Did you know that Aristotle is to blame for the sad state of science during the Dark Ages in Western Europe? We could have colonized Mars by now if it weren't for Aristotle's disastrously wrong scientific ideas holding back the progress of science for thousands of years. At least, that's the impression you might get from a host of popular books, blog-posts, and click-bait articles online. For example, here is how one such book, called 50 Things You're Not Supposed to Know, argues that Aristotle held science back for millennia:
“The Problem is that from the time he was alive (the 4th century BC) until the Enlightenment, when Aristotle said something, that was the end of the argument.... Like most Greeks, Aristotle championed the view that the Sun and planets revolved around the Earth. Copernicus (in the early 1500's) and Galileo (100 years later) had to risk their reputations and their LIVES to put the kibosh on that nonsense.”
Once can find plenty of similar arguments online. While it's safe to say that none of the people who make these kinds of claims have a degree in the history of philosophy, some of them are really smart in other fields. Take Steven Weinberg, the nobel-prize winning physicist and celebrated author. The guy is undeniably a genius. And he has a similarly unenthusiastic view of the role Aristotle played in the development of science. Of course, he acknowledges the tremendous influence that Aristotle had throughout history. And he goes over a lot things that Aristotle got right. He just thinks that neither Aristotle nor Plato knew what science is, and that in later periods an over-reliance on Aristotle plagued both Islamic Science and later Medieval European Science.
Meanwhile, over at the ivory tower the people who study philosophy and its history professionally have a very different view on Aristotle. Earlier this year, a blog that is popular among professional philosophers, called Leiter Reports, conducted a poll to determine who the most important western philosopher of all time was. Guess who won? Aristotle.
So what's going on here? Can it be that Aristotle held science back for two thousand years and yet he's also the greatest western philosopher of all time? Or is one of these positions incorrect?
With us today to try to answer that question is Peter Adamson. You may know him as the host of the History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps podcast, which aims to tell the entire history of philosophy not just of the west, but also of the Arabic world, India and China. It may be the most ambitious podcast ever created. Adamson is professor of philosophy at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, Germany. He joins us to discuss Aristotle's contributions to philosophy, and the role that his works have played in shaping the course of human knowledge.