Tesla CEO Elon Musk Uses Aristotle’s First Principle Philosophy

Tesla CEO Elon Musk

AUG 6 2017 BY EVANNEX 55

Tesla CEO Elon Musk

Tesla CEO Elon Musk


Tesla CEO Elon Musk is considered by many as a modern-day Steve Jobs. But does Musk get some of his management playbook from a more ancient source? Over 2300 years ago, Aristotle said that a first principle is the “first basis from which a thing is known” and that pursuing first principles is the key to doing any sort of systemic inquiry — whether in philosophy, as he did, or in business, as Musk does.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk (Source: Motley Fool via Tesla)

According to Inc.*:

“First articulated and named by Aristotle, the First Principle has endured all these millennia as the basis for (Western) philosophical contemplation… A First Principle is a basic, essential, foundational truth that is ‘known by nature.’ It is not an assumption or deduction based on another theory or supposition. A key element of First Principle thinking is that just because something is ‘known by nature’ or true in the Universe does not mean it has ever been articulated and described by humans.”

It turns out that, “Physicists, scientists, and artists also engage the First Principle in order to dive into the unknown and surface with ideas totally new. A number of years ago, Elon Musk cited the ancient concept in an interview with Kevin Rose [see below], thereby adding the term to our shared entrepreneurial vocabulary, but most visionaries–whether in business, science, arts, or philosophy–would in fact tell you that First Principle thinking is essential to their process and work, even if the phrase itself is unfamiliar.”

*This article comes to us courtesy of EVANNEX (which also makes aftermarket Tesla accessories). Authored by Matt Pressman.

Above: Musk discusses his approach to critical thinking using a “First Principles” framework (Source: innomind)

“Someone could–and people do–say battery packs are really expensive and that’s just the way they will always be because that’s the way they have been in the past. They would say, ‘It’s going to cost $600 per kilowatt-hour. It’s not going to be much better than that in the future,” Musk said in his interview with Rose.

But in First Principle thinking, you forget what has been, you erase what is assumed, and ask questions based on your desire for what is possible.

In Musk’s words: “What are the material constituents of the batteries? What is the spot market value of the material constituents? It has carbon, nickel, aluminum, and some polymers for separation, and a steel can. Break that down on a materials basis, if we bought that on a London Metal Exchange, what would each of these things cost?”


Tesla’s 18650 battery cell used in the Tesla Model S (Instagram: @yancki87)

By using First Principle thinking, “Musk’s findings were that he could get those materials for $80 per kilowatt-hour, combine them into a battery cell shape of his choosing, and model modern innovation within the energy industry… By definition, true innovation can only occur if we start with the First Principle. When we want to make the leap from what is to what is possible, we can’t get to what doesn’t exist by creating an iteration of what already exists.”


*Source: Inc.

*Editor’s Note: EVANNEX, which also sells aftermarket gear for Teslas, has kindly allowed us to share some of its content with our readers. Our thanks go out to EVANNEX, Check out the site here.

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55 Comments on "Tesla CEO Elon Musk Uses Aristotle’s First Principle Philosophy"

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“Modern day Steve Jobs”

Uh no…Jobs and Musk are contemporaries so Steve Jobs is a modern day Jobs unless the authors meant biblical Job.

Musk is a modern day Elon Musk. His genius is different than Steve Jobs in that Musk vision is for what we must do to survive as a species, stop polluting the planet and destroying the ecosystem (EV’s and solar energy) and, if that fails, advance quickly enough to build replica ecosystems in space.

And then having that vision, building the industrial base in EV’s batteries and space transport to make it happen. And having the business acumen to sell his vision to others, those of us buying EV’s, solar energy and governments looking for commercial space transportation.

A bit different than Steve Jobs’ clever gadgets.

“Musk vision is for what we must do to survive as a species”

OMG, you really believe this nonsense? Even if we all drove EV powered from the sun, that will barely make a dent in “climate change is gona kill us all hysteria.”

