Category Archives: Philosophy

Durant 1926: The Organization of Science (Aristotle)

Reference: The Story of Philosophy

This paper presents Chapter II, Section 4 from the book THE STORY OF PHILOSOPHY by WILL DURANT. The contents are from the 1933 reprint of this book by TIME INCORPORATED by arrangement with Simon and Schuster, Inc.

The paragraphs of the original material (in black) are accompanied by brief comments (in color) based on the present understanding.  Feedback on these comments is appreciated.

The heading below is linked to the original materials.


IV. The Organization of Science 

1. Greek Science Before Aristotle 

“Socrates,” says Renan, “gave philosophy to mankind, and Aristotle gave it science. There was philosophy before Socrates, and science before Aristotle; and since Socrates and since Aristotle, philosophy and science have made immense advances. But all has been built upon the foundation which they laid.” Before Aristotle, science was in embryo; with him it was born.

Earlier civilizations than the Greek had made attempts at science; but so far as we can catch their thought through their still obscure cuneiform and hieroglyphic script, their science was indistinguishable from theology. That is to say, these pre-Hellenic peoples explained every obscure operation in nature by some supernatural agency; everywhere there were gods. Apparently it was the Ionian Greeks who first dared to give natural explanations of cosmic complexities and mysterious events: they sought in physics the natural causes of particular incidents, and in philosophy a natural theory of the whole. Thales (640-550 B. C.), the “Father of Philosophy,” was primarily an astronomer, who astonished the natives of Miletus by informing them that the sun and stars (which they were wont to worship as gods) were merely balls of fire. His pupil Anaximander (610-540 B. C.), the first Greek to make astronomical and geographical charts, believed that the universe had begun as an undifferentiated mass, from which all things had arisen by the separation of opposites; that astronomic history periodically repeated itself in the evolution and dissolution of an infinite number of worlds; that the earth was at rest in space by a balance of internal impulsions (like Buridan’s ass); that all our planets had once been fluid, but had been evaporated by the sun; that life had first been formed in the sea, but had been driven upon the land by the subsidence of the water; that of these stranded animals some had developed the capacity to breathe air, and had so become the progenitors of all later land life; that man could not from the beginning have been what he now was, for if man, on his first appearance, had been so helpless at birth, and had required so long an adolescence, as in these later days, he could not possibly have survived. Anaximenes, another Milesian (fl. 450 B. C.), described the primeval condition of things as a very rarefied mass, gradually condensing into wind, cloud, water, earth, and stone; the three forms of matter—gas, liquid and solid—were progressive stages of condensation; heat and cold were merely rarefaction and condensation; earth-quakes were due to the solidification of an originally fluid earth; life and soul were one, an animating and expansive force present in everything everywhere. Anaxagoras (500-428 B. C.), teacher of Pericles, seems to have given a correct explanation of solar and lunar eclipses; he discovered the processes of respiration in plants and fishes; and he explained man’s intelligence by the power of manipulation that came when the fore-limbs were freed from the tasks of locomotion. Slowly, in these men, knowledge grew into science. 

First scientific advance was from supernatural agency to natural explanations. The first area of investigation was the heavens and then earth, matter and life; and, ultimately, the investigation of man.

Heraclitus (530-470 B. C.), who left wealth and its cares to live a life of poverty and study in the shade of the temple porticoes at Ephesus, turned science from astronomy to earthlier concerns. All things forever flow and change, he said; even in the stillest matter there is unseen flux and movement. Cosmic history runs in repetitious cycles, each beginning and ending in fire (here is one source of the Stoic and Christian doctrine of last judgment and hell). “Through strife,” says Heraclitus, “all things arise and pass away… War is the father and king of all: some he has made gods, and some men; some slaves, and some free.” Where there is no strife there is decay: “the mixture which is not shaken decomposes.” In this flux of change and struggle and selection, only one thing is constant, and that is law. “This order, the same for all things, no one of gods or men has made; but it always was, and is, and shall be.” Empedocles (fl. 445 B. C., in Sicily) developed to a further stage the idea of evolution. Organs arise not by design but by selection. Nature makes many trials and experiments with organisms, combining organs variously; where the combination meets environmental needs the organism survives and perpetuates its like; where the combination fails, the organism is weeded out; as time goes on, organisms are more and more intricately and successfully adapted to their surroundings. Finally, in Leucippus (fl. 445 B. C.) and Democritus (460-360), master and pupil in Thracian Abdera, we get the last stage of pre-Aristotelian science—materialistic, deterministic atomism. “Everything,” said Leucippus, “is driven by necessity.” “In reality,” said Democritus, “there are only atoms and the void.” Perception is due to the expulsion of atoms from the object upon the sense organ There is or have been or will be an infinite number of worlds, at every moment planets are colliding and dying, and new worlds are rising out of chaos by the selective aggregation of atoms of similar size and shape. There is no design; the universe is a machine. 

Then there was speculation on the nature of the universe and its evolution.

This, in dizzy and superficial summary, is the story of Greek science before Aristotle. Its cruder items can be well forgiven when we consider the narrow circle of experimental and observational equipment within which these pioneers were compelled to work. The stagnation of Greek industry under the incubus of slavery prevented the full development of these magnificent beginnings; and the rapid complication of political life in Athens turned the Sophists and Socrates and Plato away from physical and biological research into the paths of ethical and political theory. It is one of the many glories of Aristotle that he was broad and brave enough to compass and combine these two lines of Greek thought, the physical and the moral; that going back beyond his teacher, he caught again the thread of scientific development in the pre- Socratic Greeks, carried on their work with more resolute detail and more varied observation, and brought together all the accumulated results in a magnificent body of organized science. 

Earlier scientific investigation lacked the support of experimental and observational equipment.


2. Aristotle as a Naturalist 

If we begin here chronologically, with his Physics, we shall be disappointed; for we find that this treatise is really a metaphysics, an abstruse analysis of matter, motion, space, time, infinity, cause, and other such “ultimate concepts.” One of the more lively passages is an attack on Democritus’ “void”: there can be no void or vacuum in nature, says Aristotle, for in a vacuum all bodies would fall with equal velocity; this being impossible, “the supposed void turns out to have nothing in it”—an instance at once of Aristotle’s very occasional humor, his addiction to unproved assumptions, and his tendency to disparage his predecessors in philosophy. It was the habit of our philosopher to preface his works with historical sketches of previous contributions to the subject in hand, and to add to every contribution an annihilating refutation. “Aristotle, after the Ottoman manner,” says Bacon, “thought he could not reign secure without putting all his brethren to death.” But to this fratricidal mania we owe much of our knowledge of pre-Socratic thought. 

Aristotle did not deal much with physics because of the lack of experimental and observational equipment. Before starting his own research in an area, he studied his predecessors and formed his own postulates. He then built up on those postulates.

