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Ovi Symposium; fifty-seventh Meeting
by The Ovi Symposium
2015-07-30 10:52:16
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 Ovi Symposium:

“A Philosophical Conversation on the Nature of Art within Modernity
and the Envisioning of a New Humanism”

between Ms Abigail George, Mr Nikos Laios, Drs. Paolozzi and Paparella
Fifty-seventh Meeting: 30 July 2015



Symposium's regular participants (in alphabetical order)

abigailAbigail George is an African activist for human rights, a feminist, writer and poet. She has received writing grants from the National Arts Council, Centre for the Book, and ECPACC (Eastern Cape Provincial Arts and Culture Council). She is not purely devoted to poetry but to pursuing writing fulltime. She has written two volumes of poetry, and her latest book is titled Winter in Johannesburg. Storytelling for her has always been a phenomenal way of communicating and making a connection with other people. All About My Mother (a collection of short stories) was published by Ovi magazine in July 2012.

laios_01Nikos Laios is a poet, artist, lover of philosophy and student of the human condition, currently writing poetry and producing art; he is also a sculptor, a photographer, widely read in the humanities. He hails from the highlands of Epirus in Greece; greatly influenced by the poetic traditions which have been passed down from his poet ancestor on his maternal side from the island of Cephalonia. He currently resides in North Sydney Australia, is an autodidact and a passionate ‘renaissance’ man, has always been a practical philosopher, throwing himself into the hard questions that life has to offer in search of elusive gems of wisdom.

enDr.Ernesto Paolozzi teaches history of contemporary philosophy at the University Suor Orsola Benincasa of Naples. A Croce scholar and an expert on historicism, he has written widely and published several books, especially on aesthetics and liberalism vis a vis science. His book Benedetto Croce: The Philosophy of History and the Duty of Freedom was printed as an e-book in Ovi magazine in June 2013.

papDr. Emanuel Paparella has a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism with a dissertation on Giambattista Vico from Yale University. He currently teaches philosophy at Barry University and Broward College in Florida, USA. One of his books is titled Hermeneutics in the Philosophy of G. Vico, Mellen Press. His latest e-book Aesthetic Theories of Great Western Philosophers was printed in Ovi magazine in June 2013.


 Note to the readers: As of the first of July 2015, the first thirteen meetings of the Ovi Symposium are available as an e-book, and can be downloaded for free in the Ovi Bookshop. HERE!



Subtheme of session 57: “Truth as the Common Ground of Faith and Science” 

Indirect Participants within the Great Conversation across the ages: Aquinas, Vico, Kant, Einstein, Kuhn, Descartes, Columbus, London, Darwin, Homer, Chesterton, Cowper, Penrose, Barrett, John, Eliot, Hegel, Hume, Popper, Mach, Poncare’, Bergson, Husserl, Heidegger, Marx, Labriola, Gramsci, Wittgenstein, Agazzi, Barone, Gambillo, Franchini.


Table of Contents for the 57st Session of the Ovi Symposium (30 July 2015)

Preamble by the Symposium’s coordinator Emanuel L. Paparella

Section 1: “Is the Truth of Scientific Knowledge Grounded in Faith?”  A Presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella

Section 2: “The Question of the Sciences. Are they True, False, or Useful?” A Presentation by Ernesto Paolozzi.

Section 3: A Brief Comment by Paparella on Paolozzi’s Presentation


Preamble by the Symposium’s Coordinator Emanuel L. Paparella


In this 57th meeting of the Ovi Symposium we continue to explore the problem of Positivism vis a vis Faith. If Aquinas has taught us anything with his Summa in the 13th century, it is that faith and reason cannot only  be synthesized but they can also be friendly to each other; they are not mutually exclusive. However, after Galileo with the advent of the age of science (17th century)a mind-set began to develop which considered religion and even philosophy as superseded by science which now had the prerogative of searching for truth and giving and answer to anything man could possibly inquire about. Science began to acquire a privileged position vis a vis the liberal arts. Eventually we end up with Positivism, fiercely inimical to religion  considered mere superstition adopted by the ignorant and the naïve.

