Friday, December 17, 2010

The greatest story (hardly) ever told [updated]

‎"The events of any given period of history are the result of the thinking of the
preceding period. The nineteenth century [for example]—with its political freedom,
science, industry, business, trade, all the necessary conditions of material
progress—was the result and the last achievement of the intellectual power
released by the Renaissance."
- Ayn Rand

HERE’S A STORY FROM history that’s hardly ever told, but yet it’s the greatest story history could tell.

It’s a story that covers two continents and 2,000 years, and is the fundamental reason for all our health,wealth and happiness —and freedom—but most people don’t know anything about it, and couldn’t tell you why it matters.

Here’s a small part of that story, which starts for us in an unlikely place. . .

alhambra THE SEAT OF SCIENCE and civilisation a thousand years ago was in the Muslim world.

While Western Europe endured its Dark Ages—that wasteland of crosses and graves that lasted nearly a millennia, and buried more than a million souls in misery and squalor—the Arab and Persian world was making advances in medicine, mathematics, cartography, astronomy, philosophy, poetry, scientific method and more.

If you were a scientist, an artist, or any sort of human being hoping to breathe free then, from the eighth to twelfth century, the places in which you wanted to breathe had names like Toledo, Cordoba and Baghdad.

And then, it all came to a crashing halt. And within two centuries, the situation in the two places was almost entirely reversed.

What happened? What changed? And what made the  successes happen in the first place?

A fascinating 28 minute interview on Radio New Zealand with scientist Jim al-Khalili, author of Pathfinders - The Golden Age of Arabic Science, tells part of the tale—one of history’s most-interesting yet least told. And he tells a fascinating story. I recommend a listen.

al-Khalili explains how Muslim scientists flourished in a culture that then valued the “this-world” knowledge they were pursuing. But he finds it damnably hard to put his finger on the precise reason for the growth and development of this culture—talking about things like the invention of paper and “the ideas of the Greeks,” without really saying much about what those ideas were.

Equally, he finds it difficult to explain the rapid fall of Islamic science and the slow awakening of western Europe from its intellectual slumber, beyond talking about a “conservative backlash” in Islam, “the discovery of the New World” by the West (which actually happened around three centuries after Islamic decline began) and the transmission of “the ideas of the Greeks” from the Muslim world to the West.

In fact, the reason for both fall and rise is the relationship that both these cultures had with Greek ideas. Specifically, with their relationship to reason, and especially to the man they called The Philosopher of Reason, Aristotle.

Pathfinders: The Golden Age of Arabic Science
(9781846141614): Jim Al-Khalili

A History of Knowledge: Past, Present, and Future
(9780345373168): Charles Van Doren

61BXWMUJZHL._SL500_AA300_ 
Aristotle
(9780231085298): John Herman Randall

“Ancient Greece tore away the heavy shroud of mysticism woven for centuries in
murky temples, and achieved, in three centuries, what Egypt had not dreamed of in
thirty: a civilization that was essentially pro-man and pro-life. The achievements of
the Greeks rested on their confidence in the power of man’s mind—the power of reason.”
- Mary Ann Sures

ARISTOTLE WAS PLATO’S STUDENT, yet the mature philosophies of these two giants could not have been more different.

Raphael’s famous painting shows Plato pointing to the heavens, and Aristotle to this earth. It is an accurate summation of their positions. Plato looked to the heavens for the “true reality,” and found there rules for living on this “imperfect,” non-ideal plane. Aristotle saw instead that happiness on this earth was man’s highest estate, and that knowledge of the things of this earth—observing nature and drawing conclusions from it—is the means by which to begin obtaining it.

aristotle-platoIt’s said that the history of philosophy is described by the duel between Plato and Aristotle. In virtually every important sense, this is true. In both the Muslim and Christian worlds, it’s played out in the duel between mysticism, with Plato and neo-Platonism brought in on the side (literally) of the angels and of other-worldly maunderings; and Aristotle (when he’s been rediscovered) on the side of reason and a focus on success in this world.

