The rise and fall of empires: I have been savouring a read on the Habsburg dominance of European politics by Simon Winder for two months! Every second page I was searching the internet for some painting, researching a battle, some long forgotten ethnic group or now defunct country. Living in Vienna one cannot escape constant and frequent references to the Habsburgs so I always intended to read something on them. Indeed, it can be said that this was the Imperial city par excellence. Danubia is the most entertaining walk through history I have read in a long time. Maybe because it does not try to be a factually accurate history (and there are a few errors) but is closer to a travelogue through the ages. If you had a witty and erudite time travelling uncle, who decided to follow the triumphs and follies of the Habsburg family, this is what you would expect his report to read like. Amazing and timeless!
Did Aristotle invent the scientific method? Armand Leroi thinks so. He makes a compelling argument in a recent book on this claim (and the companion BBC programme). I was fascinated by the references to the creation of systematic knowledge that Aristotle pioneered through his classification of observable phenomena. The first empiricist. Like all students of politics I have been exposed to Aristotle’s philosophy on political systems and ethics. But Leroi develops the argument that even his wrong inferences are plausible, given the means at his disposal and the state of knowledge at the time. I would go further to suggest that Aristotle’s real merit is the fact that his metaphysics are not employed to rescue his hypotheses but to engineer new hypotheses, were no observations could be made. The breadth of his scientific project, encompassing what we would now classify as natural sciences, social sciences and philosophy indicates why he dominated knowledge claims for almost two millennia. It also partly explains why 17th century scientists had to “dethrone” him and reject the aggregate of his work in order to create a paradigm shift. Unfortunately, new science has also rejected its roots, instead of celebrating a method of inquiry that made feasible revising its own core premises.
And some random nuggets of knowledge: