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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751

Abstract

STRAUSS, Danie. The humanities background of the natural sciences. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2016, vol.56, n.4-2, pp.1165-1177. ISSN 2224-7912.  http://dx.doi.org/10.17159/2224-7912/2016/v56n4-2a5.

HE HOLDS: The cradle of our Western intellectual legacy is found in ancient Greece where philosophy witnessed the slow process of differentiation through which the various social sciences started to come into their own. Their interconnectedness precluded a separation between philosophy and the academic disciplines, explaining why throughout the subsequent history all the existing special sciences harboured schools of thought that reflected the influence of philosophical trends. Contemplate for example how the way in which Thomas Hobbes portrayed the "state of nature," namely as a battle of everyone against everyone (bellum omni contra omnes), influenced Charles Darwin in his conception of nature as a "struggle for existence." Stephen Gould even holds that natural selection essentially transposes the economic theory of Adam Smith to nature. Darwin struggled with the Enlightenment idea of progress although his theory as such does not leave any room for a purpose or goal. In all of this Gould discerns a paradox: the absence of a statement about general progress and the fossil record, crying out for "a rationale that will place progress into the center of evolutionary theory". Nineteenth century historicism succeeded the ideal of progress. It opened the way for unlimited change and transformation and at once highlights philosophical problems and insights already found in Greek philosophy. The all-important contribution of Plato was to realize that change always presupposes something persistent or enduring. This insight later on returned in the formulation of the law of inertia by Galileo and in the special theory of relativity by Einstein. Immanuel Kant articulated what he called the "law of the continuity of all change". However, it was the relationship between universality and what is individual that paved the way for the linguistic turn at the beginning of the 20th century. No science is possible ofwhat is individual. Aristotle therefore had to introduce a universal secondary substance adjacent to his purely individual primary substance. While Plato actually stumbled upon a given law as order for things, Aristotle wrestled with the orderliness of things (such as the houseness of this house or the being a circle of this circle). Mediated by the space metaphysics of Parmenides' medieval philosophy eventually wrestled with the so-called ontic status of universals (universalia). Realistic metaphysics accepted a threefold existence of the universalia: ante rem as ideas in God's Mind, in re as their universal essential forms, and post rem as universal concepts in the mind of the human subject. By the beginning of the 13th century William of Ockham questioned the threefold existence of the universalia. Outside the human mind there is only a multiplicity of individual entities. Since nominalism rejected both a universal order for and a universal orderliness of things, it actually stripped reality of its laws and lawfulness, paving the way for Kant to introduce human understanding to fill this vacant position. : "Understanding creates its laws (a priori) not out of nature but prescribes them to nature." Whereas Ray and Linnaeus continued the idea of types in their idealistic morphology (accepting universality outside the human mind in classifying plants and animals), Darwin and his followers adhere to nominalism, more recently articulated in a clear statement of Simpson: "Organisms are not types and do not have types." Not even modern mathematics escaped from the problem of universalia because (according to Fraenkel et al.) sets participate in the "well-known and amply discussed classical problem of the ontological status of the universals". Stegmüller even relates this problem to basic issues in mathematics as such - the three ontological positions, namely nominalism, conceptualism and platonism could be mapped upon "the quantitative categories finite totality (Gesamtheit) - denumerable infinite totality - non-denumerable infinite totality". Paul Bernays holds that the application of platonism in mathematics is so widespread that it is not an exaggeration to say that platonism reigns supreme in the field of mathematics. The remarkable and at once astonishing effect of the influence of the contest about universals in the modern natural sciences is that there is an abyss between nominalistic Darwinism and platonistic mathematics. All-in-all it is clear that the natural sciences were (and still are) thoroughly influenced by the humanities

Keywords : philosophy; natural sciences; natural selection; struggle for existence; change; constancy; universality; individuality; lawfulness; realism; nominalism.

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