(384–322 BC)
Along with Plato the most influential philosopher of the western tradition, Aristotle was born at Stagira in Macedonia, the son of Nicomachus, the court physician to the Macedonian king Amyntas II. At the age of 17 he entered Plato's Academy in Athens, and remained there until Plato's death. When the Academy under Speusippus turned to mathematical and speculative pursuits, Aristotle accepted the invitation of Hermias to reside at Assos. Upon the death of Hermias (whose niece, Pythias, he married) in 345, Aristotle went to Mytilene on the island of Lesbos. To this period belong many of his zoological researches. Between 343/2 and 340 he acted as tutor to the young Alexander the Great, at the invitation of his father Philip of Macedon. In 335 he returned to Athens, and on the outskirts of the city in a grove sacred to Apollo Lyceus he founded a school, the Lyceum (where was the peripatos or covered walk from which his followers, the Peripatetics, took their name). Here he conducted and organized research on many subjects and built the first great library of antiquity. On the death of Pythias he lived with Herpyllis, by whom he had a son, Nicomachus. On the death of Alexander in 325 anti-Macedonian feeling in Athens caused Aristotle to retire to Chalcis where he died in 322. He is described as having been bald, thin, with a lisp, and of a sardonic disposition.
The works known in his lifetime include dialogues modelled on those of Plato, but these are now lost. It is also known that he accumulated an immense collection of natural and historical observations during his headship of the Lyceum, but these too are mainly lost. The extant corpus is nearly all preserved through the edition of Andronicus of Rhodes, made in the 1st century BC. The principal works of philosophical interest are (a) logical works (these form the Organon ): Categories, On Interpretation (De Interpretatione ), Prior Analytics, Posterior Analytics, Topics, Sophistical Refutations (De Sophisticis Elenchis ); (b) works on physics: Physics, On the Heavens (De Caelo ), On Generation and Corruption (De Generatione et Corruptione ); (c) psychology and natural history: On the Soul (De Anima ), On the Parts of Animals (De Partibus Animalium ), On the Movement of Animals (De Motu Animalium ), On the Generation of Animals (De Generatione Animalium ), and shorter works collected as the Parva Naturalia ; (d) ethics: Nicomachean Ethics, Eudemian Ethics, Magna Moralia, Politics, Rhetoric, and the Art of Poetry . Finally, (e) the general investigation of the things that are: the Metaphysics .
The scale of Aristotle's researches, and their central place in the subsequent history of philosophy, mean that his work defies brief description. His relationship to Plato is complex, with scholars on the whole repudiating the idea of a development away from an originally accepted Platonism, even to the point of detecting a swing towards Plato in the later metaphysics. The traditional contrast is between Plato's otherworldly, formal, and a priori conception of true knowledge ( noēsis ), as opposed to Aristotle's intense concern for the observed detail of natural phenomena, including those of thought, language, and psychology. Thus while Plato is the patron saint of transcendental theories of knowledge and especially of ethics, Aristotle is concerned to protect knowledge of the plural and multifarious world we live in. His ethics, which he regarded as a branch of the natural history of human beings, shows a subtle (some would say, unequalled) appreciation of the complexities of human motivation. Aristotle, like Kant, had a passion for categories, and as well as inventing the study of logical form may be said to have laid down the division of the sciences we habitually use, not to mention the categories that have organized virtually all subsequent philosophical thought ( substance/accident, potential/actual, matter/form, and the different categories of causes ). His orderly mind showed the same instinct for the mean that is celebrated in his moral philosophy. He avoids all extremes, and typically does justice to each side of the divisions that split philosophers into warring camps. Aristotle was the central figure in Arabic and medieval philosophy. His fundamentally animistic conception of nature as a kind of plant or striving organism, his distinction between celestial phenomena and sublunary nature, and his conception of perception as a literal sharing of form with that which is perceived, all dominated European thought until the upheavals that produced the Galilean world view in the 17th century. His reputation declined somewhat before that period, when the attempts of both warring Protestants and Catholics to appropriate his thinking led to a general revulsion from scholasticism . In the 20th century his reputation has frequently been refurbished, and he remains a pivotal figure in metaphysical and ethical thinking.

Philosophy dictionary. . 2011.

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