‘Doubt Truth to Be a Liar’, ostensibly the book being reviewed here, is a championing of the ideas ofdial...more Book 3: The Basic Instruments Of Philosophy
‘Doubt Truth to Be a Liar’, ostensibly the book being reviewed here, is a championing of the ideas of dialetheism, which argues that some contradictions can indeed be true. Priest mounts an effective challenge against Aristotle’s fundamental Law of Non-Contradiction (as we will see, it is the heart of Book 3), and against the many philosophies and arguments that have grown up around Aristotle’s First Principle. This book is much more than a discussion on this particular book of the Metaphysics and touches on a variety of other Aristotelean works. But since I want to have something on each book of my Metaphysics reading up (so that I am forced to move to the next book only after I organize and summarize my notes of the former and because this book was a fascinating and well-argued counter to Aristotle’s flat-out assertion, and especially since the Symposium Aristotelicum is not available for this particular book) I have chosen this review as a place to primarily discuss Book 3 -- This is a disservice to Priest’s book which is wonderful reading if you want to explore further the role that contradiction plays in our thinking and logical maneuvering. Do check out other reviewers for more on the book.
I am using my parallel readings on Aristotle & Metaphysics to keep my notes/understanding of each book in separate pockets before bringing them together in a final review, if that is possible.
Book Gamma: Going Further
After the historical surveys and problems discussed in the first two books, Aristotle is now in a position to give his famous assertion on what is presumably his definitive statement of what philosophy and especially metaphysics is — It is the study of "being qua being". That is, while other sciences investigate limited aspects of being, metaphysics investigates being itself. This study of being qua being amounts to be the same thing as the study of the primary causes and principles, which has previously been said to be the task of philosophy, because the primary causes and principles are the causes and principles of being qua being.
This is because Being itself is primarily identified with the idea of substance, and also with unity, plurality (as we are later told, philosophy will interest itself in plurality, the contrary of unity, since all sciences study contraries, and so consider difference, dissimilarity, etc.), and a variety of other related concepts. Aristotle implies that he will be investigating these soon.
But before he sets out on the investigation, Aristotle needs to make his readers familiar with the basic tools of argumentation since proper, rigorous philosophy is also concerned with logic and the principles of demonstration, which are also very general, and hence concerned with being itself — In making this addition, he is resolving the dilemma posed by puzzle 2 of book Beta. Ideally, Aristotle seems to be saying, the reader should already be familiar with the Organon’s arguments before he/she goes further than this book. The bulk of the rest of book Gamma is, accordingly, devoted to the defense of the fundamental principles of demonstration/logic. Aristotle evidently feels that it will not be possible to be certain about the conclusions later to be drawn about substance, unless the principles of demonstration itself have first been vindicated.
The most fundamental principle according to Aristotle, the only thing he is prepared to elevate to the level of an axiom, is the principle of noncontradiction: nothing can both be something and not be that same something. To Aristotle, this is the First Principle of logical demonstration, which though not of course deducible, is the ultimate principle governing all being and all knowledge. Aristotle defends this principle exhaustively by arguing that it is impossible to contradict it coherently. Aristotle also presents in this connection the principle of non-contradiction is the Principle of the Excluded Middle, which states that there is no logical middle position possible between two contradictory positions. That is, a thing is either x or not-x, and there is no third possibility in-between those two positions.
Back on The Attack
Book Gamma concludes by looking back at Books 1 & 2 and uses the new principles the readers have now been made familiar with to launch another attack on, and reject, the several general claims of earlier philosophers: that everything is true, that everything is false, that everything is at rest, and that everything is in motion.
Aristotle proves that these claims amount to a rejection of the principle of non-contradiction. First, he deals with those who claim either that everything is true or that everything is false. Each of these claims is in fact self-destructive: if everything is true, then so is the denial that everything is true, and if everything is false, then so is the claim that everything is false. Secondly, he also refutes those who claim either that everything is at rest or that everything is in motion. That everything is not at rest is shown by the fact that the very proponent of the claim himself came into existence at some time in the past. That everything is not in motion is shown by the fact that for anything to be in motion there must be something which is not in motion and also by the fact that there are some things that are eternal.
