Method to Science, Lessons 2 and 3

I have posted the two most recent lessons from Sergeant’s Method to Science. First, some editing notes, and then some philosophical insights from Lessons II and III worth mentioning.

Editing notes. I have changed some conventions a little bit. First off, I am including both Sergeant’s marginal notes and mine in-text with a set-bracket, e.g. “{Sect. 7.}” and “{Latin: ‘secondary substance’}”, respectively. I use these because the normal brackets “[ ]” are used by Sergeant extensively to clarify his own speech or highlight a technical term, so I want to preserve a distinction between Sergeant’s voice and my own, to an extent that is more obvious to the reader. Yet one might worry but you’re still using brackets for your voice and his! To which I respond, yes, but that in my editing software it is more obvious, and this is what I consider canonical in my project. Second, when Sergeant uses margin notes he is fairly consistent in using them to refer to other passages in his same work, and thus when he does so I provide a link to that referent, if the page exists.

This brings me to the other new addition (thus far often frustrated by WordPress’s UI), that now every section has an anchor to which one may provide a direct link. E.g., to go to Lesson 2, Section 16, Note 2 -> the URL is currently ““. I hope in the near future to make it easy to cite sections with a citation generator. I am currently intending a citation scheme like those for Locke and Hume to refer to a text, book number, chapter number, section number. E.g., “Essay IV.i.2.”

Philosophical comments. Lesson II highlights his Aristotelian system in adopting the 10 categories famously presented in Aristotle’s De Interpretatione. He defends his use and gives examples. One such example Sergeant offers is a sentence that contains predication from every category. “Peter1, tho’ but a yard2 and half high, yet a Valiant3 Subject4, fought5 and was wounded6 yesterday7, in8 the Field, standing9 upon his guard, armed10.” Not all philosophers in this period (or prior eras) have this pedagogical flair.

Later in Lesson II, he gives an argument against Ideism, the view that we have ideas in our intellect that stand for the objects outside the intellect, by which we know those objects, though ideas are fundamentally different from the objects themselves. While he affirms the axiom ‘Whatever is received is received according to the manner of the receiver’ (Latin: “Quicquid recipitur, recipitur ad modum recipientis“), he raises the objection that the new Ideists are misapplying this axiom in a way that produces skepticism. He emphasizes that when we speak of these ten categories of predicates, they are not properly just ideas in the mind nor just the excitations of motions unlike the objects. Instead, what Ideists call an idea is much more like a “corporeal resemblance” (“phantasm”), which does not involve the definition or nature of the object so depicted. He worries that Ideists are collapsing the meaningful distinction between two different mental contents about objects of sense, say, of a tree, the definition of a tree vs the picture of a tree.

In Lesson III, Sergeant offers a rich exposition on individuality and essences. Not only does he give conditions for continued existence, he defines a thing (Ens) is something which is capable to exist, whereas something common (Man, Horse, Tree, etc.) are incapable to exist. He admits that there are essential differences among individual humans, and not just accidental differences. These offer a preview of a major point to be made in Sergeant’s work, insofar as having an answer to the problem of universals and of individuation.

However in this same passage there is a complicated and potentially unfortunate discussion of what it means to be a human. First, he is sticking to the traditional definition of rational animal, but he also talks about how some individuals are more human than others in that they have greater or lesser rationality, greater and lesser ability to respond in myriad ways to sensation, etc. Perhaps more work needs to be done to avoid the worry that some individuals who fit the definition rational animal might not have the same moral status.

Lastly, in Lesson III, Sergeant attempts to resolve a problem concerning substance dualism. He affirms that we have a corporeal nature and a spiritual nature; does this mean that we are two beings, and not just one? In his response he offers that we are not both body and spirit formally. Instead, a human is “formally a body, tho’ his Soul be of a spiritual Nature, which makes him virtually a Spirit.” This formal vs virtual distinction is curious, in that in modern terms this sounds like his account tends toward Functionalism. I need, of course, to read this more fully how the virtual distinction doesn’t commit himself to such.