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Copyright ©2004, Harold Greenstein, All rights reserved.

control the land worked by their slaves and serfs, own


The Beginnings of the Modern World both, and use what is produced to preserve and enhance
their military and ecclesiastically based lifestyles.

St Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) and the This arrangement was supported by religious institutions
Rediscovery of Aristotle which had, as one of their tasks, the sanctification of the
St. Thomas Aquinas enters our story: St. Thomas was an existing economic and political arrangements. In St.
Italian Dominican monk, theologian,and philosopher. He is Thomas’ time and place, the established religion had, as
regarded as the outstanding representative of another of its tasks, the collection and preservation of
Scholasticism, applying Aristotelian methods to Christian codified belief and accepted wisdom. In Christendom, the
Theology. His masterwork is Summa Theologica (1266- core and most foundational of them are the Bible,
1273). accepted Bible commentaries, Church documents and
what little is known, in Europe, of the writings of the most
St. Thomas Aquinas breaks with what in his own time and prestigious philosophers of ancient times, the pagan
culture, had become a thousand year old philosophical Greeks, such as,
and theological philosophy joining three otherwise Plato and Aristotle. Some Logic and Rhetoric, surviving
conflicting faiths: Faith is the ultimate determinate of truth. from ancient times is known, but little else. At this time, to
the East, cultivated Arabs were interested in mathematics
When St. Thomas appeared on the scene, Italy was the and science, but they had little impact, so far, in Italy, let
center of Western Christianity, commanding the allegiance alone in the rest of Christian Europe.
of almost everyone in Europe who lived between the
Mediterranean and the Atlantic, west, to the British Isles Aquinas was a member of a religious order, and has
and north to Scandinavia. Most, if not all of the formerly studied Aristotle. Thus, he was aware of the pagan Greek
barbarian pagans had been converted. Heretical sects preference for Reason over belief consecrated by custom,
have been vanquished. The Protestant Revolution had not tradition and force. He was aware of the concern, even
yet occurred. fear, shared by powerful constituencies in the Church, that
Faith and Reason often conflict. He knew that until his own
To the east, there was the Orthodox Christian Byzantine time, Faith—the sacred, the sanctified and the established
Empire. To the West, the Iberian Peninsula, today’s Spain — has been held ultimate in fixing both belief and action.
and Portugal, are Arab, Islamic in religious belief. At this
time, the domain of Islamic religious belief stretched Officially, Faith is the final determinate of truth.
across North Africa and beyond. Christians, Jews and
Muslims, shared a commitment to the late Roman Yet, Aquinas broke with his own medieval past. He went
Christian view, dominant since St. Augustine’s time that beyond St. Augustine, reaching back to the pagan Greeks,
Faith is the ultimate determinate of truth. especially to Aristotle. And in re-forging the link to the past
in the Great Chain of Reason, he achieved a
Everywhere, the technological, economic and social world transformation in thinking with far ranging impact on the
of St. Thomas Aquinas, in the thirteenth century, had not future. In resuscitating Reason, Aquinas re-opened the
much changed in the ten thousand or so years before his gates to a path leading directly to our own time, place and
birth, when our species began to settle down to beyond.
agriculturally based economies and hierarchically
structured social forms, based upon simple technologies Aquinas wrote that Revelation, thus Faith, should be
powered by animal and (often captive) human traction. supported by Reason. Even the most foundational of
cultural and religious belief should be subject to the
Since those early days, by St. Thomas’ time, though evidence of the senses and logic—ideas that would have
conquerors and their empires have come and gone, and pleased Aristotle.
come and gone again and again, life has changed little.
People were still helpless in the face of societal evils such Thus, St. Thomas advocated the reinstatement of Reason
as slavery, serfdom, corruption and tyranny. They were as a test of truth. Belief, bolstered by Faith, authority and
just as helpless in the face of natural evils such as the tradition, he advocates, should be supplemented, by being
endless afflictions of an endless array of illnesses, the opened to rational examination, by Reason. Well aware of
devastations of irreparable bodily injuries and natural the perceived threat inherent in this view, St. Thomas held
catastrophes such as drought and famines. Devastating that the pious need not feel threatened. It can be shown
plagues and epidemics seem to come out of nowhere, that Faith and Reason are entirely at one and mutually
causing havoc and calamity. Nothing is known of supportive. Reason will actually strengthen Faith. St.
sanitation and hygiene. Nothing is known of antibiotics. Thomas proposed that when it comes to deciding on what
There are always many who see in this, divine punishment is True, Faith and Reason have equal weight. Belief, even
for some or the other of someone’s alleged sins. ultimate and foundational Belief, should be justifiable on
Ignorance and superstition were everywhere. Few knew the basis of evidence and logic as well as by Faith. Faith
how to read and their was little for anyone to read. and Reason should share ultimate priority. Thus, it
becomes St. Thomas’ self-chosen task not just to accept
Most people were tied to the land whether as slaves or the existence of a First Cause or Creator, but to prove it.
serfs. Legally and by custom, they were little more than
property. They earned their livings by working the land or Are his proofs successful? Perhaps. Everyone who reads
by providing services such as smithing for those who did. them must make up their own mind. But our debt to
They were expected to work for those who make war or Aquinas’, to both his intellect and his courage, also lies
manage the affairs of religious institutuons. Other than elsewhere: Once on the path of expecting Belief to be
outlaws, those who worked the land were at the lowest supported Reason, those who walk it, the faithful as well
levels of hierarchically arranged societies. There were a as the skeptics, will find it hard to turn back.
