24 June 2006

More Like Colleagues Than Like Pupils

The following quotation from Ryle, offered recently by Alan Kim as a comment to a much earlier post on this blog, seemed worth giving attention especially given the remarks by Ran Baratz, concluding his BMCR review yesterday, which I also quote.

Ryle. The conviction that the Viennese dichotomy 'Either Science or Nonsense' had too few 'ors' in it led some of us, including myself, to harbour and to work on a derivative suspicion. If, after all, logicians and even philosophers can say significant things, then perhaps some logicians and philosophers of the past, even the remote past, had, despite their unenlightenment, sometimes said significant things. 'Conceptual analysis' seems to denote a permissible, even meritorious exercise, so maybe some of our forefathers had had their Cantabrigian moments. If we are careful to winnow off their vacuously speculative tares from their analytical wheat, we may find that some of them sometimes did quite promising work in our own line of business. Naturally we began, in a patronising mood, by looking for and finding in the Stoics, say, or Locke, primitive adumbrations of our own most prized thoughts. But before long some of them seemed to move more like pioneers than like toddlers, and to talk to us across the ages more like colleagues than like pupils; and then we forgot our pails of whitewash. ( "Autobiographical" in Ryle: A Collection of Critical Essays, p.10, f.)

Baratz. To conclude, it seems that in some of the more recent reconstructions of Aristotle's Politics one finds what is perhaps the gravest concern of such efforts: 'mistreating or distorting Aristotle by importing ideas or imposing structures that are inimical to his thought' [
F. Miller (1995), Nature, Justice and Rights in Aristotle's Politics, p. 22]. As a result, I cannot accept some of the more far-reaching conclusions they offer (which occasionally appear to be a-priori assumptions). Instead, I prefer to continue viewing Aristotle as a unique and sophisticated political philosopher whose work does not necessarily dovetail with the frameworks of liberal thought. Largely by virtue of his realistic and mature conception of human nature, Aristotle managed to integrate into his political thought manifold factors that have a significant impact on human beliefs and conduct. I find that these qualities of Aristotelian political thought remain largely unequaled. Therefore, instead of reinterpreting his ideas so that they may adhere to the modern spirit, contemporary scholarship should instead enrich itself with Aristotle's innovative and thorough theories, even where it rejects their morals (an example might be Aristotle's cautious and complex ideas on the relation between the political and ethical, compared to the coarse subordination of the political to the moral, which nowadays we encounter all too often). It appears to me that Aristotle hardly warrants a rescue mission, especially one that leads to the dilution and alteration of his thoughts into inordinate liberal and thoroughly democratic modern viewpoints.
Baratz' complete review may be found here.