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The Objectivist Theory of History states that Philosophy drives historical outcomes. This stands in contrast to Carlyle's "Great Man Theory," Hegel's "World Spirit Theory" and the Materialist Dialectic of Marx.

Yet, as a post by Paul Hsieh on Noodlefood and the subsequent comment thread make clear there are some technological advances that are only invented once. Aristotle's Logic is one of these sui generis instances.

In those European historical periods deprived of Aristotle's influence no one even came close to re-discovering what Aristotle had achieved. No philosopher or intellectual in China's long cultural history duplicated his invention although they preceded the West in many other technological achievements like paper, moveable type printing, gunpowder, and the compass.

Without Aristotle, Western History would look far different than it does. And while Philosophy would still drive History, would the participants in that History be able to understand its driving force without the conceptual tools provided by Aristotle? Does the Objectivist understanding of History rest on Aristotle as a Prime Mover? And is this, at least in its origins, a species of the "Great Man" theory of history?

Is Aristotle Objectivism's "Indispensable Man?[1]"

[1]In using the term "indispensable man" I'm taking it straight, NOT in the sense that this poem implies.

asked May 30 '11 at 12:56

c_andrew's gravatar image

c_andrew ♦
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edited May 30 '11 at 12:58


There is, indeed, a sharp contrast between the Objectivist view that philosophy drives history, and other views such as the "Great Man Theory." But Objectivism also presents a sharp contrast between "the metaphysically given" and the man-made, as Ayn Rand explains in vivid detail in her book, Philosophy: Who Needs It. Objectivism has never denied that philosophy is man-made. It is a product of human intelligence and initiative. Philosophy certainly drives history (in the Objectivist view), but philosophy in turn depends on the intelligence and initiative of great thinkers. Aristotle was by far the greatest philosopher, but he wasn't the only one, and he didn't do it without the context of others who came before him. Ayn Rand explains Plato's role, and the whole culture of the ancient Greeks was crucial. Furthermore, the rebirth of Aristotle's influence after a millennium of Medieval Christian dominance was largely due to the intelligence and initiative of another giant in philosophy, Thomas Aquinas, seeking to bring Aristotle's ideas into religion in order to strengthen religious belief.

If this means Objectivism reduces to a "Great Man Theory" of history, so be it. But the "Great Man Theory," as I have heretofore understood it, focuses on great implementers of philosophical presuppositions, not on the originators of the philosophical ideas. "Great Man" theories typically deny the significance of the philosophical premises and focus instead on the actions of those who translated philosophical premises into concrete action. It is really the philosophy that was the fundamental factor, which certainly depended on an originator. The implementers also relied on the work of countless intermediate intellectuals who served as intellectual "transmission belts" from the originators in philosophy to the implementers in concrete action.

It would be a huge error to think that Objectivism's view of history as driven by philosophy means that philosophy is some kind of metaphysically given phenomenon that somehow "just happens" without a profound exercise of free will by great thinkers, or that the great thinkers are expendable or replaceable, with others just as capable of filling their shoes. To the extent that great thinkers influence world history, they do it through their ideas. It is the ideas, once discovered and communicated, that ultimately make the greatest difference, and it is the vision of an idea put into practice that most heroically motivates the great implementers and their countless followers. It is ideas more than anything else that make a great man great, when he chooses to embrace the ideas.

answered May 31 '11 at 23:15

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦
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Asked: May 30 '11 at 12:56

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Last updated: May 31 '11 at 23:15