The cave and the light: Plato vs. Aristotle and the struggle for the soul of Western civilization
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Event Summary

According to historian Arthur Herman, Plato and Aristotle can be understood as opposing fundamental frameworks through which to view 2,400 years of philosophical, political, scientific, mathematical, and religious debate, and this dynamic has shaped our culture. During an AEI event on Tuesday evening, Herman discussed these topics, which he details in his new book, "The Cave and the Light: Plato versus Aristotle, and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization."

According to Herman, Plato represents the intuitive, religious, and mathematical side of thought, while Aristotle offers an empirical viewpoint starting with the facts. This tension has presented itself in the minds and actions of historical figures as a constant struggle between Platonic immutable truths and Aristotelian scientific views grounded in observation.

AEI's Charles Murray suggested that this book become required reading for college students, recognizing its two-fold educational value. First, he explained, it offers full exposure to the transcendentals: truth, beauty, and good. Second, the book has the potential to undermine the prevalent ideology of nonjudgementalism, portraying that throughout history all progress has depended on the judgments of individuals.

John Weicher of the Hudson Institute confessed that while reading the book, he was cheering for Aristotle. He reflected on Aristotle's role as the founder of economics and noted that the insights of two of Aristotle's disciples (Eratosthenes and Aristarchus) were rejected for presenting scientific ideas that pushed the limits of understanding, a struggle that has continued into the 21st century.
--Anthony Carbone

Event Description

“History may not repeat itself, but ideas certainly do,” Arthur Herman demonstrates in his provocative new book, “The Cave and the Light.” The fundamental ideas of Plato and Aristotle have vigorous lives of their own and have marched through political, intellectual, scientific, and religious history in themes and variations.

In the book, Herman considers how these ideas have competed across the whole of Western history, and also considers their dangers. For example, “Too much Plato brings a rigid dogmatism and an elitist arrogance,” while “Too much Aristotle ends in a complacent behaviorist calculus [with] fellow human beings to be manipulated at will.” 

At this event, Herman will discuss his sweeping panorama of ideas and their consequences, with comments by AEI’s Charles Murray and John Weicher of the Hudson Institute. AEI’s Alex Pollock will moderate.

If you are unable to attend, we welcome you to watch the event live on this page. Full video will be posted within 24 hours.

Agenda

4:45 PM
Registration

5:00 PM
Introduction:
Alex J. Pollock, AEI

5:05 PM
Presentation:
Arthur Herman, Former AEI Visiting Scholar

5:30 PM
Discussants:
Charles Murray, AEI
John C. Weicher, Hudson Institute
 
Moderator:
Alex J. Pollock, AEI

6:15 PM
Book Signing and Wine and Cheese Reception

Event Contact Information

For more information, please contact Emily Rapp at [email protected], 202.419.5212.

Media Contact Information

For media inquiries, please contact [email protected], 202.862.5829.

Speaker Biographies

Arthur Herman is one of America’s most dynamic speakers and versatile historians. “The Cave and the Light: Plato versus Aristotle, and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization” (Random House, October 2013) is his seventh book. The others include The New York Times bestseller “How the Scots Invented the Modern World” (Broadway Books, 2001), the Pulitzer Prize finalist “Gandhi and Churchill” (Bantam, 2008), and the highly acclaimed “Freedom’s Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II” (Random House), which The Economist picked as one of the best books of 2012. Herman was a visiting scholar at AEI from 2010 to 2012 and is a former visiting professor of history at George Mason University as well as founder and coordinator of the Western Heritage Program at the Smithsonian Institution’s Campus on the Mall. His columns on defense and foreign policy appear frequently in The New York Post, The Wall Street Journal, and on Fox Opinion Online. He is also a regular contributor to Commentary magazine and has served as a consultant to the Central Intelligence Agency. Herman’s books have been translated into German, Japanese, Chinese (both in Taiwan and on the mainland), Spanish, Portuguese, Greek, and Turkish.

Charles Murray is the W.H. Brady Scholar at AEI. He first came to national attention in 1984 with the publication of “Losing Ground” (Basic Books), which has been credited as the intellectual foundation for the Welfare Reform Act of 1996. His 1994 New York Times bestseller, “The Bell Curve” (Free Press), coauthored with the late Richard J. Herrnstein, sparked heated controversy for its analysis of the role of intelligence quotient in shaping America’s class structure. Murray's other books include “What It Means to Be a Libertarian” (Broadway Books, 1997), “Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950” (HarperCollins, 2003), “In Our Hands: A Plan to Replace the Welfare State” (AEI Press, 2006), and “Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America’s Schools Back to Reality” (Three Rivers Press, 2008). His most recent book, “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010” (Crown Forum, 2012), describes an unprecedented divergence in American classes over the last half century.

Alex J. Pollock joined AEI in 2004 after 35 years in banking. He was formerly president and CEO of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago from 1991 to 2004. He is also the author of numerous articles on financial systems and the organizer of the Living in the Post-Bubble World series of AEI conferences. In 2007, he developed a one-page mortgage form to help borrowers understand their mortgage obligations. At AEI, he focuses on financial policy issues, including housing finance, government-sponsored enterprises, retirement finance, corporate governance, accounting standards, and the banking system. He is the lead director of CME Group, a director of Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation and the International Union for Housing Finance, and chairman of the board of the Great Books Foundation.

John C. Weicher is director of the Center for Housing and Financial Markets at Hudson Institute. He has written or edited 14 books and has written numerous academic and popular articles on housing and housing finance, social welfare policy, and economic inequality. From 2001 to 2005, he was assistant secretary for housing and federal housing commissioner at the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Previously, he held other policy positions at both HUD and the US Office of Management and Budget. He has served on two National Research Council committees and three federal commissions concerned with housing and urban policy. He is a member of the editorial advisory board of Cityscape, and has been a member of the Census Advisory Committee on Population Statistics.

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