The question of Motion, whether there is something permanently in motion and whether there is primary cause of motion which is itself permanently unmoving, is to be explored at greater length in book Lambda. In this book Aristotle expertly connects this fundamental exploration of metaphysics to the mistakes of his predecessors by subjecting them to the scrutiny of, according to him, the most basic techniques of demonstrative philosophy. After Book 2’s seemingly ‘unsolvable’ puzzles, if any reader felt that they might be in for a shaky and doubtful ride, this book shows that Aristotle is completely in control of the voyage and knows exactly where he is sailing. No worries.(less)
-- The 16th Symposium Aristotelicum, dedicated to Book Beta of Aristotle’s Metaphysics, organized by...more Book 2: An Introduction to Philosophical Problems
-- The 16th Symposium Aristotelicum, dedicated to Book Beta of Aristotle’s Metaphysics, organized by Michel Crubellier and Andre Laks, was held in Lille from 20 to 24 August, 2002, in the premises of the Ecole Superieure de Commerce de Lille. --
I am using my parallel reading of Symposium Aristotelicum (SA) to keep my notes/understanding of each book in separate pockets before bringing them together in a final review, if that is possible.
This was a wonderful book to have a Symposium on since Aristotle poses the 14+1 questions and leaves them open ended. So it is good to discuss them further and in detail by ourselves before going on to see how Aristotle resolves them indirectly.
Each of the Aporia are tackled in turn (starting from Zero!) in this SA.
Fifteen Metaphysical Puzzles
The Book Beta consists of a series of fifteen metaphysical puzzles (also called Aporia, since they are left unresolved) on the nature of first principles, substance, and other fundamental concepts. In each case, Aristotle presents a thesis and a contradicting antithesis, both of which could be taken as possible answers to the puzzle.
Here are the puzzles, in summary form:
(i) Can one science treat of all the four causes?
(ii) Are the primary axioms treated of by the science of substance, and if not, by what science?
(iii) Can one science treat of all substances?
(iv) Does the science of substance treat also of its attributes?
(v) Are there any non-sensible substances, and if so, of how many kinds?
(vi) Are the genera, or the constituent parts, of things their first principles?
(vii) If the genera, is it the highest genera or the lowest?
(viii) Is there anything apart from individual things?
(ix) Is each of the first principles one in kind, or in number?
(x) Are the principles of perishable and of imperishable things the same?
(xi) Are being and unity substances or attributes?
(xii) Are the objects of mathematics substances?
(xiii) Do Ideas exist, as well as sensible things and the objects of mathematics?
(xiv) Do the first principles exist potentially or actually?
(xv) Are the first principles universal or individual?
The characteristic structure of these problems is that of a plausible seeming thesis and an equally plausible but contradictory antithesis — well defined questions announced in the form of an alternative: ‘Is it ___ , or rather ___ ?’
The care with which the contrasting arguments are balanced and the constant repetition of the same procedure for each of the fifteen aporiai give the appearance of a practice governed by strict rules. One might well think that such presentation of the question in a standard form, which would require perhaps certain methodological rules and criteria of success for its development and resolution, would constitute part of dialectic, in the Aristotelian sense of the term, that is to say, the technique of discussion.
Usually, the thesis and antithesis are taken one from the extreme naturalists or Atomists, the other from the Idealists, Pythagoreans and Platonists. The purpose of the whole exercise is to illustrate the poverty of both these extreme positions, so as to prepare the way for the exposition of Aristotle’s own solution throughout the rest of the Metaphysics, which will in many respects be a compromise between materialism and idealism.
Thus we could consider them as the statement of Thesis & Antithesis of each of these positions and we can assume the rest of Metaphysics as a mediation, i.e., as a Synthesis.
Aporia as a Dialectical Instrument
In the brief introduction before plunging us into the puzzles, Aristotle gives a quick explanation for the employment of this method:
We must, with a view to the science which we are seeking, first recount the subjects that should be first discussed. These include both the other opinions that some have held on the first principles, and any point besides these that happens to have been overlooked.
For those who wish to get clear of difficulties it is advantageous to discuss the difficulties well; for the subsequent free play of thought implies the solution of the previous difficulties, and it is not possible to untie a knot of which one does not know.
