Fr. William Augustine Wallace, O.P. was never officially affiliated with the Angelicum, but was an active member of the Albertus Magnus Lyceum, founded by Fr. William Humbert Kane, O.P. and inspired by the work of Fr. Aniceto Fernandez Alonso, O.P. From the early days of his formation he was deeply interested in the relationship between philosophy and modern science and he became one of the seminal figures in the movement known as “River Forest Thomism.”
Before joining the Dominicans, Fr. Wallace earned a degree in electrical engineering from Manhattan College in 1940, worked in industry, and joined the U.S. Navy as a research scientist at the Naval Ordnance Laboratory and in the Pacific fleet during World War II. He retired from the Navy as a Lieutenant Commander and joined the Dominican Order in 1946. Beginning from his first courses in philosophy, Fr. Wallace was particularly interested in Aristotle’s Physics and Posterior Analytics, a seed of his lifelong work of comparing and reconciling them with modern science. While studying theology at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC, he also earned an M.S. in Physics from the Catholic University of America in 1952, with an eye to possibly teaching physics at Providence College. That summer he was sent to the inaugural summer session of the Albertus Magnus Lyceum, where he began several years of collaborations with the Dominican directors of the project, William Humbert Kane, Benedict Ashley, Raymond Nogar, and John D. Corcoran. These collaborations involved discussions between philosophers and scientists from a variety of fields to work through concrete issues in the relationship between science and philosophy, as well as work with Sisters of Mercy from Saint Xavier’s College on revising high school and college science curricula.
After being ordained to the priesthood in 1953 and completing his S.T.Lr the next year, Fr. Wallace began his teaching career at the Dominican House of Philosophy, then in Springfield, Kentucky. At the behest of his superiors, he applied and was accepted to doctoral programs in physics at both Harvard University and the University of Chicago, before it was eventually decided that he should pursue graduate studies in philosophy, instead. He did this at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, transcribing and analyzing the work of Theodoric of Frieberg on the rainbow, a thirteenth century Dominican and student of St. Albert the Great. After finishing his doctorate in philosophy in 1958, entitled “The Scientific Methodology of Theodoric of Freiberg: A Case Study of the Relationship Between Science and Philosophy”, he was asked to stay in Fribourg to earn a doctorate in moral theology, which he was able to complete the next year, writing on “The Role of Demonstration in Moral Theology.”
Returning to the US, Fr. Wallace spent the next several decades as a prodigious author of fifteen books and over 100 articles, a dedicated teacher, and a key contributor to several major academic projects and movements.
The undercurrent of all of his work was the philosophy of Aristotle and St. Thomas, particularly in engagement with contemporary science. This can be seen in his collection of essays From a Realist Point of View: Essays on the Philosophy of Science (1979,1983), his two-volume philosophical and historical work Causality and Scientific Explanation (1981), and his mature presentation of the place of Thomistic philosophy in contemporary conversations The Modeling of Nature: Philosophy of Science and the Philosophy of Nature in Synthesis (1983).
In many ways, his most widely read and cited work was as a historian of science and one of the world’s leading authorities on the scientific methodology of Galileo. He produced several edited versions and translations of Galileo’s scientific and philosophical notes and works including, Galileo’s Early Notebooks: The Physical Questions (1977), Galileo’s Tractatio de praecognitionibus et praecodnitis and Tractatio de demonstratione (1988), and Galileo’s Logical Treatises. A Translation with Notes and Commentary, of His Appropriated Latin Quesitons on Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics (1992). In addition to making these works available, Fr. Wallace published six further works detailing the roots of Galileo’s work in Medieval thought as well as sixteenth century thought, most notably through the Jesuits who taught him and whom he taught with.
Throughout his career, Fr. Wallace participated in, and at times led, numerous collaborative endeavors parallel to his own academic interests, including being the staff editor of the New Catholic Encyclopedia from 1961-1966, for which he helped edit 900 entries and write 30 of his own, and the Director General of the Leonine Commission from 1976 to 1987. In addition to his early teaching career in Dominican studia, Fr. Wallace had positions teaching philosophy and history at the Catholic University of America, and the University of Maryland. He also held numerous visiting teaching and research positions and was an active member in numerous academic societies.
A sign of the wide reach and respect for his scholarship, beyond Dominican and Catholic circles, is the comments made by Robert S. Cohen and Marx W. Wartofsky, the cofounders of Boston University’s Center for Philosophy and History of Science. In writing the “Preface” to his Prelude to Galileo they note that Fr. Wallace was among the “founders” of the Boston Colloquium for the Philosophy of Science in the 1960s, one of the oldest series of events focused on the philosophy of science in the US. They state that he “moves easily and with justified confidence among medieval, renaissance, classical and modern physics, as philosopher, historian, and philologist.”
For all of this collaboration and production as an academic in the history and philosophy of science, Fr. William Augustine Wallace never truly wavered from his early convictions, born in his early studies as a Dominican, and supported in collaboration with his Dominican brothers, especially at the Albertus Magnus Lyceum. That conviction, that the principles of Aristotle’s logic and natural philosophy, especially as understood by St. Thomas Aquinas, were still the most profound and accurate lens through which to understand the reality of the natural world and the progress of modern science.
An obituary for Fr. William Augustine Wallace, O.P. published on the CUA School of Philosophy website, accessed April 7, 2015.
An unpublished autobiography of Fr. William Augustine Wallace, O.P. from the Dominican Province of St. Joseph Archives.