Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Potential of Aristotle

I finally finished the section on Aristotle. The article took a long time to write for two reasons. The first is that there are just too many directions that one can take from a mention of Aristotle. The second problem is that Aristotle, per se, is not a primary concern of mine.

Aristotle is important because he is associated with the innovation of logic.

There are several things that I wanted to emphasize in the article. The first, of course, is that respect for quality reasoning leads to prosperity.

Quality reasoning is different from effective rhetoric. Quality reasoning is a process where one goes through a detailed analysis of their reasoning process to see if the ideas are sound.

A second important point I wanted to make was that Aristotle positioned his work as an improvement on what came before. This is actually an important point. In the classical world, philosophers were seeking improvement on what came before. In the post Kantian world, philosophers started seeking radical change.

My observation is that people who are committed to sound rational thinking and who are seeking improvement occasionally come up with ideas that are revolutionary in nature. The structure of this type of thinking is more apt to result in changes for the better.

Conversely, people who are committed to radical change for the sake of radical change often end up creating regressive change.

The next key element I wanted to emphasize in Aristotle was his approach to moderation. People who are committed to sound reasoning are often labeled as dictatorial. The reason for this is that such people believe in clear statements.

Aristotle's observation was that virtues pushed to extremes created vices. The secret to a truly virtuous life was to find a mean between the absence of a virtue and the excess of the virtue.

The second key to balance was to avoid absolutes. One must accept that the edges to their definitions are always fuzzy.

Very important to my work was Aristotle's differentiation between the potential and actual infinity.

I wanted to keep this article short; so I avoided enumerating all of the things I don't like about Aristotle. For example Aristotle held the merchant class in contempt. His political theories and his theories on virtue were perverted to support centuries of rule by oppressive kings and emperors. (These same faults were true of Plato).

There are also many mistakes in the writings we attribute to Aristotle.

The challenge is finding a way to present Aristotle in a way that encourages a commitment to rationality without having to rehash all of the mistakes made in the Aristotelian tradition.

It is common to make mistakes in the process of discovery.

I think Aristotle is a very interesting historical figure, but I don't think that the works we have from Aristotle, in and of themselves, make a good foundation for leading quality reasoning. The writings we have are actually lecture notes. They are fractured and convoluted. What is important is the commitment to rationality.

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