It’s the rediscoveries of the ideas of Aristotle that have been crucial in our story.

Aristotle left behind at his death a veritable manual of scientific discovery and how to live on this earth—especially the Organon, six treatises on logic that were a virtual toolkit of logic. These were “the ideas of the Greeks” that mattered most to Muslim scientists when they rediscovered them eleven centuries later, and to western philosophers and scientists when (thanks to Muslim scholars) they rediscovered them for the west fifteen centuries after they had first been buried.

Because these ideas, while powerful enough to turn civilisations around, barely had time to be given even a full road test after their first brief time in the sun, around 300BC. Because this was very quickly becoming very much not a safe time in which to be a philosopher, and just a few short decades after Aristotle’s death his school was closed, his students were scattered, and his works on papyrus rolls were buried for safety in a trench in Asia Minor, not to be uncovered for centuries.

And while they lay buried, the light of reason which had flickered so briefly and so well was going out around the world, in Athens and Alexandria and eventually, finally, even Rome. 

hieronymus_bosch_-_the_garden_of_earthly_delights_-_hell1It was buried by pagan mysticism (which had never fully gone away) and neo-Platonism (which had been around long enough to take hold), but most forcefully and more thoroughly still by those Roman emperors who from the fourth century had already set themselves up as both definers and enforcers of religious “orthodoxy,” and the head of a monotheistic state.  (The Christian insistence on the absurdity of the Trinity, for example, dates from Theodosius’s 381AD decree dictating that all his subjects subscribe to a belief in the Trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, or else.)

As if to demonstrate that without reason to deal with one another there is only force, the emperors from Theodosius on now began the systematic suppression by the sword of all non-orthodox Christianity, and of all still-surviving pagan philosophies that couldn’t be made hand-maidens of theology as easily as neo-Platonism (which could easily be bent to fill up the gaps in the emerging Christian theology).

With Justinian edicts in the 530s enforcing religious conformity on pain of death, the assault on reason and freedom was complete.

Thus began the inevitable waves of barbarism, looting and darkness that necessarily accompanies the widespread rejection of reason and a culture-wide focus on the next world rather than on this one.

“If there is a philosophical Atlas who carries the whole of Western civilization on
his shoulders, it is Aristotle…. Aristotle may be regarded as the cultural
barometer of Western history. Whenever his influence dominated the scene, it
paved the way for one of history’s brilliant eras; whenever it fell, so did mankind.”
- Ayn Rand

the-alhambraWHILE THE WEST WAS  committing intellectual suicide, the Islamist world was just beginning to wake up. It was the rediscovery of Aristotle in Muslim Spain and the Middle East that was the next light of hope in the world, and that built and underpinned the Islamic Golden Age—which at its three-hundred year peak spread wealth, riches, learning, art and happiness from Baghdad to Spain.

Just as it was built by ideas, so too however  was it killed by them—by what scientist al-Khalili calls the “conservative backlash,” a reaction against science and reason best summed up by eleventh-century theologian Al-Ghazali, who called for the Greek ideas to be thrown out, saying essentially, “If it’s in the Quran we don’t need it; if it’s not in the Quran we don’t want it.” And so out it all went. For good—or at least for ten centuries.

One of the most illustrative examples of Al-Ghazali’s “thinking” was his direct assault on causality. Things don’t act according to their nature, he said, God makes things act any way he pleases:

_Quote_Idiot

The connection [said Ghazali] between what is habitually believed to be a cause and what is habitually believed to be an effect is not necessary…
    For example, there is no causal connection between the quenching of thirst and drinking, satiety and eating, burning and contact with fire, light and the appearance of the sun, death and decapitation, healing and the drinking of medicine, the purging of the bowels and the using of a purgative…
    On the contrary, it is within [divine] power to create satiety without eating, to create death without decapitation, to continue life after decapitation, and so on to all connected things…   

You might think this is insane, and it is; the stuff of madness, and you’d be right; utterly illogical--which is it’s point. al-Ghazali is here simply doing God’s work:

_Quote_Idiot

Our opponents claim [for example] that the agent of the burning is the fire exclusively; this is not a natural, not a voluntary agent, and cannot abstain from what is in its nature when it is brought into contact with a receptive substratum. This we deny, saying: The agent of burning is God, through His creating the black in the cotton and the disconnection of its parts, and it is God who made the cotton burn and  made it ashes either through the intermediation of angels or without…

This is a God for every teenage arsonist seeking an excuse: “Well, yes, I lit the match. But it was God wot burned the school down.”

