Contest Passage 3

In contrast with both Hegel and Heidegger, each of whom admired Aristotle a lot, a certain important figure in our book thought that the Philosopher was not so worthy of respect. Anyone know who is responsible for the following gem, and why he felt so strongly?

It grieves me to the core that this damned, stuck-up, scoundrelly heathen has deluded and made fools of so many of the best Christians with his misleading writings. God has plagued us thus for our sins.

As always, some words altered from the original to defend against google.

About Sean D. Kelly

Sean Dorrance Kelly is the Teresa G. and Ferdinand F. Martignetti Professor of Philosophy at Harvard University. He is also Faculty Dean at Dunster House, one of the twelve undergraduate Houses at Harvard. He served for six years as chair of Harvard's Department of Philosophy. Kelly earned an Sc.B. in Mathematics and Computer Science and an M.S. in Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences from Brown University in 1989. After three years as a Ph.D. student in Logic and Methodology of Science, he received his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of California at Berkeley in 1998. Before arriving at Harvard in 2006, Kelly taught at Stanford and Princeton, and he was a Visiting Professor at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris. Sean Kelly's work focuses on various aspects of the philosophical, phenomenological, and cognitive neuroscientific nature of human experience. He is a world authority on 20th century European Philosophy, specializing in the work of Martin Heidegger and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. He has also done influential work in philosophy of mind and philosophy of perception. Kelly has published articles in numerous journals and anthologies and he has received fellowships or awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the NEH, the NSF and the James S. McDonnell Foundation, among others. Fun fact: He appeared on The Colbert Show in 2011 to talk about All Things Shining. Sean Kelly lives at Dunster House with his wife, the Harvard Philosopher Cheryl Kelly Chen, and their two boys, Benjamin and Nathaniel.
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7 Responses to Contest Passage 3

  1. Matthew Perry says:

    Geeze, I don’t know. It’s got to be post Aquinas (since I do not think Aristotle had much influence on the Church fathers, and he was lost for most of the middle ages), and it’s probably enlightenment or later, since there were only a few medievals who would have spoken so harshly.

    Not Kierkegaard. Not Leibniz. Not Nietzsche, who wouldn’t care about sin. Probably not Kant. Maybe Pascal. Maybe Bacon. Maybe Descartes, but I cannot find it in the standard three volume works and I cannot imagine Descartes being concerned about sin except sarcastically or in one of his self-serving shows of false-piety.

    Could be John Calvin, but as far as I can gather he thinks that some of Aristotle’s ideas are good and that it is merely Aristotle himself and not Christians who are confused.

    To tell you the truth, it feels a hell of a lot like Martin Luther, who talks poorly of Aristotle from time to time and in similar terms, but I can’t find anything just like this.

    I’ll go with Luther.

    • Dean Rose says:

      Here’s my guess:

      “My soul longs for nothing so ardently as to expose and publicly shame that Greek buffoon, who like a spectre has befooled the Church. If Aristotle had not lived in the flesh I should not hesitate to call him a devil.”

      The contest passage feels like it came come Luther. I remember from podcasts past in Fall 2008 professor Dreyfus spent a good bit of time working Luther into the Philosophy 6 course. As I recall, we were coming out of Dante and his Inferno, where Beatrice and the gang were “blissed out” in the presense of God. With Luther we were made the move from bliss to joy, as Luther illustrates in correspondence with his father:

      ” . . May he, our dear Lord and Saviour, be with you and at your side, so that (may God grant it to happen either here or there) we may joyfully see each other again. For our faith is certain, and we don’t doubt that we shall shortly see each other again in the presence of Christ.” (Out of the Storm” by Derek Wilson p267).

