Philosopher, Mathematician, Physicist, Astronomer, Biologist, Writer, Scholar, Rhetorician, Statesman, Psychologist, Naturalist (384 BC – 322 BC)
Aristotle is one of the most polymath philosophers to have ever come to this world. He has given humanity an immortal consignment, which extends to almost every science and art. He is the founder of the Peripatetic School of Philosophy, which gave birth to Aristotelianism, the philosophy which defines Aristotle. While there have been conflicts throughout the ages between Aristotle’s and Plato’s philosophy, Aristotle does not decline much from Plato’s philosophy. He does not ascend to Plato’s Theory of Ideas, but is most powerful at the level of humanity’s physical field.
He was born in Stagira. At age 17 he went to study philosophy in the Academy of Athens following a pronouncement from the Oracle of Delphi. There he became a student of Plato for almost 20 years. He also took lessons on rhetoric from Isocrates’ school. Following Plato’s death, Aristotle was nominated for successor of the Academy but the position was ultimately taken by Speusippus. Aristotle left for Assos, where he remained for 3 years until he was invited to Mytilene by Theophrastus to work as a teacher. Following an invitation from Philip II of Macedon, Aristotle became a tutor of Alexander the Great for 6 years. He then returned to Athens and founded the Lyceum. It was the start of Aristotelianism.
The Lyceum was founded with the financial aid of Alexander the Great. Aristotle built the first major library of the school, which would become the paradigm of the Library of Alexandria and accumulated important works on natural sciences. The Lyceum was where Aristotle taught his philosophy, which covered a huge spectrum of sciences.
Aristotle was not just a philosopher. He was a scientist, a homo universalis who individualized each science from philosophy and gave it its own standpoint. His attributed works are estimated to have been 400, 142 of which survive. He wrote treatises on philosophy, metaphysics, logic, mathematics, physics, biology, zoology, phytology, politics, ethics, psychology, rhetoric and many more.
According to Aristotle, it is in man’s nature to incline toward knowledge. Science is the main tool by which man achieves knowledge. It differs from art in the sense that science is concerned with knowledge. Its goal is to unveil the unchangeable laws of the universe. Aristotle defined wisdom as the highest perfection of science. It is the knowledge of the primordial causes and principles of the being, the inalterable laws that define the stable nature of the being. To the philosopher, wisdom is achieved when the characteristics of science are raised to their highest possible level. Wisdom (σοφία) is only God’s privilege. If man cannot attain wisdom in its fullness, then he can strive to achieve it by becoming a friend of wisdom, a philosopher (φιλόσοφος). Hence, philosophy is the struggle for wisdom. This struggle equilibrates man with God. Philosophy is man’s ultimate mission and it is in accordance to his nature. It liberates man from his double ignorance. Philosophy, therefore, is only for the free people.
For Aristotle, every science is philosophy. For this reason, he uses the terms science and philosophy interchangeably. Every science and philosophy must be a logos on beings to be worthy of its name. One of his greatest achievements was that he defined how research is conducted to prove a thesis in science. Aristotle’s analysis of the method that sciences use to prove things is the most perfect in scientific thought. For this reason, he is credited as the Father of the methodology of science. He taxonomized sciences into three types: theoretical, practical and poetic. He became the founder of the history of philosophy and the history of sciences as a discipline. Mythology, according to the philosopher himself, is part of philosophy.
Even though Aristotle did not compile detailed studies on mathematics, he was involved in the methodological syntaxis of the mathematical science. In mathematics, he studied the infinite and the continuous function in an innovative way. He also studied astronomy, since it is connected with philosophical cosmogony. His treatise On the Heavens, consisting of 4 books, is an ecthesis of astronomical theories and phenomena. He describes the universe, the planets of the solar system, the shape of the Earth, the stars, geographic and meteorological data, including the theory of chemical change, on comets, meteorites and metals. Some of these were used by Greek Christopher Colombus to travel to the Americas.
