Aristotle was a Greek philosopher, better known as the teacher of Alexander the Great. He was the student of Plato and was considered to be an important figure in Western Philosophy. Famous for his writings on physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology, he was an extremely learned and educated individual. He is also among the first person to set a comprehensive system of Western philosophy which include views about morality and aesthetics, logic and science, politics and metaphysics. This system became the supporting pillar of both Islamic and Christian scholastic thought. It is even said that he was perhaps the last man who had the knowledge of all the known fields at that time. His intellectual knowledge ranged from every known field of science and arts of that era. His writing includes work in physics, chemistry, biology, zoology, botany, psychology, political theory, logic, metaphysics, history, literary theory, and rhetoric. One of his greatest achievements was formulating a finished system also known as Aristotelian syllogistic. His other significant contribution was towards the development of zoology. It is quite true that Aristotle's zoology is now obsolete but his work and contribution was unchallenged till 19th century. His historical importance and contribution towards science is quite irreplaceable.
Childhood and Early life
Aristotle was born in the small Greek town of Stageira, Chalcidice in 384 B.C. His father, Nicomachus was the physician of King Amyntas of Macedon. There are not much record of Aristotle’s early life but it was evident that he was trained and educated as an aristocratic member. Being a physician’s son, he was inspired to his father’s scientific work but didn’t show much interest in medicine. At the age of eighteen, he headed towards Athens and joined the Plato Academy to continue his education. He spent next twenty years of his life in this academy only. It is said that even though Aristotle really admired and respected Plato, some considerable differences occurred between the two.
After the death of Plato in 348/347 B.C., when his nephew Speusippus became the head of the Plato Academy, Aristotle left Athens. He and his friend Xenocrates moved towards the court of Hermias of Atarneus in Asia Minor. In year 343 B.C., Philip II of Macedon invited Aristotle to be the tutor of his son Alexander who later became Alexander the Great. He was also appointed as the head of the royal academy of Macedon. There are significant proves that Aristotle encouraged Alexander towards eastern conquest. In one of examples, he told Alexander that he is the leader of Greeks and Persians are barbarians and should be treated like beasts or plants. Aristotle returned to Athens in 335 B.C. and established his own school named as Lyceum. For the next twelve years of his life, he conducted courses at the school.
Aristotle in his lifetime wrote on numerous topics and fields, but unfortunately only one third of his original writing survived. The lost writings include the poetry, letters, dialogues and essays all written in Platonic manner. Most of his literary works are known to the world by the writing of Diogenes Laertius and others. His important works include Rhetoric, Eudemus (On the Soul), on philosophy, on Alexander, on Sophistes, on justice, on wealth, on prayer and on education. He also wrote for general public reading which involves variety of popular philosophical writings. The teaching of Plato had its influence in many of the dialogues but a fall out between Aristotle and his teacher was evident in his later writings. In another group of survived writings, which is actually a collection of historical and scientific material, includes an important fragment of “Constitution of the Athenians”. It was a part of the larger collection of constitutions which Aristotle and his students had collected for the purpose of studying and analyzing various political theories. The discovery of this fragment in 1890 in Egypt not only shed light on the Athenian government and constitution at that time but also pointed out the difference between the scientific studies of Aristotle and his followers.
His Approach Towards Science
Aristotle’s approach towards science was different from that of his teacher, Plato. While the latter dedicated his wholly and solely to ‘first philosophy’, that of metaphysics and mathematics, Aristotle believed that it was also very important to study ‘second philosophy’: the world around us, from physics and mechanics to biology. It can be said that Aristotle single handedly invented science as it is today, including various fields and categories. Also, unlike Plato who was only involved with abstract form, Aristotle chose to study minutely the natural world, plants and animals, how they worked, what were they made up of and to understand how each of them fitted in the larger picture of nature. His research and study of nature was idolized on four important causes – matter, form, moving cause and final cause. He wrote in detail about five hundred different animals in his works, including a hundred and twenty kinds of fish and sixty kinds of insect. He was the first to use dissection extensively.
Aristotle’s Scientific Method
Aristotle is famous for his introduction of scientific method and also known for providing important term of science called ‘empiricism’. Like his teacher, his philosophy quite lies in universal approach. He said that universal truths can be known from some particular things through induction. Even when induction was sufficient enough to discover universals by generalizations, it wasn’t succeeding in identifying causes. For this cause, Aristotle had to use deductive reasoning in the form of syllogisms. He developed a complete normative approach to scientific enquiry with the help of syllogism. But there was a difficulty with this scheme; it had problems in showing that derived truths have solid primary premises. Perhaps he could have showed that demonstrations were circular in which conclusions have supported premises and premises must have supported conclusions. But he didn’t allow that.
He didn’t allow the inclusion of infinite number of middle terms between the primary premises and the conclusion. Induction was the only method suitable for this purpose. Aristotle’s writings were more qualitative than quantitative. The main reason of his failings was the lack of concepts like mass, temperature, velocity and force in his research. His writings were considered as a mixture of curious errors and precocious accuracy. For example, his theory of heavier objects fall faster than lighter ones was proved incorrect by the simple experiments of Galileo and John Philoponus. He was also criticized for his simple observation and over-stretched reason in deriving the “laws of universe”. In today’s scientific method, his observations without sufficient facts are considered ineffective. His theory of geocentric cosmology also was proved wrong in terms of modern metaphysics.
During his stay in Asia Minor, Aristotle married Pythias, the niece of Hermias. She bore him a daughter. After the death of his wife, Aristotle married again to a woman named, Herpyllis of Stageira who gave birth to a son, whom he named after his father, Nicomachus.
During the end days of his life, Alexander suspected Aristotle of conspiring against him and threatened him in letters. Aristotle had publicly written against the Alexander’s pretense of divinity. His grandnephew, Callisthenes was executed after accused as a traitor. After the death of Alexander, anti-Macedonian sentiments flared and Aristotle was accused of not holding Gods on honor. He fled to his mother’s ancestral place in Chalcis. He later died in Euboea in 322 B.C. due to some natural causes. According to his will, he was buried next to his wife.
Theophrastus, his successor at Lyceum, wrote a number of books on botany which were considered one of the primary bases of botany till middle ages. Few names of plants mentioned by him are still survived to modern times. From a modest beginning, Lyceum grew to be a Peripatetic school. The other notable students from his Lyceum were Aristoxenus, Dicaearchus, Demetrius of Phalerum, Eudemos of Rhodes, Harpalus, Hephaestion, Meno, Mnason of Phocis, and Nicomachus. His influence on Alexander the Great can be clearly seen from the fact that Alexander used to carry a horde of botanist, zoologist and researchers along with him on his expeditions. Aristotle is considered as “The Philosopher” by many scholastic thinkers and was one of the most influential persons ever lived.