ARISTOTLE (c.384 – c.322 BC)

335 BCE – Athens

384 BCE – Born in the Greek colony of Stagira. The son of Nicomachus, court physician to the king of Macedonia
367 BCE – Enters Plato’s Academy in Athens
347 BCE – On Plato’s death Speusippus succeeds Plato as head of the Academy. Aristotle leaves the Academy for Lesbos
342 BCE – Becomes tutor to the young Alexander (the Great), son of Phillip of Macedon
335 BCE – Returns to Athens and founds the Lyceum
321 BCE – Accused of impiety, returns to Chalcis where he dies a year later

Aristotle reinforced the view espoused by PYTHAGORAS that the earth is spherical. The arc shaped shadow of the earth cast upon the moon during a lunar eclipse is consistent with this view. He also noted that when traveling north or south, stars ‘move’ on the horizon until some gradually disappear from view.

Proposing that there was no infinity and no void he accepted the notion of the earth at the centre of the universe, with the moon, planets, sun and stars all orbiting around it in perfect circles. The universe existed as beautiful spheres surrounding the Earth, placed at the centre of the cosmos. This system was later refined by the Alexandrian astronomer Ptolemy and become the dominant philosophy in the Western world.

Explaining why the heavens rotate in perfect, uniform order, with none of the disturbances associated with earthly elements; he described the fifth element added to the traditional four, ‘Aether‘, as having a naturally circular motion. Everything beyond the moon was regulated by aether, explaining both its perfect movement and stability, while everything below it was subject to the laws of the four other elements.

Aristotle rejected the ideas of zero and infinity, hence he had explained away Zeno’s paradoxes – Achilles runs smoothly past the tortoise because the infinite points are simply a figment of Zeno’s imagination; infinity was just a construct of the human mind.
By rejecting zero and infinity, Aristotle denied the atomists’ idea of matter existing in an infinite vacuum, infinity and zero wrapped into one.
In contrast to the theory of atoms, like Plato, Aristotle believed that matter was composed of four elements ( Ignis, Aqua, Aer and Terra ) with differing qualities ( hot, wet, cold, dry )

[ Fire – hot + dry ; Water – cold + wet ; Air – hot + wet ; Earth – cold + dry ]
He believed that the qualities of heat, cold, wetness and dryness were the keys to transformation, each element being converted into another by changing one of these two qualities to its opposite.

Agreeing that things were composed of a single, primal substance (prote hyle) that was too remote and unknowable, he accepted EMPEDOCLES’ elements as intermediaries between the imponderable and the tangible world, concealing the complications behind a philosophy of matter.

The four elements always sought to return to their ‘natural place’. Thus a rock, for example, would drop to the earth as soon as any obstacles preventing it from doing so were removed – because ‘earth’ elements, being denser and heavier, would naturally seek to move downwards towards the centre of the planet. Water elements would float around the surface, air would rise above that and fire would seek to rise above them all, explaining the leaping, upward direction of flames.

Although the Aristotelian view of matter has been undermined as experiments proved that neither air nor water are indivisible; today, scientists define matter as existing in four phases, solid, liquid, gas and plasma.

MATTER (hyle); FORM (morphe); CAUSE; PURPOSE;

  • Matter is itself only one component of the world – others being form and spirit.
    There are different sorts of living being in the world. Human beings possess immortal souls.

  • He believed that there is in living creatures a fundamental vital principle, a ‘life force’, which distinguishes them from non-living material. The gods breathed this vital principle into living things, and thereby gave them their life – ( nous – spontaneous generation ).

    Some of Aristotle’s biology was faulty, such as defining the heart, not the brain as the seat of the mind.

    Aristotle was one of the first to attempt a methodical classification of animals; in ‘Generation of Animals’ he used means of reproduction to differentiate between those animals which give birth to live young and those which lay eggs, a system which is the forerunner of modern taxonomy. He noted that dolphins give birth to live young who were attached to their mothers by umbilical cords and so he classified dolphins as mammals.

    The soul is governed by reason, spirit and appetite.
    ‘All human actions have one or more of these seven causes: chance, nature, compulsion, habit, reason, passion, and desire’ (source)

  • Forms are incorporated in individual particulars as potentiality.
    All particular acorns possess the form of the potential oak tree.

  • Although Aristotle was a pupil at Plato’s Academy for almost twenty years, the two great thinkers were diametrically opposed on a number of subjects; he criticised Platonic forms for being impossibly transcendent and mystical.

    Aristotle pursued his ideas unrestricted by Socratic theories that non-physical forms such as Truth and Beauty were the keys to understanding.

  • Four Causes – efficient, formal, material, final – (agent, form, matter, goal). – The ‘Timaeus’ – ( Plato’s work in which the chief speaker is encouraged to provide his account of the origins of the universe.)

