Scepsis Scientifica - Chap. XX.

Chap. XX.

            3. The Aristotelian hypotheses give a very dry and jejune account of nature's phenomena.

            For (1.) As to its more mysterious reserves, Peripatetic enquiry hath left them unattempted; and the most forward notional dictators sit down here in a contented ignorance: and as if nothing more were knowable than is already discovered, they put stop to als endeavours of their solution. Qualities, that were occult to Aristotle, must be so to us; and we must not philosophize beyond sympathy and antipathy: whereas indeed the rarities of nature are in these recesses, and its most excellent operations cryptic to common discernment. Modern ingenuity expects wonders from magnetic discoveries: and while we know but its more sensible ways of working; we are but vulgar philosophers, and not likely to help the world to any considerable theories. Till the fountains of the great deeps are broken up, knowledge is not likely to cover the earth as the waters the sea.

            Nor (2.) Is the Aristotelian philosophy guilty of this sloth and philosophic penury, only in remoter abstrusities: but in solving the most ordinary causalities, it is as defective and unsatisfying. Even the most common productions are here resolved into celestial influences, elemental combinations, active and passive principles, and such generalities; while the particular manner of them is as hidden as sympathies. And if we follow manifest qualities beyond the empty signification of their names; we shall find them as occult, as those which are professedly so. That heavy bodies descend by gravity, is no better an account than we might expect from a rustick: and again, that gravity is a quality whereby an heavy body descends, is an impertinet circle, and teacheth nothing. The feigned central alliciency is but a word, and the manner of it still occult. That the fire burns by a quality called heat; is an empty dry return to the question, and leaves us still ignorant of the immediate way of igneous solutions. The accounts that this philosophy gives by other qualities, are of the same gender with these: so that to say the loadstone draws iron by magnetic attraction, and that the sea moves by flux and reflux; were as satisfying as these hypotheses, and the solution were as pertinent. In the qualities, this philosophy calls manifest, nothing is so but the effects. For the heat, we feel, is but the effect of the fire; and the pressure, we are sensible of; but the eject of the descending body. And effects, whose causes are confessedly occult, are as much within the sphere of our senses; and our eyes will inform us of the motion of the steel to its attrahent. Thus Peripatetic philosophy resolves all things into occult qualities; and the dogmatists are the only skeptics. Even to them, that pretend so much to science, the world is circumscribed with a Gyges his ring; and is intellectually invisible: and, ΟΥ ΚΑΤΑΛΑΜΒΑΜΩ [Greek: OY KATALAMBANO], is a fit motto for the Peripatum. For by their way of disquisition there can no more be truly comprehended, than what's known by every common ignorant. And ingenious inquiry will not be contented with such vulgar frigidities.

            But further, (3.) If we look into the Aristotelian comments on the largest volumes of the universe: the works of the fourth day are there as confused and disorderly, as the chaos of the first: and more like that, which was before the light, than the completely finished, and gloriously disposed frame. What a romance is the story of those impossible concamerations, intersections, involutions, and feigned rotations of solid orbs? All substituted to salve the credit of a broken ill-contrived system. The belief of such disorders above, were an advantage to the oblique atheism of Epicurus: and such irregularities in the celestial motions, would lend an argument to the apotheiosis of fortune. Had the world been coagmented from that supposed fortuitous jumble; this hypothesis had been tolerable. But to entitle such abrupt, confused motions to almighty wisdom, is to degrade it below the size of human forecast and contrivance. And could the doctrine of solid orbs, be accommodated to astronomical phenomena; yet to ascribe each sphere an intelligence to circumvolve it, were an unphilosophical desperate refuge: and to confine the blessed genii to a province, which was the Hell of Ixion, were to rob them of their felicities. That the galaxy is a meteor, was the account of Aristotle: but the telescope hath autoptically confuted it: and he, who is not Pyrrhonian to the disbelief of his senses, may see, that it's no exhalation from the earth, but an heap of smaller luminaries. That the heavens are void of corruption, is Aristotle's supposal: but the tube hath betrayed their impurity; and neoteric astronomy hath found spots in the sun. The discoveries made in Venus, and the moon, disprove the antique quintessence; and evidence them of as course materials, as the globe we belong to. The perspicil, as well as the needle, hath enlarged the habitable world; and that the moon is an earth, is no improbable conjecture. The inequality of its surface, mountanous protuberance, the nature of its maculae, and infinite other circumstances (for which the world's beholding to Galileo) are items not contemptible: Hevelius hath graphically described it: that comets are of nature terrestrial, is allowable: but that they are materialed of vapours, and never flamed beyond the moon; were a concession unpardonable. That in Cassiopea was in the firmanent, and another in our age above the sun. Nor was there ever any as low as the highest point of the circumference, the Stagyrite allows them. So that we need not be appalled at blazing stars, and a comet is no more ground for astrological presages than a flaming chimney. The unparalleled Descartes hath unriddled their dark physiology, and to wonder solved their motions. His philosophy gives them transcursions beyond the vortex we breathe in; and leads them through others, which are only known in an hypothesis. Aristotle would have fainted before he had flown half so far, as that eagle-wit; and have lighted on a hard name, or occult quality, to rest him. That there is a sphere of fire under the concave of the moon, is a dream: and this, may be, was the reason some imagined hell there, thinking those flames the ignis rota. According to this hypothesis, the whole lunar world is a torrid zone; and on a better account, than Aristotle thought ours was, may be supposed inhabitable, except they are salamanders which dwell in those fiery regions. That the reflexion of the solar rays, is terminated in the clouds; was the opinion of the Grecian sage: but lunar observations have convicted it of falsehood; and that planet receives the dusky light, we discern in its sextile aspect, from the Earth's benignity. That the rainbow never describes more than a semicircle, is no credible assertion; since experimental observations have confuted it. Gassendus saw one at sun-setting, whose supreme arch almost reached our zenith, while the horns stood in the oriental tropics. And that noble wit reprehends the school-idol, for assigning fifty years at least between every lunar iris. That Caucasus enjoys the sunbeams three parts of the nights vigils; that Danubius ariseth from the Pyrenean hills: that the Earth is higher towards the north: are opinions truly charged on Aristotle by the restorer of Epicurus; and all easily confutable falsities. To reckon all the Aristotelian aberrances, and to give a full account of the lameness of his hypotheses, would swell this digression into a volume. The mentioned shall suffice us.

 

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