Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Were Plato and Aristotle L-minds or C-minds?

Were Plato and Aristotle L-minds or C-minds

Although I might have posted this as a comment within a previous thread, it's simply easier to find a conversational thread when it's listed as a title in the archives. My comments here are stimulated by a remark made by H. Pattee, which I thought might be interesting to pursue.

H. PATTEE’s 07/07/07, 07:07 AM response to IRA’s comment of July 3, 2007 10:31 PM

IRA: The L-mind is distrustful of the wisdom of the citizenry (for good reason) and thinks they need an intellectual elite to guide them down the correct path.

HP: This is wrong historically and wrong today. It was C-mind elitist like Plato and Aristotle that distrusted the citizenry. Plato thought philosopher kings should rule. Aristotle called democracy “mob rule.” The L-mind actually began as a revolt against elitist C-mind monarchies and aristocracies.

Modern L-minds and C-minds can be discriminated through the use of a series of questions concerning public policy and personal responsibility issues. It is impossible to go back over 2300 years and ask these same questions, since even with time travel, the questions would be meaningless to Plato and Aristotle. However, if we can establish objective criteria and basic properties for L-minds and C-minds without being biased by partisanship, we can surmise from their writings what type of mind these philosophers might have had.

I believe commenter H. Pattee is wrong when he accuses Plato of being a C-mind elitist. First of all it has not been demonstrated that C-minds are elitist. That's just political rhetoric speaking. In fact, as Ira points out C-minds generally propose solutions to problems which respect the individual and his or her capability and independence. L-minds seem to prefer solutions which assume the individual incapable or functioning without outside intervention. L-minds generally support ERA, racial quotas, labor unions and minimum wages.

Plato's notion of the "philosopher king" certainly doesn't make him an "elitist" as proposed by H. Pattee. Plato was in favor of a meritocracy (in The Republic). Anyone could become a philosopher king if they had the talent. Plato also favored equal rights for women including equal access to military training. Both Aristotle and Plato had a problem with pure democracy in their historical analyses of the constitutions of various governments. They both believed that democracy inevitably led to government by tyrants and the loss of rights of the individual. They observed that democracy led to an elite which catered to, and then manipulated the mob to the detriment of the individual. According to modern day Libertarians, we are witnessing that progression today.

In terms of the objective criteria we have been talking about, I think that Plato was a top-down thinker, while Aristotle was a bottom-up thinker. Plato saw the world in terms of broad principle such as Justice and Right and Dignity. He deduced correct behavior by questioning whether such and such an action would be consistent with the broad intuitive principles. Aristotle, on the other hand, was an experimentalist, closely observing the world around him. Alexander the Great's soldiers carried samples of flora from all over the world back to Aristotle. He then theorized the broad reasons why nature was so constructed.

I'm sure that by picking and choosing among the vast writings of these two thinkers, we can find support for either L-mind or C-mind status. This would probably be useful in clarifying our notions. But, let's not forget that we're dealing with a couple of very special minds that were perhaps capable of approaching the world from either direction.

P.S. It is also not true that "The L-mind actually began as a revolt against elitist C-mind monarchies and aristocracies." That period started with revolts of serfs who believed they had natural rights against their masters. That belief in oneself (as opposed to the hierarchy) is a characteristic of the C-mind. It's easy to confuse the word "liberal," because it has changed so much over the centuries. For example, the French still call their Republican Party, "the liberals." I hope we can steer clear of partisan assumptions about one another and avoid equating political thinking and philosophical thinking.

[Minor typo and long quote structure edit by Ira]


Ira Glickstein said...


Thanks for doing an excellent job (IMHO :^) addressing the historical/philosophical points raised by Howard Pattee.

You also wrote: "...It's easy to confuse the word 'liberal,' because it has changed so much over the centuries."


I have posted a Comment addressing the contrast between today's "liberals" and "classical liberalism." My Comment may be found in the earlier Topic thread at: More on L-Minds and C-Minds

Ira Glickstein

Stu Denenberg said...

Given all of the previous discussion, it would appear that the Buddha was a Cmind as he certainly believed that one must pursue one's own salvation with diligence; ie one is responsible for one's own salvation. Christians would then appear to be Lminds as they need the intercession of a saviour to be saved.

So how do we have Conservative Christians then? Do they have Lminds on salvation and Cminds on all other issues? Some other issues? Isn't it possible that one takes the L or C stance depending on the issue itself?

Perhaps no clear dichotomy exists and each individual is a chaotic confused conglomerate of conflicting concepts...


joel said...

Stu Denenberg said...
Given all of the previous discussion, it would appear that the Buddha was a C-mind as he certainly believed that one must pursue one's own salvation with diligence; ie one is responsible for one's own salvation. Christians would then appear to be L-minds as they need the intercession of a saviour to be saved.

