Aristotle life and biography

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Aristotle biography

Date of birth : -
Date of death : -
Birthplace : Chalcidice, Greece
Nationality : Greek
Category : Science and Technology
Last modified : 2010-04-28
Credited as : Philosopher, Geocentrism theory, Scientific Method

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Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC) was a Greek philosopher, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology. Together with Plato and Socrates (Plato's teacher), Aristotle is one of the most important founding figures in Western philosophy. Aristotle's writings constitute a first at creating a comprehensive system of Western philosophy, encompassing morality and aesthetics, logic and science, politics and metaphysics.

Known as one of the greatest philosophers of all time and the father of Western thought, Aristotle laid down methods that would lead to the postulation of the Scientific Method. Aristotle learned philosophy from Plato, but upon leaving Plato’s academy, he traveled far and wide to learn more about the world around him, about human nature, God, and the natural world. He would later open up his own school to teach students how to truly think in the greatest abstract sense – something only humans are capable of doing, and something that once honed, can bring true happiness.


The young Aristotle was brought up as a social elite in the most northern Greek region. His father was known as Nicomachus and was a scientist and a physician with elite connections within the country. Aristotle was able to explore his own interests in science and nature as a young lad, but never found a calling to practice medicine, as his father would have liked.


At the age of only 17, Aristotle went to Athens, the center of thought, to study under the famed Plato. He and Plato found a fondness in each other’s philosophical abilities that had previously been unmatched. For twenty years, the two remained together, content to debate, theorize, and delve deeper into the outer limits of human abstract thinking. They would talk, debate, and discuss about politics, science, the natural world, and about God. Upon Plato’s death, the bereaving Aristotle moved to Mysia and was well kept by Herias, the ruler and king of Atarneus. The Persians killed Herias and Aristotle was forced to move again.


Some years later in Macedon, Aristotle tutored the young Alexander, who would later be called Alexander the Great. The education bestowed upon the young Alexander is said to have greatly influenced the way he ran his future empire, once he conquered the Persians. Additionally, some letters remain that show the two continued correspondences even after Aristotle left.


Around 335 B.C., Aristotle returned to Athens. He formed a school and a gymnasium for his pupils to work out. The school was known as Lyceum and was founded on many of the same principles that Plato had run his academy. Even though the two had wide-ranging differences in their later debates and thoughts, Plato still had a great impact on the way Aristotle thought, observed, and wrote. The Academy was set up like a modern school: classes in the morning and afternoon. Students ate together and spent time in common areas. He even constructed an impressive library where he kept some of his own writings. He wrote much in the way of science, philosophy, and politics, but not much survived. The effect that Aristotle had on Western thought is immeasurable and many educational systems and philosophies have derived from his foundations.


Aristotle's scientific method

Like his teacher Plato, Aristotle's philosophy aims at the universal. Aristotle, however, found the universal in particular things, which he called the essence of things, while Plato finds that the universal exists apart from particular things, and is related to them as their prototype or exemplar. For Aristotle, therefore, philosophic method implies the ascent from the study of particular phenomena to the knowledge of essences, while for Plato philosophic method means the descent from a knowledge of universal Forms (or ideas) to a contemplation of particular imitations of these. For Aristotle, "form" still refers to the unconditional basis of phenomena but is "instantiated" in a particular substance (see Universals and particulars, below). In a certain sense, Aristotle's method is both inductive and deductive, while Plato's is essentially deductive from a priori principles.

In Aristotle's terminology, "natural philosophy" is a branch of philosophy examining the phenomena of the natural world, and includes fields that would be regarded today as physics, biology and other natural sciences. In modern times, the scope of philosophy has become limited to more generic or abstract inquiries, such as ethics and metaphysics, in which logic plays a major role. Today's philosophy tends to exclude empirical study of the natural world by means of the scientific method. In contrast, Aristotle's philosophical endeavors encompassed virtually all facets of intellectual inquiry.

In the larger sense of the word, Aristotle makes philosophy coextensive with reasoning, which he also would describe as "science". Note, however, that his use of the term science carries a different meaning than that covered by the term "scientific method". For Aristotle, "all science (dianoia) is either practical, poetical or theoretical". By practical science, he means ethics and politics; by poetical science, he means the study of poetry and the other fine arts; by theoretical science, he means physics, mathematics and metaphysics.

If logic (or "analytics") is regarded as a study preliminary to philosophy, the divisions of Aristotelian philosophy would consist of: (1) Logic; (2) Theoretical Philosophy, including Metaphysics, Physics, Mathematics, (3) Practical Philosophy and (4) Poetical Philosophy.

In the period between his two stays in Athens, between his times at the Academy and the Lyceum, Aristotle conducted most of the scientific thinking and research for which he is renowned today. In fact, most of Aristotle's life was devoted to the study of the objects of natural science. Aristotle's metaphysics contains observations on the nature of numbers but he made no original contributions to mathematics. He did, however, perform original research in the natural sciences, e.g., botany, zoology, physics, astronomy, chemistry, meteorology, and several other sciences.

Aristotle's writings on science are largely qualitative, as opposed to quantitative. Beginning in the sixteenth century, scientists began applying mathematics to the physical sciences, and Aristotle's work in this area was deemed hopelessly inadequate. His failings were largely due to the absence of concepts like mass, velocity, force and temperature. He had a conception of speed and temperature, but no quantitative understanding of them, which was partly due to the absence of basic experimental devices, like clocks and thermometers.

His writings provide an account of many scientific observations, a mixture of precocious accuracy and curious errors. For example, in his History of Animals he claimed that human males have more teeth than females and in the Generation of Animals he said the female is as it were a deformed male.

In a similar vein, John Philoponus, and later Galileo, showed by simple experiments that Aristotle's theory that a heavier object falls faster than a lighter object is incorrect. On the other hand, Aristotle refuted Democritus's claim that the Milky Way was made up of "those stars which are shaded by the earth from the sun's rays," pointing out (correctly, even if such reasoning was bound to be dismissed for a long time) that, given "current astronomical demonstrations" that "the size of the sun is greater than that of the earth and the distance of the stars from the earth many times greater than that of the sun, then...the sun shines on all the stars and the earth screens none of them".

In places, Aristotle goes too far in deriving 'laws of the universe' from simple observation and over-stretched reason. Today's scientific method assumes that such thinking without sufficient facts is ineffective, and that discerning the validity of one's hypothesis requires far more rigorous experimentation than that which Aristotle used to support his laws.

Aristotle also had some scientific blind spots. He posited a geocentric cosmology that we may discern in selections of the Metaphysics, which was widely accepted up until the 1500s. From the 3rd century to the 1500s, the dominant view held that the Earth was the center of the universe (geocentrism).

Since he was perhaps the philosopher most respected by European thinkers during and after the Renaissance, these thinkers often took Aristotle's erroneous positions as given, which held back science in this epoch. However, Aristotle's scientific shortcomings should not mislead one into forgetting his great advances in the many scientific fields. For instance, he founded logic as a formal science and created foundations to biology that were not superseded for two millennia. Moreover, he introduced the fundamental notion that nature is composed of things that change and that studying such changes can provide useful knowledge of underlying constants.

The works of Aristotle that have survived from antiquity through Mediæval manuscript transmission are collected in the Corpus Aristotelicum. These texts, as opposed to Aristotle's lost works, are technical philosophical treatises from within Aristotle's school. Reference to them is made according to the organization of Immanuel Bekker's Royal Prussian Academy edition (Aristotelis Opera edidit Academia Regia Borussica, Berlin, 1831-1870), which in turn is based on ancient classifications of these works.

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