Boethius of Dacia: Science is a Serious Game

Theoria 66 (2):145-158 (2000)
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Summary The presentation will proceed as follows: (§ 3:) For the truth of an affirmative present‐tensed proposition Boethius required that its terms have actual referents, he would not accept any uninstantiated essence as a verifier. He also denied that any proposition about corruptible beings can be strictly necessary. He thus had a problem explaining how a theorem of one of the natural sciences differs from an ordinary contingent proposition. His rejection of uninstantiated essences also (§ 4) raised the question how words can stay significant independently of the existence of referents, and more generally, to which degree language mirrors external reality. After a sketch of his solution to the semantic problems, § 5 returns to the question about scientific propositions. It is claimed that the core of Boethius' solution is a substitution of causal relationships for ordinary things (existents or essences) as an answer to the question what scientific knowledge is knowledge of and what scientific propositions are about. Since (§ 6) to Boethius axiomatized geometry provided the model for all sciences, consistency of a science's set of theorems should be important for him. A preoccupation with consistency can be seen in the rules he lays down for the dialogical game of “obligation” that was used as an academic exercise. An analysis (§ 7) of his description of another such game, the dialectical disputation, shows that he operated with a notion of truth‐within‐a‐game (requiring only conformity with the rules) as as opposed to absolute truth. § 8 claims that Boethius operated with a similar notion of truth‐within‐a‐science as opposed to absolute truth, and that his reason for so doing was the inaccessibility to human minds of the totality of causes. Doing science, then, (§ 9) is much like participating in a scholastic disputational game, and there may be scientifically‐true theorems conflicting with absolute truth known through revelation. § 10 epilogizes about Boethius' views about the highest good.



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Sten Ebbesen
University of Copenhagen

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