      And further letting Luther speak for himself about his stance on Aristotle:

      “The schoolmen had forced the contents of divine revelation into the thought forms of the Aristotelian philosophy. In course of time they had borrowed from him not only the dialectical forms, but also his definitions and principles. Aristotle had behaved himself as the proverbial camel. At first the schoolmen had allowed him to protrude his nose into the tent of Christian theology. He had ended by forcing his way in completely. Philosophy at first had acted as the handmaid of theology, but finally became its mistress. Hagar had usurped Sarah’s place. The teaching of the Church had been corrupted by a rationalism, in which Aristotle had been permitted to sit in judgment on Christ and the Apostles” (287)

  2. Matthew Perry says:

    To anyone following my suggestions above, ignore my suggestion that Pascal said this, since as far as I can tell from looking through his Pensees and Provincial Letters, not only does Pascal never speak poorly of Aristotle, but he usually lightly praises him.

  3. Pretty good reasoning by both Matthew and Dean. The passage is indeed found in Luther – in particular in his “Open Letter to the Christian Nobility”. Good work! Here is a version of it (see the opening paragraph).

    Anyone want to say more about why Luther was so upset with Aristotle?

  4. Daniel says:

    Before answering I have to admit that I have never formally studied theology or philosophy. I also don’t have much knowledge about Luther and mediaeval scholasticism.

    I would think that Luther attacks Aristotle because Aristotle’s virtue ethics eventually caused the Catholic church to put good work over faith. It is hard or impossible for us sinful (imperfect) humans to have done enough good work that would justified us before God. The Bible shows us that God has mercy with us and loves us. Theologians that focused on Aristotle’s virtue ethics were therefore hiding the God of the Bible.

  5. Matthew Perry says:

    Well, Luther on Aristotle is actually quite ambiguous. Granted that I had to gather research on this topic very quickly, but see here:

    Here he acknowledges that Aristotle’s methods were sufficient to get at least some good sense (and he uses Aristotle’s works in several other areas, including in his interpretation of Genesis). It’s just that what reason/Aristotle gives us is limited.

    From “Epistle Sermons, Vol. III: Trinity Sunday to Advent”

    8. Further, we know, from the testimony of Holy Writ, that we cannot expound the mystery of these divine things by the speculations of reason and a pretense of great wisdom. To explain this, as well as all the articles of our faith, we must have a knowledge higher than any to which the understanding of man can attain. That knowledge of God which the heathen can perceive by reason or deduce from rational premises is but a small part of the knowledge that we should possess. The heathen Aristotle in his best book concludes from a passage in the wisest pagan poet, Homer: There can be no good government in which there is more than one lord; it results as where more than one master or mistress attempts to direct the household servants. So must there be but one lord and regent in every government. This is all rightly true. God has implanted such light and understanding in human nature for the purpose of giving a conception and an illustration of his divine office, the only Lord and Maker of all creatures. But, even knowing this, we have not yet searched out or fathomed the exalted, eternal, divine Godhead essence. For even though I have learned that there is an only divine majesty, who governs all things, I do not thereby know the inner workings of this divine essence himself; this no one can tell me, except, as we have said, in so far as God himself reveals it in his Word.

    Here he talks about what he considers the Scholastic imposition of Aristotle on scripture as the devil’s plot. For the devil makes us think that reason can supplant the word of God.

    From “The Epistles of St. Peter and St. Jude Preached and Explained by Martin Luther”

    V. 15. But be always ready to give an answer to every man that asketh you, the reason of the hope that is in you. We must here acknowledge that St. Peter addressed these words to all Christians, clergy and laity, male and female, young and old, of whatever state or condition they may be. From thence it will follow that every Christian should know the ground and reason of his faith, and be able to maintain and defend it where it is necessary. But up to this time, the idea that the laity should read the Scriptures has been treated with derision. For in this matter the devil has hit on a fine measure, in tearing the Bible out of the hands of the laity,—and this is what he has thought: “If I can keep the laity from reading the Scripture, I will then bring the priests over from the Bible to Aristotle, so that gossip they what they will, the laity must hear just what they set forth; while if the laity should read the Scripture, the priests must study it too, in order that they may not be detected and overcome.” But look you now at what St. Peter tells us all, that we should give answer and show reason for our faith. When you come to die I shall not be with you, neither will the Pope; and if you know but this one reason of your hope, and say, “I will believe as the Councils, the Pope and the Fathers believed,” then the devil will answer, “Yes! but how if they were in error?” Then will he have won, and will drag you down to hell. Therefore must we know what we believed,—namely, what God’s word is, not what the Pope and holy Fathers believe or say. For you must not put your faith at all in persons—but on the word of God.

