Friday, 30 September 2016

Anthony M. Mlikotin - Roger Boscovich's Theoria Philosophiae Naturalis and the Rise of Modern Philosophy - JCS 28-29



In order to ascertain the spiritual affinities between an 18th century scientist and the beginnings of modern philosophy in the 19th century, the meaning of the title of Boscovich's magnum opus must first be deciphered. The title is unusual — theory of a philosophy. What does it mean? From today's point of view, such a theory could mean one of the two things: 1) something above the experiments; a theory that puts the findings reached by experiments into a system, or 2) it could simply be another name for philosophy. In other words "philosophy" of natural philosophy, the latter in Boscovich's time still being considered, following Aristotle, physics. By way of an explanatory intermission, let me relate that for centuries "pure" philosophy meant only some of the most idealistic aspects of Plato's thought. Aristotle, interpreting Plato, classified under "pure" philosophy metaphysics, ethics and politics. In the Middle Ages, the aforementioned disciplines were renamed and termed "moral philosophy." Natural philosophy, on the other hand, included, what we today consider, sciences. In contemporary usage, we would call Boscovich's book the "philosophy of science." However philosophy of science as conceived today, is the domain of the philosophers, not the scientists. And Boscovich was in the first place a scientist and then, of course, a theologian. In his case, and in connection with this work, he was a scientist who reflected, or philosophized, over his experiments; he was conceptualizing his scientific discoveries into a higher sphere, i.e., he was adding logic and his mind's visions to experimental data. Consequently, the proper way to understand Boscovich the scientist is through his philosophy of science. The former dean of Croatian philosophers, now deceased, Professor Vladimir Filipović refers to Boscovich's book as "philosophical reflection" upon the latter's experiments; Boscovich thus created a work which went beyond his "physical theory" (356). Marković in his two-volume biography and study of Boscovich cites a number of distinguished scientists and philosophers who have been intrigued with Boscovich's opus (471-477).

Why did Boscovich force us into this theoretical labyrinth? Why did he not simply call his book philosophie naturalis — natural philosophy? In his age there was a surfeit of hypothetical doctrines in and about natural philosophy, not necessitating another theoretical appendage, in this instance — theoria. Or perhaps Boscovich wanted us to understand the universe on the basis of both his philosophy and his experimental sciences. In a number of instances throughout the book Boscovich tells us that he has come to his conclusions by means of both his experiments and his thinking (per reflexionem) or by legitimate reasoning (legitima ratiocinatione). The very title of his work gives an indication that theory comes first and natural philosophy second. Consequently, his is a theory which explains and defines the sciences: it is a comprehensive reflection on the nature of sciences. By itself Boscovich's natural philosophy (basically physics) would be a torso.

To utilize today's definitions, we assume that sciences have done their work when they have reached the intended results. Why, for what reason, or of what value are these results is secondary to a scientist (not to everyone). Philosophy, specifically the so-called philosophy of science, does not stop at describing the procedures alone; it wants to give logical explanations to scientific processes. It wants to make clear to the general mind the nature of scientific work, to clarify the methods and concepts involved in the experiments, and, per reflection, to suggest further modes of investigation. In this respect Boscovich must have believed that the theoretical mind itself can open new avenues leading to the discovery of factual phenomena. As we know, in many instances, subsequent experiments only confirm the hypotheses reached by pure reasoning. Philosophy's task is, and this might have been Boscovich's intention, to put pure reason at the service of experimental sciences. Let us not then be surprised that a Catholic theologian wanted to see his discoveries confirmed by the perennial principles of philosophy.

Newton, the forerunner of Boscovich, and the latter's great idol, refuted the value of purely philosophical thinking in the study of nature. For Newton, philosophy is either philosophia experimentalis (experimental philosophy) or no philosophy at all. Boscovich thought differently.

Professor Zenko, in one of his articles, notes the differences in the thinking processes between Newton and Boscovich (2). Zenko does not think, however, that these differences were any impediment to Boscovich in his pursuit of Newton's ideas. Zenko definitely considers Boscovich a philosopher but thinks that Boscovich's was a unique experimentum philosophicum (philosophical experiment). It was an experiment because Boscovich tried to understand the very nature of the sciences and the newly emerging technology by the constructs of rational thought, or in plain words, by logical reasoning (ibid.). Boscovich must have thought, as later Schopenhauer did too, that thinking itself is part of the functioning of the universe and that by studying its own (mental) operations, our mind also studies some aspects of the universe. Along this line of reasoning, Boscovich argued that "new physics," in studying nature, also studies living bodies with, of course, their psychological components. This is more than self-evident in his Appendix to the Theoria, labeled De anima et deo or The Mind (soul) and God. Together with his contemporaries, however, Boscovich soon realized that soul cannot be just another sort of mat-ter, since soul cannot obey the laws of mechanics. Soul's moving forces are a sense of purpose and responsibility, the latter two can-not be reconciled with the laws of mechanical regularities. Together with Spinoza, Leibnitz, Berkeley, and Hume, Boscovich also reflected in his Theoria upon the relationship of the body to the mind (No. 537). His conclusion, as we shall see later, was that soul and God are not subject to the laws of nature. Indeed, they regulate them.

Complete article:

- - -

Journal of Croatian Studies, XXVIII-XXIX, 1987-88 – Annual Review of the Croatian Academy of America, Inc. New York, N.Y., Electronic edition by Studia Croatica, by permission. All rights reserved by the Croatian Academy of America.
- - -

No comments: