Tuesday, April 11, 2017

That Depends on Whom You Ask

This also must be confessed, that the most durable, as well as justest fame, has been acquired by the easy philosophy, and that abstract reasoners seem hitherto to have enjoyed only a momentary reputation, from the caprice or ignorance of their own age, but have not been able to support their renown with more equitable posterity. It is easy for a profound philosopher to commit a mistake in his subtile reasonings; and one mistake is the necessary parent of another, while he pushes on his consequences, and is not deterred from embracing any conclusion, by its unusual appearance, or its contradiction to popular opinion. But a philosopher, who purposes only to represent the common sense of mankind in more beautiful and more engaging colours, if by accident he falls into error, goes no farther; but renewing his appeal to common sense, and the natural sentiments of the mind, returns into the right path, and secures himself from any dangerous illusions. The fame of Cicero flourishes at present; but that of Aristotle is utterly decayed.
David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Section I, Of the Different Species of Philosophy (1748)

A century and a half later, Charles Saunders Peirce wrote
To erect a philosophical edifice that shall outlast the vicissitudes of time, my care must be, not so much to set each brick with nicest accuracy, as to lay the foundations deep and massive. Aristotle built upon a few chosen concepts--such as matter and form, act and power--very broad, and in their outlines vague and rough, but solid, unshakable, and not easily undermined; and thence it has come to pass that Aristotelianism is babbled in every nursery, that "English Common Sense," for example, is thoroughly peripatetic, and that ordinary men live so completely in the house of the Stagyrite that whatever they see out of the windows appears to them incomprehensible and metaphysical.
"Preface to an Unwritten Book", 1897-1898, collected in Charles S. Peirce: The Essential Writings,  Harper and Rowe 1972. To be sure, Peirce goes on to write of the insufficiency of Aristotelianism, though also of the difficulties encountered by its would-be successors.

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