Re: Aristotle

Technotranscendence (
Sat, 21 Aug 1999 13:03:18 -0700

On Saturday, August 21, 1999 7:24 AM John Clark <> wrote:
>>>Aristotle used some very intricate pure logic and concluded with
>>>certainty that women MUST have fewer teeth than men. They don't.
>>>Aristotle had a wife, he could have counted her teeth at any time but
>>>never bothered to because he already knew the truth, or thought he did.
> Clint O'Dell <> Wrote:
>>Where can I find information about this?
> I think I got that from one of Bertrand Russell's books, probably
> "A History Of Western Philosophy" or "Wisdom Of The West".
> I could never get through Aristotle myself, his writing style is terrible,
> much more turgid than his teacher Plato, and the more I learned about
> him the less willing I was to go through the torture. He did some good
> stuff in logic and he was an OK biologist, but his physics was a joke
> and his contempt for experiment held back science for many years.

I've not read of this particular example, but I want to make a few comments.

First, I agree that Aristotle's style leaves a lot to be desired. The accepted explanation for this is that his surviving works are basically lecture notes and not polished tomes intended to be read by others. Still, this explanation does not make them any easier to read.:)

Still, this does not mean his works are free of any insight. See "Toward an Esthetics of Horror," "Lovecraft Again," "Interesting Parallels," and "Remarks on Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand" at for some examples of these. More below.

Next, I would not rely too much on Russell, given that in the first work cited, you find out more about Russell's views on issues than on the history of philosophy. He's a very biased reader. Also, if you can't go to the primary source, then you should just state that the example used comes from a secondary source up front. (I bring this up because Tundra Wind (in _The Connection_) once argued that Aristotle's philosophy had nothing to say about change -- that it was static and made for a static world. Anyone who has actually read _Metaphysics_, _Physics_, _Poetics_, Nicomachean Ethics_, and _Generation of Animals_ would see that Tundra was wrong. Aristotle had a lot to say about change and a large part of his philosophy is an attempt to deal with change -- as opposed to fence it in as Plato did, call it illusion as Parmenides did, or worship it as Heraclitus did. I'm oversimplifying a bit here only to make a point.:)

And to condemn Aristotle for not being into the experimental method is a bit anachronistic. No one in his time was doing the kind of stuff that later became the hallmark of modern science. Even so, Aristotle's method is not as bad as one might think. He generally had an empirical bent (see his works on biology, of which John Clark seems aware), though the step was generally to go from observation to theorizing about the observation without any rigorous testing.

Also, in other of his works, e.g., _Metaphysics_, one can see that he took the time to try to understand other thinkers -- as opposed to Plato who generally uses other thinkers and their beliefs as foils. (Not to damn Plato too harshly. I do think he was trying to seek the truth too.)

Finally, we should be wary of attacking a thinker based on a position he or she holds and ask why they hold that position instead. It's the question of method which is more important. We should ask: Do his or her methods lead to correct conclusions? -- rather than exclaiming, Wow, that was a stupid view, therefore I won't bother learning anything from him or her!


Daniel Ust