William Wallace, OP

Historian and Philosopher of Science:
An Interview

Editor: Tell us something about your own background, especially in how you got interested in science and St. Thomas' philosophy of nature.

William Wallace: My interest in science came from my undergraduate work in electrical engineering, from my war experience, particularly my research at the Naval Ordnance Laboratory, and from my post-war entry in the Dominican Order, during the early years of which I took an MS in Physics at Catholic University. Seven years of study in the order (three years of philosophy and four of theology) explain my competence in Thomism. When it came to specializing, I opted to work on the interface between philosophy and theology and modern science and technology. That explains why I have worked extensively on Thomas's philosophy of nature as well as its foundations in Aristotle's Physics.

Editor: Please describe something of your early work and what you were trying to achieve.

WW: My early work consisted mainly in follow-ups on the theses and dissertations I had written and the preparation of courses I taught at various Dominican Houses of Studies and then at Catholic University and the University of Maryland. I should say that I am an expert Latinist and paleographer, which has enabled me to work with manuscripts and publish much original research in medieval and Renaissance science. Thomism is a subsidiary interest, but I have never taught a course on St. Thomas. My main expertise is in Aristotle, and I have taught his Posterior Analytics and his Physics for over twenty years, mainly at the graduate level, plus related work on the De anima and the Nicomachean Ethics. Others on whose manuscripts I have worked are Albertus Magnus, Dietrich (Theodoric) of Freiberg, Domingo de Soto, and Galileo Galileo. My reputation among his historians of science is based mainly on my discoveries relating to Galileo's early Latin manuscripts.

Editor: How would you describe the decline of Thomism in general, starting around the time of the Second Vatican Council, and particularly the decline of a philosophy of nature?

WW: Thomism as a field of scholarship has not declined. St. Thomas is probably the best understood scholar of the Middle Ages. His being taught at the undergraduate level in Catholic colleges has declined, but that may be a blessing in disguise. The seminary situation deteriorated after Vatican II because of the demands of the decree on priestly formation, Optatam totius. At first two years of philosophy was mandated, then American bishops cut that down to 18 credits, which then were cut to two or three courses, and ultimately to no philosophy at all. Philosophy of nature, of course, was the first to go. The pope's latest encyclical on the subject, Fides et ratio, has attempted to rectify the situation, and again it endorses St. Thomas as the primary teacher for seminarians. Another factor is the premature emphasis on metaphysics, plus emphasis on such fads as existential Thomism, Transcendental Thomism, Process Thomism, and now Analytical Thomism. It's time to come down to earth!

Editor: In connection with this last question, why does it seem that Thomism plays only a minor role in the contemporary discussions between science and religion?

WW: Science and religion is a hodge-podge subject. The real problem is science and faith, and that is precisely what Fides et ratio is all about. I tried to make that point in the essay to be published in The Thomist, which is called "Science and Religion in the Thomistic Tradition."

Editor: Tell us something about your historical studies, and what set you off on that path, and the relevance you think they have for the kinds of discussions that are going on today.

WW: My major historical studies have been on Theodoric of Freiberg for his work in optics, on Domingo de Soto for his work in mechanics (which has been heavily supported by the National Science Foundation), and on the influences of Soto and those he taught on Galileo's early notebooks. Much of that influence was channeled through Jesuits teaching at the Collegio Romano, so I am now generally regarded as a Jesuit historian. Most scientists (and philosophers of science) know little or nothing about the history of their discipline, so it is fruitless to look in their direction for support of our enterprise.

Editor: Are there any particular areas where you think a Thomist philosophy of nature could make an important contribution?

WW: A Thomist philosophy of nature can have much to say about the concept of nature, of matter, of the elements, of the void, of space and time -- all of which are poorly understood in cosmogenesis and elementary particle theory.



Birth: May 11, 1918, in New York City, New York, of William A. Wallace and Louise C. Teufel; U.S. citizen

Degrees, Academic: Manhattan College, New York, B.E.E., 1940; The Catholic University of America, M.S. (Physics), 1952; Dominican House of Studies, Washington, D.C., S.T.B., 1952; S.T.L., 1954; University of Freiburg, Switzerland, Ph.D. (Philosophy), 1959; Th.D. (Theology), 1962. Honorary: Providence College, Providence, RI, D.Sc. 1973; Molloy College, New York, NY, D.Litt. 1974; Manhattan College, New York, NY, L.H.D. 1975; Fairfield University, Fairfield, CT, L.H.D. 1986.  

Military Service: U.S. Navy, Ensign to Lieutenant Commander, 1941-1946; research at Naval Ordnance Laboratory, 1941-1942; operations officer, Pacific Ocean Area, 1943-1945, staff of Chief of Naval Operations, Washington, D.C., 1946; decorated Legion of Merit.

Dominican Order: Entered Novitiate of St. Joseph's Province, Springfield, KY, July 1946; professed: simple vows, August 1947; solemn vows, August 1950; ordained to the priesthood, June 4, 1953; received faculties, 1954.

Lector of Sacred Theology (S.T.Lr.), 1954; Master of Sacred Theology (S.T.M.), 1967.

Academic Appointments: Lector in Philosophy, Dominican Houses of Studies in Springfield, Ky., and Dover, Mass., 1954-1962; Lecturer in Philosophy, The Catholic University of America, 1963-1965 and 1968-1970; Regent of Studies, Master of Theology, Dominican House of Studies, Washington, D.C., 1967-1970; Professor of Philosophy and History of Science, The Catholic University of America, 1970-1988; Emeritus, 1988-date; Senior Fellow, Folger Institute, Washington, D.C., 1975-1976; Visiting Professor, West Virginia University, Spring 1980; Visiting Professor, University of Padua, 1983-1984; Professor, University of Maryland, College Park, Committee on the History and Philosophy of Science (CHPS), 1988-present, Associate Member of the Graduate Faculty of Philosophy as of 10-31-91.

