Narrative Displacement Between Rationalism and Empiricism in the 19th Century


            The intensification of the conflict over the scientific method and the availability of True Truth is the heart of the post modern multicultural relativism debate


            The proposal of this essay is to present a narrative displacement from the development of Rationalism to Empiricism to the development of Logical Empiricism to the demise of empirical foundationalism in the classical work of Quine.  In the narrative displacement of foundationalism we must take note of the collapse of Positivistic Physics and its demise and the impact of Goedel’s critique of the autonomous theory of mathematics (these developments are brilliantly articulated work, The International Encyclopedia of Unified Science: (Foundations of The Unity of Science)  University of Chicago, 5th impression 1963); also see my essays, “Eastern Antecedents of The Development of Western Science”; “Historical Time Line of Theories of the Scientific Method: From Renaissance to Post Modern Debate”; Teleology Mechanism and Ontology: Theoretical Scientific Method”; Teleology as Subtle Poison”; “the Loss of Transcendence in The Secular City”; “Idolatrous Absolutes: Man’s Search for Ultimate Paradigms” ; “Presuppositions and World Views”; “the Academic Left’s Quarrel with Nature, Science and Its Post Modern Enemies”; and “Loss of Transcendence in Post Christian Culture.”


The Crisis of the Eighteenth Century Aspect of the Nature of Science


            The great systems of Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz belong to Philosophy.  This is the century that clearly separated theology from philosophy and philosophy from science.


            Rationalism is an ambiguous word.  The essence of this term in its modern scientific sense is grounded in mathematics as a model of certain knowledge, not metaphysics.  (See my essay “Goedel’s Refutation of The Mechanical Model of Explanation: the Demise of Positivistic Model in Mathematics, e.g., he denies completeness and sufficient proof within number theory (47 pages at WWW.LCCS.EDU  Is mathematics autonomous or a social construct?)


            This is a crucial issue in understanding and critiquing the Post Modern claim of the “Social Construction of All Reality,” including science, mathematics, Christianity, religion, etc.  The liberal mind set of the Enlightenment utilized the term Rationalism as associated with the Free Thinker, which generally connotes a gentleman who has rejected the Church/Christianity and emphatically believes in the autonomous dictates of autonomous Reason.  In philosophy the term is sued to describe apriori as the source of knowledge of the external world.  In the milieu of the Enlightenment, i.e., cultural context of Bayle, Condorcet, and Comte in the emancipation of human reason from authority (e.g. Bible, Church, etc.)  During the generation of Buckle in the rise of liberal institutions, scientific rationalism is strongly linked to these points of view.


            By the 19th century developments between Historicism and Positivism will polarize knowledge in the hard sciences and knowledge in the social sciences.  This separation will enter the developments in hermeneutics and unfold the relativism thesis in the social science, i.e., sociology, psychology, anthropology and in linguistic relativism (see my essays, “Narrative Displacement and The Corruption of Language”; “The Christian Faith and Theories of The Origin and Nature of Language”; and “Nida and Pike’s Theory of Tagmemics” (i.e., universal in linguistics differs from Chomsky’s linguistic universals).  The rationalist attitude was expressed by Galileo and understands that some propositions are absolutely certain, such as Mathematics, Geometry and Arithmetic.


            By mathematics, Galileo understood implicitly the science of physics, since the birth of nature “is written on the mathematical characters”; a belief that was later shared by Newton.  Nature to him was an open book.  This belief endured until the time of Einstein himself.  He never assumed that he imposed reason on nature.  Nature was decoded not encoded, as in post modern anti science.  Kant maintained three unmodifiable historical contributions:  (1)  Aristotelian Logic; (2) Euclidean Geometry, and (3) Newtonian Mechanics.  These three assumptions saved Kant from the cultural/epistemological relativism of the 19th/20th century Sociology of Knowledge thesis.  (See my “Critique of The Social Construction of Knowledge Thesis” (on the Strauss Papers Web Site)


            All forms of scientific rationalism was unmethodological (see my essay, “Narrative Displacement in Theories of Scientific Method: Science and Philosophy”; “Narrative Displacement from Newton’s Principia (1687) to the French Revolution (1789): A Unique Period in the Intellectual History of Western Culture”; “From Dilthey to Darwin and Dewey: Prophets of Cultural Relativism”; “The Christian Faith and Scientific Revolutions: Kant-Popper on Demarcation.”


            Narratives of the structure of science should be studies not as the technocrat, or as the laboratory artisan, or as a man in search of power over nature, or as the intellectual challenged by a difficult problem or as the organizer building up a “well made language” for things; but simply as a seeker after truth.  This procedure seeks to “control” effects of social or psychological motivation in evaluating the nature of the scientific enterprise.


            The 18th century was a period of crisis.  This period was called “The Newtonian era.”  But the unstable foundation of Newton was recognized by Berkeley, D’Alembert and Deiderot.  The Newtonian “theory of gravitation” had provided proof positive that the mechanical view of nature, the Galilean and Cartesian “new science,” was objectively right.  This position maintained that the world has a rational structure.  The organization of nature was coincident with the organization with the human intellect in the form of “mathematical reason.”


            Galileo’s work was the creed of scientific rationalism.  Infrangible conviction that an astronomical thought that man was in contact with an absolute order of the cosmos.  This presents a transcendental source of certainty which is more than our individual analytical power,.