For reasons already given, Aristotle’s astronomy represents very little advance upon his predecessors. He rejects the view of Pythagoras that the sun is the center of our system; he prefers to give that honor to the earth. But the little treatise on meteorology is full of brilliant observations, and even its speculations strike illuminating fire. This is a cyclic world, says our philosopher: the sun forever evaporates the sea, dries up rivers and springs, and transforms at last the boundless ocean into the barest rock; while conversely the uplifted moisture, gathered into clouds, falls and renews the rivers and the seas. Everywhere change goes on, imperceptibly but effectively. Egypt is “the work of the Nile,” the product of its deposits through a thousand centuries. Here the sea encroaches upon the land, there the land reaches out timidly into the sea; new continents and new oceans rise, old oceans and old continents disappear, and all the face of the world is changed and re-changed in a great systole and diastole of growth and dissolution. Sometimes these vast effects occur suddenly, and destroy the geological and material bases of civilization and even of life; great catastrophes have periodically denuded the earth and reduced man again to his first beginnings; like Sisyphus, civilization has repeatedly neared its zenith only to fall back into barbarism and begIn da capo its upward travail. Hence the almost “eternal recurrence,” in civilization after civilization, of the same inventions and discoveries, the same “dark ages” of slow economic and cultural accumulation, the same rebirths of learning and science and art. No doubt some popular myths are vague traditions surviving from earlier cultures. So the story of man runs in a dreary circle, because he is not yet master of the earth that holds him. 

Many of Aristotle’s postulates are arbitrary but he makes brilliant observations at many places, especially in the area of meteorology.


3. The Foundation of Biology 

As Aristotle walked wondering through his great zoological garden, he became convinced that the infinite variety of life could be arranged in a continuous series in which each link would be almost indistinguishable from the next. In all respects, whether in structure, or mode of life, or reproduction and rearing, or sensation and feeling, there are minute gradations and progressions from the lowest organisms to the highest. At the bottom of the scale we can scarcely divide the living from the “dead”; “nature makes so gradual a transition from the inanimate to the animate kingdom that the boundary lines which separate them are indistinct and doubtful”; and perhaps a degree of life exists even in the inorganic. Again, many species cannot with certainty be called plants or animals. And as in these lower organisms it is almost impossible at times to assign them to their proper genus and species, so similar are they; so in every order of life the continuity of gradations and differences is as remarkable as the diversity of functions and forms. But in the midst of this bewildering richness of structures certain things stand out convincingly: that life has grown steadily in complexity and in power; that intelligence has progressed in correlation with complexity of structure and mobility of form; that there has been an increasing specialization of function, and a continuous centralization of physiological control. Slowly life created for itself a nervous system and a brain; and mind moved resolutely on towards the mastery of its environment. 

One of the brilliant observations is that there are minute gradations and progressions from the lowest organisms to the highest. Life has grown steadily in complexity and in power. 

The remarkable fact here is that with all these gradations and similarities leaping to Aristotle’s eyes, he does not come to the theory of evolution. He rejects Empedocles’ doctrine that all organs and organisms are a survival of the fittest, and Anaxagoras’ idea that man became intelligent by using his hands for manipulation rather than for movement; Aristotle thinks, on the contrary, that man so used his hands because he had become intelligent. Indeed, Aristotle makes as many mistakes as possible for a man who is founding the science of biology. He thinks, for example, that the male element in reproduction merely stimulates and quickens; it does not occur to him (what we now know from experiments in parthenogenesis) that the essential function of the sperm is not so much to fertilize the ovum as to provide the embryo with the heritable qualities of the male parent, and so permit the offspring to be a vigorous variant, a new admixture of two ancestral lines. As human dissection was not practiced in his time, he is particularly fertile in physiological errors: he knows nothing of muscles, not even of their existence; he does not distinguish arteries from veins; he thinks the brain is an organ for cooling the blood; he believes, forgivably, that man has more sutures in the skull than woman; he believes, less forgivably, that man has only eight ribs on each side; he believes, incredibly, and unforgivably, that woman has fewer teeth than man. Apparently his relations with women were of the most amicable kind. 

Aristotle rejected earlier doctrines of evolution. As human dissection was not practiced in his time, he is particularly fertile in physiological errors. 

Yet he makes a greater total advance in biology than any Greek before or after him. He perceives that birds and reptiles are near allied in structure; that the monkey is in form intermediate between quadrupeds and man; and once he boldly declares that man belongs in one group of animals with the viviparous quadrupeds (our “mammals”). He remarks that the soul in infancy is scarcely distinguishable from the soul of animals. He makes the illuminating observation that diet often determines the mode of life; “for of beasts some are gregarious, and others solitary—they live in the way which is best adapted to… obtain the food of their choice.” He anticipates Von Baer’s famous law that characters common to the genus (like eyes and ears) appear in the developing organism before characters peculiar to its species (like the “formula” of the teeth), or to its individual self (like the final color of the eyes); and he reaches out across two thousand years to anticipate Spencer’s generalization that individuation varies inversely as genesis—that is that the more highly developed and specialized a species or an individual happens to be, the smaller will be the number of its offspring. He notices and explains reversion to type—the tendency of a prominent variation (like genius) to be diluted in mating and lost in successive generations. He makes many zoological observations which, temporarily rejected by later biologists, have been confirmed by modern research—of fishes that make nests, for example, and sharks that boast of a placenta. 

Yet Aristotle makes a greater total advance in biology than any Greek before or after him. 

And finally he establishes the science of embryology. “He who sees things grow from their beginning,” he writes, “will have the finest view of them.” Hippocrates (b. 460 B. C.), greatest of Greek physicians, had given a fine example of the experimental method, by breaking a hen’s eggs at various stages of incubation; and had applied the results of these studies in his treatise “On the Origin of the Child.” Aristotle followed this lead and performed experiments that enabled him to give a description of the development of the chick which even today arouses the admiration of embryologists. He must have performed some novel experiments in genetics, for he disproves the theory that the sex of the child depends on what testis supplies the reproductive fluid, by quoting a case where the right testis of the father had been tied and yet the children had been of different sexes. He raises some very modern problems of heredity. A woman of Elis had married a negro; her children were all whites, but in the next generation negroes reappeared; where, asks Aristotle, was the blackness hidden in the middle generation? There was but a step from such a vital and intelligent query to the epochal experiments of Gregor Mendel (1822-1882). Prudens quaestio dimidium scientioe—to know what to ask is already to know half. Surely, despite the errors that mar these biological works, they form the greatest monument ever raised to the science by any one man. When we consider that before Aristotle there had been, so far as we know, no biology beyond scattered observations, we perceive that this achievement alone might have sufficed for one life-time, and would have given immortality. But Aristotle had only begun. 

Aristotle made many vital and intelligent queries that later led to great discoveries. 


Durant 1926: The Foundation of Logic (Aristotle)

Reference: The Story of Philosophy

This paper presents Chapter II, Section 3 from the book THE STORY OF PHILOSOPHY by WILL DURANT. The contents are from the 1933 reprint of this book by TIME INCORPORATED by arrangement with Simon and Schuster, Inc.

