By, Bode Oje
It was Aristotle who started logic as a discipline, but Mr Aristotle ‘s reliance on logical inference as source of pure knowledge showcases some scandalous ways our inferences can lead us astray.
One of the many errors of Aristotle is about horse’s dentition. He believed stallions (male horses) have more teeth than mares (female horses). Aristotle also believed men have more teeth that women and that women are malformed men in the womb. All these conjectures made without any attempt to count Mrs Aristotle ‘s teeth, neither a dissection of a dead pregnant woman.
For hundreds of years before and after Christ, people actually took the words of Aristotle as truth that needs no verification. Logical truths are obviously true. Why should they doubt the master logician? This attitude of scholars in this period is called Aristotelianism. It marked the time early fathers of the church who doubled as scholars took words of Aristotle hook, line and sinker.
It was in this mileu that the parable of Aristotle ‘s error was situated, though nobody knows the originator of the parable. It was attributed to either Francis Bacon or Roger Bacon.
It so happened that some fathers of the church had gone to a meeting of scholars where intellectual and scientific issues were discussed. There were two principal authorities to settle every matter at this time: Bible and Aristotle. In fact, the church fathers believed and saw similarity in what Aristotle said and what the Bible says. To them, what the Bible says in parables and metaphors, Aristotle says it in explicit language.
So, an issue came up in the meeting where someone wondered which horse has the most teeth between a female and a male horse. The fathers of the church did not struggle to answer this, they simply went and retrieved the book where Aristotle settled this and read out the decree of master logician: “male horses have more teeth than female horses,” case closed.
It was a young man that caused wàhálà of volcanic eruption that day when he said:
“why can’t we confirm what Aristotle said since almost all of us rode horses to this meeting and our horses are there outside?”
Come and see wàhálà. The elders almost killed the young man. “How can you question or doubt Aristotle?” They opposed him. “Aristotle the master logician whom our forefathers believed the superiority of his logical formulas as ways to apodictic truth. Aristotle of impeccable rational faculty. How dare you challenge Aristotle?” (Please, who do you take as your Aristotle today? Some religious leaders? Some prophets? Some scholars? Some forebears? Some books?)
And for 15 days, the bashing of the young man raged on. The guy was called different names and ridiculed. Eventually, somebody must have counted the teeth of a male and female horses to refute Aristotle because the numbers are the same. Ara everybody wá balẹ̀.
This same attitude played out between Galileo and Bishop of Hippo who refused to look at the heaven through Galileo’s telescope. “I will rather look at the Bible than look at your goddam telescope,” he said.
This parable teaches us the danger of taking anybody as authority. It also teaches the danger of conventional wisdom and antiquitism.
Like the young man, I have been a victim of so many appeal to authority and hasty conclusions. Even if you see evidences attesting to the fact that something is the case, please endeavor to ask those involved and confront them with the fact. You will be surprised your judgment, opinion and even “facts” might collapsed like a pack of Aristotle ‘s conjectures.
Thank you for reading this piece.