The new science is far from being only a method.  The system of dynamics is a complete conceptual world and it was present already in Newton’s mind.  Its conceptions of space, matter, force and motion were interrelated in a whole, they only impacted the element of high abstraction that was implicit and necessary to keep it together.  Lavoisier stripped science of its new avowed metaphysics and reducing it to a “well-made language” could not rid him of his personal presuppositions (e.g., Bacon’s Idols) which appeared to him a matter of sheer common sense, as they had already appeared to Condillac.  He accepted the limitation of Newtonianism.  When Bethollet founded chemical statistics, he was consciously taking up another strain of the Newtonian system.  We are not far from the Temple of the Newtonian “World Machine.”  The basic remaining images are only apparently clear; they are a mixture of quantity and quality, matter and geometry, flexible for any development.  Their rigor is not the Cartesian rigor, for that is already blighted at the root, since Cartesianism insists that space is divisible and the talks of indivisible atoms, which cannot be.  It is Newtonianism more than logic which holds the key to unity; for, if the unity sought after was still deductive, the unity that is established is “really” analogical, as Newton had seen—see Newton’s Optics, 4th edition, London, 1981, Query 31)  This development sharply focuses on the relationship of Induction and Deduction.  There is never a “strict induction” but contains a considerable amount of deduction, starting from parts chosen analogically.  Strict and universal deduction is still held to be the ideal.


Scientific research had moved beyond Newton’s “field of action,” the vast dream of a science unified by the “geometrics” and deduced directly from the law of gravitation had proved no easier of achievement than Diderot’s intuition of the continuum.  The struggle between “Mathematical description” and “philosophical explanation” continues unabated.  This struggle continues in the development of electricity and magnetism.  Here the tension between the mathematical proves experimentation and observation and philosophical reasoning.  The anti mathematical war continued between materialist and naturalist.  The discussions concerning the foundations of mechanics still centered on the principle of last action as the one most likely to provide the key to the plan of the universe.  Action at a distance opened up new vistas of research--the history of mechanics and the nature of matter


The great minds of Leibniz, Eulers and Maupetius discovered that the differential equations of the motion of a particle are given by the requirement that the integral funds take two positions of the particular.  In the history of the development of mechanics “both ways led to the same solution, and it’s this harmony which convinces of the truth of the solution even if each method has to be separately founded on indubitable principles.


Tension between Scientific and Social Rationalism


The motion of matter looms large in the formalization of mechanics.  Euler Laplace, etc., held to the foundation of a universal mind which provided a scheme of incomparable economy.  From Mach to Gauss there was essentially no new principle that could establish unity of dynamics. 


The crucial debate concerning the opposition of “necessary” versus “contingent” (i.e., immanent) will mean only that the laws of nature are either rational truths, demonstrable a priori or empirical truths, founded a posteriori


Historically it was the ambition of the mathematical school to reduce physical reality to mechanics and astronomy provided the paradigm.  Newton was suspicious of the application of his laws to molecular dimension.  When Laplace succeeded in deducing the laws of capillary action from the gravitational formula, all doubts were removed (Laplace, Mecanique celeste, IV (1806,2).  With the discovery of Neptune as the result of one formula resulting from pure calculation represented the triumph of rationalism.  This splendid period in the development of astronomy represented the best example of the formulation of a perfect “inductive science.”  In Whewell’s magisterial work, he declares, “We have now to contemplate the last and most splendid period of the progress in astronomy.  . . .the first great example of a wide complex as semblance of phenomena indubitably traced to their single, simple cause; in short, the first example of the formulation of a perfect inductive science.  . . .It is a paradox that experiment should lead to acknowledged universal truths and apparently necessary ones, such as the laws of motion.  The solution of the paradox is to find in the fact that the laws are interpretations of the axioms of causality. . .our idea of cause provides the form and experiment the matters of the laws.”  (Whewell’s Philosophy of Inductive Sciences, II, xxvii). Rationality now belonged to the scheme of things, at least for our “operational” convenience.  But induction was the work of the Victorian age.


The stable forms and categories were under sharp criticism in the 19th century,  which was the scientific century.  The clear ideas were established by the developments in the 19th century.  The Kantian forms were getting more rickety and Riemannian geometry challenged the Euclidean paradigm.  It was “proven” that the mind had not only one “form” of space and time to superimpose on matter, but a multiplicity of forms flowing into one another and that the Euclidean one was a choice and not a necessity.  The question became that space and time are categorist but  anschauugsformen (world perspectives).  Thus the death knell to Kantian categories (see my essay, “Narrative Displacement of Concepts of Time”)


Mach suggested that the frame of reference of mechanics might not be “absolute space”, but the star system as a whole.  Laplace insisted that the inverse-square law derived a character of necessity from being linked with the very nature of Euclidean space.  Newton’s law stands out among other laws that might be imagined by reason of its success alone.  Apart from these laws there is not much in mechanics that might be inductive.  It has to proceed on the concept of the writer’s point and indeed on the concept of the unextended center of force as systematized by Cauchy.  And since maternal objects almost never get anywhere near being such points, the problem is always of a resolution of the given objects into points and forces between them.  All of these are attempts at a formalization of mechanics on the basis of “purely mechanical concepts.”  This position provides to be sterile.  In the 19th century, Empiricism came into its own.  Yet, we must not forget that both Planck and Einstein are essentially rationalists of the classical type.  This epistemological conflict continues into the Polanyi, Lakatos, Carnap, Popper and Kuhn debate (see my essay “Prolegomena to Theories of Scientific Revolutions with Attention to Kant, Lakatos, Carnap, Popper and Kuhn;” and “The Christian Faith and Scientific Revolutions:  The Problem of Demarcation (Kant and Popper).


