Authors: Aristotle

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2018

Greek philosopher

384 b.c.e.

Stagirus, Chalcidice, Greece

322 b.c.e.

Chalcis, Euboea, Greece

Biography

Aristotle, one of the most famous philosophers in history, 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.

Aristotle

(Library of Congress)

At eighteen he became a student under Plato at the Academy in Athens, not primarily because he was interested in philosophy but because the Academy offered the best education in Greece in science and other basic studies. He distinguished himself as a student, even though there were some who were irritated by his interest in dress and by his lisping, mocking air. He remained with the Academy, always a central figure, but becoming increasingly critical of some of Plato’s ideas until Plato’s death in 347 b.c.e..

When Speusippus became the Academy’s leader after Plato’s death, Aristotle accepted the invitation of Hermias, the king of Atarneus in Mysia, to join him there and become part of a philosophical circle. While with Hermias, Aristotle spent a considerable part of his time studying marine biology along the Aeolic coast. He also found time to admire and marry Hermias’s niece and adopted daughter, Pythias, with whom he had a daughter of the same name.

After spending three years in Mysia, following the assassination of Hermias by agents of the Persians, Aristotle moved to Mytilene on the island of Lesbos, where he continued his independent biological research. He then left to undertake the tutelage of Alexander, the thirteen-year-old son of Philip of Macedon. Philip, who had known Aristotle since boyhood, was aware of Aristotle’s reputation as a brilliant scientist and philosopher. Aristotle gave Alexander the usual Greek education, with emphasis upon Homer and the dramatists, and with considerable discussion of the philosophy and art of politics. The work was conducted at Pella and later at Mieza. It was virtually terminated when Alexander was appointed regent for his father in 340, while Philip was engaged in a campaign to complete the subjugation of all Greece. Aristotle settled in Stagirus and became friends with Antipater, later regent in Greece.

When Philip was assassinated in 336, Aristotle returned to Athens to continue his scientific work. At about that time Speusippus, Plato’s successor at the Academy, died, and Xenocrates of Chalcedon was appointed in his place. Aristotle was not tempted to return to the Academy; instead, he decided to start a new school in the Lyceum, a grove sacred to Apollo Lyceius, located to the northeast of Athens. He rented some buildings there and acquired pupils. Because of Aristotle’s custom of walking up and down under a covered court, or peripatos, with a group of students while lecturing or discussing some philosophical or scientific matter, his group became known as the “peripatetics.” The subjects that needed special study and individual attention were taught in the mornings to small groups, while those that could adequately be taught to larger numbers were reserved for the afternoons or evenings. Emphasis was upon biology, history, and philosophy.

During the twelve years he was at the Lyceum, Aristotle gave hundreds of lectures, of which some notes are extant and constitute the material which has come to be identified as his works. He classified the sciences, added to the scientific data in many fields, particularly in biology, encouraged and developed ideas in ethics and politics, and developed logic as a science of reasoning. The Lyceum, largely because of the creative energy of its founder, soon became the outstanding school in Greece, outranking the Academy, and Aristotle—as the most encompassing mind of the age—achieved a preeminence which the ensuing two thousand years have not dispelled.

Shortly after his return to Athens from Macedon, Aristotle’s wife died. He formed a lasting union out of wedlock with a woman of Stagirus, Herpyllis, with whom he had a son, Nicomachus, whose name has been used to distinguish the Nicomachean Ethics, that version of Aristotle’s ethics recorded by his son, from the Eudemian Ethics, the version of a pupil, Eudemus.

Alexander died in 323, and as a result of ensuing anti-Macedonian feeling, Aristotle was charged with impiety, the same capital charge that led to the death of Socrates. The charge, founded on nothing more than some poetry that Aristotle had written twenty years before to honor the memory of Hermias, was provoked by Aristotle’s continued friendship with Antipater of Macedon. Aristotle retreated to Chalcis, accompanied by several of his followers, and died there the following year. His will provided for the emancipation of some of his slaves and protected the rest from being sold.