Can faith be synthesized to science? Do they have a common root: the search for truth, or better a faith in reason? This is the ongoing conundrum that both Paparella and Paolozzi explore philosophically in this meeting. It is the problem of the two cultures as illuminated by C.P. Snow’s The Two Cultures. In section one Paparella begins with a statement by Thomas Aquinas and then takes us on an excursus into the history of rationalism which is well known to religious philosophers such Augustine and Aquinas but then it turns into an enemy of faith within positivism. The 18th century philosopher Giambattista Vico is presented to the readers as offering a corrective to the extreme rationalism of the age of Enlightenment and showing how the Enlightenment remains to enlighten itself and grasp that imagination and the poetical is integral part of human rationality and without them man ends up dehumanizing himself and going backward.


In section two Paolozzi takes us into a Crocean excursion and asks the question concerning the sciences: what are they? Are they true, false or just useful? He too guides us through the intricate history of positivism to show how it has misled us in thinking that faith and reason are mutually exclusive and shows how Croce also contributed a needed corrective to positivism. In several aspects the two presentations dovetail and complement each other. The modern reader who may think of the practice of religion as something passé and superseded, as “the opium of the ignorant masses,” may come out of this exploration with some doubts about his positivistic tenets regarding religion and science, which would in a way confirm how the two are actually complementary to each other. But, let the readers judge for themselves. Section three is a brief response by way of a dialogue by Paparella on Paolozzi’s presentation. Once again we  invite the readers to join the conversation via the comment section of the magazine.



Is the Truth of Scientific Knowledge Grounded in Faith?
Emanuel L. Paparella

“The act of faith consists essentially in knowledge and there we find its formal and specific perfection.”

                                                                                                   --Thomas Aquinas


St. Thomas Aquinas

Beginning with the Cartesian rationalistic, dualistic paradigm of perceiving reality there is within Western Civilization an unfortunate tendency to see science and religion in an adversary relationship to each other, but that is a false dichotomy. It is basically false because the two phenomena have a common origin. I would submit that the inability to discern a common origin has done irreparable intellectual damage to Western culture and, in as much as its thinking and praxis have spread globally, to humankind in general.

If Thomas Aquinas has taught us anything, it is the notion that faith is the very mode of rationality adopted by reason in its fidelity to what it seeks to understand. This is to say that faith and not “clear and distinct ideas” is the most basic form of knowledge in which rational inquiry may be grounded. Vico too never tires of reminding us that before there can be a reflective philosophical knowledge, there is an informal kind of knowledge directly grounded in experience and the senses and formed through the adaptation of the mind to the nature of things.


Our most basic beliefs will arise during this primordial phenomenological, as well as chronological, process. Admittedly this may appear strange to a culture steeped in materialistic empiricism and scientism and positivism, but the notion that knowledge is grounded in faith has always been an intrinsic part of the genuine Judeo-Christian tradition. A philosopher of the stature of Kant and, closer to us, a scientist of the stature of Einstein, were acutely aware that behind scientific activity there is an intuitive faith in the significant nature and meaning of things in the universe. Aquinas for one surely grasped that human rationality stands or falls at the service of faith in reason, or better, faith in truth. Einstein too was aware that without ultimate beliefs, which are by their nature unverifiable, science cannot exist; that those beliefs rather than a formal rationalistic reasoning process, advance knowledge and understanding through the human mind’s fundamental commitment to reality.

To briefly elaborate on this issue let us take a look at Thomas Kuhn’s philosophy of science. Perhaps more than any other modern scholar Kuhn has gone a long way in convincing the open-minded members of the scientific community that science is nothing but an affirmation of our basic beliefs. In his classical The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (University of Chicago Press, 1962), Kuhn points out that the ultimate beliefs of a scientist exercise a directive function in the way he formulates the questions, interprets observation and weighs the evidence; that within a Cartesian paradigm of reality the writing of a history of science will invariably end up with the setting up of a false dichotomy between science and religion.