If material points are invariably not the laws that link them; the result is a completely atomic picture of matter.  Such a view is one of the fundamental scientific a priories.  Now enters a strange form of materialism, without matter, of causality devoid of substance.  Here we see the paradox of regressive deduction (see Ernest McMullin’s, The Concept of Matter (University of Notre Dame, 1963).






The Atomic Idea


Science searches for laws, but it thinks in terms of “things.”  (If there is no universe, then there can be no “creation.”  See The Demise of Transcendence: The Race Toward Immanence and Changing Paradigms of The Concept of “the World”: Creation, Universe to New Age Monism (Pantheistic).  If there is a cosmos and matter is not eternal, it must have a finite organ in Time and Space.)


Whatever the limitations and conventions attached to the words “True” or “Real”, it is clear that the thing which is the principle of explanation must command at least provisional belief (or else we are dwelling in a cosmic loony bin.  In post modern theories of language, it is widely maintained that language is mere human convention.  The Wittgensteinians’ “Language Game” claims that various languages create different worlds, i.e., there is no meta narrative, world view, legitimization structure.  There are as many worlds as there are languages.  The history of the scientific enterprise does not look positively on this post modern (anti science.


Every nascent scientific explanation will be realistic and not nominalistic!  Such a realism is not a passing fad.  The life story of every theory is steadily complicating the network of experimental relations.  The entire history of the scientific enterprise is the attempt at attaining a true picture.


Theories may come and go, but this it is that makes the atomic idea a central motive of science.  Atomism is the recurrent image that has dominated scientific thought for over two thousand years.  Even in principle it bears the whole drama of rationalism.  It was the abstract belief of Democritus, as far as possible from experimental verification, which inspired Galileo, Boyle, Bernouilli and Newton.


The appeal of the atomic idea lay in its rigorous simplicity, yet that simplicity was deceptively complex.  On one side, it was a physical reality; on the other, a mathematical one.  Whitehead has justly if paradoxically observed that the void of Democritus, the space of Newton and the God of Leibniz are one and the same thing.  Only the Judaeo/Christian view of God as creator/redeemer can empower us to escape this pantheism.  (This issue involves Plato’s conception of space and Aristotle’s subsequent developments (Physics IV, 8 and 9). There must always be some system of reference.)  This atomistic hidden postulate of any geometrization is reality.  The ultimate grounding of Being is the equivalent of Newton’s absolute space.  They both express an intrinsic necessity of spatial designation or structure.


Einstein’s general relativity expresses the existence of world-line structuring the continuum.  For circa twenty-five centuries, all this content was packed in a simple image—the atom of Democritus.  It is materialized logical simplicity, i.e., essential unity.


Genuine realism has only one epistemological function—it refers all qualities to substance.  Substance is real; phenomena are also real.  From W. Thomson to Helmholtz, scientists observed that atomism cannot explain any properties observed that atomism cannot explain any properties except those which are attributed gratuitously and a priori to the atom


itself.  “Atoms constitute the immutability of elements--they cause fire to be always fire, water to be always water and the imperceptible germs that form a man never to form a bird.”  (Voltaire, Dictionnaire philosophique, article Atom)/


Atomism is the one way out toward a science.  (Leibniz, Letters to Arnauld II, p. 58; and Bockelard, Les Institution Atomistique).  The atomic idea of matter has culminated again in a paradox; it started with a substance that was a cause and it is in a cause without substance.  The exact laws of nature are linked only to atomic structure and only from it can they derive their constants.  To recapitulate dynamic atomism had proven intrinsically unstable.


This long period of development from the point of vantage of both mechanics and to electro dynamic we can better survey the critical period in which “real” representations try to fight their way through progressive abstractions and all-embracing theorems of the science of energy.  With the advent of the kinetic theory of gases, the chemical atom had become practically certain.


Scientific development between Mechanics and Physics to the Particle and The Field goes back to “open rationalism of the physicists goes on regardless of the need to progressively  Absorb empirical data infused with attempts at unification (e.g., Unity of Science Movement).  Through Boltzmann the climax comes by Heat Equilibrium of a heavy gas—the phenomena of mechanics and heat are brought back to the same concrete reality, and in the end Clausius’ analytical expressions such as entropy, are given an illuminating physical meaning.  How do we explain the correlation of chemical affinity, heat, electricity, magnetism and gravitation?  How are all of the powers interrelated?  We cannot say that any one is the cause of the others, but only that all are connected and due to one common cause.  From Faraday to Helmholtz, to Maxwell, scientists searched for one unifying cause.  Faraday did not have Newton’s mathematics, thus it appears that his search was in vain.


