Aristotle(Greek: Ἀριστοτέλης Aristotélēs) was born in 384 BC and died in 322 BC. Aristotle was a Greek philosopher, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. Aristotle wrote on many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, politics, government, ethics, biology and zoology.
Aristotle was born in Stageira, Chalcidice, about 55 km east of modern-day Thessaloniki.
Together with Plato and Socrates (Plato’s teacher), Aristotle is one of the most important founding figures in Western philosophy. Aristotle was the 1st to create a comprehensive system of Western philosophy, encompassing morality and aesthetics, logic and 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 modern physics. In the biological sciences, some of his observations were only confirmed to be accurate in the 19th century. Aristotle’s works contain the earliest known formal study of logic, which were 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 Eastern Orthodox theology, and the scholastic tradition of the Roman Catholic Church. 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 1/3 of the original works have survived.
Aristotle’s 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 18, he went to Athens to continue his education at Plato’s Academy. Aristotle remained at the academy for nearly 20 years, not leaving until after Plato’s death in 347 BC. Aristotle then travelled with Xenocrates to the court of his friend Hermias of Atarneus in Asia Minor. While in Asia, Aristotle travelled 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. Pythias bore him a daughter, whom they named Pythias. Soon after Hermias’ death, Aristotle was invited by Philip of Macedon to become tutor to Alexander the Great.
After spending several years tutoring the young Alexander, Aristotle returned to Athens. By 335 BC, he established his own school there, known as the Lyceum. Aristotle conducted courses at the school for the next 12 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.
It is during this period in Athens 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. Aristotle’s most important treatises include Physics, Metaphysics, Nicomachean Ethics, Politics, De Anima (On the Soul) and Poetics. These works, although connected in many fundamental ways, vary 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 physical science, Aristotle studied anatomy, astronomy, economics, embryology, geography, geology, meteorology, physics and zoology. In philosophy, he wrote on aesthetics, ethics, government, metaphysics, politics, psychology, rhetoric and theology. Aristotle also studied education, foreign customs, literature and poetry. Aristotle 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. Upon Alexander’s death, anti-Macedonian sentiment in Athens once again flared. Eurymedon the hierophant denounced Aristotle for not holding the gods in honour. 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. However, he died in Euboea of natural causes within the year (in 322 BC). Aristotle left a will and named chief executor his student Antipater, in which he asked to be buried next to his wife. It has also been proposed that Aristotle’s banishment and death resulted from the possibility that he was involved with the death of Alexander.
Aristotle’s conception of logic was the dominant form of logic until 19th century advances in mathematical logic. Kant stated in the Critique of Pure Reason that Aristotle’s theory of logic completely accounted for the core of deductive inference.
Aristotle “says that ‘on the subject of reasoning’ he ‘had nothing else on an earlier date to speak of'”. However, Plato reports that syntax was devised before him, by Prodikos of Keos, who was concerned by the correct use of words. Logic seems to have emerged from dialectics; the earlier philosophers made frequent use of concepts like reductio ad absurdum in their discussions, but never truly understood the logical implications. Even Plato had difficulties with logic; although he had a reasonable conception of a deduction system, he could never actually construct one and relied instead on his dialectic. Plato believed that deduction would simply follow from premises, hence he focused on maintaining solid premises so that the conclusion would logically follow. Consequently, Plato realised that a method for obtaining conclusions would be most beneficial. Aristotle never succeeded in devising such a method, but his best attempt was published in his book Sophist, where he introduced his division method.
What we today call Aristotelian logic, Aristotle himself would have labeled “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 6 books in about the early 1st century AD:
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 4th book of Metaphysics..
Aristotle gestures to the earth, representing his belief in knowledge through empirical observation and experience, while holding a copy of his Nicomachean Ethics in his hand, whilst Plato gestures to the heavens, representing his belief in The Forms.