Fact is, even if everyone drove EV powered from the sun, it won’t reduce the global temperature at all. It may slow it down a bit (or not), but that will only delay the inevitable by few years.

Musk is making kickass cars that he’d like to have, and many of us (certainly most IEV readers) agree with those kind of cars. Some of us (or maybe just me) think he’s a lazy bum who’s not focused on bringing that to fruition fast enough, instead he’s wasting time with his hobby of being a space cadet.

It is better to do attempt to avoid the inevitable than to do nothing at all.

^ That

“attempt to avoid the inevitable”

The problem is we’re not even attempting to avoid the inevitable, merely delay by few years.

Gotta start somewhere. And the more we delay big problems, the more time we have to innovate new & better technologies to address things.

“Even if we all drove EV powered from the sun, that will barely make a dent in “climate change is gona kill us all hysteria.”

Your first problem is with climate science and denying the threat of human accelerated global warming. As the science and climate facts tell us, the problem is worse than we knew even five years ago as the change is accelerating faster than even worst case predictions.

As for if we all drove EVs powered from the sun, making a dent, it would make a huge dent as fossil fuel use for transportation and energy is the problem. Solar power replacement would fix the problem of industrial emissions, a bit more than making a dent.

As to this article, climate science facts are Musk’s motivation for EV’s, solar power, battery storage, SpaceX. You are free to disagree with Musk but those are his motivations and that you cannot argue with.

Absolutely! Musk is my hero, he’s really trying to change the world and seems to be succeeding. All I can do is buy one of his cars and cheer from the sidelines.

“Your first problem is with climate science and denying the threat of human accelerated global warming.”

Anytime someone brings up the facts with hard numbers, we’re labeled a denier. Science says nothing about threat to humanity, merely that CO2 and other GHG are rising mainly due to man made sources and that temperature is rising, most likely from GHG emissions.

Here’s a simple way to know if you’re a member of doomsday cult: you believe the end is near, because some guru tells you so despite the evidence to the contrary (eg. Harold Camping). That’s basically what climate change gloom and doom hysteria is: cult with no scientific evidence to back it up.

The real inconvenient truth is that humans are doing better than any time in history, and most likely will continue to do so.

Science very clearly does say something about the threat climate changes poses to humanity. Maybe you should look into that before you say stupid things…

“. Some of us (or maybe just me) think he’s a lazy bum who’s not focused on bringing that to fruition fast enough, instead he’s wasting time with his hobby of being a space cadet.”

Are you being sarcastic, or is this for real? I can assure you that almost no one agrees with that statement.

It is for real. That guy has delayed and delayed while playing with his toy rockets. He should be focused on EV business before starting a major new hobby.

Even solar could’ve waited until his car business is stable (ie, S, 3, X, Y selling by the billions).

“OMG, you really believe this nonsense?”

Planning for the long-term survival of our species is “nonsense”?!?!

Wow. Talk about burying your head in the sand! What Elon is talking about is about as far away from nonsense as it’s possible to get. By comparison, everything that you and I do is nonsense!

“Even if we all drove EV powered from the sun, that will barely make a dent in ‘climate change is gona kill us all hysteria’.”

Elon Musk is actually doing something to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, and something to fight our dependence on fossil fuels. How about you?

Maybe you’re just in denial… and maybe there is some jealousy at work here. Maybe a lot of jealousy!

“Planning for the long-term survival of our species”

You’ve been watching too many movies. Planning never works out. If it’s so simple as that, we’d all be driving flying cars and living on Mars.

Even at smaller level, North Korea pretty much plans everything, obviously for the better as they see it. Look where they are now compared to almost “let-it-go” South Korea.

Evaluation has presented this world we live in with only two sources to make advancements the positive thought and the negative thoughts individuals come programed with both and decided which one to use by using other variables on this occasion you have decided to use the negative one. Right or wrong doesn’t come into it.