This is nothing like the “God of the Gaps” that leave God just to fill in what science has yet to discover. This is a God who holds every test tube, sparks every flame, guides every bullet, and detonates every bomb—either  with the intermediation of angels, or without.

According to al-Ghazali—whose “thinking” swept the Muslim world (and swept away reason, logic and science with it)—there is no other causal agent in the universe but God, and therefore “no unity in the world, moral, physical or metaphysical; all hangs from the individual will of Allah.”

Nothing could be more destructive to reason, to science, and to civilisation. Yet al-Ghazali’s fateful rejection of reason swept the Islamic world, which (still proudly waving his flag and that of the Quran) sank into the intellectual mire from which it has yet to emerge.

“Aristotle’s philosophy was the intellect’s Declaration of Independence. Aristotle, the
father of logic, should be given the title of the world’s first
intellectual, in the purest
and noblest sense of that word. No matter what remnants of Platonism did exist
in Aristotle’s system, his incomparable achievement lay in the fact that he defined
the basic principles of a rational view of existence and of man’s consciousness…
    If we consider the fact that to this day everything that makes us civilized beings,
every rational value that we possess—including the birth of science, the industrial
revolution, the creation of the United States, even the structure of our language—is
the result of Aristotle’s influence, of the degree to which, explicitly or implicitly, men
accepted his epistemological principles, we would have to say: never have so
many owed so much to one man.”
- Ayn Rand

STTING HERE IN 2010, it’s easy to laugh at al-Ghazali.  That’s because we, here and now, mostly take reason for granted—so thoroughly that we find it hard to understand those who don’t. That we do take it so much for granted is testament to how thoroughly western culture has supped from Aristotle’s well. But it took a while.

Because in the first ten centuries after Christian theology first gained its toehold, the west was also labouring under similar nonsense to al-Ghazali’s, and with the same existential results as the Islamist apostle of unreason would deliver to his culture. Early Christian theologians were in virtually all respects peddlers of the very same nonsense, just delivered wearing a different brand.

Paul, for example, who took violently against the “upstart” Greek philosophers whose logic he had trouble countering, took instead to attacking the very core of Greek intellectual achievement.

_Quote_Idiot

The more they [Greeks] call themselves philosophers, the more stupid they grew … they made nonsense out of logic and their empty minds were darkened. [Romans 1:21-22]
The wisdom of the world is foolishness to God. [Corinthians 1:25]

(He made more sense when he declared, “I know of nothing good living in me.” [Romans 7:20] On that, I can concur.)

And while Augustine, the second-most influential Christian theologian, was willing to allow reason, he also declared it may only be used to explore “truths” already revealed by his God—and even these revelations were only to be accepted on the authority of the monotheistic state. (“I would not have believed the Gospels except on the authority of the Catholic Church.”)

And Tertullian, “I believe because it is absurd.”

And John Chrysostom: “Restrain our own reasoning and empty our mind of secular learning in order  to provide a mind swept clear for the reception of divine words.”

And Lactantius: “What purpose does knowledge serve—for as to knowledge of natural causes, what blessing is there for me if I know where the Nile rises, or whatever else under the heavens the ‘scientists’ rave about?”

And Philastrius of Brescia, who was ready to declare causality itself implicitly a heresy in a fashion that Cantabrians might appreciate:

_Quote_Idiot

There is a certain heresy concerning earthquakes that they come not from God’s command but, it is thought, from the very nature of the elements… Paying no attention to God’s power  they [the heretics] presume to attribute the motions of force to the elements of nature … like certain philosophers who, ascribing this to nature, know not the power of God.

