There are three kinds of people in the world….

according to Machiavelli and Socrates, or two according to Aristotle: those who can reason, those who can recognize reason when it’s presented to them, and those who have no relationship to reason at all. Aristotle didn’t include the last group, but did say that women have only part of an intellect (though which part I couldn’t say). A  great deal of political and educational theory depends on whether this distribution is in fact the case. Modern Americans seem to believe it isn’t, except in the case of a few mentally disabled people, and that everything else is the result of environment, opportunity, and so on. But even that is a concession that it very often looks like there are people who cannot or will not or haven’t the opportunity to think for themselves. But our faith in the absence of natural classes persists, and we dream up starry-eyed plans of “critical thinking” courses, wherein minds that do not reason at least come to recognize reason, and those that recognize reason begin to reason independently – apparently without any definite object.

The division has been coming up a good deal in our politics seminar this semester, because it is the basis for excluding people from being citizens. All three of the above suggest that there needs to be a division between people who think and rule, and people who work with their hands. It’s a very strict division – working with one’s hands precludes one from being a citizen in Plato and Aristotle, unless that work is warfare, and in Machiavelli, someone can rise to power from nothing, but must give up his work and study war instead. But I get the impression that there’s a difference, in that Plato and Aristotle object to work for the learned on principle, whereas Machiavelli simply doesn’t believe there could be time for both. In that he’s more like us – it’s not that it would be wrong to be a senator and also a potter, but it seems unlikely that one person could encompass so much. If anyone actually could do such different things, and do both well, I believe we would rather admire him than not. The ancient Athenians, it seems, would not – the one occupation is noble, and the other ignoble.

Actually, I find that second part much more objectionable than the first. I have no idea whether or not it is true that a significant number of people cannot reason (“think critically” to use modern parlance), but  if it is true it would be better to submit to reality. It does not necessarily follow, however, that all reasoning is “noble” and all physical work “ignoble.” Sometimes it is – slavery, sweat shops, mechanized assembly lines, concern only with cheapness, and such like can make it ignoble. In America we seem to assume but not really believe that, while there aren’t really such categories as noble and ignoble – especially the former – it’s better to work with reason and information if one can possibly help it. I do appreciate that the fellows we’ve been studying are at least willing to articulate their understanding of human intellect and occupation.


One thought on “There are three kinds of people in the world….

  1. Here is a distinction Jaques Maritain-20th century French Catholic Thomist philosopher made: people are born either with liberal or conservative tendencies. Of course we can change if we are “mugged by reality” or maybe get a “heart transplant” (I am trying to think here from the liberal point of view) but we come with a point of view instinctively.
    And here is another idea, that especially Solzhenitsy but also Eric Hoffer address: most intellectuals are idealogues but a few pursue spiritual goals. Almost by definition idealogues cannot use reason in a helpful way because their rationality is used only to further their aims rather than examine their premises.

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