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Posts Tagged ‘Aristotle’

Aristotle, the Pope, and Income Inequality

Thu ,02/01/2014


Aristotle, when comparing forms of government, pointed out some of the problems in a democracy. When the poor gain too much power, they will enrich themselves out of the public treasury and the nation will become poor. If the wealthy gain too much power, then the nation will become an oligarchy and the poor will suffer. Oligarchs insist that citizens be treated differently based on wealth, and they argue that wealth is a sign of virtue and merit, and that the poor are poor because they lack those qualities.  Aristotle concluded that: “A large middle class is absolutely essential for a stable and well-run government because the middle class do not covet rule, are not envious, foster friendship because of their similarity, and can act as neutral arbitrators between the rich and the poor.” –  Aristotle’s Politics

There is ample evidence that the middle class in United States has declined sharply, while the country has moved toward oligarchy, allowing the wealthy to enrich themselves at the expense of the middle class, the poor, and also the nation. The chart below shows how the income is now divided in the United States, with the top 1% owning 38% of the wealth and the top 20% owning 82% of the wealth. Not only is the distribution of wealth much worse than what people consider ideal, it is even much worse than what they think it is.

Wealth in Amer 2

According to Senator Bernie Sanders:

“While the very rich get richer, the middle class continues to disappear and we now have more people living in poverty than ever before.  Despite huge increases in technology and productivity, tens of millions of workers are finding it harder to feed their families, pay for health care, send their kids to college or put aside savings for retirement.” In recent years,  95% of all new income has gone  to the top 1%, we have seen a huge increase in the number of millionaires and billionaires. While the average American is increasingly unrepresented in  the political process, the very wealthy are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to justify their wealth and to convince voters to elect candidates who will further their interests.”

The  wealthy consider the money an investment which has paid off handsomely. It has bought tax breaks, loopholes, and subsidies. Many wealthy Americans are even reaping the lions share of many federal programs that were intended to help the poor and disadvantaged. 

Trickle Down economics  is behind the redistribution of wealth that began during the 1980’s, as shown in the chart at the right. Super rich incomeWhen President Reagan came into office in 1980 the top tax rate was 60%, a rate which the wealthy thought was much too high. Arthur Laffer developed the supply side arguments that led to taxes being cut using the Laffer Curve . Mr. Laffer convinced the Reagan Administration that lowering the tax rate would give the job creators more money to invest, which would stimulate the economy and lead to greater tax revenue. Reagan cut the top tax rate to 28%, which put more money in the hands of the wealthy, but little of it trickled down. The economy grew at 3.5%, a lower growth rate than when tax rates were higher, the wealthy got wealthier,  and the national debt almost tripled. The graph at the right shows a narrowing of the income gap when the Clinton administration raised taxes and a widening gap after the 2003 tax cuts.  

Following Laffer’s trickle down theory put the U.S. on a slow spiral into debt,  austerity, and income inequality. Tax rates are now clearly too low  and, according to the Laffer curve, raising taxes should stimulate the economy. Certainly, raising taxes sufficiently would end our national debt problems and the shameless practice of using the national debt for political purposes. However, Congress thinks the problem is that we have not cut taxes enough, and Paul Ryan has proposed a Congressional budget that would further decrease tax rates. Paul Ryan has proposed  reducing the top tax rate to 25%. The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center estimated Ryan’s budget would add $5.7 trillion to the deficit over the next decade and would increase the after-tax income of the top 1% of citizens by 18%.  His budget is a case of ideology trumping practical economics.

