Aristotle Biography

Aristotle is a towering figure in ancient Greek philosophy, who made important contributions to logic, criticism, rhetoric, physics, biology, psychology, mathematics, metaphysics, ethics, and politics. He was a student of Plato for twenty years but is famous for rejecting Plato’s theory of forms. He was more empirically minded than both Plato and Plato’s teacher, Socrates.

A prolific writer, lecturer, and polymath, Aristotle radically transformed most of the topics he investigated. In his lifetime, he wrote dialogues and as many as 200 treatises, of which only 31 survive. These works are in the form of lecture notes and draft manuscripts never intended for general readership. Nevertheless, they are the earliest complete philosophical treatises we still possess.

As the father of western logic, Aristotle was the first to develop a formal system for reasoning. He observed that the deductive validity of any argument can be determined by its structure rather than its content, for example, in the syllogism: All men are mortal; Socrates is a man; therefore, Socrates is mortal. Even if the content of the argument were changed from being about Socrates to being about someone else, because of its structure, as long as the premises are true, then the conclusion must also be true. Aristotelian logic dominated until the rise of modern propositional logic and predicate logic 2000 years later.

aristotle

The emphasis on good reasoning serves as the backdrop for Aristotle’s other investigations. In his natural philosophy, Aristotle combines logic with observation to make general, causal claims. For example, in his biology, Aristotle uses the concept of species to make empirical claims about the functions and behavior of individual animals. However, as revealed in his psychological works, Aristotle is no reductive materialist. Instead, he thinks of the body as the matter, and the psyche as the form of each living animal.

Though his natural scientific work is firmly based on observation, Aristotle also recognizes the possibility of knowledge that is not empirical. In his metaphysics, he claims that there must be a separate and unchanging being that is the source of all other beings. In his ethics, he holds that it is only by becoming excellent that one could achieve eudaimonia, a sort of happiness or blessedness that constitutes the best kind of human life.

Aristotle was the founder of the Lyceum, a school based in Athens, Greece; and he was the first of the Peripatetics, his followers from the Lyceum. Aristotle’s works, exerted tremendous influence on ancient and medieval thought and continue to inspire philosophers to this day.

Early Life And Family

Statue of Aristotle in Stagira

Aristotle’s name translates to “the best purpose” in ancient Greek. He was born in 384 BC in the ancient Greek city of Stagira, located on the Chalcidic peninsula in central Macedonia. His birthplace is about 34 miles (55 km) east of modern-day Thessaloniki. Aristotle was the son of Nicomachus, who was a doctor by profession. His mother, Phaestis, came from Chalcis in Euboea. Nicomachus was the personal physician to King Amyntas of Macedon, the grandfather of Alexander the Great. Due to this, it is speculated that Aristotle probably spent a part of his childhood within the Macedonian palace. Whether this is true or not, it is almost certain the Aristotle was friendly with Philip, son of king Amyntas. The two were almost exactly the same age.

Aristotle’s childhood was a difficult period for him since both of his parents died when he was around 13 years old. Following this, Proxenus of Atarneus became his guardian. Proxenus was the husband of Aristotle’s older sister, Arimneste. He taught Aristotle Greek, rhetoric and poetry. This was in addition to the training in medicine that Aristotle’s father had given him thinking that his son would follow his profession.

Aristotle (384BC – 322BC) was a Greek philosopher, natural scientist and polymath, who made extensive studies into the world around us. He was widely regarded as the greatest of the ancient thinkers and his extensive studies and writings had a lasting impact on science, philosophy and an approach based on reason and logical thinking. Whilst many of his teachings have been superseded – for over a 1,000 years his writings formed an important basis of western and Islamic culture.

“Time crumbles things; everything grows old under the power of Time and is forgotten through the lapse of Time.”

Aristotle

Aristotle was born in Stagira, Macedonia (northern Greece) around 384 BC. His father, Nicomachus was a physician. After his father’s death, he travelled to Athens to join the Academy of Plato. Some sources suggest he lived quite a boisterous and wild young life, but at the same time grew into a model student of Plato. Aristotle was not only very intelligent but had a thirst for knowledge and was always searching to push the boundaries of discovery. He had an independent mind – questioning received wisdom and looking at subjects from a new angle. He deeply impressed Plato through his ability to resolve difficult questions and previously unsolvable problems.

Philosophy

As Aristotle studied under Plato he would have learnt about the philosophic traditions of Socrates. He not only synthesised existing philosophy but also left his own lasting contributions in the field of logical argument, epistemology and the link between potentiality and actuality. Perhaps Aristotle’s most singular contribution was the promotion of logic and rational argument, a basic tenant that he employed in all the myriad fields of his studies.

Aristotle’s wider philosophy was also based on study of the immanent world, examining observable phenomena. Whilst this may sound quite commonplace, it was a departure from many of the ancient religious beliefs, superstitions and myths which were held up to explain many things.

In addition to his metaphysical arguments, Aristotle never lost touch with reality and was a practical philosopher offering meaningful advice to readers and students on how to promote a better and more fulfilling life. He was also regarded as a kindly man, compassionate to others.

