12.07.2009

Knowledge For What?

It is no argument against the Scholastic tradition to say that empirical science flourished under its destruction rather than under its reign. Aristotle explicitly stated that the highest knowledge is knowledge for its own sake. Techne, or technological knowledge, was not even secondary to him but tertiary. It was nothing short of a conceptual revolution in philosophy when thinkers like Descartes and Bacon proclaimed that the real purpose of knowledge was to make man the master of nature. Once this becomes the new end of knowledge, anything that does not advance this end will be overlooked or even thrown out if it is seen as useless. But the question “What will help us control and predict nature,” is a very different question from “What is the nature of reality?” The first question is far less comprehensive than the second, so it is no surprise that the mechanistic conception of nature has seemingly helped man a great deal in his conquest. Ultimately, though, the fact that the information gained from the mechanistic conception of nature gives us something does not at all entail that it gives us everything, it’s just that we do not need everything in order to exert control. Descartes’ true error, then, lies in his use of philosophy as a mere instrument for justifying his physics and his pursuit of technological advancement.

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