 Jobs: Congressman Ryan is still working under the assumption that trickle down economics works, and he argues that further tax cuts would create jobs. That argument is discredited by Nick Hanauer, a billionaire who has helped start many companies. He explained on Ted.com that the rich aren’t the job creators, as job creation now comes from demand, and the demand would come from a large  numbers of middle class consumers, a person making 1000 times as much as the average citizen does not buy 1000 times as much stuff. When someone calls themselves “job creators”‘, they are making a claim as Aristotle pointed out, on their virtue – the status and privileges they think they deserve.  Mr. Hanauer says the 15% taxes that capitalists pay on interest, dividends, and capitol gains and the 35% the ordinary citizen pays on their job earnings is hard to justify. He points out that of the inequality has been justified by the fallacy that ” as taxes on the rich go up, job creation will go down”. His data shows the opposite to be true. Tax vsjobsHe concludes that demand grows the economy, and taxing the rich to pay for investments that benefit all is the best thing we can do for the middle class, the poor, and for the rich as well.

The Pope recently spoke about the problem of economic inequality as it is worldwide. Many countries are in debt because of policies that favor the rich, and the remedy is too often austerity programs that hurt the poor. In his recently published Exhortation, Pope Francis warns the world against the idolatry of money and the false promise of trickle-down economics.
“Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about great­er justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.”

 “While the earnings of a minority are grow­ing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ide­ologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation.”” Con­sequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control.  To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which have taken on worldwide di­mensions. ” In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of in­creased profits, whatever is fragile, like the envi­ronment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.” – Pope Francis

The IMF: Clearly, there are both sound economic and moral reasons that countries need to act for the common good by correcting income inequality. While the Pope acts to change hearts, the countries’ leaders need to act to make fairer economic policies, raise taxes, and cut out loopholes. The Guardian of financial orthodoxy, the International Monetary Fund, typically calls for nations in difficulty to slash public spending to reduce their deficits. But in this year’s Fiscal Monitor report, subtitled “Taxing Times”, the Fund advanced the idea of “taxing the highest-income people and their assets to reinforce the legitimacy of spending cuts and the fight against growing income inequalities.” There is both a moral and an economic imperative to do so.

(c) 2014 J.C. Moore


The Shortcomings of the 2012 Republican Platform

Wed ,29/08/2012

Aristotle, the father of science, thought that nature could best be understood by observation and reason. Not only did he apply the scientific method to the physical world, but he also considered political systems. One of his conclusions was that a democracy could not function well without a strong middle class. Aristotle was also strongly opposed to sophistry. Both of those are things that our politicians need to keep in mind.

After a number of push polls to try to influence their constituencies’ opinions, Republican leaders have managed to get many of their most extreme positions into the Republican platform. Republicans have tried to create a coalition of one issue voters, and there is a plank in there for each of them. Some the planks are more extreme than even Romney would have liked, and they seem more to reflect Paul Ryan’s views.

Economy: The plan for job creation is “economic growth”– and to stimulate economic growth the platform requires a further reduction in taxes. The plan is to keep the  Bush tax cuts, eliminate taxes on capital gains for the middle class, pass a balanced budget amendment and require a supermajority for any future tax increases . Grover Norquist and most millionaires will be very pleased with that plank. The middle class may not be so happy because little of their income is from interest and capital gains. Then, there’s a problem of how to fund government programs, but other planks are going to eliminate many of those, especially those that help the disadvantaged and the middle class.

Social Issues: The platform is loaded up with social issues.  It calls for a constitutional amendment defining marriage, claims life begins at fertilization, and seeks to make abortions difficult to obtain, no matter the circumstances. It would not fund any health care that covered abortions. And, that would include most forms of birth control under that definition of when life begins. It also declares that only abstinence education be permitted, and that would likely greatly increase the needs for abortions – as that doesn’t work too well in practice. And in spite of the large number of public massacres that have occurred lately, it is opposed to banning high-capacity clips or assault rifles.

Minorities: It declares; “Voter fraud is a political poison”, although there are very few instances of voter fraud. It appears to be an attempt to justify the Republican Party’s attempt to disenfranchise a large number of minority voters. It takes a hard line on immigration, even for those born here who are children of immigrants. It rather forgets that most of us were originally immigrants and that President Reagan granted amnesty to almost 3 million illegal immigrants. It would prohibit federal lawsuits against states that make restrictive immigration laws, even though those laws might interfere with citizens’ rights or violate human rights.