The paragraphs of the original material (in black) are accompanied by brief comments (in color) based on the present understanding.  Feedback on these comments is appreciated.

The heading below is linked to the original materials.


III. The Foundation of Logic 

The first great distinction of Aristotle is that almost without predecessors, almost entirely by his own hard thinking, he created a new science—Logic. Renan speaks of “the ill training of every mind that has not, directly or indirectly, come under Greek discipline”; but in truth the Greek intellect itself was undisciplined and chaotic till the ruthless formulas of Aristotle provided a ready method for the test and correction of thought. Even Plato (if a lover may so far presume) was an unruly and irregular soul, caught up too frequently in a cloud of myth, and letting beauty too richly veil the face of truth. Aristotle himself, as we shall see, violated his own canons plentifully; but then he was the product of his past, and not of that future which his thought would build. The political and economic decay of Greece brought a weakening of the Hellenic mind and character after Aristotle; but when a new race, after a millennium of barbaric darkness, found again the leisure and ability for speculation, it was Aristotle’s “Organon” of logic, translated by Boethius (470-525 A. D.), that became the very mould of medieval thought, the strict mother of that scholastic philosophy which, though rendered sterile by encircling dogmas, nevertheless trained the intellect of adolescent Europe to reasoning and subtlety, constructed the terminology of modern science, and laid the bases of that same maturity of mind which was to outgrow and overthrow the very system and methods which had given it birth and sustenance. 

The ruthless formulas of Aristotle provided a ready method for the test and correction of thought.

Logic means, simply, the art and method of correct thinking. It is the logy or method of every science, of every discipline and every art; and even music harbors it. It is a science, because to a considerable extent the processes of correct thinking can be reduced to rules like physics and geometry, and taught to any normal mind; it is an art because by practice it gives to thought, at last, that unconscious and immediate accuracy which guides the fingers of the pianist over his instrument to effortless harmonies. Nothing is so dull as logic, and nothing is so important. 

Logic is the art and method of correct thinking. 

There was a hint of this new science in Socrates’ maddening insistence on definitions, and in Plato’s constant refining of every concept. Aristotle’s little treatise on Definitions shows how his logic found nourishment at this source. “If you wish to converse with me,” said Voltaire, “define your terms.” How many a debate would have been deflated into a paragraph if the disputants had dared to define their terms! This is the alpha and omega of logic, the heart, and soul of it, that every important term in serious discourse shall be subjected to strictest scrutiny and definition. It is difficult, and ruthlessly tests the mind; but once done it is half of any task. 

The heart and soul of logic are the definitions that are consistent with the context.

How shall we proceed to define an object or a term? Aristotle answers that every good definition has two parts, stands on two solid feet: first, it assigns the object in question to a class or group whose general characteristics are also its own—so man is, first of all, an animal; and secondly, it indicates wherein the object differs from all the other members in its class—so man, in the Aristotelian system, is a rational animal, his “specific difference” is that unlike all other animals he is rational (here is the origin of a pretty legend). Aristotle drops an object into the ocean of its class, then takes it out all dripping with generic meaning, with the marks of its kind and group; while its individuality and difference shine out all the more clearly for this juxtaposition with other objects that resemble it so much and are so different. 

A definition must have a context. It is easy to differentiate a man from an animal. But to differentiate a man from another man requires closer inspection. So, a context may require simple “black and white definition” for an object, but another context may require a “definition with many shades” for the same object.

Passing out from this rear line of logic we come into the great battle-field on which Aristotle fought out with Plato the dread question of “universals”; it was the first conflict in a war which was to last till our own day, and make all medieval Europe ring with the clash of “realists” and “nominalists.”* A universal, to Aristotle, is any common noun, any name capable of universal application to the members of a class: so animal, man, book, tree, are universals. But these universals are subjective notions, not tangibly objective realities; they are nomina (names), not res (things); all that exists outside us is a world of individual and specific objects, not of generic and universal things; men exist, and trees, and animals; but man-in-general, or the universal man, does not exist, except in thought; he is a handy mental abstraction, not an external presence or re-ality. 

*[It was In reference to this debate that Friedrich Schlegel said, ”Every man is born either a Platonist or an Aristotelian” (in Benn, i, 291).] 

The “universals” can be treated as objective notions in proper context. Subjectivity enters the picture when the object and its context do not match.

Now Aristotle understands Plato to have held that universals have objective existence; and indeed Plato had said that the universal is incomparably more lasting and important and substantial than the individual,—the latter being but a little wavelet in a ceaseless surf; men come and go, but man goes on forever. Aristotle’s is a matter-of-fact mind; as William James would say, a tough, not a tender, mind; he sees the root of endless mysticism and scholarly nonsense in this Platonic “realism”; and he attacks it with all the vigor of a first polemic. As Brutus loved not Cresar less but Rome more, so Aristotle says, Amicus Plato, sed magis amica veritas—“Dear is Plato, but dearer still is truth.”

Plato is correct in regarding the universal “man” as having objective existence in the context he is considering. An object does not necessarily have to be something concrete. The definition of “object” may exist on a scale of concrete to abstract depending on how concrete or abstract, narrow or broad the context is.

A hostile commentator might remark that Aristotle (like Nietzsche) criticizes Plato so keenly because he is conscious of having borrowed from him generously; no man is a hero to his debtors. But Aristotle has a healthy attitude, nevertheless; he is a realist almost in the modern sense; he is resolved to concern himself with the objective present, while Plato is absorbed in a subjective future. There was, in the Socratic-Platonic demand for definitions, a tendency away from things and facts to theories and ideas, from particulars to generalities, from science to scholasticism; at last Plato became so devoted to generalities that they began to determine his particulars, so devoted to ideas that they began to define or select his facts. Aristotle preaches a return to things, to the “unwithered face of nature” and reality; he had a lusty preference for the concrete particular, for the flesh and blood individual. But Plato so loved the general and universal that in the Republic he destroyed the individual to make a perfect state. 

The whole scale from concrete to abstract, from things to theories, from facts to ideas, or  from particulars to generalities can exist in the present. It is a matter of perspective or viewpoint that determines the context. Problem occurs when one is not consistent in one’s viewpoint and mixes narrow and broad contexts together.

Yet, as is the usual humor of history, the young warrior takes over many of the qualities of the old master whom he assails. We have always goodly stock in us of that which we condemn: as only similars can be profitably contrasted, so only similar people quarrel, and the bitterest wars are over the slightest variations of purpose or belief. The knightly Crusaders found in Saladin a gentleman with whom they could quarrel amicably; but when the Christians of Europe broke into hostile camps there was no quarter for even the courtliest foe. Aristotle is so ruthless with Plato because there is so much of Plato in him; he too remains a lover of abstractions and generalities, repeatedly betraying the simple fact for some speciously bedizened theory, and compelled to a continuous struggle to conquer his philosophic passion for exploring the empyrean. 

Where a disharmony exists there also exists, out of view, some discontinuity or inconsistency, which is yet to be found.

