Aristotle, Schmaristotle

I’ve been listening to quite a bit of Harry Nilsson lately.

Not just the song “Without You”.

Even though he died long before I was aware of who he was, I just can’t get enough of his music.

I think it has to do with this documentary I watched on PBS. On the documentary, they said that Harry Nilsson did this movie called  The Point. I haven’t seen the movie but they said it’s philosophical. They said that Harry Nilsson was into philosophical kinds of stuff.

Yeah. I had pretty much figured that out. I get that philosophical feeling every time I hear the song “Coconut”.

Now, I know that If I asked around very few people would say that Harry Nilsson was a (professional) philosopher. But I’d like to think that if Aristotle was a professional singer he’d sound just like Harry Nilsson.

So the next time you think of this guy:


Imagine this guy singing:


Now tell me true, how can you think of Aristotle and not think of Harry Nilsson?

It’s totally the perfect soundtrack for Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics.

Really. It is.

If you were wondering, the reason why thinking of and listening to Harry Nilsson reminds me of Aristotle is this: Like Harry Nilsson, Aristotle was a bit of a rock star. A philosophical rock star. For centuries, the philosophy of Aristotle was the philosophy.

Not consequently, Aristotle was called THE Philosopher.

Why, you say?

In case you didn’t know, Aristotle invented physics.

I know, big deal. Only nerds are into physics, right?

But Aristotle’s brilliance didn’t end there!

In addition to inventing all that big-brained Einstein stuff, Aristotle is credited with inventing psychology economics, astronomy, biology, and psychology. Aristotle also founded the first philosophical school, The Lyceum (The Academy). Aristotle wrote on subjects ranging from politics to aesthetics. He’s the inventor of virtue ethics and Aristotle’s logic was the standard logic for philosophy (and all higher thinking) until Gottlob Frege.

And Frege didn’t come around until the 20th century!

Did I fail to mention that Aristotle was the only philosopher to get the thumbs up from the early Catholic Church?

He was.

Aristotle’s philosophy was so influential on early Catholic thought, that Scholasticism, a philosophy based on the teachings of the Catholic Church and the philosophy of Aristotle, dominated Western thought from the 11th to the 15th century.

Reason-based philosophy of Aristotle + divine intervention = scholasticism

And like every VH-1 Behind the Music story goes, like every rock star, the good times didn’t last for long. Unfortunately for Aristotle, Scholasticism eventually fell out of favor.

I know what you’re thinking, if Aristotle was THE philosopher, how could a school of thought based in part on his teachings fall out of favor?

The reason why is this: people finally realized that Aristotle was wrong about EVERYTHING.

Ok, maybe not everything.

But still, have you heard of Aristotle’s Four Causes?

No? I thought not. Because Aristotle was wrong!

Just to let you know, the Four Causes are: material, formal, efficient, and final.

Helps to know that, eh? That kind of info has gotta be worth at least the $600 question on Jeopardy!

You can reason that everyone should listen to Harry Nilsson because he was a brilliant songwriter and vocalist and, even though his music is decades old, it’s better than half or the auto-tuned “music” on the pop charts. But why should we study the ancient philosophers like (the often-wrong) Aristotle? What good is studying Aristotelian logic if the whole world’s logic is Russell and Frege?

But what’s downright puzzling to me is why, after so many centuries of being proved wrong, Aristotle and his philosophy are still so popular. I mean, people actually (still) take his writings seriously. There’s not a university philosophy department that doesn’t have at least one class (usually there’s several) devoted to Aristotle. Really.

It’s strange that so much professional philosopher brain space is devoted to studying, teaching, and writing about a philosopher who has a philosophy with the same degree of accuracy as a local TV news weatherman.

Lest you doubt my verisimilitude, here are some more things Aristotle was completely wrong about:

The planets do not float on invisible spheres.
Everything is not either earth, air, fire, or water.
Animals do in fact, laugh.
The average human infant laughs for the first time approximately 90 days after birth, not 40, as Aristotle states.
Women do not need semen to retain body heat.
There is NO SUCH THING as a natural slave.
Semen does not contain little, full-grown people in it.

Trust me, there’s more than that.

But since this is a blog post and not a novel, I’ve kept the list short.
If you think about how wrong Aristotle was about nearly everything he wrote about, it’s amazing that Aristotle’s philosophy, let alone Scholasticism, ever caught on at all.

Especially since Aristotle couldn’t seem to make Scholasticism work himself.

I guess Aristotle isn’t so brilliant after all.

The late Zen Buddhist philosopher Alan Watts says if we had followed the teachings of Heraclitus instead of Aristotle, we’d be better off.

I can’t say that I disagree.

But then again, Alan Watts dropped acid.

Still, despite what I (and apparently Alan Watts) feel about Aristotle, this one thing is unfortunately true: There’s not a college campus with a philosophy department that is not teaching Aristotle. And – oh, wait, I just remembered, there are Neo-scholasticists aren’t there?

Damn. Never mind.

Hey, any of y’all out there wanna hear “Coconut”?

2 thoughts on “Aristotle, Schmaristotle

  1. Aristotle was right about one thing my friend: what happiness is, and how to obtain it. That is the most important thing in life. You mention Nichomachean Ethics, have you studied it, like for years? If you have not, I do not think you know what you are writing about. And you should be more respectful of the Teacher.

    • well, as for your question about studying aristotle, specifically, aristotle’s nicomachean ethics, i have studied both philosophy in general and aristotle specifically. you see, the point of this blog is i play the part of someone who watches way too much TV and tries to apply everything i see on TV or in a movie to some philosophical topic. my “misunderstanding” is the result of a brain that is too influenced by popular culture to figure my way through my philosophy clearly. i assure you, it takes familiarity to write like you’ve got it wrong.

      why else would someone listen to harry nilsson and think of aristotle?


      i poke fun at aristotle because aristotle is one of the greatest philosophers who ever lived.

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