But the difficulty of our thinking points to a ‘knot’ in the object; for in so far as our thought is in difficulties, it is in like case with those who are bound; for in either case it is impossible to go forward. Hence one should have surveyed all the difficulties beforehand, both for the purposes we have stated and because people who inquire without first stating the difficulties are like those who do not know where they have to go; […] while to him who has first discussed the difficulties it is clear.
Further, he who has heard all the contending arguments, as if they were the parties to a case, must be in a better position for judging.
This excerpt (slightly modified for brevity) shows clearly that Aristotle sees the Aporia as a the logical next step after the Book 1, which was a literature survey, or a ‘doxographical’ survey.
Doxography and Aporia are two means of beginning a philosophical inquiry, ones which can be rivals, but which can also be employed together. In particular, aporia presupposes, to a certain extent at any rate, the existence and the consideration of opinions on the question, but it is not reducible to this.
Doxography is oriented toward the past, while Aporia anticipates the pursuit of inquiry —
The former is to know what others have thought, to try to under stand what they have wished to say and even, to a certain point, to sort out what is true and what false in this, while the latter is to methodically to construct a philosophical problem in the belief that this represents a step in the apprehension of a matter that is difficult to comprehend.
Book Beta and The Project of Wisdom
The principal presupposition, which is found in the background of all the books of the Metaphysics is of a programmatic nature: This is the grand project/quest — of a knowledge called ‘wisdom’, or ‘Primary Knowledge.’ We can call this The Project of Wisdom as short for “The Project of a Primary Knowledge.” Or we can just call it Metaphysics, even though Aristotle never called it that!
Thus this ‘Project of Wisdom’, or 'Metaphysics', mobilizes philosophical material that had been progressively developed, beginning with Plato, right down to Aristotle himself in Book Alpha. And this is why, despite the difference of form, Book Beta is in a sense the proper continuation of Book Alpha. It takes up the story where the other left it off, since the sequence covered by the Aporia of Beta proceeded from Thales to Plato — proving clearly that Aristotle was continuing his presentation in this book.
Aristotelian doxography of Book Alpha presents us the views of his predecessors, even if in a slightly sarcastic and personal way — Aristotle must have realized that his listeners might be tempted to take sides in such a presentation, even (occasionally) against his own very strong position. At least, this reader was!
But the Aristotelian Aporia of Book 2 submits the contents of their statements (of the predecessors’) to the test of argumentation and to a standard that requires rational coherence. When the aporia is presented as a contradiction, the tension is maximal — Here the serious reader will have to let go of any last whimsical fancies and biases; and one finds oneself in definite impasses, where the choice between two given theoretical positions presents itself as being at once necessary — and yet impossible.
Aristotle audaciously assures us, though, that the formal structure of the difficulty, once well understood, can teach us something about the nature of the object that has given birth to the difficulty, and that if we move forward with him, we will reach satisfactory resolutions.
This is an assurance that is hard to believe easily after this harrowing Book, but Aristotle now has our undivided attention!
By writing, he could escape futile self-analysis through assuming a higher perspective.
I was tempted to pick this up as I struggled through The Castle...more By writing, he could escape futile self-analysis through assuming a higher perspective.
I was tempted to pick this up as I struggled through The Castle. This VSI presents a minutely personal and deliberately non-literary exploration of Kafka. The literary works are treated as works of self-analysis. I am not qualified to comment on the correctness of this approach, but I can say that it was quite unsatisfactory.
In any case, it would have been impossible to decode Kafka or say baldly what Kafka’s work is ‘about’. There is no way into Kafka except by reading Kafka and puzzling over Kafka.(less)
Kaufman (author more than translator, I feel) boasts: In this work you will learn how people are to be treated an...more Quick Demo: On Ruining a Classic Text
Kaufman (author more than translator, I feel) boasts: In this work you will learn how people are to be treated and dealt with. The work was written for men in command and leaders of states. It is for the ambitious and strong spirited; do not seek morality lessons here.
Sun Tzu has been translated and interpreted countless times by people with little knowledge of true combat reality on either the physical or mental level.
Most of the available translations and interpretations maintain a poetic approach that really doesn’t pertain to the times we are living in. There is a tendency to maintain a “mystique” regarding ancient knowledge. This is quaint, relative to today’s aggressive personality. We are living in a global network and must think in decisive terms if we are to succeed.