This notion of science as underpinned by basic beliefs was ridiculed and even caricaturized by some prominent scientists when Kuhn published it. It is still being fought forty years later, but one can confidently predict that, as ideas go, following the natural trajectory of all radically new ideas, it will eventually be accepted and become the new paradigm.


The dilemma is that after three hundred years of “enlightened” rationalism we as a civilization have almost run out of time. In 1992, five hundred years after Columbus’ discovery of a new continent, we seem to be at the crossroads in Western Civilization, lost in a vast see surrounding the small island of scientific knowledge, much as Columbus was lost in the Atlantic in 1492. Our scientists tell us that dark matter, which we do not see and perceive, consists of 95% or the universe. It is indeed intriguing to follow the controversy among cultural anthropologists regarding Columbus’ legacy. Certainly today Columbus does not look as good as he looked in 1882. What happened meanwhile? Could it be that Columbus has in fact always been projected as the archetype of Western man’s penchant for spreading his alleged superior civilization to the rest of the globe; a sort of duty called “the white man’s burden”?

A civilization this that only one hundred years ago celebrated Columbus’ discovery for two whole years, to then go on to proclaim technology and its push-button solutions as the key to its superiority over other cultures and civilizations. It now finds itself responsible for a polluted earth, a brutal history of exploitation and colonization, a less than secure political milieu, the threat of nuclear weapons still hanging over it despite the demise of the “Evil Empire,” the executions of a variety of genocidal holocausts, two devastating World Wars, not to speak of the other fifty or so minor conflicts, the so called ethnic conflicts going on even in Europe’s Balkans, en economically exhausting Cold War, two thirds of its former colonial world at the margins of economic prosperity, and close to two million dollars a minute spend on arms while two children die of malnutrition in the same time. Hardly the Utopia envisioned by the scientists of 1892.

That Utopia was perhaps no longer feasible even in 1892 when the new inhabitants of this continent had already exhibited little desire to prepare for the coming global village by learning some valuable lessons on ecology and social justice from Native Americans. To the contrary, in 1892 America’s propensity was for Jack London’s brand of social Darwinism; a philosophy more consonant with unbridled laissez faire capitalism and still very much alive today. This rather nightmarish scenario is the direct brain-child of nineteenth century scientists influenced by Positivism and insisting all along that scientific theories and ultimately technology itself are value-free, convenient arrangements of operational “clear and distinct” ideas for purely pragmatic ends with no bearing on Being. It is that kind of mind-set which, when it operates in the world, reduces it to relations of ideas with one another while eliminating the very ground upon which ultimate beliefs arise.

To become more cognizant of this malignant cultural phenomenon, it would suffice to open any of the history texts written in the last one hundred years or so. If ultimate beliefs are even mentioned there, they are usually regarded as nothing more than arbitrary personal manifestations to be discarded in the name of “objectivity” and scientific detachment. That this intellectual stance may itself be a belief system, a paradigm, a myth of reality if you will, is never contemplated because this mind-set is capable of doubting everything except itself. Indeed the Enlightenment remains to be enlightened about itself. Vico’s insight consists in perceiving that within such a paradigm, conceiving of abstract rational operations as somehow cognitively superior to other intellectual operations of the human mind, the origins of Man’s culture cannot possibly be recaptured. He also intuited that the inability to recapture that origin will doom us to the vision of a less than humane future wherein Man ends up conceiving of himself as nothing more than a mechanically complicated, soulless, and mindless machine. Vico calls the phenomenon “the barbarism of the intellect.”

Some of the latest movies on war exhibit this dehumanizing process. In them violence has no face, suffering has no purpose and ethical considerations have no place. Homer’s Iliad they are not. Efficiency and effectiveness is the name of the game in those movies; nothing less than a prescription for insanity. In his book Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton points out that poets rarely if ever go mad, but chess players (to which I would add military and political strategists) quite often do. He further points out that of all the English poets only Cowper went mad, and that was not because of his imagination but because of his logic of predestination.


