Saturday, 28 January 2012

Cool reasoning and passionate logic

"You are not one of us, Aristotle, and you will never be," sentenced Plato. "This is why I have to ask you to leave the Academy." Plato made a pause expecting to hear bitter recriminations from his student, but none were forthcoming. Aristotle stared at Plato silently, almost with indifference, and shrugged his shoulders.

"Haven't you realized how much your questions irritate other students?" continued Plato, his voice tainted with anger. "Can't you see that nobody likes you?" Without saying a word, Aristotle turned around and faced the class.

They were all there. All of Plato's students at the Academy. Sippus, Xenocrates, and the rest. None of them had wanted to miss the spectacle of Aristotle's public humiliation. All of them had wanted to savour the vindication of their timidity and conformity. Aristotle was an outcast. Aristotle didn't belong. Aristotle had to go.

Sippus stood up, walked to the front of the room, and stood still facing Aristotle, the Macedonian. Sippus had disliked Aristotle since the first day they met. He hated Aristotle's cool reasoning and passionate logic. He would have liked nothing better than to see Aristotle condemned for contempt of the gods and sold as a slave.

"I have refrained myself for too long," began Sippus, turning to his fellow students. "Have we not all learned that there is no higher purpose than unity? That the goal of a philosopher's life is to share the common opinion?"

The other students nodded. Sippus was neither brilliant nor well-spoken, but he could be trusted when it came to echoing Plato's teachings in a righteous tone. Many regarded him as the most likely to succeed Plato at the head of the Academy. Sippus was also Plato's nephew, although that was a coincidence.

Aristotle smiled and looked at Plato. It was such smile of Aristotle that all students at the Academy had learned to fear. It was the smile that always preceded powerful arguments put forward softly, arguments that would tear any fallacy to shreds.

"Since when is the common opinion worth more than the truth?" asked Aristotle without raising his voice. Plato took in a deep breath, but did not respond. Sippus searched frantically in his mind for a good answer or, at least, for a sophism that he could use to confound the odious Macedonian.

That winter, in the year 347 B.C., was going to be Plato's last. Aristotle would soon leave Athens, only to return 13 years later, in his early fifties, to start up a competing school, the Lyceum, and write 40 essays that would change the course of History.

When Sippus finally managed to put together a reply, he pointed his finger theatrically at the other students. "Do you dispute, Aristotle, that the highest honour in life is the good opinion of your fellow citizens?"

"An honest man would do better to strive for a more tangible and immediate reward," answered Aristotle calmly. Then he walked to what had been his place at the Academy during the last ten years, bent over, picked up his roll of manuscripts, and headed for the door.

"What reward are you talking about?" retorted Sippus infuriated. Aristotle's response came as he crossed the doorway, without bothering to look back. "Immortality," he said.


[Image by Phillie Casablanca under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under]

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