§3. The Spirit of Scholasticism 1)


28. . . . [The] history of logic is not altogether without an interest as a branch of history. For so far as the logic of an age adequately represents the methods of thought of that age, its history is a history of the human mind in its most essential relation — that is to say with reference to its power of investigating truth. But the chief value of the study of historical philosophy is that it disciplines the mind to regard philosophy with a cold and scientific eye and not with passion as though philosophers were contestants.

29. British logic is a subject of some particular interest inasmuch as some peculiar lines of thought have always been predominant in those islands, giving their logicians a certain family resemblance, which already begins to appear in very early times. The most striking characteristic of British thinkers is their nominalistic tendency. This has always been and is now very marked. So much so that in England and in England alone are there many thinkers more distinguished at this day as being nominalistic than as holding any other doctrines. William Ockham or Oakum, an Englishman, was beyond question the greatest nominalist that ever lived; while Duns Scotus, another British name, it is equally certain is the subtilest advocate of the opposite opinion. These two men, Duns Scotus and William Ockham, are decidedly the greatest speculative minds of the middle ages, as well as two of the profoundest metaphysicians that ever lived. Another circumstance which makes [the] logic of the British Islands interesting is that there more than elsewhere have the studies of the logic of the natural sciences been made. Already we find some evidences of English thought running in that direction, when we meet with that singular phenomenon Roger Bacon — a man who was scientific before science began. At the first dawn of the age [of] science, Francis Bacon wrote that professedly and really logical treatise, the Novum Organum, a work the celebrity of which perhaps exceeds its real merits. In our own day, the writings of Whewell, Mill, and Herschel afford some of the finest accounts of the methods of thought in science. Another direction in which logical thought has gone farther in England than elsewhere is in mathematico-formal logic — the chief writers on which are Boole, DeMorgan, and the Scotch Sir William Hamilton — for although Hamilton was so bitter against mathematics, that his own doctrine of the quantified predicate is essentially mathematical is beyond intelligent dispute. This fondness for the formal part of logic had already appeared in the middle ages, when the nominalistic school of Ockham — the most extremely scholastic of the scholastics — and next to them the school of Scotus carried to the utmost the doctrines of the Parva Logicalia which were the contribution of those ages to this branch of the science. And those Parva Logicalia may themselves have had an English origin, for the earliest known writer upon the subject — unless the Synopsis {Aristotelous Organou} be attributed to Psellus — was an Englishman, William Shirwood. . . .1)

30. The most striking characteristic of medieval thought is the importance attributed to authority. It was held that authority and reason were two coordinate methods of arriving at truth, and far from holding that authority was secondary to reason, the scholastics were much more apt to place it quite above reason. When Berengarius in his dispute with Lanfranc remarked that the whole of an affirmation does not stand after a part is subverted, his adversary replied: »The sacred authorities being relinquished, you take refuge in dialectic, and when I am to hear and to answer concerning the ministry of the Faith, I prefer to hear and to answer the sacred authorities which are supposed to relate to the subject rather than dialectical reasons.« To this Berengarius replied that St. Augustine in his book De doctrina christiana says that what he said concerning an affirmation is bound up indissolubly with that very eternity of truth which is God. But added: »Maximi plane cordis est, per omnia ad dialecticum confugere, quia confugere ad eam ad rationem est confugere, quo qui non confugit, cum secundum rationem sit factus ad imaginem Dei, suum honorem reliquit, nec potest renovari de die in diem ad imaginem Dei."2) Next to sacred authorities — the Bible, the church and the fathers — that of Aristotle of course ranked the highest. It could be denied, but the presumption was immense against his being wrong on any particular point.

31. Such a weight being attached to authority — a weight which would be excessive were not the human mind at that time in so uneducated a state that it could not do better than follow masters, since it was totally incompetent to solve metaphysical problems for itself — it follows naturally that originality of thought was not greatly admired, but that on the contrary the admirable mind was his who succeeded in interpreting consistently the dicta of Aristotle, Porphyry, and Boethius. Vanity, therefore, the vanity of cleverness, was a vice from which the schoolmen were remarkably free. They were minute and thorough in their knowledge of such authorities as they had, and they were equally minute and thorough in their treatment of every question which came up.