Giambattista Vico (1668-1744)

The discovery of Vico in our modern age is providential and due to the fact that there is a great need for an integrative scientific approach, capable of bypassing the object/subject dichotomy of a rationalistic materialistic and mechanistic approach to reality, to take its cue from the fundamental relations of the mind to the nature of the world around us. This requires nothing less than a profound synthesis of human thought, the kind of synthesis Vico advocated to his contemporaries as an antidote to the dehumanization of a purely casual account of everything in a universe devoid of a human consciousness, namely the positivistic approach. In this regard the reader should consult Roger Penrose’sThe Emperor’s New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds and the Laws of Physics (Oxford University Press, 1989), or William Barrett’s Death of the Soul: From Descartes to the Computer. Those two scholars point out that by concentrating exclusively on mechanistic logico-casual connections; the Cartesian paradigm has deprived Man of the rational ground for his convictions and actions. The end result is scientific activity devoid of responsible ethical judgments and decisions.

The moral relativism of our society points to the above mentioned disaster. Many today have opinions (supposedly all valid as any other), precious few with convictions and principles to which they are willing to commit themselves. That sorry ethical outcome ought to have been apparent the moment Descartes took away from human knowledge the ground of ultimate beliefs, thus discounting the fundamental relationship between thought and being, understanding and reality; notions that any science, in as much as it is made by Man’s mind, should always presuppose. In education this leads to the privileging of the means over and above the authentic goals of education, the emphasizing of the “real” over and above the “ideal,” the ignoring of the ethical-spiritual component of man’s life, the prostituting of education to mere training for successful manipulation of the “real.”

A rock bottom belief of modern science is that the visible and the tangible have primacy, i.e., are more real over the invisible and the intangible. This is a premise never openly stated but pervading the scientific world which seeks the quantifiable, what can be materially observed while questioning the very existence of the invisible and the intangible. Invariably, it ends up with a purely casual interpretation of human existence devoid of the concept of human freedom. It is all deterministic. To the medieval mind this view of reality would have appeared quite squalid especially if one considers that even in the material realm some 90% of matter is invisible to the naked eye and even to the telescope. So it appears that any fair minded scientist has to acknowledge that his standard “scientific” approach is no longer viable after the discovery of the metrical field which is invisible and yet controls all the observable objects in our experience. He would also have to admit that science operates within a hierarchy of levels of meaning and explanations which are open upward but not reducible downward. The organismic relations of living beings, while presupposing the laws of physics and chemistry, are not explainable in terms of these laws. In other words, the higher we go up the scale of levels, the richer the meaning we seem to encounter. The paradox is this: the medieval view was much more “realistic.”

Atoms in motion hardly explain the varied complex meaning of one’s humanity. Humans reading books in a library must appear pretty incomprehensible for a dog’s viewpoint of reality or perhaps to a barbarian who has no inkling of what reading and writing are all about. Indeed, all meaning in science is to be discerned in higher levels of reality and it is not reducible to the laws controlling the ultimate particulars of the universe. Human beings, in as much as they are inherently free, cannot be explained but only understood.

Once this fundamental notion of ultimate beliefs as the foundation of science is accepted, a reverse of the customary Cartesian paradigm begins to occur and we begin to acknowledge, with the medieval mind, that in fact what is most tangible (the substratum) in the universe has least meaning and that moreover the tangible cannot be identified with the real. On the contrary, the deeper the reality of a thing, the less tangible it seems to be. This is the philosophical fallacy of reductionism: taking the higher and reducing it to the lower. But, if the substratum is our ultimate reality, then all things are pretty much meaningless. Aquinas was correct: angels are higher beings because they are less tangible in what the scholastics call the chain of being.