Energy: The energy plank does not recognize the need to protect the environment, which Republicans in the past strongly supported, nor does it recognize the realities of climate change. It would give almost free rein to fossil fuel companies to pursue their interests without regard to environmental issues and it would restrict the EPA from taking action to protect the environment. It does mention an “all of the above” energy policy, but there is no specific mention of policies to encourage the development of alternate energy sources.

Health and Welfare:  The plank on health care would be disastrous for the middle class. It would repeal most of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, while promising to promote the free market and give you more choices. That is fine if you have plenty of money. There’s a lot of verbiage associated with Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid but it all boils down to changing them in ways that would cost less money and make them much less effective. It says, “the platform pledges to move both Medicare and Medicaid away from ‘the current unsustainable defined-benefit entitlement model to a fiscally sound defined-contribution model.’” And, it supports a “ Medicare transition to a premium-support model with an income-adjusted contribution toward a health plan of the enrollee’s choice.” Is that a description of vouchers?

Defense: This plank sounds a lot like saber rattling. It would restore “American exceptionalism” and take a hard stance toward North Korea, Iran, and China (China?). That would greatly increase military spending, particularly if we started another war. Our last Republican President started two, and we are still suffering from the loss of lives and the staggering cost. We already spend five times as much as any other country on defense, and there is no plank explaining where the money would come from without raising taxes. Nor is it clear how it might work out to have  as Comander-in-Chief someone who sat out  the Vietnam War in France on a rather easily obtained “divinity student” deferment. 

I think many traditional Republicans will be rather dismayed with the platform and it remains to be seen if they will still support the party and vote for its candidates. Certainly the wealthy and the one issue voters can be counted on, but it would appear to alienate many independents. Sometimes reason prevails and political parties do not follow their platform too precisely, and that is the most that we can hope for if  Mr. Romney is elected president.

(c) 2012 J.C. Moore

Aristotle's Contribution to Science, Education, and Physics

Tue ,28/12/2010

Aristotle thought that Nature could best be understood by observation and reason – and that all  knowledge should be open to examination and subject to reason.

Science Education has shown a renewed interest in Aristotle’s works. (1) Today, theories in science are often based on abstract and mathematical models of the world.  Students sometimes use the theories and equations without understanding how they were developed, their limitations, or even what problems they address. The development of an idea from Aristotle to the present would make physics more interesting and understandable. (2)  Aristotle’s works are reconstructions from fragmentary notes. He had the most rudimentary of scientific equipment, his measurements were not quantitative; and he considered only things that were observable with the eye. Ignoring these limitations has caused some to distort the significance of his work, sometimes to the point of considering Aristotle an impediment to the advancement of science. However, we should not project the framework of contemporary science on Aristotle’s work – but we should read his works and examine his Natural Philosophy in the context of his times. (3)

Scientific Method: In ancient times, events in Nature had been explained as the actions of the gods. The early Greek philosophers  questioned the role of the gods as the cause of events and by the fifth century B.C. the Greek philosophers, such as Socrates, had separated philosophy from theology. But, if the gods were not the cause of events, what was? Philosophers advanced explanations based on philosophical principles and mathematical forms. Aristotle found that unsatisfactory. He decided the principles of nature could be found within nature and could be discovered using careful observation and inductive reasoning. Observations must be capable of being observed by the senses and should include the four causes: the composition, the shape (or form), the motion (or change), and the end result (or purpose). Identifying the four causes insured a thorough understanding of the event. Chance or spontaneity were not considered causes. He thought all things in Nature should be open to examination and subject to reason – and he set about applying his methods to all knowledge.

