AristotleI have this weird thing about Aristotle. I don’t like him. I know that his was one of the greatest minds of all time, I know that he made valuable contributions to just about every field of study in existence, and I know that his influence has played a large part in the course of human history, but something about Aristotle just annoys me. In theory, I ought to like Aristotle, because one of his defining characteristics was a tendency to classify everything, and that is a tendency which I share. (For example, I am in the process of posting my list of top 250 favorite songs on youtube after spending about a month carefully sorting and organizing them, and I am also currently trying to classify emotions into a small set of primary emotions, so that I can better categorize and document the entire range of emotions and collect data on a multi-daily basis in order to determine how various factors of everyday life affect emotion, as well as cognitive ability, which I have already developed a method for quantifying. This is just the kind of thing I do for fun in my spare time.) Some of Aristotle’s contributions to the world include taxonomy, various fields of theoretical science,  the foundations of all mathematics and physics for subsequent centuries, organization of rhetorical techniques, deductive logic, and various other systematic modes of thought that are either dear to my heart or at least appealing to the natural tendencies of my brain. Basically what I’m saying here is that Aristotle was brilliant and apparently obsessed with organized thought, which is reason for me to admire him. But instead, he annoys me like crazy.

Part of this is because there are a few specific things he said that I dislike. The most obvious and significant examples are theological, because Aristotle wasn’t exactly a Christian. (Despite what Plotinus said centuries later)To be honest, I’m not quite clear on what Aristotle did believe, although I’ve always gotten the impression that his beliefs more or less corresponded to what is now called Deism; that is to say, he believed in a God who created the world and invented moral rules, but hasn’t been particularly involved in the world since then. Although Aristotle definitely believed in “The First Cause” and “The First Mover”, he clearly didn’t believe in the triune God and he didn’t discuss sin and salvation in the Christian sense. Yet his philosophical ideas somehow still got tied up into Christianity in medieval times. For this reason, Martin Luther hated him and had some very choice words to say about him, which is enough to verify to me that Aristotle is not to be liked. Granted, Aristotle lived before Christ, but still, the point is that he didn’t believe in THE God; he believed in a god that he made up out of his own logical thought process, which, as brilliant as it was, was still human and thus not entirely reliable.

As long as we’re on the topic of unreliability, it is worth noting that Aristotelian physics turned out to be totally messed up and wrong. They held sway until Newton and Galileo came along, but then it was thoroughly demonstrated that Aristotle was mistaken, which isn’t really all that surprising since he was just making stuff up based upon his casual observations. Yes, I know that theoretical physics means that hypotheses are formed without the immediate verification of precise experimental data, but theoretical physics isn’t good for much unless its conclusions are justified by subsequent developments and experiments. (I feel a need to point out that the physics of the last century plus a few years, based upon Einstein’s postulates and theories, have disproved some of Newton and Galileo’s theories, so Aristotle’s physics is now at two degrees of proven-wrong-ness.)

Categorical SyllogismsIn my logic notes from last semester, there’s a line that reads, “Yet another reason to be annoyed by Aristotle”. I didn’t even bother to write down what that reason was, because I knew I would remember. I was right; I remember both the note and the reason for the note even though I haven’t looked at those notes since the semester ended. This source of annoyance was the discrepancy between Boolean logic and Aristotelian logic in a case where Boolean logic is clearly better. Aristotle says that certain forms of categorical syllogisms are valid if the terms are existing things and invalid if the terms are non-existing things. That makes sense, except that the whole point of distinguishing between valid and invalid syllogism forms is that valid forms are valid regardless of what the terms are. According to the Boolean standpoint, if the truth of the syllogism relies upon whether or not the terms exist, then the form of the syllogism is valid. In other words, it is valid to say, “All unicorns are mammals and all mammals are animals; therefore, all unicorns are mammals” because, if both premises are true, then the conclusion is true. The fact that unicorns don’t exist (or so I’ve been told) is irrelevant because, if they did exist, they would clearly be animals if we can assume that they are mammals and that mammals are animals. But, according to Aristotle, the validity of the entire syllogism depends upon the existence of unicorns. For the sake of my logic class, we had to answer questions from both the Aristotelian standpoint and the Boolean standpoint, but I would like the record to show that I am totally on Boole’s side on this one.

Just look at his arrogant, self-satisfied smirk!

Just look at his arrogant, self-satisfied smirk!

But, despite his flaws in theology, physics, and (in my opinion) the rules of categorical syllogisms, the fact remains that Aristotle was a remarkably intelligent person and that he made remarkable contributions to every aspect of academia and human thought. I can fully justify my disdain of Aristotle only by acknowledging one other reason for it: I’m jealous of him. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest geniuses ever to live, and his thoughts have been among the most prominent thoughts ever thought for more than 2300 years now. My brain aspires to great genius and doesn’t like the fact that there have been minds so great that my mind will never achieve the success and accolade that they did. This may very well be the same reason that I find Einstein annoying and have tried so hard to deny the fact that nothing can travel faster than light. I now reluctantly agree that this is the case, because it has been mathematically demonstrated to me in various fascinating and undeniably clever ways. But I am so totally not happy about it.