Birth: 384 BC
Death: March 7, 322 BC
School/tradition: Inspired the Peripatetic school and tradition of Aristotelianism
Main interests: Politics, Metaphysics, Science, Logic, Ethics
Notable ideas: The Golden mean, Reason, Passion
Influenced: Almost all of western philosophy and science afterward
Aristotle (March 7, 322 BC) was a Greek philosopher, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. He wrote on diverse subjects, including physics, poetry (including theater), biology and zoology, logic, rhetoric, politics, government and ethics. Along with Socrates and Plato, Aristotle was one of the most influential of ancient Greek philosophers. They transformed Presocratic Greek philosophy into the foundations of Western philosophy as we know it. Some consider Plato and Aristotle to have founded two of the most important schools of Ancient philosophy; others consider Aristotelianism as a development and concretization of Plato’s insights.
• 1 Biography
O 1.1 Early life and studies at the Academy
O 1.2 Aristotle as philosopher and tutor
O 1.3 Founder and master of the Lyceum
• 2 Quotes
• 3 Methodology
• 4 Aristotle’s epistemology
O 4.1 Logic
« 4.1.1 History
« 4.1.2 Analytics and the Organon
« 4.1.3 Modal logic
O 4.2 Science
• 5 Aristotle’s metaphysics
O 5.1 Causality
O 5.2 Chance and spontaneity
O 5.3 Substance, potentiality and actuality
O 5.4 The five elements
• 6 Aristotle’s ethics
• 7 Aristotle’s critics
• 8 The loss of his works
• 9 Bibliography
O 9.1 Major works
« 9.1.1 Logical writings
« 9.1.2 Physical and scientific writings
« 9.1.3 Metaphysical writings
« 9.1.4 Ethical writings
« 9.1.5 Aesthetic writings
« 9.1.6 A work outside the Corpus Aristotelicum
O 9.2 Specific editions
• 10 Named after Aristotle
• 11 Notes
• 12 Further reading
• 13 See also
• 14 External links
Although Aristotle wrote dialogues, only fragments of these have survived. The works that have survived are in treatise form and were, for the most part, unpublished texts. These are generally thought to be lecture notes or texts used by his students. Among the most important are Physics, Metaphysics (or Ontology), Nicomachean Ethics, Politics, De Anima (On the Soul) and Poetics. These works, although connected in many fundamental ways, differ significantly in both style and substance.
Aristotle not only studied almost every subject possible at the time, but made significant contributions to most of them. In science, Aristotle studied anatomy, astronomy, economics, embryology, geography, geology, meteorology, physics, and zoology. In philosophy, Aristotle wrote on aesthetics, ethics, government, metaphysics, politics, psychology, rhetoric and theology. He also dealt with education, foreign customs, literature and poetry. His combined works practically constitute an encyclopedia of Greek knowledge.
Early life and studies at the Academy
A bust of Aristotle is a nearly ubiquitous ornament in places of high culture in the West.
Aristotle was born in Stagirus, on the peninsula of Chalcidice in 384 BC. His father, Nicomachus, was court physician to King Amyntas III of Macedon. It is believed that Aristotle’s ancestors held this position under various kings of the Macedon. He did not go to school, instead he was taught by his father. His father’s medical knowledge was perhaps the inspiration for Aristotle’s later interest in natural phenomena.
Little is known about his mother, Phaestis, who died early in Aristotle’s life. His father Nicomachus died when Aristotle was ten, making him an orphan. Then he was placed under the guardianship of his uncle, Proxenus of Atarneus, who also took over his education. He gave Aristotle significant instruction in Greek, rhetoric, and poetry (O’Connor et al., 2004). Aristotle went to Athens at the age of 17, and attended Plato’s school for young Greek aristocracy (the Academy). Aristotle quickly became Plato’s favorite student.
From the age of 17 to 37 Aristotle remained at the Academy. The relationship between Plato and Aristotle has formed the subject of various legends, many of which depict Aristotle unfavourably. No doubt there were divergences of opinion between Plato, who took his stand on sublime, idealistic principles, and Aristotle, who even at that time showed a preference for the investigation of the facts and laws of the physical world. It is also probable that Plato suggested that Aristotle needed restraining rather than encouragement, but not that there was an open breach of friendship. In fact, Aristotle’s conduct after the death of Plato, his continued associations with Xenocrates and other Platonists, and his allusions in his writings to Plato’s doctrines prove that while there were conflicts of opinions between Plato and Aristotle, there was no lack of cordial appreciation or mutual forbearance. Legends that reflect Aristotle unfavourably are allegedly traceable to the Epicureans, although some doubt remains of this charge. If such legends were circulated widely by patristic writers such as Justin Martyr and Gregory Nazianzen, the reason may rest in the exaggerated esteem which early Christian heretics had for Aristotle.