That is not to imply that we need to understand angels before the scope of Western scientific development undergoes a transformation. All we need to do is understand Vico. One of his most significant insights, ultimately derived from the Judeo-Christian tradition, is that there is only one creative Source of order and rationality in the universe. That order in turn is creative of the contingent order of nature and our own understanding of it. As John was inspired to render it: “In the beginning was the Word.” In the interrelation of creation and incarnation within time and space lies the ultimate ground of order. In more traditional Christian thought the self is to be understood only in terms of its relation to God. It is created by God (creation), alienated from him (original sin), visited by him (incarnation), called to spiritual health by him (redemption), destined to be in communion with him forever (resurrection). Indeed, this is Immanuel, the God who enters into history with us, and therefore to know God is to also know this history with us. Conversely, to detach humanity from the relation to its ultimate underpinning is to miss the very purpose of human existence. And since God cannot be demonstrated empirically, man’s worth, his intrinsic dignity, cannot be demonstrated empirically either. All we can do is believe in humanity, just as one believes in God who sustains human nature. Only thus one may hope to reach the very essence of humanity: human personhood.


It is unfortunately true that religion and science, since the Enlightenment have been presented as estranged from each other, but that is no longer the case. They are beginning to come around full circle to their common origin where they can meet again, as Vico aptly described some three hundred years ago. Moreover, as Eliot best rendered it: “The end of all our exploring/will be to arrive where we started/and know the place for the first time.”



The Question of the Sciences. Are they True, False or Useful?
A Presentation by Ernesto Paolozzi
(From chapter 4 of his book Benedetto Croce: The Philosophy of History and the Duty of Freedom)


In this chapter I would like to discredit a prejudice hard to eliminate outside the small circle of specialists and to contribute to the general discussion. The prejudice consists in believing Italian historicist thinking to be anti-scientific and incompatible with the scientific one. In the first place, we need to remember that in the classical tradition of nineteenth century pre-positivist thought, philosophy had reached from Kant to Hegel the awareness of the difference between scientific research and philosophy. Without wishing to indulge in the usual and banal critique of idealism, we need to acknowledge that a devaluation of science had already been accomplished by Hegel. Not because Hegel, as is so often claimed, had not understood the deep-seated nature of science, at least as it was developed in his time, but because he did not take, at least in Croce’s view, that further step that would have allowed him to understand the relations and the specificity resulting from his reasoning. In other words, it was a question of adding to the logic of distinct, the logic of the dialectic.

Hegel held that science belonged to the world of intellect (Verstand), that is, to the world of analysis and empiricism that represent an outline of knowledge, while true and proper knowledge could only be obtained through concrete knowledge (Vernunft), that is, through that reason capable of understanding the world in its relations, just as the most astute scientists question themselves on life’s deepest meaning And this is where Croce’s originality with respect to the Romantic and Idealist traditions can be measured. Not wishing to sacrifice the fundamental concept of dialectic, Croce understood that it is not possible to function simply according to the model of contradiction and its overcoming. This position would have led Hegel, and idealists in general, in closing themselves, inevitably, in a monistic view of the world, in some aspects metaphysical, and in the worst scenario, totalitarian. According to Croce, the logic of contradiction cannot have a terminal point but is the eternal law of becoming that situates itself within a pluralist vision of history, or of the spirit, to use an old terminology. Therefore, the world must also be thought in terms of distinction.


What is then the new place that science, or the intellect, we could ask, occupies within the sphere of human functions? It is no longer a knowledge “inferior” to philosophy but a distinct. Therefore, it no longer belongs to the sphere of the intellect proper but to the practical, to the sphere of practical reason, or in Croce’s terms, the economic sphere. Sciences cannot be judged according to the criterion of truth or falsehood, but to that of utility. Sciences are not opposed to art, philosophy, religion or judgment as proper forms of knowledge but they exist alongside them in the dialectic game of life. From this viewpoint, although Croce employed the unfortunate expression, “pseudo-conceptual,” to designate the activity of the sciences with respect to classical tradition there is no devaluation but, if anything, revaluation. To look closer, the struggle against the sciences is not attributable to German Idealism or to the many-colored romantic or decadent irrationalisms, but to classical empiricism, if it is true that the most brilliant refutation of scientific knowledge remains that of David Hume who criticized, as Popper has acknowledged in recent times, the concepts of cause and induction.


