Friday, February 5, 2010

True Principles Can Be Derived From Deceived Senses

This is the point I was making in this post, and at the moment I thought I was thinking for myself, but it turns out that for some of the metaphysics and epistemology post I was vaguely recollecting things I'd read in Ordinatio I.3.4 a few weeks ago. Look at the following from Scotus [mildly paraphrased]:

"As far as the knowledge of principles is concerned, the senses are not the cause, but the occasion, of understanding. The intellect is not able to have the knowledge of simple notions unless this is accepted from the senses; but once these simple notions are accepted, the intellect can put them together by its own power and, if from the nature of these simple notions there is an evidently true complex concept, the intellect, by its own power and by that of the terms, can assent to that complex - but not in virtue of the sense from which it accepted the terms from without. For example: if the notion of "whole" and of "greater" is received from the sense power, and if the intellect puts together this proposition: Every whole is greater than its part, the intellect, in virtue of itself and of these terms, will assent to this complex notion with certitude, and not only because it sees these terms conjoined in reality (as if for instance it assents to the proposition Socrates is white, because he sees the terms [i.e. Socrates and whiteness] to be united in reality).

No, rather I say that if all the senses from which such terms were derived were false, or (what would be even more deceptive), if some senses were false and some true, still the intellect would not be deceived about such principles, because it would always have with it the terms which were the cause of the truth. For instance, if a man born blind were to be miraculously impressed with the appearances of whiteness and blackness in a dream, and if they remained in his imagination upon awakening, his intellect, abstracting from them, would compose this proposition: White is not black. And his intellect would not be deceived about this, although the terms were derived from an erring sense, because the formal ratio of the terms which he attained is itself the necessary cause of the truth of this negative proposition."

I think this is both true, and very similar to what I was saying in the previous post. But yesterday I'd forgotten all about having read it, even though it was fairly recently. It just goes to show that the modern academic obsession with footnoting is misplaced to some extent. I may never have an original thought, and if I did it would be impossible to prove, because what I believe I just thought up on my own may well be and probably is a composted sediment from something someone else once said or wrote. So why be so obsessed with attribution?

nihil sub sole novum nec valet quisquam dicere ecce hoc recens est iam enim praecessit in saeculis quae fuerunt ante nos
non est priorum memoria sed nec eorum quidem quae postea futura sunt erit recordatio apud eos qui futuri sunt in novissimo


Lee Faber said...

why be obssessed? um, probably to avoid scandals such as the one currently rocking the medieval phil. world, in which someone made a career of stealing other people's work just to get ahead in acadamic promotions, etc. it casts the discipline into disrepute, which could make it harder to get jobs in said discipline ( a concern of a few of us), and, harder to get grants, so no more microfilms or critical editions, which has the very real effect of you not having the opportunity to lust after awesome books you can't buy.

Michael said...

Faber, I guess I would distinguish the sort of stealing (or rather lying) that you're talking about from the sorts of footnotes that say "I got this idea from private conversations with Dr Knowalot" etc. Passing off other people's research as your own is one thing; feeling like you have to give a genealogy of your opinion along with your opinion is another.

Besides - not to defend what the person in question did at all - I think this story points to a problem with academia, scil. the obsession with originality and quantitative production that makes this sort of thing possible and tempting.

Lee Faber said...

you're not going to get any defenses of academia from me; i just want grant money to buy microfilms.

onus probandi said...

It appears that this discussion concerns something specific; still, I'm curious though and would like to submit the following inquiry for careful consideration:

What about some seemingly unique notion discovered independently of whomever and whatever may have been similarly presented in the past?

Michael said...


This is part of the problem, I think. Leibniz and Newton both apparently invented calculus at about the same time, and fought for decades about who should get the glory. If I think of something that someone else also thought of once, should he get "credit" even if I only hear about him afterwards? I'm not so sure.

But if people listened to me there wouldn't be any patent or copyright law.

onus probandi said...

Even apart from those that develop things independent of the other party (or parties, for that matter), there is also another thing to consider in all this -- the creativity that springs from those individuals who use an original work.

Take for instance Quentin Torrintino (sp?): all his movies are essentially derivative of those in a chosen genre and, yet, they remain uniquely his.

Even in the ancient past, one might very well say the same concerning respectable figures like Virgil whose work seems rather the same sort as Homer's.

Lee Faber said...

so, is there any reason to know the history of philosophy? Who cares about Aquinas or Scotus when some analytic (or say, Michael) philosopher can by the force of his own innate cleverness come up with his own arguments.

Michael said...

Faber, I'll have something to say about that soon.

onus probandi said...

", is there any reason to know the history of philosophy? Who cares about Aquinas or Scotus when some analytic (or say, Michael) philosopher can by the force of his own innate cleverness come up with his own arguments."

I'm uncertain as to whether this response from Dr. Faber was due to anything I actually said; however, in case it was, kindly note that my comments did not call for some vile current of nihilistic emancipation found to be so fashionable in our modern times.

Instead, my latter comment observed how original thought can be built upon and even improved.

If I might offer a trivial and even mundane example (which I anticipate will provoke certain bias against me given as the all-too insufferably sci-fi nature of the example itself will indeed provide some disgust on the part of its audience), Battlestar Galactica was originally some God-awful cheesy, dismal banality of earlier decades; yet, the man Moore transformed it into a thought-provoking series replete with cause for philosophical reflection.

The same can be said about Platonic thought that found greater insight and significance in the figure of Augustine as well as Aristotlean thought in that of Aquinas.

All virtually recycled the original thought of others and, indeed, improved upon them.

Should these venerable figures of human history be condemned and even consigned to oblivion simply because the thought that they employed in their thought and works were essentially not theirs?

Yet, the product of the latter could not really be called a creation of Plato, Aristotle, and even whoever it was that created the original Battlestar Galactica; although these formed the essence of later thought and works, they remain the sole creations of their subsequent innovators.

Lee Faber said...

onus, I actually had Michael in mind. And I'm not a Dr. Nor am I opposed to sci-fi in general, although I am to Battlestar in particular.