Binary Star System

Occasionally one will hear someone talk breezily about how all of philosophy is a struggle between Plato and Aristotle. This seems to me to use a painting from Raphael, and a small piece of it to boot, as a substitute for historical inquiry. The fact is, the picture of philosophy as a binary star system owes more to the accident that the third, fourth, fifth etc. great figures’ texts have disappeared, along with the fact that interpreting things in terms of team sports seems to be an inveterate tendency of the human mind. In any event, once this binary opposition is in place it can be superimposed on all sorts of dualisms. For example Ayn Rand and Lyndon LaRouche both agree on the “two sides, locked in eternal combat” picture, but for Rand, technology belongs to Aristotle and environmentalism to Plato; for LaRouche, it’s the other way around. Whatever.

Lloyd Gerson argued that late antiquity thought Plato and Aristotle more alike than different. One can put oneself into that state of mind, though whether that makes Plato seem more sensible and harmless or Aristotle less dull and uninspiring remains to be seen. All I know is that this jumbling together produced Neoplatonism, and that everything that is gorgeous and everything that is methodologically suspect, from Augustine to Heidegger, is indebted to it.

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