Appendix 05: Reductionism and the Priority of Being

Doug McManaman
Reproduced with Permission

[For a more precise and updated version of Appendix 05, please go to the following link: Reductionism, Analogy, and the Priority of Being]

The only way to break the stronghold of a reductionistic habit of thinking is to focus attention on the priority of being. Being is first, but "what" is made to be is not first, but follows upon being. Before we know anything in detail about an object of knowledge before us, we know that "it is". The "what" that exists (i.e., you, or a dog, or a carbon atom, etc) is a "that which is". The primary or fundamental way that beings exist in the world is as a "that which is". Beings exist primarily as "things" or "entities" possessing a certain "whatness", a certain intelligible configuration. That is why we know immediately, self-evidently, without reasoning to the conclusion, that each being is what it is.

The most fundamental question that arises in the face of the objects of our knowledge is: "What is it?" In other words, "what is that which is'?" Our question reveals that we want to know this basic intelligible configuration (what it is essentially) of a being more fully.

Furthermore, the "what is" is prior to quantity, which corresponds to the question: "How much of that which is' is there?" For example, how much does the cat weigh, or how large is it? The question "What is that?" is fundamentally different than "How much of it is there?" The former is more fundamental, because it bears upon the fundamental way beings exist, that is, as a certain kind of thing. The fundamental or primary mode of being is "entity" or "substance", not quantity.

Univocal Thinking and Analogy

The difficulty that some students encounter in trying to rise above the reductionist habit of thinking often stems from their tendency to think univocally.Students with good minds for science and math are disposed to think univocally. The way to grasp philosophical concepts, however, is to think analogically. Allow me to explain.

We speak of terms that are equivocal, univocal, and analogical. Equivocation (use of equivocal terms) involves using the same term with an entirely different meaning. For example, we speak of a river bank as well as a piggy bank. "Bank" means something completely different in each usage.

Univocal usage involves terms that are used each time with exactly the same meaning. For example, a + b = b + a. Or, consider the following: "All men are intelligent, John is a man, therefore, John is intelligent. The term "intelligent" is used with exactly the same meaning in the major premise as it has in the conclusion.

Univocal usage has its limits, however. To engage in a completely different mode of knowing while thinking univocally is problematic. Consider the following: "All exceptional people are in mental hospitals, all philosophy students are exceptional people, therefore ..." Or, the following: "All intelligent beings apprehend universal concepts, Dobermans are intelligent dogs, therefore, Dobermans apprehend universal concepts."

The terms "exceptional" and "intelligent" do not have exactly the same meaning within their respective syllogisms, which is why the reasoning is invalid.

Analogous usage involves the use of terms having a meaning that is partially the same and partially different in different contexts. For example, we speak of a good day, a good husband, and a good meal. We speak of a true diamond, a true friend, and true love. We also speak of a beautiful day, a beautiful argument, and a beautiful character. The good, the true, and the beautiful are used analogically, not univocally; they do not have exactly the same meaning in each context.

An exclusively univocal mode of thinking does not permit us to understand "goodness", "truth", and "beauty". They are only understood by analogy. A good meal, for example, makes us feel good. To an exclusively univocal thinker, a good person would be one who "makes us feel good".

When we understand that "good" is an analogical term, not a univocal one, we are able to see that "good person" means much more than "a person who makes us feel good". He is, rather, a person of integrity, which is the sine qua non of moral perfection, and perfection is what all things desire first and foremost. A good meal is good because it is "desirable"; for the good is the object of desire. So, the two terms are partially the same and partially different. They are the same in that they have to do with desire; they are different in that the one has to do with the desire to satisfy a sense appetite (good meal), the other with a desire for "fullness of being".

It is univocal thinking that is responsible for both the fallacy of reductionism and the difficulty in coming to understand the first principles of material being. Reductionism as a fallacy is a philosophy, not a science. This fallacy consists in using scientific knowledge as first principles and drawing philosophical conclusions on the basis of those principles, as if science is able to uncover the first principles of mobile being. That is a methodological error, and the way to overcome it is to think analogically.

