Review of Aristotelian Tradition and Rise of Empiricism

Sgarbi, Aristotelian Tradition and Rise of EmpiricismThe first paragraph of a review of Marco Sgarbi, The Aristotelian Tradition and the Rise of British Empiricism (Springer, 2013), to be published in HOPOS in spring, 2015.


Marco Sgarbi wants to rebut the view that British empiricism had its roots in a revival of Platonism. Instead, he insists, its roots were in the Paduan Aristotelianism of Jacopo Zabarella, inherited, embraced, and developed by a century of British writers. “Put simply, without the legions of forgotten British Aristotelians, there would have been no Locke, no Berkeley, no Hume” (234). To make his case, Sgarbi surveys British writers, forgotten and not, obscure and famous, and successfully shows that wherever you look in British philosophical writings from 1570 to 1689, you find echoes of Aristotle. From these echoes, Sgarbi concludes that the “predominant . . . scientific method” (226) in the days of Gilbert, Bacon, Galileo, Harvey, Boyle, Leeuwenhoek, Hooke, and Isaac Newton was not a confident experimentalism but a skeptical empiricism that would find maturity in Locke, Berkeley, and Hume. The book’s back-cover blurb rightly calls the proposal “radical.”

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Induction in the Socratic Tradition

“Induction in the Socratic Tradition” in Shifting the Paradigm: Alternative Perspectives on Induction, ed. Paolo C. Biondi and Louis Groarke (De Gruyter, 2014)

Here are the first few paragraphs from my contribution to this volume of essays on unconventional looks at induction.


Aristotle said that induction (epagōgē) is a proceeding from particulars to a universal, and the definition has been conventional ever since. But there is an ambiguity here. Did Aristotle mean particular things and universal ideas, or particular and universal statements? Induction in the Scholastic and the (so-called) Humean tradition has presumed the second. Recent scholarship is so steeped in this tradition that we have virtually forgotten the other. But the alternate view prevailed until late antiquity and then again from the time of Francis Bacon until the mid-nineteenth century. This essay seeks to recover that alternate tradition, a tradition whose leading theoreticians were William Whewell, Francis Bacon, Socrates, and in fact Aristotle himself.

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Jacopo Zabarella, On Methods and On Regressus

Spines of Zabarella volumes

A collated Latin edition and original English translation for Harvard University Press’s I Tatti Renaissance Library. Harvard I, II. Amazon I, II. B&N III. From the introduction:


Jacopo Zabarella spent his entire life in Padua, the university town of Venice, one of the greatest intellectual centers in the Europe of his day. He was born to a noble Paduan family on September 5, 1533. He received his doctorate in the arts from the university twenty years later. He was appointed to the first chair of logic in 1564 and—although he did not have a degree in medicine as was typical for the position—was in 1569 appointed to the junior position of extraordinary professor on natural philosophy in the second chair. He was promoted to the first extraordinary chair of natural philosophy in 1577 and the following year published a collection of commentaries, essays, and teaching tools under the title Opera Logica. His largest single work, a commentary on Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics, was published in 1582. In 1585, he was promoted to second ordinary chair in natural philosophy, the highest chair a native Paduan was allowed to hold. At the time of his death at age 56 on October 15, 1589, Zabarella was the most eminent writer in his field. 

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Myths in the History of Induction

Presentation (ppsx)

A presentation given December 4, 2013, in the New York History of Science Lecture Series, a series sponsored by, among others, the Columbia University Seminar on History and Philosophy of Science and the Gallatin School at New York University.


David Hume had nothing to say about induction. John Stuart Mill did not advocate its use. Francis Bacon did not originate his famous “idols.” And Aristotle did not think complete enumeration was a kind of induction. These are just a few of the myths in the history of induction. They all stem from a failure to recognize two conflicting views about how scientists develop universal statements and laws from particular observations and experiments. Both views go by the name “induction.” In this presentation, Dr. McCaskey will distinguish the views, untangle their entwined history, and show why, for example, we think Hume had something important to say about induction when Hume himself did not.

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When Induction Was About Concepts

Draft (PDF) for a volume on concepts, induction, and the growth of scientific knowledge, that was to be edited by Richard Burian and Allan Gotthelf. Sadly, Allan died in September, 2013. I don’t know the status of the volume.

The first part of this paper summarizes the history of induction. The second part explores three cases in the history of science where an inductive inquiry concluded with universal statements that were true by definition. The statements were both true by definition and true by induction.

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Professor Higgins’ Philosophy of Science: Why Can’t Induction be More Like Deduction?

Draft (PDF)

Draft from September 2010 of an historical account of the philosophy of induction. Too long to be an article and too short to be a monograph, this nevertheless provides an accessible summary of what I have found in my several years’ research into this topic.

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History of the Relationship between Concepts and Induction

Presentation (ppsx)

The kick-off presentation at the Workshop on Concepts, Induction, and the Growth of Scientific Knowledge, Department of HPS, University of Pittsburgh, September 17–19, 2010.

» » History of the Relationship between Concepts and Induction
 

Regula Socratis: The Rediscovery of Ancient Induction in Early Modern England

Dissertation (PDF)

My dissertation of 2006. A revisionist account of how philosophical induction was conceived in the ancient world and how that conception was transmitted, altered, and then rediscovered. I show how philosophers of late antiquity and then the medieval period came step-by-step to seriously misunderstand Aristotle’s view of induction and how that mistake was reversed by humanists in the Renaissance and then especially by Francis Bacon. I show, naturally enough then, that in early modern science, Baconians were Aristotelians and Aristotelians were Baconians.

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Whately’s Revolution

Abstract (PDF)  •  Presentation (Powerpoint)

A presentation given at the conference “Induction: Historical and Contemporary Approaches,” University of Ghent, July 2008.

» » Whately’s Revolution
 

Induction and Concept-Formation in Francis Bacon and William Whewell

Paper (PDF)

Presented at Concepts Workshop, a workshop primarily on aspects and applications of Ayn Rand’s theory of concepts, Department of HPS, Pittsburgh, May 2004.

A paper about the relationship between concept formation and induction in Bacon and Whewell. This includes what I think is the world’s best 2000-word introduction to Whewellian induction.

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