Aristotle founded a school in Athens at the Lyceum which provided the world’s first comprehensive study of human knowledge from the perspective of natural philosophy. His lectures followed a pattern that formed the basis of the scientific method. They included a statement of the idea or problem, the precise definition of terms, a statement of what he and other scholars thought about the matter, the observations, arguments based on how well the ideas agreed with observation, and finally what could be concluded. His lectures notes are important as they not only show clearly his reasoning but they preserve many of the ideas of his contemporaries. (4, 5)

Physics: In his work,  Physics, (6) Aristotle examined the nature of matter, space, time, and motion. He had few tools for experimentation and could not measure time or speeds. He would not allow invisible forces so his reasoning did not include gravity. Things fell to Earth and the moon circled the Earth because that was their nature. He proved that infinite linear motion and voids could not exist on Earth. Without those, he could not escape the complexities of the real world or fully understand inertia. In spite of his limitations, Aristotle made some remarkable contributions to physics and laid the groundwork for Galileo, Newton, and Einstein. He reasoned that infinite velocities could not exist, that time and movement are continuous and inseparable, and that time was even flowing, infinite, and the same everywhere at once. These are all true and a part of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Some consider that Aristotle’s greatest contribution to physics was his description of time.

Reading Aristotle reminds one of reading Einstein. He takes the simplest of observations and in it discovers fundamental truths. Force is a push or a pull. A horse can pull a cart and the cart pulls back on the horse and when the horse stops, the cart stops.  Rest, then is the natural state of matter and the mover is acted on by that which it moves. These ideas became part of Newton’s Laws. He observed that there was both static and kinetic friction that opposed motion by studying shiphaulers. A hundred men could pull a ship but one man could not. Furthermore, he observed that the power needed to keep the ship moving depended on the force required and the speed. That is like the definition of power used today and, incidentally, something that Newton got wrong.  Aristotle examined objects falling in fluids and realized friction existed there also. He found that the speed of objects increased as the weight of the object and decreased with the thickness of the fluid. This is now a part of  Stoke’s Law  for an object falling at its terminal velocity. He also considered what would happen if the fluid became thinner and thinner but rejected the conclusion as that would lead to a vacuum and an infinite speed, both which he considered impossibilities. Galileo allowed those impossibilities and is credited with discovering kinematics.

Cosmology: We sometimes forget that Aristotle proved the Earth was a sphere. He observed that the shadow of the Earth on the moon during an eclipse was an arc. That was not conclusive as a disk might give the same shadow. The phases of the Moon and its appearance during eclipses show it to be a sphere and the Earth might be also. As one walks toward the horizon, the horizon falls away; and, as one walks North or South, different stars appear. These are as if one is looking out from a sphere. All things made of Earth fall to Earth in such a way as to be as near the Earth as possible. A sphere is the shape that allows this as it is the shape with the smallest surface for a given volume. All things considered, the Earth must be a sphere. Interestingly, an extension of that last argument is used today to explain the erosion of mountains, surface tension, the shape of droplets, and why the moons, planets, and stars are spheres.

Aristotle concluded that since all things fall toward the center of the Earth or move round the Earth, that the Earth must be the center of the Universe. The Moon and planets move around the Earth in circular orbits but must move in circles within circles to explain the variance observed in their orbits. The stars are fixed spheres that rotate around the Earth and the Universe must be finite else the stars at the outer edge would have to move at infinite speed. Aristotle was aware that if the heavenly bodies were made of matter, that they would fly off like a rock from a sling. He therefore added to the elements a fifth element, aether, to compose the heavenly bodies. Aether could not be observed on Earth but objects composed of it could move forever in circles without friction or flying away. (7) Perhaps Aristotle should have stopped with the moon, but the planets and stars were there and needed explaining. In spite of his model’s imperfections, Aristotle gave us a universe whose laws are invariant and capable of being discovered by observation and understood by reason. Aristotle’s model of the Universe lasted almost 20 centuries without significant modification and was so compelling that Renaissance philosophers and theologians built it into church doctrine.