Like his teacher Plato, Aristotle’s philosophy aims at the universal. Aristotle, however, found the universal in particular things, which he called 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 Forms (or ideas) to a contemplation of particular imitations of these. For Aristotle, “form” still refers to the unconditional basis of phenomena but is “instantiated” in a particular substance. In a certain sense, Aristotle’s method is both inductive and deductive, while Plato’s is essentially deductive from a priori principles.
In Aristotle’s terminology, “natural philosophy” is a branch of philosophy examining the phenomena of the natural world, and included fields that would be regarded today as physics, biology and other natural sciences. In modern times, the scope of philosophy has become limited to more generic or abstract inquiries, such as ethics and metaphysics, in which logic plays a major role. Today’s philosophy tends to exclude empirical study of the natural world by means of the scientific method. In contrast, Aristotle’s philosophical endeavors encompassed virtually all facets of intellectual inquiry.
In the larger sense of the word, Aristotle makes philosophy coextensive with reasoning, which he also would describe as “science”. Note, however, that his use of the term science carries a different meaning than that covered by the term “scientific method”. For Aristotle, “all science (dianoia) is either practical, poetical or theoretical” (Metaphysics 1025b25). By practical science, he means ethics and politics; by poetical science, he means the study of poetry and the other fine arts; by theoretical science, he means physics, mathematics and metaphysics.
If logic (or “analytics”) is regarded as a study preliminary to philosophy, the divisions of Aristotelian philosophy would consist of: (1) Logic; (2) Theoretical Philosophy, including Metaphysics, Physics, Mathematics, (3) Practical Philosophy and (4) Poetical Philosophy.
In the period between his 2 stays in Athens, between his times at the Academy and the Lyceum, Aristotle conducted most of the scientific thinking and research for which he is renowned today. In fact, most of Aristotle’s life was devoted to the study of the objects of natural science. Aristotle’s metaphysics contains observations on the nature of numbers but he made no original contributions to mathematics. Aristotle did, however, perform original research in the natural sciences, e.g., botany, zoology, physics, astronomy, chemistry, meteorology, and several other sciences.
Aristotle’s writings on science are largely qualitative, as opposed to quantitative. Beginning in the 16th century, scientists began applying mathematics to the physical sciences, and Aristotle’s work in this area was deemed hopelessly inadequate. Aristotle’s failings were largely due to the absence of concepts like mass, velocity, force and temperature. Aristotle had a conception of speed and temperature, but no quantitative understanding of them, which was partly due to the absence of basic experimental devices, like clocks and thermometers.
Aristotle’s writings provide an account of many scientific observations, a mixture of precocious accuracy and curious errors. For example, in his History of Animals he claimed that human males have more teeth than females. In a similar vein, John Philoponus, and later Galileo, showed by simple experiments that Aristotle’s theory that the more massive object falls faster than a less massive object is incorrect. On the other hand, Aristotle refuted Democritus’s claim that the Milky Way was made up of “those stars which are shaded by the earth from the sun’s rays,” pointing out (correctly, even if such reasoning was bound to be dismissed for a long time) that, given “current astronomical demonstrations” that “the size of the sun is greater than that of the earth and the distance of the stars from the earth many times greater than that of the sun, then…the sun shines on all the stars and the earth screens none of them.”
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 such thinking without sufficient facts is ineffective, and that discerning the validity of one’s hypothesis requires far more rigorous experimentation than that which Aristotle used to support his laws.
Aristotle also had some scientific blind spots. Aristotle posited a geocentric cosmology that we may discern in selections of the Metaphysics, which was widely accepted up until the 1500s. From the 3rd century to the 1500s, the dominant view held that the Earth was the center of the universe (geocentrism).
Since he was perhaps the philosopher most respected by European thinkers during and after the Renaissance, these thinkers often took Aristotle’s erroneous positions as given, which held back science in this epoch. However, Aristotle’s scientific shortcomings should not mislead one into forgetting his great advances in the many scientific fields. For instance, he founded logic as a formal science and created foundations to biology that were not superseded for 2 millennia. Moreover, he introduced the fundamental notion that nature is composed of things that change and that studying such changes can provide useful knowledge of underlying constants.
