Aristotle Additional Biography


(Historic Lives: The Ancient World, Prehistory-476)

Article abstract: Building on Plato’s dialogical approach, Aristotle developed what is known as the scientific method. In addition, he founded the Lyceum, which housed the first research library.

Early Life

Aristotle (ar-uhs-TAHT-uhl) was born in the town of Stagirus, located on the northeast coast of the Chalcidice Peninsula in Greece, most likely in 384 b.c.e. His father, Nicomachus, was a physician and a member of the clan, or guild, of the Asclepiadae, as had been his ancestors. The family probably had migrated from Messenia in the eighth or seventh century b.c.e. Aristotle’s mother was from Chalcis, the place where he sought refuge during the last year of his life. Both his parents died while Aristotle was very young.

Aristotle was adopted and raised by Proxenus, court physician to Amyntas II of Macedonia (an occasional source suggests that Nicomachus also held this position, but others disagree). It is likely, therefore, that young Aristotle lived part of his youth at Pella, the royal seat. He may even have learned and practiced surgery during this time.

Aristotle’s early environmental influences helped determine his outlook: his detached, objective way of looking at a subject, his interest in biological science, and his universality. In his early life, Aristotle was surrounded by physicians and princes, not philosophers. When he was eighteen, he was sent to Athens for training in the best school available, Plato’s Academy, where he would spend the next twenty years. Thus ended the first of the four phases of Aristotle’s life.

Life’s Work

Aristotle’s career divides itself naturally into three periods: the twenty (some say nineteen) years at Plato’s Academy, from 368 to 348; the thirteen years of travel, from 348 to 335; and the return to Athens, or the years in the Lyceum, from 335 to 323.

When young Aristotle arrived at the Academy, Plato was away on a second journey to Syracuse. When the master returned the following year, however, Aristotle became his prize student and ardent friend. Although most of Aristotle’s earlier works have been preserved only in fragments, usually in quotations within works by later scholars of the Peripatetic School, several are attributed to this period and the one that followed.

As Plato’s method was dialogue, Aristotle, like other students at the Academy, began writing in dialogue. Aristotle was influenced by Plato about the time the master altered his own form, moving toward dialogues other than those with Socrates as questioner and main speaker. Aristotle, in turn, made himself the main speaker in his own dialogues.

Some scholars consider De anima the best of Aristotle’s works from this period. Translated as On the Soul, this work treats the soul and immortality, and it is imitative of Plato’s Phaedōn, which was written c. 388-366 b.c.e. (Critic Werner Jaeger believes that each of Aristotle’s early dialogues was influenced by a particular Platonic dialogue, that the student was still dependent on the master as far as metaphysics was concerned but independent in the areas of methodology and logic.) Aristotle’s Protrepticus (Protreptics) is named for a term designating a letter written in defense of philosophy; the method employed in this work (questions and answers by teacher and student) is from Plato, but the protreptic form is borrowed from the philosopher Isocrates, who was also at Athens during this time. In the year 348 (or 347), two events influenced Aristotle’s future: the death of Plato (and possibly the choice of a new leader of the Academy), which caused Aristotle to leave Athens, and Philip II’s destruction of Stagirus, which caused the philosopher to look elsewhere for a new home.

With a fellow Academic, Xenocrates, Aristotle left Athens for Mysia (modern Turkey), accepting the invitation of Hermeias, a former fellow student at the Academy who had risen from slavery to become ruler of Atarneus and Assos. Aristotle presided over his host’s small Platonic circle, making of it a school modeled after the Academy. He married Pythias, niece and adopted daughter of Hermeias, after the ruler’s death; they had a daughter, also named Pythias. His wife lived until late in Aristotle’s so-called second Athenian period. After three years came another move, this time to...

(The entire section is 1791 words.)


(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

0111200114-Aristotle.jpg Aristotle (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Author Profile

Aristotle was the most comprehensive and systematic philosopher of Western antiquity. Combining empirical observation and logical analysis, he took the natural world as a starting point to inquire into the causes of various observed phenomena. Beyond the separate sciences that he helped to create, Aristotle speculated on the existence and cause of nature itself. His writings on the nature of a supreme being and the eternity of the world later caused medieval Church authorities to suppress some of his works.

Aristotle’s Metaphysics

Metaphysics is the study of being—or of ultimate reality. As such, it is science, or knowledge, in the most complete sense. Aristotle’s own doctrine on reality is disarmingly simple. What is ultimately real is “substance” or “primary being.” Substance is always a particular thing. For example, a certain pencil, a certain table, or a certain tree is real. Although the pencil and the table are made of wood, they cannot be identified with or reduced to “tree,” any more than the tree may be reduced to or generalized as “matter.” The pencil, table, and tree exist separately and simultaneously, and are thus equally portions of “reality.”

