Dan Edelstein’s article brought me back to a book, that I had last read about a year back and Aristotle. Considered as one of the world’s most influential philosophers, Aristotle’s interest lay across multiple fields. He is also considered as one of the world’s first biologist who used a network of scouts to collect botanical and zoological samples from all over Greece and Asia. Aristotle established a school, the Lyceum (in Athens) where the majority of study focused on mathematics, philosophy and natural sciences. Seems weird?
Fig. 1. Aristotle (Source: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Aristotle)
Here’s an excerpt from Durant (1961)
“The new School was no mere replica of that which Plato had left behind him. The Academy was devoted above all to mathematics and to speculative and political philosophy; the Lyceum had rather a tendency to biology and the natural sciences. If we may believe Pliny, Alexander instructed his hunters, gamekeepers, gardeners and fishermen to furnish Aristotle with all the zoological and botanical material he might desire; other ancient writers tell us that at one time he had at his disposal a thousand men scattered throughout Greece and Asia, collecting for him specimens of the fauna and flora of every land. With this wealth of material he was enabled to establish the first great zoological garden that the world had seen. We can hardly exaggerate the influence of this collection upon his science and his philosophy.” Durant (1961, pg 53)
This is not a one off situation. The majority of early scientists and mathematicians were philosophers (Pythagoras, Rene Descartes among others). However, with the modern times and the advent of the “Division of Labor” as propounded by the famous economist Adam Smith, there has been a tendency for people to specialize in one particular field (in the majority of cases a specific aspect of a field).
I have an undergraduate degree in Economics, a subject considered by some as a science as well as art (Read this blog) and others as neither. To my untrained mind, economics looked like science with concrete demand and supply equations. It blew my mind when I had to take my first class in Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Karl Marx and other classical economists. Here were people considered the forerunners of the field of economics and their writing turned out to rely heavily on what we now classify as philosophy, sociology and political science etc. (so called humanities). There went my inherent disdain for the humanities. I decided to meet all (or atleast some of the sciences) at the crossroad thereon. From that day on, Economics could not exist independently of philosophy, sociology and psychology.
- Edelstein, Dan (2010), “How Is Innovation Taught? On the Humanities and the Knowledge Economy,” Liberal Education, 96(1), 14-19.
- Durant, Will (1961), “Story of philosophy,” Simon and Schuster. Link to the full text here