Newman on the Problem of the Partiality and Unity of the Sciences

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This paper focuses on Newman’s approach to what we might call “the problem of the partiality and unity of the sciences.” The problem can be expressed in the form of a question: “If all human knowing is finite and partial, then on what grounds can one know of the unity and wholeness of all the sciences?” Newman’s solution to the problem is openly theistic, since it appeals to one’s knowledge of God. For Newman, even if I exclusively pursue my own partial science as a physicist, or psychologist, or historian, and even if I do not understand much about the content of the other sciences, nevertheless it is still possible for me to grasp the comprehensive ground of the unity of all the sciences, by virtue of my knowledge of God. The problem, however, is that this solution seems to rely on the sort of intellectual imperialism that Newman criticizes throughout much of his work. For this solution seems to assert the unity of the sciences only by placing one science—theology—above all the others as a supervening Über-science. The aim of this paper is to defend Newman against this charge of imperialism, and to show that his thought is not only more plausible, but also more nuanced, than might appear at first sight.
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