He also chooses to leave out the valuable commentaries, which are supposed to be as much a part of the work as the original.
He says: In reality, who cares what Ch’en Fu thinks about Sun Tzu’s hidden meaning about the jade stalk in the midst of the enemy’s goldfish pond? We are grown-up and intelligent enough to develop our own understanding without the need for quaint allegories. There is nothing sacred here. I find that approach unnecessary, limiting, and a waste of time to the educated reader.
And here is a fun fact:
As an acknowledged and world-recognized martial arts master, a Hanshi (which is the highest rank attainable), I am thoroughly aware of my responsibility for the interpretation of this doctrine, and I have made it incumbent upon myself to explain Sun Tzu’s tenets as I perceive them in a definitive manner.
— Must have recently taken a crash course on how to prepare a CV!
Well, the book is a bore and a complete failure. It does no justice to Sun Tzu’s masterpiece and is worse than the regular self-help fare because it has only pretentiousness (of being tough, goal-oriented, warlord-like, if you please) and no real intention of even trying to 'help' any non-delusional executive.
There is a reason why The Art of War is always presented poetically — it is so that the metaphors can be interpreted by the reader and applied as they want, so that they can understand the spirit of planned and prepared combat/conduct and apply that in life. That is why Art of war is an enduring an much loved classic.
The author obviously has no clue about all this. He thinks it is a good idea to just present the text as-is, without ornamentation, without poetry, without any hints at broader applications beyond the battleground — Because the global corporation IS a battleground! Hello!
Not realizing that once you strip away the poetry, you also strip the power of metaphor and what you have left is a dated txt that talks of war and claims to be for managers. It makes no sense to be told in plain prose to poison your enemy and insult his wife. Idiotic, without even being entertaining. Takes all the fun out of reading a bad book.(less)
The Symposium Aristotelicum series is a splendid companion to have while reading Aristotle. This volume of...more Book 1: A Preliminary Outline of Philosophy
The Symposium Aristotelicum series is a splendid companion to have while reading Aristotle. This volume offers a chapter-by-chapter commentary on Alpha, the first book of the Metaphysics, along with comprehensive essays on various topics.
It is important to understand Alpha well. Here Aristotle presents what he means by philosophy and what is involved in the search for truth. Aristotle opens the book by broaching a topic which is to be of recurring concern throughout the work -- What is the nature of philosophy?
Aristotle tells us that we can tackle this tricky question by first exploring a few by-ways. He does this by inviting us to first figuring out what should be the proper object of philosophical interest. The simple answer is: Wisdom. But that only leads us to more question: What is wisdom? How can we reach it with our limited human capabilities? Can we?
What is wisdom? Aristotle tries to answer this by listing out the characteristics of ‘wisdom’ (philosophy) -- he claims that wisdom is a process with many constituent steps: we reach it by advancing from 1) sensation (or, sense-perception) through 2) memory to 3) experience, and 4) art, to 5) theoretical knowledge.
Once we are capable of applying this experience/knowledge of the particular to the universal, then we approach Wisdom. But it is not just any knowledge that is enough. Aristotle also ranks types of wisdom/knowledge. The that knowledge of universals is somehow higher or more valuable than that of particular things, and that kind of universal knowledge is the Highest, which tries helps to understand the fundamental causes and principles of all things. This is the Highest Science and since Philosophy is study of the Highest Science, it is thus proved that this is the True Domain of the True Philosopher.
True Philosophy is thus the search for the most fundamental causes and principles of the most general aspects of the world. And a true philosopher will demonstrate his wisdom by being able to teach and impart his knowledge to others. That is the final test, which apparently A was passing in flying colors even as he was delivering this very lecture!
The Doxographical K.O.!
Before he embarks on this himself, he catalogues and examines the paths taken by earlier philosophers, and surveys these previous philosophies,from Thales to Plato, especially their treatment of causes --There are four kinds of cause, or rather kinds of explanation, for how things are: (1) the material cause, which explains what a thing is made of; (2) the formal cause, which explains the form a thing assumes; (3) the efficient cause, which explains the process by which it came into being; and (4) the final cause, which explains the end or purpose it serves.