Analogy is not an argument, but certain principles can only be grasped through analogical usage. In this case, it is not the analogy that explains the thing we are trying to explain; rather the principles that are understood through analogical usage explain what it is we are trying to explain.

Imagine a sheet of green paper. Let us ask the question: "What is it that causes the paper to be green?" A possible answer: "It is made up of little green particles". What causes those particles to be green? Those particles are made up of smaller green particles. What makes those green particles to be green? Those particles are made up of even smaller green particles. Etc.

Have we explained anything or even moved a step closer to an explanation? No, we have not. In order to properly explain something, we have to use terms other than the terms we are trying to explain, otherwise we end up begging the question, that is, we assume the point we are trying to prove. This is where analogous usage comes in, and the most fundamental principles of material being can only be grasped by analogy, not by univocal usage.

"Matter" is an analogical term, not a univocal term (analogical as well are: "form", "being", "true", "good", "beautiful", "potency", "act", subject, etc.) "Matter", as the term is commonly employed in the world of science, is partially the same and partially different than "matter" as it is employed philosophically. "Matter" in philosophical usage is the first subject of an existing material nature.

"Matter" as the term is employed in the world of science and what we call "first matter" are partially the same insofar as they are both subjects of contraries, that is, matter always possesses a determination of some kind and an openness to a different determination. They are partially different in that the first principles of mobile being (potency and act) cannot be manipulated nor apprehended through sense perception. Whatever can be manipulated, sensed, or measured, is an already constituted thing or entity with extension and some degree of sense qualities. One cannot come to understand the first principles that constitute the fundamental mode of existing as a material being - which is prior to quantity and sense qualities - with the help of the imagination, because they are not extended, they are not parts, and they have no sense qualities.

"Form" as well is partially the same as form in the sense of a figure, insofar as figure determines or shapes a subject (matter). But both matter and form are partially different than extended matter and a visible figure; the latter we can perceive with the senses, the former we cannot. First principles can only be understood, not manipulated, measured, or sensed.

A material being is a "what", as was said. It is an actual being of a certain intelligible configuration (i.e., it is a dog, not a cat; it is oxygen, not carbon). But the most obvious fact about material beings is that they are mutable, that is, a material being can become something else entirely, a fundamentally different thing. At the primary level, a material being is actually something, but potentially something else. Potentiality and actuality are analogous terms, and they are the first principles of material being. The following is an attempt to explore this further.

In an interview with Ignatius Insight, particle physicist Dr. Stephen Barr was asked what science can tell us of the universe's origins. Barr's reply was interesting from a philosophical point of view:

One has to distinguish the question of the universe's beginning moments from the question of why there is a universe at all. In my view, science will never provide an answer to the latter question. As Stephen Hawking famously noted, all theoretical physics can do is give one a set of rules and equations that correctly describe the universe, but it cannot tell you why there is any universe for those equations to describe…As far as the beginning moments of the universe go, science may eventually be able to describe what happened then. That is, when we know the fundamental laws of physics in their entirety -- as I hope someday we will -- it may well turn out that the opening events of the universe happened in accordance with those laws. In that sense, "the beginning" could have been "natural". However, that would not explain the "origin" of the universe in the deeper sense meant by "Creation".

Let me use an analogy. The first words of a play -- say Hamlet -- may obey the laws of English grammar. They may also fit into the rest of the plot in a natural way. In that sense, one might be able to give an "internal explanation" of those beginning words. However, that would not explain why there is a play. There is a play because there is a playwright. When we ask about the "origin" of the play, we are not asking about its first words, we are asking who wrote it and why. The origin of the universe is God Almighty. (emphasis mine)

The analogy from the realm of literature is one I've always been fond of, because the coming-to-be of a novel or play involves the four causes that are needed to account for all coming-to-be, at all levels of material existence. There is far more explanatory power in this analogy than we might realize at first. It can be employed in reference to the universe as a whole, but it can also be used to understand some of the first principles of mobile being, which is the object of the philosophy of nature.