Author Works Nonfiction: Analytica priora (Prior Analytics, 1812) De poetica, c. 334-323 b.c.e.. (Poetics, 1705) Analytica posterioria (Posterior Analytics, 1812) Aporemata Homerika (Homeric Problems, 1812) Aristotelous peri geneseōs kai phthoras (Meteorologica, 1812) Athenaiōn politeia (The Athenian Constitution, 1812) De anima (On the Soul, 1812) De caelo, c. 350 BCE (On the Heavens, 1807) Ethica Eudemia (Eudemian Ethics, 1915) Ethica Nicomachea (Nicomachean Ethics, 1797) De generatione et corruptione (On Coming-to-Be and Passing-Away, 1922) Metaphysica (Metaphysics, 1801) Organon (English translation, 1812) Parva naturalia (English translation, 1955) Perí poreías zóon (On the Gait of Animals, 1912) Perí zóon genéseos (On the Generation of Animals, 1912) Perí zóon kiníseos (On the Motion of Animals, 1912) Perí zóon moríon (Parts of Animals, 1882) Physica (Physics, 1812) Politica (Politics, 1598) Technē rhetorikēs (Rhetoric, 1686) Tōn peri ta zōia historiōn (Zoology, 1812) Topica (Topics, 1812). Bibliography Ackrill, J. L. Essays on Plato and Aristotle. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. This work contains important and insightful reflections on two of the most influential thinkers in Western philosophy. Adler, Mortimer J. Aristotle for Everybody: Difficult Thought Made Easy. New York: Scribner’s, 1997. A reliable interpreter provides an account that introduces Aristotle’s thought in accessible fashion. Bar On, Bat-Ami, ed. Engendering Origins: Critical Feminist Readings in Plato and Aristotle. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994. Feminist perspectives are brought to bear on Aristotle’s philosophy in significant ways. Barnes, Jonathan. Aristotle. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982. A reliable study designed for readers who want an introduction to Aristotle’s thought. Barnes, Jonathan, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Aristotle. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995. An excellent guide to Aristotle’s thought, which features significant essays on major aspects of his work. Edel, Abraham. Aristotle and His Philosophy. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Books, 1996. A careful and helpful study by a veteran interpreter of Western thought. Broadie, Sarah. Ethics with Aristotle. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991. This carefully done book concentrates on Aristotle’s ethical theory and its implications. Brumbaugh, Robert S. The Philosophers of Greece. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1981. An introductory study that discusses Aristotle’s philosophy within the larger context of the Greek world. Cooper, John M. Reason and Human Good in Aristotle. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1975. Cooper’s book is a study of the “theoretical backbone” of Aristotle’s moral philosophy—his theories of practical reasoning and of human happiness. Copleston, Frederick. A History of Philosophy: Greece and Rome. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1962. A leading scholar of Western philosophy discusses Aristotle’s life as well as his logic, metaphysics, ethics, politics, and aesthetics. Edel, Abraham. Aristotle and His Philosophy. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Books, 1996. A careful and helpful study by a veteran interpreter of Western thought. Ferguson, John. Aristotle. Boston: Twayne, 1972. Assisting the general reader in the study of Aristotle’s works, this book discusses Aristotle’s life and his views about nature and psychology and also offers perspectives on Aristotle’s lasting influence. Hardie, William. Aristotle’s Ethical Theory. 2d ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980. Hughes, Gerard J. Aristotle on Ethics. New York: Routledge, 2001. A fresh introduction to the philosopher, refining the translation of Aristotle’s terms with a sensitivity to context. Husain, Martha. Ontology and the Art of Tragedy: An Approach to Aristotle’s Poetics. Albany: State University of New York, 2001. An examination of the Poetics using Metaphysics as a touchstone. Husain demonstrates the relationship between the works and how the latter illuminates the former. Lear, Jonathan. Aristotle and Logical Theory. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1980. A detailed study of Aristotle’s views on logic and their continuing significance for understanding human reasoning. McLeisch, Kenneth. Aristotle. New York: Routledge, 1999. An excellent biographical introduction to the thoughts of the philosopher, clearly presented and requiring no special background. Includes bibliography. Robinson, Timothy A. Aristotle in Outline. Indianapolis, Ind.: Hackett, 1995. Accessible to beginning students, this clearly written survey covers Aristotle’s full range of thought. Rorty, Amélie Oksenberg, ed. Essays on Aristotle’s “Ethics.” Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981. An important collection of essays that concentrates on various facets of Aristotle’s influential moral philosophy. Smith, Thomas W. Revaluing “Ethics”: Aristotle’s Dialectical Pedagogy. Albany: State University of New York, 2001. Smith argues for a reading of Ethics, not as a moral guidebook, but as a pedagogy—course work—for developing a questioning mind. Strathern, Paul. Aristotle in Ninety Minutes. Chicago: Ivan Dee, 1996. A brief, easily accessible, introductory overview of Aristotle’s philosophy.

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