Don’t let Perfect be the enemy of the Good.
Do not think that a few drops of water do not account for much, what is the ocean but many drops of water.

And don’t let cliches be a substitute for clear thinking or plain speaking.

I went Fishing once, for Cliches, but they weren’t biting!

“And don’t let cliches be a substitute for clear thinking or plain speaking.”

Today’s cliche is that humans are doomed if we don’t do “something” But clear thinker would research what those somethings mean and if they’re going to make much difference. Fact is, they won’t.

We can’t completely solve the problem so let’s just do nothing?

No, that’s silly. A long voyage starts with a single step. Start fixing what we can fix now and as we develop new technologies, we can deploy those.

Miami is a zombie city that will be reclaimed by the sea after several more decades…but if we get work now and continue innovating new solutions, we can certainly avoid the worst case scenario.

Did you know they make solar panels too? Did you know that we can easily power the whole worlds energy needs from solar? If we did that, how big would the “dent” in climate change be?

He is more of a modern day Steve Wozniak. Wozniak was the much better engineer that really got things done. Jobs was an OK engineer but excelled at being the motivator, hypeman, and salesman.

This article is out of place here.

Interview with leading industrialist builder of EV’s is not out of place on an website devoted to EV’s.

Hyu are you to say that?

That was a good one.

Two men walked into a bar, a third one ducked.

Hyu said:

“This article is out of place here.”

An article pointing out the value of critical thinking and reasoning using the scientific method, from first principles, isn’t out of place anywhere. It’s something we all need to learn, and need to be reminded of from time to time.

Especially in an era where certain politicians are trying to tell us facts are “fake news”, and promoting their own “alternative facts” as if they are reality.

Some people — unfortunately, a lot of supposedly educated people — do need to be reminded that there is such a thing as objective Truth; that not everything can be settled by who shouts the loudest.

It applies at InsideEVs because it is about how electric vehicle batteries are made in a disruptive way through giving up conventional thinking about manufacturing.

I’d rather see more of these sorts of things than unlikely renderings of an EV version of a Hummer or “watch me put a Tesla logo on a Chevy Silverado” Photoshop exercises.

This does beg one question, though: who is still building EVs with pouch cells instead of can cells? Tesla built with the 18650 cells first.

I could be wrong, but I think I read that the Volt uses pouch cells supported by a frame. Quite possibly other EVs use them, too.

So far as I know, nobody is using cylindrical cells except Tesla. I think most are using “prismatic” cells, shaped like slabs or blocks.

Elon Musk definitely has a nag for ignoring conventional wisdom and doing what they say can’t be done. Worked great for him in carmaking and aerospace but it’s going to be interesting to see what the limits of such thinking are, for instance is it really possible to reenvision tunnel building so hitherto unthinkable applications become economically viable?

Mankind is lucky to have an original thinker like that with the financial means and talent to make the unthinkable happen but the comment sections of green car blogs (and even the editorial section in some cases) will tell you quickly that it’s also a source of resentment from people who can’t see past conventional wisdom.

Sadly, there is often a lot of jealousy displayed toward people who are rich and successful. That Elon Musk is also a popular visionary unfortunately seems to increase the jealousy on display.

People can be so petty!

“Sadly, there is often a lot of jealousy displayed toward people who are rich and successful”

Hah…sounds like the Trump-hating Democrats now…ok i kid i kid….please don’t banned me.

Using the battery example isnt some magic new philosophy. Thats standard automotive cost structure analysis. Matetial cost plus processing plus overhead plus profit = price.

Jobs was arrogant, Musk is visionary.

Yeah, too bad the iPhone thing failed.

Oops, you missed his point, didn’t you?

Musk share the same “arrogance” of insisting on his vision and doing his way, a trait they share. Both have been proven right but the comparison lacks a lot as Musk’s goals were not gadgets but changing basic structure of our industrial base to fix the problem of human accelerated global warming.

