Adonis Diaries

Archive for November 13th, 2010

Aristotle’s empiricism (-384-322): Got to experiment for facts

Three centuries before Aristotle, scholars studying sciences, also called philosophy, were mainly settled in coastal city in the Near-East such as Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine.

You have  cities as Millet, Ephesus, Tyr, Sidon, in Sicily…Scholars have been questioning mythology and investigating into cosmology, natural physics, and rational logic.

Pythagoras (magical proportion of numbers corresponding to natural laws), Thales (cosmology), Heraclitus (living things are constantly in movement and changing), Parmenides (what we sense are moving illusions), and Empedocles.

Democritus had written: “Who commits injustice should be the most unhappy person:  We are ashamed for behaving badly.” Xenon is the master of rhetoric:  We can master the art of arguing on anything.

Platon moved from Athens to Megara where Euclid was settled, as many of Socrates’ disciples after Socrates opted to drink poison rather than go into exile.

Aristotle spent 20 years in Platon’s school in Athens, “Platon’s Academia“,  which hanged the directive: “You cannot be admitted If you don’t know geometry”.  Aristotle studied rhetoric and dialectic for a year in Isocrates’ school.

As Aristotle was born, Macedonia was expanding its territory under Amyntas III, grandfather of Alexander.

Aristotle lived in his native town of Stagira while his father Nicomac was the official physician of Amyntas in the Capital Pella

A few years later, Aristotle is playing with Philip (heir to the kingdom) and Antipater (later the regent of Macedonia and Greece while Alexander is pursuing his expansion in Asia).

Aristotle lost simultaneously, his father, mother, and Amyntas III of an epidemic.  He would write: “How come natural phenomenon return, after a cycle, to their original nature (for example clouds) while living creatures don’t?  Man must not be as necessary to the equilibrium of the universe and he just appears by pure hazard:  Your father’s birth does not necessarily engender your birth.”

One of his sisters, married to Proxenos adopts him and settles in Turkey facing the island of Lesbos.  Later, Aristotle would adopt Proxenos’ son Cleisthenes.

Cleisthenes would become a famous disciple and historian “History of the sacred war” in 10 volumes.  Alexander would torture and assassinate Cleisthenes:  he started mocking Alexander’s antics of considering himself a divinity.

It is a great loss to mankind because Cleisthenes would have left accurate eye-witness account of Alexander vast campaign.

At Alexander reached 13 of age, his father Philip demanded from Aristotle to be the preceptor of his son.  Three years later, Alexander felt that he has no patience for further study:  He wanted to join the military campaigns of his father.

One of the assignment of Alexander was to tame revolts in the other provinces in Greece; the ancient and illustrious city of Thebes was raised from the map; Thebes was built by the Phoenicians several centuries before Athens existed.

When Alexander became king, Aristotle visited the new monarch who didn’t care for his teacher’s counsels.  Mankind is lucky that Aristotle stayed in Greece instead of wasting time tending to Alexander’s caprices.

Aristotle developed a new mode for reasoning by syllogism; for example, all members of B are in A, or all members of C are in B, then, all members of C are in A.  He gathered 14 kinds of syllogisms; sort of modern math concept.

Only when observations through experiments contradict a conclusion can we revised one of the erroneous premises. Aristotle demanded from his disciple to list references of books and documents on every known subject of study.

He observed jointly with his disciples and experimented on phenomena.  He was interested in natural physics, cosmology, political constitutions and structures, animals (especially horses), botany, logic, ethics, poetics.

His disciple Theophrastus will become one of the first renowned botanist.

Aristotle believe in a general or collective providence, the “intellectual agent”, and not an individual providence that is the cause for running the universe but not the creator of the universe.

Aristotle opened a school in Athens, with additional funding coming from Antipater the regent of Macedonia, on a sanctuary called Lycian, thus the French name of Lycee for schools.

He used to teach while walking in the alleys between the arcade, called Peripatus, thus, the name given to his disciples the “peripatecians”.  The school lasted as Alexander was alive.

When the Athenians got the news of the death of Alexander, they forced Aristotle out.  Aristotle dies a year after Alexander and leaves a detailed testament.

The story goes that Aristotle’s disciple Theophrastus was in charge of preserving all the manuscripts.  The king of Pergamus intended for his library to rival Alexandria; thus, the son of Theophrastus hid the manuscripts in Scepsis so that the king of Pergamus won’t take them.

Apellicon of Teos sold the manuscripts to the Roman consul Sylla in 82 BC.   In 60 BC, Andronicos of Rhodes recopied the manuscripts and classify them in two major categories: Physics and after physics (meta physics).

Note 1:  There is this mania of opposing Aristotle’s positions with Plato’s, as if the two philosophers were foreign to one another and did not complement one another.