  • ‘Action exists not in the agent but in the patient’
    To study a situation, or an action, Aristotle would categorise it into a series of subordinate and superior aims.

    The place where his ideas converge with Plato’s is that for Aristotle, the pinnacle of the tower of superiority is the Good. According to Aristotle, all aims eventually lead to the Good, not necessarily of the individual but of humankind. Humans by nature are social and moral and everyone is part of a group, a family, village, town or city-state. There is no place for individualism or freethinkers, as without the happiness of the group then the individual cannot be happy.
    The consequence of this emphasis on the community as opposed to the individual is hierarchy and subordination and as a result slavery was a very normal part of a well-ordered society.


  • Motion of Place – A to B

  • Motion of Quantity – change in amount

  • Motion of Quality – green apples turning red or from sour to sweet

  • Aristotle could explain why a rock, when thrown, would travel upwards through the air first before heading downwards, rather than straight down towards the earth. This was because the air, seeking to close the gap made by the invasion of the rock, would propel it along until it lost its horizontal speed and it tumbled to the ground.

    Such notions made a lasting impact for the next two thousand years, if only by slowing down progress due to their unchallenged acceptance.

    Aristotle’s model of ‘the hydrologic cycle’ is uncannily close to the ideas we have today. The Sun’s heat changes water into air ( as defined as ‘elements’ by EMPEDOCLES). Heat rises, so the heat in this air pulls the air up to the skies ( modern explanations of the nature of heat give a fuller understanding of the mechanisms involved ). The heat then leaves the vapour, which thus becomes progressively more watery again, and this process is marked by the formation of a cloud. The positive feedback of the increased ‘wateriness’ of the mixture in the cloud driving away its opposite ( the ‘heat’ ) and causing the cloud to become colder and shrink results in restoration of the true wateriness of the water, which falls as rain or, if the cloud is now cold enough, as hail or snow.

    Based on the Pythagorean universe, the Aristotelian cosmos had the planets moving in crystalline orbs.
    Since there is no infinity, there cannot be an endless number of spheres; there must be a last one. There was no such thing as ‘beyond’ the final sphere and the universe ended with the outermost layer.
    With no infinite and no void, the universe was contained within the sphere of fixed stars. The cosmos was finite in extent and entirely filled with matter. The consequence of this line of reasoning, accounting for Aristotle’s philosophy enduring for two millennia, was that this system proved the existence of God.

    The heavenly spheres are slowly spinning in their places, making a divine music that suffuses the cosmos. The stationary earth cannot be the cause of that motion, so the innermost sphere must be moved by the next sphere out, which, in its turn must be moved by by its larger neighbour, and on and on. With a finite number of spheres, something must be the ultimate cause of motion of the final sphere of fixed stars. This is the Prime Mover.
    Christianity came to rely on Aristotle’s view of the universe and this proof of God’s existence.
    Atomism became associated with atheism.

    The ideas of Aristotle were picked up by the twelfth century Andalusian philosopher Abu al-Walid Muhammad ibn Ahmed ibn Rushd (AVERROES) and were later adopted by the medieval philosopher THOMAS AQUINAS in the thirteenth century; whose concept of Natural Law is the basis of much thinking in the Christian world.

    Aristotle had greater influence on medieval scholastic thought than Plato, whose rediscovery in the Italian renaissance influenced Petrarch, Erasmus, Thomas More and other scholars to question the dogmas of scholasticism.

    Aristotle’s work in physics and cosmology dominated Western thought until the time of GALILEO and NEWTON, when much of it was subsequently refuted, though his work still underpins both Christian and Islāmic philosophy. The instinct to reduce cosmic questions to manageable parts is one reason Aristotle was influential into the middle ages. His importance lies as much in this analytical method as in the conclusions he reached.

    Aristotle expanded Plato’s concept of ‘virtue’ by dividing virtues into two groups, the 12 ‘moral’ and 9 ‘intellectual’ virtues, believing that each lay between the non-virtuous extremes of excess and deficiency.

    Deficiency Virtue Excess
    Cowardice Courage Rashness
    Licentiousness (disregarding convention, unrestrained) Temperance (restraint or moderation) Insensibility (indifference)
    Illiberality (meanness) Liberality (generosity) Prodigality (wasteful, extravagant)
    Pettiness Magnificence Vulgarity
    Humble-mindedness High-mindedness Vanity
    Lack of ambition Proper ambition Over ambition
    Irascibility (easily angered) Patience Lack of spirit
    Understatement Truthfulness Boastfulness
    Boorishness Wittiness Buffoonery
    Cantankerousness Friendliness Obsequiousness
    Shamelessness Modesty Shyness
    Malicious enjoyment Righteous indignation Envy/spitefulness

    His intellectual virtues consisted of :

    art    scientific knowledge    prudence    intelligence    wisdom    resourcefulness    understanding    judgment    cleverness 

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