(T paraphrase al-Ghazali’s similar “arguments” aired above,  it would seem that Philastrius’s God has extended to him the power to think without having possession of a brain.)

Finally, to show that they knew who their enemy was, we have Anastasius of Sinai, who  was ready to declare  that the ten sections of Aristotle’s Categories were ten “heresies” representing the ten horns of the dragon in the Book of Revelation (12:4)

No wonder, under the sway of “thinkers” like these, that western Europe spent so many centuries in darkness.

Fortunately however, in the brief window before the fruits of Islamic thinking disappeared forever, western translators eager to learn the “heresies” that had been buried for so long discovered and began translating Islamic works on medicine, astronomy, mathematics, engineering … and philosophy. They discovered the Arab commentators on Aristotle, and they discovered the great works of Aristotle himself. In short, they re-discovered his manual of reason, and with it the key to begin civilisation anew.

If the industrial revolution of the nineteenth century owes its genesis to the tremendous intellectual power released by the Renaissance, as the quote at the top of the page suggests, then it’s important to realise that the intellectual power released in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries was generated by the intellectual “atomic power station” of Aristotelian reason that was rediscovered in the twelfth.

The new Latin translations of Aristotle’s Organon (translated in Spain and Sicily from Arabic, which themselves were translations from lost Greek originals) were the transmission belts for the ideas that powered the new thinking of Albertus Magnus, Aquinas, and Francis Bacon; the new art of Giotto, Michelangelo and Da Vinci; the new architecture of Brunelleschi, Bramante and Palladio; the new science of Copernicus, Galileo and Newton; the new conception of human freedom embodied in the ideas of Grotius, and Locke and (eventually) Jefferson—who all of them, as reason requires, began their work by turning their eyes to observing the facts before them before seeking the causal integration that explained the facts observed: a re-use and rediscovery of reason’s method all but lost in the west since the original days of the Greeks.

To that almost fortuitous rediscovery we owe virtually all human progress of the past five centuries. That’s how important this story, and that rediscovery, is.

“The events of any given period of history are the result of the thinking of the preceding period.” That’s what this story makes so plain—that ideas do have tremendous consequences, for good and for ill.

It’s astonishing that the story is so rarely told---and so little understood when it is—told when it is told with, for example, the sort of mechanistic detail that explains the rise of Islam by the discovery of paper or the west by the discovery of the New World; or the fall of Rome by the onset of hyperinflation, or the fall of Islamic science to some undefined “conservative backlash”; without ever seeking to look beyond these outward details to the fundamental facts that caused them.

“There is no future for the world except through a rebirth of the Aristotelian
approach to philosophy. This would require an Aristotelian affirmation of the reality
of existence, of the sovereignty of reason, of life on earth—and of the splendor of man.”

- Leonard Peikoff

YOU’LL HAVE NOTICED by now that I’ve strewn a few books across your path, each of which tells a part of the story. And below I’ve added three more that between them integrate and give the culmination of the story—the first as a guide to the loss and rediscovery; the second, in which the title essay tells the tale told here in far more colourful and sweeping terms than I could; and the third, to demonstrate that the primordial struggle for reason and individual liberty are the same story, whose culmination we find in the discovery of individual rights and their implementation.

Taken together, they tell a remarkable tale. But the astonishing thing to note is how few books there are telling the story itself. When Burgess Laughlin, for example, began work on another project, he looked for a book telling the tale and found none. So he wrote his own, The Aristotle Adventure. To my knowledge it’s still the only book-length survey giving the whole context.

If you want to bury yourself in books on the greatest story (hardly) ever told, then these listed here are a good place to start.

And there’s no time like a long summer holiday to begin.

Enjoy!