The Fate of Scientific Rationalism


Science has searched for objects whose characters develop by necessity into the order of nature, as common sense observation assumes.  From Descartes, Leibniz and Newton, philosophy proceeded from the a priori and is not only called upon to justify the accord between the intelligible and the sensible but it must prove the very existence of the sensible.  After Newton’s rationalism, whether scientific or not, hast o admit of something which is proven beyond any argument.  This for the scientist is matter.  The problem is: what can thought do with it?  In fact, the whole of physical determinism is based on the assumption (faith) in a limitless precision  at the heart of things (e.g., this is what Hume tried in vain to deny).  Science and thought constantly seek to rationally use the “one” and the “many.”  Postmodern anti science reduces this problem to the myth of the “absolute.” Here one speaks of the unity of the whole (i.e., the universe) and diversity of parts.  What or Who fuses this unity—God or man’s Social Construction of Reality?)  Hegel denounced science as a vast tautology which is about an explanatory principle for facts from elsewhere!  In strict logic—how can principles account for facts or vice versa without some kind of unifying power?  What is the source of universal unity?  It is the very nature of science to search not only for intersubjectivity but for objective reality.


Under the relentless pressure of social change with growing operationalism of physical theory and the metaphysical devastations based on Darwinism, the myth of unity could no longer hold.  It had to be replaced by unification.  But with that the status of science is changed and also that of the scientist.  (Social Construction of Reality, Cultural/Epistemological Relations)


The Rise of Experimental Science


Modern science is accustomed to decide all questions about reality by experience and experimentation.  This amazing declaration is not at all self evident.  From the medieval civilization to modern scientific enterprise is a very long journey.  Abstract reasoning was a preoccupation of medieval monks.  Their lives were spent in memorizing and translating established doctrines.  By the end of the Middle Ages there were a few scholars among them—Roger Bacon in England and Albertus Magnus in Germany had begun to understand the importance of experience (the empirical achievements of Bacon and Albertus are too often over emphasized—see especially L. Thorndike, A History of Magic and Experimental Science (NY, 1928, esp. Vol. II).


The period of transition from Feudalism to early capitalism had started.  When Feudalism and labor guilds began to break down, competition proved stronger and ultimately destroyed the guilds.  The age of the craftsman and the master was in the process of being replaced.  A new sense of experience and inventive genius requires successful men.  The age of invention had begun.  Some of the great inventions of the period were the manufacturing of paper, gun power, guns, the mariner’s compass and the printing press were just a few of them.  The increase of inventions such as the blast furnace and the stamping mill, the introduction of ventilators and hauling engines in the mines, numerous improvements in construction of weaving looms, ships, canals and fortresses are scarcely less important.  Coupled with the geographical discoveries, impacts were made in animals, plants, and things never see before were found.  Authorities and syllogisms had been beaten by experiences fused with a new empirical mind type of men set out to conquer the world (see F.E. Zilsel, Die Entsehung des Gemeinbegriffes (Tubingen, 1926, pp. 130-143; esp. 144-157).


The cultured elite played little attention to the great inventors and their inventions.  The Latin speaking university scholars, humanistic literati, were in the process of being replaced of fore runners of modern experimental science (op.cit, Zilsel, pp. 144-157) when rational training and manual work were united and experimental science was born.  This was accomplished about 1600 with Galileo, Bacon and William Gilbert—one of the greatest events in the history of mankind had taken place (e.g. Copernicus (d. 1543) was rational not experimental).  Galileo (1564-1642) was the first to fuse mathematics and astronomy intensified by William Gilbert (see esp. E. Zilsel, “The Origins of William Gilberts Scientific Method,” Journal of The History of Ideas, vol. II, 1941).  Science continues to develop along “Causal Research” lines.  We must keep in mind the animistic conception of nature is predominate in all civilizations (see my essays, “Eastern Antecedents to the Development of Western Science,” and “Narrative Displacements From Newton’s Principia (1687) to The French Revolution (1789): A Unique Period in The Intellectual History of Western Culture”


A crucial development in causal research gradually replaces teleological explanation.  Purposes of inanimate things, the meaning of natural events, and soul-life powers of physical objects cannot be ascertained by observation.  On the other hand, the regular connection of cause and effect is testable by experience and experimentation.  Causal explanation became the chief aim of experimental science.  The deterministic conviction dominated philosophy and science from Descartes, Hobbes and Spinoza, and from Galileo, Huyghems and Newton almost to the present time.  Since the necessity of causal relations is never observable; it transcends the province of experience.  These unempirical components were ascertained and criticized by Hume.  No scientific explanation or natural law was considered to be definitive until it was reduced to laws of mechanics.


The Tension between the Outer and Inner World


The conflict between a “real” world of mechanics and an “illusory” one of qualities has produced a confusing concept that has interfered with the analysis of knowledge and philosophy for over three centuries.  From the 17th century concern with “objects,” to the 18th/19th centuries expressed concern with “subjects” was the dominant preoccupation of science.   The contrast of objects and subjects or “outer” and “inner” world was intensified by Freudian psychoanalysis and the 19th century debate over Historicism and Positivism.  We are now on the road to “Cultural/Epistemological Relativism in the social and behavioral sciences.  By our Post Modern epic, even physical science was merely “social construction” (see my essay “Social Construction of Reality as an Eurocentric Operation”).  The distinction established between the real world of machines and an illusory one of qualities has produced a confusion of concepts that has interfered with the analysis of knowledge and philosophy for over three centuries.