Not only can we describe the universe with "a set of rules and equations", but the physicist also seeks to describe the subatomic universe with a "set of rules and equations".And just as the description of the former cannot tell us "why there is any universe for those equations to describe", so too a set of rules and equations that describe the subatomic universe cannot tell us why there is any intelligible subatomic universe for those equations to describe. Only the philosophy of being and the lesser known philosophy of nature can achieve that.

Every Agent Acts for an End

A Latin word for law is regula, which means rule or standard. To act according to a law is to act according to a rule.Lawful acts are regular, or standard. In other words, an agent (whatever it is) that acts according to a law, acts for an end. It is expected that physics would be able to describe subatomic realities using intelligible equations because every agent acts for an end, and agents that act for ends act according to a "rule", regularly, and so they act lawfully. This means that an agent is not indifferent to the end for the sake of which it acts. Water is not indifferent to what properties it will exhibit, nor is a fertilized oocyte indifferent to the end of its development. The boiling point of water is not 100 C one minute and some other temperature the next minute. Iron is not malleable one instant, but brittle the next, etc. A fertilized egg does not at times become a chicken, at other times a cow, at other times a child, etc. If you are playing snooker and you aim the white ball towards the red ball at a particular angle, the red ball is not indifferent to the end to be realized; it will move in a defined direction. If not, winning at snooker would merely be a matter of luck. The resulting motion is not indeterminate, but regular and intelligible (lawful). If agents were indifferent to the ends to be realized, their acts would be irregular, unknowable, unintelligible, and finally unpredictable.

A motion is intelligible through its end (fin). The reason is that the final cause and the formal cause coincide. The formal cause of a change is that for the sake of which there is coming-to-be (change). All change is a transformation of one kind or another. But the end (final cause) of the process occurs when the form has been realized in the subject that is undergoing change, or when the subject is "made through" (perfected).

We only possess an idea of a motion (what it is) through its end. For example, we know that cooling is occurring when water begins to freeze, or that heating is occurring when water begins to boil. Now, what is it that moves? It is a being that moves, so it is the end that reveals just what that being is; i.e., the relatively full grown apple tree reveals what that seed is, namely an apple seed. A being moves towards an end repeatedly (regularly) because it is a certain kind of thing, a determinate kind of being. In other words, its acts "terminate" or come to an end (fin), and they do so regularly, disclosing just what that being is. Acts that do not terminate or come to an end would be indistinguishable from any other act, and the being that acts indeterminately would be indeterminate, indistinguishable from any other being. Such a being would not be "what it is". As such, it would have no identity. Hence, it would be indefinable (without fin' or end); nothing about it could be an object of scientific inquiry.

The Priority of Being

When considering material things, we must never lose sight of the fact that being is first (that is why metaphysics is first philosophy, not the philosophy of nature). Nothing acts unless it first is. Now it is not the essence of a thing that makes it to be, for the essence is "that which is made to be" and answers the question "what is it?" I am a human kind of thing, but I am not my existence. Rather, I possess existence, that is, I have an act of existing. The act of being is the act of all acts, including the act of matter (which is the substantial quality or form, imparting to matter its actual "whatness") as well as all other modes of being that exist in material things, such as quantity, when, activity, passivity, etc.

A contingent being is an existing nature; it is a "that which has an act of existing". Hence, a contingent being is capable of not existing; for if it possesses an act of being, it can also be dispossessed of its act of existing. My cat exists, but it did not always exist, nor will it always exist.

Now, our quest for understanding reveals something fundamental about things. What our questions reveal is that everything which exists, to the extent to which it exists, possesses a sufficient reason for its being so that it is capable of explaining itself to the intellect. In other words, whatever is, has that whereby it is. This is the principle of sufficient reason.