The 5 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 4 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.
The 4 Causes
The material cause is that from which a thing comes into existence as from its part, 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), a relationship known as the part-whole causation. Simply put it is the influence of the material substances on the event. So imagine 2 dominos, the 1st of which is lighter. The 1st is knocked over into the 2nd but does not have enough power to knock it over, this is Material cause.
The formal cause tells us what a thing is, that anything 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 (i.e., macrostructure) is the cause of its parts, a relationship known as the whole-part causation. Plainly put it is the influence of the form (essence) of the things on the event. So take the 2 dominos again except this time the 2nd is shaped to prevent it from falling *eg. triangular.* this is formal cause.
The efficient cause is that from which the change or the ending of the change 1st 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. More simply again that which immediately sets the thing in motion. So take the 2 dominos this time of equal weighting, the 1st is knocked over causing the 2nd also to fall over. This is effectively efficient cause.
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 behaviour.
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 influence of cause upon effect). Moreover, Aristotle indicated that the same thing can be the cause of contrary effects; its presence and absence may result in different outcomes. Simply it is the goal or purpose that brings about an event (not necessarily a mental goal). Taking our two dominos, it requires someone to intentionally knock the dominos over as they cannot fall themselves.
Aristotle marked 2 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 favourite 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).
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.
There is also more specific kind of chance, which Aristotle names “luck”, that can only apply to human beings, since it is in the sphere of moral actions. According to Aristotle, luck 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”.
Aristotle defines metaphysics as “the knowledge of immaterial being,” or of “being in the highest degree of abstraction.” Aristotle refers to metaphysics as “first philosophy”, as well as “the theologic science.”
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 it 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 ‘covering for bodies and chattels’ or any other differentia. 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.
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 is 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 a property. In that particular change he introduces the concept of potentiality (dynamis) and actuality (entelecheia) in association with the matter and the form.
Referring to potentiality, this is what a thing is capable of doing, or being acted upon, if it is not prevented by something else. For example, the 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), which can be either innate or learned. 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).
Actuality 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.
” 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.”
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 (i.e., 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 2 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’s predecessor, Plato, argued that all things have a universal form, which could be either a property, or a relation to other things. When we look at an apple, for example, we see an apple, and we can also analyze a form of an apple. In this distinction, there is a particular apple and a universal form of an apple. Moreover, we can place an apple next to a book, so that we can speak of both the book and apple as being next to each other.
Plato argued that there are some universal forms that are not a part of particular things. For example, it is possible that there is no particular good in existence, but “good” is still a proper universal form. Bertrand Russell is a contemporary philosopher that agreed with Plato on the existence of “uninstantiated universals”.
Aristotle disagreed with Plato on this point, arguing that all universals are instantiated. Aristotle argued that there are no universals that are unattached to existing things. According to Aristotle, if a universal exists, either as a particular or a relation, then there must have been, must be currently, or must be in the future, something on which the universal can be predicated. Consequently, according to Aristotle, if it is not the case that some universal can be predicated to an object that exists at some period of time, then it does not exist.
One way for contemporary philosophers to justify this position is by asserting the eleatic principle.
In addition, Aristotle disagreed with Plato about the location of universals. As Plato spoke of the world of the forms, a location where all universal forms subsist, Aristotle maintained that universals exist within each thing on which each universal is predicated. So, according to Aristotle, the form of apple exists within each apple, rather than in the world of the forms.
In Aristotelian science, most especially in biology, things he saw himself have stood the test of time better than his retelling of the reports of others, which contain error and superstition. Aristotle dissected animals, but not humans and his ideas on how the human body works have been almost entirely superseded.
