Quora answer: What aspects of Aristotle’s philosophies are still applicable to the modern world?

May 22 2014

You are not going to believe this but we still live in a Aristotelian world. In the West they lost Plato and all they had was Aristotle’s class notes up until the Renaissance. The Renaissance was the re-entry of Plato into the Western tradition after a long absence. And they forgot Greek so they were reading Aristotle in Latin translation. The point here is that because Aristotle was never lost, as Plato was, that he is more central to our Western Roman tradition than Plato and that Science for all its difference in detail from Aristotle’s opinions about natural phenomena, is still basically Aristotelian in its approach.

Latin had degenerated a lot during the middle ages. So in the Renaissance there was a resurgence in Latin, but also a relearning of Greek, and the reintroduction of the Greek originals of both Aristotle and Plato. So the West had lost touch with the Greek Foundations of the Roman empire that were preserved in Constantinople  but when that fell then the West basically re-invented itself as the inheritor of the Roman Empire despite the Barbarians having taken over, and the population crisis that occurred in Europe.

When Modern Empirical Science came along it was Aristotelian Science together with its infusion into Christianity that was being rebelled against. But everyone was still getting a classical education, so everyone was still steeped in Aristotle primarily and Plato secondarily, and then one might read the new works of science written in French, or Italian or German or English. What ever you fight against you become like.

So the fact that Modern Science came out of Aristotelian Science through a struggle means that Modern Science is just a variation on Aristotelian science, not a genuine departure. Since we no longer get classical educations we are just unaware of the similarity. But it is impossible to really get away from hundreds of years of Scholasticism. It is there beneath the surface informing our outlook in myriad ways.

Culture appears as archaeological deposits, we never jettison anything we merely build over the rubble of what went before. Alexander established the Greek civilization worldwide in his campaigns, and then this was replaced by the Roman Empire, which then split in two, and in the Western half we inherited the Latin with Aristotle being the basis of thought about everything. Plato and Greek texts came back in during the Renaissance, and then after that slowly the modern period arose in which we tried to disengage from the worst offenses of dogmatic science, but we did not cease to consider Aristotle right about everything else.

Basically what ever is the question we start off with Aristotle’s opinion and then start comparing that to Plato and then to others. The reason for that is that Aristotle had thought things out extensively and it is very difficult to come up with something different from what he had to say that carries equal weight. Basically modern science merely learned to query nature itself and to give authority of what nature said over what Aristotle said, but for everything else we just continue to stick to Aristotle as the first source.

Or in some cases we substitute Plato when there is a clear reason to do so. Plato tends to be much harder to understand and more sophisticated and so it is much more difficult to appeal to Plato than Aristotle. So the answer is that the whole of Aristotle is still relevant, even if you are someone like me who prefers Plato. Modern Science is merely a set of variations on Aristotle. Aristotle thought that nature acted like people and had intentions, but this turned out to be false, and so those parts of Aristotle’s work relating to Physics has been superseded

But he still defined what Physics was and separated it from Metaphysics. He founded Theology, and Politics, and Literary Criticism. You name it and it probably had some source in Aristotle or in his successors. We are all just late successors of this main predecessor within our culture.

For instance, we now know that Being and Time by Heidegger is basically his going back to Aristotle and treating his work as if it was phenomenological. It is very hard to get away from Aristotle in our tradition. For instance he set up the Excluded middle and the Law of Non-Contradiction that made our culture dualistic. This is one of the most profound moves made by any thinker in our tradition, and one if the most far reaching in its consequence. We still hold to that principle despite all the evidence from Quantum Mechanics that dualism is not the way nature works.

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