On the Value of Scientific Theories

I came across this in the notes and papers of Anthony Russell from his time in Australia studying under Fr. Austin Woodbury, SM.  Reading through Woodbury's papers, it is clear that he takes the general lines of his approach to these matters from the same school of thought that includes Jacques Maritain and Yves Simon.  It differs from the Laval School a good bit.  The whole matter comes down to the nature of defining middle terms used in the particular sciences.  One needs to understand well the precisions made by Cajetan regarding formal objects of science when he undertakes his discussions at the beginning of the Summa theologiae.  It is very important to be clear about the nature of the distinction between—thing, the intellectual objectification of the thing known, considered from the perspective of the thing known (ratio formalis obiecti ut res), and the intellectual objectification of the thing known, considered from the perspective of the object as such (ratio formalis obiecti ut obiecti).  This last is most specificative of a science as a science.   However, more on that in another post.  Look for tags like Woodbury, Thing and Object, Scientific Knowability, etc.

For now, I am going to transcribe an addendum after pg. 360 of Fr. Woodbury's Logic text.  This excerpt comes from the collection of Anthony Russell, housed at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, PA:

"Logic Lecture, November 21st 1956 [or, 1950], continued...

"Here the question is about those super hypotheses of the sciences (such as The Kinetic Theory of Gasses; the Einstein[ian] Theory of Relativity).  The question is: What Ontological Value have these theories got?  Or [, in other words,] what is their value as statements of reality"?

"Outside of the Thomistic School, two opinions have been held: [Read these as examples of formally extreme positions, not the only materially possible positions one might have...]

"a. [The view] prevalent among [s]cientific [t]heorists till about mid, or late, last century [i.e. the 19th century], who maintained that they state reality as it is.  Thus, Lord Kelvin: "With a laboratory big enough, I could make a world, like God."

This opinion says these theories have formally ontological value, i.e. state reality as it is; state reality and in a real manner; not just conceptualized reality, but the very mode of conceptualization of the reality is real too.

"b. Against [this aforementioned position, there] occurred a powerful reaction toward the end of last century, from idealists, from Wundt, and from the apostates from positivism.  They stated that these theories have got no ontological value at allSo, the success of Einstein's Theory in the atomic destruction of Hiroshima, and Shift in the Perihelion of Mercury, and bending of light rays at Sun's limb, were all flukes on this opinion.  They don't state reality at allEdding[ton] goes that far in his The Nature of the Physical World.

"Opposed to both these extremes, the Thomistic Doctrine is that these theories (a) state reality but (b) in an unreal (metaphorical) manner.  So, they have real value as regards what is stated but not as regards the manner of statement.

"[The following reworks the text because of formatting oddities.  To summarize the point, then, we can say the following.  In speaking of the ontological value or scientific theories, they are, materially or fundamentally speaking, real being, but formally speaking, mental being. (By the latter, Woodbury almost certainly means ens rationis or, perhaps even more so, ens rationis and beings having a condition of reason, as happens with regard to mathematical notions.  On this, one should consult the related discussions on entia rationis in Maritian's Degrees of Knowledge.)  That is, they are metaphors, stating reality but in an unreal manner.  Their community with the real is a community of metaphoric proportionality.]

"When you say, 'The lion is King of the Jungle,' do you state reality or not?  Yes, but not in a real manner.  What is state is real but the form in which it is stated, or proposed, is not real.   That naming of the lion as 'king' . . . is not an attribution of regal authority or power of jurisdiction over others . . . but is made because the lion produces effects like a king over subjects (as [too in the case of] governments with regard to our incomes).  You have expressed reality but the form according to which you express it is not real. That is, between what you say and the reality is analogy of metaphoric proportionality.  If you keep in mind, "The lion is the king of the jungle," you will come safely across Africa.  If you forget, you probably won't.  It is sufficient to account for the success of your voyage across Africa, so it is not a fluke that you cake out; you came out in virtue of the fundamental or material ontological value of the proposition.    Thus, is the Einsteinian Theory successful, on account of its ontological mateiral value, not on account of its formal value.

"That is all the scientific theories can get in ontological value (because of their peri-noetic [cf. Maritain] manner of conceiving).  It is precisely on account of their empiriological manner of knowing([i.e.] can't know natures in themselves—[that we are constrained] to know them in empiriological signs) that these theories are not real but [instead are] mental in their mode of conceiving.  A property of empiriological science is that its concepts are mental beings [entia rationis] founded in the real [i.e. in reality].  It is a block of reality (i.e. a nature) which is conceived, but the mannerof conceiving it is unreal (not conceived as it is in itself because [we] can't know it in itself).  [Here, one needs to revisit carefully the capabilities and limitations of the human intellect with regard to knowledge of the quiddities of substances.]

"[Again, slightly altered: We must distinguish (1) what is stated or conceived and (2) the manner of stating or conceiving it.  So too, in scientific theory, we must distinguish (1) what is proposed is true (i.e. in accord with reality) and (2) the manner it is proposed is not true (i.e. not in accord with reality).]

"This unreal manner of conceiving is necessary on account of the very imperfection of the empiriological manner of conceiving itself.