Aristotle

Along with the posts on RousseauPlatoBacon, Machiavelli and Locke, this post, and many to follow, are part of an upcoming project – stay tuned.

According to Wheelwright (1951) “Aristotle was born in 384 BC at Stagira, a town in Macedonia, colonized by Grecian emigrants.” Aristotleʻs father, Nichomachus (also the name of his son, for whom the Nichomachean Ethics was written) was a court doctor for the King of Macedonia. Aristotle left and  in a sense overcame the stifling provincialism of his youth and entered Plato‘s Academy at age 18, where he remained until 347 BC (Wheelwright, 1951, xv).

Aristotle (384-322 BC)

Aristotle lived, studied and taught during one of the most eventful periods of Macedonian and Greek history – he was a contemporary and was admired by Macedonian King Phillip, who invited Aristotle to tutor his thirteen-year old son, later known as Alexander the Great.

As with Plato, it is unclear exactly what we are reading when we read Aristotle, but for a different reason. As Wheelwright puts it: “the prose style is unfinished, loose, and choppy; in marked contrast to the conscientious precision with which key words are employed.”  The texts appear to be some sort of notes, and three theories exist as to how these were produced: 1) they were student notes, 2) they were Aristotle’s lecture notes, or 3) “the original Aristotelian writings were lost, recovered in a damaged condition and pieced together by incompetent editors” (Wheelwright, 1951, xviii).

Aristotle’s output was so monumental that it set the tone, in fact the content, little changed for over a thousand years in Europe, with Catholic scholastics synthesizing Aristotelian thought with Biblical scripture (although there is a fair amount of debate over the extent of his influence). His principal work can be grouped in nine basic categories:

1) Logic

2) Natural Science

3) Zoology

4) Psychology

5) Metaphysics (famously only called this because it came after the physics)

6) The Nichomachean Ethics

7) Politics (or, “On Statecraft”)

8) The art of oratory

9) The art of Poetry

It is impossible to summarize this output here, but possible to give a taste of his thought. The Metaphysics begins with questions on the nature of knowledge, and how we know (epistemology):
ALL men by nature desire to know. An indication of this is the delight we take in our senses; for even apart from their usefulness they are loved for themselves; and above all others the sense of sight. For not only with a view to action, but even when we are not going to doanything, we prefer seeing (one might say) to everything else. The reason is that this, most of all the senses, makes us know and brings to lightmany differences between things.
(Source: classics.mit.edu)
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