Contrasting Conceptions of Ancient (Aristotelian) and Modern Science:

Ancient Modern
1. Closed world consisting of a limited number of fixed forms (species) and having fixed boundaries. The infinite is the indefinite and the incomprehensible. It represents chaos and irrationality. 1. Open world varying indefinitely within and having no fixed boundaries (infinite). Infinite in space and time. Infinity as indefinite is opportunity, rather than deficiency. Unbounded progress is possible.
2. Changes occur within fixed and predetermined limits (repetition of the same forms -- acorn to oak over and over again). 2. Changes not restricted to predetermined limits.
3. Fixed and unmoving superior to the changing and moving. Science is grasp of fixed and unchanging species. Grasping what is constant in existence. 3. Change rather than fixity is a measure of reality. Change is omnipresent. Science grasps laws of motion rather than unchanging essences or species. Law as correlation of changes. Grasping what is constant in function or operation.
4. Limited number of forms or classes arranged hierarchically from lower to higher. Importance of ranks. There are castes in nature. The universe is an aristocracy, where each individual stays within its class. Corresponds to feudal ranking of classes and fixed positions from ruler to peasant. Universal law as governing from authority above. 4. The same laws of nature hold everywhere. There is a homogeneity rather than a hierarchy of material and process everywhere in nature. There is a democracy of individual facts equal in rank as opposed to the feudal system of an ordered gradation of general classes of unequal rank.
5. Earth is the center and most material (closer to matter); stars are at the circumference and closer to form. Things of earth fluctuating and less rational. Things above permanent and more rational. Matter is unknowable. 5. The earth is not the center of the universe; neither superior nor inferior in rank to sun, moon, and stars. Earthly material is best known; the far away must be under- stood in terms of the earthly and the close at hand.
6. Contemplation and admiration of the perfection of nature superior to practical handling of material; esthetic enjoyment of form superior to practice and techne. Mechanical arts are base because they deal with matter (material conditions) rather than form. Alteration of nature is prescribed by stereotypical results. 6. Interest shifted from aesthetic to the practical, from beholding of nature as a harmonious and complete to transforming nature as inharmonious and incomplete. The way natural processes turn out is not fixed in advance, but can be redirected in new ways by human intervention. Anything can happen. Experiment as handling of nature is not divorced from understanding of nature.
7. Circular movement of the heavens and self-involved revolution of reason on its own axis is superior to mere quantitative change (mere flux). 7. Straight-line progress and intelligence that corrects itself in the face of new discoveries is superior to circular contemplation of the "over and over again."
8. Only changes from one fixed form to another can be understood. Development applies only to individuals within a species, not to species themselves. Potentiality means not possibility of novelty; but predictable movement toward pre-existing ends.
8. Change and development is not confined to fixed results. Potentiality has many directions, is wide open. Conditions are plastic, rather than restricted. Novelty is possible. Importance of conditions in relation to results, means in relation to ends.
9. Final and formal causes are supreme, because these have to do with rest and permanence. The final is the finished, the complete. 9. No fixed ends (final causes) in nature. No fixed and unchanging forms in nature
10. Efficient causes are secondary, because these have to do with change, of moving an incomplete being towards its completed form. Outcomes are predetermined. 10. Emphasis upon manipulation of conditions, importance of efficient causes. Outcomes are not determined in advance; efficient causes can redirect natural processes.
11. The defining characteristic of a thing is its nature, that is, what about it does not change. 11. The defining characteristic of a thing is its function, its organic relation and interrelation. A thing is described in terms of a dynamic and changing correlation, rather than a static and unchanging essence.
12. Nature subject to metaphysical and theological purpose. 12. Nature subject to human purpose.
13. Moral and social life confined to fixed ends and hierarchical thinking. 13. Moral and social life still dominated by fixed ends and hierarchical thinking. Scientific and experimental method, which alters ends and uses appropriate conditions, has not been applied to human and social sciences. Old wine in new bottles.


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Copyright © 1997 - 1999 Gordon L. Ziniewicz
This page last updated 10/14/12

Please note: These philosophical commentaries, though still in process, are the intellectual property of Gordon L. Ziniewicz. They may be downloaded and freely distributed in electronic form only, provided no alterations are made to the original text. One print copy may be made for personal use, but further reproduction and distribution of printed copies are prohibited without the permission of the author.