In this ‘doxographical’ survey, Aristotle condescends that the explanations of earlier philosophers have conformed to these four causes but not as coherently and systematically as Aristotle’s formulation. Aristotle acknowledges that Plato’s Theory of Forms gives a strong account of the formal cause, but it fails to prove that Forms exist and to explain how objects in the physical world participate in Forms. It is only fair to say that he takes them apart mercilessly.
Conclusion? Most tried to search for material causes, a few searched for efficient causes and a select few stumbled close to searching for the formal causes, but all of them without any systematic understanding about the objectives of philosophy, all of them stumbling in the dark... they were either naive, wrong or obscure in their formulations. To be of any use, they have to be integrated into Aristotle's system of thought. Thus he draws his survey of earlier thought to a triumphant conclusion, vindicating his claim that every serious attempt at explanation of the world must fit into one of his four approved styles. It is just that they did not know it yet!
By laying out the historical path/development of Philosophical thought in an organized way, Aristotle also pioneers a 'sense of development', as if whole of philosophy was developing, even if unaware of it, towards his grand synthesis. This conception (or conceit?) of science and knowledge is something that we moderns love to embrace with elation.
A Personal Note
To me Alpha was a fun read, to have demonstrated by the "Master' himself how it is done -- to challenge openly and without question all established doctrines, no matter how prestigious. Though the effect is spoiled a bit by Aristotle’s evident hostility towards anything remotely tending towards poor Pythagoras. It is a miracle that he still has a decent reputation.
But it also showed me an important contrast between Plato/Socrates and Aristotle. Plato shows a more lenient, accepting way of challenging conventional wisdom, while Aristotle prefers to tackle and reject, almost heedlessly. Current scholarly opinion seems to be of the view that Aristotle was slightly on the reckless side, perhaps reducing the arguments he was challenging into straw-men that he could easily knock down without acknowledging fully their importance or contributions to his own thought.
In any case, it is great that Metaphysics opens on such an entertaining and personal note. It makes the first acquaintance less intimidating than would have been expected.(less)
Cherniss’ book is a compilation of lectures focused on the conflict arising from the existence of a clear and fundamental discrepanc...more ARISTOTLE’S PLATO
Cherniss’ book is a compilation of lectures focused on the conflict arising from the existence of a clear and fundamental discrepancy, between the theory of ideas as it appears in Plato's Dialogues and what Aristotle represents as being Plato's theory of ideas. Cherniss uses his investigation into this discrepancy to shed new light on the nature and working of the early Academy.
He says that Aristotle’s representations, such as the identification of the ideas with ‘nonmathematical’ numbers, and the derivation of these idea-numbers from two ultimate principles, (the One and the dyad of the great and the small), which principles are at the same time the causes of good and of evil respectively — of all this there is not a word in the Platonic dialogues
Cherniss’ lectures are not merely attacks on Aristotle’s misrepresentation of Plato however. He also shows that much of the fault lies in modern commentators for one is likely to find it stated in modern treatises that Aristotle "constantly" attributes the doctrine of idea numbers to Plato and even that he knows of but one Platonic philosophy, that which identifies the ideas with numbers. This, he says, is clearly an exaggeration and is does no justice to the complexity of the Aristotelian evidence. But despite this concession, we have to accept that Aristotle does in fact ascribe to Plato the doctrine of idea-numbers.
This disconnect between Plato and Aristotle forces the scholars into uncomfortable arguments. Two options stand open to them:
1. They can allow the dialogues to stand as expressions of Plato's own thought and admit that the theory of ideas in the dialogues is Plato's own doctrine — thus reject Aristotle’s testimony on Plato.
This would imply that:
a. Aristotle either deliberately misrepresented Plato
b. Did not understand Plato
Clearly both of these were anathema to scholars for much of modern history.
Thus they chose the second argument.
2. Accepting Aristotle's testimony concerning the idea-numbers.
This would imply that:
a. They have to assert (and strive to prove) that the theory of ideas underwent at Plato's hands a radical alteration or a radical development
b. This new form of the Theory was never committed to writing by Plato and can be recovered only from the reports of Aristotle and the fragmentary references which seem to derive from the writings of Plato's students.
