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The Enigma Of The Universe : Scholasticism

Published: 05.09.2014
Updated: 02.07.2015

We find an elaborate discussion of space in scholasticism, which is based on the philosophy of Aristotle. Famous exponent of scholasticism James McWilliams proposes the following thesis on space: "Space is abstract extension considered as a receptacle for bodies; hence space as such is a product of the mind, but with a foundation in external reality.

Part I (a) Space is an abstract extension.

Argument. Expansion in three dimensions is that which is essential to the common concept of space, while other properties such as colour, resistance, temperature, or forces of any kind, do not enter into the concept. But expanse represented without the other common and sensible properties of bodies is abstract extension. Therefore space is abstract extension.

Part I (b) This extension is considered as a receptacle for bodies.

Argument. That which is considered as filled with bodies or void of bodies, that in which bodies are said to be contained and move about, is considered as a receptacle for bodies.

But we so consider the expanse which we call space. Therefore space is abstract extension considered as a receptacle for bodies.

Part II (a) Space is a product of the mind.

Argument. That is called a product of the mind which is represented as an existing being but which in itself cannot exist. But space as such is represented as if it were an existing being, whereas it cannot as such exist by itself. Therefore space as such is a product of the mind.

Part II (b) This mental product has a foundation in external reality.

Argument. A mental representation is said to have a founda­tion in external reality when there actually exists in the concrete state something which corresponds to the representation, although it does not exist in the abstract condition in which it is represented by the mind. Now there exist bodies with the concrete attribute of extension, and it is this attribute which is represented in an abstract manner in the notion of space as such.

"Therefore space as such is a product of the mind with a foundation in external reality."[1]

In scholasticism, time, like space, is believed to be a product of mind. In the words of Mcwilliams, the thesis on time is as follows: "Time as such is not a moving body but is abstract motion taken as the measure of the duration of things; hence time as such is a product of the mind, though with a foundation in objective fact."[2]

Thus the scholastics believe space and time to be subjective realities. They have divided space and time into three kinds: (i) real, (ii) possible and (iii) absolute.

(i) Real space is that which is occupied by a body or bodies,
(ii) Possible space is unoccupied space,
(iii) Absolute space is the sum of the two.[3]

Explaining them, Mcwilliams writes: "Hence absolute space takes in all space. We form this notion by prescinding from whether the space be occupied or not, and consider it only as being capable of occupation; in absolute space we break down the barriers between real and possible space and view it all as one. And, whereas real space is limited by the confines of the bodies in existence, and possible space is excluded from the compass of those bodies, absolute space recognises no limits whatever, and expands indefinitely in all dimensions. On the other hand, possible space may be very restricted; for if there are vacua within the universe, little volumes not occupied by any matter whatsoever-not even by the ether-. These vacua are as truly possible space as that which begins at the outer rim of the universe and stretches from thereof inimitably. Real space is always coterminous with the body concerned."[4]

"Real time is that which coincides with the actual changes in the material universe; it extends from the beginning of motion up to the actual present, and is constantly being added to. Possible time is that which is not coincident with actual motion; it embraces not only the future but also that imaginary time which preceded the beginning of motion in the universe. Absolute time is both real and possible time considered as one; it is therefore all time, prescinding from whether or not it have the concomitant of existing physical motion."[5]


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Title: The Enigma Of The Universe Publisher: JVB University Ladnun English Edition: 2010 HN4U Online Edition: 2014

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Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Aristotle
  2. Body
  3. McWilliams
  4. Space
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