Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Empedocles

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

Cases of “Historical Dialectics” of human and knowledge development; (Dec. 23, 2009)

            Dialectics is not only used to comprehend historical development of human or knowledge development but is basic in discussions and effective dialogues. Hegel was first to introduce “dynamic logic” and used the term of historical dialectics as the interaction of an extreme opinion (thesis) that generates an opposite extreme counter opinion (antithesis) which results in a consensus (synthesis).  Historical dialectics is a macro method for long range study and it does not explain the individual existential conditions (survival situations).  Hegel offered dialectics as a method for explaining how human knowledge developed by constant struggle between contradictory concepts among philosophical groups. The purpose of his method was to demonstrate how the “universe of the spirit” or ideas managed to be raised in human consciousness.

            Before I offer my version of knowledge development it might be useful to giving a few examples of historical dialectics. In Antiquity, the pre-Socratic philosophers were divided between the Eleatics or philosophers who claimed that change of primeval substances was impossible: we cannot rely on our senses.  Heraclites reacted with his position that we can rely on our senses and that everything in the universe is in a state of flow and that no substance remains in its place.  The synthesis came Empedocles who claimed that we can rely on our senses but that what flow are the combination of substances but the elementary particles do not change. 

            The Sophists during Socrates were the paid teachers of the elite classes and tore down the mythological teaching of the period and focused on improving individual level of learning.  They were in effect in demand by a nascent City-State democracy of Athens that relied on a better educated society to participate in the political system. Socrates reacted by proposing that there are fundamental truths and knowledge is not an exercise in rhetorical discourse. The same dialectics worked between the world of ideas of Plato and the empirical method counterpoint of Aristotle.

            In the Medieval period the Catholic Church set up a barrier or distance between God and man and forced people to believe that all knowledge emanates from God.  The Renaissance man (wanting to be knowledgeable in many disciplines) reacted by promoting the concepts that God is in every element, that man is a complete microcosm of the universe, and that knowledge starts by observing nature and man.

            Another example is the position of Descartes who established that rationalism was the main source for knowledge.  David Hume responded by extending that empirical facts generated from our senses are the basis for knowledge. Kant offered the synthesis that the senses are the primary sources for our impressions but it is our perceptual faculties that describe and view the world: there is a distinction between “matter” of knowledge or the “thing in itself” and “form” of knowledge or the “thing for me”. Kant became the point of departure for another chain of dialectical reflections.

            Many philosophers used the dialectic methods to explaining other forms of development.  Karl Marx wrote that Hegel used his method standing on its head instead of considering human material conditions. Marx claimed that “philosophers have only interpreted the world; the point is to change it”; thus, he defined three levels as basis of society: condition of production (mainly the geographic, natural resources, and climatic conditions), means of production (such as machineries and tools), and production relations (such as political institutions, division of labor, distribution of work and ownership). Marx claimed that the main interactions are among the working class (the new slaving method of production) and the owners of the means of productions or the ruling class: it is this struggle that develop the spiritual progress.  Another dialectical process is the extreme feminist political claims of equality between genders which brought about a consensus synthesis for a period.

            My view of progress is based on the analogy of combination of two schemas:

            The first schema is the coexistence of two strings of evolution (picture a DNA shape): the knowledge development (mainly technological) and the moral string (dominated mainly by religious ideologies).  The second schema is represented by historical dialectic evolutions in the shape of helical cones. The time lengths of cycles for the two strings are not constant: the technological progress phase has shorter and shorter cycles while the moral string has longer cycles.

            The two strings are intertwined and clashes frequently.  When one string overshadow the other string in evolution then there are a slow counter-reaction culminating in stagnate status-quo phases between the two forces. Technological or level of sustenance period has time length cycles that is shrinking at the top of the cone before the cone is inverted on its head so that the moral time length cycles start to increase and appears almost invariant (that what happened in the long Medieval period that stretched for over 11 centuries in Europe); then the cone is reverted on its base for the next “rebirth” cycles (for example the Renaissance period that accelerated the knowledge string ascent).


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

July 2020
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