Scientific Revolution: However, Aristotle’s model did not fit well with new observations made by 15th century scientists. Copernicus realized that the planetary motions would be simpler and better explained if the Sun were the center of the universe. Tycho Brahe’s careful observations of planetary motions supported the Copernican model. Galileo used the first telescope to observe that Jupiter had moons that revolved around Jupiter and not the Earth. This was convincing evidence and Galileo championed a revision of Aristotle’s model. There was much resistance to the acceptance of the heliocentric model and Galileo was threatened with a charge of heresy for promoting the idea. Some people now consider Aristotle’s  ideas as an impediment to the advancement of science. However, the impediment was not Aristotle’s ideas – but that Aristotle’s model of the universe had become woven into the doctrine of the Church.

Galileo’s kinematics was also in conflict with Aristotle’s work. Galileo’s experiment with falling bodies is considered as one of the ten greatest experiments of all time. He showed that a small weight fell from the Tower of Pisa at the same rate as one ten times as heavy. This was considered by some to be a triumph of Galileo’s kinematics over the simple empiricism of Aristotle. That was not, however, the whole story. Aristotle had not only examined objects falling in air but also in liquids. He found that the rate of fall in liquids increased as the weight of the object and decreased with the thickness of the fluid. This idea is consistent with Stoke’s Law  for an object falling at its terminal velocity in fluids. Aristotle even had considered the case of a fluid with no thickness (a vacuum), but rejected the possibility since the speed would become infinite. However, Galileo’s experiment was performed in air and, while correct in a vacuum, Galileo’s mechanics were not exactly correct in air. Had Galileo dropped his objects from a much greater height, he would have found that the heavy object would reach the ground half again as fast as the small object. This is observable in hailstones where a large stone will strike the ground at almost twice the speed of a small stone. Galileo’s mechanics are only valid in a vacuum and even then would allow the velocity to eventually become infinite, which conflicts with Einstein’s relativity.  No one has thought to criticize Galileo for that.

Scientific Progress: Many thought, and still think, that Galileo’s work was the final overthrow of Aristotelian physics and the start of a revolution allowing science to advance. That is not the case. It is just the normal progress of science that models and theories are revised as better observations and understanding occur. The Revolution was not so much an overthrow of Aristotelian Physics as it was in moving from the observable to the imaginable – and in again separating science from theology and philosophy. It is ironic that Galileo was accused of heresy for questioning the theories of a man who thought everything should be open to question and reason.

(1)  ERIC. http://www.eric.ed.gov A search of the database shows 78 papers in the last three decades are about the use of Aristotle’s ideas in teaching.

(2)  Stinner, A. (1994). The Story of Force: from Aristotle to Einstein. Phys. Educ., 29, 77-85.

(3)  Lombardi, O. (1999). Aristotelian Physics in the Contest of Teaching Science: A Historical-Philosophical  Approach. Science and Education, 8, 217-239.

(4)  Durant, Will. The Story of Philosophy: The Lives and Opinions of the Great Philosophers of the Western  World. 5th ed. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1949

(5)  Ross, W. D. Aristotle. 5th ed. London: Methuen & Co. LTD. 1949

(6) Aristotle, Physics. Translated by R. P. Hardie and R. K. Gaye.
Provided by The Internet Classics Archive. Available at
(7) Aristotle, On the Heavens. Translated by J. L. Stocks.
Provided by The Internet Classics Archive. Available at

Note: This article was originally written as the physical science
contribution to Aristotle's Enduring Contribution to Biology,
Physics,and Poetics by Surendra Singh, J.C. Moore, and Andrew Tadie.
It was published as Aristotle on Teaching Science  at the Seventh
International Conference on Teacher Education, New Delhi, India (2008)

The full article is available here.

