the Rathouse
Series of Very Abbreviated Versions of Classical Philosophical Works for Very Busy People.
Chapter 11:    Aristotle (1) 

Chapter 11, “The Aristotelian Roots of Hegelianism” has three sections after a short introduction. 

Section I contains a brief sketch of Aristotle’s political philosophy and some other aspects of his work.

Section II is an extended critique of the methodology and epistemology that involves the quest for true definitions and detailed conceptual analysis which Popper labeled essentialism. The notes attached to this section contain full-fledged essays on a range of topics, including Wittgenstein’s earlier philosophy.

Section III consists of brief notes on some episodes in the ancient battle between authoritarian rule and the relatively democratic spirit of Pericles and the Great Generation of Athens.

Essentialism will be examined in the next installment and this piece will deal with the first and third sections of the chapter.

Section I describes Aristotle’s ambivalent attitude to democracy and his apparent resignation to the need to compromise with a system that he found distasteful. He followed Plato in endorsing the idea that some men are slaves by nature and his theory of the best state combines elements of Platonic aristocracy, feudalism and some elements of democracy. With the revival of interest in Alexander the Great it may be important to note that Aristotle was a courtier (hanger-on) at the Macedonian court and he was a tutor to the young Alexander. Apparently Alexander was a very apt pupil although the friendship of the two men became strained as time went by and it is likely that Aristotle’s life would have been in grave danger if Alexander himself had lived longer.

"Aristotle’s thought is entirely dominated by Plato’s. Somewhat grudgingly, he followed his great teacher as closely as his temperament permitted, not only in his general political outlook but practically everywhere. So he endorsed, and systematized, Plato’s naturalistic theory of slavery: ‘Some men are by nature free, and others slaves; and for the latter, slavery is fitting as well as just ... A man who is by nature not his own, but another’s, is by nature a slave ... Hellenes do not like to call themselves slaves, but confine this term to barbarians ... The slave is totally devoid of any faculty of reasoning’, while free women have just a very little of it. (We owe to Aristotle’s criticisms and denunciations most of our knowledge of the Athenian movement against slavery. By arguing against the fighters for freedom, he preserved some of their utterances.)"

So the working classes do not rule and the ruling classes do not work, nor earn any money, a traditin that came down to the British class system of modern times (and not only the British, given the ancient roots of the idea in Plato and Aristotle. It seems that hunting and war are the major hobbies of the ruling classes. (For an amusing commentary of these obsessions, and also misogyny, as applied to the Arabs and also the English, see Roger Sandall's meditation on Lawrence of Arabia).

"Aristotle’s fear of any form of money earning, i.e. of all professional activities, goes perhaps even further than Plato’s. Plato had used the term ‘banausic’ to describe a plebeian, abject, or depraved state of mind. Aristotle extends the disparaging use of the term so as to cover all interests which are not pure hobbies. In fact, his use of the term is very near to our use of the term ‘professional’, more especially in the sense in which it disqualifies in an amateur competition, but also in the sense in which it applies to any specialized expert, such as a physician. For Aristotle, every form of professionalism means a loss of caste. A feudal gentleman, he insists, must never take too much interest in ‘any occupation, art or science ... There are also some liberal arts, that is to say, arts which a gentleman may acquire, but always only to a certain degree. For if he takes too much interest in them, then these evil effects will follow’, namely, he will become proficient, like a professional, and lose caste."

For expansion of Plato's views of the low status of the manual worker, see note 4 at the end of the page. See also note 5 on liberal education and its failings.

One of Aristotle’s legacies is the idea of the Final Cause which is associated with his biological interests and also with the notion of teleology, that is, action with a purpose. One of the great achievements of modern science was to shed the idea of teleology in nature, including biology (the plant root does not grow towards the water, but the roots that reach water live while those in dry soil die).

"Stones and earth fall because they strive to be where most stones and earth are, and where they belong, in the just order of nature; air and fire rise because they strive to be where air and fire (the heavenly bodies) are, and where they belong, in the just order of nature. This theory of motion appealed to the zoologist Aristotle; it combines easily with the theory of final causes, and it allows an explanation of all motion as being analogous with the canter of horses keen to return to their stables. He developed it as his famous theory of natural places. Everything if removed from its own natural place has a natural tendency to return to it."

Aristotle modified Plato’s theory of ideal forms or essences to eliminate the idea that they live in a world of their own and exist prior to their earthly copies. For Aristotle the forms are internal to the objects of perception and instead of being perceived by intellectual intuition they are found by observation and classification of the objects in the world.