    So when any one assaults you, and like a heretic asks why you believe that you shall be saved through faith—here is your answer: “Because I have God’s word and the clear declarations of Scripture.” As St. Paul says, “The just shall live by faith,” and St. Peter, where he speaks of Christ, the living stone, quoting from the prophet Isaiah, “Whosoever believeth on him shall not be confounded; thereon do I build, and know that the word will not deceive me.” But if you will speak like other fools, “Yes, we will hear how the council decides, and with that we will abide,” then are you lost. Wherefore you should say, “Why do I then ask what this one or that believes or decides; if they speak not the word of God, I will hear nothing of it.”

    Do you say, then, it is so confusedly difficult a thing, that no one knows what he should believe, and so one must wait till it is determined what one shall hold? Answer. Then will you go to the devil the while; for if it comes to the pinch, and you should die and not know what you should believe, neither I nor any one else could help you. Therefore you must know for yourself, and turn to no one else, and cling fast to the word of God, if you would escape hell. And for such as cannot read, it is necessary that they should learn and retain some clear texts out of the Scriptures—one or two at least, and on this ground abide firmly. As for instance that of Gen. xii., where God says to Abraham, “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” If you have learned that, you may stand thereon and say, “Though Pope, bishop, and all the councils stood yonder and said otherwise, yet do I declare this is God’s word, that I can rely on, and that does not deceive me.” Whoever will be blessed, must be blessed through “the seed,” and whoever is blessed is ransomed from the curse—that is, from sin, death and hell. Therefore it follows, from the text—whoever will not be blessed through “the seed,” he must be lost. So that my works or good deeds can help nothing to my salvation.

    To the same end also is the passage out of Peter,—”Whoever believeth on this stone shall not be ashamed.” If any one now come upon you and demand a reason of your faith, reply—”There stands the foundation which cannot fail me, and so I ask nothing beside, what Pope or bishop teach or decide.” Were they true bishops, then would they teach the ground of faith that they knew was common to all Christians. Yet they rush on and cry out, “The laity must not be suffered to read the Scriptures.”

    So if any one asks you whether you will have the Pope for a head, say at once, “I will hold him for a head—a head of wickedness and profligacy.” And for this I have a passage of St. Paul, I. Tim. iv.: “There shall come the devil’s teachers forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats which God has created.” That too has the Pope forbidden, as is the case now. Therefore is he Antichrist. For what Christ commands and teaches, that he transgresses. What Christ makes free, that the Pope binds—Christ says, it is not sin, while the Pope rejoins, it is sin.

    Thus should one now learn to give a reason and answer for his faith. For though not now, yet at death will it come to pass, that the devil will come forward and say, “Why have you charged the Pope as Antichrist?” If you are not prepared and ready to show reason, then has he won. It is as much as though St. Peter had said, If ye will now be faithful, ye must henceforth endure much persecution. But in this persecution must you have a hope, and must look for Eternal life. If one asks you why you hope for it, then you must have the word of God, on which you can build.

    But the sophists also have perverted the text, as though one was to convince heretics with reason, and out of the natural light of Aristotle; therefore (say they) it is here rendered in the Latin, Rationem reddere, as if St. Peter had thought it should be done with human reason. Because, say they, the Scriptures are far too inconclusive that from them we should silence heretics. The method by which (according to them) it must be shown that the faith is a right one, must agree with reason, and come forth from the brain; whereas, our faith is above reason, and subject to God alone. Therefore, if the people will not believe, then should you be silent; for you are not responsible for compelling them to hold the Scriptures as the word or book of God. It is enough that you give your reason therefrom. But if they take exceptions, and say, “You preach that one should not hold to man’s doctrine, while Peter and Paul, and Christ even, were men:” when you hear people of this stamp, who are so blind and obtuse that they deny that this is God’s word, or doubt of it, then be silent—speak no more with them, and let them go—only say, “I will give you my reasons out of Scripture. If you will believe that, it is well; if not, I will give you no others.” But do you say, “Must God’s word be treated with such shame?” Leave that to God. So you see that this matter should be well apprehended, and we should know how to meet those who now rise up and present such objections.—It follows:

    But here he seems to give begrudging acknowledgment and even praise of the depth and breadth of Aristotle (and Science, etc.).

