Papers. Abound. Another late night, writing a paper I’ve known about for almost two weeks, on page two and quickly running out of things to say. So while I give my brain a short break, I’ll use this time to post a smaller essay I wrote on the same subject a few weeks ago, in the hopes that maybe the concise, verbose explanation I gave of the (yes, the very same) material might somehow give me the push I need to finish this [much longer] edition on the same topic. If you care to read it, then, enjoy an Aristotelian/Newtonian brawl, literary style.
Every body left to itself moves uniformly in a straight line –Sir Isaac Newton’s fundamental theory of motion illustrates the drastic transformation in thinking from Aristotelian to modern thought. Martin Heidegger delves into this theory in Being and Time, and in his eight-part axiom he nullifies the previous notion of movement by addressing individual elements and correcting them in light of modern scientific understanding. Particularly interesting is his second point, wherein he focuses specifically on the distinction between circular and linear motion, and their fundamental implications. Newton explains that all motion is universal, regardless of the type of body moving, or the position of it, or any other factor, where previously the understanding was that there was an inherent separation between heavenly and earthly bodies. These distinct entities followed entirely different laws of motion, celestial bodies being perfect and sublime, and earthly ones subordinate and inferior. Newton’s theory eliminated this notion, explaining that there is no fundamental separation between heavenly and earthly bodies, and that circular motion in the former is entirely based upon the same law of linear motion in the latter. Thus, Newton equalizes the two both scientifically and metaphysically; in illustrating the fundamental sameness of heavenly, “perfect” beings and earthly, “lesser” beings, he transforms the previously accepted method of understanding what man is.
Because Newton emphasizes that all beings, regardless of position or type, move in the same pattern, it is clear that there can be no difference between earth and all other beings in space. In previous Aristotelian thought, the circular motion of galactic bodies was considered to be the quintessential form of motion. Celestial beings were the paradigm of perfection, and that they moved circularly illustrated their flawlessness. The circle, which reflects eternity and infinite inimitability, is solid, constant, entire. Its movement and direction are self-contained, and thus its revolutions evince an inherent wholeness that linear movement cannot. A circle exists in and of itself, isolated and complete on its own. Straight lines, contrastingly, lack a decisive end, and therefore seem fallible, unstable, and precarious. The concept of earthly bodies that move in such a manner are intrinsically inferior to those celestial bodies, seems reasonable in light of such an archaic understanding of scientific reality. Earthly bodies are indeterminate, moving in seemingly arbitrary directions, with no particular end in sight, as heavenly bodies revolve in constant motion in recognition of their own essential flawlessness.
This understanding aligns aptly with pre-modern thought on the ontological question of man. In Aristotelian times up until the age of the enlightenment, a very religious position was taken on the matter, and humans were considered to be vastly inferior to perfect, complete, heavenly beings. They were instead lowly beings who could not comprehend anything beyond sense experience. Just as earthly bodies moved linearly, so also did humans progress in an indefinite direction, with no foreseeable end and no apparent reason beyond the motion itself. Theology was accepted verbatim, in the most dogmatic, objective way. Similarly, science was generally considered to be an unnecessary endeavor beyond obvious explanations of things. With the age of enlightenment, catapulted by Newton and other revolutionary minds of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, came a new understanding of reality through scientific exploration, and thus a more concrete, realistic understanding of man.
The enlightenment age brought about a necessary change in the world, in that it introduced an entirely new way of thinking. Instead of merely abiding by the long-standing practice of dogmatism and absolute religious docility, people were increasingly encouraged to examine their beliefs and understandings isolated from tradition. Individualism thus emerged, and mankind began to embrace its potential for progress. Herein is clearly reflected the shift in the universal understanding of circular motion as being perfect and complete, to being stagnant, simple, and unproductive. Conversely, linear motion, which had been considered comparatively inadequate, could now be recognized as progressive, active, and innovative. In the realization that this linear motion was and always had been a universal form of motion in all beings, regardless of placement in space, circular motion was erased, which transformed the ontological understanding of mankind as a whole. Eliminated also was the pre-modern reliance upon abstract celestial beings for the governance of the universe, and in its place blossomed a certain self-sufficiency. Man’s fallibility suddenly became something not to make him worthless, but rather to compel him to push forward. Progress, productivity, direction: these illustrate the burgeoning recognition of mankind as an evolutionary, linear being, fundamentally set apart from all other living beings by his intellect, and consequently his ability to use that toward an ultimate good.