It is not exactly clear when in his life, but according to Clearchus of Soli in his work “De Somno” (apud: Josephus, Contra Apionem, I, 176-183:), Aristotle met a Jew in Asia Minor and regarded him very favorably, noting that there is something to learn from him. Clearchus of Soli quotes Aristoteles as: “‘Well’, said Aristotle, […] ‘the man was a Jew of Coele-Syria. These people are descended from the Indian philosophers. The philosophers, they say, are in India called Calani, in Syria by the territorial name of Jews; for the district which they inhabit is known as Judea. Their city has a remarkably odd name: they call it Hierusaleme. (180) Now this man, who entertained by a large circle of friends and was on his way from the interior to the coast, not only spoke Greek but had the soul of a Greek. (181) During my stay in Asia, he visited the same places as I did, and came to converse with me and some other scholars, to test our learning. But as one who had been intimate with many cultivated persons, it was rather he who imparted to us something of his own.” Flavius Josephus writes: “…he [Aristoteles] went on to speak of the great and astonishing endurance and sobriety displayed by this Jew in his manner of life.” (trans. H. St. J. Tackery, The Loeb Classical Library, Cambridge (Mass.)-London)
Aristotle as philosopher and tutor
After the death of Plato (347 BC), Aristotle was considered for the position of head of the Academy, but this was eventually awarded to Plato’s nephew,Speusippus. Aristotle left the Academy because of the disagreement with Speusippus’ view. Aristotle then went with Xenocrates to the court of Hermias, ruler of Atarneus in Asia Minor. He married Pythias, the niece of Hermias, and they had a daughter. They called her Pythias after her mother. In 344 BC, Hermias was murdered in a rebellion, and Aristotle went with his family to Mytilene. It is also reported that he stopped on Lesbos and briefly conducted biological research. Then, one or two years later, he was summoned to Pella, the Macedonian capital, by King Philip II of Macedon to become the tutor of Alexander the Great, who was then 14.
Plutarch wrote that Aristotle not only imparted to Alexander a knowledge of ethics and politics, but also of the most profound secrets of philosophy. We have much proof that Alexander profited by contact with the philosopher, and that Aristotle made prudent and beneficial use of his influence over the young prince (although Bertrand Russell disputes this). Due to this influence, Alexander provided Aristotle with ample means for the acquisition of books and the pursuit of his scientific investigation.
It is possible that Aristotle also participated in the education of Alexander’s boyhood friends, which may have included for example Hephaestion and Harpalus. Aristotle maintained a long correspondence with Hephaestion, eventually collected into a book, unfortunately now lost.
According to sources such as Plutarch and Diogenes, Philip burned down Aristotle’s hometown of Stageira during the 340s BC; Aristotle successfully requested that Alexander rebuild it. During his tutorship of Alexander, Aristotle was reportedly considered a second time for leadership of the Academy; his companion Xenocrates was selected instead.
Founder and master of the Lyceum
In about 336 BC, Alexander departed on his Asiatic campaign, and Aristotle, who had served as an informal adviser (more or less) since Alexander ascended the Macedonian throne, returned to Athens and opened his own school of philosophy. He may, as Aulus Gellius says, have conducted a school of rhetoric during his former residence in Athens; but now, following Plato’s example, he gave regular instruction in philosophy in a gymnasium dedicated to Apollo Lyceios, from which his school has come to be known as the Lyceum. (It was also called the Peripatetic School because Aristotle preferred to discuss problems of philosophy with his pupils while walking around peripateo Չ€” the shaded walks Չ€” peripatoi Չ€” surrounding the gymnasium).
During the thirteen years (335 BCՉ€“322 BC) which he spent as head of the Lyceum, Aristotle composed most of his writings. Imitating Plato, he wrote Dialogues in which his doctrines were expounded in popular language. He also composed the surviving treatises, in which the exposition is more didactic and the language more technical than in the Dialogues. These writings succeeded in bringing together the works of his predecessors in Greek philosophy, and how he pursued, either personally or through others, his investigations in the realm of natural phenomena. Pliny the Elder claimed that Alexander placed under Aristotle’s orders all the hunters, fishermen, and fowlers of the royal kingdom and all the overseers of the royal forests, lakes, ponds and cattle-ranges; Aristotle’s zoological works make this claim believable. Aristotle was fully informed about the doctrines of his predecessors, and Strabo asserted that he was the first to accumulate a great library. Aristotle’s writings were passed to his successor at Lyceum, Theophrastus, where they remained in a hidden vault until they were discovered about 100 BC.
During the last years of Aristotle’s life his relations with Alexander became very strained, owing to the disgrace and punishment of Callisthenes, whom Aristotle had recommended to Alexander. Nevertheless, Aristotle continued to be regarded in Athens as a friend of Alexander and a representative of Macedonia. Consequently, when Alexander’s death became known in Athens, and the outbreak occurred which led to the Lamian war, Aristotle shared in the general unpopularity of the Macedonians. The charge of impiety, which had been brought against Anaxagoras and Socrates, was now brought against Aristotle. He left the city, saying, “I will not allow the Athenians to sin twice against philosophy” (Vita Marciana 41). He took up residence at his country house at Chalcis, in Euboea, and there he died the following year (322 BC). His death was due to a disease, reportedly ‘of the stomach’, from which he had long suffered. The story that his death was due to hemlock poisoning, as well as the legend that he threw himself into the sea “because he could not explain the tides,” are without historical foundation.
Aristotle’s legacy, besides its impact on Western thought, also had a profound influence on Islamic thought and philosophy during the Middle Ages. Muslim thinkers such as Avicenna, Al-Farabi, and Yaqub ibn Ishaq al-Kindi were a few of the major proponents of the Aristotelian school of thought during the Golden Age of Islam.
