence and phenomena. We could say that Professor Giraud's classes, on this occasion, served to trace the history of existence in the middle ages.
The Book of Genesis tells us that when God said « Let there be light », light then existed. Here we have typical signs. God's Word is the cause of all existence, believes Augustinus, and, indeed, Christianity in its world view. What we find, in such a case, are merely the signs left us, as the actual actions of God are not the scene of Creation. In this case, the only way we can know about Creation is by following traces. The first class thus brought our attention to the intricate relationship between the signification held by the given signs, and the manifestation by God Himself.
The second class looked at the thought of Dionysius the Areopagite as known from The Celestial Hierarchy, and the unique ontology of Eriugena. Eriugena was responsible for translating into Latin, and developing, the above work, and also for advancing Augustinian interpretation of signs. Of importance here was the difference in understanding between Augustinus and Plotinus on existence and non-existence. For Augustinus, non-existence could only mean something that did not exist, that God did not create, while Plotinus considered non-existence as included in God's revelation. Eriugena clearly picked up on Plotinus-like thought in Dionysius the Areopagite ; acknowledging the manifestation of God, emanation and return to God, he used an interpretation of signs to extend the range of understanding of existence.
The third class handled the interpretation of signs in Compendium by Nicolaus Cusanus who is famous for the work, De docta ignorantia (On learned ignorance). As if converging upon the range that we saw extended in the second class, we looked at his principle of « coincidentia oppositorum (coincidence of opposites) ». This coincidence is knowing in the imagination, so to speak, signs of signs, or the shift from sign to sign, according to a rational interpretation of signs. It is something, however, that transverses, and escapes from, rationality. Ahead of knowledge comes ignorance : that which deviates from people's understanding. For that reason, Cusanus believed that since God transcends the world, we can feel God's presence when we know ignorance. Here we can clearly detect his mystical tendencies. At the same time he explained signs as natural distinguishing marks, and even proposed his own view of the world following principles of mathematics. Rather than confining himself to a one-sided rule, then, we saw how he approached existence, knowledge and signs from these two different aspects.
Over the three classes we looked at the so-called signs of Creation. To conclude : as if bridging the gap between existence and non-existence in the interpretation of signs of Augustinus, Eriugena develops Augustinian thought in conjunction with that of Dionysius the Areopagite ; mystical and mathematical aspects then appear in the interpretation of signs by Cusanus, which leads us along the path to the modern age. I felt there was very much to be gained from reviewing the middle ages through the theme of signs, not just from the perspective of philosophical history.