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Experience and the Acquisition of Scientific Knowledge

1 Leave a comment on Absatz 1 0 In spite of the fact that the exact interaction of intellectual and experiential capabilities is a matter of dispute, there is widespread agreement among early modern Aristotelians that experience is not the principal cause of scientific knowledge. This is conceded even by Javellus:

2 Leave a comment on Absatz 2 0 Hominibus autem scientia, et ars per experimentum evenit seu inductivae, et confirmativae, sed non principaliter, cum scientia non a sensu, sed ab intellectu est principaliter, unde aliqui sic exponunt dictum philosophi, hominibus fit scientia per experimentum, id [sc. est] post experimentum. cum prius habitum experimentum confirmat intellectum in assensu, et tu adverte, quod in his conclusionibus communiter concordant commentistae, et Scotistae, et Thomistae (Javellus, fol. 14 v).

3 Leave a comment on Absatz 3 0 Humans acquire art and science by experience either as inductive [sc. science and art] or as confirmative [sc. science and art]. But experience is not a principle [sc. for science and art], because the intellect rather than sense is the principle of it. Therefore, some explain the statement of the Philosopher [sc. Aristotle] as saying that humans acquire science after they have had an experience, because the experience they have had strengthens the assent of the intellect. The reader should note that concerning these conclusions all commentators, the Scotist and the Thomists, agree.

4 Leave a comment on Absatz 4 0 And since experience is not the principal cause of science, it must be an ‚occasional‘ or ‚instrumental‘ cause, since both classes form a complete disjunction:

5 Leave a comment on Absatz 5 0 […] causa cognitionis est duplex, quaedam principalis, in qua fundatur notitia scientifica, quaedam dispositiva, et iuvativa, quam quidam dicunt occasionalem, vel instrumentalem. (Javellus, fol. 13 v)

6 Leave a comment on Absatz 6 0 […] causes for knowledge are twofold, some are principal causes on which scientific knowledge is based, others are dispositional or contributing, which some call occasional or instrumental.

7 Leave a comment on Absatz 7 0 Whether experience is a necessary or contingent ‚instrument‘ for the acquisition of scientific knowledge, is, however, a disputed question. Javellus believes that as an instrumental cause, experience is a requirement in all non-perfect forms of science, particularly in beginning science. For Suárez, the role of experience in the acquisition of scientific knowledge is in all cases purely accidental.

8 Leave a comment on Absatz 8 0 In order to make his point, Javellus discusses first three arguments that have been brought forward against any role for experience in science:

  1. 9 Leave a comment on Absatz 9 0
  2. Propositions quia do not prove propositions propter quid, because mere facts cannot be premisses in proofs that convey knowledge of causes: Premises of scientific proofs must always be universal.
  3. Experience cannot cause knowledge, because it would then be the less perfect cause of a more perfect effect: Scientific knowledge is more perfect than experiential knowledge.
  4. Propositions about a certain number of objects cannot be used for universal proofs. If this was possible, we would always run the risk of committing the ‚fallacy of affirming the consequent‘ when trying to prove the cause from the effect. For scientifically known causes, such a proof is valid, because the premise is true for all instances of a natural kind. Thus we can deduce the existence of the cause from the fact that the effect exists. If such a deduction is only based on experience, we cannot eliminate the possibility that some other cause was responsible for the observed effect.

10 Leave a comment on Absatz 10 0 et adverte, quod omnia argumenta, quibus solet probari, experimentum non generare artem, et scientiam, ex eo quod experimentum dicit quia, et ars dicit propter quid, sed quia non manifestat quid, aliter minor cognitio causaret perfectiorem, et ex eo quod causa productiva, esset imperfectior suo effectu, et ex eo quod ex multis non potest inferri omne, aliter commiteretur fallacia consequentis. (Javellus, fol. 16 v)

11 Leave a comment on Absatz 11 0 The reader should note that all arguments which are commonly used to prove that experience does not bring about art and science, [namely that] experience contains only [sc. propositions] quia [sc. brute facts], art contains [sc. propositions] propter quid [sc. causes], [sc. propositions] quia do not prove [sc. propositions] quid, because a minor cognition cannot cause a more perfect one,that a cause bringing about an effect would be less perfect than its effect, that we cannot derive [sc. a proposition about] all [sc. particulars of a given type] from [sc. a proposition about] many [sc. particulars of a given type], or else we would commit the fallacy of affirming the consequent,[…]

12 Leave a comment on Absatz 12 0 These three arguments are closely connected, because they all rely on the contrast between scientific proofs, which must be universally valid and true for all objects of a concept, and ‚experiential proofs‘, which do not fulfill this requirement. Hence, a single experiential fact cannot legitimise an induction to all objects of a concept, which would be required for knowledge propter quid. And because it is not true of all objects of a concept, experience is a less perfect mental state than scientific knowledge and, therefore, causally ineffective in bringing about scientific knowledge. Finally, proofs based on experience are formally invalid, when reasoning from the effect to the cause, because only scientific proofs allow this form of induction with the required generality.

