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Aristotĕles

Ἀριστοτέλης). A great philosopher, the son of Nicomachus, court physician to Philip II. of Macedon, and born in B.C. 384 at Stagira, a small town in the Thracian Chalcidicé. He received from his father a training in the natural science of the day; but his philosophical education was obtained in Athens, where he was a pupil and companion of Plato during the last twenty years of the latter's life (367-347). His mind was, however, of too exact and unimaginative a type to accept the mystical idealism of Plato's later years, and we find him gradually developing a system of philosophy of his own, distinct from, and often antagonistic to, that of his teacher, whose doctrines he nevertheless always treated with pious respect, even when controverting them. In the later years of his association with Plato and the Academy he began to lecture on his own account, treating especially the subject of rhetoric. At the death of Plato the pre-eminent ability of Aristotle would seem to have designated him to succeed to the leadership of the Academy, but his divergence from his master's teaching was too great to make this possible. At the invitation of his friend Hermeas, ruler of Atarneus and Assos in Mysia, he repaired to his court, where he spent several years, and married his niece and adopted daughter Pythias. His son Nicomachus, however, was the offspring of a later union with Herpyllis, said to have been a slave, but to whom he testifies the warmest gratitude in his will. From 344 to 342 he was again in Athens, but in the latter year he accepted an invitation from King Philip to undertake the oversight of the education of his son Alexander. It is not too fanciful to trace, in the lofty views of the future conqueror, and his passionate love for the Homeric poems, the influence of his three years' association with the great philosopher. Aristotle did not forget, in this influential position, the town of his birth, but obtained from Alexander that Stagira, which had been destroyed by Philip, should be rebuilt. On Alexander's accession to the throne of Macedon in 335, Aristotle removed to Athens, and established his school in the gymnasium known as the Lyceum, from whose shady walks (περίπατοι) his pupils became known as Peripatetics. He is said to have given two classes of lectures: the more abstruse discussions (ἀκροαματικά) in the morning for an inner circle of advanced pupils, and the popular discourses (ἐξωτερικά) in the evening for the general body of lovers of knowledge. At the death of Alexander, in 323, the anti-Macedonian party in Athens recovered a temporary ascendency, and Aristotle was involved in an accusation for impiety, to escape which he fled to Chalcis in Euboea, in order, as he said, “that the Athenians might not for a second time commit a sin against philosophy.” Here he died soon after, in 322, of a stomach complaint. A grave recently (1891) excavated at Chalcis, by the explorers of the American School at Athens, is identified with considerable probability as that of Aristotle. His will, perhaps genuine, is preserved to us in Diogenes Laertius, v. 1. A statuette in the Mattei Palace and a life-size statue in the Villa Spada at Rome reproduce the keen features of the profound thinker. His character, if we may judge from the tone of his writings and from the provisions of his will, was mild and generous; and the slanderous reports found in such writers as Athenaeus may be dismissed as utterly without foundation. The many-sided activity of Aristotle's mind and his prodigious industry are shown in the extent and variety of his writings, which embraced, according to Diogenes Laertius, 146 works in 400 books. Another list, which seems to rest on the authority of the Peripatetic Andronicus, who in the time of Cicero published a new edition of Aristotle's works, gives the number of books as 1000.

Head of Aristotle.

The history of his writings, if a widely accepted tradition be true, is a romantic one. After the death of Theophrastus, who had succeeded to the leadership of the Peripatetic School, his library, including the works of Aristotle, is said to have passed into the hands of his pupil Neleus of Scepsis in the Troad. The heirs of Neleus, to protect the books from the literary greed of the Attalids of Pergamus, concealed them in a vault, where they were injured by dampness and the ravages of moths and worms. In this hiding-place they were discovered about the year B.C. 100 by Apellicon (q.v.), a rich book-lover, and conveyed to Athens, whence they were taken to Rome after the capture of Athens by Sulla in B.C. 86. In Rome they soon attracted the attention of scholars, and the new edition then prepared by Andronicus (see above) gave a fresh impetus to the study of Aristotle and of philosophy in general. Strangely enough, the list of works in Diogenes Laertius, mentioned above, does not seem to contain any of the forty treatises in our Aristotle, and it is not impossible that the whole catalogue is a list of forgeries, compiled at a time when the real works were lost to sight. The greater part of what has come down to us under the name of Aristotle is undoubtedly genuine.

The works of Aristotle fall naturally under three heads: I. Dialogues and other works of a popular character. II. Collections of facts and material for scientific treatment. III. Systematic works. Among his writings of a popular character the only one which we possess of any consequence is the interesting tract On the Polity of the Athenians, recently discovered in some Egyptian papyri, and edited by Kenyon under the auspices of the British Museum (London, 1891). It is written in a clear and easy style, and sheds a flood of new light on Athenian political history, and especially on the Constitution in Aristotle's own time. Of the works of the second class nothing worthy of mention has been preserved. The systematic treatises are marked by a severe plainness of style, with none of the golden flow of language which the ancients praised in Aristotle. This may be due to the fact that these works were not, in most cases, published by Aristotle himself or during his lifetime, but were edited after his death, from unfinished MSS., by Eudemus, Nicomachus, or Theophrastus.

