We all have ideas all the time. Some are good, but rather ordinary, (like spontaneously buying flowers for your wife on the way home), some are bad (like buying her a knife set for her birthday) and others, like Google’s PageRank are unquestionably great.
Just a few stand out above all the rest. They change the course of history and affect the lives of millions who aren’t even aware of them. Amazingly, some are largely the work of a single person.
Those ideas are truly great and seven really stand out. To make my selection, I applied three criteria: Longevity (i.e. they survive a long time without being amended or surpassed in any significant way), impact (i.e. they greatly affected the lives and work of others) and authorship (i.e. they can be traced to one person). Here’s my list, see what you think.
In terms of longevity, only Euclid’s geometry (which doesn’t make the list because of fuzzy authorship) can rival Aristotle’s logic. Any time we say someone is being “illogical” or that an argument is valid, we are referring to Aristotle. Amazingly, it sprung forth from his mind seemingly without precursor or precedent and lasted for two millennia.
As late as 1781, Immanuel Kant wrote:
That logic has advanced in this sure course, even from the earliest times, is apparent from the fact that, since Aristotle, it has been unable to advance a step and, thus, to all appearance has reached its completion.
That’s pretty amazing, two thousand years and nobody had been able to find any flaws or improve on the idea in any significant way. At the core of Aristotelian logic is the syllogism, which is made up of propositions which consist of two terms (a subject and a predicate). If the propositions in the syllogism are true, then the argument is true.
There are, of course, more complexities as you delve deeper, but what gives logic so much power is the simple concept that we can judge the validity of statements by their structure alone, even when stripped of their content. If you follow the rules of logic, every statement you make will be valid (i.e. internally consistent).
Today, two thousand years later, Aristotle’s simple idea stands at the core of…