“There was never a genius without a tincture of madness.”
“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”
“The gods are too fond of a joke.”
“He who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a god.”
“If liberty and equality, as is thought by some, are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will be best attained when all persons alike share in government to the utmost.”
For more details on this topic, see Aristotle’s theory of universals.
Aristotle defines his philosophy in terms of essence, saying that philosophy is “the science of the universal essence of that which is actual”. Plato had defined it as the “science of the idea”, meaning by idea what we should call the unconditional basis of phenomena. Both pupil and master regard philosophy as concerned with the universal; Aristotle, however, finds the universal in particular things, and called it the essence of things, while Plato finds that the universal exists apart from particular things, and is related to them as their prototype or exemplar. For Aristotle, therefore, philosophic method implies the ascent from the study of particular phenomena to the knowledge of essences, while for Plato philosophic method means the descent from a knowledge of universal ideas to a contemplation of particular imitations of those ideas. In a certain sense, Aristotle’s method is both inductive and deductive, while Plato’s is essentially deductive from a priori principles (Jori, 2003).
In Aristotle’s terminology, the term natural philosophy corresponds to the phenomena of the natural world, which include: motion, light, and the laws of physics. Many centuries later these subjects would become the basis of modern science, as studied through scientific method. In modern times the term philosophy has come to be more narrowly understood as metaphysics, distinct from empirical study of the natural world via the physical sciences. In contrast, in Aristotle’s time and use, philosophy was taken to encompass all facets of intellectual inquiry.
In the larger sense of the word, Aristotle makes philosophy coextensive with reasoning, which he also called “science”. Note, however, that his use of the term science carries a different meaning than that covered by the term scientific method. “All science (dianoia) is either practical, poetical or theoretical”. By practical science he means ethics and politics; by poetical science, he means the study of poetry and the other fine arts; while by theoretical science he means physics, mathematics, and metaphysics.
Metaphysics, philosophy in the strictest sense, he defines as “the knowledge of immaterial being”, and calls it “first philosophy”, “the theologic science” or of “being in the highest degree of abstraction”. If logic, or, as Aristotle calls it, Analytic, be regarded as a study preliminary to philosophy, we have as divisions of Aristotelian philosophy (1) Logic; (2) Theoretical Philosophy, including Metaphysics, Physics, Mathematics, (3) Practical Philosophy; and (4) Poetical Philosophy.
Main article: Aristotelian logic
For more details on this topic, see Non-Aristotelian logic.
Aristotle’s conception of logic was the dominant form of logic up until the advances in mathematical logic in the 19th century. Kant states in the Critique of Pure Reason that Aristotle’s theory of logic had arrived at a complete account of the core of deductive inference.
Aristotle “says that ‘on the subject of reasoning’ he ‘had nothing else on an earlier date to speak of'” (Bocheժ„ski, 1951). However, Plato reports that syntax was thought of before him, by Prodikos of Keos, who was concerned by the right use of words. Logic seems to have emerged from dialectics; the earlier philosophers used concepts like reductio ad absurdum as a rule when discussing, but never understood its logical implications. Even Plato had difficulties with logic. Although he had the idea of constructing a system for deduction, he was never able to construct one. Instead, he relied on his dialectic, which was a confusion between different sciences and methods (Bocheժ„ski, 1951). Plato thought that deduction would simply follow from premises, so he focused on having good premises so that the conclusion would follow. Later on, Plato realized that a method for obtaining the conclusion would be beneficial. Plato never obtained such a method, but his best attempt was published in his book Sophist, where he introduced his division method (Rose, 1968).
Analytics and the Organon
Main article: Organon
What we today call Aristotelian logic, Aristotle himself would have labelled “analytics”. The term “logic” he reserved to mean dialectics. Most of Aristotle’s work is probably not in its original form, since it was most likely edited by students and later lecturers. The logical works of Aristotle were compiled into six books in about the early 1st century AD:
2. On Interpretation
3. Prior Analytics
4. Posterior Analytics
6. On Sophistical Refutations
The order of the books (or the teachings from which they are composed) is not certain, but this list was derived from analysis of Aristotle’s writings. It goes from the basics, the analysis of simple terms in the Categories, to the study of more complex forms, namely, syllogisms (in the Analytics) and dialectics (in the Topics and Sophistical Refutations). There is one volume of Aristotle’s concerning logic not found in the Organon, namely the fourth book of Metaphysics. (Bocheժ„ski, 1951).
Aristotle is also the creator of syllogisms with modalities (modal logic). The word modal refers to the word ‘modes’, explaining the fact that modal logic deals with the modes of truth. Aristotle introduced the qualification of ‘necessary’ and ‘possible’ premises. He constructed a logic which helped in the evaluation of truth but which was difficult to interpret. (Rose, 1968).
Aristotle, by Francesco Hayez
In the period between his two stints in Athens, between his times at the Academy and the Lyceum, Aristotle conducted most of the scientific thinking and research for which he is now most renowned. In fact, most of Aristotle’s life was devoted to the study of the objects of natural science. AristotleՉ€™s Metaphysics contains observations on the nature of numbers but he made no original contributions to Mathematics. He did, however, perform original research in the natural sciences, including: botany, zoology, physics, astronomy, chemistry, meteorology, geometry and several other sciences.