Joel relies:
I agree with your view of the Buddha. However, I would say that the data doesn't support your contention concerning modern Christians. If we believe the stats that say that 92% of Americans believe in God and add the fact that the vast majority of Americans are Christians, we're left with Christians being divided between L-minds and C-minds. At the extremes, we also have Quakers strongly in the liberal camp and Evangelicals strongly in the conservative camp.

As for the intercession of a Savior, that can be viewed either in an individualistic way or a socialistic way. It's the individual's responsibility to accept salvation or not. A church cannot save an individual's soul. In the case of Quakers, there is a great concern for imposing the pacifism and peace of Jesus on the masses. They have an extensive political organization for doing this. So here again we may see your paradigm of C-mind, bottom-up THINKING for some Christian sects versus L-mind, top-down THINKING in others. (This is not to be confused with Catholic, top-down ORGANIZATION, versus Protestant, bottom-up, ORGANIZATION.)

Stu continues: Isn't it possible that one takes the L or C stance depending on the issue itself? Perhaps no clear dichotomy exists and each individual is a chaotic confused conglomerate of conflicting concepts...

Joel responds:
My informal surveys show that opinions on public policy and individual responsibility are bimodal and that those in one mode continue in that mode on almost all issues when the question is properly posed. Try it yourself, using questions about illegal immigration, fiscal responsibility, welfare subsidy for single mothers, educational accountability, redefinition of marriage, abortion, term limits, life terms of supreme court justices, high school graduation standards, states rights, television censorship, etc., you will find about one third of the respondents clump nicely at each end, while one third are ambiguous or conflicted or as you say, in chaos.

Ira Glickstein said...

Stu and Joel:

I agree with Joel that a survey on controversial topics will show about a third of us clumping in the L-Mind region, a third in the C-Mind, and a third (apparently chaotically) flipping between the two.

However, the "chaos" of the flippers might be in appearances only.

For example, I am strongly for "stem cell research" which would indicate I am an L-mind, since most L-minds support "freedom of scientific research" and many C-minds, for religious reasons, support laws to limit stem cell research that involves destruction of embryos.

But, the reason I favor (almost) unlimited stem cell research, including (some limited) human cloning, is rooted in C-mind logic.

There is a proven principle in biology called genetic drift. Traits with a genetic component that are not subject to strong Natural selection will drift away from optimum over time.

An example is eyesight -- largely genetically determined. For most of human history, those with poor eyesight were at a serious disadvantage when it came to survival and reproduction. Many died, had trouble finding mates, or were unable to obtain resources for their offspring. On the average, those with good eyesight had more children, usually with good eyesight, who survived to breed. So, in the population as a whole, good eyesight was strongly selected for and thus remained generally good.

With the general availability of eyeglasses and contact lenses and eye surgery over the past hundred years or so, humans with poor eyesight are at less (or no) disadvantage in their survival and reproduction. Thus, not selected for so strongly, eyesight has been subject to genetic drift and has declined.

The same is true for many other traits that can be corrected by medical procedures or are less critical to survival in modern civilization.

As a C-mind I favor stem cell research as a way to use technology to help correct for the genetic drift due to our technologic society. I favor the use of gene therapy to replace the "defective" genes that make a person susceptable to diabetes, heart disease, cancer, dementia, and so on. I also favor embryo cloning and "designer babies" and other things that would make most L-minds shudder and call for laws to limit "freedom of research" in those areas :^)

Ira Glickstein

Stu Denenberg said...

Following is a comment from a friend who has given me permission to quote him. (I'm working on trying to convince him he has time to join the blog --- a side thought: it is more of a commitment when you decide to post a comment than just browse (I hate the term "lurker" it has such a perjorative flavor and much prefer "browser") so is there anything we can do to overcome this natural reticence (other than insure the blog is too interesting to not respond to? --- Stu

"Cmind (from my Orthodox Christian perspective) does not have more faith in inherent goodness or invisible hand (actually has a tragic view of our humanity) - but believes that free will is our defining characteristic and rejects "coercion" as a way to guide us to the "right" choice. Remember Dostoevsy: change comes not by force or reason (Grand Inquisitor) but through the heart and love (Christ)"

Stu Denenberg said...

"Thanks to TV and for the convenience of TV, you can only be one of two kinds of human beings, either a liberal or a conservative."

Kurt Vonnegut
from Quotes of the Day


Ira Glickstein said...


Thanks for introducing your friend to the Blog and getting him to contribute via you! I hope he has time to join us in person. He seems to bring a new perspective to our group and will enhance our religious diversity.

I'm not sure I agree the C-mind tends to have more of a "tragic view of our humanity" than an L-mind.

The L-mind seems overly optimistic about the possibility people who have made "mistakes" (e.g., murderers, rapists, and so on) can be rehabilitated while serving their time in prison. At the same time, they seem to think people who have made lots of money in business must be irretrievably immoral.

C-minds tend to think a "mistake" is like when you put sugar in the salt shaker by accident. When you shoot someone during a premeditated robbery, or stick your privates into someone you are not married to, that ain't a mistake!

