Aristotle Discusses the Language of Science

Bust of Aristotle. Marble, Roman copy after a ...

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Plato‘s star pupil, and the tutor of Alexander the Great, was more than just a speculator, a day-dreaming ponderer of ideas, for starting as early as the Pre-Socratics, the philosophers of ancient Greece were also the first known scientists of the West.

While attributed with a dislike of experimentation starting with Plato, Greek philosophy was very strong on mathematics, and though long division was the province of master mathematicians and the concept of Zero unheard of until the advent of Hindu-Arabic numerals, the Greeks were nonetheless capable of sophisticated calculations, which with some of Aristotle’s predecessors penchant for experiments, probably starting with Thales of Miletus, produced powerful, and for the time, advanced science.

Here, the father of Western thought puts in his two-cents on the matter of beauty in math, which in most educational systems is overlooked, conveying the image that math is boring, and that in using it, science strips all wonder and majesty from the world, reducing nature to a dull and lifeless reductionism.

Here, he roundly criticizes the claim that math has no use for matters of aesthetics or values, and that even in these regimes, it is a powerful and useful tool for quantifying the world, not just abstract thought disconnected from reality.

Those who assert that the mathematical sciences say nothing of the beautiful or the good are in error. For these sciences say and prove a great deal about them; if they do not expressly mention them, but prove attributes which are their results or definitions, it is not true that they tell us nothing about them. The chief forms of beauty are order and symmetry and definiteness, which the mathematical sciences demonstrate in a special degree.

–Aristotle

2 thoughts on “Aristotle Discusses the Language of Science

  1. It is too bad that Aristotle didn’t have the tools of Cartesian rationalism or Baconian empiricism at his disposal because he was on the right track …. Later Roman Catholic writers like Augustus would treat “the Philosopher,” as they called him, as if he were some kind of co-redeemer along with Jesus seemingly unaware of anything and everything that the great man ever stood for.

    When Galileo dropped two balls with the same surface area but of different weights and they hit ground at the same time the church pissed their pants … Not because Aristotelian physics was wrong but because it then called his Machiavellian view of politics into question and they felt that the entire basis of the elitist-class-system might be called into question …. And they were right …

    it should have been called into question but it wasn’t and this probably proves Aristotle’s over-riding theme that the general public is too stupid to effectively govern themselves … He was wrong about a boatload of stuff but on this one i can’t help but thinking that history as pretty much vindicated “The Philosopher.”

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