Aristotle’s writings on science are largely qualitative, not quantitative. Beginning in the sixteenth century, scientists began applying mathematics to the physical sciences, and Aristotle’s work in this area was found to be hopelessly inadequate. His failings were largely due to lacking concepts like mass, velocity, force, and temperature. He had a notion of what speed and temperature was, but no quantitative understanding of them. This was partly due to not having basic experimental apparatus, like a clock or thermometer.
His writings provide an account of many scientific observations, but there are some curious errors. For example, in his History of Animals he claimed that human males have more teeth than females. In a similar vein, Galileo showed by simple experiments that Aristotle’s theory that the heavier object falls faster than a lighter object is incorrect.
Some have alleged that Aristotle regularly started from theory and twisted facts to fit it. For instance he observed living things on earth, in the oceans, and in the air. From this he concluded there must be fire beings living on the moon. This is obviously absurd. In his defence, there are very few passages like this. In many passages Aristotle suggests that facts must be collected before an axiomatized deductive science can be built. However, his errors suggest that he himself did not always follow his own advice.
In places, Aristotle goes too far in deriving ‘laws of the universe’ from simple observation and over-stretched reason. Today’s scientific method assumes that thinking without sufficient facts often leads people astray, and one must be much stricter than Aristotle was in comparing one’s ideas to the actual world through experimentation; only then can one discern if one’s hypothesis corresponds to reality.
Aristotle also had some scientific blind spots, the largest being his inability to see the application of mathematics to physics. Aristotle held that physics was about changing objects with a reality of their own, whereas mathematics was about unchanging objects without a reality of their own. In this philosophy, he could not imagine that there was a relationship between them. He also posited a flawed cosmology that we may discern in selections of the Metaphysics. His cosmology would gain much acceptance up until the 1500s. From the 3rd century to the 1500s, the dominant view held that the Earth was the centre of the universe; of course, we now know that the Earth is not even the centre of our own solar system.
Aristotle’s scientific shortcomings should not mislead one into forgetting the immense advances that he made in the many fields of science. For instance, he founded logic as a formal science and created foundations to biology that were not superseded for two millennia. Also, he introduced the fundamental notion that nature is composed of things that change and that studying such changes can provide useful knowledge. This made the study of physics, and all other sciences, respectable. This observation, though, goes beyond physics and is really the subject matter of metaphysics.
The Material Cause is that from which a thing comes into existence as from its parts, constituents, substratum or materials. This reduces the explanation of causes to the parts (factors, elements, constituents, ingredients) forming the whole (system, structure, compound, complex, composite, or combination) (the part-whole causation). An example of a material cause might be the marble in a carved statue.
The Formal Cause tells us what a thing is, that any thing is determined by the definition, form, pattern, essence, whole, synthesis, or archetype. It embraces the account of causes in terms of fundamental principles or general laws, as the whole (macrostructure) is the cause of its parts (the whole-part causation). An example of a formal cause might be the sketches or plans of the carved statue.
The Efficient Cause is that from which the change or the ending of the change first starts. It identifies ‘what makes of what is made and what causes change of what is changed’ and so suggests all sorts of agents, nonliving or living, acting as the sources of change or movement or rest. Representing the current understanding of causality as the relation of cause and effect, this covers the modern definitions of “cause” as either the agent or agency or particular events or states of affairs. An example of an efficient cause might be the artist who carved the statue.
The Final Cause is that for the sake of which a thing exists or is done, including both purposeful and instrumental actions and activities. The final cause or telos is the purpose or end that something is supposed to serve, or it is that from which and that to which the change is. This also covers modern ideas of mental causation involving such psychological causes as volition, need, motivation, or motives, rational, irrational, ethical, all that gives purpose to behavior. The final cause of the artist might be the statue itself.
Additionally, things can be causes of one another, causing each other reciprocally, as hard work causes fitness and vice versa, although not in the same way or function, the one is as the beginning of change, the other as the goal. [Thus Aristotle first suggested a reciprocal or circular causality as a relation of mutual dependence or action or influence of cause and effect.] Also, Aristotle indicated that the same thing can be the cause of contrary effects, its presence and absence may result in different outcomes.
Aristotle marked two modes of causation: proper (prior) causation and accidental (chance) causation. All causes, proper and incidental, can be spoken as potential or as actual, particular or generic. The same language refers to the effects of causes, so that generic effects assigned to generic causes, particular effects to particular causes, operating causes to actual effects. Essentially, causality does not suggest a temporal relation between the cause and the effect.
All further investigations of causality will consist of imposing the favorite hierarchies on the order causes, such as final > efficient> material > formal (Thomas Aquinas), or of restricting all causality to the material and efficient causes or to the efficient causality (deterministic or chance) or just to regular sequences and correlations of natural phenomena (the natural sciences describing how things happen instead of explaining the whys and wherefores).
Chance and spontaneity
Spontaneity and chance are causes of effects. Chance as an incidental cause lies in the realm of accidental things. It is “from what is spontaneous” (but note that what is spontaneous does not come from chance). For a better understanding of Aristotle’s conception of “chance” it might be better to think of “coincidence”: Something takes place by chance if a person sets out with the intent of having one thing take place, but with the result of another thing (not intended) taking place. For example: A person seeks donations. That person may find another person willing to donate a substantial sum. However, if the person seeking the donations met the person donating, not for the purpose of collecting donations, but for some other purpose, Aristotle would call the collecting of the donation by that particular donator a result of chance. It must be unusual that something happens by chance. In other words, if something happens all or most of the time, we cannot say that it is by chance.
