Aristotle was one of the most influential thinkers in the history of Western civilization. He was a student of Plato, a teacher of Alexander the Great, and a founder of the Peripatetic school of philosophy. He wrote on a wide range of subjects, from logic and metaphysics to biology and ethics. He is considered the father of many disciplines, such as zoology, rhetoric, and political science. He also made significant contributions to the development of art, literature, and science.
Aristotle was born in 384 BC in Stagira, a small town in northern Greece. His father, Nicomachus, was a physician and a friend of King Amyntas III of Macedon. Aristotle lost his parents at an early age and was raised by a guardian named Proxenus. At the age of 17 or 18, he moved to Athens and joined Plato’s Academy, where he studied for about 20 years. He was an avid learner and a prolific writer, producing many dialogues and treatises on various topics. He also engaged in debates and discussions with other philosophers, such as Speusippus, Xenocrates, and Eudoxus.
After Plato’s death in 347 BC, Aristotle left Athens and traveled to various places, such as Assos, Lesbos, and Atarneus. He married Pythias, the niece of his friend Hermias, who was the ruler of Atarneus. They had a daughter named Pythias after her mother. In 343 BC, he was invited by King Philip II of Macedon to tutor his son Alexander, who later became known as Alexander the Great. Aristotle taught Alexander for about three years, until he left to conquer the Persian Empire.
In 335 BC, Aristotle returned to Athens and founded his own school of philosophy, called the Lyceum. He rented a building near a grove dedicated to Apollo Lyceus, hence the name of his school. He also established a library and a museum, where he collected books and specimens of animals and plants. He attracted many students and followers, who were called Peripatetics (meaning “those who walk around”) because they used to stroll around the Lyceum while discussing philosophy. The most famous of his disciples was Theophrastus, who succeeded him as the head of the school.
Aristotle’s philosophy can be divided into two main branches: theoretical and practical. The theoretical branch includes logic, natural philosophy (physics, biology, metaphysics), and mathematics. The practical branch includes ethics, politics, rhetoric, and poetics. Aristotle’s logic is based on the idea of syllogism, which is a form of deductive reasoning consisting of two premises and a conclusion. For example:
- All humans are mortal.
- Socrates is human.
- Therefore, Socrates is mortal.
Aristotle’s natural philosophy is based on the idea of four causes: material (what something is made of), formal (what something is), efficient (what makes something happen), and final (what something is for). For example:
- The material cause of a statue is bronze.
- The formal cause of a statue is its shape.
- The efficient cause of a statue is the sculptor.
- The final cause of a statue is its beauty or purpose.
Aristotle’s metaphysics is based on the idea of substance (ousia), which is the essence or nature of something that makes it what it is. He distinguished between two kinds of substances: primary and secondary. Primary substances are individual things that exist independently, such as humans or animals. Secondary substances are categories or genera that classify primary substances according to their common characteristics, such as species or genus.
Aristotle’s biology is based on the idea of hylomorphism (from Greek hyle meaning “matter” and morphe meaning “form”), which is the doctrine that all living things are composed of matter (body) and form (soul). The soul is not a separate entity from the body, but rather its principle of life or activity. Aristotle classified living things into three kinds: plants (which have only nutritive soul), animals (which have nutritive and sensitive soul), and humans (which have nutritive, sensitive, and rational soul).
Aristotle’s ethics is based on the idea of eudaimonia (from Greek eu meaning “good” and daimon meaning “spirit”), which is usually translated as “happiness” or “flourishing”. It is not a feeling or a state of mind, but rather an activity or a way of life that fulfills one’s nature and potential. Aristotle argued that eudaimonia consists in living according to virtue (arete), which is excellence or perfection in one’s function or role. He distinguished between two kinds of virtues: moral (such as courage or justice) and intellectual (such as wisdom or prudence). Moral virtues are acquired by habit and practice, while intellectual virtues are acquired by learning and teaching. Aristotle also introduced the concept of the golden mean, which is the balance or moderation between two extremes of excess and deficiency. For example:
- Courage is the mean between cowardice and rashness.
- Justice is the mean between selfishness and selflessness.
- Temperance is the mean between gluttony and asceticism.
Aristotle’s politics is based on the idea of polis (from Greek meaning “city” or “state”), which is the natural and highest form of human association. Aristotle argued that humans are by nature political animals, who need to live in a community in order to achieve eudaimonia. He classified different types of constitutions (politeia) according to the number and quality of their rulers: monarchy (rule by one good person), aristocracy (rule by a few good people), and polity (rule by many good people) are the best forms of government, while tyranny (rule by one bad person), oligarchy (rule by a few bad people), and democracy (rule by many bad people) are the worst forms of government. He also analyzed the causes and effects of political change, revolution, and stability.
Aristotle’s rhetoric is based on the idea of persuasion (peitho), which is the art of using language to influence or convince others. Aristotle identified three modes of persuasion: ethos (appeal to character or credibility), logos (appeal to reason or logic), and pathos (appeal to emotion or passion). He also analyzed the different types of speeches: deliberative (about future actions or policies), epideictic (about present values or praise), and forensic (about past facts or blame). He also discussed the various elements of style, such as clarity, correctness, appropriateness, and ornament.
Aristotle’s poetics is based on the idea of mimesis (from Greek meaning “imitation” or “representation”), which is the art of creating an imitation or representation of reality through words, sounds, images, or actions. Aristotle focused mainly on tragedy, which he defined as a form of drama that depicts the downfall of a noble hero due to a tragic flaw or error in judgment. He also discussed the essential components of tragedy: plot (mythos), character (ethos), thought (dianoia), diction (lexis), melody (melos), and spectacle (opsis). He also introduced the concept of catharsis, which is the purgation or purification of emotions such as pity and fear that are aroused by tragedy.
Aristotle died in 322 BC in Chalcis, a city in Euboea, an island near Athens. He had fled from Athens after being accused of impiety by some anti-Macedonian factions following the death of Alexander the Great. His works were preserved by his students and followers, who edited and compiled them into several collections. Some of his works were lost or corrupted over time, while others were translated into Arabic and Latin and influenced later thinkers in the Islamic and Christian worlds. Aristotle’s philosophy has been admired, criticized, revised, and revived throughout history, and remains a source of inspiration and insight for many people today.