Aristotle Essay - Critical Essays




Major Works

Aristotle's works on logic were collected into the Organon (Instrument, Tool), which is comprised of several treatises, including Categories, On Interpretation, Prior and Posterior Analytics, and Topics. Categories is concerned with the structure of language, and the classification of the various elements that constitute the nature of any entity. On Interpretation also focuses on the structure of language, as well as on the nature of truth. Often considered the more significant treatises of the Organon, the two Analytics treat scientific knowledge and formal logic. In Topics Aristotle discuses the proper analysis of a proposition.

While Aristotle wrote numerous treatises on animals, concerned with their history, parts, and motion, the most frequently discussed of the biological treatises appears to be On the Generation of Animals. This work deals with the contributions of males and females to the creation of new life and also explores the means by which the soul is transmitted to the new individual.

Although On the Generation of Animals, like many of Aristotle's works in other fields, touches in some respect on the soul, De Anima is devoted to this topic. In this treatise, Aristotle formulates his theory of the soul. The work concentrates on sensation, thought, imagination, and reason, and is considered to be the first definitive work on the topic of psychology.

Physics treats what Aristotle referred to as "natural philosophy," and examines such topics as nature, cause, and motion. In this work, Aristotle explicates his doctrine regarding the four causes of physical change.

Textual History

Little is known about the fate of Aristotle's works after his death. It is believed by some scholars that for about two hundred years the works were either lost or hidden. They were discovered by Sulla (178-38 B.C.) and brought to Rome. Modern editions of Aristotle's works derive from Roman editions dating back to the late first century B.C. In the Middle Ages, Latin and Arabic translations broadened the influence of Aristotle's teachings; his philosophy was studied by St. Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-74) and later by Francis Bacon (1561-1626), who adopted Aristotle's doctrine of the four causes. As relatively few of Aristotle's writings can be

dated with any degree of accuracy, the focus of nineteenth- and twentieth-century scholars has been on determining the chronological development of the works.

Critical Reception

Michael V. Wedin opens his discussion of Aristotle's doctrine of the soul with an observation on Aristotle's contribution to logic, noting that he provided "the first virtually complete system of certain kinds of logical inference. It is for this reason that we rank him as the inventor of the science of logic." It seems that few critics dispute this point; rather, they attempt to illuminate Aristotle's logical theories. J. M. E. Moravcsik focused on Aristotle's theory of categories, examining in particular the relationship between language and reality. Moravcsik has argued that while Aristotle did not regard the structure of language as parallel to the structure of reality, he did believe that the correlation between specific items of language and reality revealed a significant link between the two. Similarly, G. E. R. Lloyd has explored the doctrine of categories, as well as the syllogism, and the concept of scientific knowledge. Lloyd praises Aristotle's work on logic as "particularly comprehensive, very largely original, and for the most part eminently lucid." Compared to Moravcsik and Lloyd, Michael T. Ferejohn has offered a decidedly more technical approach in his analysis of Aristotle's doctrine of logical priority and how this doctrine developed from Aristotle's approach to the concept of necessary truth.

Many modern critics approach Aristotle's biological and psychological works from a similar angle: they probe what appears to be revealed in The Generation of Animals and On the Soul as Aristotle's distinctly misogynistic or sexist views. Lynda Lange has argued that Aristotle characterizes women as inferior, particularly as demonstrated in Aristotle's description of the respective contributions of man and woman to the generation of new life. Yet Lange maintains that despite this "unacceptable" characterization, Aristotle nevertheless offers an explanation consistent with his biological theories. Daryl McGowan Tress, on the other hand, has defended Aristotle against such criticism, presenting Aristotle's assertion that the male and female together are the "principles of generation." Tress emphasizes that any seeming inequality between the sexes in Aristotle's theories is a product of Aristotle's attempt to address certain philosophic problems, and does not arise from any sexism or misogyny on his part. Aristotle's treatment of the human soul is similarly dissected. Christine M. Senack has examined Aristotle's division of the soul into rational and irrational parts, as well as his claim that the rational part of the woman's soul does not have authority over the irrational part, thereby making her socially inferior to the man. Senack has concluded that as Aristotle's views on this matter are a product either of inaccurate data produced by the scientific community of his era, or of the cultural bias against women in ancient Greece, he is not to be considered a misogynist. Michael V. Wedin has offered a different approach to Aristotle's doctrine of the soul, providing a technical analysis that focuses on the soul as a functional and cognitive system.

