Part I of The Philosophical Context: The Ancient Greeks

As I have shown in my previous entry, many individuals think that Rand’s philosophy has much potential. However, I have not defined concretely what Rand’s Objectivism is because I think its philosophical context needs to be understood first. I will explore Rand’s philosophy in more detail as I reveal my own philosophy. But before I do so, we need to know what other major philosophers there are besides Objectivists. What is going to follow is some original analysis, and I am going to linger here, for this topic is very important. Those of you who are unsure whether you need to know any of this should first read Rand’s essay Philosophy: Who Needs It.

The Beginning of Western Philosophy

Most known great thinkers come from the Golden Age of Ancient Greece (5-3rd century BC), following the Ionian Enlightenment in the 6th century BC. Early in this period, there were many other important thinkers, who sometimes are overlooked due to the preference of later philosophers. The first Western philosopher is considered to be Anaximander, who was a student of Thales of Miletus, the first pre-Socratic, for Anaximander wrote the first philosophical text, in which he successfully integrated the Eastern and Western ways of thought in the concept and principle of Apeiron, the boundless–the source, from whence all transpire and whither all return.[1] His imaginative ideas greatly affected the development of biology and geology and founded astronomy and cosmology. Unfortunately, only fragments remain of Anaximander’s great work, and even these fragments are merely excerpts quoted by other writers. However, Anaximander had affected virtually all the following pre-Socratic philosophers, including Pythagoras, who in turn influenced Plato.

Plato and Aristotle

As some philosophers have said, all of Western philosophy is “a series of footnotes to Plato.” Plato was a master idealist who affected all future developments in philosophy, politics, and literature (Introduction and Analysis of the Republic). Plato had also built the foundation for a metaphysical science, and he taught and inspired “the first genuine scientist” in history–Aristotle. Yet Aristotle was more than a scientist: not only had he combined inductive and deductive thinking in an all-encompassing philosophy, but he also established the objective art of rhetoric. Aristotle tried to understand Plato’s ideas, but in contrast to Plato, who considered metaphysical universals to be the only true, objective reality, Aristotle saw the world as inherently physical. Aristotle’s view of reality consisted of physical objects that he perceived, to which he applied metaphysics in order to study them. Hence, in the philosophic sense, Aristotle wasn’t a Platonist, but both philosophers complemented each other well.

Plato was more religious than Aristotle, for Plato believed that perceived reality is like shadows cast by objects by the means of the true light – the One, shining upon and united with the ideal city. And your immortal soul, Plato believed, belongs to this city, where true ideas are ideal forms, which can be expressed geometrically and mathematically. It can be seen that Plato viewed the world conceptually but applied physical perceptions to prove or analyze his ideas that were supposed to fill or form them. Aristotle, on the other hand, was a realist, and, in addition, by making ideas dependent on and within the physical realm, he reshaped Platonic idealism into practicable mysticism,[2] with which he imbued his metaphysics (e.g., Aristotle’s theology of the unmoved mover, i.e., God), his ethics, and his view of the soul (De Anima). He also believed in the importance of emotions (Rhetoric) and their purification, or katharsis (Poetics). Above all, metaphysics was the means, not the end, or true reality, for Aristotle. From this analysis, I am going to conclude that Plato was a physicalistic metaphysicist, and Aristotle was a metaphysical physicalist.[3] The what and how of each philosopher were reversed (see Figure 1 of The Complete Reality Hypothesis).

The Complete Reality Hypothesis, Plato and Aristotle

Figure 1

The what, or object, of reality – 1;
the how, or means of perceiving or conceiving, of reality – 2
Plato: P2, M1 — physicalistic metaphysicist (realistic idealist)
Aristotle: M2, P1 — metaphysical physicalist (idealistic realist/mystic)

This was all well and good until, much later, another important philosopher would arrive at the scene. He would revolutionize philosophy and lead to the modern conceptions of science. This philosopher is named Immanuel Kant, and he will be the subject of the next week’s entry.

[1] Notice the similarity of Apeiron to Chinese Tao, Indian Para Brahman, and Jewish Ayn Sof.

[2] I know that I am stretching the definition of mysticism here or at least calling Aristotle a mystic in a non-traditional sense. I want to stress the importance of Aristotle’s mystic ideas about the soul, emotions, and ethics, which are somehow ignored in favor of Aristotelian logic, physics, or sciences in general. I believe that Aristotle shows signs of humanism exactly because of the mystic “heart” or directionality of his philosophy and not because of his scientific ideas. The schisms between emotions and ideas, science and rhetoric (for those who misunderstand: positive emotions should be allowed to guide one’s ideas just as rhetoric should be allowed to guide one’s science) are especially relevant today, perhaps being rooted in an incomplete understanding of Aristotle, such as the misinterpretation by Peter Ramus. Once again, Aristotle wasn’t only a beginning mystic, but a realist/mystic, yet his nascent mysticism should not be ignored.

[3] When discussing philosophers, I will use adjectives to mean the way they view reality. These adjectives mean an auxiliary or supporting philosophy, the tools or means of cognition–in other words, the “how” or “why,” or the directionality, of their philosophy. The nouns will signify their primary view of reality– the “what,” the position, or the objects of perception (which does not have to be perception itself, but can be sensation or conception as well). I am using sensation, perception, and conception in Rand’s meaning from her epistemological theory of concepts, which will be explored in more detail in later posts.


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