Cherniss claims that to preserve the integrity of Aristotle, these scholars have used fragmentary evidence of one lecture given by an elderly Plato to construct an elaborate story of how Plato used to give lectures on the more esoteric subjects that were never committed to writing and hence is not available to us. Contrary to popular understanding, Cherniss shows very clearly that only ONE lecture of Plato is ever alluded to and there is no reason to extend that evidence to attribute an entire teaching style and alien philosophy to Plato, especially when contemporary commentaries never attribute any extra philosophies, lectures or extant works to Plato. Nor is the required reconstruction supported even by the remaining accounts of Plato's one attested lecture, for what credible ancient testimony there is for that lecture on the Good indicates that in it there was no specific identification of ideas and numbers.
The hypothesis of an oral Platonic doctrine thus rests on very shaky ground.
Cherniss continues his investigation by examining Plato and Aristotle side by side and concludes that Aristotle’s reports have discrepancies. Aristotle's evidence itself, he shows us, are testifying against itself, by attributing different versions of the theory to Plato. Cherniss, disdaining this creation of such an elaborate insubstantial doctrine for plato, proposes the alternative hypothesis, that the identification of ideas and numbers was not a theory of Plato's at all but the result of Aristotle's own interpretation.
Unravelling the Riddle
By elaborate comparative analyses, Cherniss shows us that not only was Aristotle’s conception o the Thoery of Ideas and idea-numbers different from Palto, but so were those of Plato’s other successors and students — Speusippus (Plato’s nephew) and Xenocrates, among others, developed their own contending versions of Plato’s theories, just like Aristotle did.
This examination leads Cherniss to speculate on the nature of the early Academy itself — upon the question of Plato's activity there, and of his relation to these men who are usually called his "pupils."
How could they have misinterpreted the master's writings when he was there to explain his meaning to them ? Did he think it unimportant to teach his pupils to understand and accept the doctrine of ideas? If he did not teach them this, of which he wrote with such fervor, what did he teach them ? And if he taught them something else, why did he not write that which he taught?
What, then, did Plato really do in his Academy?
After further brilliant analyses, Cherniss concludes that: Plato’s role appears to have been not that of a "master" or even of a seminar director distributing subjects for research reports or prize essays, but that of an individual thinker whose insight and skill in the formulation of a problem enables him to offer general advice and methodical criticism to other individual thinkers who respect his wisdom and who may be dominated by his personality but who consider themselves at least as competent as they consider him in dealing with the details of special subjects.
Cherniss also uses a powerful, but in my opinion weak, argument — that extrapolates the educational system laid out in The Republic onto the possible structure of the Academy — to show why it was that Aristotle was never really a ‘philosophical’ student of Plato. After all, Plato would not have imparted real philosophical training to anyone under 50 year of age under his own scheme in The Republic, and Aristotle was around 38 years of age when Plato died. This is a remarkably clever argument, and I enjoyed it immensely but there is unfortunately no evidence to make such a claim about the structure of the Academy.
In the end Cherniss musters all the evidence and shows us how they all point unmistakably to the same conclusion: The Academy was not a school in which an orthodox metaphysical doctrine was taught, or an association the members of which were expected to subscribe to the theory of ideas.
If this was so, then it was only natural for Aristotle to develop his own theories. Thus, while Plato gets a very favorable, almost laudatory, conclusion, Cherniss leaves us with an Aristotle who either distorted or misunderstood the works of Plato, though the distortion was much more subtle than it has been portrayed by popular treatises and commentaries.
The only consolation is that Plato probably would not have minded the bold explorations of his student, even when occasionally at the expense of his pet ideas, which he always knew were ‘difficult to accept, and difficult to reject.’
I would like to move away from Cherniss in this conclusion to take a less extreme view and entertain the possibility that perhaps Aristotle was talking of the Academy in general when he talked of ‘Platonist’ ideas and not of Plato in particular — maybe he could take this liberty of expression because his audience would have understood what he was referring to better than we do now.
This is a valuable work to read while transitioning from study of Plato to Aristotle. It provides perspective and understanding about Aristotle’s positions and keeps the reader from getting lost, or worse, questioning his own understanding of Plato.(less)
This book is designed to lead the interested reader on to further learning through the reading lists that are attached to many of the entries. The aut...more This book is designed to lead the interested reader on to further learning through the reading lists that are attached to many of the entries. The author says that the original aim was to compile the 100 greatest management ideas and the 100 greatest gurus of the 20th century, an average of one big thought and one big thinker per year. Would have been a great idea. Obviously, that didn’t happen.
