History and Poetry

What has more the character of a scientist, the poet or the historian?

That question might appear rather odd I suppose, because in our day we are accustomed to limit the word “scientist” only to those who wear some kind of white lab jacket or goggles or at least some kind of eye protection.

In our day “science” must include some kind of mathematics, and must arrive at various mathmatical-formulas-that-explain-our-observations to be science.

But really, and it bears repeating, science is a much broader term that includes far more than the very limited world of knowledge that is included in mathematics or the mathematical sciences.

Science has always been divided into three parts, to wit:

  1. The science which concerns itself with material things (matter) and includes matter in the definition of those things. This is what the ancients used to call physics but which we might call the “Philosophy of Nature” or “Natural Science” or something like that.
  2. The science which concerns itself with material things but excludes matter in the definition of those things which it considers. This is another name for mathematics. For example material things have a quantitative aspect, and it is the job of the mathematician to consider quantity, but when he does this he excludes the matter. The Geometer does not define a triangle including the matter out of which a triangle is made. He does not say for example, a triangle is a three sided rectilineal figure made out of wood or metal or plastic.
  3. The science which concerns itself with non material things and which, of course, does not include matter at all in the definition of those things. Here we have something which is beyond the philosophy of nature or “physics,” and so Aristotle called it “Meta ta Phusike,” (i.e. the things which are beyond physics). Metaphysics.

Thus philosophy (i.e. Science) has this threefold division. Broadly, philosophy is any “reasoned out knowledge” about what exists. We probably should point out that by reasoned out knowledge we mean something very distinct from reasoned out guesses or opinions. We mean real knowledge. Necessary knowledge. The kind of knowledge that literally coerces the mind into agreement (“coacta a veritate”).

But where is Biology, Chemistry, and Physics in this explanation?

Well, these three “sciences” are what we might call mixed sciences– or better, “middle sciences.” For example, Chemistry appears to be about physical things and so it seems like Natural Science. But Chemistry also includes a high level of mathematical calculation and borrows heavily from the principles of mathematics, and so therefore it seems like a part of mathematics.

What is chemistry? Is it a branch of Natural Science, or is it a branch of Mathematics?

It is the offspring of both- hence we call it a “scientia media.”

But strictly speaking no responsible chemist would claim that chemistry produces absolutely certain knowledge. Although its assertions are certainly very reasonable and quite probable, although one might be a fool to deny its current theories, we nonetheless do not say that it produces conclusions the way that say Geometry does. Geometry produces conclusions which one might say are eternally true and necessary and cannot be doubted by any thinking mind. But the conclusions of chemistry do not claim such rigour. As a matter of fact one suspects that the assertions of chemistry in a future time might very well be at odds with what is now considered ‘dogma’ by leading chemists.

And so given the fact that the “middle sciences” (Biology, Chemistry, Physics and other mathematical sciences) which the fashion of our day forces us to call science, excluding the sacred term (i.e. science) from every other branch of learning, our original question might appear absurd to many!

And what, you ask, was the original question?

It was, and I quote, “What has more the character of a scientist, the poet or the historian?

Which field of “knowledge” appears to produce knowledge? Does History appear to be more about truth than literature or the other way around? Or are History and Literature equal with respect to being truth bearing disciplines?

After having taken such great pains to set this question up, I am guessing that most people would be inclined to say that History is more scientific than Poetry (or Literature).

And this is what I want them to say because it turns out that Aristotle appears to say the opposite!

Hence we have a tension. Hence we have an argument. Hence we have a war! And “war is the father of all” as the great Heraclitus says.

Therefore we need further discussion. But not just now.

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About marklangley

Academic Dean at The Lyceum (a school he founded in 2003, see theLyceum.org) Mark loves sacred music and Gregorian Chant and singing with his lovely wife, Stephanie, and their twelve children.
This entry was posted in classical education, education, History, Literature and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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