You Think You Know Somebody

Plato (left) and Aristotle (right).  Painting by Raphael, 1511. Photo from Wikipedia

Plato (left) and Aristotle (right).  Painting by Raphael, 1511. Photo from Wikipedia

I was disapointed to read this morning that someone I've always taken for granted, whose wisdom I thought was undisputable, cobbled together a philosophy that suited him because he was afraid of the alternative.  Aristotle.  You think just because somebody's treatises are the very foundation for Western philosophy, and eventually the three major monotheistic religions that emerged from their work, that they're actually going to be good for your civilization.  It turns out, Aristotle was good for us in a way (logic!), but in a stomach-turning twist of irony, he's also answerable for some of the most annoying, intractable issues we face today (religious people who oppose science!). 

Of course, I'm picking on the guy.  He was a product of his time (Antiquity) and homeland (Greece), after all, so we really have to point our fingers in a general direction.  The problem was the mathematical and philosophical enigma of the number zero.  Because the Greeks got their math handed down to them from the Egyptians, and the Egyptians didn't have a use for zero beyond, "you shall have zero straw to make your bricks!" (which did little to inspire an existential crisis-- in the Egyptians at least), the Greeks, for all their connecting philosophy to numbers- refused to adopt the number zero.  They knew about it from the Babylonians, but they didn't like it.  The idea of zero- a vaccuum of matter - and its cousin infinity made their philosophers so queasy that they preferred to come up with alternate explanations of the universe, that it was neatly contained in a finite, measurable, "cozy nutshell.  There was no infinity, no void- just beautiful spheres that surround the earth, which was naturally placed at the very center of the universe...." This philosophy dominated the Western world until the Elizabethan era.  (Seife, 45f).

Don't get me wrong, Aristotle was extremely gifted and his importance to the fields of science and mathematics can't be overstated.  The Enclyclopedia Britannica says, "Aristotle was the first genuine scientist in history ... [and] every scientist is in his debt."  Clifford Pickover says, "Aristotle's systematic attempt at developping logic is considered to be one of the humankind's greatest achievements, providing an early impetus for fields of mathematics that are in close partnership with logic and even influencing theologians in their quest to understand reality" (2009, pg. 52).

Exactly.  That's where I have my beef.  The logic stuff is great.  The "influencing theologians in their quest to understand reality", on the other hand, was a bit of an oops, and one of the biggest ironies Westerners have inherited from their history.

Now, because there are a a near-infinite amount of things to do today, I'm going to have to say "To be continued" for today, and keep you all on the edges of your seats.