Hindle makes an interesting demarkation to help classify the thinkers:
1. The idea that management is a science — represented most notably by F.W. Taylor’s ideas about “scientific management” 2. The idea that management is an art — represented most memorably perhaps by Douglas McGregor’s Theory Y.
This divide can be said to account for the two main disciplines that management gurus come from:
1. Social science — represented by Elton Mayo, McGregor, Abraham Maslow and Elliott Jaques; and 2. Engineering — represented by Taylor, Michael Porter, Michael Hammer and Taiichi Ohno.
I thought this was a nice and informative way to organize the book and also very useful to keep in mind while reading management text books. It was the best part of the book.(less)
I enjoyed this VSI. What was most valuable was that it gave me a good frame of reference to tackle Aristotle — by letting me...more On Approaching Aristotle
I enjoyed this VSI. What was most valuable was that it gave me a good frame of reference to tackle Aristotle — by letting me prepare for Aristotle in relation to Plato. Of course, Jonathan Barnes mostly assumes that the the reader has already taken the trouble to read Plato. That is the trouble with inviting such a distinguished scholar to write a basic introduction.
This was just what I needed as I prepare to take my first tentative steps towards a fuller reading of Aristotle (having a dabbled a bit with Rhetoric before). Putting Aristotle’s works in perspective by relating them to their points of departure from Plato, makes a whole corpus suddenly much more familiar and in tune with things I have been reading and thinking about for months on end now. The VSI only hints at this and does not do this exhaustively, but that is enough and the reader can do the heavy slugging on their own.
The Popularity Contest
Besides directing the studies in the Academy, Plato himself gave lectures and his hearers took notes. It is important to notice that these lectures were not published, and that they stand in contrast to the dialogues, which were published works meant for "popular" reading.
If we realize this fact, then some of the sharp differences that we naturally tend to discern between Plato and Aristotle disappear, at least in part:
We possess Plato's popular works, his dialogues, but not his lectures. The situation is the exact opposite in regard to Aristotle, for while the works of Aristotle that are in our hands represent his lectures, his popular works or dialogues have not come down to us—only fragments remain. We do not possess a record of the lectures that he delivered in the Academy (though we have more or less cryptic references in Aristotle), and this would be all the more to be regretted if those are right who would see in the dialogues popular work designed for the educated laymen, to be distinguished from the lectures delivered to professional students of philosophy.
We cannot, therefore, by a comparison of Plato's dialogues with Aristotle's lectures, draw conclusions, without further evidence, as to a strong opposition between the two philosophers in point of literary ability, for instance, or emotional, aesthetic and "mystical" outlook.
We are told that Aristotle used to relate how those who came to hear Plato's lecture on the Good, were often astonished to hear of nothing but arithmetic and astronomy, and of the limit and the One. So we can assume that if we had only his lecture notes, even the supremely inventive Plato might be able to bore us!
An Unfair Contrast
Thus we have a queer situation here. What has come down to us from Plato were exactly the material he had designed to be read by the public, while most of the surviving writings of Aristotle were perhaps never intended to be read; for it seems likely that the treatises which we possess were almost wholly put together later from Aristotle’s lecture notes.
The notes were made for his own use and not for public dissemination. They were no doubt tinkered with over a period of years. Moreover, although some of the treatises owe their structure to Aristotle himself, others were plainly put together by later editors – the Nicomachean Ethics is evidently not a unitary work, the Metaphysics is plainly a set of essays rather than a continuous treatise. In the light of this, it will hardly be a surprise to find that the style of Aristotle’s works is often rugged.
Plato’s dialogues are finished literary artefacts, the subtleties of their thought matched by the tricks of their language. Aristotle’s writings for the most part are terse. His arguments are concise. There are abrupt transitions, inelegant repetitions, obscure allusions. Paragraphs of continuous exposition are set among staccato jottings. The language is spare and sinewy. If the treatises are unpolished, that is in part because Aristotle had felt no need and no urge to take down the beeswax. But only in part; for Aristotle had reflected on the appropriate style for scientific writing and he favoured simplicity.
