Monday, 6 August 2012

On Aristotle

I mentioned Aristotle's Rhetoric yesterday and how out of character it seems because of its use of examples.  It's also out of character because of his moral stance, or should I say his lack of a moral stance.

Elsewhere in Aristotle, and I've read a lot of him now after ten years in this seminar, he is the careful pursuer after truth.  Not that he always succeeds in his pursuit, not that he's even going in the right direction all the time, but what you get in most of Aristotle is an exhaustive attempt to explain everything, from the reason Zeno is wrong about his paradoxes of movement to the way the senses operate.

(By the way, he is hilariously wrong about the senses.  Did you hear the one about Aristotle and the mirror?  But I digress.)

Wrong though he may be at times, elsewhere Aristotle is devoted to truth.  Not so in Rhetoric.  If you can win an argument via a falsehood, he says, go for it.  Now if I ever won an argument by a falsehood, I'd be very uncomfortable.  I'm very uncomfortable if I win an argument without resorting to falsehood.

What a responsibility, winning an argument.  Then you've changed someone's beliefs, and well, what if you were wrong?  Then they believe something wrong, and it's your fault.

I remember a colleague of mine years ago on the student newspaper we both worked at letting herself be convinced by me about some silly grammatical rule: don't say "snuck," say "sneaked," I said, or something like that.

Years later when she mentioned this, I just shrugged, and she was, like, "But Sheldon, you said ..."

Oh, well.

No comments:

Post a Comment