However, chance can only apply to human beings, it is in the sphere of moral actions. According to Aristotle, chance must involve choice (and thus deliberation), and only humans are capable of deliberation and choice. “What is not capable of action cannot do anything by chance” (Physics, 2.6).
Substance, potentiality and actuality
Aristotle examines the concept of substance (ousia) in his Metaphysics, Book VII and he concludes that a particular substance is a combination of both matter and form. As he proceeds to the book VIII, he concludes that the matter of the substance is the substratum or the stuff of which is composed e.g. the matter of the house are the bricks, stones, timbers etc., or whatever constitutes the potential house. While the form of the substance, is the actual house, namely Չ€˜covering for bodies and chattelsՉ€™ or any other differentia (see also predicables). The formula that gives the components is the account of the matter, and the formula that gives the differentia is the account of the form (Metaphysics VIII, 1043a 10-30).
With regard to the change (kinesis) and its causes now, as he defines in his Physics and On Generation and Corruption 319b-320a, he distinguishes the coming to be from 1. growth and diminution, which is change in quantity 2. locomotion, which change in space and 3. alteration, which is change in quality. The coming to be is a change where nothing persists of which the resultant is property. In that particular change he introduces the concept of potentiality (dynamis) and actuality (entelecheia) in association with the matter and the form.
Aristotle defined that a tragedy should comprise of: the heroՉ€™s goodness and superiority, a tragic flaw in which the hero makes pestilential errors in judgement which eventually leads to his decandence, a tragic realisation in which the main character understands how he has inadvertently helped to bring about his own destruction and the absence of freewill in the tragic heroՉ€™s life.
Referring to potentiality, is what a thing is capable of doing, or being acted upon, if it is not prevented from something else. For example, a seed of a plant in the soil is potentially (dynamei) plant, and if is not prevented by something, it will become a plant. Potentially beings can either ‘act’ (poiein) or ‘be acted upon’ (paschein), as well as can be either innate or come by practice or learning. For example, the eyes possess the potentiality of sight (innate – being acted upon), while the capability of playing the flute can be possessed by learning (exercise – acting).
Referring now to actuality, this is the fulfillment of the end of the potentiality. Because the end (telos) is the principle of every change, and for the sake of the end exists potentiality, therefore actuality is the end. Referring then to our previous example, we could say that actuality is when the seed of the plant becomes a plant.
Չ€œ For that for the sake of which a thing is, is its principle, and the becoming is for the sake of the end; and the actuality is the end, and it is for the sake of this that the potentiality is acquired. For animals do not see in order that they may have sight, but they have sight that they may see.Չ€ (Aristotle, Metaphysics IX 1050a 5-10).
In conclusion, the matter of the house is its potentiality and the form is its actuality. The Formal Cause (aitia) then of that change from potential to actual house, is the reason (logos) of the house builder and the Final Cause is the end, namely the house itself. Then Aristotle proceeds and concludes that the actuality is prior to potentiality in formula, in time and in substantiality.
With this definition of the particular substance (matter and form) Aristotle tries to solve the problem of the unity of the beings; e.g., what is that makes the man one? Since, according to Plato there are two Ideas: animal and biped, how then is man a unity? However, according to Aristotle, the potential being (matter) and the actual one (form) are one and the same thing. (Aristotle, Metaphysics VIII 1045a-b).
The five elements
Main article: Five Elements
• Fire, which is hot and dry.
• Earth, which is cold and dry.
• Air, which is hot and wet.
• Water, which is cold and wet.
• Aether, which is the divine substance that makes up the heavenly spheres and heavenly bodies (stars and planets).
Each of the four earthly elements has its natural place; the earth at the centre of the universe, then water, then air, then fire. When they are out of their natural place they have natural motion, requiring no external cause, which is towards that place; so bodies sink in water, air bubbles up, rain falls, flame rises in air. The heavenly element has perpetual circular motion.
Main article: Aristotelian ethics
Although Aristotle wrote several works on ethics, the major one was the Nicomachean Ethics, which is considered one of Aristotle’s greatest works; it discusses virtues. The ten books which comprise it are based on notes from his lectures at the Lyceum and were either edited by or dedicated to Aristotle’s son, Nicomachus.
Aristotle believed that ethical knowledge is not precise knowledge, like logic and mathematics, but general knowledge like knowledge of nutrition and exercise. Also, as it is a practical discipline rather than a theoretical one; he thought that in order to become “good”, one could not simply study what virtue is; one must actually be virtuous. Analogously, in order to become good at a sport like football, one does not simply study but also practices. Aristotle first establishes what was virtuous. He began by determining that everything was done with some goal in mind and that goal is ‘good.’ The ultimate goal he called the Highest Good: happiness (Gk. eudaimonia – sometimes translated as “living well”).
