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Aristotle's Interests

Aristotle lectured on nearly every branch of learning: biology, medicine, anatomy, psychology, meteorology, physics, chemistry, mathematics, music, metaphysics, rhetoric, political science, ethics, literary criticism. Apparently an inspiring teacher, Aristotle encouraged his followers to conduct research in numerous fields of specialized knowledge. For example, he had student researchers compile reports1 on the systems of government of 158 Greek states. He also worked out a sophisticated system of logic for precise argumentation. Creating a careful system to identify the forms of valid arguments, Aristotle established grounds for distinguishing a logically sound case from a merely persuasive one. He first gave names to contrasts such as premise versus conclusion and the universal versus the particular that have been commonplaces of thought and speech ever since. He also studied the process of explanation itself, formulating the influential doctrine of four causes2. According to Aristotle, four different categories of explanation exist that are not reducible to a single, unified whole: form (defining characteristics), matter (constituent elements), origin of movement (similar to what we commonly mean by “cause”), and telos (aim or goal). This analysis exemplifies Aristotle's care never to oversimplify the complexity of reality. Some of Aristotle's most influential discussions concentrated on understanding qualitative concepts that human beings tend to take for granted, such as time, space, motion, and change. Through careful argumentation he probed the philosophical difficulties that lie beneath the surface of these familiar notions, and his views on the nature of things exercised an overwhelming influence on later thinkers.

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