C-minds think most individuals are upstanding citizens who are anything but tragic. On the other hand, they are realistic enough to understand a small percentage of people are capable of doing great evil and must be prevented from doing so.

I would like to hear more about your friend's Orthodox Christian perspective. I think "free will" is totally misunderstood by nearly everyone (except me :^). We make our individual choices based on a combination of reason and heart and love, and, yes, a certain amount of "coersion".

I will consider trying to teach my graduate students to make the right system engineering choices via their hearts with my love rather than reason. Perhaps they should not be forced to participate in class and take tests to get a good grade? :^)

Yeah right! (But then again, I am not a Christian.)


I'm sorry you consider the term "lurker" to be perjorative. See definition of "lurker" I don't consider it negative.

Your suggestion, "browser" implies a computer program. See defintion of "browser".

An alternative description of someone who reads a Blog but does not actively participate would be "voyeur". See definition of "voyeurism". Do you consider that less perjoritive?

Ira Glickstein

Ira Glickstein said...

Howard Pattee asked me to post this for him. (As Chairman of my PhD Committee he may be even more familiar with my thinking style than I am :^)

H. Pattee’s response to Joel’s question

I find that Joel’s meta-problem interests me more than any specific problem I have with Ira’s views. Joel asks, “How is it that two people of similar intelligence and cultural background come up with such different views, so different that the other seems irrational? I concluded that our impression of each other's defective reasoning had to be wrong and a product of something fundamentally different about our minds.”

How should one approach this type of question? Joel’s suggests different styles of viewing, the local, close-up and the global distance views. This sounds like one possible explanation. However, I believe that Ira and I use both views, and I think we are both pragmatic opportunists in solving problems and do not have any significant bias for one view or the other. Ira will have to confirm this. So I am not satisfied with this “local vs. global” explanation.

There are several studies on liberal and conservative characteristics. John Alport claims something like 50% genetic influence on political orientation, leaving plenty of room for other influences. This means that much of apparently rational argument is actually rationalization of an instinctive response: John Alport.

Frank Sulloway’s best seller Born to Rebel has lots of statistics about liberal vs. conservative effects of birth order: Born to Rebel.
The overall evidence suggests the combination of genetics and birth order accounts for ~80% of our orientation leaving only ~20% to be influences by individual experience and education. Discussion like this one is fun, but I doubt if any minds are changed, especially in us old folks.

Ira Glickstein said...


Thanks for your response to Joel's question!

Howard writes: "... I believe that Ira and I use both views ['close-up' and 'global distance'], and I think we are both pragmatic opportunists in solving problems and do not have any significant bias for one view or the other."

Ira answers: Joel wrote that "...Plato was a top-down thinker, while Aristotle was a bottom-up thinker" which it appears Howard has characterized as "global" vs "close-up". I agree Howard and I are both capable of viewing things at the "bottom-up/close-up" detail level as well as at the "top-down/global" big picture level.

In my professional life as a system engineer, I supported the "both ends against the middle" approach, in opposition to the hard-headed pragmatist engineers who tended to be totally bottom-up -and- the ivory tower academic formal "process-police" who tried to jam a totally top-down approach down our throats.

In my philosophical and political thinking I believe I do the same, focusing on the details as well as the big picture. However, I do not show much concern for the suffering of human beings. I seem to pass from the DNA-selfish gene level right up to the societal and global "realpolitik" level without empathizing with the living individuals in-between. I think Joel is on to something when he writes that C-minds have sympathy (I SEE your pain), while L-minds have empathy (I FEEL your pain).

I looked at both Web items Howard linked to and agree with their general findings. Twin studies have shown, quite conclusively in my opinion, that the human baby's mind is not a "tabula rasa" ("blank slate"). By the time we are born, genetics (and womb conditions during pregnancy) certainly lays the foundation for nearly all our physical traits, including our brain capabilities and temperament, and 60% to 80% of our intelligence and thinking style.

I would like to see Joel and Stu and all the others on this Blog make more Comments in this area!

Ira Glickstein

joel said...

Hi Ira and other philosophers. I was fascinated by your exposition of the reasoning behind your support for all types of cell research. The average person expects that a C-mind will be against fetal stem cell research. This underscores for me that C-mind and conservative are not synonymous terms and the same for L-minds and liberals. Ira exhibited the stepped-back, unemotional, bottom-up logic of a C-mind. This of course is the opposite of the "religious right." Conservatives who are against fetal stem cell research often have C-minds that are overridden by religious conviction or religious peer group pressure.

Paraphrasing Plato, "Once one has discovered a neat theory, it's tempting to use it to explain everything under the sun." Another factor that can override C-mind and L-mind processing is selfish interest. Some C-minds and L-minds may opt for fetal stem cell research in the belief that such research may help them or a member of their family overcome an illness. Some L-minds anomalously may be against affirmative action programs, because their own jobs or advancement are threatened. No one notion of the operation of the human mind can accurately predict where any individual will stand on an issue. However, the L/C-mind concept helps understand some people on some issues where one's opposite seems to irrational.
With respect -Joel