Aristotle contended that happiness could not be found only in pleasure or only in fame and honor. He finally finds happiness “by ascertaining the specific function of man”. But what is this function that will bring happiness? To determine this, Aristotle analyzed the soul and found it to have three parts: the Nutritive Soul (plants, animals and humans), the Perceptive Soul (animals and humans) and the Rational Soul (humans only). Thus, a human’s function is to do what makes it human, to be good at what sets it apart from everything else: the ability to reason or Nous. A person that does this is the happiest because they are fulfilling their purpose or nature as found in the rational soul. Depending on how well they did this, Aristotle said people belonged to one of four categories: the Virtuous, the Continent, the Incontinent and the Vicious.
Aristotle believed that every ethical virtue is an intermediate condition between excess and deficiency. This does not mean Aristotle believed in moral relativism, however. He set certain emotions (e.g., hate, envy, jealousy, spite, etc.) and certain actions (e.g., adultery, theft, murder, etc.) as always wrong, regardless of the situation or the circumstances.
In the Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle often focused on finding the mean between two extremes of any particular subject; whether it be justice, courage, wealth and so forth. For example, courage is a mean between two feelings (fear and confidence) and an action (the courageous act). Too much fear or too little confidence leads to cowardice, and too little fear or too much confidence can lead to rash, foolish choices. Aristotle says that finding this middle ground is essential to reaching eudemonia, the ultimate form of godlike consciousness. This middle ground is often referred to as The Golden Mean.
Aristotle also wrote about his thoughts on the concept of justice in the Nicomachean Ethics. In these chapters, Aristotle defined justice in two parts, general justice and particular justice. General justice is AristotleՉ€™s form of universal justice that can only exist in a perfect society. Particular justice is where punishment is given out for a particular crime or act of injustice. This is where Aristotle says an educated judge is needed to apply just decisions regarding any particular case. This is where we get the concept of the scales of justice, the blindfolded judge symbolizing blind justice, balancing the scales, weighing all the evidence and deliberating each particular case individually. Homonymy is an important theme in AristotleՉ€™s justice because one form of justice can apply to one, while another would be best suited for a different person/case. Aristotle says that developing good habits can make a good human being and that practicing the use of The Golden Mean when applicable to virtues will allow a human being to live a healthy, happy life.
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Plato (left) and Aristotle (right), a detail of The School of Athens, a fresco by Raphael. Aristotle gestures to the earth, representing his belief in knowledge through empirical observation and experience, whilst Plato gestures to the heavens, representing his belief in The Forms.
Aristotle has been criticized on several grounds.
• His analysis of procreation is frequently criticized on the grounds that it presupposes an active, ensouling masculine element bringing life to an inert, passive, lumpen female element; it is on these grounds that some feminist critics refer to Aristotle as a misogynist.
• His assertion that objects of different mass fall at different speeds under gravity, which was later refuted by John Philoponus (credit is often given to Galileo, even though Philoponus lived centuries earlier).
• Some academics have suggested that Aristotle was unaware of much of the current science of his own time[weasel words].
Aristotle is referred to as “The Philosopher” by Scholastic thinkers such as Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologiae. See Part I, Question 3, etc.) These thinkers blended Aristotelian philosophy with Christianity, bringing the thought of Ancient Greece into the Middle Ages. It required a repudiation of some Aristotelian principles for the sciences and the arts to free themselves for the discovery of modern scientific laws and empirical methods. More recently, Aristotelian ethical and political principles have been revised and reasserted by such philosophers as Alasdair MacIntyre.
The loss of his works
Though we know that Aristotle wrote many elegant treatises and dialogues (Cicero described his literary style as “a river of gold”), the vast majority of his writings are now lost, while the literary character of those that remain are the subject of some dispute. Aristotle’s works were lost and rediscovered several times, and it is now believed that we have about one fifth of his original works.
One story of the original manuscripts of his treatises is described by Strabo in his Geography and Plutarch in his Parallel Lives. The manuscripts were left from Aristotle to his successor Theophrastus, who in turn willed them to Neleus of Scepsis. Neleus supposedly took from Athens to Scepsis, where his heirs let them languish in a cellar until the first century BCE, when Apellicon of Teos discovered and purchased the manuscripts, bringing them back to Athens. According to the story, Apellicon tried to repair some of the damage that was done during the manuscripts’ stay in the basement, introducing a number of errors into the text. When Lucius Cornelius Sulla occupied Athens in 86 BCE, he carried off the library of Appellicon to Rome, where they were first published in 60 BC by the grammarian Tyrranion of Amisus and then by philosopher Andronicus of Rhodes.
Carnes Lord attributes the popular belief in this story to the fact that it provides “the most plausible explanation for the rapid eclipse of the Peripatetic school after the middle of the third century, and for the absence of widespread knowledge of the specialized treatises of Aristotle throughout the Hellenistic period, as well as for the sudden reappearance of a flourishing Aristotelianism during the first century B.C.” Lord voices a number of reservations concerning this story, however. First, the condition of the texts is far too good for them to have suffered considerable damage followed by Apellicon’s inexpert attempt at repair. Second, there is “incontrovertible evidence,” Lord says, that the treatises were in circulation during the time in which Strabo and Plutarch suggest they were confined the cellar in Scepsis. Third, the definitive edition of Aristotle’s texts seems to have been made in Athens some fifty years before Andronicus supposedly compiled his. And fourth, ancient library catalogues predating Andronicus’ intervention list an Aristotelean corpus quite similar to the one we currently possess. Lord sees a number of post-Aristotelean interpolations in the Politics, for example, but is generally confident that the work has come down to us relatively intact.
