Seven Milestones in the History of Thought LO12821

Joe Katzman (
Sat, 8 Mar 1997 00:37:17 -0500

Replying to LO12748 --

> [Aristotle] magnanimously considered his own inventiveness as "better"
> thinking, not hesitating, as was the wont of his day, to denigrate the
> mental capacities of the women and slaves he considered his inferiors.

I'm going to skip the history lesson, except to note in passing that the
concept of "slave" had a meaning in Greece (and later, in Rome) which does
not map directly onto the US experience of the term.

The reason I'm skipping it is to go on to a much more important point:
Aristotle's logic was inherently a tool that could be used by anyone who
cared to learn it. To the extent that it was an attack on anything, it was
an attack aimed at his Academy peers, and at popular fallacies which so
often dominated debate among citizens (like the "straw man" fallacy, of
which your post is an excellent example).

> The idea that the ways of the "rational," white, Western male are the
> standards against which all should be measured has proven a niggardly
> persistent one.

Yup. Probably in part due to the fact that the technical advancements
created by this method have proved a tremendous advantage to those
societies who adopted it. Those that didn't fell behind, and human nature
being what it is they were soon under the thumb of a society that had
adopted it more widely. This isn't to say that the rational Western
approach is perfect, but neither can one dismiss its success.

The other reason for its persistence is that every once in a while, people
get to see what the alternatives are like. If Aristotle's logical thinking
is dismissed as oppressive, you have a real problem when the villagers
show up at your door blaming you for the recent drought, and accusing you
of Witchcraft because it happened after you moved in to the area.

"But that's a logical fallacy," you say. "Just because one thing follows
another doesn't mean one causes the other." Unfortunately, the villagers
now accuse you of cultural imperialism, insensitivity, and an oppressive
refusal to acknowledge their more intuitive way of knowing and
'participatory consciousness' as equally valid.

Then they burn you at the stake.

> As it is, traditional accounts of the history of the Western philosophy
> remind me of those clever posters alla New Yorker that one used to see
> everywhere. The world according to New Yorkers, Londoners, Parisians,
> etc., with the city of choice looming huge and dominant in the
> foreground, the oceans and lands beyond small and insignificant.

Uh huh. Guess what? This tendency is not at all confined to the West. Near
as I can tell, this phenomenon is rather universal. It's as true of
someone who grows up in a small Iowa town as it was of the Pharaohs of

We can all debate the question of which seven milestones deserve
recognition, and wisdom can be found throughout history. I'd certainly be
receptive to a post that offered some additional possibilities, and
included some informed commentary that gave the assertion some historical
perspective and shed light on the implications. That would be interesting.
But that is not what I read.


When you look carefully at many of the proponents of Learning
Organizations, you are likely to find that their methods are not meant to
replace rationality. If anything, they seek to make corporations MORE
rational, by removing defense mechanisms and short-sighted thinking that
impedes learning and rational coping. Non-rational components like
community and culture are valued insofar as they enhance, enable, and
inform this process, not as ends in and of themselves.

This focus is correct. Communities can be blinkered and insular. Cultures
are often the focus of change efforts. We may seek to surface and
understand these things in order to create change from the inside, because
experience has taught us that a solution which ignores things as they are
doesn't work. Seeking to impose a professedly "rational" solution as if
large sections of valid data did not exist is a contradiction in terms.

This is an expansion of logic, not its abrogation. If Aristotelian
rationality really is oppressive and inferior, we can all just pack up
this list and go home. The whole concept of systematic organizational
learning disappears in any meaningful sense.

Finally, I believe that your posting does a grave disservice to many
members of this list on a personal level. It was, and is, the work of
Western philosophers like Aristotle that has given many of the downtrodden
throughout the ages the tools they needed to think their way to a better
state. Many of us are on this list because we think a similar process can
occur in corporations, using tools that Aristotle's heirs have built and

Joe Katzman
"The more you know, the more you can imagine."


Joe Katzman <>

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