Aristotle acknowledges that in order to know any particular thing it is necessary to have an “idea” or “definition” of it. In this, he agreed with his predecessors Socrates and Plato. However, he denies that these “general” things either exist apart from particular objects, or are more real than these objects. There was not, he thought, a separate, superior realm of ideas which caused the visible, tangible world of particular things. Ideas are fully real only insofar as they are inseparable aspects of the things perceived by ordinary common sense.

Common sense perception, however, does not explain change, especially the fact that every particular thing comes into being and eventually ceases to exist. Each thing is real but impermanent. Thus it may appear that the only “thing” which is eternal is change itself. Aristotle holds that change is eternal, as is what change implies—time. That which changes and moves has two sorts of imperfections. Since it changes, it is only equivocally “eternal.” Since it moves, it needs that which moves it. This necessitates an “unmoved mover,” which is as eternal as that which it moves—the world of motion and change. It is wholly “actual,” meaning complete, perfect, and thus unchanging. It is immaterial, since everything material changes, and it is intelligible, since this is both the opposite of the material, and that which moves both material and other intelligent beings. Thus the unmoved mover is both the first and the final cause and, for the best, intelligent beings, the greatest good.

Christian Problems with Aristotelianism

By Christian standards, there is nothing inherently irreverent or atheistic about Aristotle’s doctrines on being. On the contrary: It is easy to understand Aristotle’s unmoved mover as God. However, Aristotle’s thought presented two serious problems to Christian theologians. First, because Aristotle argues that the world known to common sense is eternal, it cannot be the product of divine creation. Second, Aristotle argues that the natural world is not only eternal, but also good. Each particular thing in it is or contains “being.” Intelligent beings, moreover, naturally wish to know the “intelligible itself,” which is the unmoved mover understood by them to be the greatest good. Human beings as knowledge-seekers are thus naturally the best among a world of naturally good beings.

This appreciation of an eternal natural world, and especially of human beings, contrasts sharply with Christian doctrines of the Creation and the Fall. The Bible’s Book of Genesis describes a world created by God; in it the first man and woman disobey His commandment not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and are expelled from Paradise. This deep awareness of Original Sin led the great fifth century Christian theologian and philosopher Saint Augustine to prefer the philosophy of Plato to that of Aristotle. Augustine understood Plato and his followers to argue that the visible,...

(The entire section is 1749 words.)


(Critical Survey of Ethics and Literature)

Author Profile

Aristotle, an individual with encyclopedic knowledge, wrote on numerous topics, including physics, metaphysics, logic, ethics, politics, poetics, and rhetoric. In the area of ethics, his major works are the Nicomachean Ethics, the Eudemian Ethics, and the Politics. He claims that the purpose of the state is to provide for the intellectual and moral development of its citizens. The Nicomachean Ethics is considered to contain Aristotle’s mature moral theory.

The Good

Aristotle begins the Nicomachean Ethics by claiming, “Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and pursuit, is thought to aim at some good;...

(The entire section is 1403 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111201514-Aristotle.jpg Aristotle Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Aristotle (ar-uh-STAWT-uhl) was born in 384 b.c.e. in Stagirus, a small colonial town on the northern coast of the Aegean Sea, in Chalcidice, Greece. His father, Nicomachus, was a physician to the court of the Macedonian king Amyntas II. There is some speculation that being born into a physician’s family led to Aristotle’s later interest in biology, but that is at best only a partial account; both his parents died when he was quite young, and he was reared by an official in the Macedonian court.

At eighteen, Aristotle traveled south to Athens, where he became a member of Plato’s Academy, where he spent the next twenty years. Many scholars have suggested that during these years in...

(The entire section is 511 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Aristotle’s philosophy is not flawless. Even his most vigorous contemporary defenders are quick to point out his errors—for example, his belief that some people are slaves by nature and that women are naturally inferior to men. Many people today would argue that such pronouncements, made with complete confidence at the time, prove that what is true for one person may not be true for someone else. Rather than being patronized by those who would excuse his errors by relativizing truth, however, Aristotle would much prefer simply to be refuted with good arguments and careful observations. These are much more central to his philosophy than any particular conclusions that he reached on any particular topic.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Aristotle (ar-uh-STAWT-uhl), one of the greatest philosophers, was born in Stagirus, a little town on the peninsula of Chalcidice. He was the son of Nicomachus, a physician, and Phaestis. The family was middle class, of moderate means. While Aristotle was yet a child his father became court physician to Amyntas II of Macedon, the grandfather of Alexander the Great. From birth Aristotle, as the son of a physician, was a member of the Asclepiadae guild. His interest in science and particularly in biology was only natural, for his family had a long tradition in medicine. He was soon without parents, however, because they died when he was a boy. He became a ward of a friend and relative of the family, Proxenus.


(The entire section is 847 words.)