[Slate] Plato, Aristotle, and the 2000 Election.

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From: Adam Rifkin -4K (adam@XeNT.ics.uci.edu)
Date: Sat Aug 05 2000 - 14:59:18 PDT

Ever since the 2000 presidential election came down to a choice between
Gush and Bore (ohmigosh, people are actually pulling out their "Lick
Bush" bumper stickers we haven't seen since the 1992 election...), I've
been looking for a reason to follow this election at all. Snore.

Nice attempt by Timothy Noah to distinguish the candidates along
Greek philosophy lines:


> Plato, Aristotle, and the 2000 Election
> By Timothy Noah
> Posted Friday, Aug. 4, 2000, at 4:05 p.m. PT
> Who do you like better, Plato or Aristotle? The answer may determine
> your vote in this year's presidential election. Chatterbox reached this
> tentative conclusion after poring over a 1995 book by Lynne Cheney, wife
> of Republican vice-presidential candidate Dick Cheney, titled Telling
> the Truth. Buried within Telling the Truth--a somewhat plodding jeremiad
> against political correctness, moral relativism, and other
> neoconservative bugaboos--is a passage denouncing the presumptive
> Democratic presidential candidate, Al Gore, for disrespecting the
> Enlightenment in his book, Earth in the Balance:
> Overlooking the fact that these thinkers were a major source of
> inspiration for the founders of our country, Gore describes them as the
> source of almost everything that has gone wrong with the world. Their
> emphasis on reason and their insistence on objectivity-on standing apart
> from what is being studied and evaluating it disinterestedly-have caused
> us to become, Gore says, a "dysfunctional civilization," obsessed with
> consuming, prone to polluting, and deeply unhappy. As Gore describes it,
> the worldview that led to the scientific revolution has been responsible
> for everything bad (including "the atrocities of Hitler and Stalin") and
> nothing good, which does cause one to wonder what worldview the vice
> president imagines gave rise to anesthesia, polio vaccine, and-his pet
> project-the information superhighway.
> The claim that Gore sees "the worldview that led to the scientific
> revolution" as being "responsible for everything bad" and "nothing good"
> is a distortion that's characteristic of Cheney's thuggish approach to
> intellectual discourse. But Cheney is right that Gore's book criticizes
> Enlightenment thinkers like Rene Descartes and Francis Bacon. Earth in
> the Balance is a somewhat sophomoric exercise in philosophical
> discourse, but when you strip away its grandiosity and show-offy
> rhetoric, its arguments tend to be more commonsensical than Cheney lets
> on. What Cheney caricatures as a wholesale rejection of the
> Enlightenment is really an attempt on Gore's part to engage some of its
> bigger questions. Here is a summary of Gore's "what's wrong with the
> Enlightenment" argument:
> 1.) The Judeo-Christian tradition, in establishing mankind's "dominion"
> over the earth, also charged mankind with environmental stewardship.
> (The same passage in Genesis that mentions "dominion," Gore points out,
> also requires humans to "replenish"-i.e., care for--the earth.)
> 2.) When the Enlightenment came along, Descartes remembered "dominion,"
> but breezed past the idea of stewardship. This allowed Descartes to
> place the idealized world of rational thought on a higher plane than
> nature. In this sense, Descartes was emulating Plato and yielding to
> what Cheney's fellow neoconservative, Michael Novak, has called the
> "great temptation of the West."
> 3.) Bacon then did Descartes one better by separating science from
> religion.
> 4.) Instead, Descartes and Bacon should have emulated Gore's favorite
> Greek philosopher, Aristotle. Where Plato thought "the thinker is
> separate from the world he thinks about," Aristotle thought "everything
> in our intellect comes from the senses, and thus the thinker is
> powerfully connected to the world he thinks about." Aristotle, in other
> words, understood that man had both dominion over and stewardship of the
> earth.
> Even Chatterbox, who is an atheist (and therefore inclined to look more
> favorably than Gore on Bacon's secularism), can't really quarrel with
> Gore's basic point here that the realm of rational thought should be
> connected to the realms of morality and nature. To Cheney, though, Gore
> has positioned himself as enemy of the western canon. This is nonsense.
> Aristotle is as much a part of the western canon as Plato is; so is
> Genesis. If Chatterbox were as irresponsible as Cheney, he might accuse
> her of positioning herself against the Bible!
> George W. Bush, like Cheney, seems to embrace a Platonic rather than an
> Aristotelian view of the universe. He has a terrible environmental
> record in Texas. When he talks about what he'd do as president, he
> almost always spouts generalities. He famously can't remember the names
> of world leaders. Gore, on the other hand, is Aristotelian. He wants to
> reduce emission of greenhouse gases. He has an oppressively specific set
> of policy proposals, and tends to bore in on (sometimes irrelevant)
> minutiae when attacking rival proposals. He knows everybody's name. If
> you like Plato, vote for Bush. If you like Aristotle, vote for Gore.


She doesn't know who I am. And she doesn't give a damn about me. -- Wheatus, "Teenage Dirtbag", http://www.wheatus.com/

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