Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology. Together with Plato and Socrates (Plato’s teacher), Aristotle is one of the most important founding figures in Western philosophy. Aristotle’s writings were the first to create a comprehensive system of Western philosophy, encompassing morality, aesthetics, logic, science, politics, and metaphysics.
Aristotle’s views on the physical sciences profoundly shaped medieval scholarship, and their influence extended well into the Renaissance, although they were ultimately replaced by Newtonian physics. In the zoological sciences, some of his observations were confirmed to be accurate only in the 19th century. His works contain the earliest known formal study of logic, which was incorporated in the late 19th century into modern formal logic.
In metaphysics, Aristotelianism had a profound influence on philosophical and theological thinking in the Islamic and Jewish traditions in the Middle Ages, and it continues to influence Christian theology, especially the scholastic tradition of the Catholic Church. Aristotle was well known among medieval Muslim intellectuals and revered as ?????? ????? – “The First Teacher”. His ethics, though always influential, gained renewed interest with the modern advent of virtue ethics. All aspects of Aristotle’s philosophy continue to be the object of active academic study today.
Though Aristotle wrote many elegant treatises and dialogues (Cicero described his literary style as “a river of gold”), it is thought that the majority of his writings are now lost and only about one-third of the original works have survived. Aristotle, whose name means “the best purpose,” was born in Stageira, Chalcidice, in 384 BC, about 55 km (34 mi) east of modern-day Thessaloniki. His father Nicomachus was the personal physician to King Amyntas of Macedon. Aristotle was trained and educated as a member of the aristocracy.
At about the age of eighteen, he went to Athens to continue his education at Plato’s Academy. Aristotle remained at the academy for nearly twenty years before quitting Athens in 348/47 BC. The traditional story about his departure reports that he was disappointed with the direction the academy took after control passed to Plato’s nephew Speusippus upon his death, although it is possible that he feared anti-Macedonian sentiments and left before Plato had died. He then traveled with Xenocrates to the court of his friend Hermias of Atarneus in Asia Minor.
While in Asia, Aristotle traveled with Theophrastus to the island of Lesbos, where together they researched the botany and zoology of the island. Aristotle married Hermias’s adoptive daughter (or niece) Pythias. She bore him a daughter, whom they named Pythias. Soon after Hermias’ death, Aristotle was invited by Philip II of Macedon to become the tutor to his son Alexander in 343 BC. Early Islamic portrayal of Aristotle Aristotle was appointed as the head of the royal academy of Macedon.
During that time he gave lessons not only to Alexander, but also to two other future kings: Ptolemy and Cassander. Aristotle encouraged Alexander toward eastern conquest, and his attitude towards Persia was unabashedly ethnocentric. In one famous example, he counsels Alexander to be ‘a leader to the Greeks and a despot to the barbarians, to look after the former as after friends and relatives, and to deal with the latter as with beasts or plants’. By 335 BC he had returned to Athens, establishing his own school there known as the Lyceum.
Aristotle conducted courses at the school for the next twelve years. While in Athens, his wife Pythias died and Aristotle became involved with Herpyllis of Stageira, who bore him a son whom he named after his father, Nicomachus. According to the Suda, he also had an eromenos, Palaephatus of Abydus. Aristotle’s school and library In 335 BC, Athens fell under Macedonian rule and Aristotle, aged 50, returned from Asia. Upon his return to Athens, Aristotle began teaching regularly in the morning in the Lyceum and founded an official school, The Lyceum.
After his morning lessons Aristotle would frequently lecture on the grounds for the public, and manuscripts of his compiled lectures were eventually circulated. The group of scholars who followed the Aristotelian doctrine came to be known as the Peripatetics due to Aristotle’s tendency to walk as he taught. Aristotle was a keen systematic collector of riddles, folklore, and proverbs; he and his school had a special interest in the riddles of the Delphic Oracle and studied the fables of Aesop.
Aristotle’s main foci as a teacher were cooperative research, an idea which he founded through his natural history work and systematic collection of philosophical works to contribute to his library. His students were assigned historical or scientific research projects as part of their studies. The school was also student run. The students elected a new student administrator to work with the school leadership every ten days, allowing all the students to become involved in turn. Before returning to Athens, Aristotle had been the tutor of Alexander of Macedonia, who became the great conqueror Alexander the Great.