After the Roman period, Aristotle’s works were by and large lost to the West for a second time. They were, however, preserved in the East by various Muslim scholars and philosophers, many of whom wrote extensive commentaries on his works. Aristotle lay at the foundation of the falsafa movement in Islamic philosophy, stimulating the thought of Al-Farabi, Ibn Sina, Ibn Rushd and others.
As the influence of the falsafa grew in the West, in part due to Gerard of Cremona’s translations and the spread of Averroism, the demand for Aristotle’s works grew. William of Moerbeke translated a number of them into Latin. When Thomas Aquinas wrote his theology, working from Moerbeke’s translations, the demand for Aristotle’s writings grew and the Greek manuscripts returned to the West, stimulating a revival of Aristotelianism in Europe.
Note: Bekker numbers are often used to uniquely identify passages of Aristotle. They are identified below where available.
The extant works of Aristotle are broken down according to the five categories in the Corpus Aristotelicum. Not all of these works are considered genuine, but differ with respect to their connection to Aristotle, his associates and his views. Some, such as the Athenaion Politeia or the fragments of other politeia are regarded by most scholars as products of Aristotle’s “school” and compiled under his direction or supervision. Other works, such as On Colours may have been products of Aristotle’s successors at the Lyceum, e.g., Theophrastus and Straton. Still others acquired Aristotle’s name through similarities in doctrine or content, such as the De Plantis, possibly by Nicolaus of Damascus. A final category, omitted here, includes medieval palmistries, astrological and magical texts whose connection to Aristotle is purely fanciful and self-promotional. Those that are seriously disputed are marked with an asterisk.
• Organon (collected works on logic):
o (1a) Categories (or Categoriae)
o (16a) On Interpretation (or De Interpretatione)
o (24a) Prior Analytics (or Analytica Priora)
o (71a) Posterior Analytics (or Analytica Posteriora)
o (100b) Topics (or Topica)
o (164a) On Sophistical Refutations (or De Sophisticis Elenchis)
Physical and scientific writings
• (184a) Physics (or Physica)
• (268a) On the Heavens (or De Caelo)
• (314a) On Generation and Corruption (or De Generatione et Corruptione)
• (338a) Meteorology (or Meteorologica)
• (391a) On the Cosmos (or De Mundo, or On the Universe) *
• (402a) On the Soul (or De Anima)
• (436a) Little Physical Treatises (or Parva Naturalia):
o On Sense and the Sensible (or De Sensu et Sensibilibus)
o On Memory and Reminiscence (or De Memoria et Reminiscentia)
o On Sleep and Sleeplessness (or De Somno et Vigilia)
o On Dreams (or De Insomniis) *
o On Prophesying by Dreams (or De Divinatione per Somnum)
o On Longevity and Shortness of Life (or De Longitudine et Brevitate Vitae)
o On Youth and Old Age (On Life and Death) (or De Juventute et Senectute, De Vita et Morte)
o On Breathing (or De Respiratione)
• (481a) On Breath (or De Spiritu) *
• (486a) History of Animals (or Historia Animalium, or On the History of Animals, or Description of Animals)
• (639a) On the Parts of Animals (or De Partibus Animalium)
• (698a) On the Gait of Animals (or De Motu Animalium, or On the Movement of Animals)
• (704a) On the Progression of Animals (or De Incessu Animalium)
• (715a) On the Generation of Animals (or De Generatione Animalium)
• (791a) On Colours (or De Coloribus) *
• (800a) De audibilibus
• (805a) Physiognomics (or Physiognomonica) *
• On Plants (or De Plantis) *
• (830a) On Marvellous Things Heard (or Mirabilibus Auscultationibus, or On Things Heard) *
• (847a) Mechanical Problems (or Mechanica) *
• (859a) Problems (or Problemata) *
• (968a) On Indivisible Lines (or De Lineis Insecabilibus) *
• (973a) Situations and Names of Winds (or Ventorum Situs) *
• (974a) On Melissus, Xenophanes and Gorgias (or MXG) * The section On Xenophanes starts at 977a13, the section On Gorgias starts at 979a11.
• (980a) Metaphysics (or Metaphysica)
• (1094a) Nicomachean Ethics (or Ethica Nicomachea, or The Ethics)
• (1181a) Great Ethics (or Magna Moralia) *
• (1214a) Eudemian Ethics (or Ethica Eudemia)
• (1249a) Virtues and Vices (or De Virtutibus et Vitiis Libellus, Libellus de virtutibus) *
• (1252a) Politics (or Politica)
• (1343a) Economics (or Oeconomica)
• (1354a) Rhetoric (or Ars Rhetorica, or The Art of Rhetoric or Treatise on Rhetoric)
• Rhetoric to Alexander (or Rhetorica ad Alexandrum) *
• (1447a) Poetics (or Ars Poetica)
A work outside the Corpus Aristotelicum
• The Constitution of the Athenians (or Athenaion Politeia, or The Athenian Constitution)
• Princeton University Press: The Complete Works of Aristotle: The Revised Oxford Translation (2 Volume Set; Bollingen Series, Vol. LXXI, No. 2), edited by Jonathan Barnes ISBN 0-691-09950-2 (The most complete recent translation of Aristotle’s extant works)
• Oxford University Press: Clarendon Aristotle Series. Scholarly edition
• Harvard University Press: Loeb Classical Library (hardbound; publishes in Greek, with English translations on facing pages)
• Oxford Classical Texts (hardbound; Greek only)
Named after Aristotle
• Aristoteles, a crater on the Moon.
