PLATO & ARISTOTLE WALK INTO A BAR: A CLOSE READING
Many of us were initiated into the ranks of the cocktail world by reading David Wondrich’s category defining book, Imbibe! – and it still figures heavily as a recipe and context resource for me when I conduct research on historical drinks and trends to this day.
Wondrich is a history guy – he dives deep into the primary source documents to paint a picture of what drinking was like in time periods that seem distant from the here and now – even if those times were only a few short decades ago.
He’s jovial, presenting serious and potentially dry information in a lighthearted way – and yes, he really digs a good cocktail. Case in point, here’s his quote from the beginning of the article we’re about to examine:
According to David Wondrich:
There are two ways of looking at a Daiquiri.
Okay, three ways, including the one that says “what the hell are you doing looking at that enticing little green pool of sheer refreshment when you could be drinking it?” That, of course, is the sensible way.
I love that – if there’s one thing that immediately puts your mind at ease – it’s that the author has his priorities straight, and those priorities don’t have a pretentious bone in them. And that’s important! Because the stuff we’re about to get into is a little bit heady, and my challenge is to try and present it in as straightforward and logical a format as I can.
To do that – I need you to understand the basic differences between Plato and Aristotle. And I’m not a philosophy professor, nor am I a qualified historian, so this is gonna stay pretty high level. But basically, here’s the gist:
Plato, who was Aristotle’s teacher, believed that the world we live in an imperfect world, and that we’re constrained by the limits of our senses. However, he also believed that a perfect world – the world of forms – lies beyond us, beyond our perception – and we should always be striving toward this perfect world, best exemplified by mathematical proofs and perfect shapes.
Aristotle, diverging from his teacher, took a decidedly different approach to what he thought was the nature of things.
According to Aristotle, there is no world of forms. What you see is what you get. Everything has qualities, and those qualities build from the ground up to make something that you might call a table, or a tree, or a person.
For Aristotle, we’re not just imperfect gingerbread men who get popped out of that perfect gingerbread mold in the sky. We are as we should be, and our senses are tools rather than impediments.
In my opinion, one of the best ways to picture the difference between Plato and Aristotle is by examining Plato’s Allegory of the Cave – which is hyper-famous, and, despite its distinct biases, it definitely points out one of the key aspects of human experience, which is that our senses are limited. If they weren’t, we would have never invented the microscope or the telescope. Simple as that.
In Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, he asks you to picture a group of folks chained to the ground in – you guessed it – a cave. They’re forced to stare at a wall, and behind them is a fire – wavering and flickering and casting wild shadows on the wall of the cave – a la “shadow puppets.” These shadows are meant to represent what our senses tell us about the world. And because our senses are imperfect, it stands to reason that they’re giving us a kind of carnival mirror version of what reality looks like.
But, outside the cave, we’ve got the beautiful, pure sunlight, which represents the world of forms. And basically, what Plato’s allegory of the cave begs us to do is break free of the dark, misrepresented information we receive in the cave and consider more pure forms as they might be revealed by actual sunlight.
Now, of course, there’s good and bad that comes with this. The good is that we come to grips with our own human limitations. But the bad is that we perhaps come to dismiss or distrust our senses, which is precisely were Aristotle enters the picture.
Aristotle enjoyed the world we live in. He was grounded in it, and a lot of his most influential later works were centered around summarizing or cataloging its contents and energies.
Plato’s school was called, “The Academy,” and the sign out front said, “Let no one ignorant of geometry enter here.”
But Aristotle’s school was called “The Lyceum,” which was an outdoor place. And his teaching style came to be known as “Peripatetic,” because he often lectured by walking around and speaking to the public – not just to folks who knew geometry.
From this brief, little summary I just gave, you can already start to see some stark differences. Ideals vs. reality. Forms vs. beings. What is vs. what could (or should) be.
For the rest of history, Plato and Aristotle represent what is basically a line in the sand between scientists, philosophers, and historians who take different approaches to interpreting our world. On one side, we’ve got Plato, who has come to be associated with deductive reasoning, rationalism, and (down the road) mind-body dualism, and on the other side, we have Aristotle, who is associated with Inductive reasoning, Empiricism, and monism – the theory that the mind and the body are one.