Physics, which is the study of nature, was one of Aristotle’s most beloved sciences. Aristotle’s Physics, consisting of 8 books in total, contains his entire works on physics. He dealt with the general method of science and the analytical method of research, provided definitions on nature and a distinction between physics and philosophy. He did extensive research on fundamental notions of kinetics and mechanics such as inertia, the types of movement, circular motion, the relativity of movement, change of matter, dynamic and kinetic energy, time and space relativity, relationship between infinity and the universe, time as a measure, flow of time, on void, matter and laws of gravity. Aristotle also deals with thermodynamics and sets the foundations of modern statistical science. His conclusions are based on mathematical analysis and experiments.
Aristotle is widely acknowledged as the Father of Biology, the one who established biology as a science. He also compiled studies on comparative anatomy, physiology, embryology, zoology and phytology. In his books he mentions over 500 species of animals and devises a system of animal taxonomy. His studies feature remarkable details on the organ function of animals, their movement, their reproduction, their behaviour as well as their inheritance. He studied the phenomena of life and rightly considered that the heart is the center of the soul. It is worth noting that Aristotle founded the first botanical garden in Athens, featuring a myriad of specimens from Europe and Asia, brought to him by Alexander the Great.
One of his greatest works are in the field of metaphysics, so called because they were written after his treatise on physics and nature (Μετὰ τὰ Φυσικά). Metaphysics, of which Aristotle is the founder, is the science of ontology. It did not have the meaning it has today. Aristotle calls his newly established philosophy as the First Philosophy (Πρώτη Φιλοσοφία). Metaphysics or Ontology is the study of ontologic reality, the fundamental principles upon which all sciences are based. It aims to uncover the common characteristics of all beings and to delve into the primordial principles that create the ontologic reality. His 12 books on metaphysics contain a critique on the theory of numbers as well as detailed studies on various topics that today pertain to physics, including energy, movement, matter and heat. Furthermore, it contains mathematical topics on proportionality, symmetry and mathematical axioms.
Aristotle is the most eminent philosopher of ethics, the principle founder of values. In his books Eudemian Ethics, Magna Moralia and Nichomachean Ethics, the latter being his magnum opus as depicted in Raphael’s The School of Athens, the philosopher defines virtue and categorizes it into intellectual and ethical virtues. Ethical virtues concern the emotions and actions of man. They are acquired by means of ethos. They are the mean of the two extreme states that are found on the opposite side, one being excess and the other deficiency. The ethical virtues form a 90 degree angle with both these extreme states. They are twelve in number. Intellectual virtues are acquired by means of learning. They are the virtues of logic and guide man’s emotions and instincts. Aristotle’s theory of ethics, in conjunction with Plato’s works on virtues, is the ultimate guide for achieving a healthful spiritual life.
Aristotle founded yet another philosophical science: Logic, which is one of Aristotle’s greatest contributions to humanity. He was extensively involved in rhetoric, poetry and psychology as well, compiling numerous treatises on the definition and types of souls, psychic characteristics and functions, boulisis and free will. Furthermore, Aristotle expanded significantly epistemology, the branch of philosophy that deals with the validity of science. All of his works are original, innovative and groundbreaking.
Aristotle remains to this day one of the most prolific and influential philosophers in world history. His massive work evidently shows how much Aristotle was intrigued on issues that concern humanity today. Without his contribution, science would not have existed. International philosophy and scientific nomenclature uses words first defined by Aristotle, such as the word “dynamic” in economics, the words “matter” and “energy” in physics, and the word “continuity” in mathematics. It is impossible to count down all the philosophers that Aristotle has influenced over the millennia. It is worth of mention that Descartes’ quote “I think, therefore I am” is taken directly from Aristotle’s words, who said “When someone has the sensation of himself or someone else’s in continuous time, then it is impossible to not have conscious that he exists”. His ethics are an everlasting inheritance to all mankind. Their goal is for man to attain virtue, which is a prerequisite for a healthy soul. It is thanks to intellectual giants like Aristotle that Greece has held the reins of spiritual leadership of humanity.
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