The Ghost of Aristotle

The rigidity of dialectical thinking

Roll over Aristotle Aristotle started a classification system which, with modifications, is still with us today in the form of a taxonomy based on discriminating between body parts. All life is thus divided into kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus and species.

This form of taxonomy has served a useful function for so long that we fall into the trap of thinking that it is the only way of ‘seeing’ things.

Taxonomy based on dialectics taxonomy
A forgotten taxonomy T’ai P’ing, AD 978 in Kuang Chi [Extensive Records Made in the Period of Peace and Prosperity], an ancient Chinese encyclopaedia, classified animals thus:
Chinese taxonomy:
  1. belonging to the Emperor
  2. embalmed
  3. tame
  4. suckling pigs
  5. sirens
  6. stray dogs
  7. included in the present classification
  8. frenzied
  9. innumerable
  10. drawn with a very fine camel hair brush
  11. et cetera
  12. having just broken the water pitcher
  13. that from a long way off look like flies
Perspective This classification causes us to smile because it is people-centred – it’s seen through the eyes and experiences of the observer, it’s eccentric, paradoxical, contradictory and represents emotional responses and values judgments. It’s not science:  but it’s still legitimate.

It’s these perceptions and values which drive processes – it’s these perceptions and values that we must recognise when we facilitate or manage.

Source of Chinese taxonomy Langer, Ellen. 1988.  Mindfulness: Choice and Control in Everyday Life. London: Harvill p 23 cites Borges, Jorges Luis. 1967. Libro de Los Seres Imaginarios. Buenos Aires: Editorial Kiersa S A, Fauna China. p 88