Saturday, March 28, 2009

Plato and Aristotle - In Our Time

BBC's In Our Time last Thursday came with an issue that had me very excited. In 1509 the painter Rafael painted the library of pope Julius II and produced a panel above the philosophy section. On the panel among other philosophers Plato and Aristotle are depicted and this painting serves as departure for In Our Time to discuss the most intriguing history of the reception of Aristotle and Plato in the West.

By 1509 Aristotle had been broadly received and thanks to Thomas of Aquino effectively incorporated into the Christian main stream of thinking. Plato was just rediscovered. New and complete Greek manuscripts reached the West and were translated. Plato rapidly came to be incorporated into Christianity as well and got to influence western thinking. This double influence of Aristotle and Plato continued also when philosophy became emancipated of Christian dogma.

Rafael's painting captures Plato pointing to the heavens and Aristotle pointing to the earth and this image, worth a thousand words, sums up how the two Greek giants are received. Plato as the abstractionist and Aristotle the observer of the natural world. Apart from the question whether this perception is correct and genuinely represents an opposition between the two, it tells of the way the two were perceived and continued to be so. And this is very revealing to the history of our thinking, which is exactly what In Our Time is all about. So in this it is at its best.

More In Our Time:
The Boxer Rebellion,
The library of Alexandria,
The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot,
The destruction of Carthage,
The brothers Grimm.

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