Our Man in Greece II

2008-12-21

As mentioned, I'm working on perhaps the last of my Randian reflections, entitled "Our Man in Greece".

Why the title? Well, Objectivists like to think of Aristotle as "our man in Greece": a reliable agent of their interests in the foreign land of serious philosophy. Although Ayn Rand took issue with aspects of Aristotle's philosophy, she still said that he was "the greatest of all philosophers" (The Virtue of Selfishness, p. 14) and that "the only philosophical debt I can acknowledge is to Aristotle" (Atlas Shrugged, p. 1085).

Yet Rand's estimate of Aristotle's historical significance was, unfortunately, overblown. Consider a few examples:

[E]verything that makes us civilized beings, every rational value 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... [For the New Intellectual, pp. 22-23]

[A]t the root of every civilized achievement, such as science, technology, progress, freedom -- at the root of every value we enjoy today, including the birth of this country -- you will find the achievement of one man, who lived over two thousand years ago: Aristotle. [Philosophy: Who Needs It, p. 7]

I say "unfortunately" because the evidence is scant to non-existent that Aristotle's philosophy caused the emergence of modern science, the industrial revolution, recent technological progress, or the founding of the United States of America, let alone the structure of the English language. I have considered the matter at greater length in my essays Ayn Rand and the Ascent of Man and Ayn Rand and American Culture, so I will not discuss it deeply in the essay I'm working on right now. However, the key insight is that the multifarious phenomena we group under a broad heading such as "modern science" or "the industrial revolution" emerged slowly through the confluence of many causes, few of which were directly philosophical.

It stands to reason that philosophers would overestimate their own influence and importance -- all professions do so -- but that is no reason for us to believe them.


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