Thursday, February 23, 2012

Intellectuals in Time

Is it not obvious that our contemporary concern with schools of existentialism, say, or with the distinctions among capitalism, communism and socialism, will seem a thousand years hence as incomprehensible to historians of his temper as the eight century’s concern with adoptianism, iconoclasm or the filioque controversy?  The human mind has always worked with the materials it had at hand.  It is risk to judge and condemn the intellectual achievements of one age by the standards of another.  Aristotle was not a fool because he thought the universe consisted of fifty-five concentric hollow spheres—any more than Niels Bohr was a fool when he framed his “solar system” model of the atom…The slower pace of scientific development in the past does not mean that every thinker from Aristotle to Copernicus was an intellectual dwarf.  The modern schoolboy is not greater than Euclid because he knows far more about mathematics.
—Richard Winston in Charlemagne (1960).