One of the main critical issues regarding Aristotle's Physics focuses on the doctrine of the four causes. After examining the modern resistance to Aristotle's philosophical, non-mathematical approach to physics, Joe Sachs has discussed the content of the treatise, including Aristotle's views on motion and the four causes. The four causes of motion include material, form, the "external source of motion" (which Sachs notes is sometimes inaccurately termed "efficient cause"), and final cause. Sachs briefly touches on the relation of purpose to final cause, a topic to which David Bolotin has devoted much attention. Bolotin has identified final cause as "the end or purpose for which something comes into being or for which it exists." In his analysis of Aristotle's notion of final causality, Bolotin has also called attention to problem areas in Aristotle's treatment of "natural purpose."

*Principal Works


Analytica Posteriora [Posterior Analytics] (treatise)

Analytica Prioria [Prior Analytics] (treatise)

Categoriae [Categories] (treatise)

De Interpretatione [On Interpretation] (treatise)

Topica [Topics] (treatise)

Biological Works

De Generatione Animalium [On the Generation of Animals] (treatise)

De Incessu Animalium [On the Progression of Animals] (treatise)

De Motu Animalium [On the Motion of Animals] (treatise)

De Partibus Animalium [On the Parts of Animals]...

(The entire section is 149 words.)

Principal English Translations

De Anima [translated by R. D. Hicks] 1907

The Works of Aristotle Translated into English [edited by J. A. Smith and W. D. Ross] 1910-52

(The entire section is 24 words.)


J. M. E. Moravcsik (essay date 1967)

SOURCE: "Aristotle's Theory of Categories," in Aristotle: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by J. M. E. Moravescik, Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1967, pp. 125-48.

[In the following essay, Moravcsik examines the categories devised by Aristotle and offers an explanation regarding their role in Aristotle's theories. Moravcsik maintains that the nature of the list of categories demonstrates Aristotle's views regarding the structure of language and regarding the relationship between the structure of language and the structure of reality.]

In several of his writings Aristotle presents what came to be known...

(The entire section is 18035 words.)

Biological Works

Lynda Lange (essay date 1983)

SOURCE: "Woman Is Not a Rational Animal: On Aristotle's Biology of Reproduction," in Discovering Reality, edited by Sandra Harding and Merrill B. Hintikka, D. Reidel Publishing Company, 1983, pp. 1-16.

[In the following essay, Lange argues that while Aristotle's conception of woman as a "privation of man" may be "unacceptable," Aristotle does, however, provide a thorough explanation of this notion within the context of his own thought and theories.]

Aristotle … pretends that women are but monsters. Who would not believe it, upon the authority of so renowned a personage? To say, it is an...

(The entire section is 26826 words.)

Psychological Works

D. A. Rees (essay date 1960)

SOURCE: "Theories of the Soul in the Early Aristotle," in Aristotle and Plato in the Mid-Fourth Century, edtied by L. During and G. E. L. Owen, Goteborg, 1960, pp. 191-200.

[In the following essay' Rees studies the relationship between Aristotle's conception of the soul and Plato's views on moral psychology. Rees stresses that the three works by Aristotle which discuss the nature of the soul (Eudemus, Protrepticus, and De Philosophia) should not be analyzed as exhibiting the development of Aristotle's views on the soul, since they focus on distinct aspects of the soul.]

In this paper I shall be...

(The entire section is 19595 words.)


Joe Sachs (essay date 1995)

SOURCE: An introduction to Aristotle's "Physics ": A Guided Study, Rutgers University Press, 1995, pp. 31-52.

[In the following essay, Sachs introduces Aristotle's Physics by discussing its relevance to modern physics, by exploring the modern resistance to Aristotle's philosophic examination of physics, and by reviewing the content of the books of Physics. Sachs notes that the central themes of Physics include nature, cause, and motion.]

Socrates: In those days, when people were not wise like you young people, they were content to listen to a tree or a rock in simple...

(The entire section is 20641 words.)

Further Reading

Brennan, Sheilah O'Flynn. "The Meaning of 'Nature' in the Aristotelian Philosophy of Nature." In The Dignity of Science, edited by James A. Weisheipl, pp. 247-65. The Thomist Press, 1961.

Investigates the various meanings of the word "nature" in order to determine how it is used in both Aristotelian and Thomistic natural philosophy and maintains that the meaning of "nature" is "continually modified within the science of nature."

Cook, Kathleen C. "Sexual Inequality in Aristotle's Theories of Reproduction and Inheritance." In Feminism and Ancient Philosophy, edited by Julie K. Ward, pp. 51-67. New York: Routledge, 1996.

Examines Aristotle's biological...

(The entire section is 681 words.)