From the Washington Post:
How the famous philosopher paved the way for books like “The Bell Curve.”
By Matthew A. Sears April 6 at 6:00 AM
Matthew A. Sears is an associate professor of classics and ancient history at the University of New Brunswick.
Race science is back.
To be fair, it never really left. But in the past few years, an obsession over the intersection of race and science — and in particular, the use of science to shore up theories of racial hierarchies — has seen a resurgence. At the heart of this revival: Charles Murray, co-author of the notorious 1994 book on innate intelligence and public policy, “The Bell Curve.”
… To understand the underlying assumptions of Murray and others, it’s helpful to look back to the granddaddy of all racial theorists: Aristotle. In understanding the role Aristotle played in laying the groundwork for “race science,” we can better understand how ingrained it is in Western science and philosophy, and why the alt-right’s embrace of “western civilization” has a particularly chilling edge.
Most famous as a philosopher, Aristotle — who, it’s worth noting, is Murray’s favorite philosopher — was just as influential in what we would today consider the field of natural science. Indeed, Aristotle’s philosophical and political ideas cannot be separated from his methods of empirical observation. He spent years of his life observing and classifying animals. Charles Darwin himself said that “my two gods [Linnaeus and Cuvier] are mere school-boys to old Aristotle.”
Aristotle arrived at his biological taxonomy by observing and recording as many animals as he could, and he did likewise with types of government to arrive at his political taxonomies. Human beings, too, were subjected to Aristotle’s empirical analysis, as rigorous as any at least until the Scientific Revolution two millennia later. …
As I wrote in Taki’s Magazine last year:
The Atlantic offers a lucid history by Chris Dixon, a general partner at Sand Hill Road venture capitalists Andreessen Horowitz, of how Western philosophy laid the groundwork for computing. Dixon’s article has the clickbaity title “How Aristotle Created the Computer,” but its subtitle gets his point across: “The philosophers he influenced set the stage for the technological revolution that remade our world.”
Aristotle may seem like the antithesis of getting rich in Silicon Valley because the point of philosophy is to argue over questions that the best minds of all time have so far failed to fully answer. Once somebody figures out how to stop arguing and start making money off a branch of philosophy, it stops being a branch of philosophy. For example, James Watt was a “natural philosopher” until he perfected his steam engine, after which he went down in history as the chief inventor of the Industrial Revolution.
But the arguing seems to have to come first.
And logic provides a system for keeping score.
When I asked Murray in 2003 about his book Human Accomplishment, “Who was the most accomplished person who ever lived?” he responded:
Now we’re talking personal opinion, because the methods I used don’t work across domains, but I have an emphatic opinion.
He more or less invented logic, which was of pivotal importance in human history (and no other civilization ever came up with it independently).
Aristotle’s most celebrated logical schema is the syllogism:
All men are mortal.
Socrates is a man.
Therefore, Socrates is mortal.
But what if, because your grandfather died, you find the word “mortal” to be triggering?
And isn’t “All men are mortal” sexist? Perhaps you are concerned that some will find “Socrates is a man” to be cisnormative? Which pronouns did Socrates volunteer? What if you, personally, hate Socrates because of his microaggressions against Xanthippe?
Well…okay…but the great Greek realization was that your personal feelings about this particular syllogism don’t really matter. The general principle still applies. As Dixon says:
You can replace “Socrates” with any other object, and “mortal” with any other predicate, and the argument remains valid. The validity of the argument is determined solely by the logical structure. …
Despite its triumphant revival in the West in the prior millennium, the Ancient Greeks’ view of logical debate as a no-hard-feelings contact sport seems to be fading as our culture becomes more female-dominated. Intellectual disagreement is now taken very personally. …