The Aristotle Adventure: A Guide to the Greek, Arabic, & Latin Scholars
Who Transmitted Aristotle's Logic to the Renaissance

(9780964471498): Burgess Laughlin

For the New Intellectual
- Ayn Rand
(Signet) (9780451163080): Ayn Rand

Capitalism Unbound: The Incontestable
Moral Case for Individual Rights

(9780761849698): Andrew Bernstein

NB: Note that not all books listed here are entirely without fault or error. I should note that those to be most careful of are Rubinstein’’s Aristotle’s Children and Reilly’s The Closing of the Muslim Mind, which are both sadly infected by the authors’ own religiosity, making them sadly unable to see the full drama of the story they’re trying to tell.

Naturally, I’d be very happy to have other books recommended that might fill in some of the gaps.

And to see the whole story in one graphic, here’s one of the charts from Burgess Laughlin’s Aristotle Adventure that makes it so valuable:

AristotleAdventure 

UPDATEAndy Clarkson points out

It was Arabs qua Aristotelians and not Arabs qua Islamists who are responsible for the accomplishments of Arab Muslims.

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21 Comments:

Blogger Bernard Darnton said...

I've looked at Pathfinders in Scorpio a couple of times but have resisted the urge to buy it because my bookshelves are groaning under the backlog.
Now I'm going to head over there right now and get it. Let's call it Christmas!

12/17/2010 12:15:00 pm  
Anonymous Michael M. said...

Of course while the rest of Europe was having it's dark ages, out on the most western island of Europe the savages were inventing the distillation process. Turning boring beer into Whiskey to enlighten the world.
Then sadly they got religion to add to their tribalism.
The down fall of man, religion and tribalism as appose to the spirit of enlightenment.
Best regards
Michael M.

12/17/2010 01:45:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you discount the influence the Chinese traders had upon the Muslim world also. It has been postulated that the Chinese also helped re-ignite the flame of reason and culture as a pre-cursor to the renaissance in Mediterranean Europe in the 1400s. Indeed their cartography allowed the Portuguese and thereafter the Spanish to steal the Chinese thunder and claim the 'Discoveries' as their own.

12/17/2010 04:11:00 pm  
Blogger Jeremy Harris said...

Incredibly informative post...

Great work... Hollywood should make a movie about this instead of evil corporations on far away living, thinking planets...

12/17/2010 06:03:00 pm  
Blogger Adolf Fiinkensein said...

Your dreamy eyed commentatoer seems to have missed a couple of minor issues.

I wonder when it was these paragons of virtue learned the arts of clipping clits, hacking the heads from infidels and murdering homosexuals and adulterers?

12/17/2010 08:19:00 pm  
Anonymous James said...

I wonder when it was these paragons of virtue learned the arts of clipping clits, hacking the heads from infidels and murdering homosexuals and adulterers?

From a visit to Catholic dominated Europe...??

12/18/2010 08:03:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

P C: Great post. It puts into context the faith based history, promoted by Glen Beck, as to the basis of the material success of the USA. The reality is that the enshrinement of individual liberty protected the reality focused from the oversight of mystics.

Michael M; a great contribution from the Irish indeed. Perhaps you should read "How the Irish Saved Civilization" by Thomas Cahill.
I prefer "How the Scots Invented the Modern World" by Arther Herman. It documents the Scottish enlightenment, and its influence on the early USA.


Adolf: Challenging catholic orthodoxy could get you burnt at the stake, just a few hundred years ago.


I would like to thank P C for another year of endeavoring to put a reality based focus on the issues of the day.

Ken

12/18/2010 02:12:00 pm  
Blogger Dave Mann said...

Thank you PC for a great post. You so aptly demonstrate the clarity of thinking which comes from an intelligent rational mind with a good understanding of history. A fascinating read.

Adolf, mate, get a life beyond your kneejerk prejudices. Was the article too long for you to take in properly? Were there too many complicated words that you couldn't understand or something?

12/19/2010 09:23:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, Adolf, way to completely and utterly miss the point, did you even read the same post I did? Or did you just see the word "Arab" and your brain went into knee-jerk-reaction mode, thereafter failing to read anything further? Please try read it again, slowly .. you might see you made a bit of a mistake there.

Great post, Not PC.