There is a heavy trace of this in the most characteristic and original of Aristotle’s contributions to philosophy—the doctrine of the syllogism. A syllogism is a trio of propositions of which the third (the conclusion) follows from the conceded truth of the other two (the “major” and “minor” premisses). E. g., man is a rational animal; but Socrates is a man; therefore Socrates is a rational animal. The mathematical reader will see at once that the structure of the syllogism resembles the proposition that two things equal to the same thing are equal to each other; if A is B, and C is A, then C is B. As in the mathematical case the conclusion is reached by canceling from both premisses their common term, A; so. in our syllogism the conclusion is reached by canceling from both premisses their common term “man,” and combining what remains. The difficulty, as logicians have pointed out from the days of Pyrrho to those of Stuart Mill, lies in this, that the major premiss of the syllogism takes for granted precisely the point to be proved; for if Socrates is not rational (and no one questions that he is a man) it is not universally true that man is a rational animal. Aristotle would reply, no doubt, that where an individual is found to have a large number of qualities characteristic of a class (“Socrates is a man”), a strong presumption is established that the individual has the other qualities characteristic of the class (“rationality”). But apparently the syllogism is not a mechanism for the discovery of truth so much as for the clarification of exposition and thought. 

The trouble with the syllogism in the above example is that two different viewpoints are being mixed. The major premise is comparing man to other animals in deciding that man is rational. If Socrates is a man then he is definitely rational compared to other animals. Trouble arises when the rationality of Socrates is compared with the rationality of other men.

All this, like the many other items of the Organon, has its value: “Aristotle has discovered and formulated every canon of theoretical consistency, and every artifice of dialectical debate, with an industry and acuteness which cannot be too highly extolled; and his labors in this direction have perhaps contributed more than any other single writer to the intellectual stimulation of after ages.” But no man ever lived who could lift logic to a lofty strain: a guide to correct reasoning is as elevating as a manual of etiquette; we may use it, but it hardly spurs us to nobility. Not even the bravest philosopher would sing to a book of logic underneath the bough. One always feels towards logic as Virgil bade Dante feel towards those who had been damned because of their colorless neutrality: Non agionam di lor, maguarda e passa—“Let us think no more about them, but look once and pass on.” 

Aristotle’s logic assumes but does not explicitly insist on maintaining the consistency of the viewpoint or context.


Durant 1926: The Work of Aristotle

Reference: The Story of Philosophy

This paper presents Chapter II, Section 2 from the book THE STORY OF PHILOSOPHY by WILL DURANT. The contents are from the 1933 reprint of this book by TIME INCORPORATED by arrangement with Simon and Schuster, Inc.

The paragraphs of the original material (in black) are accompanied by brief comments (in color) based on the present understanding.  Feedback on these comments is appreciated.

The heading below is linked to the original materials.


II. The Work of Aristotle

It was not hard for the instructor of the king of kings to find pupils even in so hostile a city as Athens. When, in the fifty-third year of his age, Aristotle established his school, the Lyceum, so many students flocked to him that it became necessary to make complicated regulations for the maintenance of order. The students themselves determined the rules, and elected, every ten days, one of their number to supervise the School. But we must not think of it as a place of rigid discipline; rather the picture which comes down to us is of scholars eating their meals in common with the master, and learning from him as he and they strolled up and down the Walk along the athletic field from which the Lyceum took its name.

[The Walk was called Peripatos; hence the later name, Peripatetic School. The athletic field was part of the grounds of the temple of Apollo Lyceus—the protector of the flock against the wolf (Iycos).]

In the fifty-third year of his age, Aristotle established his school to conduct research and teach.

The new School was no mere replica of that which Plato had left behind him. The Academy was devoted above all to mathematics and to speculative and political philosophy; the Lyceum had rather a tendency to biology and the natural sciences. If we may believe Pliny, Alexander instructed his hunters, gamekeepers, gardeners and fishermen to furnish Aristotle with all the zoological and botanical material he might desire; other ancient writers tell us that at one time he had at his disposal a thousand men scattered throughout Greece and Asia, collecting for him specimens of the fauna and flora of every land. With this wealth of material he was enabled to establish the first great zoological garden that the world had seen. We can hardly exaggerate the influence of this collection upon his science and his philosophy. 

The main areas of research were biology and the natural sciences.

Where did Aristotle derive the funds to finance these undertakings? He was himself, by this time, a man of spacious income; and he had married into the fortune of one of the most powerful public men in Greece. Athenaeus (no doubt with some exaggeration) relates that Alexander gave Aristotle, for physical and biological equipment and research, the sum of 800 talents (in modern purchasing power, some $4,000,000). It was at Aristotle’s suggestion, some think, that Alexander sent a costly expedition to explore the sources of the Nile and discover the causes of its periodical overflow. Such works as the digest of 158 political constitutions, drawn up for Aristotle, indicate a considerable corps of aides and secretaries. In short we have here the first example in European history of the large-scale financing of science by public wealth. What knowledge would we not win if modern states were to support research on a proportionately lavish scale!

[The expedition reported that the inundations were due to the melting of the snow on the mountains of Abyssinia.]

We have here the first example in European history of the large-scale financing of science by public wealth.

Yet we should do Aristotle injustice if we were to ignore the almost fatal limitations of equipment which accompanied these unprecedented resources and facilities. He was compelled “to fix time without a watch, to compare degrees of heat without a thermometer, to observe the heavens without a telescope, and the weather without a barometer. … Of all our mathematical, optical and physical instruments he possessed only the rule and compass, together with the most imperfect substitutes for some few others. Chemical analysis, correct measurements and weights, and a thorough application of mathematics to physics, were unknown. The attractive force of matter, the law of gravitation, electrical phenomena, the conditions of chemical combination, pressure of air and its effects, the nature of light, heat, combustion, etc., in short, all the facts on which the physical theories of modern science are based were wholly, or almost wholly, undiscovered.” 

However, a fatal limitations of equipment accompanied these unprecedented resources and facilities. 

See, here, how inventions make history: for lack of a telescope Aristotle’s astronomy is a tissue of childish romance; for lack of a microscope his biology wanders endlessly astray. Indeed, it was in industrial and technical invention that Greece fell farthest below the general standard of its unparalleled achievements. The Greek disdain of manual work kept everybody but the listless slave from direct acquaintance with the processes of production, from that stimulating contact with machinery which reveals defects and prefigures possibilities; technical invention was possible only to those who had no interest in it, and could not derive from it any material reward. Perhaps the very cheapness of the slaves made invention lag; muscle was still less costly than machines. And so, while Greek commerce conquered the Mediterranean Sea, and Greek philosophy conquered the Mediterranean mind, Greek science straggled, and Greek industry remained almost where Aegean industry had been when the invading Greeks had come down upon it, at Cnossus, at Tiryns and Mycene, a thousand years before. No doubt we have here the reason why Aristotle so seldom appeals to experiment; the mechanisms of experiment had not yet been made; and the best he could do was to achieve an almost universal and continuous observation. Nevertheless the vast body of data gathered by him and his assistants became the groundwork of the progress of science, the text-book of knowledge for two thousand years; one of the wonders of the work of man. 

