Discussion 21: Sir Arthur Eddington

Sir Arthur Eddington

Sir Arthur Eddington, photo on Britannica.

Eddington’s theory, which is based on the philosophy of science is far from Plato’s theory of the forms in the manner that Eddington emphasizes the use of measurements to determine the truth about an object. On the other hand, Plato used the allegory of the cave to show how people can be trapped with what they see and hear and believe to be the truth. According to Plato, one should go outside his or her beliefs and seek if there is any other belief other than the status quo.

For Eddington, there are two worlds. The video recording illustrates Eddington’s concept of the two worlds by use of a table. According to Eddington, the first world deals with practical knowledge. For instance, the acknowledgment that the table takes up much space. The second world deals with scientific knowledge.  For instance, the table is made up of mostly space and measurements. Therefore, for Eddington, what really matters is the table according to measurements, not appearances. By viewing the table in the scientific world, Eddington rejects the notion of appearances.

Eddington’s theory of two worlds is consistent with Plato’s allegory of the cave in empirical knowledge, but not in scientific knowledge. In the allegory of the cave, Plato describes people seated in a cave, chained such that they could not turn their necks to look backward. At the wall where they are facing, shadows are cast.  The prisoners play the game of guessing which shadow will appear next. If one’s guess is right, others praise him for being a “master”. One prisoner escapes from the cave and sees the reality outside the cave. The shadows the prisoners are seeing are not real. When he returns to the cave to free the other prisoners, he is ridiculed and threatened to be killed.  The allegory of the cave implies that empirical knowledge does not represent the truth. From Plato’s perspective, it is wrong to admire a master for having a certain skill, because the master may not know the truth.

Eddington’s theory of two scientific worlds goes beyond Plato’s theory of the forms by including scientific measurements. According to Eddington, one can discern the truth by using the scientific method, rather than depending on appearances. Although Plato’s theory of forms emphasizes continuous change of perspective to determine the truth, a person may fail to establish the real truth from a change in perception. Therefore, Eddington’s theory of two scientific worlds goes beyond Plato’s theory of forms by including scientific knowledge in the establishment of the truth.

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