Kant, in fact, takes a position against Hume and attempts to re-establish the philosophical validity of the sciences taking its starting point from the Copernican revolution which, as is well-known, marks paradoxically the idealistic turn in the history of modern philosophical thought. That is why, if we take into account the historical condition in which Croce’s thought originates and the climate of anti-positivist revolt which characterizes European culture in the years between the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century we can hardly fault Croce as the enemy of science. In fact, a serious crisis affected the entire world of epistemology which, in different ways, rejected the enthusiasm for positivism and the faith in the absolute truthfulness of scientific knowledge. Men of science or scholars attentive to questions of epistemology like Ernst Mach and Henri Poincaré began to question the fundamental principles of classical science. Philosophers of various schools such as Bergson and Husserl, not to mention the tradition of the so-called German Historicism, reacted in greater or lesser measure to the positivist mentality.

A new climate came to be formed that lasted through the years, as is evident in Heidegger’s later writings, which eventually consolidated in a more general political and cultural movement. If at the political level, positivism had always been coupled with socialist and democratic positions, or at least progressive ones, and if at times the struggle against science may have been a struggle against human reason and, thus, an objective critique of the reasons of liberty and human cohabitation, in the concrete case at hand, the fight against positivism was also led from the left. We are referring, for instance, to a considerable part of the Marxist tradition that was attempting to free itself from scientific elements in order to establish its ideology on the solid ground of Historicism. In Italy, this was the case with Antonio Labriola, who strongly influenced the young Croce, and with Antonio Gramsci who, in turn, was strongly influenced by Croce. Are we denying that in Croce’s thought there were elements that sharply criticized the sciences or, on the other hand, that Croce could be situated amongst the defenders of scientific epistemology with respect to his contemporaries? It would certainly be an exaggeration.

In almost every page of his writings, from those strictly speculative to those historically or aesthetically critical, the anti-positivist polemic is always alive, and never negated till the last days of his life. In fact, it is a question, precisely, of a polemic against scientism, an ideology, rather than a true and proper critical analysis of the logical status of the sciences. Croce opposed the positivist mentality, the attempt, as presumptuous as it was clumsy, of extending the so-called method of the sciences to reality as a whole. He opposed the hypocrisy of philosophers, artists, historians and politicians who hid behind the presumed tangible truths of facts, that were none other than arbitrary intellectual constructions. He opposed the widespread and popular idea according to which the schemata, for clarity of exposition, was more real than the mobile reality it was supposed to schematize; that the analysis came before and was more pregnant than what it concretely wanted to analyze; the idea that accuracy would be smuggled for the truth, and so on.

But all this belongs to what we could call the history of culture. Whereas we are also interested, if not above all, in investigating the profound philosophical motives of Croce’s thought, and there is no doubt that the philosopher, beyond the polemical posture, tended to look for a space in which to situate scientific research. To a reader used to view Croce as a philosopher ferociously hostile to the sciences, it may come as a surprise what he wrote in the Preface to the Logic of 1916. The separation there effected by philosophy from science is not separation from what is true knowledge in science, that is from the historical and real elements of science. It is only separation from the schematic form in which those elements are compressed, mutilated and altered. Thus it is at the same time a reuniting with what is living, concrete and progressive in those sciences.