Greek science straggled because the Greek disdain of manual work kept everybody from stimulating contact with machinery and from direct acquaintance with the processes of production.

Aristotle’s writings ran into the hundreds. Some ancient authors credit him with four hundred volumes, others with a thousand. What remains is but a part, and yet it is a library in itself—conceive the scope and grandeur of the whole. There are, first, the Logical works: “Categories,” “Topics,” “Prior” and “Posterior Analytics,” “Propositions,” and “Sophistical Refutation”; these works were collected and edited by the later Peripatetics under the general title of Aristotle’s “Organon,”—that is, the organ or instrument of correct thinking. Secondly, there are the Scientific works: “Physics,” “On the Heavens,” “Growth and Decay,” “Meteorology,” “Natural History,” “On the Soul,” “The Parts of Animals,” “The Movements of Animals,” and “The Generation of Animals.” There are, thirdly, the Esthetic works: “Rhetoric” and “Poetics.” And fourthly come the more strictly Philosophical works: “Ethics,” “Politics,” and “Metaphysics.”

Aristotle wrote voluminously on Logics, Science, Esthetics and Philosophy.

Here, evidently, is the Encyclopedia Britannica of Greece: every problem under the sun and about it finds a place; no wonder there are more errors and absurdities in Aristotle than in any other philosopher who ever wrote. Here is such a synthesis of knowledge and theory as no man would ever achieve again till Spencer’s day, and even then not half so magnificently; here, better than Alexander’s fitful and brutal victory, was a conquest of the world. If philosophy is the quest of unity Aristotle deserves the high name that twenty centuries gave him—IlIe Philosophus: The Philosopher. 

It was essentially the compilation of an Encyclopedia.

Naturally, in a mind of such scientific turn, poesy was lacking. We must not expect of Aristotle such literary brilliance as floods the pages of the dramatist-philosopher Plato. Instead of giving us great literature, in which philosophy is embodied (and obscured) in myth and imagery, Aristotle gives us science, technical, abstract, concentrated; if we go to him for entertainment we shall sue for the return of our money. Instead of giving terms to literature, as Plato did, he built the terminology of science and philosophy; we can hardly speak of any science today without employing terms which he invented; they lie like fossils in the strata of our speech: faculty, mean, maxim, (meaning, in Aristotle, the major premiss of a syllogism), category, energy, actuality, motive, end, principle, form—these indispensable coins of philosophic thought were minted in his mind. And perhaps this passage from delightful dialogue to precise scientific treatise was a necessary step in the development of philosophy; and science, which is the basis and backbone of philosophy, could not grow until it had evolved its own strict methods of procedure and expression. Aristotle, too, wrote literary dialogues, as highly reputed in their day as Plato’s; but they are lost, just as the scientific treatises of Plato have perished. Probably time has preserved of each man the better part. 

Instead of great literature, Aristotle gave us technical, abstract, concentrated science.

Finally, it is possible that the writings attributed to Aristotle were not his, but were largely the compilations of students and followers who had embalmed the unadorned substance of his lectures in their notes. It does not appear that Aristotle published in his life-time any technical writings except those on logic and rhetoric; and the present form of the logical treatises is due to later editing. In the case of the Metaphysics and the Politics the notes left by Aristotle seem to have been put together by his executors without revision or alteration. Even the unity of style which marks Aristotle’s writings, and offers an argument to those who defend his direct authorship, may be, after all, merely a unity given them through common editing by the Peripatetic School. About this matter there rages a sort of Homeric question, of almost epic scope, into which the busy reader will not care to go, and on which a modest student will not undertake to judge. We may at all events be sure that Aristotle is the spiritual author of all these books that bear his name: that the hand may be in some cases another’s hand, but that the head and the heart are his.

[The reader who wishes to go to the philosopher himself will find the Meteorology an interesting example of Aristotle’s scientific work; he will derive much practical instruction from the Rhetoric; and he will find Aristotle at his best in books i-ii of the Ethics, and books i-iv of the Politics. The best translation of the Ethics is Welldon’s; of the Politics, Jowett’s. Sir Alexander Grant’s Aristotle is a simple book; Zeller’s Aristotle (vols. iii-iv in his Greek Philosophy), is scholarly but dry; Gomperz’s Greek Thinker. (voL iv). Is masterly but difficult.]

Aristotle is the spiritual author of all these books that bear his name. The hand may be in some cases another’s hand, but that the head and the heart are his.


Durant 1926: The Historical Background (Aristotle)

Reference: The Story of Philosophy

This paper presents Chapter II, Section 1 from the book THE STORY OF PHILOSOPHY by WILL DURANT. The contents are from the 1933 reprint of this book by TIME INCORPORATED by arrangement with Simon and Schuster, Inc.

The paragraphs of the original material (in black) are accompanied by brief comments (in color) based on the present understanding.  Feedback on these comments is appreciated.

The heading below is linked to the original materials.


I. The Historical Background 

Aristotle was born at Stagira, a Macedonian city some two hundred miles to the north of Athens, in the year 384 B. C. His father was friend and physician to Amyntas, King of Macedon and grandfather of Alexander. Aristotle himself seems to have become a member of the great medical fraternity of Asclepiads. He was brought up in the odor of medicine as many later philosophers were brought up in the odor of sanctity; he had every opportunity and encouragement to develop a scientific bent of mind; he was prepared from the beginning to become the founder of science. 

We have a choice of stories for his youth. One narrative represents him as squandering his patrimony in riotous living, joining the army to avoid starvation, returning to Stagira to practice medicine, and going to Athens at the age of thirty to study philosophy under Plato. A more dignified story takes him to Athens at the age of eighteen, and puts him at once under the tutelage of the great Master; but even in this likelier account there is sufficient echo of a reckless and irregular youth, living rapidly. The scandalized reader may console himself by observing that in either story our philosopher anchors at last in the quiet groves of the Academy. 

Aristotle was a riotous youth who anchored at last in the quiet groves of the Academy.

Under Plato he studied eight—or twenty—years; and indeed the pervasive Platonism of Aristotle’s speculations—even of those most anti-Platonic—suggests the longer period. One would like to imagine these as very happy years: a brilliant pupil guided by an incomparable teacher, walking like Greek lovers in the gardens of philosophy. But they were both geniuses; and it is notorious that geniuses accord with one another as harmoniously as dynamite with fire. Almost half a century separated them; it was difficult for understanding to bridge the gap of years and cancel the incompatibility of souls. Plato recognized the greatness of this strange new pupil from the supposedly barbarian north, and spoke of him once as the Nous of the Academy,—as if to say, Intelligence personified. Aristotle had spent money lavishly in the collection of books (that is, in those printless days, manuscripts); he was the first, after Euripides, to gather together a library; and the foundation of the principles of library classification was among his many contributions to scholarship. Therefore Plato spoke of Aristotle’s home as “the house of the reader,” and seems to have meant the sincerest compliment; but some ancient gossip will have it that the Master intended a sly but vigorous dig at a certain book-wormishness in Aristotle. A more authentic quarrel seems to have arisen towards the end of Plato’s life: Our ambitious youth apparently developed an “Oedipus complex” against his spiritual father for the favors and affections of philosophy, and began to hint that wisdom would not die with Plato; while the old sage spoke of his pupil as a foal that kicks his mother after draining her dry. The learned Zeller, in whose pages Aristotle almost achieves the Nirvana of respectability, would have us reject these stories; but we may presume that where there is still so much smoke there was once a flame. 

