Aristotle (384 -322 BCE), one of the greatest Greek philosophers, is called the “Father of Western Philosophy” along with his legendary teacher, Plato (hyperlink). His other notable descriptions include being a polymath, a scientist, founder of the Aristotelian tradition, the Lyceum, and the Peripatetic school of philosophy, Alexander the Great’s tutor, and a writer of various subjects such as biology, physics, logic, ethics, psychology, aesthetics, and politics. He wrote about 200 works which were reportedly looked after by Theophrastus, his student, who later passed them to Neleus, his own student. Neleus stored the written works in a vault which protected the records from moisture until they were taken to Rome.
Aristotle was born in Stagira, Greece. His father, Nicomachus, was the physician to the Macedonian king, Amyntas II. Little is known of his mother, Phaestis. Since both of Aristotle’s parents died when he was young, his uncle, Proxenus, became his guardian. He was sent to Athens to pursue higher education at the age of 17. He became an exemplary scholar in Plato’s academy. However, he did not inherit the position of being the academy director due to his disagreement with some of Plato’s philosophical treatises.
Aristotle was invited to court by Hermias (king of Artaneus and Assos in Mysia, and a friend of Aristotle) after Plato died. He then met Pythias, the king’s niece, who became his first wife. He founded the Lyceum in 335 B.C.E. which was also the same year that his wife died. Aristotle went home to Macedonia in 338 B.C. E. to tutor Alexander the Great, the son of King Phillip II. He then married his second wife, Herpyllis, a native of Stagira.
In 323 B.C.E., Alexander the Great died which led to the downfall of the pro-Macedonian government. Due to his close association with the Macedonian court, Aristotle was charged with impiety. He left Athens to avoid an anticipated death sentence and retired to Chalcis. Before leaving Athens, he famously remarked, “I do not wish that Athens should sin twice against philosophy”. A year later, at the age of 62, Aristotle died due to natural causes; however, some sources specify that he died due to an illness concerning the digestive organs.
Main Concepts and Theories
Here are some of Aristotle’s key ideas:
Natural Science or Natural Philosophy
Aristotle did a lot of research on natural sciences such as zoology, physics, astronomy, and chemistry. He believed in telos, that natural things tend to have their respective goals or ends. He tried to explain gravity by saying that objects move toward their “natural place” like how most beings move towards sea-level or ground water since their bodies also largely constitute liquid. Another significant assertion was his belief that the earth is spherical. One of his evidences was how he could see starts in Cyprus and Egypt but not in places further north.
He also believed in the existence of five elements: fire, earth, water, air, and “Aether”, a celestial element. In relation to this, he explained that there are “four causes” of an object’s nature of change: material, formal, efficient, and final. The material cause is what matter is actually made of, like how a chair is made out of wood. The formal cause is what gives a matter its form like how the different pieces of wood are cut, shaped, and put together to form a chair. The efficient cause is the idea or rationale behind an object’s creation like how the ancient Egyptians had the idea of ornately carving something with four chairs for the nobility to use. The final cause is the primary reason why an object exists like how a chair functions as something to sit on with a back rest.
Rejection of Plato’s “Theory of Forms”
Aristotle disagreed that physical things are mere representations of perfect forms which existed in a different idealized world. He believed that an object coexisted with its essence. Similarly, the soul resides within the body.
Aristotle specified that a logical argument is not always true but a true premise will always have an equally true conclusion.
Aristotle’s key virtues include temperance, fortitude, justice, magnanimity, courage, and liberality.
Some of Aristotle’s quotes include the following:
• “Moral excellence comes about as a result of habit. We become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts.” • “The energy of the mind is the essence of life”. • “It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.” • “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” • “You will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honor.”