12/19/2010 04:22:00 pm  
Blogger peterquixote said...

yes good post dude.
its always good to read carefully and update

12/19/2010 05:00:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

IF there is a God, and if we are products of God, then surely the light of reason would be God's work, and surely, with reason's amazing track record, it would be His finest work at that. So many religious people feel reason threatens religion, but if they were smart they might instead promote the achievements of reason as being achievements of God working through man? Which may even be the case; if there is a God, who created us to reason, it's difficult to imagine he would be proud of irrationality and its inherent consequent death and destruction, and ashamed of reason and its consequent improving and saving of lives. For example, the inscription on Newton's monument: "Here is buried Isaac Newton, Knight, who by a strength of mind almost divine, and mathematical principles peculiarly his own, explored the course and figures of the planets, the paths of comets, the tides of the sea, the dissimilarities in rays of light, and, what no other scholar has previously imagined, the properties of the colours thus produced. Diligent, sagacious and faithful, in his expositions of nature, antiquity and the holy Scriptures, he vindicated by his philosophy the majesty of God mighty and good, and expressed the simplicity of the Gospel in his manners. Mortals rejoice that there has existed such and so great an ornament of the human race!"

12/19/2010 05:02:00 pm  
Blogger Jeff Perren said...

Anonymous (post 11): Good point; the standard position of Aquinians. The error is (among others besides the Pascal Wager) is the assumption that the Christian god - or Christianity - would have any reason to take human well-being on this Earth as a standard of good.

Christianity teaches quite otherwise.

12/20/2010 05:54:00 am  
Blogger Dave Mann said...

Yes, I agree with you anonymous.

If there IS a magnificent gigantic blue minotaur the size of a star system who created everything in the universe then he would surely love lollipops (who wouldn't?) and so therefore it would be perfectly logical for him to create lollipops for him to enjoy.

So it fugures that as we love lollipos too (who wouldn't?) and as there are lollipos to enjoy, then this magnificent gigantic minotaur the size of a star system must have created them, and by extension, us, right?

So, if he did all this, then obviously he exists. I mean.... he couldn't have created anything at all if he didn't exist, could he? Thats so obvious really.....

12/20/2010 09:29:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@Dave Mann: You appear to be mistakenly mocking what appears to be your entirely mistaken assumption that I was somehow making an argument God exists; in fact, if you learn to read more carefully and are sharp, you might have inferred that I don't really believe in God (though I tend to take the officially agnostic position that God is non-falsifiable, which is neatly simultaneously both rationally correct, and a convenient fence-sitting hedge position). Nowhere did I claim God exists, for I have no evidence neither for nor against such an extraordinary claim (Occam's razor is a 'rule of thumb', not an absolute law of the nature of the universe); however, I was pointing out the sheer and unnecessary stupidity of a theologian taking the clearly absurd position that reason is bad, and pointing out that reason doesn't necessarily invalidate God (for He is truly Non-Falsifiable). I was firstly making the perhaps cynical argument that a "smart" theologian would attempt to reap credit for the products of reason, as being products of the work of God, and secondly given my own reverence for reason as our only absolute that I can't imagine God (or, more rightfully, the universe itself, since as Dawkins pointed out 'we are the universe thinking') would consider reason bad. Finally your analogy with lollipops is a bit silly because reason is truly sublime (rationally it's the only truly sublime thing we know of), lollipops aren't.

- Anonymous

12/20/2010 12:17:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Admittedly, my use of the uppercase "He" probably threw you; that was subtle satire, not an indicator of my belief. What should've tipped you off was my starting the entire point with a huge and purposely uppercase '"IF" (God exists)'; no True Believer would start an argument with such an immediate and sacrilegious foreshadow of doubt. - Anonymous

12/20/2010 12:24:00 pm  
Blogger Olivia Pierson said...

Very good Pete - thoroughly enjoyed that read! :-)

12/20/2010 02:54:00 pm  
Blogger Dave Mann said...