Plato’s school lasted 900 centuries:  The official Christian Church in Constantinople decided to close this “pagan” school around 550 AC.

Note 2:  Maimonides (12 years younger than Averroes and from the same city Cordoba) relied on Ibn Rushd’s works to perpetuate the rational and scientific trend.

Maimonides wrote: “We may dispense of Plato’s works:  Aristotle’s works suffice since they are the foundations and roots of scientific rational methods.  Aristotle’s works are difficult and many propositions cannot be comprehended without the commentaries and interpretations of Ibn Rushd.”

Note 3: This topic was mainly extracted fro the French book “Lighthouses” by Jacques Attali

The “Good man” of (Confucius 551-479): Practice moral values first then, study

“Young people should prove to be good sons in the family, polite and respectful in society, prudent and loyal, liking the company of good men.  After learning and applying these moral values, you feel you have energy to acquiring knowledge, then study and read.”

Thus, practice actions in applying moral values before contemplating studying for acquiring knowledge and skills. This is the educational method of Confucius, found in the first chapter of his manuscript “Discussions“, which is the only book historian are sure to be written by Confucius, among many attributed to him.

The next precept of Kongfuzi (Master Kong), renamed Confucius by the Jesuits in China, is:

“A man of quality eats moderately, requires no comfort in his house, is diligent in business, equitable in his opinions, cultivate doing what is right, and seek the company of wise people.  These qualities demonstrate that the man loves to study“.

The expression “Plenitude of humanity” is even more frequent in his book than the word “junzi” or man of goodness, which is a consequence for becoming a qualified good man.  The good man is necessarily above the elite class of the aristocratic members and feudal lords:  He has mastered determination by virtue, merit, and competence.

Zilu, one of the favorite disciples of Confucius asked: “Master, what would be your priority if you became monarch?”  Confucius replied:

“First of all, I will work on the correct usage of the terminology in the language.  If terminology is not widely correctly understood and uniform, discourse will be disorderly, orders are wrongly misinterpreted, and consequently, most orders stop being executed as intended.  If the forms and rituals are not conveniently stabilized then, social relationship are distorted and customs and rituals neglected, justice is not adequately rendered, and the kingdom is weakened.  Any new law must be enunciated in the clearest of terms and never proclaimed without thorough discussions, lest tyranny shows its ugly head”

During and before Confucius period, China was experiencing one of its tumultuous and bloody medieval ages:  the Emperor of the oriental Zhu dynasty was a figure-head, and provinces were governed by powerful princes with armies.  Confucius was born in the least powerful of provinces, Lu.

The structure of society was highly hierarchical: The scholars transferred from a prince to another nobleman,  simply to live in the entourage of the nobility and teaching the offspring of the noble classes.  The most known books for teaching are: “Canon of poems“, “Book of mutations or Yijing” “Memoirs  on rites”, “Etiquette and rituals”, and “Canon of history or Shujing.

Confucius’ father remarry a second time at the age of 64; he already had 9 daughters.  The new-born boy has a large protuberance on his head and thus, is named Qiu, better known as Confucius.

At around that period, Pythagoras is founding a secret cult based on the magic of numbers; Buddha is preaching his message in India, and Darius, the all-powerful monarch of Persia, has conquered most of the Mediterranean Sea countries, including Egypt.

At the age of 26, Confucius is minister of public works in the province of Lu.  He meets Lao-tse (Taoist religion admonishes not to disturb the equilibrium in nature) who told him: “A brilliant man risks his life by pinpointing the faults in princes.  A learned man is exposed to danger as he divulges the weaknesses of mankind”

Eventually, Confucius becomes prime minister and wages successful military campaigns.  At the age of 50, Confucius is out of favor because he didn’t approve of the prince changing the law without discussions and inputs from counselors   Confucius  spends 10 years of errand with a few of his disciples, suffering hunger and isolation.

Once, he was lost in a city, his disciples were searching for him, and a guy told them: “He must be the one looking like a monarch with a large forehead and behaving like a dog who lost his master.”  Confucius told his disciple: “Looking like a monarch could be controversial; but the description of a dog searching for his master is absolutely correct.

Confucius wrote: “Respect and work on yourself.  How can you govern and guide your family and community if you neglect working on your limitations, weaknesses, and potentials?

At the age of 72, Confucius had compiled “Book of documents” and “Annals of Springs and Autumns”

China successive political regimes adopted Confucius teachings as guiding rod, except during China Cultural Revolution of the 1970’s that didn’t last long.

Note:  This biography was inspired from the French book “Lighthouses” by Jacques Attali, in which he investigates the teachings and hard life of 24 characters from all regions, religions, and spanning history from antiquity to modern age.




November 2010

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