32. All these characters remind us less of the philosophers of our day than of the men of science. I do not hesitate to say that scientific men now think much more of authority than do metaphysicians; for in science a question is not regarded as settled or its solution as certain until all intelligent and informed doubt has ceased and all competent persons have come to a catholic agreement, whereas fifty metaphysicians, each holding opinions that no one of the other forty-nine can admit, will nevertheless generally regard their fifty opposite opinions as more certain than that the sun will rise tomorrow. This is to have what seems an absurd disregard for others' opinions. The man of science attaches positive value to the opinion of every man as competent as himself, so that he cannot but have a doubt of a conclusion which he would adopt were it not that a competent man opposes it; but on the other hand, he will regard a sufficient divergence from the convictions of the great body of scientific men as tending of itself to argue incompetence, and he will generally attach little weight to the opinions of men who have long been dead and were ignorant of much that has been since discovered which bears upon the question in hand. The schoolmen, however, attached the greatest authority to men long since dead, and there they were right, for in the dark ages it was not true that the later state of human knowledge was the most perfect, but on the contrary. I think it may be said then that the schoolmen did not attach too much weight to authority, although they attached much more to it than we ought to do or than ought or could be attached to it in any age in which science is pursuing a successful and onward course — and of course infinitely more than is attached to it by those intellectual nomads, the modern metaphysicians, including the positivists.

33. In the slight importance they attached to a brilliant theory, the schoolmen also resembled modern scientific men, who cannot be comprehended in this respect at all by men not scientific. The followers of Herbert Spencer, for example, cannot comprehend why scientific men place Darwin so infinitely above Spencer, since the theories of the latter are so much grander and more comprehensive. They cannot understand that it is not the sublimity of Darwin's theories which makes him admired by men of science, but that it is rather his minute, systematic, extensive, strict, scientific researches which have given his theories a more favorable reception — theories which in themselves would barely command scientific respect. And this misunderstanding belongs to all those metaphysicians who fancy themselves men of science on account of their metaphysics. This same scientific spirit has been equally misunderstood as it is found in the schoolmen. They have been above all things found fault with because they do not write a literary style and do not »study in a literary spirit.« The men who make this objection cannot possibly comprehend the real merits of modern science. If the words quidditas, entitas, and haecceitas are to excite our disgust, what shall we say of the Latin of the botanists, and the style of any technically scientific work? As for that phrase »studying in a literary spirit« it is impossible to express how nauseating it is to any scientific man, yes even to the scientific linguist. But above all things it is the searching thoroughness of the schoolmen which affiliates them with men of science and separates them, world-wide, from modern so-called philosophers. The thoroughness I allude to consists in this, that in adopting any theory, they go about everywhere, they devote their whole energies and lives in putting it to tests bona fide — not such as shall merely add a new spangle to the glitter of their proofs but such as shall really go toward satisfying their restless insatiable impulse to put their opinions to the test. Having a theory, they must apply it to every subject and to every branch of every subject to see whether it produces a result in accordance with the only criteria they were able to apply — the truth of the Catholic faith and the teaching of the Prince of Philosophers.

34. Mr. George Henry Lewes in his work on Aristotle1) seems to me to have come pretty near to stating the true cause of the success of modern science when he has said that it was verification. I should express it in this way: modern students of science have been successful because they have spent their lives not in their libraries and museums but in their laboratories and in the field; and while in their laboratories and in the field they have been not gazing on nature with a vacant eye, that is, in passive perception unassisted by thought, but have been observing — that is, perceiving by the aid of analysis — and testing suggestions of theories. The cause of their success has been that the motive which has carried them to the laboratory and the field has been a craving to know how things really were, and an interest in finding out whether or not general propositions actually held good — which has overbalanced all prejudice, all vanity, and all passion. Now it is plainly not an essential part of this method in general that the tests were made by the observation of natural objects. For the immense progress which modern mathematics has made is also to be explained by the same intense interest in testing general propositions by particular cases — only the tests were applied by means of particular demonstrations. This is observation, still, for as the great mathematician Gauss has declared — algebra is a science of the eye,2) only it is observation of artificial objects and of a highly recondite character. Now this same unwearied interest in testing general propositions is what produced those long rows of folios of the schoolmen, and if the test which they employed is of only limited validity so that they could not unhampered go on indefinitely to further discoveries, yet the spirit, which is the most essential thing — the motive, was nearly the same. And how different this spirit is from that of the major part, though not all, of modern philosophers — even of those who have called themselves empirical, no man who is actuated by it can fail to perceive.


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