Aristotle could write finely – his style was praised by ancient critics who read works of his which we cannot – and some parts of the surviving items are done with power and even with panache. But he probably did not feel the need for it in his lectures, where the premium was on packing maximum information into limited time available, much like today.
The Best Approach to Aristotle
All this is not to suggest that reading the treatises is a dull slog. Aristotle has a vigour which is the more attractive the better it is known; and the treatises, which have none of the camouflage of Plato’s dialogues, reveal their author’s thoughts – or at least appear to do so – in a direct and stark fashion.
Above all, Aristotle is tough. A good way of reading him is this: Take up a treatise, think of it as a set of lecture notes, and imagine that you now have to lecture from them. You must expand and illustrate the argument, and you must make the transitions clear; you will probably decide to relegate certain paragraphs to footnotes, or reserve them for another time and another lecture; and if you have any talent at all as a lecturer, you will find that the jokes add themselves.
Let it be admitted that Aristotle can be not only tough but also vexing. Whatever does he mean here? How on earth is this conclusion supposed to follow from those premises? Why this sudden barrage of technical terms? One ancient critic claimed that ‘he surrounds the difficulty of his subject with the obscurity of his language, and thus avoids refutation – producing darkness, like a squid, in order to make himself hard to capture’. Every reader will, from time to time, think of Aristotle as a squid. But the moments of vexation are outnumbered by the moments of elation. Aristotle’s treatises offer a peculiar challenge to their readers; and once you have taken up the challenge, you would not have the treatises in any other form.
It is easy to imagine that you can overhear Aristotle talking to himself.(less)
The book is like a slightly expanded and selective index of common economic ideas. Useful for a quick glance. This index-of-an-index is for reference:...more The book is like a slightly expanded and selective index of common economic ideas. Useful for a quick glance. This index-of-an-index is for reference:
01. The invisible hand
the condensed idea:Self-interest is good for society
02. Supply and demand
the condensed idea: Something is perfectly priced when supply equals demand
03. The Malthusian trap
‘Malthus has been buried many times, and Malthusian scarcity with him. But as Garrett Hardin remarked, anyone who has to be reburied so often cannot be entirely dead.’
‘Comparative advantage. That it is logically true need not be argued before a mathematician; that it is not trivial is attested by the thousands of important and intelligent men who have never been able to grasp the doctrine for themselves or to believe it after it was explained to them.’
~ Paul Samuelson, US economist, in response to mathematician Stanislaw Ulam
the condensed idea: Specialization + free trade = win-win
‘The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.’
~ Winston Churchill
the condensed idea: The least worst way to run an economy
the condensed idea: Governments should spend to prevent deep recessions
the condensed idea: Control the growth of money
the condensed idea: An egalitarian, entirely state-run society
‘Once it has been perceived that the division of labour is the essence of society, nothing remains of the antithesis between individual and society. The contradiction between individual principle and social principle disappears.’
‘The first panacea for a mismanaged nation is inflation of the currency; the second is war. Both bring a temporary prosperity; both bring a permanent ruin. But both are the refuge of political and economic opportunists.’
~ Ernest Hemingway
the condensed idea: Keep prices rising slowly
20. Debt and deflation
the condensed idea: Falling prices can cripple an economy
the condensed idea: As inevitable as death
the condensed idea: Zero unemployment is impossible
23. Currencies and exchange rates
the condensed idea: The barometer of a country’s standing
24. Balance of payments
the condensed idea: The ledger of a country’s international economic relations
25. Trust and the law
the condensed idea: The irreplaceable foundations of society
26. Energy and oil
the condensed idea: Deal with oil shortages through innovation
27. Bond markets
the condensed idea: Bonds are the basis of government financing
‘What is robbing a bank compared with founding a bank?’
~ Bertolt Brecht
the condensed idea: Banks connect borrowers with lenders
29. Stocks and shares
the condensed idea: Stock markets sit at the heart of capitalism
30. Risky business
the condensed idea: Pass risk to those more willing to take it
31. Boom and bust
the condensed idea: Boom and bust are inevitable
32. Pensions and the welfare state
the condensed idea: Beware promising money you can’t give
33. Money markets
the condensed idea: Money markets make the financial world go round
34. Blowing bubbles
the condensed idea: Humans are addicted to bubbles
35. Credit crunches
‘The market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent.’