The vision and purpose of the two was quite different as are their companies and products.

Great summation Chris O, a majority of people are still so constrained by their lack of imagination that we get the constant whining that it can’t be done so why even try.

Basically conservatism and those who can’t see beyond their nose or wallets.

Musks reenvisioning tunnel building, has applications that are not only to be deployed on this planet. His sights are set on mineral procurement from a distance.

That is where your “Unthinkable applications become economically viable” strategy, comes into play. There currently is big picture convential wisdom and its steadfast adherents. However, AI, augmented reality, among other intangibles, will bring a complete paradigm shift, to the evolution of Humans, in what will eventually become the rapidly transforming universe.

I always get a laugh when reading an Internet forum poster crapping on someone like a Musk. The two types of people – poster and Musk – are polar opposites in the achievement realm.

That is probably correct.
It’s sort like people looking at art by a magnificent painter, and discussing it.

Elon Musk is a story teller.
Story tellers usually find employment as writers or museum guides. Seems they can also have opportunities as tech CEOs.

LMAO, Musk is a doer.

You are a storey teller of serial anti-Tesla FUD!

I’m all for the integration of storytelling and “doing”, but it’s bound to rest on the works of many many engineers and factory floor workers.

“Musks reenvisioning tunnel building, has applications that are not only to be deployed on this planet. His sights are set on mineral procurement from a distance.”

We know Elon gets many of his ideas from science fiction.

As far as tunneling goes, the Horta from Star Trek TOS comes to mind 🙂

The Horta are going to bury the Boring Company, and any prospects for Musks Mars lucrative tunneling contracts in the future!?

Horta are Boring!

The example quoted in the article is BS. Elon claims batteries can be cheaper because the raw materials are cheap. Unfortunately that blinding insight holds for almost every manufactured good. At the limit, raw materials are free from the earth. One must look at total cost, including cost of capital. However, as long as investors are willing to bankroll Tesla ad nauseam, work it if you got it. They won’t get a return, but I’ll get another subsidized car.

For example, the raw materials cost for an average ICE vehicle is only $1,500. Thinking from “first principles,” I can found a car company which sells cars at $3,000 and revolutionize the industry. Brilliant! I can’t believe that none of you dummies have thought of this before.

Kind of like how Intel CPUs are made from basically sand. How come they aren’t cheaper?

These last two comments are so silly I can barely bring myself to bother to reply – but as I’ve started typing…

Four Electrics – There is a *slight* difference between what is, effectively, a ‘consumable’ – a single Li-Ion cell – and an entire car! Interestingly enough, I did exactly the same analysis about 4 years ago and reached much the same conclusion. With something as simple as a Li-Ion cell, the key to real cheapness is colossal economy of scale. Exactly what Mr Musk is trying to achieve.

MTN Ranger – If you consider what CPU chips cost 20 years ago, today’s devices offering similar power are, by comparison, almost free.

Jobs isn’t old enough to call anyone modern day Jobs. And Musk embarked up on making the impossible happen. He waited 10 years for the first products to come out that would go on to change the world. Jobs thought there’s a market for a cool phone and put a team together which whipped out a phone in couple of years time. Jobs didn’t bet the farm and that makes all the difference.

‘Jobs’ in the present tense??
BIG NEWS- Steve is DEAD. Yep, I’m so picky.

I’m afraid he’s dead, Jim.

” “Musk’s findings were that he could get those materials for $80 per kilowatt-hour, combine them into a battery cell shape of his choosing, and model modern innovation within the energy industry…”

Yeah, but you still need to manufacture the battery from those elements. And through mass manufacturing & automation, you can (and they have pushed the prices down).

And those element prices on the stock market could also go down further if you build a huge industry that starts using more of them. Increased demand can temporarily increase prices…but if you are really building a big new industry, the increased demand will increase investment in that sector causing it to become bigger & more efficient and thus drive down prices.

More investment brings more innovation.