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Western Thought: Both Synthetic and Analytic By Nature
Western Thought: Both Synthetic and Analytic By Nature

Western Thought: Both Synthetic and Analytic By Nature

The Wikipedia entry on Eric A. Havelock made the interesting statement:
For Havelock, Plato’s rejection of poetry was merely the realization of a cultural shift in which he was a participant. Two distinct phenomena are covered by the shift he observed in Greek culture at the end of the 5th century: the content of thought (in particular the concept of man or of the soul), and the organization of thought. In Homer, Havelock argues, the order of ideas is associative and temporal. The epic’s “units of meaning … are linked associatively to form an episode, but the parts of the episode are greater than the whole.” For Plato, on the other hand, the purpose of thought is to arrive at the significance of the whole, to move from the specific to the general. Havelock points out that Plato’s syntax, which he shares with other 4th-century writers, reflects that organization, making smaller ideas subordinate to bigger ideas.
How often to do I hear the nonsense that Western thought is inherently analytic, not synthetic. Such statements betray an ignorance of history or a deliberate agenda: to say that Western thought is inherently divisive and oppresive. But it is a mistake to think that “analysis” in Western thought is evidence for “divisiveness;” rather, it is someone’s philosophic position which makes him/her look for, like picking cherries, the “evidence” in Western thought that they want, and ignore the rest, ignore the whole. How ironic. (And it teaches to look at opposites, to consider other ideas and positions. Some people could use training in this, in Western thought…) The fact is that ancient Greek thought — the tradition of thought and philosophy we inherit and which heavily influences our culture, thought and philosophy — was both analytic and synthetic: it studied the identity of each individual, identified the essence and nature of the kind of thing each individual was, and identified how each thing related to others and thereby into a whole. Finding “the one in the many” was a characteristically ancient Greek search. The first historian, Thucydides, sought to find how a varied mass of events and human actions were related into the whole known as the Peloponnesian War, and to find the basic ideas in human nature, and the basic ideas in man’s relation to reality, underlying this war. This is synthetic and “holistic,” not analytic and divisive. Euclid wrote a treatise on geometry, bringing a wide variety of facts into a unified theory of geometry and mathematics. This is synthetic and “holistic,” not analytic and divisive. Aristotle and Plato developed, for the first time in history, whole, complete systems of thought, whole systems unifying all knowledge and all relationships man had to reality (social, political, aesthetic, scientific, metaphysical, epistemological). This is synthetic and “holistic,” not analytic and divisive. The ancient Greeks were masters of integration, of synthesis. Masters without any peers. They brought geometry to bear on astronomy — a mental act of uniting, of integrating, of synthesizing; not of divisively analyzing, separating and oppressing. They brought mathematics to bear (to a limited extent) on physics — a mental act of uniting, of integrating, of synthesizing; not of divisively analyzing, separating and oppressing.They brought the ideas of proof in geometry to bear on philosophy — a mental act of uniting, of integrating, of synthesizing; not of divisively analyzing, separating and oppressing. We should study more, learn more, and put into practice more the thought of the ancient Greeks. We should always analyze and synthesize in the true traditon of Western thought. The problem is that we don’t do all this enough.

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