(c) 2010 J.C. Moore

Science Literacy and Religious Beliefs

Wed ,11/08/2010

Scientific literacy cannot be measured by a litmus test such as belief in the Big Bang or evolution.

Every two years the National Science Foundation produces a report, Science and Engineering Indicators, which surveys the public’s attitudes toward science. (1) The report found for instance, that the public’s opinion of scientists ranks at the top of 23 other occupations and there is broad support for public funding of science research.  In spite of that, Dr. Lawrence Krauss, is unhappy because a section of the 2010 report about the public’s  science literacy was omitted.

In a Scientific American article, he responds:

“And every two years we relearn the sad fact that U.S. adults are less willing to accept evolution and the big bang as factual than adults in other industrial countries. Except for this time. Was there suddenly a quantum leap in U.S. science literacy? Sadly, no. Rather the National Science Board, which oversees the foundation, chose to leave the section that discussed these issues out of the 2010 edition, claiming the questions were ‘flawed indicators of scientific knowledge because responses conflated knowledge and beliefs.’ In short, if their religious beliefs require respondents to discard scientific facts, the board doesn’t think it appropriate to expose that truth.”

However, the National Science Board was right that the section  confused knowledge and beliefs. For example, there is evidence for the Big Bang theory and many people know about it, but they have not incorporated it into their beliefs.  Only physicists and mathematicians would likely know what a singularity is, let alone believe the universe arose from one. Then, there is the problem of how the singularity came to be. Likewise, many people know of the adaptation of species to their environment such as resistance of viruses and bacteria to antibiotics and of insects to DDT. They may also be aware of our ancestors such as Luci and Ardi and know of the evolution of the horse. However, if you insist that the spontaneous generation of life is part of evolution, it may be rejected.

Dr Krauss is missing something important.  Aristotle established science as a method for understanding nature by using observation and reason. It is not a body of facts to be memorized and believed. As scientists gather more evidence, what we now regard as fact may be replaced with better ideas. We should not make “accepting evolution and the big bang as factual” a litmus test for science literacy. Just as scientists think religion should not be dogmatic, scientists should also refrain from dogmatism. Insisting people accept scientific theories which conflict with their religious beliefs  just makes them more likely to mistrust science on issues where it really matters.

As a practical matter, it is not likely that someone’s mind can be changed by claiming their beliefs are wrong or that they are based on mythology. Science teachers must deal with students who already have a belief system established. Their strategy should be to present science as a method that uses observation and reason to understand the physical world. Teachers must focus on the background knowledge and the evidence, and hope that at some point the student would see any conflicts and try to resolve them.


2) http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=faith-and-foolishness

Aristotle's Lessons from the Past

Tue ,11/08/2009

“Aristotle gave us a universe whose laws are invariant and capable of being discovered by observation and reason.” 

In ancient times, nature had been explained as the actions of the gods. The early Greek philosophers questioned the role of the gods as the cause of events and by the fifth century B.C. the Greek philosophers, such as Socrates, had separated philosophy from theology.

But, if the gods were not the cause of events, what was?  Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC) thought the principles governing nature could be found within nature and could be discovered using careful observation and reasoning.  His reasoning followed a pattern familiar to students today as the scientific method: a statement of the problem, the definition of terms, a review of what he and other scholars thought, a comparison of the ideas to  observations , and finally what could be concluded.

Aristotle thought all things should be open to examination and subject to reason and he applied his methods to many areas of human knowledge. Aristotle made major contributions to biology, physics, philosophy, ethics, logic, poetics, education, and citizenship that are still valuable today. (Durant and Ross, 1949) Most importantly, Aristotle gave us a universe whose laws are invariant and capable of being discovered by observation and reason. May posts on this site honor Aristotle and his method.

1. Durant, Will. The Story of Philosophy: The Lives and Opinions of the Great Philosophers of the Western World. 5th ed. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1949

2. Ross, W. D. Aristotle. 5th ed. London: Methuen & Co. LTD. 1949