Classical Empiricism:  Opposition of the Outer and Inner World


Natural science had adopted the experimental method from the craftsmen, and it developed rapidly during the 17th century.  The result was a great transfer from “objects” to the “subject.”  Medieval animism and Aristotelianism of the Scholastics were scarcely overcome when a new metaphysic developed, originating in the contrast of object and subject, of outer and inner world.


Francis Bacon (1561-1626) was interested in objects and the subjective components that knowledge is reduced to the doctrine of idols.  These fallacies (i.e. Idols) are induced partially  by individual conditions by which the judgment of the observer is disturbed.  The biases are called idols and are discussed totally in an empirical mode without reference to metaphysics.  The origins of the new subject-object metaphysics appeared in the empiricism of Hobbes (1588-1679).  He was a radical mechanist.  His fundamental problem was the explanation of the origin of perceived qualities.  In his epistemology, sensations are distinguished from objective qualities.  Sensations are not at all copies of the physical world but only correspond to physical qualities as symbols or terms due to their objects.  Plato had already duplicated the world by opposing the realm of Ideas to the world of phenomena.  Platonic Ideas are extremely vague constructions originating in the philosophy of mathematics and certain ethical considerations.  The metaphysical background of the Platonic Ideas is obvious.  Into natural science and empirical philosophy the two-world theory was introduced by Hobbes.  His distinction between the “real” world of movements and the subjective world of qualities has entangled the philosophy of nature in pseudo problems for over two centuries.  The heart of the impasse lies in the mechanistic interpretation of phenomena.  A mechanistic interpretation of nature cannot rationally eliminate this dilemma.


The decisive step that changed empiricist epistemology into an introspective psychological theory of knowledge was taken by Locke (1632-1704).  Locke’s theory of knowledge reduced all statements both in everyday life and in science, either to sensation or to reflection.  Locke’s theory of knowledge spoke rather of ideas and sensations than of facts, observations and statements.  Modern Logical Empiricism (see a later section on this) restricted itself to analyzing the methods by which statements are tested and verified, whereas empiricism of the 17th century proceeded psychologically and investigated how ideas are obtained.  Locke’s polemic against rationalism became a psychological analysis of abstract ideas on the one hand and an attack upon innate ideas on the other.  Locke soon turned to a discussion of the mind of the newborn child and revealed the concept of soul as the metaphysical background of all the psychological analysis.  Mechanistic philosophy was considered self-evident by Locke—that its physical implications were not even addressed by him; it appears only as his distinction of primary and secondary qualities.  Substance to Locke was the “unknown support” of qualities.  This unknown support must always be present, but he did not hesitate to distinguish material and spiritual substances and to raise the problems of their “interdependence.”  Locke’s empiricism accepted Cartesian dualism with question and discussed an interdependence never testable by experience, between constructs that could not be tested either.


The contradiction between Locke’s empiricist principles and his theory of substance was noticed by Berkeley (1685-1758).  Berkeley adopted the principles and the introspective method from his predecessor but neglected Locke’s theory of substance.  He began with the criticism of Locke’s theory of abstract ideas.  He was not able to form by psychological introspection  the idea of color which is neither red, blue nor green.  He rejected Locke’s subsistence of abstract idea.  Berkeley concluded that substance is a mere word.  Thus abstract ideas may and must be replaced by abstract words.  Matter as an abstract word does not exist at all.  Thus Berkeley’s well known equation, esse=percope resulted.  This is pure Idealism, i.e., only words exist.  We are now on the long days’ journey to Wittgenstein’s “Language Games” and the identification of “language” and “reality, i.e., cultural and epistemological relativism of the most modern multiculturalism project (e.g. addressed in a later section of this study).  Berkeley failed to apply his epistemology to the concept of mind, soul and logic without which there can be no rational disagreement with alternative narrative, nor propose an alternative interpretation.  The entire history of narrative displaced is nonsense!  The debate is over.  The classical atomist and Epicureans were naturalistic mechanists, but they did not believe in spiritual substances; Platonists and Stoics distinguished souls and bodies but were not mechanists.  Medieval theologians were not compelled to stress a chasm between spiritual and physical substances, since in their philosophy all physical objects were imbued with more or less soul-like powers; they were content with Aristotelian “entelechies” which being forms, were rather connected with them opposed to matter.  Actual and radical dualism was introduced into philosophy by Descartes, a mechanist and devout Catholic.  Physical science was faced with the task of separating constant relation on which all observers can agree, from the variable and unstable aspects which are offered under different conditions.

It was the rise of mechanical physics that turned the harmless distinction between subjective and objective components of observation into a dualism of the inner and outer world.  The problem intensified—how do both halves of the universe actually exist and how does it happen that they correspond?


David Hume (1711-1776) responded to the paradoxical solutions of Locke and Berkeley by rejecting spiritual substances as well as physical ones and this approached commonsense realism again.  Later on, when non Euclidian geometry and modern symbolic logic began to influence empiricism; with rationalists and with Kant, on the other hand, statements always had played an important part. 