Aristotle's systematic treatises may be grouped in several divisions, in accordance with the subjects discussed, as follows: I. Logic. II. Natural Science. III. Psychology and Metaphysics. IV. Ethics. V. Politics. VI. Rhetoric.


I. Logic

  • 1. The writings on the general subject of Logic were included by the later Peripatetics under the name of Organon, or Instrument, as having to do with reasoning, the chief instrument of dialectic and scientific investigation. They embrace (1) the Categories (Κατηγορίαι), treating of the ten fundamental forms of predicating existence (probably not by Aristotle himself, but by one of his pupils).
  • 2. On Interpretation (Περὶ Ἑρμηνείας), dealing with the forms and parts of the sentence.
  • 3. Prior and Posterior Analytics (Ἀναλυτικὰ Πρότερα and Ὕστερα), containing (a) the doctrine of scientific proof and (b) of cognition or knowledge in general.
  • 4. The Topics (Τοπικά), on the art of dialectic.
  • 5. The Sophistical Refutations (Σοφιστικοὶ Ἔλεγχοι), an examination of the fallacies of the Sophists, then in such vogue. All of the most important of Aristotle's works in the domain of Logic have come down to us, and they include the most enduring contribution which the great aualyst has made to human thought. The science of deductive reasoning has made no essential progress since his day.


II. Natural Science

  • 1. the Physics (Φυσικὴ Ἀκρόασις). This is not a treatise on physics in the modern sense of the term, but is happily styled by Hegel the “metaphysics of physics.” It treats of the principles of existence, of matter and form, explaining the fundamental conceptions in accordance with which we look at the phenomena of nature.
  • 2. On the Heavens (Περὶ Οὐρανοῦ).
  • 3. On Generation and Decay (Περὶ Γενέσεως καὶ Φθορᾶς), discussing the pairs of opposites, hot and cold, and wet and dry, and how their different combinations produce the four elements of fire, air, earth, and water.
  • 4. Meteorology (Μετεωρολογικά).
  • 5. Researches about Animals (Αἱ περὶ τὰ Ζῷα Ἱστορίαι).
  • 6. On the Parts of Animals (Περὶ Ζῴων Μορίων).
  • 7. On the Generation of Animals (Περὶ Ζῴων Γενέσεως).
  • 8. On Locomotion of Animals (Περὶ Πορείας Ζῴων).
  • 9. A number of shorter works are usually classed together under the head of Parva Naturalia. They treat of sense and sensation, youth and age, and other phenomena of life. The treatises On Plants, On the Universe, On Motion, On Respiration, On Colour, On Physiognomy, On Strange Statements, and the collection of various scientific Problems, are all of doubtful authenticity. The above-mentioned works exhibit an astonishing breadth of observation in natural history. The Researches about Animals shows an acquaintance with almost five hundred different species, and the observations on the purpose and adaptation of the organs of various creatures are characterized by remarkable insight.


III. Psychology and Metaphysics

  • 1. On the Soul (Περὶ τῆς Ψυχῆς). This treatise might fairly be classed with the works on natural science, as it does not deal with psychology in the modern sense, but with the physiology of the vital principle in animals generally.
  • 2. The Metaphysics (Μεταφυσικά), as the name indicates, forms the highest step in Aristotle's system, and deals with the first principles of all existence. Here he grapples with the deepest questions of philosophy, but with less clear and satisfactory results than he reaches in many of his discussions. His doctrine of mind (νοῦς), or the godhead, as the power that moves the starry heavens, is not sufficient to account for the structure of the universe or the origin of existing things.


IV. Ethics

  • 1. the Nicomachean Ethics (Ἠθικὰ Νικομάχεια);
  • 2. the Eudemean Ethics (Ἠθικὰ Εὐδήμεια);
  • 3. the so-called Magna Moralia (Ἠθικὰ Μεγάλα). The foundation principles of the Aristotelian system of morals appear alike in all of these works, but it is probable that the first alone is the work of the philosopher himself. He teaches that happiness is the highest good, and that this is found in an activity of the soul in accordance with virtue. Virtue is a permanent state of the soul, and consists in the mean between the too much (ὑπερβολή) and the too little (ἔλλειψις). The Nicomachean Ethics is one of the most interesting of Aristotle's works, and his descriptions of some of the virtuous characters (see bk. iv.) are exceedingly impressive.


