Disputes verbal




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By Rev. Baden Powell

Disputes verbal.

But the really distinguishing feature of the medieval Peripatetic philosophy was not merely its preference for the deductive method to the neglect of the inductive, but that the deductions themselves were all of a kind not relating to realities but to words, turning, not on the connection and dependence of substantial truths, but on artificial combination of terms and by mere verbal quibbles of the most puerile kind men deceived one another, and often themselves, into the belief that they were making real advances in knowledge, or at any rate giving convincing proofs and demonstrations of true propositions, and refuting erroneous and heretical opinions. 


To take an instance of an Aristotelian physical argument; --gravity or weight is the cause of the fall of bodies to the earth; therefore, the greater their weight the more rapidly they will fall. Again: Terrestrial motions are corrupt, celestial perfect; therefore, a body in motion on the earth's surface soon comes to rest, but the heavenly bodies move on for ever. The former, a false conclusion from true premises; the latter, a true conclusion from false premises; but both merely verbal. 

Thus technicalities usurping the name and functions of philosophic reason were permitted to assume the supremacy, and imagined capable of reducing all nature into obedient conformity to their dogmas. 

Ptolemaic astronomy.

The actual condition of knowledge under the dominion of the scholastic philosophy, was restricted to a very narrow range. The Ptolemaic astronomy was, perhaps, the best and most advanced portion of the system, since it undeniably afforded the means of actually computing the planetary motions within such limits of accuracy as the age demanded; and it professed nothing beyond giving a sort of mathematical representation of those motions which it assigned to the heavenly bodies, as being carried round in their crystalline spheres by the primum mobile; beyond this, it was neither attempted, nor would it have been right, to inquire into the causes of those motions. 


In speaking of the astronomy of the middle ages, it must not be overlooked in how large a degree it was upheld and cultivated, in reference to its application to the more noble and important uses of astrology. The nature and pretensions of those two branches of science were, indeed, by no means well discriminated, even by philosophical writers; and the patronage which the former received at the hands of most of the sovereigns of those times, arose almost entirely from their sagacious appreciation of its utility in relation to the latter more valuable art.  Intimately connected with this sublime principle of the dominion of the stars over the affairs of men, was the view entertained of comets as the omens and harbingers of the fate of kings and nations. 

General physics.

In other branches, and the study of nature generally, rally, a few scholastic dicta and dogmas, derived from metaphysical abstractions, supplied the place of all more extended inquiries of a physical kind, which, it was held, were at best uncertain, which might be indefinitely dangerous, and which were, therefore, to be prohibited altogether, unless carried on strictly in accordance and subservience to the rules and principles authoritatively laid down. Such formulas and technicalities must of course suffice for lower truths, since they had been applied with such exalted sanction as the interpreters of the highest doctrines of the Church. 

The schoolmen argued in familiar syllogisms on the most awful mysteries of heavenly things; and in ages when the light of discovery was too feeble to display any glimpse of the real system of nature, the human intellect was deemed powerful enough to penetrate far and wide into the regions beyond nature. 

Influence on natural theology. 

In such a state of physical and cosmical science, it is clear there could be nothing resembling what would now be regarded as a philosophical natural theology, derived from the evidences of order and' arrangement in nature. 

Under a. more mystical point of view, however, some speculations were put forth in the period in question, among which we may find occasional indications of somewhat more worthy conceptions. 

Writings of Sebonde.

The Order of Nature






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First Ideas ] Idea of Cosmos ] Relations of early Christianity ] [ Disputes verbal ] Writings of Sebonde ] Copernicus, Galileo, Bacon ] Inductive & Theological ] Philosophy of Montaigne ] Bacon (RAW TEXT) ] IV-SOURCE ] Natural History ] Modern Pantheism ] Rationalism ] Positivism ] Recent Natural Theology ] Celebrity of Hobbes (RAW) ] Conclusion ]

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