Aristotle, however, maintained his mental independence even at the Academy.

The other incidents of this Athenian period are still more problematical. Some biographers tell us that Aristotle founded a school of oratory to rival Isocrates; and that he had among his pupils in this school the wealthy Hermias, who was soon to become autocrat of the city-state of Atarneus. After reaching this elevation Hermias invited Aristotle to his court; and in the year 344 B. C. he rewarded his teacher for past favors by bestowing upon him a sister (or a niece) in marriage. One might suspect this as a Greek gift; but the historians hasten to assure us that Aristotle, despite his genius, lived happily enough with his wife, and spoke of her most affectionately in his will. It was just a year later that Philip, King of Macedon, called Aristotle to the court at Pella to undertake the education of Alexander. It bespeaks the rising repute of our philosopher that the greatest monarch of the time, looking about for the greatest teacher, should single out Aristotle to be the tutor of the future master of the world. 

Aristotle tutored Alexander, the future master of the world.

Philip was determined that his son should have every educational advantage, for he had made for him illimitable designs. His conquest of Thrace in 356 B. C. had given him command of gold mines which at once began to yield him precious metal to ten times the amount then coming to Athens from the failing silver of Laurium; his people were vigorous peasants and warriors, as yet unspoiled by city luxury and vice: here was the combination that would make possible the subjugation of a hundred petty city-states and the political unification of Greece. Philip had no sympathy with the individualism that had fostered the art and intellect of Greece but had at the same time disintegrated her social order; in all these little capitals he saw not the exhilarating culture and the unsurpassable art, but the commercial corruption and the political chaos; he saw insatiable merchants and bankers absorbing the vital resources of the nation, incompetent politicians and clever orators misleading a busy populace into disastrous plots and wars, factions cleaving classes and classes congealing into castes: this, said Philip, was not a nation but only a welter of individuals—geniuses and slaves; he would bring the hand of order down upon this turmoil, and make all Greece stand up united and strong as the political center and basis of the world. In his youth in Thebes he had learned the arts of military strategy and civil organization under the noble Epaminondas; and now, with courage as boundless as his ambition, he bettered the instruction. In 338 B. C. he defeated the Athenians at Chaeronea, and saw at last a Greece united, though with chains. And then, as he stood upon this victory, and planned how he and his son should master and unify the world, he fell under an assassin’s hand. 

Of course, Alexander’s father, Philip of Macedon, had his own philosophy as a ruler.

Alexander, when Aristotle came, was a wild youth of thirteen; passionate, epileptic, almost alcoholic; it was his pastime to tame horses untamable by men. The efforts of the philosopher to cool the fires of this budding volcano were not of much avail; Alexander had better success with Bucephalus than Aristotle with Alexander. “For a while,” says Plutarch, “Alexander loved and cherished Aristotle no less than as if he had been his own father; saying that though he had received life from the one, the other had taught him the art of living.” (“Life,” says a fine Greek adage, “is the gift of nature; but beautiful living is the gift of wisdom.”) “For my part,” said Alexander in a letter to Aristotle, “I had rather excel in the knowledge of what is good than in the extent of my power and dominion.” But this was probably no more than a royal-youthful compliment; beneath the enthusiastic tyro of philosophy was the fiery son of a barbarian princess and an untamed king; the restraints of reason were too delicate to hold these ancestral passions in leash; and Alexander left philosophy after two years to mount the throne and ride the world. History leaves us free to believe (though we should suspect these pleasant thoughts) that Alexander’s unifying passion derived some of its force and grandeur from his teacher, the most synthetic thinker in the history of thought; and that the conquest of order in the political realm by the pupil, and in the philosophic realm by the master, were but diverse sides of one noble and epic project—two magnificent Macedonians unifying two chaotic worlds. 

Alexander’s wild nature and ancestral passions were barely influenced by the philosophy of Aristotle.

Setting out to conquer Asia, Alexander left behind him, in the cities of Greece, governments favorable to him but populations resolutely hostile. The long tradition of a free and once imperial Athens made subjection—even to a brilliant world-conquering despot—intolerable; and the bitter eloquence of Demosthenes kept the Assembly always on the edge of revolt against the “Macedonian party” that held the reins of city power. Now when Aristotle, after another period of travel, returned to Athens in the year 334 B. C., he very naturally associated with this Macedonian group, and took no pains to conceal his approval of Alexander’s unifying rule. As we study the remarkable succession of works, in speculation and research, which Aristotle proceeded to unfold in the last twelve years of his life; and as we watch him in his multifold tasks of organizing his school, and of coordinating such a wealth of knowledge as probably never before had passed through the mind of one man; let us occasionally remember that this was no quiet and secure pursuit of truth; that at any minute the political sky might change, and precipitate a storm in this peaceful philosophic life. Only with this situation in mind shall we understand Aristotle’s political philosophy, and his tragic end. 

Aristotle approved of Alexander’s unifying rule, but his philosophic life was not very peaceful; this lead to his tragic end.


Durant 1926: Criticism (Plato)

Reference: The Story of Philosophy 

This paper presents Chapter I, Section 10 from the book THE STORY OF PHILOSOPHY by WILL DURANT. The contents are from the 1933 reprint of this book by TIME INCORPORATED by arrangement with Simon and Schuster, Inc.

The paragraphs of the original material (in black) are accompanied by brief comments (in color) based on the present understanding.  Feedback on these comments is appreciated.

The heading below is linked to the original materials.



And now what shall we say of this whole Utopia? Is it feasible? And if not, has it any practicable features which we could turn to contemporary use? Has it ever in any place or measure been realized? 

At least the last question must be answered in Plato’s favor. For a thousand years Europe was ruled by an order of guardians considerably like that which was visioned by our philosopher. During the Middle Ages it was customary to classify the population of Christendom into laboratores (workers), bellatores (soldiers), and oratores (clergy). The last group, though small in number, monopolized the instruments and opportunities of culture, and ruled with almost unlimited sway half of the most powerful continent on the globe. The clergy, like Plato’s guardians, were placed in authority not by the suffrages, of the people, but by their talent as shown in ecclesiastical studies and administration, by their disposition to a life of meditation and simplicity, and (perhaps it should be added) by the influence of their relatives with the powers of state and church. In the latter half of the period in which they ruled, the clergy were as free from family cares as even Plato could desire; and in some cases, it would seem, they enjoyed no little of the reproductive freedom accorded to the guardians. Celibacy was part of the psychological structure of the power of the clergy; for on the one hand they were unimpeded by the narrowing egoism of the family, and on the other their apparent superiority to the call of the flesh added to the awe in which lay sinners held them, and to the readiness of these sinners to bare their lives in the confessional. 