small number of people who engage in commerce, but
they were often viewed as pariahs. Those who matter, are Berkeley, Hume and the British Enlightenment
the nobilities and higher clergy. They, for the most part,
West Island School – TOK – SJT The Scientific Method – 1 - Development 1
Copyright ©2004, Harold Greenstein, All rights reserved.
Bishop Berkeley ((1685-1753): The Complete Skeptic Concerning Natural Religion, for example, he argues that
Skepticism: If the doctrines and dogma of the venerable all the ‘proofs’ fatally fail to understand the nature of
are imperfect, subject to examination and evaluation by causation and analogical Reasoning.
Reason, what about popular beliefs rooted in everyday
experience—good old common sense? But, according to Hume, it is worse than that. As the
Bishop George Berkeley, was an Irish prelate and Problem of Evil shows, belief in the existence of an
philosopher who wanted to show that our basic, seemingly Intelligent First Cause is inconsistent and incoherent.
unchallengeable commonsense beliefs, even the most There can be no rational approach to Theology since
primary, such as belief in the existence of matter, of a real nothing can be settled by Reason. All we are left with is
—persisting world, independent of our conscious Faith in something we cannot hope to validate or even
experience— is far more challengeable, far more open to understand, because it is entirely beyond human
doubt on the basis of Reason, than most people think. experience. Faith and Reason often conflict and the
Bishop Berkeley knew of the fate suffered by Socrates for conflict is not resolvable. For Hume, Faith and Reason,
his relentless questioning. He knew too that the popular must be kept entirely separate. When they conflict, one
beliefs he challenged are so well, so deeply ingrained, that must give way. Either Reason or Faith must be primary
people think it either trickery or utter insanity to question and we must choose between them.
them.
Faith is about what is not—and what cannot be—
Yet, Bishop Berkeley challenged belief in the self-evident, experienced. It is, literally about what is supernatural. Faith
plain indubitability of so-called common sense by showing: may give some humans grounds for a fierce kind of
1. Along with superstition, belief in the existence of certainty, free from the tests of Reason. It may give them
matter exceeds the evidence for it and comfort and hope despite the anxieties derived from
2. When taken together, so-called common sense experience. This is Faith, which cannot be reconciled with
beliefs are inconsistent and incoherent. They defy Reason.
both experience and logic.
But, according to Hume, the natural is about what can be
Bishop Berkeley’s Dialogues between Hylas and experienced. When it comes to fixing belief about the
Philonous were designed to show that this ordinary world of experience, only experience and logic—Reason—
“common sense,” meaning by that term “popular belief” is counts. In this world, Reason is paramount. Of course
easily shown to be nonsensical, thus not “common sense” Reason is prone to error. All humans are subject to it.
in the sense of “sound judgment.” When subjected to the Thus, in the experienced world, an attitude of skepticism—
severe tests of Reason, even our most basic, widespread, of relentless questioning and doubting— of experiencing
universal and seemingly absolutely, irrevocably grounded, and testing and refining experience is more appropriate
indubitable beliefs can be challenged and often, can be than one of piety.
shown to be unjustifiable on the basis of evidence, and
illogical. What is accepted, established, unchallengeable Tasks
truth, seemingly validated universally, is not necessarily
so. 1. Before St Thomas Aquinas – what had been the
main determinant of whether something was
Reason, when applied, seems to support skepticism. Our True?
most basic beliefs, taken universally as “just plain, obvious 2. Who was in charge of the collection of ‘wisdom’
common sense,” as certitudes beyond question about the and ‘codified beliefs’?
nature of realty may turn out to be unexamined myth, 3. What were the three features of Belief that told
nothing more than folklore. A careful examination of the you whether something was true?
common facts of experience and our most common beliefs 4. How did St Thomas Aquinas change this? What
about the nature of reality reveals that we do not have did he suggest should be used to measure the
sufficient ground for belief, even in the existence of matter. truth of something?
5. What did Berkeley suggest you should do when
For Bishop Berkeley, certainty itself is indefensible. When reason and popular belief differed and how was
Reason differs with popular belief, no matter how this philosophy different to the time of St Thomas
widespread and seemingly established, Reason must Aquinas?
settle questions both about truth, and even about whether 6. What did Berkeley say about Common Sense?
obtaining truth is possible. 7. What did Hume have to say about the existence
of a God (First Cause)?
David Hume (1711-1776) The Ultimate Empiricist 8. What did Hume say about Faith and Reason?
Like Berkeley, David Hume, a Scottish philosopher and 9. How did Hume’s philosophy make it possible for
historian, taught that human knowledge depends upon the development of Scientific Reason as a way of
sense experience, which of course, is always subject to knowing?
error. No human being therefore, is in a position to know 10. If none of these philosophers had existed who
anything with certainty, or even with much more certainty would probably be deciding on truth these days?
than does anyone else. 11. Can you think of any places in the world where
What Bishop Berkeley does for “common sense” in the none of this seems to have had any effect?
sense of “popular belief,” Hume does for the high cultural 12. What seems to characterize societies where faith
beliefs of the educated. In Hume’s writings, Theology and is still the main decider of truth?
much Philosophy related to Theology, are subjected to 13. What does this whole article suggest about
careful analysis. Hume, is especially interested in the view Scientific Reason as a way of knowing?
that the existence of a First Cause can be rationally 14. Why have I made you do this task?
proven, using the concepts and methods of Reason.

Against this, Hume maintains that all these proofs, despite


their initial persuasiveness and learned language contain
simple, even glaring logical fallacies. In Hume’s Dialogues

West Island School – TOK – SJT The Scientific Method – 1 - Development 2