Against Aristotle


1438 | [On W.R. Johnson’s Propertius ]

There’s a very helpful paragraph about the poet in W.R. Johnson’s paper:

“Propertius’s Cynthia, then, may have been a real woman whom he really loved (and lost, or rejected or was rejected by); or she may be a sort of collage of various women with whom he shared erotic joys and griefs; or she may be a textual contraption, cobbled together from the women that other love poets had loved or invented. Or she may, in fact, be a peculiar amalgam of all these possibilities. But whatever she was when Propertius sat down to write her she is, for her contemporary readers, primarily an imaginative representation of what Propertius thought and felt about the society he lived in, about the nature of the erotic experience as he and his contemporaries conceived of it and experienced it, about what he thought concerning the nature and function of poetry, and, perhaps most crucially, what he thought about the meaning of his role as poet, about his poetic calling.” (Propertius, p.40)

Johnson is concise, accurate, and yet sensitive. He’s the perfect person to be an authority on Propertius.

See how well the commentator captures the generous spirit of the poet! See how the poet himself writes:

“Wine kills our beauty, and corrupts our youth: often through wine a lover can’t recognise her man.
Alas for me, much wine doesn’t change you! Drink then: you’re lovely: wine does you no harm, though your garland droops down, and dips in your glass, and you read my verse in a slowing voice. Let your table be drenched with more jets of Falernian, and foam higher in your golden cup.” (Propertius, Monobyblos, Book 2.33A:23-44)

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1816 | [On Patricia Curd’s A Presocratics Reader]

I’m revisiting the Presocratics as a way to take a short break from Latin love poetry. I’m working on A Presocratics Reader compiled by Patricia Curd. It’s what Prof. Doyle had assigned in his syllabus for one of his philosophy courses this past Spring. (Instead of wishing that I had taken it this past Spring, I’m going to actually sit in on it this Fall, since he’s offering it again. At least, that’s my plan anyways.)

It is said of Pythagoras that:

“Once he passed by as a puppy was being beaten, the story goes, and in pity said these words: Stop, do not beat him, since it is the soul of a man, a friend of mine, which I recognized when I heard it crying.” (Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers 8.36)

Presumably, the man was crying as he was beating the puppy.

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2142 | [On Patricia Curd’s A Presocratics Reader]

I noticed that nearly all of the fragments attributed to Zeno of Elea come from an interpretation from Aristotle or some commentary that paraphrases Aristotle’s interpretation of Zeno — at least, it does in Curd’s book. (The one that doesn’t come from Aristotle comes from Plato, and so it is also an interpretation rather than a direct citation of the man himself. But Plato never writes his dialogues as though it were a historical documentation of actual conversations; rather, Plato always incorporates the philosophical content into a scene just the way that a playwright like Aeschylus might incorporate a philosophical argument into a portion of his dramatic work.) But the problem with this is that Aristotle isn’t reliable — as I’ve shown, on numerous occasions — whether he’s deliberately distorting the original thought, or whether he’s doing it unwittingly due his lack of “emotional intelligence.”

For instance, here is what is cited in Curd’s book:

“If there are many, they must be just as many as they are, neither more nor less. But if they are as many as they are, they must be limited. If there are many things, the things that are are unlimited, since between things that are there are always others, and still others between those. Therefore the things that are are unlimited.” (Simplicius, Commentary on Aristotle’s Physics 140.29–33)

And also:

“There are four of Zeno’s arguments about motion that present difficulties for those who try to solve them. First is the argument that says that there is no motion because that which is moving must reach the midpoint before the end. . . . It is always necessary to traverse half the distance, but these are infinite, and it is impossible to get through things that are infinite. . . .” (Aristotle, Physics 6.9 239b9–13; Physics 8.8 263a5–6)

But neither of these come from Zeno himself. And because Aristotle has a habit of misconstruing what philosopher’s say into “ghost-men” only to argue the “ghost-man” away (and steal away credit and glory for himself), I don’t think that we can be confident in saying what Zeno himself really thought if our main source is Aristotle [and commentators that accept Aristotle’s interpretation wholesale].

I think that this is a HUGE problem in philosophy.

In any case, what Plato says that Zeno says and what Aristotle says that Zeno says are contradictory.

According to Plato’s version, Zeno’s argument was that “things are not many.” His treatise was aiming to show how it’s ridiculous “if there are many things.” In the dialogue, Zeno admits that his treatise is actually “a defense of Parmenides’ argument against those who try to make fun of it, saying that if what-is is one, the argument has many ridiculous consequences which contradict it.” (Plato, Parmenides, 127b-128d)

And so, according to Plato’s version, Zeno isn’t trying to say what’s wrong with Parmenides’ argument [that all of existence is a unified whole]. Rather, he’s trying to defend Parmenides from his mockers by showing how it’s even more ridiculous for them to think the opposite [that all of existence is a disunified plurality of things].

But according to Simplicius’ commentary on Aristotle’s take on Zeno, it seems as though Zeno is the proponent of the view that mocks Parmenides rather than defending him. The same with whatever mishmash that Aristotle has interpreted Zeno to mean.

Just another one the reasons why I have a dislike of Aristotle — and an even greater dislike of his racist groupies.

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2342 | [On Patricia Curd’s A Presocratics Reader]

Why is it clearly acceptable for Aristotle to plagiarize, slander, and purposely distort and have everyone affirm and reward that behavior by continuing to study his works and to defer to him? Why is it acceptable and admirable for him to have done this, while other scholars are considered discredited if they do as Aristotle has done and plagiarize, slander, and deliberately misinterpret?