Plato intended people to be fitting in a society in the best way possible according to their nature. On the surface Plato’s ideas seem to have been quite successful under Catholicism, but did they really accomplish what Plato intended? Catholicism did use the power of religion to keep people in line. But that did not help people evolve per their potential.

Much of the politics of Catholicism was derived from Plato’s ”royal lies,” or influenced by them: the ideas of heaven, purgatory, and hell, in their medieval form, are traceable to the last book of the Republic; the cosmology of scholasticism comes largely from the Timaeus; the doctrine of realism (the objective reality of general ideas) was an interpretation of the doctrine of Ideas; even the educational “quadrivium” (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music) was modeled on the curriculum outlined in Plato. With this body of doctrine the people of Europe were ruled with hardly any resort to force; and they accepted this rule so readily that for a thousand years they contributed plentiful material support to their rulers, and asked no voice in the government. Nor was this acquiescence confined to the general population; merchants and soldiers, feudal chieftains and civil powers all bent the knee to Rome. It was an aristocracy of no mean political sagacity; it built probably the most marvelous and powerful organization which the world has ever known. 

Plato’s ideas built a powerful organization in Catholicism, but that organization has been only as stable as its “royal lies” (the postulates of Catholic theism). This organization suppressed the seeking of scientific knowledge, which has been its undoing.

The Jesuits who for a time ruled Paraguay were semi-Platonic guardians, a clerical oligarchy empowered by the possession of knowledge and skill in the midst of a barbarian population. And for a time the Communist Party which ruled Russia after the revolution of November, 1917, took a form strangely reminiscent of the Republic. They were a small minority, held together almost by religious conviction, wielding the weapons of orthodoxy and excommunication, as sternly devoted to their cause as any saint to his, and living a frugal existence while ruling half the soil of Europe. 

A society built on Plato’s republic is only as successful as it paves the way for the evolution of the civilization.

Such examples indicate that within limits and with modifications, Plato’s plan is practicable; and indeed he himself had derived it largely from actual practice as seen on his travels. He had been impressed by the Egyptian theocracy: here was a great and ancient civilization ruled by a small priestly class; and compared with the bickering and tyranny and incompetence of the Athenian Ecclesia Plato felt that the Egyptian government represented a much higher form of state (Laws, 819). In Italy he had stayed for a time with a Pythagorean community, vegetarian and communist, which had for generations controlled the Greek colony in which it lived. In Sparta he had seen a small ruling class living a hard and simple life in common in the midst of a subject population; eating together, restricting mating for eugenic ends, and giving to the brave the privilege of many wives. He had no doubt heard Euripides advocate a community of wives, the liberation of slaves, and the pacification of the Greek world by an Hellenic league (Medea, 230; Fragm., 655) ; no doubt, too, he knew some of the Cynics who had developed a strong communist movement among what one would now call the ‘Socratic Left. In short, Plato must have felt that in propounding his plan he was not making an impossible advance on realities which his eyes had seen.

Plato’s Republic is a utopia, which has been approximated to various degrees. Its ultimate weakness lies in the need for external control of human nature.

Yet critics from Aristotle’s day to ours have found in the Republic many an opening for objection and doubt. “These things and many others,” says the Stagyrite, with cynical brevity, ”have been invented several times over in the course of ages.” It is very pretty to plan a society in which all men will be brothers; but to extend such a term to all our male contemporaries is to water out of it all warmth and significance. So with common property: it would mean a dilution of responsibility; when everything belongs to everybody nobody will take care of anything. And finally, argues the great conservative, communism would fling people into an intolerable continuity of contact; it would leave no room for privacy or individuality; and it would presume such virtues of patience and cooperation as only a saintly minority possess. ”We must neither assume a standard of virtue which is above ordinary persons, nor an education which is exceptionally favored by nature and circumstance; but we must have regard to the life which the majority can share, and to the forms of government to which states in general can attain.”

All warmth and significance goes out the window when external controls are enforced. Whether the property is common or not, people may not take responsibility for it. The need for privacy may not get fulfilled when one is living in a close nit community. It may be difficult to enforce a strict standard of virtue and education.

So far Plato’s greatest (and most jealous) pupil; and most of the criticisms of later date strike the same chord. Plato underrated, we are told, the force of custom accumulated in the institution of monogamy, and in the moral code attached to that institution; he underestimated the possessive jealousy of males in supposing that a man would be content to have merely an aliquot portion of a wife; he minimized the maternal instinct in supposing that mothers would agree to have their children taken from them and brought up in a heartless anonymity. And above all he forgot that in abolishing the family he was destroying the great nurse of morals and the chief source of those cooperative and communistic habits which would have to be the psychological basis of his state; with unrivaled eloquence he sawed off the branch on which he sat.

To all these criticisms one can reply very simply, that they destroy a straw man. Plato explicitly exempts the majority from his communistic plan; he recognizes clearly enough that only a few are capable of the material self-denial which he proposes for his ruling class; only the guardians will call every guardian brother or sister; only the guardians will be without gold or goods. The vast majority will retain all respectable institutions—property, money, luxury, competition, and whatever privacy they may desire. They will have marriage as monogamic as they can bear, and all the morals derived from it and from the family; the fathers shall keep their wives and the mothers shall keep their children ad libitum and nauseam. As to the guardians, their need is not so much a communistic disposition as a sense of honor, and love of it; pride and not kindness is to hold them up. And as for the maternal instinct, it is not strong before the birth, or even the growth, of the child; the average mother accepts the new-born babe rather with resignation than with joy; love for it is a development, not a sudden miracle, and grows as the child grows, as it takes form under the painstaking care of the mother; not until it has become the embodiment of maternal artistry does it irrevocably catch the heart.

Some of the ideas of Plato’s conflict with natural instincts, such as, monogamy, the maternal instinct and the family; but they apply only to a very small minority of guardians who operate basically on the sense of honor and pride in their function.

Other objections are economic rather than psychological. Plato’s republic, it is argued, denounces the division of every city into two cities, and then offers us a city divided into three. The answer is that the division in the first case is by economic conflict; in Plato’s state the guardian and auxiliary classes are specifically excluded from participation in this competition for gold and goods. But then the guardians would have power without responsibility; and would not this lead to tyranny? Not at all; they have political power and direction, but no economic power or wealth; the economic class, if dissatisfied with the guardians’ mode of rule, could hold up the food supply, as Parliaments control executives by holding up the budget. Well, then, if the guardians have political but not economic power, how can they maintain their rule? Have not Harrington and Marx and many others shown that political power is a reflex of economic power, and becomes precarious as soon as economic power passes to a politically subject group—as to the middle classes in the eighteenth century?