For the purpose of Popper’s criticism of historical determinism, Aristotle is important because Hegel took up his doctrine that movement, change or evolution reveal the essence of the object. Thus it follows that social events can only be understood by applying the historical method in order to penetrate beneath the surface of things to locate their hidden essence.

Change, by revealing what is hidden in the undeveloped essence, can make apparent the essence, the potentialities, the seeds, which from the beginning have inhered in the changing object. This doctrine leads to the historicist idea of an historical fate or an inescapable essential destiny. On the face of it, the historical approach would appear to be far from dangerous and indeed it could be regarded as essential to avoid the repetition of past mistakes, however the devil is in the detail of the methods used by Hegel, and after him, by Marx, as explained later.

Moving on to the third section.

"The conflict between the Platonic-Aristotelian speculation and the spirit of the Great Generation, of Pericles, of Socrates, and of Democritus, can be traced throughout the ages. This spirit was preserved, more or less purely, in the movement of the Cynics who, like the early Christians, preached the brotherhood of man, which they connected with a monotheistic belief in the fatherhood of God. Alexander’s empire as well as that of Augustus was influenced by these ideas which had first taken shape in the imperialist Athens of Pericles, and which had always been stimulated by the contact between West and East. It is very likely that these ideas, and perhaps the Cynic movement itself, influenced the rise of Christianity also."

The early Christians achieved moral authority when they resisted persecution and stood firm in their faith and their mission to help the poor, the suffering and the downtrodden. However their credibility and indeed the very morality of the church were undermined when Christianity became the official religion of Rome and then most of the west. Popper was especially scornful of the nostalgic yearning for the “lost unity” of the Middle Ages.

"It is one of the characteristic reactions to the strain of civilization in our own time that the allegedly ‘Christian’ authoritarianism of the Middle Ages has, in certain intellectualist circles, become one of the latest fashions of the day [citing Aldous Huxley]. This, no doubt, is due not only to the idealization of an indeed more ‘organic’ and ‘integrated’ past, but also to an understandable revulsion against modern agnosticism which has increased this strain beyond measure."

"Men believed God to rule the world. This belief limited their responsibility. The new belief that they had to rule it themselves created for many a well nigh intolerable burden of responsibility. All this has to be admitted. But I do not doubt that the Middle Ages were, even from the point of view of Christianity, not better ruled than our Western democracies. For we can read in the Gospels that the founder of Christianity was questioned by a certain ‘doctor of the law’ about a criterion by which to distinguish between a true and a false interpretation of His words. To this He replied by telling the parable of the priest and the Levite who both, seeing a wounded man in great distress,’ passed by on the other side’, while the Samaritan bound up his wounds, and looked after his material needs. This parable, I think, should be remembered by those ‘Christians’ who long not only for a time when the Church suppressed freedom and conscience, but also for a time in which, under the eye and with the authority of the Church, untold oppression drove the people to despair. As a moving comment upon the suffering of the people in those days and, at the same time, upon the ‘Christianity’ of the now so fashionable romantic medievalism which wants to bring these days back, a passage may be quoted here from H. Zinsser’s book, Rats, Lice, and History, in which he speaks about epidemics of dancing mania in the Middle Ages, known as ‘St. John’s dance’, ‘St. Vitus’ dance’, etc. (I do not wish to invoke Zinsser as an authority on the Middle Ages—there is no need to do so since the facts at issue are hardly controversial. But his comments have the rare and peculiar touch of the practical Samaritan—of a great and humane physician.)"

