Aristotle and Augustine - Physics at Oregon State University
Transcript Aristotle and Augustine - Physics at Oregon State University
The old giants
ARISTOTLE AND AUGUSTINE
WHY STUDY ARISTOTLE?
He was very important to the medieval church.
He is “the father of science.”
He regarded theology as a branch of physics!
He is a very bad role model for doing physics!
ARISTOTLE (384 – 323 B.C.E.)
Student of Plato
Tutor to Alexander the Great
Founded an academy that survived after his
Wrote an estimated 550 books.
THREE KINDS OF SCIENCE
– the study of changeless things
Phusis = nature, “Physics”
Ta meta ta phusika = that which comes after
Etelecheia = being-at-work-staying-itself
THE FOUR CAUSES OF A MARBLE STATUE
Material cause – marble
Formal cause – the plan or design
Efficient cause – the chisel
Final cause – the purpose of the statue
PROOF OF THE EXISTENCE OF GOD
Everything has a (final) cause, which has a
cause, which has a cause, which ……….
This chain can’t go back forever. There must be
a first final cause.
That would be the cause of all things, i.e. God.
So theology is the study of first final causes.
ST. AUGUSTINE (354 – 430 C.E.)
Born in Africa
Joined the Manicheans
A widespread North African sect that rejected
reliance on faith in favor of what could be
proven by argument
Dualism: envision the world as a constant
battle between two forces, food and evil, light
ST. AUGUSTINE (354 – 430 C.E.)
Born in Africa
Moved to Rome in 383 C.E
Accepted a job as professor of Rhetoric in Milan
in 384 C.E.
Converted to Christianity by St. Ambrose
Returned to Africa where he was consecrated
Bishop of Hippo in 388 C.E.
Died in 430 C.E.
AUGUSTINE ON BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION
There is a unity of truth.
The doctrine of the two books – the book of
Nature and the book of Scripture
“Let the Bible be a book for you so that you may
hear it; let the sphere of the world be also a
book for you so that you may see it.”
Both of the “Books” require careful
interpretation; apparent contradictions arise
from incorrect interpretations.
Interpreting nature is difficult. Interpreting
Scripture is even more difficult.
LEVELS OF INTERPRETATION
Literal level – not naive literalism
Tropological level -- the passage provides an
Allegorical level – the story prefigures later
Anagogical level – the story illuminates
heaven’s divine plan
Interpreting a passage in the Bible so that it
maintains some connection to the subject it
seems to be describing and assigns meaning to
the words so that the passage makes sense in
connection with other sources of knowledge.
PRINCIPLES OF INTERPRETATION
The Bible has an ultimate divine authorship.
Biblical expressions are accommodated to their
audience(doctrine of accommodation).
Our explanations of some particularly
troublesome passages can be held only
It’s often easier to prove natural and
philosophical propositions than it is to interpret
specific Biblical passages.
Interpretation of Scripture must be informed by
the current state of demonstrable knowledge.
WHY WASN’T HE A SCIENTIST?
He simply considered theological knowledge
more important. Secular knowledge was
considered an ancilla (“handmaiden”) that
could assist true religion.
Credo ut intellegam: “I believe so that I may
Intellego ut credam: “I understand so that I may
So where do we start? Faith increases with
Some things must first be accepted on faith
and then refined by reason thus achieving…
Recta fides: right faith
Recta ratio: right reason
Compare with the 1998 encyclical (teaching
document) Fides et ratio “Faith and Reason”
issued by Pope John Paul II
ST. THOMAS AQUINAS
1225 – 1274 C.E.
Educated by the Dominicans which he later
Canonized as a saint in 1323 C.E.
“The definitive source of Catholic doctrine” –
Pope Leo XIII in 1879 and the Patron of all
Catholic educational institutions
Scholastics attempted to show that the Bible
(correctly interpreted) and Catholic doctrine
agreed with one another.
Aquinas was influenced by the work of Aristotle
who held an attractive view of human life and
morals without reference to God.
It became important to distinguish between
that which is accessible to reason and that only
accessible through God’s revelation.
To put it another way – the difference between
natural and supernatural
God’s influence was not external but worked
through the natural order.
“God saw what He had made and behold it was
Our goal (telos) is to be united with God rather
than virtue and in wisdom as with Aristotle.
But creation is not a one-time act. God imparts
His grace at all moments. Nature is infused
with God’s grace. Everything has its proper end
in God. Nothing can be fully understood without
reference to God’s plan.
REALISM VS. NOMINALISM
Realism – the representations of the world we
have in our minds are in some sense actually
united with or participating in the objects in the
world that they represent. Objects in the real
world exist only by participating in what Plato
called “forms” or “ideas.”
Platonic forms become the ideas of God.
Our ideas are just names we use to categorize
things. They have no independent existence.
God being omnipotent can change and affect
God’s will becomes inscrutable.
God and nature become separate.