In Plato’s republic the wealthy do not rule the poor. Instead the centers of political and economic powers are separated. But how practical is this?

This is a very fundamental objection, and perhaps a fatal one. The answer might be made that the power of the Roman Catholic Church, which brought even kings to kneel at Canossa, was based, in its earlier centuries of rule, rather on the inculcation of dogmas than on the strategy of wealth. But it may be that the long dominion of the Church was due to the agricultural condition of Europe: an agricultural population is inclined to supernatural belief by its helpless dependence on the caprice of the elements, and by that inability to control nature which always leads to fear and thence to worship; when industry and commerce developed, a new type of mind and man arose, more realistic and terrestrial, and the power of the Church began to crumble as soon as it came into conflict with this new economic fact. Political power must repeatedly readjust itself to the changing balance of economic forces. The economic dependence of Plato’s guardians on the economic class would very soon reduce them to the controlled political executives of that class; even the, manipulation of military power would not long forestall this inevitable issue—any more than the military forces of revolutionary Russia could prevent the development of a proprietary individualism among the peasants who controlled the growth of food, and therefore the fate of the nation. Only this would remain to Plato: that even though political policies must be determined by the economically dominant group, it is better that those policies should be administered by officials specifically prepared for the purpose, than by men who stumble out of commerce or manufacturing into political office without any training in the arts of statesmanship. 

The reality is that the economically dominant group will eventually control the political policies. Control through dogmas is not possible when the economic centers become independent. Political power must repeatedly readjust itself to the changing balance of economic forces. It is good if political policies are implemented by officials specifically prepared for the purpose.

What Plato lacks above all, perhaps, is the Heracleitean sense of flux and change; he is too anxious to have the moving picture of this world become a fixed and still tableau. He loves order exclusively, like any timid philosopher; he has been frightened by the democratic turbulence of Athens into an extreme neglect of individual values; he arranges men in classes like an entomologist classifying flies; and he is not averse to using priestly humbug to secure his ends. His state is static; it might easily become an old-fogey society, ruled by inflexible octogenarians hostile to invention and jealous of change. It is mere science without art; it exalts order, so dear to the scientific mind, and quite neglects that liberty which is the soul of art; it worships the name of beauty, but exiles the artists who alone can make beauty or point it out. It is a Sparta or a Prussia, not an ideal state. 

Plato lacks the sense of flux and change, for he dreams up an orderly and static society. America incorporates that flux and change.

And now that these unpleasant necessities are candidly written down, it remains to do willing homage to the power and profundity of Plato’s conception. Essentially he is right—is he not?—what this world needs is to be ruled by its wisest men. It is our business to adapt his thought to our own times and limitations. Today we must take democracy for granted: we cannot limit the suffrage as Plato proposed; but we can put restrictions on the holding of office, and in this way secure that mixture of democracy and aristocracy which Plato seems to have in mind. We may accept without quarrel his contention that statesmen should be as specifically and thoroughly trained as physicians; we might establish departments of political science and administration in our universities; and when these departments have begun to function adequately we might make men ineligible for nomination to political office unless they were graduates of such political schools. We might even make every man eligible for an office who had been trained for it, and thereby eliminate entirely that complex system of nominations in which the corruption of our democracy has its seat; let the electorate choose any man who, properly trained and qualified, announces himself as a candidate. In this way democratic choice would be immeasurably wider than now, when Tweedledum and Tweedledee stage their quadrennial show and sham. Only one amendment would be required to make quite democratic this plan for the restriction of office to graduates in administrative technique; and that would be such equality of educational opportunity as would open to all men and women, irrespective of the means of their parents, the road to university training and political advancement. It would be very simple to have municipalities and counties and states offer scholarships to all graduates of grammar school, high school and college who had shown a certain standard of ability, and whose parents were financially unable to see them through the next stage of the educational process. That would be a democracy worthy of the name. 

It is true that this world needs to be ruled by its wisest men. Today we must take democracy of universal suffrage for granted and put restrictions on the holding of office. Statesmen should be as specifically and thoroughly trained as physicians.

Finally, it is only fair to add that Plato understands that his Utopia does not quite fall within the practicable realm. He admits that he has described an ideal difficult of attainment; he answers that there is nevertheless a value in painting these pictures of our desire; man’s significance is that he can image a better world, and will, some part of it at least into reality; man is an animal that makes Utopias. ‘We look before and after and pine for what is not.” Nor is it all without result: many a dream has grown limbs and walked, or grown wings and flown, like the dream of Icarus that men might fly. After all, even if we have but drawn a picture, it may serve as goal and model of our movement and behavior; when sufficient of us see the picture and follow its gleam, Utopia will find its way upon the map. Meanwhile “in heaven there is laid up a pattern of such a city, and he who desires may behold it, and beholding, govern himself accordingly. But whether there really is or ever will be such a city on earth, … he will act according to the laws of that city, and no other” (592). The good man will apply even in the imperfect state, the perfect law. 

Man must dream a better world, and the closest outcome will be forged from the laws of nature.

Nevertheless, with all these concessions to doubt, the Master was bold enough to risk himself when a chance offered to realize his plan. In the year 387 B. C. Plato received an invitation from Dionysius, ruler of the then flourishing and powerful Syracuse, capital of Sicily, to come and turn his kingdom into Utopia; and the philosopher, thinking like Turgot that it was easier to educate one man—even though a king—than a 

whole people, consented. But when Dionysius found that the plan required either that he should become a philosopher or cease to be a king, he balked; and the upshot was a bitter quarrel. Story has it that Plato was sold into slavery, to be rescued by his friend and pupil Anniceris; who, when Plato’s Athenian followers wished to reimburse him for the ransom he had paid, refused, saying that they should not be the only ones privileged to help philosophy. This (and, if we may believe Diogenes Laertius, another similar) experience may account for the disillusioned conservatism of Plato’s last work, the Laws. 

Plato’s utopia requires that the human nature be conquered, such that those in power want to resolve anomalies for the sake of knowledge.

And yet the closing years of his long life must have been fairly happy. His pupils had gone out in every direction, and their success had made him honored everywhere. He was at peace in his Academe, walking from group to group of his students and giving them problems and tasks on which they were to make research and, when he came to them again, give report and answer. La Rochefoucauld said that “few know how to grow old.” Plato knew: to learn like Solon and to teach like Socrates; to guide the eager young, and find the intellectual love of comrades. For his students loved him as he loved them; he was their friend as well as their philosopher and guide. 

Plato’s love was to research and to teach.

One of his pupils, facing that great abyss called marriage, invited the Master to his wedding feast. Plato came, rich with his eighty years and joined the merry-makers gladly. But as the hours laughed themselves away, the old philosopher retired into a quiet corner of the house, and sat down on a chair to win a little sleep. In the morning, when the feast was over, the tired revelers came to wake him. They found that during the night, quietly and without ado, he had passed from a little sleep to an endless one. All Athens followed him to the grave. 

Plato had a great life and he passed away peacefully at the age of eighty.