If one aims at the destruction of anything, it can clearly be nothing else than abstract and anti-historical philosophy. In this respect, if abstract science be posited as true philosophy, this Logic must be looked upon as a liquidation of philosophy rather than of science. In later years, Croce dealt very little with strictly logical questions and, perhaps, this is why his strictly rigorous philosophical thought is hardly known with respect to the notoriety he received within the sphere of aesthetics and historiography. And yet, European culture continued to follow similar roads to those pursued by Croce namely, the clear devaluation of science at the hands of existentialism, or even from the Frankfurt School, and from many currents of Marxist thought. To be sure, there was a renewal of positivism, of the so-called logical positivism which, however, exhausted its initial thrust precisely within the movement itself. The later Wittgenstein if not opposed to the earlier Wittgenstein is certainly not a slavish continuation of the difficult and naive Tractatus. But Popper, above all, was the one to conduct a close criticism of the principle of verification on which the Circle of Vienna and neo-empiricism was founded.

Without getting lost in specific discussions on the oscillating work of Wittgenstein, it is without doubt in the following years, when Croce was by now dead, that Popper’s disciples went well beyond their teacher, arriving at forms of irrationalism to which Croce would never have subscribed. As he would have never accepted, probably, the historical relativism of someone like Kuhn who brings the progress of the sciences back to the alternating of cultural and ideal paradigms of obscure origin, that would determine scientific change. On the other hand, Croce was aware of the changing climate and could only express his satisfaction, which he did, as early as 1938, in History as the story of Liberty: Those who remember the conceit of scientists, that is, of the naturalists and mathematicians toward the historians, - that in the second half of the nineteenth century was exemplified by the contemptuous exhortation to historians to do away with their literary and philosophical habits, and imitate them, taking advantage of observation, induction, and calculation, of laboratories, observatories, and statistics, in order to raise history to “science” - may be amazed now at how the situation has reversed.

Theorists, or scientists themselves, who theorize over the physical-mathematical and natural sciences, insist now that natural science be recognized as history, and that we should no longer oppose history to science with its pale generalities and abstractions. Unfortunately, Croce does not go beyond and while in other fields of inquiry, as I have indicated, he went into specifics of the single disciplines, he was not able to go deeper in this question that ought to be examined more closely. Certainly not in the sense of going over the old anti-Crocean polemics. On this issue, the statements of two scholars, far from Croce’s historicism, like Agazzi and Barone should suffice and, above all, the work of Giuseppe Gembillo where Croce’s position is clarified with an abundance of textual references. What must be taken into account, instead, is the observation that those truth elements that Croce admitted could be found in the sciences have to find a precise philosophical reference.

To many it may seem strange, in reading his words, to hear about the concreteness of history and the abstractness of science. Anyone who can count or has experienced the well-being brought on by medicine will never be able to accept the idea that the sciences are abstract because of the tendency to confuse the particulars produced by technology with science as a method to investigate and conceive reality. Perhaps it is not even necessary to polemicize in this sense. But what Croce has to show is that those scientific products are such not only for merely practical motives (in which case we fall back on Croce’s theory of the practicality of science) but also because within the sphere of the sciences there are elements of truth that determine on the one hand the economic function and, on the other, they express a cognitive value.

The confusion can be resolved if we keep in mind a concept that is already partly developed in Croce, namely, that we have to differentiate between categories that preside over the development of every human activity and the concrete products of the very same activity. If, however, we analyze a single, concrete and historical scientific theory, we would observe in it some elements of truth because in any single product of the spirit, to employ Croce’s own terms, all the categories are always co-present. For this reason, Raffaello Franchini, in the final phase of his thinking, went so far as to call his own philosophy, still very much Crocean, a philosophy of functions. In terms of functions it is possible to distinguish between attractive and, thus, economic activity and cognitive activity, such as aesthetics and logic. But when the functions are set in motion, so to speak, they operate in the inseparable unity of history. An example taken from another field of knowledge can help us better to understand this position. In a poem by Leopardi we distinguish between strictly cognitive-aesthetic parts, practical elements (the necessary order that the poet wanted to give to intuition), and so on. We judge it a work of art because its ultimate end is an aesthetic one and because quantitatively the characterizing element is still artistic. Thus in a history book, in a concrete history book, the different spiritual functions alternate and are fused into one another, and the historian, while he knows a concrete and individual condition, he works with abstractions of a scientific type, necessary to his work.


