Silly Aristotle

June 10, 2009

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“Let us summarize our disagreement [with Aristotle]. We are bothered, at the outset, with his insistence on logic. He thinks the syllogism a description of man’s way of reasoning, whereas it merely describes man’s way of dressing up his reasoning for the persuasion of another mind; he supposes that thought begins with premisses and seeks their conclusions, when actually thought begins with hypothetical conclusions and seeks their justifying premisses, — and seeks them best by the observation of particular events under the controlled and isolated conditions of experiment. Yet how foolish we should be to forget that two thousand years have changed merely the incidentals of Aristotle’s logic, that Occam and Bacon and Whewell and Mill and a hundred others have but found spots in his sun, and that Aristotle’s creation of this new discipline of thought, and his firm establishment of its essential lines, remain among the lasting achievements of the human mind.” (Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy, 2nd edition, p. 90)

“Aristotle’s ethics is a branch of his logic: the ideal life is like a proper syllogism. He gives us a handbook of propriety rather than a stimulus to improvement. An ancient critic spoke of him as ‘moderate to excess.’ An extremist might call the Ethics the champion collection of platitudes in all literature; and an Anglophobe would be consoled with the thought that Englishmen in their youth had done advance penance for the imperialistic sins of their adult years, since both at Cambridge and at Oxford they had been compelled to read every word of the Nicomachean Ethics. We long to mingle fresh green Leaves of Grass with these drier pages, to add Whitman’s exhilarating justification of sense joy to Aristotle’s exaltation of a purely intellectual happiness. We wonder if this Aristotelian ideal of immoderate moderation has had anything to do with the colorless virtue, the starched perfection, the expressionless good form, of the British aristocracy.” (ibid., p. 91)

I’m really liking this Will Durant fellow.

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