Tuesday, March 06, 2018

William Whewell

William Whewell died 6 March 1866. A few links to some posts I have done on various aspects of Whewell's philosophy. I have been talking about Whewell since this blog began (the fifth post I ever did was a quotation of Whewell); nearly fourteen years of occasional comments. I have not included all the quotations, nor all the casual mentions.

Moral Philosophy

Whewell argues that moral life can be organized according to five Virtues: Justice, Benevolence, Order, Veracity, and Purity.

* Justice

* Benevolence

* Order

* Veracity

* Purity

* The Principle of Purity

He argues that moral judgment is complex:

* Moral Judgment

He was an active opponent of utilitarianism, being instead an intuitionist:

* Moral Faculty

He has a moral argument for the existence of God based on multiple strands of moral life:

* Sentiment of Dependence

* Spontaneous Impulse of Gratitude

* The Idea of a Higher Moral World

* Aspirations for the Infinite (includes the comments on the various components)

Philosophy of Science

Whewell's philosophy of science was informed by an intensive study of the history of science and of all its major fields -- the reason for Sydney Smith's famous biting comment about him that science was his forte and omniscience was his foible. His studies led him to argue for a theory of scientific history based on three phases in the development of any major field:

* Epochs of Induction

* Inductive Epochs (considers astronomy in particular)

He recognized a point that is later associated with Planck, namely, that one of the mechanisms that has to be considered when looking at how theories develop is the older generation dying off:

* Transformation of Hypotheses

Whewell's view of scientific progress is pluralistic; there is no single line along which it proceeds. However, he famously argues that one mark that you really are making progress is consilience, when two theories from previously separate fields jump together so as to provide a unified account of both. I discuss consilience and consider whether it might be related to supererogation in moral matters:

* Supererogation and Consilience

The key idea in Whewell's philosophy of science is what he calls the fundamental antithesis, namely, that all knowledge is a union between the world as we discover and the mind's conceptualization of what we discover:

* The Fundamental Antithesis of Philosophy

* The Fundamental Antithesis

* Scientific Method

* Epistemology

* Theory

I did a series looking at Whewell's account of Newton's Laws of Motion:

* I: Induction

* II: Causes

* III: The First Law

* IV: The Second and Third Laws

Whewell has a fairly well developed theory of classification. He attempted to work out a rigorous account of scientific classification, which is based on the notion of a natural classification:

* Constructing Classificatory Sciences

* Natural Classification

I consider how his philosophy of classification relates to a historical question in mathematics:

* Classification and the (Non-)Primality of 1

And also his opposition to a claim by John Stuart Mill (and Auguste Comte) on classification, namely, that there is a natural series as well as a natural classification:

* Natural Series

Closely related to his interest in classification was his interest in rational scientific terminology, and was considered the foremost authority on this subject in the English-speaking world. Because of this, we owe a number of important scientific terms to Whewell:

* Scientific Terms We Owe to Whewell

Philosophy of Education

Whewell, as Master of Trinity College, was actively involved in the curriculum debates of his day. He argued that colleges should seek to have a unified curriculum involving both permanent and progressive elements -- classics and sciences, roughly. However, he did not think this should be indiscriminate. For instance, he argues that geometry is a better form of mathematics for a liberal arts education than algebra and calculus:

* Analytic Mathematics in Liberal Arts Education


Whewell takes his place in the history of found poetry for a sentence in his 1819 textbook, An Elementary Treatise of Mechanics. He wrote serious poetry (including translating German poets), but it's probably the most famous poem linked to him:

* Found Poetry

Part of his poem on the death of his wife:

* The Return Home

He also wrote an important book on Gothic architecture, arguing that it was dominated by the Idea of the Vertical; I make a comment or two on the relation between this and intellectual life:

* Philosophy in Stone

* Gothic Cathedrals

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