“One swallow does not make a summer, nor does one day; and so too one day, or a short time, does not make a man blessed and happy. ”

– Aristotle (Nicomachean Ethics)

Aristotle and Alexander the Great

Alexander_the-great-and_Aristotle

Alexander the Great and Aristotle

In 342 BC Aristotle returned to Macedonia to become the teacher of the future Macedonian King – Alexander the Great. Aristotle taught the future king for several years on political philosophy, history and ethics. Alexander the Great would later ignore much of Aristotle’s teachings such as the desirability of oligarchic leadership, but, his education by Aristotle must have left an abiding impression on the young prince.

“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 the government to the utmost.”

In 335 BC, Alexander ascended the throne and began his great wars of conquest. During this period, Aristotle returned to Athens, where he opened his own school – the Lyceum. Whilst Alexander did not seek his old tutor’s advice, he appears to have given Aristotle a generous fund to support the Lyceum and Aristotle’s work. However, Aristotle’s independence of thought did create tension with the powerful Alexander. Aristotle’s nephew was executed for suspected treason – perhaps as a warning shot to Aristotle himself. When Alexander died in 323 BC, Aristotle also suffered from his association with the former king, and anti-Macedonian sentiment in Athens encouraged Aristotle to flee. Bearing in mind the fate of Socrates, he didn’t want Athens ‘to sin against philosophy for a second time.’ A few months after leaving Athens, he died at the age of sixty-two.

Writings

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The School of Aristotle in Mieza, Greece.

Aristotle was one of the great polymaths of his time. It is estimated that Aristotle wrote around 170 books, although only 47 of these have survived to the modern-day. He made studies in botany, physics, philosophy, medicine, optics, logic, and was well known for being a powerful lecturer and debater. Aristotle was also a playwright and he described how the weakness of man – pride, anger, jealousy, could lead to his downfall.

“Piety requires us to honor truth above our friends.”

– Aristotle (Nicomachean Ethics)

His prolific output was helped by his own researchers and his synthesising existing knowledge. But, this in itself was an important task. Much of what we know of the ancient world comes from Aristotle. In doing so, he helped lay the foundations for western civilisation.

Politics

Aristotle made a comparison of different constitutions from different states. This in itself was groundbreaking; he sought to rationally compare different systems of government to see which was the most successful. This work informed his book Politics – which was an attempt at a practical philosophy to allow justice and freedom. He also saw politics as a method of ensuring man had the capacity to live harmoniously and allow him to pursue noble ideas.

The political partnership must be regarded, therefore, as being for the sake of noble actions, not for the sake of living together.

Aristotle made mistakes and held views on slavery and women which reflected the prejudices of his time. However, he was also a visionary – leaving many memorable phrases. In the world of politics, he said: “Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime.” He was also a very early pioneer for promoting education as a way to strengthen a nation-state.

“All who have meditated on the art of governing mankind are convinced that the fate of empires depends on the education of youth.”

Science

In the field of physics, Aristotle’s ideas influenced much of the medieval period and lasted into the European Renaissance, when his ideas were replaced by the physics of Isaac Newton. In the study of the natural world he distinguished and classified around 500 species of animal and made an early effort to offer categorisations of the living world.

Economics

Aristotle was one of the earliest thinkers to consider issues of economics. He described the function of money and debated the virtues of private property vs communal sharing. It is a debate that would come to the fore nearly two thousand years later. Whilst supporting private property, Aristotle was more critical over retail (selling of goods for profit) and the charging of interest, which he saw as making money from not doing anything productive.

Legacy

Aristotle believed in the power of reason to illuminate the problems of man. He believed that man had the capacity for enlightenment through self-inquiry and study. He believed that human goodness derived from rational thought. In this regard, he had an important legacy for scientific method and rational understanding. During the medieval ages, Aristotle was seen as a primary source of knowledge and at times, there became a rigid adherence to Aristotle’s writing. The irony is that Aristotle himself was always willing to challenge conventional wisdom. Aristotle was one of the few classical philosophers who strongly influenced later Christian writers such as Thomas Aquinas. He also exerted an important influence on Islamic scholars who tried to synthesis Islam with the rationality of Aristotle.

Citation: Pettinger, Tejvan. “ Biography of Aristotle ”, Oxford, UK. www.biographyonline.net 23rd July 2011. Last updated 1 February 2020.

Quotes Aristotle

“One swallow does not make a summer, nor does one day; and so too one day, or a short time, does not make a man blessed and happy.”Aristotle (Ethics (I.1098a18)

“The life of money-making is one undertaken under compulsion, and wealth is evidently not the good we are seeking; for it is merely useful and for the sake of something else.”

Aristotle Nicomachean Ethics (I.1096a5)

“Piety requires us to honor truth above our friends.”

– Aristotle (Nicomachean Ethics I.1096a16)

“Man is by nature a political animal.” (I.1253a2)

– Aristotle Politics (IV.1291b34)

“The basis of a democratic state is liberty.”

– Aristotle Politics (IV.1291b34)

“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.”

– Aristotle Politics (IV.1291b34)

“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 the government to the utmost.”

– Aristotle Politics (IV.1291b34)

“Poetry is finer and more philosophical than history; for poetry expresses the universal, and history only the particular.”

– Aristotle Poetry (1451b6)

“If, then, God is always in that good state in which we sometimes are, this compels our wonder; and if in a better this compels it yet more. And God is in a better state. And life also belongs to God; for the actuality of thought is life, and God is that actuality; and God’s self-dependent actuality is life most good and eternal.”

Aristotle (Metaphysics – XII.1072b24)

The Basic Works of Aristotle

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