Aristotle was born in 384 BC and lived
until 322 BC. He was a Greek philosopher and scientist, who shares with
Plato being considered the most famous of ancient philosophers. He was
born at Stagira, in Macedonia, the son of a physician to the royal court.
When he was 17, he went to Athens to study at Plato’s Academy. He stayed
for about 20 years, as a student and then as a teacher.
When Plato died in 347 BC, Aristotle moved
to Assos, a city in Asia Minor, where a friend of his named Hermias was
the ruler. He counseled Hermias and married his niece and adopted daughter,
Pythias (wierd names, huh). After Hermias was captured and executed by
the Persians, Aristotle went to Pella, Macedonia’s capital, and became
the tutor of the king’s young son Alexander, later known as Alexander the
Great. In 335, when Alexander became king, Aristotle went back to Athens
and established his own school, the Lyceum.Since a lot of the lessons happened
when teachers and students were walking, it was nicknamed the Peripatetic
school (Peripatetic means walking). When Alexander died in 323 BC, strong
anti-Macedonian feeling was felt in Athens, and Aristotle went to a family
estate in Euboea. He died there the following year.
Aristotle, like Plato, used his dialogue
in his beginning years at the Academy. Apart from a few fragments in the
works of later writers, his dialogues have been wholly lost. Aristotle
also wrote some short technical writings, including a dictionary of philosophic
terms and a summary of the “doctrines of Pythagoras” (the guy from the
Pythagorean Theorem). Of these, only a few short pieces have survived.
Still in good shape, though, are Aristotle’s lecture notes for carefully
outlined courses treating almost every type of knowledge and art. The writings
that made him famous are mostly these, which were collected by other editors.
Among the writings are short informative
lectures on logic, called Organon (which means “instrument”), because “they
provide the means by which positive knowledge is to be attained”(They’re
not my words, I’m quoting him). His writing on natural science include
Physics, which gives a huge amount of information on astronomy, meteorology,
plants, and animals. His writings on the nature, scope, and properties
of being, (I know what one of them means!) which Aristotle called First
Philosophy (to him it was “Prote philosophia”), were given the title Metaphysics
in the first published version of his works (around 60 BC), because in
that edition they followed Physics. His belief of the “Prime Mover”, or
first cause, was pure intellect, perfect in unity,immutable, and, as he
said, “the thought of thought,” is given in the Metaphysics. Other famous
works include his Rhetoric, his Poetics (which we only have incomplete
pieces of), and his Politics (also incomplete).
Because of the influence of his father’s
medical profession, Aristotle’s philosophy was mainly stressed on biology,
the opposite of Plato’s emphasis on mathematics. Aristotle regarded the
world as “made up of individuals (substances) occurring in fixed natural
kinds (species)” (more confusing quotes, yippey!). He said “each individual
has its built-in specific pattern of development and grows toward proper
self-realization as a specimen of its type. Growth, purpose, and direction
are thus built into nature.” Although science studies many things, according
to Aristotle, “these things find their existence in particular individuals.
Science and philosophy must therefore balance, not simply choose between,
the claims of empiricism (observation and sense experience) and formalism
One of the most famous of Aristotle’s contributions
was a new notion of causality. “Each thing or event,” he thought, “has
more than one ‘reason’ that helps to explain what, why, and where it is.”
Earlier Greek thinkers thought that only one sort of cause can explain
itself; Aristotle said four.(The word Aristotle uses, aition, “a responsible,
explanatory factor” is not the same as the word cause now.)
These four causes are the “material cause”,
(the matter out of which a thing is made); the “efficient cause”, (the
source of motion, generation, or change); the “formal cause”, (the species,
kind, or type); and “the final cause”, (the goal, or full development,
of an individual, or the intended function of a construction or invention.)
Although I don’t know what these mean, they sound philosophical. An example
he gave is “a young lion is made up of tissues and organs, its material
cause; the efficient cause is its parents, who generated it; the formal
cause is its species, lion; and its final cause is its built-in drive toward
maturity.” Another example he gave is “the material cause of a statue is
the marble from which it was carved; the efficient cause is the sculptor;
the formal cause is the shape the sculptor realized Hermes, perhaps; and
the final cause is its function, to be a work of fine art.”
In each wy, Aristotle says that something
can be better understood when its causes can be said in specific terms
rather than in general terms. So it is more informative to know that a”sculptor” made the statue than to know that an “artist” made it; and even
more informative to know that “Polycleitus” chiseled it rather than simply
that a “sculptor” did so.
In astronomy, Aristotle proposed a finite,
spherical universe, with the earth at its center. The center is made up
of four elements: earth, air, fire, and water. In Aristotle’s physics,
all of these four elements has a right place, determined by its relative
heaviness, its “specific gravity.” Each moves naturally in a straight line.
Earth goes down, fire up toward its proper place, where it will be at rest.
So Earth’s motion is always in a line and
always comes to a halt. The heavens, though, move “naturally and endlessly
in a complex circular motion”. The heavens, according to, must be made
of a fifth, and different element, which he called “aither.” The strongest
element, aither can’t change other than change of place in a circle movement.
Aristotle’s theory that linear motion always takes place through a resisting
medium is actually true for all planets that we can see motions.
Honestly, to me it seems like Aristotle
was crazy. Many of his theories were completely false, and I don’t really
understand why he is so famous. If I started saying the things he says
now, I’d be thrown into a mental hospital.