¶ 1 Leave a comment on Absatz 1 0 We have seen how in early modern Aristotelianism two different interpretations of the epistemic role of experience evolved: Whereas for ’non-rationalists‘ there is no significant difference in the epistemic roles of sensation and experience, ‚rationalists‘ specify experience as sensual awareness of matters of fact. Correspondingly, ’non-rationalists‘ hold that knowledge of principles can be based on both perception and experience. ‚Rationalists‘ believe that knowledge of principles can only rely on experience: ‚complex terms‘ (propositions) are in need of ‚complex sensual awareness‘ (experience) for their confirmation.
¶ 2 Leave a comment on Absatz 2 0 On both sides of the debate, theories of experience and theories of the intellect are closely related, so that debates on the scope of intellectual knowledge are no privilege of the early modern anti-Aristotelians: ‚Non-rationalist‘ Aristotelians can be tolerant about what input from the senses may serve as an instrument for knowledge, because they hold that it is the intellect that properly cognises the content of principles without requiring any input from the senses. Their ‚rationalist‘ counterparts criticise this view, because it may involve arbitrariness: The intellect on its own is prone to error.
¶ 3 Leave a comment on Absatz 3 0 But this argument, though convincing to some extent, is not fully conclusive, because the ’non-rationalists‘ may have a point, too: The evidence at least for some principles cannot be experiential, as Suárez demonstrates with regard to the principle of non-contradiction – there is no concomitant experience of non-being, when we experience something as being.
¶ 4 Leave a comment on Absatz 4 0 The role of experience in the process of acquiring knowledge is undisputed. Experience is only an instrumental cause of knowledge. The implications of this, however, are controversial: For the ‚rationalist‘, experience is a necessary requirement for scientific knowledge. The ’non-rationalist‘ holds that it is not necessary per se. It is supposed to compensate for contingent limitations of our cognitive capabilities.
¶ 5 Leave a comment on Absatz 5 0 Mathematical knowledge is a special case, because it poses problems for the ‚rationalist‘ due to the self-evidence of mathematical truths, which suggests that experience is irrelevant for mathematical knowledge. The ‚rationalists‘ find different solutions. Fonseca agrees to this objection, but in turn he relativises the epistemic value of mathematics: mathematical definitions are only conventions, so mathematical truths do not depict states of the world as it is. Javellus introduces a special form of experience that takes the self-evidence of mathematical truths into account.
¶ 6 Leave a comment on Absatz 6 0 The debate about the concept of experience in early modern metaphysics shows that early modern Aristotelianism was in fact a heterogeneous movement that certainly did not subscribe to a unified world view. To take these debates into account is, however, not just a matter of historical accuracy. A focus on the heterogeneity of the Aristotelian tradition may prove fruitful for the history of early modern philosophy and the history of early modern science: Research on the history of early modern controversies about the concept of experience (empiricism vs. rationalism, or experimental vs. speculative philosophy) should consider the debates of the Aristotelians, since the question whether capabilities of the intellect are by themselves truth-conducive is a problem not just for Aristotelians. In the history of science, the analysis of the concept of experience in the context of its application must pay attention to its metaphysical roots. Surely, usage of experientia and its cognates (experimentum, periculum) depends at least in part on the distinction between Thomist and Scotist views of experience (multiple sensations vs. experiential facts).
¶ 7 Leave a comment on Absatz 7 0 But a second characteristic trait of early modern Aristotelianism should have become obvious as well: this tradition is inherently systematic. Even though the debate on experience is located in commentaries on Aristotle’s metaphysics, it is related to topics as diverse as psychology (the capabilities of the intellect), mathematics vis-à-vis natural philosophy (the notion of formal vs. virtual experience), and logic (how to confirm the principle of non-contradiction).
¶ 8 Leave a comment on Absatz 8 0 These interrelations do not come into view, if we compartmentalise early modern Aristotelianism according to present-day delineations between scientific disciplines. In order to understand how early modern Aristotelians saw the world (and why they tended to see it in distinctive ways) we must first acknowledge that their disagreements had merit and that it is the historian’s task to understand their relevance.