V. Politics

Closely connected with the Ethics is the Politics (Πολιτικά). The best ordering of the State was, to Aristotle's mind, the worthiest problem for the philosopher; and though his treatment of the subject was not brought to a logical conclusion, yet the work contains much valuable information and abounds in interesting remarks. The Economics (Οἰκονομικά) is probably the work of some later writer of the Peripatetic School.


VI. Rhetoric

The rhetorical works include the Poetics (Περὶ Ποιητικῆς), and the Art of Rhetoric (Τέχνη Ῥητορική). The first of these, though insignificant in length, has received more consideration in recent years than almost any other work of the author. The famous definition of tragedy in chap. vi., the discussion of the parts of tragedy in chap. xii., and the distinction between epic and tragic poetry in chap. xxvi. are passages of the greatest interest and value. The celebrated doctrine of the κάθαρσις effected by tragedy (vi. 2) has given rise to much discussion, but has not yet been satisfactorily explained. The doctrine of the three “unities” of tragedy, upon which so much stress has been laid by the French critics, was first promulgated by Aristotle in this work. The Rhetoric treats of oratorical proof, and its leading elements, together with an interesting discussion (bk. iii.) of style—all marked by the author's usual clear and exhaustive treatment.


Influence of Aristotle's works

In reviewing the works of Aristotle we are at a loss whether to admire most his vast and accurate observation of nature, his profound acquaintance with the literature of his day, or his deep and penetrating insight, his keen analysis, and his unfailing good sense. In his love for research and his critical tendency he may be regarded as the forerunner of the Alexandrian Age which was soon to open. His style, though so concise as sometimes to be obscure, is often a model of condensed energy, and his occasional illustrations are marvellously appropriate. His influence on the course of human thought since his day has been almost boundless. In antiquity he was the most honoured philosopher, while the early Christian writers compared Plato and Aristotle to Moses and Christ. He was the oracle of the Middle Ages, when his writings, through his followers, the schoolmen, were almost all that saved Europe from utter barbarism. The Arabians, in the reign of the calif Al Mamun (A.D. 813), began to translate his works, which became the foundation of Saracenic culture, and were brought by them to the knowledge of Western Europe through the medium of Latin versions from the Arabic. In Arabic tradition Aristotle is the “wisest man,” just as his pupil Ishkander (Alexander) is the hero of warlike fable. The Roman Catholic Church almost canonized him, and his philosophical system, as modified by the great Dominicans Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas, lies at the basis of Catholic theology to-day. But when the Renaissance gave back to Europe the knowledge of Plato, the popularity of Aristotle declined. Plato's perfection of form, and the fact that he wrote for the enlightened public generally, rather than for an inner circle of special students, no doubt contributed to this result. The Reformers, who regarded Aristotle as the bulwark of the Papacy, attacked him bitterly, and by the middle of the eighteenth century he had been almost set aside. It was reserved for the nineteenth century, through the labours of Schleiermacher, Spengel, Brandis, and others, to find the key to the true historical appreciation of the value of Aristotle.

The influence of Aristotle on the vocabulary of modern philosophy is worthy of especial notice. A large number of terms which are in constant use to-day are derived from him, either directly or through the medium of Latin equivalents. Some of these are: principle (ἀρχή), subject (ὑποκείμενον), matter (materies=ὕλη), form, end, final cause, faculty (δύναμις), energy, category, predicament, habit, mean, extreme, quintessence, metaphysics, etc.

The great edition of the Prussian Academy (Berlin, 1831-70), in five quarto volumes, contains the text in Bekker's recension (i. and ii.); the Latin translation by Pacius, Argyropylus, Bessario, and others (iii.); the Scholia edited by Brandis (iv.); the fragments, and the Aristotelian Index of Bonitz (v.). A convenient text edition is published in the Teubner Series (Leipzig). Annotated editions of single works are numerous. Among them may be mentioned the Psychology, by Trendelenburg (Jena, 1877); the Metaphysics, by Schwegler-Bonitz (Bonn, 1848); the Nicomachean Ethics, by Ramsauer (Leipzig, 1878); the Politics, by Susemihl (Leipzig, 1879); the Rhetoric, by Spengel (Leipzig, 1867); the Poetics, by Vahlen (Berlin, 1884). Valuable English works are Grant's Ethics (London, 1866); Bywater's Ethics (Oxford, 1890); Newman's Politics (Oxford, 1887); Jowett's Politics (Oxford, 1885); Wallace's Psychology (Cambridge, 1884); Grote's Aristotle (London, 1872). The ancient commentaries of Alexander Aphrodisiensis (A.D. 200) and Simplicius (A.D. 530) are of great importance historically. The Paraphrases of Themistius (A.D. 375) are occasionally useful in settling doubtful points in the text. The literal translations in the Bohn Library are of respectable merit.

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