Research Appointments: Test Laboratories, Consolidated Edison Co. of New York, 1940-1941; Naval Ordnance Laboratory, Washington, 1941-1943; Research Associate, History of Science, Harvard University, 1965-1967; Member, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, 1976-1977; Fellow, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington, D.C., 1984.

Publications: As of October 2000, author of 372 publications, of which 20 are books (13 authored, 7 edited) and 4 are separately printed monographs or addresses; 56 are chapters or essays in books edited by others; 73 are articles in journals or proceedings; 96 are entries in encyclopedias; 12 are research or other reports; 111 are book reviews, and 22 are translations, reprints, etc. In addition, forthcoming are 7 essays in books edited by others, and 12 entries in encyclopedias, which will bring the total to 391. Subjects treated are mostly related to science and religion, with the main focus being on the philosophy of science; medieval, Renaissance, and early modern philosophy; and systematic studies in logical methodology.

Editorial Activities: Editor for Philosophy and Science, Encyclopedia of the Renaissance, 6 vols. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1999; Staff Editor for Philosophy, New Catholic Encyclopedia, 15 vols. in preparation from 1961 to 1966, published by McGraw-Hill, 1967; consultant for three supplementary volumes, published in 1974, 1979, and 1989; Director General, Leonine Commission,1976-1987, during which time five folio volumes of critical Latin editions of Thomas Aquinas's works were published.

Professional Societies and Activities: American Catholic Philosophical Association, Council 1962-1964, Vice President 1968-1969, President 1969-1970; History of Science Society, Council 1974-1977, 1988-1990; Philosophy of Science Association, Nominating Committee 1980-1982.

Honors and Distinctions: Sigma Xi; Phi Beta Kappa; Manhattan College Alumni Society Award for Achievement, 1967; Aquinas Medal of the American Catholic Philosophical Association, 1983; Catholic University Alumni Society Award for Achievement in Philosophy, 1986 [see also Honorary Degrees, above].



1959 The Scientific Methodology of Theodoric of Freiberg. A Case Study of the Relationship Between Science and Philosophy. Studia Friburgensia, N.S. 26, Fribourg: The University Press, 1959. pp. xviii + 395.

1962 The Role of Demonstration in Moral Theology. A Study of Methodology in St. Thomas Aquinas. Texts and Studies 2. Washington, D.C.: The Thomist Press, 1962. Pp. x + 244.

1967a Cosmogony [St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Vol. 10 (1a.65-74)]. New York and London: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1967. Pp. xxiii + 255.

1967b New Catholic Encyclopedia, 15 vols., New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1967. Staff Editor, Philosophy and related fields, edited some 900 articles comprising about 1,375,000 words; also contributed 31 articles.

1972 Causality and Scientific Explanation. Vol. 1. Medieval and Early Classical Science. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1972. xii + 288 pp. Reprinted in 1981.

1974 Causality and Scientific Explanation. Vol. 2. Classical and Contemporary Science. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1974. Pp. xi + 422. Reprinted in 1981.

1977a The Elements of Philosophy: A Compendium for Philosophers and Theologians, New York: Alba House, 1977. Pp. xx + 342.

1977b Galileo's Early Notebooks: The Physical Questions. A Translation from the Latin, with Historical and Paleographical Commentary. Notre Dame: The University of Notre Dame Press, 1977. Pp. xiv + 321.

1979 From a Realist Point of View: Essays on the Philosophy of Science. Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1979. Pp. xii + 376.

1981 Prelude to Galileo: Essays on Medieval and Sixteenth-Century Sources of Galileo's Thought. Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science, 62. Dordrecht-Boston: D. Reidel Publishing Co., 1981.

1983 From a Realist Point of View: Essays on the Philosophy of Science. Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, Second Edition, 1983. Pp. x + 340.

1984 Galileo and His Sources: The Heritage of the Collegio Romano in Galileo's Science. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984.

1986 Reinterpreting Galileo (editor), Studies in Philosophy and History of Philosophy 15, Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 1986.

1988 Galileo Galilei, Tractatio de praecognitionibus et praecognitis and Tractatio de demonstratione (co-editor).Transcribed from the Latin autograph by W. F. Edwards, with an introduction, notes, and commentary by W. A. Wallace. Padua: Editrice Antenore, 1988.

1991 Galileo, the Jesuits and the Medieval Aristotle, Collected Studies Series, CS346. Aldershot (UK): Variorum Publishing, 1991.

1992a Galileo's Logic of Discovery and Proof. The Background, Content, and Use of His Appropriated Treatises on Aristotle's Posterior Analytics. Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science, 137. Dordrecht- Boston-London: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1992. Xxiii + 323 pp.

1992b Galileo's Logical Treatises. A Translation, With Notes and Commentary, of His Appropriated Latin Questions on Aristotle's Posterior Analytics. Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science, 138. Dordrecht- Boston-London: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1992. xix + 239 pp.

1996a The Modeling of Nature: Philosophy of Science and Philosophy of Nature in Synthesis, Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1996. xx + 450 pp.

1996b Albertus Magnus (guest editor). American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 70, No. 2. "Foreword," pp. 1-6. "Albert the Great's Inventive Logic: His Exposition of the Topics of Aristotle," pp. 11-39.

1999 Encyclopedia of the Renaissance (editor for philosophy and science), 6 vols., New York, N.Y.: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1999; contributed 26 articles; planned, solicited, and edited some 150 entries in philosophy, science, technology, and medicine.