This past 6 December, 2016-2017 Medieval Fellow Dr. John McCaskey delivered his lecture “Inductio: The Medieval Transmission and Humanist Solution to the Scandal of Philosophy,” concluding this semester’s Medieval Studies lecture series. Addressing the textual transmission of the concept of inductive reasoning from Aristotle and Socrates through Scholastic thinkers and into the Renaissance, McCaskey presented medieval thinkers as reinterpreting the Aristotelian definition of inductive reasoning so as to create a new form of philosophical analysis, which, though perhaps contrary to the original intention of Aristotle, stood as a unique form unto itself.
While Aristotle and, later, the Italian humanists who reexamined his work and thought, understood induction to be a process of enumeration, scholastics and Neo-Platonists, McCaskey believes, understood induction to be a process equating to deduction. According to McCaskey, medieval thinkers approached inductive reasoning as a process of narrowing down the nature of what something is by what traits it shares in common with something else. Classical and Renaissance thinkers, conversely, approached induction as defining what something is by understanding what it does in relation to what other similar things do. Using the example of magnets attaching or not attaching themselves to an iron rod, McCaskey described this difference by showing that we can define a magnet according to its appearance being similar to other magnets or according to whether a magnet actually is attracted to the iron rod. The difference is in how we define a magnet: is it a thing that does what all magnets are supposed to do, or is a magnet that which appears to be a magnet, regardless of actual function? This difference in interpretation between Classical and Humanist and Medieval thinkers McCaskey largely attributes to alterations and items lost in the 500 years of translation of Aristotelian and Socratic texts as they made their way from Greek to Syriac, to Arabic, then Hebrew, and finally Latin.
The Centre would like to thank Dr. McCaskey for his lecture and for ending the semester’s lecture series on such an engaging note.
Alice Ramos is Professor of Philosophy at St. John’s University in Queens, New York. She holds a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Navarra in Spain and a Ph.D. in French Literature from New York University. Her publications include a recent book titled Dynamic Transcendentals: Truth, Goodness, and Beauty from a Thomistic Perspective (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, May 2012), two edited books for the American Maritain Association: Beauty, Art, and the Polis (2000) and Faith, Scholarship, and Culture in the 21st Century (co-edited with Marie I. George, 2002), a book written in Spanish titled Signum: De la semiótica universal a la metafísica del signo (EUNSA, 1987), and over sixty articles in areas such as Thomistic metaphysics and ethics, Christian anthropology, and Kantian ethical theology. She is the recipient of grants for scholarly work both in the United States and in Europe. She is a past president of the American Maritain Association (2002-2004) and has served several terms on the executive council of the American Catholic Philosophical Association.
Her present research project deals with the relationship between the thought of Thomas Aquinas with the twentieth-century German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer. Recent scholarship on Hans-Georg Gadamer has focused its attention on a brief but dense section of Gadamer’s magnum opus Truth and Method where he speaks of “language and verbum.” For Gadamer, the encounter of the Greek logos with the Christian idea of the Incarnation and the theological doctrine of the Trinity constitutes an event that does justice to the being of language and prevents the forgetfulness of language in Western thought. Her contribution to this inquiry extends this insight by focusing on how Gadamer’s thought can be enriched by reference to the perspective of a medieval thinker such as Aquinas, who offers key hermeneutic principles for a continuation in our present times of the fundamental intuitions of Gadamer regarding language and verbum. She is presently working on a part of her project which attempts to articulate the relationship between language, being, and beauty, while also working out its metaphysical foundation.
We welcome Dr. Ramos to the Center for Medieval Studies and look forward to collaborating with her in the coming months!