Why Is Aristotle Considered One Of The Greatest Minds In Western History?

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Aristotle (384–322 B.C.) was a both a philosopher and scientist who, with Socrates (469–399 B.C.) and Plato (428–347 B.C.), is credited with creating Western philosophy. His encyclopedic works covered many subjects, including ethics, logic, metaphysics, politics, rhetoric, poetry, biology, zoology, physics, and psychology. His thought greatly influenced philosophers of the Middle Ages (A.D. c. 450–c. 1500) and in some areas of knowledge his ideas are still considered important.

As a youth, Aristotle spent twenty years studying at Plato's Academy in Athens. After Plato died, Aristotle traveled, collected biological specimens, and tutored Persian ruler Alexander the Great (356–323 B.C.), who was then a teenager. When Aristotle returned to Athens in 335 B.C., he founded his own school, the Lyceum, which focused on scientific subjects. Aristotle was a great organizer and was the first person to propose classifying everything on Earth into three categories: animal, vegetable, and mineral. He accumulated large collections of animal specimens.

Although once Plato's pupils, Aristotle also criticized Plato's Theory of Ideas (Forms). While Plato had thought that the idea of a thing was more real than the thing itself, Aristotle declared the opposite: that things are more real than the idea of things. Yet Aristotle did agree with Plato's idea that people should strive to lead good lives. Aristotle suggested that in order to achieve a good life it is necessary to avoid extremes of all kinds. For example, he thought that countries should be ruled by a strong middle class that would be a compromise between absolute rulers (emperors, kings) and democracy (a form of government under which all people are considered equal).

In his work titled Organon, Aristotle also developed a method of logical thinking called a syllogism. It consists of a major premise (statement), a minor premise, and a conclusion. An example of a syllogism: Every virtue, or moral goodness, is desirable (major premise); courage is a virtue (minor premise); therefore, courage is desirable (conclusion).

Aristotle also made his mark in literature with his work Poetics. He believed that epics (long narratives) and tragic plays show people to be more noble than they are in real life. On the other hand, Aristotle believed that comedies show people to be less noble than they are in reality. He also developed the concept of catharsis, which states that by watching a tragedy, the viewers can relieve emotional stress.

Further Information: Adler, Mortimer J. Aristotle for Everybody. New York: Macmillan, 1978; "Greece." Exploring Ancient World Cultures. [Online] Available http://eawc.evansville.edu/grpage.htm, November 7, 2000; Weate, Jeremy. A Young Person's Guide to Philosophy. New York: Dorling Kindersely, 1998, pp. 16–17, 53; Ziniewicz, Gordon. Shadows on the Wall: Philosophy East and West. [Online] Available http://www.fred.net/tzaka/shadows.html, November 7, 2000.

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