Whatever exists has "that whereby it is" either in itself or in another. If it has "that whereby it is" in itself, then it is that whereby it is. If it has "that whereby it is" through another, then it depends upon that whereby it is. For example, if we chance upon a broken window, we naturally wonder what it is that caused the window to break; we look for the sufficient reason for the broken window. The sufficient reason (that whereby it is broken) is either in the broken window itself, or outside of it, in another. If the sufficient reason is in the broken window itself, we would not inquire of the reason. Since we ask: "How did this happen?" it is clear that the sufficient reason for the broken window is to be found outside of it, in another (i.e., the kids were playing baseball and Billy hit the ball out of the park and into the window).

Returning to the question of existence, a contingent being (an existing nature) possesses an act of being, and it can also be dispossessed of its act of being (my grandmother's cat no longer exists). So what is the sufficient reason for the act of existing of a contingent being? The sufficient reason, or "that whereby it is", is either in itself, or in another. When it comes to existence, the answer is clear: no contingent being contains within itself the sufficient reason for its act of existing; for if it did, it would be "subsistent being itself"; its "whatness" (essence) would be to exist. It would not possess existence; it would be its own act of existing.

Whatever belongs to the essence or nature of a thing belongs to it necessarily. For example, a human person is necessarily rational, an animal is necessarily sentient, a living thing is necessarily self-moving, etc. A being whose nature is to be would necessarily be, and could not not be. Moreover, this being whose nature is to be (subsistent being itself) would necessarily be one, not many. To understand this, suppose there are two beings that are "subsistent being itself". The only thing that could distinguish "being itself" from "being itself" is that which is outside of "being itself". But outside of being is non-being, or nothing. Hence, nothing distinguishes them, and so there is only one necessary being, not two. And it is this non-contingent being (God, or Being Itself) that is the sufficient reason for the act of being of all contingent beings.

What does God bring into being? The answer is beings, that is, particular existing natures. God cannot bring into existence a being whose nature is to be; for there can only be one necessary and non-contingent being, not two, and it is a contradiction to suggest that a necessary being has a received existence. And so, it inevitably follows that a contingent being is a being of a certain "whatness" (kind or nature), a determinate kind of thing, distinct from its act of existing.Being is first, "whatness" (essence) follows - not in terms of time, but in terms of dependence; "whatness" depends on the act of being, and the act of being depends upon "subsistent being itself", or God. There are no bovine essences hanging on a hook somewhere in the realm of forms waiting to receive an act of existing. Nothing exists outside of being. A contingent being is always a limited being of a specific and limited nature.

If what is brought into being is an existing material nature, it is a "what" that is mutable, or moveable (a hydrogen atom, or a horse, or a man, etc). It is a particular existing mutable being with certain modes of being inhering in it, such as quantity (having parts outside of parts), sensible qualities, dispositions, where, when, relation, etc. These latter exist only in and through the being's act of existing. Quantity, for example, does not have independent existence.

Now, existential causality is not something that occurs at a first point in time, only to withdraw itself so that what exists may continue to exist on its own. That is how many people tend to conceive of creation (such as the creation of the universe). But that kind of causality is "horizontal" and is proper to secondary causes that are not "existential", but efficient causes of particular motions, like the cause of the movement of a billiard ball, or the fertilization of an oocyte. Existential causality - and God is the first and only existential cause - is "vertical", so to speak. That is to say, it is perpetual and continuous. It does not occur in time, because time is a mode of being dependent upon and inhering in material beings that move. Time exists only in and through the act of existence of mobile beings. In other words, time is not prior to being, rather, being is prior to time, for time depends on material beings in order to exist, and material existing natures depend on the first existential cause that is subsistent being itself, or God. In other words, there is no absolute time, followed by the creation of material beings in time, followed by the actual movement of material things. On the contrary, there is the bringing into being of an existing material nature, and this existing material nature is preserved in being by its first cause so that it is able to act; it moves in certain ways (i.e., locomotion, or growth, or qualitative changes, etc.), and time follows upon that movement as its number according to a before and an after.