• The Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
• Aristotelous Square
• Aristotle Lane in Oxford, England
• Aristotle’s Gentlemens Club in Flint, Michigan
• Aristotle Onassis
Notable teachers Notable students
Alexander the Great
1. ^ http://www.ummah.net/history/scholars/KINDI.html
2. ^ Cicero, Marcus Tullius (106BC-43BC). “flumen orationis aureum fundens Aristoteles”. Acadmeica. Retrieved on 25-Jan-2007.
3. ^ “Sulla.”
4. ^ Lord, Introduction, 11.
The secondary literature on Aristotle is vast. The following references are only a small selection.
• Ackrill J. L. 2001. Essays on Plato and Aristotle, Oxford University Press, USA
• Adler, Mortimer J. (1978). Aristotle for Everybody. New York: Macmillan. A popular exposition for the general reader.
• Bakalis Nikolaos. 2005. Handbook of Greek Philosophy: From Thales to the Stoics Analysis and Fragments, Trafford Publishing ISBN 1-4120-4843-5
• Barnes J. 1995. The Cambridge Companion to Aristotle, Cambridge University Press
• Bocheժ„ski, I. M. (1951). Ancient Formal Logic. Amsterdam: North-Holland Publishing Company.
• Bolotin, David (1998). An Approach to AristotleՉ€™s Physics: With Particular Attention to the Role of His Manner of Writing. Albany: SUNY Press. A contribution to our understanding of how to read Aristotle’s scientific works.
• Burnyeat, M. F. et al. 1979. Notes on Book Zeta of Aristotle’s Metaphysics. Oxford: Sub-faculty of Philosophy
• Chappell, V. 1973. Aristotle’s Conception of Matter, Journal of Philosophy 70: 679-696
• Code, Alan. 1995. Potentiality in Aristotle’s Science and Metaphysics, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 76
• Frede, Michael. 1987. Essays in Ancient Philosophy. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press
• Gill, Mary Louise. 1989. Aristotle on Substance: The Paradox of Unity. Princeton: Princeton University Press
• Guthrie, W. K. C. (1981). A History of Greek Philosophy, Vol. 6. Cambridge University Press.
• Halper, Edward C. (2005) One and Many in Aristotle’s Metaphysics, The Central Books. Parmenides Publishing, ISBN 978-1-930972-05-6
• Irwin, T. H. 1988. Aristotle’s First Principles. Oxford: Clarendon Press
• Jori, Alberto. 2003. Aristotele, Milano: Bruno Mondadori Editore (Prize 2003 of the “International Academy of the History of Science”) ISBN 88-424-9737-1
• Knight, Kelvin. 2007. Aristotelian Philosophy: Ethics and Politics from Aristotle to MacIntyre, Polity Press.
• Lewis, Frank A. 1991. Substance and Predication in Aristotle. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
• Lloyd, G. E. R. 1968. Aristotle: The Growth and Structure of his Thought. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Pr., ISBN 0-521-09456-9.
• Lord, Carnes. 1984. Introduction to The Politics, by Aristotle. Chicago: Chicago University Press.
• Loux, Michael J. 1991. Primary Ousia: An Essay on Aristotle’s Metaphysics Կ– and Կ—. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press
• Melchert, Norman (2002). The Great Conversation: A Historical Introduction to Philosophy. McGraw Hill. ISBN 0-19-517510-7.
• Owen, G. E. L. 1965c. The Platonism of Aristotle, Proceedings of the British AcademyLondon: Duckworth (1975). 14-34 50 125-150. Reprinted in J. Barnes, M. Schofield, and R. R. K. Sorabji (eds.), Articles on Aristotle, Vol 1. Science.
• Pangle, Lorraine Smith (2003). Aristotle and the Philosophy of Friendship. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Aristotle’s conception of the deepest human relationship viewed in the light of the history of philosophic thought on friendship.
• Reeve, C. D. C. 2000. Substantial Knowledge: Aristotle’s Metaphysics. Indianapolis: Hackett.
• Rose, Lynn E. (1968). Aristotle’s Syllogistic. Springfield: Charles C Thomas Publisher.
• Ross, Sir David (1995). Aristotle, 6th ed., London: Routledge. An classic overview by one of Aristotle’s most prominent English translators, in print since 1923.
• Scaltsas, T. 1994. Substances and Universals in Aristotle’s Metaphysics. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
• Strauss, Leo. “On Aristotle’s Politics” (1964), in The City and Man, Chicago; Rand McNally.
• Taylor, Henry Osborn (1922). Չ€œChapter 3: Aristotle’s BiologyՉ€, Greek Biology and Medicine.
• Veatch, Henry B. (1974). Aristotle: A Contemporary Appreciation. Bloomington: Indiana U. Press. For the general reader.
• Woods, M. J. 1991b. Չ€œUniversals and Particular Forms in Aristotle’s Metaphysics.Չ€ Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy supplement. 41-56
• Aristotelian view of God
• Aristotelian theory of gravity
• Potentiality and actuality (Aristotle)
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