To conclude, we have to keep always firmly in mind that any particular scientific theory represents a complex spiritual object that is judged, essentially, in and for itself, while in terms of category distinction, the scientific activity is held not to be cognitive insofar as activity that abstracts, generalizes, and produces laws that not always correspond to mobile reality. This is an activity that is predominant in scientific research but which is also present in any other activity and in any other product of this same activity. At this point, everyone is aware that the real distinction to be made is between scientific discovery, always historical and thus cognitive, and scientific law which, by having discovery as its foundation, contains cognitive elements but as it is elaborated as generalization and abstraction, it moves away from its proper and truly logical sphere. If this weren’t the case it would be difficult to explain the progress of the sciences, namely the continuous renewal of the discoveries that break the old laws. In conclusion, one must always keep in mind Popper’s idea that science is founded on hypotheses and conjectures, and not just on mere empirical data.



A brief comment by Paparella on Paolozzi’s presentation

Thank you Ernesto for guiding us through the above insightful excursus on the problem of the two cultures, that is to say the problem of positivism vis a vis the humanities and the liberal arts (which include religion or theology), a problem already explored and presented by Matthew Arnold way back in the 19th century,  repeatedly dealt with in the pages of Ovi in the past, and still ongoing.

If your presentation has taught us nothing else, it is the fact that a well constructed Crocean dialectical approach to the conundrum of positivism vs. the humanities, can allow us to see the sciences and the arts as complementary to each other, something which was actually existentially exemplified in the Renaissance by the likes of Leonardo Da Vinci.

In other words, you have lucidly shown us how to best approach this thorny problem from a metaphysical and objective standpoint, not to speak of its overarching ethical component. Moreover, you have also shown us that the ongoing conversation in any symposium (not to mention the philosophical conversation going on since the time of the ancient Greeks) is not a mere rhetorical debate, a sort of zero sum game with winners and losers, but rather it is characterized by the will to truth and the search for truth,  whether the conversation ultimately leads to personally convenient or inconvenient truths.

Indeed philosophy is and remains dialogic by its very nature. Narcissism kills dialogue since it considers its own point of view as the only valid point of view and refuses to consider alternatives. On the other hand, when we respect the dialogic character of philosophy, the results are usually extraordinary and may surprise even those who actively engage in it, for truth is always a revelation of sort, an unveiling, what the Greeks called aletheia. Indeed, in any genuive philosophical conversation there are no winners and no losers, there are only those who pay attention and those who don’t pay attention; whose who are willing and those who are unwilling to engage in the conversation. A good faith willingness to engage is what remains essential as a pre-condition. Ad majorem.




Intro - P. 1 - P. 2 

2nd Meeting - 3rd Meeting - 4th Meeting - 5th Meeting - 6th Meeting - 7th Meeting - 8th Meeting -

9th Meeting - 10th Meting - 11th Meeting - 12th Meeting - 13th Meeting - 14th Meeting - 15th Meeting -

16th Meeting - 17th Meeting - 18th Meeting - 19th Meeting - 20th Meeting - 21st Meeting -

22nd Meeting -23rd Meeting - 24th Meeting - 25th Meeting - 26th Meeting - 27th Meeting -

28th Meeting -29th Meeting - 30th Meeting - 31st Meeting - 32nd Meeting - 33rd Meeting -

34th Meeting -35th Meeting - 36th Meeting - 37th Meeting - 38th Meeting - 39th Meeting -

40th Meeting -41st Meeting - 42nd Meeting - 43rd Meeting - 44th Meeting - 45th Meeting -

46th Meeting - 47th Meeting - 48th Meeting - 49th Meeting - 50th Meeting - 51st Meeting -

52nd Meeting -53rd Meeting - 54th Meeting - 55th Meeting - 56th Meeting - 57th Meeting -


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