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Aristotle

Aristotle was a Greek philosopher who was born in Stagira, Greece, in circa 384 B.C. His life was spent teaching, studying and writing, and he died in 322 B.C.

Early Life

Stagira, the town where Aristotle was born, was located on Greece’s northern coast and used to be a seaport. Nicomachus, his father, was Amyntus II’s (King of Macedonia) court physician. Even though his father died when Aristotle was a young boy, he continued his close affiliation with the Macedonian court and remained influenced by it for all his life. Phaestis was his mother and not much is known about her, but it is believed that she died when he was young as well.

Aristotle’s elder sister was Arimneste and she was married to Proxenus of Atarneus. When Aristotle’s father was no more, Proxenus of Atarneus took Aristotle under his wing and became his guardian until he was 17.

Education

When he reached 17 years of age, he was sent to Athens by Proxenus for pursuing higher education. During those times, Athens was considered to be the universe’s academic center. It was in Athens that Aristotle enrolled himself in Plato’s Academy which was the premier learning institution. He proved to be an exemplary and unmatched scholar there. Plato (renowned Greek philosopher and Socrates’ student) and Aristotle maintained a close association in the academy for almost two decades. After the death of Plato in 347 B.C., most people expected Aristotle to become the director of the Plato Academy and inherit Plato’s position but that did not happen, since Aristotle had shown disagreement towards the philosophical treatises of Plato.

He married Pythias after the death of Plato. Pythias was the niece of the King of Atarneus, Hermias, who was Aristotle’s friend. Their daughter was named after her mother, Pythias.

Teaching

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Aristotle tutored Alexander the Great (who was the son of King Philip II) when he was 13, in 338 B.C. He was held in high esteem by both Alexander and Philip, and received generous compensation for his work from the Macedonian Court. Aristotle later went back to Athens after it was conquered by Alexander when he succeeded his father in 335 B.C. During those times, the Plato’s Academy was being run by Xenocrates and still influenced Greek thought to a great degree. So, Lyceum, his own school, was started by Aristotle after getting permission from Alexander. This is where he spent a great part of his life by writing, researching and teaching.

The major subjects that were taught in Lyceum were mathematics, science, politics, philosophy and everything that fell between these areas. Another popular and important subject was art. Lyceum also held the distinction of holding the first and the greatest library of the world, thanks to the manuscripts of its students and researchers.

Aristotle’s wife died the same year that the school was opened and this is when his romance with Herpyllis began. Some historians believe that she was a slave the Macedonian court granted to Aristotle but later, he freed her and they got married.

Due to Alexander’s sudden death in 323 B.C. the government came to be overthrown. The sentiments were largely anti-Macedonian because of which Aristotle came to be charged with impiety. In order to avoid prosecution, Aristotle fled to Euboea, Chalcis, and remained there until he died.

Science

When he was at Lyceum, Aristotle researched at length about certain sciences. In this research, he studied geology. Aristotle tried to classify various animals, based on their similar characteristics, into genera and later into species, based on the presence or absence of red blood. Red blood animals were classified as vertebrates and the others fell under cephalopods. Even though the system was flawed and inaccurate, for hundreds of years, this classification was used as the standard system.

Another area that fascinated Aristotle was marine biology and his research in this field is much more accurate than his geological findings.

Aristotle was also known to dabble in earth sciences, according to ‘Meteorology’, his treatise. He did not just make a study of the weather in this treatise but also identified water cycle, astrological events and natural disasters. Even though the views expressed by him were controversial, the Late Middle Ages saw them getting popular.

Philosophy

The concept of logic and its systematic application were the cornerstone of the entire philosophy of Aristotle. His objective was to come up with a reasoning process that was universal and promoted free thinking and learning about everything in reality that was conceivable to man. As the initial process of his philosophy, a description of objects and their characteristics was expanded upon, followed by their various states of action and being. In his treatises of philosophy, Aristotle spoke of inference after deduction for obtaining information about various objects.

According to Aristotle, when certain circumstances and things were laid down, deductions followed simply out of necessity. What is now called syllogism by philosophers was the basis of his theory of deduction.

In ‘Prior Analytics’, Aristotle’s book, he provides an explanation on syllogism, saying that when some things are supposed in a discourse, something else results out of necessity which is different from the supposed things. Inclusive and exclusive relationships were his reasoning’s major components and achieved a visual representation in the form of Venn diagrams later.

Not only did his philosophy provide a system and basis of reasoning, it also explored ethics. He prescribed “good living” ethics which were a code of conduct based on moralities.

Major Works

Most of Aristotle’s works were in the form of manuscript drafts and notes, and were estimated to be around 200 in number. They include systematic works, scientific observations and their records, and dialogues. Theophrastus, who was a student of Aristotle, looked after all his works and writings and passed them on to Neleus, his student. To protect the works from moisture, these writings were stored in a vault by Neleus until later, when the scholars in Rome took and used them. However, out of those 200 writings, there are only 31 that are still found in circulation and date to his Lyceum time. His major works on logic are ‘Prior Analytics’, ‘Categories’, ‘Posterior Analytics’ and ‘On Interpretation’. In these works, reasoning system and development of sound arguments is discussed by him.

Metaphysics, his book, was where Aristotle discusses form and matter, distinguishing the two concepts from each other. According to him, while matter related to things’ physical substance, form was their unique identifying quality and nature.

His ‘good living’ or ethical works include ‘Eudemian Ethics’ and ‘Nicomachean Ethics’, which are treatises on judgment and behavior. The human behavior in government and society’s context is explored in ‘Politics’.

In Arts, he wrote ‘Rhetoric’ and in science, ‘On the Heavens’ and ‘On the Soul’ were written by him.

Death

A year after he fled to Chalcis for escaping prosecution charges, Aristotle died in 322 B.C. The cause was attributed to a disease on digestive organs. The next century saw his works and writing slowly falling out of use. However, during the first century, they were quickly revived.

About 700 years of philosophy have found their basis in the works of Aristotle, influencing from Late Antiquity to the Renaissance. After Socrates and his student Plato, Aristotle’s work is considered to be unmatched and unparalleled in social sciences and philosophy and his influences can be clearly seen on Western thought in the said subjects. Even now, the interpretation of his work continues, and his thought processes and philosophy still form the foundation of current times.

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