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Fw: [Unitaryscience] Pythagorean commitment (2): Random thoughts on Aristotle

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  • Roger Anderton
    MY COMMENTS: My Conclusion at the end of this article is that many thinkers (scientists etc) have a flawed approach to science, logic etc because they do not
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 29, 2006
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      MY COMMENTS: My Conclusion at the end of this article is that many thinkers (scientists etc) have a flawed approach to science, logic etc because they do not realise the importance of Pythagorean Commitment.

      There is very little on the web about Pythagorean commitment. Below is an article by Chris Matthew Sciabarra which talks about Pythagorean commitment at:http://www.nyu.edu/projects/sciabarra/essays/internet703-1203.htm

      Sciabarra is having a conversation with people he calls R, S and E. Unfortunately he only provides part of what R, S and E say, concentrating on his thoughts. The "R" person might have been me. I add "MY COMMENTS".


      (Objectivist Outcasts, excerpts from several posts dated between Tue, 1 Jul 2003 and Fri, 4 Jul 2003, under the thread "Re: Aristotle." The first posts of this series appear here, here, and here.)

      [Tue, 01 Jul 2003 23:02:44 -0400]

      Just a few brief points in response. First, thanks to R, S, and E for some very nice discussion. I'm especially happy that E notes the "golden-mean" parallel to my own emphasis on dialectical method.

      R, I honestly don't disagree with you about some of the things that Aristotle did wrong in physics. My whole point is that we have to look at the big picture. Plenty of philosophers---even the masters of ancient Greece---were not consistent in applying their overall counsel to every area of knowledge. And fortunately, knowledge didn't ~die~ in ancient Greece.

      As for the area of cosmology: You are right that few scientists would universalize cosmology as a metaphysics of explanation. I wish I could say the same thing about philosophers, however. The so-called "guardians" of knowledge have failed miserably through the centuries precisely on this point, and I discuss it in TOTAL FREEDOM. (I don't want to become a parody of myself in terms of self-citation, but it's just very hard to convey the complexity of these issues in short off-the-cuff posts when you've written books---indeed, a trilogy of books---on some of the subject matter at hand. :) )

      R writes: "The way I would look at it is Contextualism is describing a situation relative to some context, and note the word 'relative' --- which makes Contextualism is close to being another way of talking about Relativism." Except as I said, relativism usually ~reifies~ a relative context ~as if~ it were the whole.

      The Marxists have a word for this: "ideology." It is when a part or a particular perspective is represented as if it were the ~only~ perspective on a topic. The perspective is universalized. Contextualism, by contrast, counsels us to keep shifting perspective in analysis, and to piece together a comprehensive picture of the whole through perspectival shifts.

      R writes: "Aristotle did his demonstrations the wrong way round. One starts from Pythagorean commitment and then makes the demonstration. Aristotle ignored Pythagorean commitment and went straight ahead to a fallacious demonstration."

      But that depends what we're talking about; he wasn't completely consistent, but there are plenty of areas, namely his biology, and in his overall stress upon reason, logic, and dialectical point of view---which are foundational to ~any~ scientific inquiry.

      MY COMMENTS: I would agree- Aristotle did a lot of good things, but my emphasis in the conversation was that he was overlooking Pythagorean Commitment.

      [Thu, 03 Jul 2003 18:46:41 -0400]

      Just a very brief reply (excuse my brevity, but I'm on deadline for quite a few articles currently).

      1. It's interesting that R suggests that contextualism, as I've described it, is "relativity." It's interesting because he posits a conflict between Einstein and Aristotle, but on this, it seems, they are actual more "in sync" than out of sync. Except, of course, Einstein, obviously, moved far beyond Aristotle in the application of such principles.

      MY COMMENTS: The conflict with Aristotle and Einstein (if we want to call it that) was - Einstein was using Pythagorean Commitment in his approach to physics in his latter years (even if he did not explicitly state it, he was working on classical physics upon which Pythagorean Commitment was based), while Aristotle was not.

      2. R quotes Einstein. I don't think Aristotle ever claimed that science grows out of empiricism alone, though I do believe that the scientific imagination is something that has advanced dramatically since the ancients. In all honesty, I think it's actually a bit anachronistic to apply the "a priori-a posteriori" distinction to Aristotle. He had what is called an "ontological" view of logic itself; in other words, the laws of logic were both laws of being and laws of thought. I think Aristotle would have recognized that logic and experience could not be sundered in the scientific enterprise. One could fault him as to how ~well~ he practiced it in ~every~ discipline; but I don't think one can fault his overall foundation to human knowledge. Logic, quite simply, is the foundation for ~all~ human knowledge. Without a commitment to the laws of noncontradiction, excluded middle, and identity (all of which were implied in Aristotle's initial formulation of the first), nothing is possible. This was an enormously important intellectual articulation that nobody ever fully grasped prior to Aristotle. Plato comes close, but it is Aristotle who becomes the father of logic, the father of investigation, the father of dialectics. Fathers sometimes get lots of things wrong. That's why they leave it to their sons and daughters to get it right. My only point here is that all of us stand upon the shoulders of giants. The giants are not infallible, but we see further only because we're on their shoulders.

      3. S writes: "Thanks for your information. This helps to clarify some points for me and to also fortify my defense for one of my personal stances. As I have noted previously, I strongly believe that no one person or philosophy has all the answers. It is important to examine a variety of perspectives and theories, even if we ultimately reject them. Therefore not only will we be able to defend those theories we support, but also those we do not. For example, I've noted in reading non-fiction works by Ayn Rand that she has a particular distaste for Kant. I've read comments by other writers who hail him as "one of the most important philosophers of his time". Who am I to believe? I thought it best to examine his theories myself and thereby be able to make my own judgements on them."

      Absolutely: and if you ever use one person's pronouncements as an excuse ~not~ to read the original source, you thereby close the door to the judgment of your own mind. I can think of nothing that flies in the face of "Objectivism" more than to abandon the objectivity of your own judgment. For example, my own work in the history of philosophy re-examines thinkers such as Hegel and Marx; because I came to my own independent verdict on such thinkers, daring to suggest that we could learn something from them (note: that does not mean "agreement with" in overall viewpoint), a number of Objectivists have gone so far as to call me a "Hegelian" and a "Marxist." But if questioning what you've been taught qualifies you as an "Objectivist Outcast," make the most of it!

      Thanks, too, S, for this comment: "A personal note Chris...I think it is admirable that you have published a trilogy of books, particularly on such a demanding topic. Kudos to you!" The topic is actually the history of dialectical inquiry. I argue for a dialectical defense of human freedom---very different from the Marxist stuff to which "dialectics" has normally been associated.

      [Fri, 04 Jul 2003 08:24:49 -0400]

      Thanks for your reply, R. I wanted to say a couple of things in response:

      You wrote: >>If Aristotle was advocating "contextualism" and we notice its similarly to relativity (under Galileo ), then its a mystery to me why Aristotle thought that the Earth was the centre of the universe, he should have realised the Copernican perspective was possible. Aristotle must have been flawed in his thinking and could not follow through the proper reasoning from his starting point ---- The main conflict between Aristotle and Galileo, was that Galileo had Pythagorean commitment and Aristotle did not. So, they were in "sync" for a while, then Aristotle went wrong.<<

      But R, again, you're making my point. Nobody is perfect. Sometimes people have good overall premises, and they still go about solving problems incorrectly. That doesn't invalidate what good they've done. You are, of course, right that "Some ancients had great imaginations," but not all ancients did, and nobody knows ~everything~. And even if Aristotle is "an example of a father who got things wrong," there is ~nothing~ in "the logic he created [that] is flawed." If there is something wrong with the law of non-contradiction, please do enlighten me. I don't mean that in any sarcastic way---I just fail to see how this principle is ~ever~ incorrect. (Unless you mean "the 'logic' of some of his scientific argumentation...")

      MY COMMENTS: Basically Sciabarra is excusing Aristotle as having made mistakes, so Aristotle's belief of the geocentric theory excluding the heliocentric perspective was a mistake on his part. If aristotle had used Pythagorean Commitment and not made a mistake in using Pythagorean commitment, he should have not made the mistake about these theories.

