Aristotle
(384 - 322BC)

One of the most famous philosophers and scientists of the Ancient world was born in Stageira, Thrace, where his father was the royal physician. When he was 17, Aristotle moved to Athens, where he studied at Plato's Academy. He was to remain there for 20 years, and also became a teacher at the Academy.

After Platos death in 347 BC Aristotle left Athens, but could not go home since Stageira had been sacked by the Macedonians. Instead he moved to Assos in Asia Minor, where his friend Hermias was king. He married the kings' niece and adopted daughter Phytias, and became the kings councellor. Whe king Hermias was killed by the Persians in 345 BC, Aristotle moved to the Macedonian capital Pella where Philip II was king. He became the king's son Alexander's (the Great) tutor, but moved back to Athens when Alexander came to the throne ten years later.

There, he founded his own school, Lyceum. It was also called the Peripatetic ("walking") school because the teacher and students often walked around on the grounds

while discussing. At Lyceum, Aristotle would give advanced lessons to a private circle in the morning, and in the afternoons he would hold more popular speeches to a larger crowd. From these two kinds of teachings, the words esoteric and exoteric are derived.

When Alexander the Great died in 323 BC, there was such an anti-Macedonian atmosphere in Athens that Aristotle left. He spent his last year in a family estate in Euboea and was succeeded at the Lyceum by his friend and disciple Theophrastus.

Aristotle is said to have written over 170 texts. Like Plato, he wrote philosophical dialogues, which are only known through other ancient texts. He wrote works on other philosophers, and also wrote texts on varied subjects, such as music, optics and proverbs. He would separate the many subjects by name: logic, psychology, physics, zoology, social science etc. Most of these categories have remained in many languages and as subjects. His discussions at the Lyceum were collected and published by later editors like Andronicus of Rhodes, the last teacher at the Lyceum, 200 years later. On these editions most of the Western philosophy has been based.

One of these collections was the "Organon" ("Tool", "Instrument") wich was on logic. Another was on nature, where principles to explain the natural world were set. Aristotle also wrote studies on the anatomy of animals, natural processes of generation and corruption, astronomy and meterology.

In the "Meta ta Physica" ("After the Normal, or Physical"), from which the term Metaphysics have come, he studied the philosophy of being.
He also wrote a work on ethics, dedicated to his son Nicomachus, known as the Nicomachean Ethics. Other texts were the Rhetoric, the Poetics and the Politics.

Aristotle was convinced one can understand the surrounding world. Humans are not born with this capability, but must obtain it through perception. The essence of human beings must be understood if the surrounding world is to be understood. Aristotle also believed it is important to study and understand previous thinkers and their ideas.
By studying different opinions, all who partly contain some truth, one can come to a broader conclusion of the truth.

In the natural world, everything is subject to change - birth, growth, development and decay, and Aristotle denied the world was a historical creation or the result of evolution. According to him, every thing existing in nature has an internal dynamic priciple responsible for each individual development based on two principles - matter and form. The matter is what the plant or animal is made of, the the form is what makes the development. This can be seen as a theological part of the explanation.

Aristotle further believed the universe is a sphere with Earth in its centre. The centre is made up of four elements - earth, air, fire and water. Earth moves in a straight, linear, line according to the four elements, and rests in that position. The heavens are made of aither, or ether, and move in a circular way and are never subject to any other change than the circular movement.

Aristotle also believed that heavy bodies of a given material fall faster than light ones when their shapes where the same, something only disproved much later by Galileo. In biology Aristotle stated that all species reproduce its own type, except worms and flies that are generated spontaniously from rotting fruit or manure. These species are everything from simple or complex, but evolution is not possible.

Aristotle also studied psychology - the study of the soul. He believed that the soul was associated with the body, as a controlling function, which was against Pythagoras thesis that the soul was a spiritual entity imprisoned in the body or Platos description of the soul as a separate, non-physical entity. Thus, according to Aristotle, the soul is not separate from the body.The soul is responsible for the moral and intellectual aspects of the human being. The highest kind of insight can not be reduched to a mechanical physical process. This is also called empiricism - knowlege that comes from sense experience.

In his work about Ethics, Aristotle wrote that all human beings are formed by their habits, which in their turn come from the culture we live in and the personal choices we make. Everybody wants to achieve happiness, something that can be obtained in many ways. The human being has two kinds of virtues: moral and intellectual. Moral is the personal choices based on habits, and the moral virtue is always a mean between two less desirable extremes. For example, courage is the mean between cowardice and thoughtlessness, generosity between extravagance and meanness.

Intellectual virtues are different. Full excellence can only be realized by mature upper class men, but not by lower classes, women, children or barbarians.

This can be reflected in Aristotles opinions that there should not be voting rights and that slavery is ok, but not if the masters abuse their authority.
Aristotles logic consisted of syllogistic rules or propositions that would give a new conclusions. For example: All human beings are mortal. All Greeks are human beings. Thus, all Greeks are mortal. In his metaphysics, Aristotle was convinced that a divine being existed, the Prime Mover. He is responsible for the unity and purposefulness of nature. God is perfect and all things want to be like him since all things want to reach perfection. There are also other Prime Movers, 47 or 55 by number, and they are the intelligent movers of the stars and the planets.
The Prime Mover is not really a religious being since he takes no interest in what goes on in the world and he did not create it.
"...credit must be given to observation raher than theories, and to theories only in so far as they are confirmed by the observed facts."
Aristotle, On Generation of the Animals

"He who exercises his mind and cultivates it seems to be both in the best state of mind and most dear to the gods." Aristotle

The statue of Aristotle on Aristotle square in Thessaloniki.

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