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Aristotle (3) vs. Stewart Lee

Yesterday‘s winner is a tough one. Really, these two guys could’ve met in the final.

Some arguments in the comments in favor of Freud: From Huw, “he has the smirks, knowing looks, and barely missed sidelong glances.” And Seth points out the statistical connection: “Some people might say that theory is getting lost in the identification revolution. Freud didn’t have that problem.” And Manoel picks up on an old line from this blog and writes that “I think we should pick Freud as the typical economist . . . which are under-represented in this contest. Arguably, both have a silly theory of human action and a huge impact on our society nonetheless.”

In favor of King, Zbicyclist recommends stopping Freud’s ideas spreading farther, and he add: “this sets up a possible Gandhi vs King match two rounds further.” That’s a good argument but I’ll have to go with Freud, because he inspired so much more enthusiasm, positive and negative, in the comment thread.

And, today, the third-best philosopher vs. the 41st Best Stand-up Ever.

I don’t know what to think about Aristotle. On one hand, he invented science. On the other, he’s most famous for being wrong. Whether the topic is slavery, or the laws of motion, or how many teeth are in the mouth of men and women—you name it, Aristotle’s on the wrong end of the stick.

On the other hand, if he truly is an empiricist, Aristotle might give a good talk in which he re-evaluates his philosophy in response to learning about all these famous errors.

Stewart Lee is more of a known quantity. You can check out his DVD’s.

P.S. As always, here’s the background, and here are the rules.


  1. Keith O'Rourke says:

    > On one hand, he invented science. On the other, he’s most famous for being wrong.
    But being scientific is absolutely no defense again being wrong, but rather just an acceleration of the process of getting less wrong.

    Or as Peirce once put it roughly, good thing we die or else we would live long enough to realise we were wrong about everything.

    So maybe do Aristotle a favour and don’t bring him back from the dead for your seminar. Unless of course you are really mad at him and want to get payback “So Aris, you thought the brain’s main function was to cool the body.”

  2. Matt says:

    Being wrong is important in science and philosophy. It is drawing a line, testing it, and retesting it that we learn and grow. What Aristotle most importantly did was teach us how to think. Without that, we’d never get far in math, science, or philosophy.

    My vote is for Aristotle.

  3. Manoel Galdino says:

    Without Aristotle we could be stuck with Plato! Also, syllogism is still correct, right?

  4. Dalton says:

    I’m also for Aristotle. I’d love to see him follow up on his four types causes and develop a theory of four types of correlation. Maybe something like: 1. spurious correlation, correlation that occurs purely due to chance and has no meaning; 2. “material” correlation, correlation that is real and has meaning, but is uninteresting (like length and weight in fishes) 3. “efficient” correlation, correlation that is real and has meaning and is interesting, but does not imply causation (for example, the concept of a tell in Poker: say Stewart Lee scratches his nose almost every time he bluffs. The nose scratching doesn’t cause him to bluff, but knowing this correlation is very useful); 4. “final” correlation, here correlation equals causation.

    Not strictly related, but close, so I’m going to say it’s a bonus for the Arsitotle camp. I think we could wrangle Bill and Ted into doing the introduction:
    Ted: Our first guest speaker comes from the year 400 BC, a time when most of the world looked like the cover of the Led Zeppelin album, Houses of the Holy.
    Bill: We were there. There were many steps and columns. It was most tranquil.
    Ted: He is sometimes known as the father of modern thought. He was the teacher of Plato, who was in turn the teacher of Aristotle, and like Ozzy Osbourne, was repeatedly accused of corruption of the young.

  5. zbicyclist says:

    1. If being wrong was a disqualification, how did Freud win yesterday?

    2. I like Kevin O’Rourke’s argument: “But being scientific is absolutely no defense again being wrong, but rather just an acceleration of the process of getting less wrong.” Aristotle didn’t have the whole method, but he’s the start. The nature of the scientific method is that we all stand on the shoulders of giants, and now can see a farther than they could.

  6. Ross says:

    Stewart Lee is just a mediocre stand-up. Funny enough perhaps for a small group of taste-makers declare him Hip/cool; not actually funny enough for most people to of heard of him.

    Aristotle (know for hundreds of years as simply “The Philosopher”) invented logic. Even if he was simply to tell his life story – how could he lose this match up?

    Frankly I think you’ve already slighted him quite enough by ranking him 3rd.

  7. Patrick Caldon says:

    Stewart Lee.

    I can’t see Aristotle presenting a seminar on his biggest philosophical mistakes.

    But I can see Lee spending a seminar on his least funny jokes, and getting a few laughs at the same time.

  8. Paul Robinson says:

    I’m a Philosophy PhD student but I’ll have to go with Stewart Lee, just so that during the seminar I can say “Tom Bayes has let himself go”.

  9. Sam Livingstone says:

    Stewart Lee. This is him at his peak:

    Not only hilarious, but the most effective use of reductio ad absurdium I’ve ever seen, and not on some trivial topic either. I don’t dispute that Aristotle has had infinitely more impact on everything anyone has ever known or done – but Stewart Lee might do this routine again!

  10. Oliver says:

    Are we assuming that it is possible to find an adequate translator for Ancient Greek? If not, then I vote Stewart Lee.

  11. Johannes says:

    Imagine Aristotle would have have been right about everything: he would have started science and finished the job.

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