No thing can bring itself into being, and for the same reason no contingent being can preserve itself in being. For example, I can do all sorts of things to preserve my life, such as drink water, take medicine, eat, etc., but I cannot perform these acts unless I am first made to be and that my act of being is perpetuated or preserved. A being only acts according to the limited potentialities of its nature, and existence is outside my nature, for I have an act of existing; I am not my act of existing. That, of course, is true of all contingent beings whose natures are distinct from their acts of being, which is every other being besides God, whether we understand their natures or not. Hence, God is the first and perpetual (preservative) cause of the being of contingent beings, including material contingent beings.

Finally, "one" is a property of being. Whatever is, is one. Two beings are not one, but two. It is always a "whole" that is made to be. It is a single whole that exists primarily, a whole being of a certain "whatness" or intelligible configuration. A material whole has extension, and that extension is continuous either homogenously (i.e., a gold brick ) or heterogeneously (i.e., bones, nerves, muscle, etc). The parts of a whole are ordered to the whole because they are ordered by the whole. That ordering is an intelligible ordering, because the whole is intelligible. In other words, we can make sense out of the parts of the human anatomy because the whole human being is an existing nature, a being with intelligible content, not vice versa. The parts of a being exist in the one being, and they exist through the act of existing of that being in which they inhere. They have no separate existence - otherwise they are not parts of that being. But it is a nature that exists, so the parts that exist in and through the one being are parts of a nature. They receive their essential configuration from that nature, for they are its parts.

So how do we account for a physicist's ability to intelligently describe the subatomic universe? That is, how do we account for his ability to discern lawful (regular) behavior that can be expressed using highly complex mathematical equations? The reason the physicist can do so is that a being is a "what" that exists (an existing nature), and a "what" is a whole intelligible being, with parts ordered to the whole, that behave according to a rule, a law, a regular pattern.

Only beings exist, and beings are one. If there is multiplicity in a being, as there is in material beings with quantity, that multiplicity is reduced to a unity through a single unifying principle by which the whole is intelligible. Now, there is a twofold intelligibility to an existing material nature. I know that it is (existence), and I know what it is (essence). That unifying principle by which a multiplicity is reduced to existing parts of one being is the act of existing, and the unifying principle by which that multiplicity is configured to a single "what" (i.e., my eyes are human, my bones are human, and my nerve cells are human, etc.) is the form or substantial quality. The principle by which a being of a certain nature is multiplied into an indefinite number of individual instances having the same nature is matter having determinate dimensions (dimensive quantity). A being's mutability is rooted in its ultimate subject, which is the potentiality of the whole being (first matter) to possess some other substantial quality or form, and thus be some other determinate thing; and that potentiality or matter is real; it is the subject of a material being's intelligible configuration.

The first existential principle by which a contingent being exists is the act of being, which is caused by God (the first and perpetual cause). The principle of potentiality and actuality of the whole material being are not parts, for parts exist in the category of quantity. Moreover, there are no pre-existing parts as one would find at a hardware store. Rather, parts or particles are parts of wholes. If what we will later on designate as a part now exists by itself, it is not an actual part, but a whole unto itself; it is only potentially a part of a whole.

What this means is that an existing material nature is not a result of particles behaving lawfully. Being (one and determinate) does not result from the activity of a multiplicity of contingent beings, no matter what they are; contingent beings cannot impart being, they can give what is in their nature to give, not what is outside of it, and the act of existing is outside of the nature of a contingent being that possesses an act of existing. That is why a multiplicity of existing natures cannot impart existential unity, for they cannot impart being. If they become incorporated into an existing material nature (whatever that might be, i.e., an atom, a salt crystal, an animal, a plant, etc.), they cease to be what they are; if they did not, we could not speak of a single thing, such as a single atom, or a single dog, or single plant. To cease to be what they are means that a whole becomes a part of a larger whole. A whole exists on its own, with its own act of being; a part does not exist on its own. It exists through the being of which it is a part.

