Michael Hanby (No God, No Science? 31) makes the arresting claim that “the equation of abstraction with the movement from particular to general” is “not ontologically innocent.” It instead “reflects the deep-seated mechanistic assumption that the ‘parts’ of reality are ontologically prior to the whole of it, with the latter being merely the aggregation of the former and the result of their history of interaction.” 

This is not how the world is: “in the actual world, the existence of each thing is characterized by a near infinity of relations which help to constitute it.”

When we start from this concrete existential condition, then abstract is what it was for Aristotle and Thomas: Not a move from particular to general, but an isolation “in thought” of what “actually belongs together in reality: form and matter, parts and wholes, a thing and the context which is the presupposition of its flourishing.” On this view, experimentation is an effort to dissociate what is normally associated, and thus a form of abstraction.

More on: Science, Philosophy

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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