A new approach to teaching

The Greek Philosopher Aristotle and the Importance of the "First Principles"

Aristotle is one of the greatest philosophers of all time, contributing greatly to the fields of ethics, logic, epistemology, and metacognition.
First-principles thinking is one of the most effective strategies that can be employed for breaking down complicated problems and generating original solutions.

A "first principle" is a basic assumption that cannot be deduced any further. Over 2000 years ago, Aristotle defined the first principle as the "first basis" from which a thing is known.”


In theory, first-principles thinking requires you to dig deeper and deeper until you are left with only the foundational truths of a situation. Rene Descartes, the French philosopher, and scientist embraced this approach with a method now called Cartesian Doubt in which he would “systematically doubt everything he could possibly doubt until he was left with what he saw as purely indubitable truths.”

While the concept of first principles was born centuries ago, it is still valid today and no one embodies the philosophy of the "First Principles" thinking" more effectively than the entrepreneur Elon Musk. In fact, he applied the very idea to justify his venture into Tesla. The running argument was of course that electric vehicles could never work because the price of batteries were too high. This is an example of an analogy. The cost of batteries is high, therefore electric vehicles are not cost-effective. Musk explains that if you look at the battery and think in first principles, you quickly realize a new truth. Buying the individual parts of a battery separately and assembling it yourself, allows you to drastically reduce the cost. By using first principles, he realized that the cost of batteries is not really a barrier. He started with the building blocks of a battery and came to a very different solution. Have a look at the interview below:

The story of Tesla and batteries brings to the fore one of the benefits of first principles: the ability to deconstruct complex problems. First-principles allow us to take any idea, no matter the complexity, and break it down into its parts and then break those down further, until we get to the core building blocks.

While this process is not easy, it is valuable. You are able to see things from a different perspective that allows you to uncover solutions and approaches that were otherwise invisible.

We could benefit from first principles a lot if we think about it. From understanding why a startup is successful in making better career decisions to wrapping your head around politics. But that’s not where the value ends. First-principles are also incredibly useful when applied as a way to live your life.