To deny this is merely to shift the level of discussion to another level. Whatever level that turns out to be, one will have to account for what one eventually comes to regard as the fundamental mode of real being and the "what" of those beings, their movements and principles, without begging the question.But no matter what that level is on which we choose to carry on a discussion that attempts to explain the ultimate constitution of material being, we always give evidence in our language that we understand, consciously or pre-consciously, something of the first principles of mobile being. There is always a single subject with two contraries (possession and privation). Whether we speak of not knowing the position and velocity of an electron at the same time, or a particle possessing wave properties, there is always a pre-scientific knowledge that exercises a kind of governance over the entire scientific process. When a person refers to the indeterminacy principle as an uncertainty principle, for example, he reveals his understanding that formal and final cause coincide, for what is indeterminate is unknowable, for we cannot terminate' our understanding of a thing's momentum, we cannot grasp the end (term) towards which it moves. The following is an attempt to explore this further, using the analogy of the novel or play.

The Novel: An Analogy

A book is made up of parts, the parts are made up of chapters, the chapters are made up of paragraphs, the paragraphs are made up of sentences, the sentences are made up of phrases and words, and the words are made up of letters. When a novelist writes the book, he begins by writing a letter, such as the letter "t". When we read the book, we begin with the first letter of the first word. The novel comes to be at the end of the writing process, and we finish reading it at the end of the reading process.

But it is the whole that comes first absolutely. A letter of the alphabet, i.e., "c", is more open to determination (has more potentiality, or less actual meaning) than is a word, i.e., "cool", and a word is more open to determination than a phrase, such as "cool glass of water", but a phrase is more open, has more potentiality, than the full sentence: "After a jog on a hot day, you should be sure to replenish yourself with a cool glass of water". A full sentence, however, is more open to determination than is a paragraph. We do not think one letter at a time, nor do we think one word at a time. We think of an entire idea, and then we think of the best way to express that idea.

To be less open to determination is to have more meaning. A letter is very poor in property and has far less intelligibility (meaning) than a word. The letter "e" means much less than the word "love" or "truth". When the letter "e" becomes part of the word "love", it becomes part of a larger whole, with far more meaning than the letters "e" "l" "v" "o" taken separately. We can do a lot more with the letter "e" than we can do with the word "love", precisely because "e" has less quality, less intelligibility, less meaning. "Love" has greater intelligibility, that is, less potentiality, than the letter "e".

If I were to ask a group of students to write any meaningful word using the letter "e", they'd have no problem. Ask them to write anything using the word "love", and they would have to think a bit more. Ask them to write something that incorporates the phrase "love is blind", and they'd have to think even harder, but they could do it. But ask them to write an entire paragraph that incorporates the sentence: "A certain kind of love is blind, for it is passion that has a tendency to blind the intellect, and so the kind of love that blinds is an emotion, not an act of the will", and they'd spend much more time thinking about how to incorporate it. They'd need to think of a larger meaning (idea), one that exceeds the meaning of the part. For the meaning of that sentence exceeds that meaning contained in the phrase "love is blind". "Love is blind" is open to further determination, but it does not and cannot determine itself to that larger end, an end that expresses the meaning contained in the full sentence. It must be determined by something that possesses that larger meaning. The phrase does not possess it, just as the word "love" does not possess the meaning contained in "love is blind". Considered in itself, the part does not contain the meaning of the whole. It does not possess the meaning of the whole; otherwise it would be the whole. The part is made to serve the whole through the whole, by existing as part of the whole. That is why the students have to think of an entire meaning that exceeds the meaning of the part, in order to intelligently incorporate it.

Shakespeare conceives the whole before writing, and it is the intelligible whole that determines and shapes every part of the play, i.e., the letters, the words, the phrases, the sentences, the paragraphs, the scenes, the acts, etc. The intelligible whole that Shakespeare conceives is not in the book, but remains within him - it is part of his interior. But existing natures (beings) have their own interior; they have their own nature (only an intelligent creature is intelligently conscious of that interior).

