Clarifying the Conflict Between Modern Science and Natural Right

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  • This dissertation explores the troubled relationship between natural right and modern science. It proceeds by comparing the ancient (Plato and Aristotle) and modern (Descartes and Bacon) conceptions of natural inquiry, through the categories of aims and attunements. I argue that whereas the aim of Platonic and Aristotelian science was wisdom of the whole, which attuned it to the ultimate causes of everything, the aim of Cartesian and Baconian science was the ability to control nature which attuned it to repeatable laws of behavior. The modern focus on matter and its laws turned science away from ultimate causes so that such questions came to be regarded as unscientific. Thus the conflict is between competing conceptions of science, not simply inadequate observations of the ancients having been corrected by the more careful observations of the moderns.The benefit of using these categories to compare ancient and modern conceptions of science is that it provides the basis by which natural right might be shown to be consistent with the successes of modern science and technology. Thinking of modern science as asking different questions of nature than ancient science allows for the possibility that its different answers do not necessarily contradict its claims. The upshot of natural right, the possibility of which this thesis explores, is that opens up two primary directions for future research. First, asking the "purpose," or "why," questions that natural right encourages could shed new light on a number of policy debates. Any policy issue that requires an answer to the question "What is X for?" is made very difficult by the modern reticence to derive moral principles from the nature of the world. Basing the answers to these questions on a firmer ground than convention might open up paths to fresh insight. Second, natural right contributes to methodological debates within political science regarding the value-neutrality of the discipline. Its implied criticism of positivist and behavioralist methods can offer a different perspective than many contemporary poststructuralist and non-foundational approaches.

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  • Copyright © 2018 the author(s). Theses may be used for non-commercial research, educational, or related academic purposes only. Such uses include personal study, research, scholarship, and teaching. Theses may only be shared by linking to Carleton University Institutional Repository and no part may be used without proper attribution to the author. No part may be used for commercial purposes directly or indirectly via a for-profit platform; no adaptation or derivative works are permitted without consent from the copyright owner.
Date Created
  • 2018


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