See Also: Sense and Science: An Aristotelian Perspective
Aristotle was a great philosopher, but he died well over two millennia ago. We, as the living and breathing members of the human species, must learn to move past outdated systems of thought. And yes, Aristotle's system of thought is entirely outdated. He thought he demonstrated that time had no beginning; he was wrong. He thought he demonstrated that there were only four elements; he was wrong. He thought he demonstrated that the earth was the center of the universe; he was wrong. He thought he demonstrated that space did not exist; he was wrong. He thought he demonstrated that the stars and the sun moved in perfect circles around the earth, themselves being constituted of a fifth element entirely non-existent in the sublunar sphere. With all of these errors, formerly thought to have been demonstrated, what can we expect to remain standing?
There are numerous individuals, almost if not universally religious, that fighting tooth and nail, still manage to approach the writings of this philosopher with an absurd degree of dogmatism. "Sure, he was wrong when it comes to science stuff," they might say, "but he was still right about motion, change, causality, the uncaused first cause, sensation, epistemology etc."
I assure you, there will be more responses forthcoming, but here I intend only to address Aristotle's understanding of sensation, thereby laying the groundwork for dismantling the entirety of his epistemology and his conclusion that we have immaterial souls.
As a matter of fact, daunting though this task may sound, it is not very difficult to do: Nothing more is required to come to this conclusion than to see two of Aristotle's most important claims concerning the topic and two of the most easily grasped, scientifically verifiable, claims of neurology. This same doctrine of sensation is at the basis of the hylomorphic argument for the immaterial soul, which relies on the same two premises that I here enumerate, and without them the whole of their epistemology goes caput. Indeed, even the claim of the immateriality of the rational soul loses its grounding. This indeed, is a project worth undertaking.
So let’s go ahead and enumerate some things we think we know:
It should be sufficiently clear to the reader that in the last article, (2) was tacitly abandoned as a principle in Sense and Science to manufacture a false consonance between Aristotle and neurology. If sensation arises from the disturbance of an electrical mean, and we sense by receiving electrically-charged matter, what is important for allowing sensation is not that the organ lacks the form that it senses, but that it lacks the electrical charge that it is receiving. This is a serious problem for the Aristotelian. This problem, moreover, with very little work, can be shown to produce inevitable logical contradiction.
When we say, “Nothing receives what it already has”, this is certainly true with respect to electrically charged matter (a neuron cannot receive an ion that was already within the neuron, or it would not be receiving it at all), but do we take this statement only with to ions? If so, we abandon (1). To both the ions and to the sensible forms then. To keep with Aristotle, we assume (2) is correct and then ask whether or not sensation is in the brain. If not, then we would be forced to contradict (3), and if so, we would be forced to contradict (4). But (3) and (4) are certainly true.
(1) or (2), are essential elements of Aristotle’s doctrine on sensation, being necessary for his argument for the immaterial soul and for his epistemology, yet they cannot be held without contradiction or all-out denial of fact. Aristotle was a brilliant man in the 300's BCE, but his doctrine of sensation must now be abandoned.
In sensation the “that out there” is perceived and becomes a “this in me”, wherein the “this in me” is only perceived because it remains the “that out there”. Through sensation, an animal apprehends the world outside and desires particular external things. It is through sensation that a dog can apprehend food and a man can apprehend a symphony. This is the most noble of the powers in matter and the most self-determinate of the naturally determined; of all enmattered acts, the sensitive soul is the most actual. With respect to its object, the science of sensing things is the highest of the physical sciences.
This thesis is a drawing together of what others have done in biology in order to present a more complete picture of sensation. In particular, the two main sources of knowledge of any material thing are common experience and experiments. Unfortunately, a significant number of conclusions gleaned from common experience is largely and unduly abandoned; one of these conclusions is that the sense organ must hold itself at the mean between the sensible extremes. In this thesis I will address the extent to which common experience elucidates material causes by example by presenting Aristotle’s demonstration that the sense organ must hold itself at the mean between the sensible extremes, and then draw from neuroscience to show what this mean looks more concretely.
This will consist of three parts. The first section deals with sensation formally from common experience; the second deals with sensation materially from common experience; and the third section deals with sensation generally in light of more recent discoveries from experiments.
Extrapolating these principles, the Hylomorphist concludes that always and everywhere, form (a term that can generally be understood as a property) : matter :: act : potency, and it is on this proportion that all of Aristotelian and Thomistic metaphysics are based. Prime matter, is the first material principle, or a principle that has no existence in itself and is in potency to every form capable of existing in matter.
