Aristotle

Aristotle Hayez

Was a Greek philosopher and scientist born in the city of Stagira, Halkidiki, on the northern periphery of Classical Greece. His father, Nicomachus, died when Aristotle was a child, whereafter Proxenus of Atarneus became his guardian. At eighteen, he joined Plato’s Academy in Athens and remained there until the age of thirty-seven. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, biology, zoology, metaphysics, logic, ethics, aesthetics, poetry, theater, music, rhetoric, linguistics, politics and government, and constitute the first comprehensive system of Western philosophy. Shortly after Plato died, Aristotle left Athens and, at the request of Philip of Macedon, tutored Alexander the Great starting from 343 BC.

Many of Aristotle’s ideas are outdated today. But more important than any of his theories is the rational approach that underlies his entire work. From the writings of Aristotle, it emerges the idea that every aspect of life and human society can be a suitable object for thought and analysis, the belief that the universe is not controlled by chance, magic or by the capricious whims of a deity, but the universe’s behaviour depends on some perfectly rational laws, the belief that it is entitled for the human beings to conduct a systematic investigation of every aspect of the natural world and the certainty that, to shape our beliefs, we should use both empirical observations and logical reasoning. This system of attitudes, which is opposed to traditionalism, superstition and mysticism, has profoundly influenced the Western civilization.

Aristotle was born in 384 BC in the city of Stagira in Macedonia. His father was a famous doctor. At 17 years old, Aristotle went to Athens to study at Plato’s Academy. He remained there for twenty years, until the Plato’s death. Aristotle might have inherited from his father an interest in biology and “practical science”, but under the influence of Plato, he has cultivated an inclination towards philosophical speculation. In 342 BC, Aristotle returned to Macedonia to become the private tutor of the king’s son, a teenager of 13 years old, which would be known in history under the name of Alexander the Great. Aristotle was Alexander’s teacher for seven years. In 335 BC, after Alexander’s ascent to the throne, Aristotle returned to Athens, where he opened his own school, the Lyceum.

He spent the next twelve years in Athens, a period coinciding roughly with the military conquests period of Alexander. He didn’t ask any advice from his former teacher, but Alexander secured some generous funding for Aristotle’s research. Aristotle was probably the first example in history of a scientist who was receiving large government funding for his research, and was to remain the single one for many centuries. However, his association with Alexander presented certain dangers. Aristotle opposed Alexander’s dictatorial style out of principle, and when the conqueror has executed Aristotle’s nephew on charges of treason, apparently he was going to reserve Aristotle the same fate.

If Aristotle proved too democratic for Alexander’s tastes, in the same time he was too closely associated with the Greek/Macedonian sovereign for the Athenians to have full confidence in him. At Alexander’s death in 323 BC, the anti-Macedonian faction won the control over Athens, and Aristotle received accusations of “impiety.” Remembering the fate that Socrates had seventy-six years earlier, Aristotle fled the city, saying that the Athenians would not have a second chance to sin against philosophy. He died in exile a few months later, in 322 BC at the age of sixty-two years.

Aristotle’s quantitative contribution side is impressive. Forty-seven of his works have survived, and ancient sources ascribe no less than one hundred and seventy books. But not as amazing as the number of books is the extremely wide range of his erudition. His scientific work is practically an encyclopedia of scientific knowledge of his time.

Aristotle was never mystical nor an extremist, but he was guided by practical common sense rules. He made mistakes, of course, but it is surprisingly the small number of silly errors that he committed in his vast encyclopedia of knowledge. Aristotle’s influence upon all later Western thought has been immense. In ancient and medieval times, his works were translated into Latin, Syrian, Arabic, Italian, French, Hebrew, German and English. Greek writers later, as did the Byzantine philosophers studied and admired his work.

Aristotle, who liked to observe and pass everything through the filter of reason, would have doubtless disapproved the blind adulation that the later generations showed towards his work. Some of Aristotle’s ideas seem extremely reactionary by today’s standards. For example, he claimed that slavery was consistent with natural law and supported the natural inferiority of women. Of course, both ideas reflected the prevailing views of the era in which he lived.

German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche has been said to have taken nearly all of his political philosophy from Aristotle. However, as debatable as this is, Aristotle rigid separated action from production, and argued for the deserved subservience of some people, “natural slaves”, and the natural superiority (virtue, arete) of others.

However, many of Aristotle’s views are surprisingly modern, like: “Poverty creates crime and revolution” and “All who have meditated on the art of governing mankind are convinced that the fate of their empires depends on the education of young people.” Of course, in the era in which Aristotle lived, there was no public education. In recent centuries, Aristotle’s influence and reputation have declined considerably. However, he exerted a strong influence, for such a long time that empowers him to be considered one of the most important personalities who have influenced human evolution.

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