    From “An Open Letter on Translating”

    But I will return to the subject at hand. If your papist wishes to make a great fuss about the word sola (alone), say this to him: “Dr. Martin Luther will have it so, and he says that a papist and a donkey are the same thing.” Sic volo, sic iubeo, sit pro ratione voluntas. (2) For we are not going to be students and disciples of the papists. Rather, we will become their teachers and judges. For once, we also are going to be proud and brag, with these blockheads; and just as Paul brags against his mad raving saints, I will brag against these donkeys of mine! Are they doctors? So am I. Are they scholars? So am I. Are they preachers? So am I. Are they theologians? So am I. Are they debaters? So am I. Are they philosophers? So am I. Are they logicians? So am I. Do they lecture? So do I. Do they write books? So do I.

    I will go even further with my boasting: I can expound the psalms and the prophets, and they cannot. I can translate, and they cannot. I can read the Holy Scriptures, and they cannot. I can pray, they cannot. Coming down to their level, I can use their rhetoric and philosophy better than all of them put together. Plus I know that not one of them understands his Aristotle. If any one of them can correctly understand one preface or chapter of Aristotle, I will eat my hat! No, I am not overdoing it, for I have been schooled in and have practiced their science from my youth. I recognize how deep and broad it is. They, too, are well aware that I can do everything they can do. Yet they treat me as a stranger in their discipline, these incurable fellows, as if I had just arrived this morning and had never seen or heard what they teach and know. How they do brilliantly parade around with their science, teaching me what I outgrew twenty years ago! To all their noise and shouting I sing, with the harlot, “I have known for seven years that horseshoe nails are iron.”

    I take it that Luther’s point is not that Aristotle is wrong in his own terms or that Philosophy and reason are wrong in there own terms. What is it that Heidegger would say? “That is correct but not true.” I take it that the point is that the Schoolastics (and indeed most of medieval and early modern thinking in general) cover-over the word of god with reason/Aristotle and indeed think these superior. For, they think that the word of god is full of errors or not precise enough.

    I don’t believe his “burn everything but the Logic, Rhetoric, and Poetics” talk, but I take it to indicate Luther’s firm stance against Aristotle as *the* authority in the realm of knowledge, which he undoubtedly was, though certainly not to the absurd extent that Luther’s caricature leads us to believe. As a good rhetorician (and university man) I suspect Luther knew that.

    Why take this stance rather than the modern stance of ignoring Aristotle? Well, because Luther sits on the cusp of a paradigm shift in theology (never mind with everything else) and just before a new protestant system can come in and formalize everything he’s feeling out the new path with a certain commitment to lived experience, and he realizes that things are reasonable or part of our knowledge not because Aristotle or the university says but because they are intimately connected to us as knowers and reasoners. The truth of scripture, of god’s word, and of knowledge is for Luther, deeper than Aristotle and the University say it is, and not only that but the University and Aristotle cover-over that depth for us.

    I almost want to say that just for a second in Luther theology and phenomenology happen at once. Luther is keyed in to the texture of human experience in a way that lets him get a little outside of the dominant post-scholastic late Aristotelian paradigm of his day, and this lets him know that that paradigm just doesn’t have the tools to deal with what he’s got hold of.

  6. Michael T. says:

    Luther is not as funny as Hobbes on this theme – but we knew that a priori. He would have shown more wit if he had anticipated Nietzsche: rather than saying that he understood Aristotle ‘better than Thomas and Scotus’, he should have said

    Verstehn Sie ihn? Ich—hüte mich, ihn zu verstehn

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