Throughout his conquests of various regions, Alexander collected plant and animal specimens for Aristotle’s research, allowing Aristotle to develop the first zoo and botanical garden in existence. It is also suspected that Alexander donated what would be the equivalent of more than 4 million dollars to the Lyceum. In 322 BC Aristotle was forced to flee Athens with his family when the political leadership reacted against the Macedonians again and his previously published works supporting Macedonian rule left him a target.
He passed on his Lyceum to Theophrastus and died later that year in Chalcis, near his hometown. It is during this period in Athens from 335 to 323 BC when Aristotle is believed to have composed many of his works. Aristotle wrote many dialogues, only fragments of which survived. The works that have survived are in treatise form and were not, for the most part, intended for widespread publication, as they are generally thought to be lecture aids for his students. His most important treatises include Physics, Metaphysics, Nicomachean Ethics, Politics, De Anima (On the Soul) and Poetics.
Aristotle not only studied almost every subject possible at the time, but made significant contributions to most of them. In physical science, Aristotle studied anatomy, astronomy, embryology, geography, geology, meteorology, physics and zoology. In philosophy, he wrote on aesthetics, ethics, government, metaphysics, politics, economics, psychology, rhetoric and theology. He also studied education, foreign customs, literature and poetry. His combined works constitute a virtual encyclopedia of Greek knowledge.
It has been suggested that Aristotle was probably the last person to know everything there was to be known in his own time. Near the end of Alexander’s life, Alexander began to suspect plots against himself, and threatened Aristotle in letters. Aristotle had made no secret of his contempt for Alexander’s pretense of divinity, and the king had executed Aristotle’s grandnephew Callisthenes as a traitor. A widespread tradition in antiquity suspected Aristotle of playing a role in Alexander’s death, but there is little evidence for this.
Upon Alexander’s death, anti-Macedonian sentiment in Athens once again flared. Eurymedon the hierophant denounced Aristotle for not holding the gods in honor. Aristotle fled the city to his mother’s family estate in Chalcis, explaining, “I will not allow the Athenians to sin twice against philosophy,” a reference to Athens’s prior trial and execution of Socrates. He died in Euboea of natural causes within the year (in 322 BC). Aristotle named chief executor his student Antipater and left a will in which he asked to be buried next to his wife. History of Aristotle’s library
Theophrastus placed a provision in his will that left the Lyceum library, which at this point included both his and Aristotle’s work as well as student research, philosophical historical texts and histories of philosophy, to his supposed follower, Neleus. However, the seniors of the Lyceum placed Strato as the next leader and upon his retirement from the school in the mid 3rd century BC, Neleus divorced the Lyceum from its library and took all of the books with him to Skepsis in Mysia Neleus was an expert on Theophrastus and Aristotle and it may be Theophrastus hoped he would prepare a catalogue of the 10,000 rolls of papyrus.
At least some of the books seem to have been sold to the library in Alexandria. In the 10th century a catalogue of the library revealed manuscripts by both Theophrastus and Aristotle which almost had to have been obtained from Neleus. The rest seem to have been hidden by his family, known for their ignorance . The library then disappeared for several centuries until it appears to have been bought from Neleus’ heirs in the 1st century BC and returned to the school. However, when Sulla attacked Athens, the books were shipped to Rome.
Throughout their travels one fifth of Aristotle’s works were lost and thus are not a part of the modern Aristotelian collection. Still, what did remain of Aristotle’s works and the rest of the library were arranged and edited for school use between 73 and 20 BC, supposedly by Andronicus of Rhodes, the Lyceum’s eleventh leader. Since then the remaining works have been translated and widely distributed, providing much of the modern knowledge of historic philosophy. Legacy
More than twenty-three hundred years after his death, Aristotle remains one of the most influential people who ever lived. He contributed to almost every field of human knowledge then in existence, and he was the founder of many new fields. According to the philosopher Bryan Magee, “it is doubtful whether any human being has ever known as much as he did”. Aristotle was the founder of formal logic. pioneered the study of zoology, and left every future scientist and philosopher in his debt through his contributions to the scientific method.
Despite these achievements, the influence of Aristotle’s errors is considered by some to have held back science considerably. Bertrand Russell notes that “almost every serious intellectual advance has had to begin with an attack on some Aristotelian doctrine”. Russell also refers to Aristotle’s ethics as “repulsive”, and calls his logic “as definitely antiquated as Ptolemaic astronomy”. Russell notes that these errors make it difficult to do historical justice to Aristotle, until one remembers how large of an advance he made upon all of his predecessors.