Now, as we move towards the subatomic level, we are moving towards a level that is real, but not as rich in property. The realities we discover at this level have a greater openness to determination.For example, the electron is more open to determination (more potential) than the atom, the atom more open to further determination than the molecule, and larger more complex molecules have more potential than a flower, etc.In other words, the atom has less potentiality than the electron. The electron is a part of it; if it is not a part of it, it is potentially a part of it. A protein molecule has less potentiality than a carbon atom, for instance. A horse has less potentiality (more meaning) than a protein molecule. In this, reductionists are right. One would much rather receive a bouquet of roses on Valentine's Day than a pile of dirt; for what has less potentiality has a greater intelligible configuration and thus greater meaning.

Just as the idea of the entire novel determines the configuration of each part, not vice versa, so too does the substantial form communicate its own intelligible configuration to every part of the material being. The parts do not determine the whole, and the whole is not an effect of the parts, for that would suggest the parts are prior to the whole, which means they would be wholes unto themselves. They can only be parts if they cease to be wholes. If, let's say, four beings resisted the pressure to relinquish their existence to become parts of a greater whole, but combined with one another, the result would be four beings, not one.

Reductionism: an Epistemological Error

Now, once a novel or play has been read, we finally come to understand it; for we only understand something when we know it as a whole. All the parts of the novel serve the whole, the single idea that exists in the mind of Shakespeare. But after a time, the reader forgets the details. But he knows the novel or play as a whole: "I know that book, I've read it before", he says. "So I'd like to read something I don't know. Let me look for another book." After a few years, he might decide to re-read the novel. His initial knowledge of the whole begins to acquire a greater precision, perhaps one he once had, but lost over time.

Ordinary knowledge of material beings is, in a manner of speaking, the reverse of how we come to know a novel by reading it. We know a thing as a whole first, vaguely or very generally. I know that thing over yonder is a being, but as seconds pass, I begin to see that it is an animal of some kind, because it is moving itself and it has four legs. After a while, I know it is a horse.

But since I want to be a veterinarian, I will need to know about horses in more detail. So I begin to study anatomy, histology, biochemistry, etc. Science is much like the moment a person decides to re-read the novel; for the scientist is going from the general knowledge of things that he possesses in common with everyone else, to a more precise knowledge of the details of what he knows generally. His general knowledge will begin to acquire greater precision.

The error of reductionism is an epistemological one rooted in a lack of awareness of the interplay between the general knowledge of a being that is first, and the subsequent knowledge that is more precise. The reductionist attributes more reality to what he later comes to know through a more precise empiriometric mode of knowing. That is very much like the reader attributing more reality to what he later comes to know through a more precise knowledge of the book that he re-reads (i.e., the sequence of words on the first line of the first page, the opening line of the second chapter, etc.). But his knowledge of the novel that he had at the beginning of his project to re-read the book was a real knowledge, and everything he comes to know after that is known in reference to that initial understanding of the whole. That is why it is easier to understand a book after already having read it.

But even when we read a novel for the first time, it is the knowledge of the whole that is always the condition for the possibility of knowing its parts. At the beginning, it is knowledge of a relative whole (i.e., the sentence in relation to the words, the paragraph in relation to the sentences, or the chapter in relation to the paragraphs) that is the condition for the possibility of understanding the parts we are reading. Unless I understand each word within the order of the whole sentence, I do not understand what I am reading. The words have meaning, that is, they have a direction, a movement forward, that is, they move towards an end. Each move forward brings me closer to the whole idea (either of the sentence, or of the paragraph, or of the chapter, or of the whole novel). Each whole enables me to understand each part of it completely. The entire meaning contained in "love is blind" allows me to grasp the particular nuance given to the word "love". It enables me to understand something about love, in particular, something the author wishes to convey to me about it.

