Friday, January 19, 2007

Mayhew vs. Tracinski

Robert Mayhew demolishes part five of Robert Tracinski’s “What Went Right?” series.

Tracinski’s thesis is, in my words, history moves philosophy. As evidence he offers the history of ancient Greece, in which Aristotle follows the cultural efflorescence of the 5th century. Aristotle used the achievements of Greek culture that came before him inductively in forming his philosophy.

Actually, ancient Greece shows the opposite of Tracinski’s point -- the power of philosophy. The glories of 5th century Athens make no sense outside the context of a robust philosophic culture that went from Thales in the 6th century through the Sophists. As Dr. Mayhew explains, the ideas in the great plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides come from contemporary philosophy.

Tracinski seems to have been led astray by the fact that ancient philosophy peaked with Aristotle in the 4th century, after Greek culture peaked. But the fact that the 5th century Greeks were not influenced by Aristotle does not mean they worked in a philosophic vacuum.

Tracinski is not yet done with “What Went Right?”, but so far it looks like a failure.

UPDATE: I went back and reread part five of Tracinski's series to make sure I understand his point. He writes:

The role of the philosopher, historically, is not as the sole motor of all progress, but rather as the observer, defender, promoter, and intellectual amplifier of that progress.
Philosophy is not the sole motor of progress, therefore philosophy and other factors are the motors of progress. But what is the most important, fundamental cause of progress, ideas or something else? What are the other factors? And what causes the other factors?

I want to note here that I respect Robert Tracinski and I value TIA. I think he is mistaken here, but he has not made a breach of morality. We should criticize his mistakes without getting hysterical.

No comments: