FOM: Aristotle and the unity of science

Robert Tragesser RTragesser at
Tue Jan 20 02:55:52 EST 1998

        I've sent an e-mail to Mancosu
(who is away from Berkeley at Berlin this
year) . . .and,  uncharacteristically,
haven't heard back from him.  But
the Berlin e-mail address was from Sept.
        I'd very much like to see what
might indeed be a merely apparent tension
in Aristotle resolved.  But the issues
are very much deeper,  and were at the
center of medieval debates.  As
you are likely aware the Metaphysics
is a conflicted work (by some lights).
It seems on the one hand to be "theology",
a study of the eternals, but without
the implication that philosophical
theology would have in the 17th century
and later,  of being that from which more
mundane truths could be derived.  On
the other hand it means to be the
science of "being qua being".  This
looks promising a the foundation of unity.
But the difficulty is that -- and here is
the frame of the debate -- it seems that,
for Aristotle, 'being' is "an equivocal"
rather than "a univocal".
        It is worth remarking that the
ideal of unity as it was floated by Naturphilosophie
in the 19th century was responsible for some of the
deepest science.   It drove Oersted to look
for the unity of electricity and magnetism,
and clearly drove Faraday.   Grassmann's
Ausdehnungslehre was motivated by the quest
for powerful,  underlying,  abstract unities.
Riemann was apparently deeply inspired by Herbart,
but I haven't seen an account of this.  
        In any case,  we have here examples of
"unifiers" who quested for something deeply abstract;
very much different in spirit from the pernicious
unity by reduction to physics,  and unity by reduction
to a canonical empiricist methodology. . .
robert tragesser 

More information about the FOM mailing list