Aristotle is the earliest natural historian whose work has survived in some detail. Aristotle certainly did research on the natural history of Lesbos, and the surrounding seas and neighbouring areas. The works that reflect this research, such as History of Animals, Generation of Animals, and Parts of Animals, contain some observations and interpretations, along with sundry myths and mistakes. The most striking passages are about the sea-life visible from observation on Lesbos and available from the catches of fishermen. Aristotle’s observations on catfish, electric fish (Torpedo) and angler-fish are detailed, as is his writing on cephalopods, namely, Octopus, Sepia (cuttlefish) and the paper nautilus (Argonauta argo). Aristotle’s description of the hectocotyl arm was about 2,000 years ahead of its time, and widely disbelieved until its rediscovery in the 19th century. Aristotle separated the aquatic mammals from fish, and knew that sharks and rays were part of the group he called Selachē.
Another good example of his methods comes from the Generation of Animals in which Aristotle describes breaking open fertilised chicken eggs at intervals to observe when visible organs were generated.
Aristotle gave accurate descriptions of ruminants’ 4-chambered fore-stomachs, and of the ovoviviparous embryological development of the hound shark Mustelus mustelus.
Aristotle’s classification of living things contains some elements which still existed in the 19th century. What the modern zoologist would call vertebrates and invertebrates, Aristotle called ‘animals with blood’ and ‘animals without blood’ (he was not to know that complex invertebrates do make use of haemoglobin, but of a different kind from vertebrates). Animals with blood were divided into live-bearing (humans and mammals), and egg-bearing (birds and fish). Invertebrates (‘animals without blood’) are insects, crustacea (divided into non-shelled – cephalopods – and shelled) and testacea (molluscs). In some respects, this incomplete classification is better than that of Linnaeus, who crowded the invertebrata together into 2 groups, Insecta and Vermes (worms).
For Charles Singer, “Nothing is more remarkable than [Aristotle’s] efforts to [exhibit] the relationships of living things as a scala naturae” Aristotle’s History of Animals classified organisms in relation to a hierarchical “Ladder of Life” (scala naturae), placing them according to complexity of structure and function so that higher organisms showed greater vitality and ability to move.
Aristotle believed that intellectual purposes, i.e., formal causes, guided all natural processes. Such a teleological view gave Aristotle cause to justify his observed data as an expression of formal design. Noting that “no animal has, at the same time, both tusks and horns,” and “a single-hooved animal with 2 horns I have never seen,” Aristotle suggested that Nature, giving no animal both horns and tusks, was staving off vanity, and giving creatures faculties only to such a degree as they are necessary. Noting that ruminants had a multiple stomachs and weak teeth, he supposed the first was to compensate for the latter, with Nature trying to preserve a type of balance.
In a similar fashion, Aristotle believed that creatures were arranged in a graded scale of perfection rising from plants on up to man, the scala naturae or Great Chain of Being. Aristotle’s system had 11 grades, arranged according “to the degree to which they are infected with potentiality”, expressed in their form at birth. The highest animals laid warm and wet creatures alive, the lowest bore theirs cold, dry, and in thick eggs.
Aristotle also held that the level of a creature’s perfection was reflected in its form, but not preordained by that form. Ideas like this, and his ideas about souls, are not regarded as science at all in modern times.
Aristotle placed emphasis on the type(s) of soul an organism possessed, asserting that plants possess a vegetative soul, responsible for reproduction and growth, animals a vegetative and a sensitive soul, responsible for mobility and sensation, and humans a vegetative, a sensitive, and a rational soul, capable of thought and reflection.
Aristotle, in contrast to earlier philosophers, but in accordance with the Egyptians, placed the rational soul in the heart, rather than the brain. Notable is Aristotle’s division of sensation and thought, which generally went against previous philosophers, with the exception of Alcmaeon.
Aristotle’s analysis of procreation is frequently criticised 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 Aristotle is considered by some feminist critics to have been a misogynist.
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