Note 4 "Aristotle’s use of the word ‘banausic’ in the sense of ‘professional’ or ‘money earning’ is clearly shown in Politics, VIII, 6, 3 ff. (1340b) and especially 15 f. (1341b). Every professional, for example a flute player, and of course every 3rtisan or labourer, is ‘banausic’, that is to say, not a free man, not a citizen, even though he is not a real slave; the status of a ‘banausic’ man is one of ‘partial or limited slavery’ (Politics, I, 14; 13; 1260a/b). The word ‘banausos’ derives, I gather, from a pre-Hellenic word for ‘fire-worker’. Used as an attribute it means that a man’s origin and caste ‘disqualify him from prowess in the field’. (Cp. Greenidge, quoted by Adam in his edition of the Republic, note to 495630.) It may be translated by ‘low-caste’, ‘cringing’, ‘degrading’, or in some contexts by ‘upstart’. Plato used the word in the same sense as Aristotle. In the Laws (7416 and 743d), the term ‘banausia’ is used to describe the depraved state of a man who makes money by means other than the hereditary possession of land. See also the Republic, 4956 and 590c. But if we remember the tradition that Socrates was a mason; and Xenophon’s story (Mem. II, 7); and Antisthenes’ praise of hard work; and the attitude of the Cynics; then it seems unlikely that Socrates agreed with the aristocratic prejudice that money earning must be degrading. (The Oxford English Dictionary proposes to render ‘banausic’ as ‘merely mechanical, proper to a mechanic’, and quotes Grote, Eth. Fragm., vi, 227 = Aristotle, and ed., 1880, p. 545; but this rendering is much too narrow, and Grote’s passage does not justify this interpretation, which may originally rest upon a misunderstanding of Plutarch. It is interesting that in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream the term ‘mere mechanicals’ is used precisely in the sense of ‘banausic’ men; and this use might well be connected with a passage on Archimedes in North’s translation of the Life of Marcellus.)"

Note 4, cotinued "In Mind, vol. 47, there is an interesting discussion between A. E. Taylor and F. M. Cornford, in which the former (pp. 197 ff.) defends his view that Plato, when speaking of ‘the god’ in a certain passage of the Timaeus, may have had in mind a ‘peasant cultivator’ who ‘serves’ by bodily labour; a view which is, I think most convincingly, criticized by Cornford (pp. 329 ff.). Plato’s attitude towards all ‘banausic’ work, and especially manual labour, bears on this problem; and when (p. 198, note) Taylor uses the argument that Plato compares his gods ‘with shepherds or sheep-dogs in charge of a flock of sheep’ (Laws, 901e, 907a), then we could point out that the activities of nomads and hunters are quite consistently considered by Plato as noble or even divine; but the sedentary ‘peasant cultivator’ is banausic and depraved. Cp. note 32 to chapter 4, and text."

Note 6. "The 1939 edition of the Pocket Oxford Dictionary still says: ‘liberal .. (of education) fit for a gentleman, of a general literary rather than technical kind’. This shows most clearly the everlasting power of Aristotle’s influence. I admit that there is a serious problem of a professional education, that of narrow-mindedness. But I do not believe that a ‘literary’ education is the remedy; for it may create its own peculiar kind of narrow-mindedness, its peculiar snobbery. And in our day no man should be considered educated if he does not take an interest in science. The usual defence that an interest in electricity or stratigraphy need not be more enlightening than an interest in human affairs only betrays a complete lack of understanding of human affairs. For science is not merely a collection of facts about electricity, etc.; it is one of the most important spiritual movements of our day. Anybody who does not attempt to acquire an understanding of this movement cuts himself off from the most remarkable development in the history of human affairs. Our so-called Arts Faculties, based upon the theory that by means of a literary and historical education they introduce the student into the spiritual life of man, have therefore become obsolete in their present form. There can be no history of man which excludes a history of his intellectual struggles and achievements; and there can be no history of ideas which excludes the history of scientific ideas. But literary education has an even more serious aspect. Not only does it fail to educate the student, who is often to become a teacher, to an understanding of the greatest spiritual movement of his own day, but it also often fails to educate him to intellectual honesty. Only if the student experiences how easy it is to err, and how hard to make even a small advance in the field of knowledge, only then can he obtain a feeling for the standards of intellectual honesty, a respect for truth, and a disregard of authority and bumptiousness. But nothing is more necessary to-day than the spread of these modest intellectual virtues. ‘The mental power’, T. H. Huxley wrote in A Liberal Education, ‘which will be of most importance in your .. life will be the power of seeing things as they are without regard to authority ... But at school and at college, you shall know of no source of truth but authority.’ I admit that, unfortunately, this is true also of many courses in science, which by some teachers is still treated as if it was a ‘body of knowledge’, as the ancient phrase goes. But this idea will one day, I hope, disappear; for science can be taught as a fascinating part of human history—as a quickly developing growth of bold hypotheses, controlled by experiment, and by criticism. Taught in this way, as a part of the history of ‘natural philosophy’, and of the history of problems and of ideas, it could become the basis of a new liberal University education; of one whose aim, where it cannot produce experts, will be to produce at least men who can distinguish between a charlatan and an expert. This modest and liberal aim will be far beyond anything that our Arts faculties nowadays achieve."

For a collection of Popper's critical comments on Platonic and Aristotelian education principles see this compilation.

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Karl Popper