Anonymous.... My point was that any argument which is hung around the 'if god exists' fallacy is not really worth arguing. It tends to be self-perpetuating. You might as well use lollipops, pink dragons or psychosmurfs and the same logic (or lack of logic) will apply.

We do seem to agree however that there is no REASON to think that anything like any of the anthropomorthic 'gods' that humans have invented exist. In fact, reason would lead to the opposite conclusion, wouldn't it?
You seem to be an agnostic. fair enough.... but as an atheist myself, I not only think that god does not exist, but I can make some very good arguments why nothing like it could possibly exist based on a reasonably intelligent reading of human psychology and emotional needs and
fears.

12/20/2010 06:07:00 pm  
Blogger Dave Mann said...

I have just realised, reading through my comment above, that one can probably tell the difference between an Atheist and and agnostic (or a religionist).

Atheists do not use the word 'believe' to describe their views. They seem to use the word 'think' or 'in my view' etc.

I believe nothing. I think a hell of a lot.... but I believe nothing and that does not leave me in a dark lonely hole, it leads me into the light of reason.

12/20/2010 06:21:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Given that Raphael's painting represents the Renaissance understanding of the relationship between Plato and Aristotle, which is that their philosophies were complementary rather than opposed (Plato being authoritative regarding the intelligible and Aristotle the material), your entire article rests on a comical mistake.

More to the point, Aristotle was himself a relatively faithful platonist, the only strong point of disagreement with his teacher being on the existence of separate Forms and the nature of the arche (orthodox Platonism has it as completely simple, whereas Aristotle has an internally complex nous - platonists leave that for the first emanation). Those who are familiar with the fragmentary works of Aristotle know this, particularly regarding Aristotle's views on immortality.

The idea that there is some massive opposition between Plato and Aristotle is an artefact of 20th century scholarship, and the opposite view has held sway for most of history. Fortunately, that error is on the wane.

Which famous philosophers will you trivialise and misrepresent next?

12/24/2010 12:07:00 am  
Blogger David Pentuin said...

Well, there's a problem with this point of view. More than one, actually, but the notion that it was Aristotelian Arabs who were responsible for the rise and not Islamists has some merit. The problem is that the Greek world itself was divided, and the Aristotelian advances were undergirded by a culture of human sacrifice. The scene depicted in the Acropolis is indicative of this cultural impasse. The conventional view is that it depicts a "procession" but it's actually a kind of historical account of a society that indulges in increasing conflict until it reaches a melting point where violence threatens to bring everything down. At that point there is a human sacrifice, the identification of a scapegoat who unifies the society by their mutual enmity. "Formal" human sacrifice was outlawed, but as the trial of Socrates suggests the reality of scapegoating was quite different.

As for the Arab world's acceptance of Greek philosophical thought, they destroyed 9/10ths of all the documents they captured so the Greek revival was a short-lived fruit of conquest. Moreover, even that much probably owes more to the Christian message than is commonly understood for Islam probably began as a Judeo/Christian sect. Later, a split occurred during which Muhammad was murdered by an anti-Christian faction who then plagiarized most of the Islamic literature and adopted a version of Christianity that denied the central event: the Crucifixion, which had demystified the ancient sacred based on human sacrifice. There was a long struggle over the meaning of the Passion but it was eventually suppressed and Anselm established the details of a neo-pagan heresy: substitutionary atonement, that is now almost universal within Christendom.

But make no mistake, it was the demystification of the archaic sacred that paved the way for science and skepticism, and without that not only would the Greek enterprise have failed, but no dissent would have even been conceivable.

6/02/2013 09:58:00 am  
Blogger David Pentuin said...

It is the mechanism of reciprocating desire and conflict that rules human affairs, except as we are able to escape those consequences by virtue of the scapegoat (surrogate victim) mechanism. It isn't religion that's the cause of backwardness and violence. Rather, religion attempts to *manage it* by using the principle of inoculation. That is what lies at the bottom of history, the struggle to recognize this and to cope with human desire and violence. It was the Christian Passion that revealed this, and began to dismantle it.

6/03/2013 08:16:00 am  

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