Nature and Object of the Scientific knowledge


By Fr. Raymond Taouk




1.    The logical study of science (really part of epistemology) is the reflection on the human thought when it proceeds scientifically.  Science is the systematic knowledge of beings and of their properties by means of their causes.

·        knowledge of the beings and of their properties, by means of their causes.  Science seeks the qualities of a given species or genus of beings, and also tries to induce their causes both intrinsic and extrinsic (origin of the foetus, of the universe, function of the liver, structure of the atom, varieties of insects and birds).  According to the various cases, science will be a knowledge descriptive, measuring, defining, explanatory etc...

·        knowledge ordered and mediate.  Ordering is connatural to the object of the int.  But a profound knowledge of anything supposes the use of reasoning on a large scale, a greater study of observation and a work which is constant, ordered, methodical, the characteristics of the scientific knowledge which distinguish it from common knowledge. 

·        Science, logically speaking, consists in an organic body of known truths, related logically with each other (data, explanations of the basic data, principles and demonstrations) and united by the convergence of the formal object.  Science as such is a being of reason.

·        It is an analogical notion : philosophy seeks the most profound and universal principles, the part. sciences deal w. proximate causes.  Some sc. are more deductive (maths), others more descriptive and experimental (biology, geography).  Theology is a science but based on principles which are not self-evident, the dogmas of faith.  The analogous concept of science culminates in God who is essential Wisdom.


2.    Aristotelian notion of scienceCertain knowledge through causes.[1]

·        Subjectively speaking, science is a speculative intellectual habit.  Objectively, it is a sum of judgments of things. 

·        He sets 2 conditions for true knowledge :

·      necessity  : necessary judgment regarding things necessary and even contingent in what is necessary.[2]

·      universality (typical scientific propositions or laws are universal) de singularibus non est scientia


3.    Function of science in human life :

·        speculative end (knowledge for the sake of knowledge) : it is the proper of the h. dignity to know things, and such knowledge is ordered to the knowledge of the highest truth, God.

·        practical end (knowledge for the sake of action) : to satisfy the necessities of life. 

·      speculatively practical sc. re. the principles of activity (moral sc., theoretical medicine).

·      practico-practical sc. re concrete cases (casuistry, practical or applied medicine).


4.    Relation wITh the spontaneous knowledge

·        common knowledge. does not suffice to obtain a profound, organised and precise knowledge of reality.  Yet its function is essential, being the starting point of science which takes from there its experiences and intellectual principles. 

·        Moreover it is a knowledge certain of many aspects including their causes, and it can advantageously compensate the superiority of science in other aspects : common knowledge is more concrete, more global and more in touch with the immediate interests of human life.


ii.  the object of science


1.    Every scientific discipline is defined by its object.

·        The material object is the generic type studied by a science.  Various sciences may have the same material object : human action is studied by law, philosophy and pedagogy.

·        the formal or proper object is the specific aspect by which the beings (mat. object) are considered by the science.  Man is the material object of philosophy and anatomy, but the formal object of philo is his nature whereas the formal object of anatomy is his corporal organisation. 

·        Sometimes the formal operation is determined by the mode of knowing it (or means of knowledge). E.g. theology studies God w. the light of faith, modern physics analyses sensible phenomena by instruments of observation. Moreover, some sciences are distinguished by their degree of abstraction.

2.    The object is the ultimate centre of reference of every scientific discipline.  Thus, scientific propositions are judgments per se which unite the properties with the formal object of science.[3]


3.    The difference between the formal object of each scientific knowledge is not always rigid.  Inter-discipline is useful to unify knowledge, one of the main goals of scientific knowledge.


[1] Anal. Post.  I 2; #71 b9.

[2]Maritain explains that the scientfc law always expresses the property of a certain ontological entity which is never sensible, a ‘non observable ontological thing’ which the experimental sciences always presuppose wo piercing through their intelligible content and in which nevertheless resides the reason of the scientific laws.  If there are ncssy laws, that is, in last resort, because they are a property of the essence which of ncssty have some properties (in Degrees of knowledge).   Modern science contemplates possibilities, starting from the existing conditions of the contingent causes. 

[3]E.g. ‘the heritage is distributed between the children’, ‘the citizen can defend his right to intellectual property’ are per se juridical propositions, because related per se with justice, formal object of Law.