13 Leave a comment on Absatz 13 0 But, for Javellus, all these arguments do not pay sufficient attention to the fact that experience is only an instrumental and circumstantial cause for knowledge. So these three arguments do not speak against the instrumental necessity of experience for the acquisition of scientific knowledge:

14 Leave a comment on Absatz 14 0 ad 1. Propositions quia in beginning science describe the proper object (ipsum quid) of beginning science, which is different from the proper object of perfect science.

15 Leave a comment on Absatz 15 0 ad 2. If the cause is not the principal cause, it can bring about a more noble effect, because it only contributes to its reality. Instrumental causes are by definition less noble than their effects, but they nevertheless contribute to the existence of the effect.

16 Leave a comment on Absatz 16 0 ad 3. Experiential induction is legitimate, if it is taken to express a merely probable conclusion. Thus the fallacy of affirming the consequent can be avoided, because probable induction from an effect to a cause is not fallacious.

17 Leave a comment on Absatz 17 0 Omnia inquam haec argumenta concludunt, quod experimentum non est causa essentialis, et principalis artis, et scientiae, non autem quin sit causa initativa, et occasionalis. Unde nego quin ipsum, quia manifestet initiativae ipsum quid, et eodem modo causa imperfectior occasionaliter, et instrumentaliter, potest producere effectum perfectum, et ex multis probabiliter potest inferri omne, quando non datur manifesta instantia, non autem potest inferri necessario et essentialiter. unde quando ex multis experientiis infertur universalis conclusio, est illatio probabilis, et occasionalis.(Javellus, fol. 16 v)

18 Leave a comment on Absatz 18 0 All these arguments, I say, only show that experience is not the essential and main cause of art and science. They do not show that it cannot be the beginning or circumstantial cause. I negate [sc. that experience does not prove an essence], because it proves the ipsum quid [sc. i. e., the essence] of beginning science. In the same manner, a less perfect cause can bring about a more noble effect as an instrument for or occasion of [sc. this] effect, and we can infer from many [sc. objects] to all [sc. objects] with a degree of probability, [sc. even] if we have no clear instance [sc. of what is proven]. However, we cannot infer with necessity and about essences. Thus an inference from many experiences to a universal conclusion is only probable and circumstantial.

19 Leave a comment on Absatz 19 0 So for Javellus, experience provides us with knowledge that contains insights into a certain kind of objects (namely the objects of beginning science) and it can be a (partial) cause for knowledge, because it is based on, albeit merely probable, inferences.

20 Leave a comment on Absatz 20 0 Again, Suárez disagrees. According to him, experience must be regarded as a compensation for the limitation of our cognitive abilities. This is articulated in his discussion of the inventio of principles of particular sciences. These principles usually do not rely exclusively on the intellect. This is what distinguishes them from truly first principles. In order to find such particular principles we need experiential input in order to determine their truth, because our cognitive abilities are limited:

21 Leave a comment on Absatz 21 0 At vero qui sola inventione scientias acquirunt, indigent experientia ad horum principiorum cognitionem: quia sine illa, et sine exteriori adiutorio praeceptoris et doctrinae, non possunt haec principia satis proponi, aut rationes terminorum satis cognosci, ut illis evidens praebeatur assensus. […] Ratio autem est, quia nostra intellectiva cognitio valde limitata est, et imperfecta, nimiumque a sensu pendet, et ideo sine sufficiente adminiculo eius non potest cum sufficiente certitudine et firmitate procedere, et inde accidit saepe, ut qui multum de intellectu confidunt sensum deserentes, facile in rebus naturalibus errent, […] (Suárez V.1.28, p. 46)

22 Leave a comment on Absatz 22 0 But those who acquire knowledge only on their own need experience for the cognition of these principles, because without it and without the external assistance of a teacher and [sc. his] instruction, these principles cannot be conceived adequately, or the content of the terms cannot be cognised adequately in order to elicit evident assent to them. […] The reason is that our cognitive capabilities are limited and imperfect, because they depend on sense. Therefore, without sufficient sensual support they cannot proceed with sufficient certainty and reliability. Thus it often occurs that those who put much faith into [sc. the achievements of] the intellect and disregard the senses, may easily err about ’natural matters‘ [sc. the subject matter of natural philosophy], […]

23 Leave a comment on Absatz 23 0 Suárez assumes that the limitations of our cognitive abilities in finding such principles are purely subjective and ‚psychological‘: They can be compensated for by extraordinary amounts of ingenuity, precision and attention, so that it is not impossible to deduce the truth of such principles from it, because experience can be substituted by other means.

24 Leave a comment on Absatz 24 0 There is widespread agreement that experience is no principal cause of scientific knowledge — none of the authors discussed here is a proto-Humean. And it is undisputed that experience may play an instrumental role in the acquisition of scientific knowledge. The point of disagreement between Javellus and Suárez concerns the question, whether experience is a necessary instrument. Javellus answers in the affirmative, because experience provides insights into the proper subject of beginning science, can be a partial cause for perfect scientific knowledge and provides probable inductive knowledge. Yet, he does not show that these factors are a necessary ingredient of beginning science. For this, he might rely on the general arguments for the necessity of experience analysed above. Suárez does not agree, because the limitations of our cognitive capacities which force us to appeal to experience in finding principles of particular sciences are purely contingent, they are not part of our nature. Therefore, we can conceive situations where a knower who is endowed with superior cognitive capabilities may overcome these limitations without an appeal to experience.

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