By itself, the word "love" does not convey that larger meaning. But consider the following: "A certain kind of love is blind, for it is passion that has a tendency to blind the intellect, and so the kind of love that blinds is an emotion, not an act of the will". My understanding of "love is blind" is much more complete, it is far more nuanced and somewhat richer, in light of the whole for the sake of which it was phrased. If, as a result of a loss of memory, I cannot retain the words in order to discern the movement or direction in the writing, I end up knowing each part in isolation from the whole. Hence, I cannot grasp the whole. But the whole idea determined each part, which is why each part together moves forward to convey the overall meaning. If my memory works, I remember the whole word, the whole two words, the whole three words, the whole four words, and the meaning, which always exceeds them individually, gradually comes to light. The words only exist in view of the whole, and the whole determines the sequence of the words, gives the words their moving power, that is, their ability to carry the reader along.

Memory allows me to possess wholes. And so, once again, without memory, I only grasp the word in isolation, and I treat each part as if it were a whole, without direction towards an end and thus without any particular nuance. But no part of a whole can be understood outside of the whole, and if a person has no short or long term memory, he cannot hope to understand the story he reads.

Continuing the analogy, without a pre-scientific knowledge of beings as they exist, there is no possibility of acquiring a more precise knowledge; otherwise, against the backdrop of what would this newly acquired knowledge be more precise?

That is why it is not possible for that which is discovered later, resulting in a more precise knowledge of a being, to be more real than the whole being that was first known. Nor can this more precise knowledge of the parts that constitute it be absolute first causes. A first cause is a cause of the whole, but a part or a multiplicity of parts are not absolute first causes the whole of which they are a part. They are caused (determined). Parts exercise a secondary causality within the already existing whole, for example, digestive enzymes in the stomach aid in causing digestion, etc.

Returning to the analogy of the novel, it is the idea of the novel that is the principle and cause of the novel; the words and sentences are determined by it and are ordered to serve it, that they may communicate it. In other words, the initial idea is not an emergent property; rather, the parts that express the entire idea are what emerge. The more precise scientific knowledge depends on the initial more general knowledge, and it does so all the way through the process of acquiring a more precise scientific knowledge. That initial more general knowledge includes existential judgment, which is the apprehension of a thing's existence (I know that it is) as well as the simultaneous apprehension of the thing's nature (imperfectly apprehended). That knowledge is real and is the permanent backdrop of all subsequent scientific inquiry.

Empiriometric knowledge depends upon ordinary, pre-scientific knowledge, in order to remain intelligible. To conclude at the end the scientific process that what we thought we knew on the pre-scientific level before precision is not real, or worse, illusion, or that "it is nothing other than…" is to destroy the entire scientific process, rendering it impossible. It is like crossing a bridge to get to an island, and upon arrival we draw the conclusion that the bridge does not really exist, and that the side from which we crossed was only illusion. The bridge and starting point, however, were the conditions for the possibility of getting to this point on the island.

This order that the analogy of the novel uncovers exists not only with respect to the universe as a whole - keeping in mind that the universe is not one being - , it is an order that exists with respect to every "whole", every being, every smaller universe within the universe, every substance on the periodic table as well as every living entity. In fact, it is an analogy that is more fittingly employed with reference to material substances than the universe as a whole, precisely because the universe is not one entity, but beings within the universe are single entities.

An empiriometric understanding of the physical universe at any level is genuine and real, but it is not and cannot be an ultimate explanation, that is, an explanation in terms of first causes. It is an intelligible description that presupposes the intelligibility of things in the first place. Moreover, mathematical entities are not causes; they are logical entities, not real principles of existing natures. They have a real bearing upon the physical world, because existing material natures are measurable, they are quantified and intelligible.

An explanation of things in terms of their first principles and causes comes from a mode of knowing that deals in first causes (in contradistinction to secondary causes), namely the philosophy of nature and the philosophy of being (first philosophy). As Barr points out later on in the above interview, a theory of everything is not possible, only a theory of everything physical. But this needs further qualification. A theory of everything physical remains a theory of everything physical from a delimited point of view, namely, an empiriometric point of view. It does not completely explain the physical, because it does not reach first causes, for it does not account for the possibility of a theory of everything physical, because it does not and cannot account for the twofold intelligibility of existing physical natures.

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