Aristotle Beyond the Academy

Aristotle and the Rolling Stones

What has a stone hurling competition in Switzerland got to do with Aristotelian philosophy? Everything, according to Dr Daniel Kranzelbinder from the Center for Hellenic Studies at Harvard.

In a recent article for philosophy magazine Aeon, Kranzelbinder argues that we can understand the relationship between conservativism, progressiveness and tradition best by examining his favourite sport – stone putting.

Stone putting is one of the competitions which make up Unspunnenfest, an 'invented tradition' which dates back to 1805 and was established in a conscious attempt for the rural Swiss to re-connect with Alpine history.

But just because it has a long history, doesn't mean it hasn't changed with the times, argues Kranzelbinder. Most notably, the very stone used by competitors has been stolen, replaced and stolen again over the years.

In Aristotle's Sophistical Refutations, the Stagirite outlines two models of tradition. One, 'conservative tradition', guards what is handed down jealously from all change; the other, 'progressive tradition', passes down something with the intention and desire for it to be improved upon and adapted by later generations.

Kranzelbinder argues that stone putting is a perfect example of progressive tradition in action:

Uncoupling tradition from conservatism in the way that the progressive concept of tradition proposes to do promises a remedy against an anxiety that defines our time: how can we make progress without thereby becoming disconnected from where we began and without thereby growing fearful of the process itself? Aristotle’s concept of tradition makes available a model for how traditions survive the progress they are instrumental in facilitating, and how their content changes in the process. A progressive tradition gives us the tools to balance our own achievements and the achievements of our time on the one hand, and the value and authority of tradition on the other. In doing so, it enables us to constructively criticise the processes by means of which political and social progress is made, without damaging trust in them.

Which all goes to show that Aristotle's philosophy is never more than a stone's throw away from having practical application.

Durham UniversityDurham University Centre for Classical ReceptionLeverhulme Trust