Among the most important achievements in the history of philosophy is Hume’s analysis of the concept of causality.  He exposed that cause and effect are connected regularly with one another.  Since cause and effect are not linked by logical necessity, even the more common causal statements of everyday life depend entirely on past experience and never can be inferred a priori.  Induction therefore differs radically from Deductive Logic, and is based psychologically on custom and belief.  Hume’s criticism destroyed the idea of active prediction—i.e., fatalistic activity.  The world is a machine; therefore, there is no freedom, i.e., responsibility.  The influence of this position is rampant—the post modern academy.  The Newtonian World Machine is confronted by Humean criticism and further successful investigation in the most mechanistic physics of the late 19th and 20th centuries could not have occurred.  Open ended relativism is apparent in Hume’s Inductive Logic.


During the 18th century empiricism, by emphasizing sensations, turned to French sensationalism and with many philosophers to materialism.  For the first time perception of space was investigated psychologically (see esp. Locke’s polemics against Innate Ideals and the anthropological method was “successfully developed and applied to the investigation of religion by Hume; Berkeley’s Theory of Vision, Diderot’s Letters to the Blind (1749 ) Letters to The Deaf Mute (1751).


Narrative Advances of Empirical Sciences


The new empirical spirit of the modern era is entirely contrary to the spirit of Medieval scholasticism and expressed a revolt against theological tradition.  The radical shift started with “The Enlightenment” (see my essays “the Christian Faith and The Influence of The Enlightenment;” “Narrative Displacement in Theories of Scientific Science and Its Philosophy”; “The Loss of Transcendence in The Secular City: Idolatrous Absolutes”, p. 1-36  and “the Demise of Transcendence: The Race Toward Immanence (Creation, Non Linear Physics and Resurgent Pantheism”; the first thing to go in the development of Physical Science was the created universe and the creator)


The empirical application to the study of religion was first advanced by Spinoza beyond the Renaissance method of philological criticism.  Hobbes in his Leviathan (1651) advanced critical approach to the composition of the Old Testament. Spinoza was the first person in his

book Tractatus Theologico politicus, (1670) dared to apply philological methods to the Old Testament.  Spinoza successfully attempted to determine the time of composition of part of the Old Testament.  Then Hume’s dissertation on the Natural History of Religion (1753) tried to give an empirical theory of general religious development and started comparative investigation of primitive religions (the concepts of the religious systems of India and China arrived in Europe by the 19th century). 


Empirical comparative religion developed, using the philological and anthropological methods of Spinoza and Hume as well as modern psychological and sociological ones fused with world trade and the colonial system that made the “white race” acquainted with exotic civilizations.  These influences were already visible in Locke and Hume.


The natural sciences are more than two centuries older than the science of religion and comparative anthropology.  In the field of astronomy and physics empirical research had reached its first overwhelming successes as early as the 17th century, in the period from Galileo to Newton. Chemistry joined the advances in the 18th century and later was followed by mineralogy, geology, and meteorology.  A methodological point of view was obtained in the physical sciences by three means:  91) They do not restrict themselves to mere observation but experimented wherever physical processes could be influenced by technological lures; (2) they investigated the quantitative relations of phenomena; (3) and they considered discovery of natural laws as the most important goal of research.  Application of mathematics to the empirical findings and the construction of deductive theories cannot be separated from empirical methods and scarcely are less important, as they belong with the rational side of science (see my essay “Goedel’s Refutation of The Mechanical Model of Explanation”).


Development of Biological Sciences


The biological sciences developed more slowly.  Medicine was a classical category which developed in the 16th century.  Prior to this period biologists restricted themselves to observation, non causal description and classification.  In the first of physics, as well as solid and liquid bodies, acoustical and optical phenomena were distinguished before they were investigated scientifically.  In the past three centuries, biological research scarcely passed beyond classification and non-causal description.  The concept of cause, pre scientific teleological interpretation ruled the biological scenes until the 19th century.  Linnaeus, the most prominent biologist till Darwin, gave both artificial and natural classifications of plants and animals.  His word was the first step in the direction of causal research and therefore the theory of evolution.


Lamarck and Darwin’s achievements opened entirely new ways to biological investigation.  Empirical thinking was extended by the theory of evolution in at least four aspects:  (1) Linnaeus considered all species as absolute; he explained them as having initially been created by God (see esp. Michael Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box).  By the theory of evolution this rigid immutability was liquefied: to be replaced by “to become.”  Therefore, interpretation of living beings as subjects of a permanent temporal process was indispensable if description and classification were to be supplied by causal explanation and later by investigation of natural law.  (2) Darwin’s theory of natural selection (1859) made the first successful attempt to explain causally the theories fact that organisms are well adapted to their environments.  Once the teleological traditions had been removed from the field of physics with Darwin they suffered the first serious blow in biology (e.g., there are no evolutionary explanations of exposition of the laws of Physics and the descent of man); (3) Darwin’s anthropocentric philosophy and this decidedly helped eliminate obstacles to the empirical investigation of mankind.  In anthropology, sociology, psychology, ethics, religion, etc., this influence became very conspicuous (e.g., animal ancestors of man and natural selection).  (See my essays “19th Century Context of the Victory of The Darwinian Method: Logical/Epistemological Background of American Pragmatism” pp. 1-11; also “From Dilthey, Darwin to Dewey  as Prophets of Cultural Relativism,” pp. 1-5; “Shaping the Intellectual and Cultural Contribution of Darwinian Biology”, pgs. 1-36” “Social Darwinism and the Social Gospel in America”, pgs. 1-16).


Darwin’s theory was based on the practices of cattle breeders and on comparative observation.  Empirical research was applied to biological problems in the investigation of heredity and physiology in the late 19th century.  Mendal discussed his experiments on heredity (1865) in statistical terms, whereas some physiologists of the 19th century transferred the ordinary methods and concepts of Physics and Chemistry to biology and adapted them to the new problems.  Both modern genetics and physiology investigate quantitative relations and are seeking natural laws.  By the 19th century, teleology was revived again as Biology.  There is no reason to believe in this field a solution of scientific problems will be achieved by other means than by experiments, causal explanation and investigation of laws.




The beginnings of Psychology in the modern period appear rather remote from empirical research.  Early 18th century Psychology was still concerned with knowledge and rather neglected emotions, volitions and actions.


In psychology of knowledge the constructs of the deductive sciences began to be investigated.  It was even assumed that Logic could be reduced to psychology (e.g. Postmodernism, Logic, Language, Science are social constructions).  The all embracing World View of “Psychologism” was in tact by the 19th century.  Psychologists with a leaning toward the natural sciences investigated sensations in close connection with physiological research.  These experimental and quantitative methods were introduced into at least one branch of psychology.


The irrational sides of the human mind also began to attract attention.  German Romanticists were already highly interested in passion, emotion, somnambulism and insanity.  There was an extensive concern for the irrational and abnormal components of mind.  Scientific psychology divested itself of magic and metaphysical ideas without resuming the 18th century overestimation of intellect.  Psychiatrical research arose and the comparison of normal and abnormal mind contributed fruitful data to psychology.  Investigation of neurosis and hysteria especially added unconscious processes to the objects of psychological research.  Viewed empirically, the mind seems to be equivalent to awareness (e.g. consciousness—see my essays “The Neurophysical Revolution: Shaping Forces of The Counter Culture” (Psalm 8, What is Man?” and “The Counter Culture Meets the Neurophysical Revolution: The Demise of The Person in Post Modernism” pp 1-22).


Unconscious mental processes, therefore, seem to be a contradiction in terms and to be a metaphysical construct which can never be tested by experimentation.  Yet, introspection or empathic interpretation of the behavior of other subjects is strong proof that “unconsciousness is more than radical subjectivism (contra fusion of subject and object) (e.g. problem of Intersubjectivity, i.e., is objectivity).  Many emotional experiences that we all might participate in cannot be described by the individual in whom they happen.


If and only if empathy is more or less a feasible way in unconscious process be named “psychological” and be reckoned among mental phenomena conscious and unconscious components of the mind are subject to the same laws; physiological processes to entirely different ones.  The unconscious elements of mind have been introduced into psychology in order to fill the “gaps” of its causal explanations and to complete the domain of validity of psychological laws.  This method of completing the scientific domain is entirely legitimate and is used in the physical sciences as well.  Astronomers do not hesitate to discuss multiple stars with partly bright and partly dark components.


Psychology of “unconscious mental phenomena” is not less empirical than astronomy of invisible stars.  Empirical testability is a crucial component of scientific knowledge claims.  A system might be internally consistent (e.g., Animism, Idealism) but provides only emotional explanation but contains no explanatory power, i.e., predictability of new knowledge!  Scientific knowledge must have explanatory and predictive capacity for more knowledge (e.g. God’s sovereignty and man’s freedom.  God knows but knowledge does not cause X to happen, but without knowledge there can be no predictive capabilities.  This avoids materialistic fatalism of Islam and explains human responsibility to a Calvinist.  Men cannot be free only to do what he must do!  The heart of open theology is a misunderstanding of these matters


The Social Sciences


Among the empirical sciences the social sciences are the youngest.  They developed slowly from at least three different sources:  91) Jurists, (2) Political writers, and (3) Philosophers of the 17th century who dealt with public law and political philosophy.  Hobbes was more a rationalist than an empiricist in his theory of society.  He consistently developed the Social Contract, which dominated political philosophy until the end of the 18th century; and this and that this doctrine disregarded experience is crystal clear.  The Social Contract Theory provides epistemic criteria for adjudicating between alternative/comparative views.  Power alone remains.  This is our postmodern situation in our Global Village.  Toffler is correct—“all that remains are power encounters.”


During the same period, French writers (Voltaire, Condorcet) started investigating the history of human civilizations and the development of social institutions (see my paper, “The Christian Faith and Changing Views of the Social Sciences at the web site World View EyesLCC/S.Edu).  Another crucial source of the social sciences springs from the practical need of economy.  World economics had been barter (trade value for another item valued) with the development of capitalistic democracy there arose a need for rational regulation of economic activity (see esp. Schumpeter’s,  The History of Economic Analysis and Yergin Stanislaw’s The Commanding Heights: The Battle For World Economy (see PBS series “Beyond Keynes);  also Becker and Barnes, Social Thought—From Lore to Science (2nd edition; Harrei Press, 1953).


With new developments it became necessary to evaluate taxes and reward duties of new industries and the development of the new middle class.  In the middle of the 18th century in France, problems of agriculture also became urgent which produced concern for economic studies.  Finally Adam Smith, the friend of Hume, published his comprehensive theory of economic processes (1776).  He then created the science of political economy and started a scientific development which has continued to the 21st century.  The tension in economic theory was between the rational and the traditionalist form of economy.  Control and prediction of economic processes were among the aim from the beginning.  Economics began looking for causal explanation and very soon for economic laws.  Each of these new areas of research continued to develop.


