Aristotle Biography and Works – Life of the Ancient Greek Philosopher

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Who is Aristotle? Information on Aristotle biography, life story, philosophy and works.

Aristotle Biography and Works - Life of the Ancient Greek Philosopher

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Aristotle; (384-322 b.c.), was a major Greek philosopher and scientist. He was born of Greek parentage, at Stagira, a small town in Chalcidice, the peninsular section of Macedonia on the upper Aegean, or Thracian, Sea. Because of his birthplace he frequently was called the Stagirite. Aristotle’s scientific and philosophical inclinations were largely determined by three prominent factors in his life. First, his father, Nicomachus, a member of the medical guild of the Asclepiadae, was the physician of Amyntas II at Pella, capital of Macedonia; through him Aristotle acquired an interest in biology and the scientific procedures of his age.

Second, at the age of 17, Aristotle became a pupil of Plato at the Academy in Athens; this relationship was important in the development of Aristotle’s concern for ethics, aesthetics, and early Greek philosophy. Third, Aristotle’s interest in zoology and botany, as well as in the constitutions and forms of government in Greek states, was intensified by his association with Alexander the Great. There is reason to believe that, as tutor to Alexander, he composed at least two treatises on political science for the instruction of the 13-year-old prince. Subsequently, it is said, Alexander endowed Aristotle’s library and museum at Athens and gave official encouragement to the collection of zoological and botanical specimens from the eastern Mediterranean area for the museum and for research activities.

While Aristotle, by his very nature, could not accept all the Platonic doctrines and interpretations, it was not until the death of Plato in 347 b.c. and the succession of Speusippus as director of the Academy that Aristotle discontinued his work there. As the reason for his break, Aristotle cites his dislike of the growing emphasis on mathematics at the Academy and the corresponding decline in philosophical investigation. From Athens he went to Mysia in Asia Minor, where he married Pythias, the niece and adopted daughter of Hermias, tyrant of Atarneus and former associate at the Academy. From Mysia he moved to the island of Lesbos; here he renewed his friendship with Theophrastus, another colleague of Academy days, who was destined to become a prominent associate of Aristotle and an exponent of his philosophy. Aristotle carried on much of his biological research in this eastern part of the Aegean.

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In 335 b.c., Aristotle began his period of instruction in Athens, setting up a school in a grove sacred to Apollo Lyceus in the northeastern part of the city; his school came to be known as the Lyceum, from the name “Lyceus.” Because of his practice of imparting instruction while walking about the grove with his pupils, the name Peripatetics was given to Aristotle’s pupils. At the Lyceum, Aristotle is believed to have delivered lectures both popular and private or, in the terms that have been attributed to his pupils, exoteric and esoteric (that is, lectures easily comprehended by the public and lectures composed for his personally trained students).

Sentiment mounted in Athens against persons of Macedonian background after the death of Alexander in 323 b.c., and Aristotle was impelled to leave the city. He died at Chalcis in Euboea in the following year. Virtually nothing definite can be said about his appearance or character. There is reason to believe that he showed a quickness of mind toward all problems and mixed intensity of feeling with a good sense of humor.

Works:

More than 400 separate treatises were attributed to Aristotle by ancient scholars. Of approximately 50 that have survived under his name, only about half will stand the tests of authenticity. It is customary to divide his creative scholarship into three main areas.

(I) Works of a popular nature, written for publication beyond the needs and interests of his students. None of these has survived, although their popularity in antiquity is well attested, particularly one exhortation to the study of philosophy, entitled Protrepticus.

(2) A collection of scholarly data, the result of his various interests in research, which he used in writing and lecturing and experimenting. The Constitution of Athens is Aristotle’s only surviving work in this area. In this category also presumably belonged the didascalic notices for Greek drama, which are not extant.

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(3) The surviving works, the authenticity of which has been the subject of much debate. There is not sufficient evidence to establish whether these works, in the form in which they have survived, were Aristotle’s notes for his lectures, a pupil’s version of his lectures, or mere summaries of his principles compiled either by Aristotle or by a follower.

The extant writings may be divided conveniently into five groups, determined by the five aspects of his philosophical interest. In many instances the treatises are identified by the Latin titles that they have acquired. The first group, on logic, has been called the Organon. It embraces the six works devoted to reasoning and definition: Categories, De interpretation, Prior Analytics, Posterior Analytics, Topics, and So-phistici elenchi. In the second group, which comprises principally the Physics and Metaphysics, Aristotle deals with the form and matter of reality, space, motion, and general existence.

Three other treatises frequently are included in this group: De caelo (the earth in relation to the celestial bodies), De generatione et corruptione (conditions of existence), and Meteorologica (weather). Biological and psychological works are assigned to the third group: Historia animalium (classification and characteristics of animals), De anima (the soul), De partibus animalium (distinguishing parts of animals), and a collection of monographs on biopsychological aspects of animals known as Parva naturalia. In this group also are placed De incessu animalium and De generatione animalium. The Nicomachean Ethics, the Eudemian Ethics, and the Politics constitute the fourth group. The fifth and final group of extant works is composed of the Rhetoric and the Poetics.

The order of arrangement into these five groups is not precisely the order of composition. The chronological sequence is difficult to ascertain, but one criterion for determining it has been the degree of Aristotle’s interest in and sympathy for Platonic principles. It generally is believed that Aristotle’s earlier and popular works had the Platonic dialogue as their model. As Aristotle’s own thought developed, he became more and more critical of Plato. Thus the more consistently his works reflect criticism of Plato and provide a distinctively Aristotelian solution to the problems raised, the later they are thought to have been composed. Excessive work by editors after Aristotle also must be taken into account, for some works, such as the Politics and the two treatises on ethics, show evidence of an editorial hand working to compile a larger work from separate monographs or essays.

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