Later Greek philosophers The immediate influence of Aristotle’s work was felt as the Lyceum grew into the Peripatetic school. Aristotle’s notable students included Aristoxenus, Dicaearchus, Demetrius of Phalerum, Eudemos of Rhodes, Harpalus, Hephaestion, Meno, Mnason of Phocis, Nicomachus, and Theophrastus. Aristotle’s influence over Alexander the Great is seen in the latter’s bringing with him on his expedition a host of zoologists, botanists, and researchers. He had also learned a great deal about Persian customs and traditions from his teacher.
Although his respect for Aristotle was diminished as his travels made it clear that much of Aristotle’s geography was clearly wrong, when the old philosopher released his works to the public, Alexander complained “Thou hast not done well to publish thy acroamatic doctrines; for in what shall I surpass other men if those doctrines wherein I have been trained are to be all men’s common property? ” Influence on Byzantine scholars Greek Christian scribes played a crucial role in the preservation of Aristotle by copying all the extant Greek language manuscripts of the corpus.
The first Greek Christians to comment extensively on Aristotle were John Philoponus, Elias, and David in the sixth century, and Stephen of Alexandria in the early seventh century. John Philoponus stands out for having attempted a fundamental critique of Aristotle’s views on the eternity of the world, movement, and other elements of Aristotelian thought. After a hiatus of several centuries, formal commentary by Eustratius and Michael of Ephesus reappears in the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries, apparently sponsored by Anna Comnena Influence on Islamic theologians
Aristotle was one of the most revered Western thinkers in early Islamic theology. Most of the still extant works of Aristotle, as well as a number of the original Greek commentaries, were translated into Arabic and studied by Muslim philosophers, scientists and scholars. Averroes, Avicenna and Alpharabius, who wrote on Aristotle in great depth, also influenced Thomas Aquinas and other Western Christian scholastic philosophers. Alkindus considered Aristotle as the outstanding and unique representative of philosophy and Averroes spoke of Aristotle as the “exemplar” for all future philosophers.
Medieval Muslim scholars regularly described Aristotle as the “First Teacher”. The title “teacher” was first given to Aristotle by Muslim scholars, and was later used by Western philosophers (as in the famous poem of Dante) who were influenced by the tradition of Islamic philosophy. In accordance with the Greek theorists, the Muslims considered Aristotle to be a dogmatic philosopher, the author of a closed system, and believed that Aristotle shared with Plato essential tenets of thought. Some went so far as to credit Aristotle himself with neo-Platonic metaphysical ideas.
Influence on Western Christian theologians With the loss of the study of ancient Greek in the early medieval Latin West, Aristotle was practically unknown there from c. AD 600 to c. 1100 except through the Latin translation of the Organon made by Boethius. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, interest in Aristotle revived and Latin Christians had translations made, both from Arabic translations, such as those by Gerard of Cremona, and from the original Greek, such as those by James of Venice and William of Moerbeke.
After 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 that continued into the Renaissance. Aristotle is referred to as “The Philosopher” by Scholastic thinkers such as Thomas Aquinas. See Summa Theologica, 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. The medieval English poet Chaucer describes his student as being happy by having at his beddes heed Twenty bookes, clad in blak or reed, Of aristotle and his philosophie, The Italian poet Dante says of Aristotle in the first circles of hell, I saw the Master there of those who know, Amid the philosophic family,
By all admired, and by all reverenced; There Plato too I saw, and Socrates, Who stood beside him closer than the rest. Post-Enlightenment thinkers The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche has been said to have taken nearly all of his political philosophy from Aristotle. However implausible this is, it is certainly the case that Aristotle’s rigid separation of action from production, and his justification of the subservience of slaves and others to the virtue – or arete – of a few justified the ideal of aristocracy.
It is Martin Heidegger, not Nietzsche, who elaborated a new interpretation of Aristotle, intended to warrant his deconstruction of scholastic and philosophical tradition. Ayn Rand accredited Aristotle as “the greatest philosopher in history” and cited him as a major influence on her thinking. More recently, Alasdair MacIntyre has attempted to reform what he calls the Aristotelian tradition in a way that is anti-elitist and capable of disputing the claims of both liberals and Nietzscheans.