      Finally, as to the metaphor of standing on the shoulders of giants, R says: "What if some giants fall down an abyss ( I am proposing Aristotle as such a giant), those who then try to stand on such a giant also end up down the abyss. A person standing on the shoulders of such a giant down the abyss is not seeing any further."

      ~Every~ thinker who has ever existed must be analyzed with a scalpel, not a sledgehammer. That means dissecting what is right from what is wrong, and getting beyond the errors. The shoulders we stand on are the shoulders of those who get things ~right~. But since everyone is a mixed case, we need to stand on the "right" shoulder. I maintain that we see further ~because~ we stand on Aristotle's shoulders (to the extent that he got things right). And because our knowledge advances, we also get to see where he got things wrong. I fully recognize Aristotle's flaws, and I think the Age of Science gave him a good whipping on where he got things wrong. That doesn't mean it invalidated where he got things right, and to the extent that he did provide the very logical and dialectical foundation for the advancement of knowledge, his place in the pantheon of scientific achievement is unimpeachable.

      MY COMMENTS: It is unclear to me whether everyone that uses Aristotle's work is aware of the flaws within it, and I suspect that some of our Modern Thinkers are making the same type of mistakes again as that which Aristotle made.

      And he had enormous achievements in many other areas as well---not the least of which were many of his ethical and political insights that influenced John Locke and the American founders, and that paved the way for the birth of America, which we celebrate today. He had an extraordinary intellect, writing on everything from metaphysics to politics to poetics. And when you consider that the bulk of his actual writings have yet to be found (they were probably destroyed forever), the writings that are extant constitute a truly remarkable contribution to human knowledge. Whatever his flaws.



      MY COMMENTS: I agree Aristotle made great achievements. Finally Sciabarra says on something related to I think contextualism:


      (Objectivist Outcasts, Posted: Tue, 24 Jun 2003 06:18:09 -0400)

      R writes: "If for instance you ask the question - does a specific object such as an apple have the colour red. The answer instead or being 'yes' or 'no' can be 'yes and no' simultaneously. Is the apple red? Answer: yes and no. For instance: (i) there could be Doppler shift changing the colour, (ii) different observers could see different things due to colour blindness (iii) the apple might be an colour that is difficult to tell whether it is red or not, etc. The apple might then be all red and all green at the same time."

      Whoa, there.

      The law of identity says that A cannot be A and non-A ~at the same time~, yes, but also ~in the same respect~. The moment you talk about Doppler shifts and shifting perspectives---you are changing the ~respect~ in which A is ~viewed~. And the moment you talk about a difficulty in ~measuring~ a color, you're only talking about a measurement problem, not an identity problem. Measurement (or lack thereof) does not destroy the reality of that which it seeks to explain. That reality is what it is---regardless of whether you now have the capacity to measure it, or not.

      I absolutely agree with R that "Simple 'yes' or 'no' answers are not always possible to such questions, and the answer is sometimes . . . 'yes and no simultaneously.'" And Aristotle would agree with Roger too---given his emphasis on shifting "respects" and "perspectives." Aristotle was not only the father of logic. He was also the father of dialectics---the first formal theoretician of dialectical inquiry (see his TOPICS). And one of the principles of dialectics is that one ~must~ taken into account the "point of view"---because shifting ~contexts~ and ~perspectives~ will often bring out different ~aspects~ of the object that you study.

      from: http://www.nyu.edu/projects/sciabarra/essays/internet503-603.htm

      MY COMMENTS: Sciabarra is I think saying that Aristotle used Logic rules in context (contextualism).

      So that a Logic rule such as "the Law of identity" has to be used in context, and "shifting perspectives" have to be compensated for. What I suspect however is that not everyone realises this need for context of "shifting perspectives" and might be teaching Logic without taking that into account, hence having flawed Logic.

      My Conclusion is that many thinkers (scientists etc) have a flawed approach to science, logic etc because they do not realise the importance of Pythagorean Commitment.


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