Plato is ‘the spokesman for the theologian, the mystic, the poet.’ Aristotle, Mr.
Herman says, inspired modern economics, Plato, the Reformation. ‘One gave us
the U.S. Constitution, the Manhattan Project, and the shopping mall – that would
be Aristotle – ‘the other gave us Chartres Cathedral, but also the gulag and the
Holocaust’ (Kimball, Wall Street Journal, 2/8/13).
If Kimball can be forgiven for a bit of hyperbole of his own (“terrorists do not inhabit ‘the
scariest depths of [Plato's] cave.’ Their caves feature AK-47s, not shadows”) in serving up
Plato and Hitler in the same spoon, there is a resonance for many in his contention that
Herman concentrates on the “backward-looking” aspects of Platonic thought versus the
“forward-looking” philosophy of Aristotle.
For others, though, our divided mind has its roots in more recent human history –
what Charles Van Doren calls “the failure of the Renaissance.” “If such men as Leonardo,
Pico, Bacon, and many others almost as famous could not succeed in their presumed dream
of knowing all there was to know about everything,” Van Doren sighs, “then lesser men
should not even try. The alternative became self-evident: achieve expertise in one field
while others attained expertise in theirs” (Van Doren, 1001, p. 141). Van Doren contends
that such an alternative has led to a “divided and sub-divided university, with separate
departments, like armed feudalities, facing one another across a gulf of mutual ignorance”
(Van Doren, 1001, p. 141).
C.P. Snow surveyed this gulf in The Two Cultures and found that “the intellectual
life, and a large part of the practical life, of the whole of Western society is increasingly
being split into two polar groups . . . Literary intellectuals at one pole – and at the other
scientists . . . Between the two a gulf of mutual incomprehension – sometimes hostility