But the physical sciences remained to dominant forces for change.  The application of the laws of physics continued to be the model in all categories of development.  The classical gas laws deal with interdependence of temperature, pressure, and volume of the gas.  But the single molecules, of which the gas atomist has neither temperature nor pressure; they whirl at random, have little kinetic energy and impulse, and are, in classical mechanics, subject to laws entirely different from gas laws.  This is an analogous way sociological laws might connect quite different variables than the psychological laws do, though social groups consist of human individuals.  The most mature science today in physics, next follow biology.  Sociology and anthropology are the least mature of all the empirical sciences.  The deductive theories in the various sciences and the application of mathematics to their problems must be taken into account.


Decline of the Mechanical Conception of Nature


During the second half of the 19th century important physical discoveries resulted in the breakdown of the mechanical theories of light, electricity and magnetism.  These developments had tremendous impact on philosophy and theology in analysis of knowledge claims.  Bohr’s original model of an electrical planetary system has been abandoned.  In Heisenberg, Dirac and Schroedinger’s  quantum mechanics has much to be desired in its explanatory power, i.e., spatial movement of particles and pushing and pulling only the equations are left.  The same results occur whether attraction to electric charges is explained by the pulling of individual cords or the pulling of cords by the behavior of electrons and protons.  Science accepts the more comprehensive, consistent and the simpler.  Here we see the demise of the mechanical model.  But this crisis does not entail a return to mechanical animism or teleological  ideas.  The statistical laws of quantum mechanics are as rational and mathematical as the laws of classical mechanics and not a bit nearer to the behavior of living beings or spirits.  (See esp. Philipp Frank, Interpretation and Misinterpretation of Modern Physics; note the use of these equations by Islamic physicists in defense of the Newtonian World Machine for justification of their fatalistic determinism, i.e., the will of Allah.)


The electrical engineer, Marconi, did succeed the theorists Hertz, Maxwell and Mach.  Mach succeeded the steam driven factories, the dynamo and the electro motors and certainly the electro engineering and radio broadcasting helped immensely to make the non mechanical conception of nature less paradoxical.  The failure of the mechanical model gave impetus to anti science pantheism.  The subject-object metaphysic was badly shaken.  These phenomena intensified in forms of Operationalism and Functionalism (e.g. mere description, not explanation).  The functional connections and mere regularities, the unempirical components had earlier been criticized by Hume’s attack.  The radical empiricism required no meta narrative for explanation.  Three centuries of fruitful work was radically challenged.  For the first time, the entire construction of modern physics became problematic.  Which natural laws are fundamental and which are social constructs, or arbitrary construction of a theory?  How do hypotheses, fictions or mere conventions render service to the scientific enterprise?  Here the radical tension between Rationalism and Empiricism becomes crystal clear.  Fictionalism and conventionalism  won the day that Poincare’s Conventionalism was influenced by Goedel’s refutation  of completeness and sufficiency proofs in mathematics (see my essay, “Narrative Displacement  in Number Theory After Goedel” on the LCCS web site).  These enormous influences precipitated the Logical Empiricism revolution (see Russell Whitehead’s Principia and Goedel’s refutation; Z. Jordan, The Development of Mathematical Logic and Logical Positivism in Poland Between Two Wars (Oxford University Pres, 1945); Herbert Feigel’s excellent article on Logical Empiricism, A Twentieth Century Philosophy: Living Schools of Thought, edited by D.D. Runes (NY Philosophical Library, 1943).


The enormous body of literature produced by those connected to the Unity of Science movement would require critical awareness at least of the works of Neurath, Morris, Quine, Tarski, Frege, Schlick, Nagel, Waismann, Hempel, Ducasse, Reichenback, Stevenson, Kraft, Frank, Sellars, Pap and especially the British Journal of The Philosophy of Science and Revue Internationale de philosophie—whole issues on Logical Empiricism, Volume IV, 1950).


The influence of these developments unfolded Linguistic Analysis, Logical Positivism  and ultimately the death of language as merely a polyvalent conventional system of symbols.  The impact of these developments in the theological arena is enormous, i.e., “Loss of God Talk, demise of doctrine, theology (true content—orthodoxy, heresy, pluralism of theological system and ultimately the postmodern Freudian reinterpretation of faith  as subjective, thus there is a no truth, only truths.  The code word is relationalism, not doctrine.  We now have entered the arena of pure subjective multicultural Diversity.  Only “power” remains as the mediating alternative belief system.  The claim of the finality and  uniqueness of Christ is politically incorrect and Diverse!  There can be no unique claims made so everyone has equal standing in the universe of discourse.


(This is the first of three essays on Narrative Displacement on the nature and history of science.  The second essay is Logical Empiricism, and The third and final essay in this series is The Long Day’s Journey of the Death of Reason  See also “the Anti-Science Movement; Social Construction of Reality;” “Attack on Science as Merely A Eurocentric Operation.”



(See the LCC web site



Dr. James D. Strauss, Professor Emeritus

                                                Lincoln Christian Seminary