Take Aquinas's third way as an example.* In a nutshell, this argument says that we know that some things come to be and pass away, so they are able to exist while it is not necessary that they exist. This cannot be true for everything, or nothing would exist, so there must be at least one extant thing which cannot not exist. If there are necessary things that are not necessary of themselves but receive their necessity from another necessary being, then there must be a first necessary being that is necessary of itself and does not receive its necessity from anything. This first necessary being, all men call god.
There are several ways of responding to this argument, but one refutation that is often overlooked is to grant the whole argument while denying only the last premise: Say it is true that there must be a first necessary being, we have no reason to think that this first necessary being would be god.
This one's in PDF form for now. (Sorry guys!)
Hence, pro-life people always think that Roe V Wade was not based on the constitution, whereas pro-choicers can't imagine reading the constitution any other way. The LGBTQ(etc.) community thinks that the right of a man to marry a man is all but spelled out in the constitution, whereas anyone who opposes gay marriage can't imagine finding any legitimate grounds for the legalization of the practice in the same source. Similarly, LBTQ+ can't fathom the notion that anyone could read the constitution after desegregation and find any grounds for allowing a baker to refuse service to a gay man for his wedding. The list goes on. Pick any decision, and you'll find this born out: people always see what they want to see.
Hey, I totally see why conservatives don't want gay marriage, contraception and abortion legal anywhere. But regardless of what position you take, you must be willing to admit that the arguments of the SCOTUS for these cases are based entirely on the constitution. Roe V Wade was argued mainly from the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment. Obergefell V Hodges (the big gay marriage decision) was argued mainly from the Equal Protection, (which happens to be the adjacent clause in the 14th). Griswold V Connecticut? Well, that was argued again, through the 14th.
Now your average pro-life and pro-marriage American would stop me right there saying, "Show me where the 14th Amendment uses the word 'abortion' or 'marriage', and then we'll talk about how it doesn't follow from the constitution." This is the sort of person that, when faced with a SCOTUS decision that he doesn't like, will accuse the court of legislating from the bench, or he will accuse the court of adding words to the constitution, of offering dictionary definitions instead of legal applications, et cetera. (Sound familiar?) For example, as the sometimes-rather-annoying-and-grossly-overrated-blogger Matt Walsh so aptly put it, "There isn’t even a pretense of constitutional interpretation anymore." (See this post.) Now I highly doubt that Matt Walsh read the majority opinion, and if he already did, he has serious comprehension issues, because the argument for the decision was all about the constitution. (The syllabus in question is available here, by the way.) Fact is, the 14th amendment makes every liberty whatever into a qualified constitutional right; the 9th guards against thinking that all of the enforceable rights are spelled out in the constitution. It doesn't matter that abortion, contraception, gay marriage, etc. aren't explicitly contained in the constitution. They can be protected by the constitution anyways.
I'll go ahead and give you an oversimplified version of these arguments... The court sees, "[No State shall] deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law," they look at an instance and see any liberty (or any situation where they say someone has a "compelling interest") that a person is deprived of without a criminal investigation, and then voila! They've got a legal basis for telling a state that their law is unconstitutional. Let's say someone wants to have an abortion... The abortion is a compelling interest ergo it is also a liberty, but no liberty can be taken away without due process. Some man wants to marry another man? No problem! Personal autonomy requires that individuals get to marry whomsoever they choose, and personal autonomy is a compelling interest, ergo it also is a liberty and a constitutional right. See how this works?
I'm not going to get into whether the arguments actually follow right now; that's a topic for another day. It is also undeniably true that this amendment was passed in one of the most imprudent and un-American fashions imaginable. America is founded on the principle that everyone should get a say in government, and the notion that no laws should be forced on anyone unless they are represented in the process of making that law. Our ancestors fought for this with principle their lives, and their descendants went and forced their cousins AT GUNPOINT to sign several hurriedly-written and under-staffed amendments to the constitution. In hindsight we can see that, intentional or not, one of these rifle amendments brought the whole governmental structure apart from the country's founding principles. Now rights are decided neither by the people, nor the states. Rights are not individually enforced through amendments to the constitution but through supreme court decisions. Yes indeed, through the due process clause of the 14th amendment, the entirety of the Bill of Rights has become irrelevant.
You'd better believe it. We've got an entirely different sort of government nowadays than we had then. The states had a war between those who overemphasized the federal aspect of the government (The South) and those who overemphasized the national aspect of the government (The North). The North won, and when their governmental changes were enforced, we were left with a nine-fold national dictatorship. As of that day, the American experiment had failed.
EDIT: At the time of writing this article, I held very different beliefs as regards whether or not abortion, contraception and gay marriage should be legal. I have since "awoken from my dogmatic slumber" and now am am now very much on board with liberty and egalitarianism. The substance of my interpretation of these SCOTUS decisions, however, or as to their significance in regards to the factual change of government structure, has largely remained the same.