Monday, July 11, 2011

What it Means to Be a Human Person – Part 9 – The Human Person and Change

            Of course, as soon as we observe the material world the question of change comes up. If everything in the sensible world is constantly changing, how can we claim to have any knowledge of it? How can we have any knowledge of human-beings, as they are part of this changing world? Some philosophers, Platonists, for example, accept the problem by saying that it is true that the sensible world is entrenched in change, and therefore unknowable. In order to get around the problem of how we can have knowledge if everything is in constant flux, they claimed that this world is just the flittering shadow of the world of the forms. True knowledge is gained by knowing the immaterial forms. Moving from the ever-changing world of the senses, the mind is drawn to, or reminded, or pointed towards, the world of the forms. If this answer to the problem of change is true, then Naturalism is clearly false, because not only do scientific methods not give us a lot of certain information about the sensible world, but scientific method is concerned with studying particular cases, and then inferring general, or universal, laws. However, if the platonic answer to the problem of change is true, then the particulars cannot give us any knowledge, they can only remind us of true reality—the immaterial world of the forms, which is the source of all our knowledge.  Naturalism cannot explain such a world, and would contradict itself if it tried.

The Naturalists response to the problem of change, to simplify a little bit, is to make change the substratum of all reality. For the extreme empiricist, we can only know each individual instance which presents itself to our senses, without knowing any connecting factor, or cause, between the instances. As David Hume notes, “…upon the whole, there appears not, throughout all nature, any one instance of connexion which is conceivable by us. All events seem entirely loose and separate. One event follows another; but we never can observe any tie between them. They seem conjoined, but never connected.”[1] One problem that arises is that we then can have no unified body of knowledge and therefore, no science, no philosophy, no history, etc. Another problem, is that Naturalists end up possessing the object of knowledge, the particular changing thing, but can have no intentional knowledge of it.

In the next post we will look at a third, and in my view the most promising and coherent, way of explaining change.


[1]David Hume, Enquiries Concerning Human Understanding and concerning the Principles of Morals, 3rd ed. (1975; repr., Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979), 74.