24 Aristotle

Born at Stagira in northern Greece, Aristotle was the most notable product of the educational program devised by Plato; he spent twenty years of his life studying at the Academy. When Plato died, Aristotle returned to his native Macedonia, where he is supposed to have participated in the education of Philip’s son, Alexander (the Great). He came back to Athens with Alexander’s approval in 335 and established his own school at the Lyceum, spending most of the rest of his life engaged there in research, teaching, and writing. His students acquired the name “peripatetics” from the master’s habit of strolling about as he taught. Although the surviving works of Aristotle probably represent only a fragment of the whole, they include his investigations of an amazing range of subjects, from logicphilosophy, and ethics to physics, biology, psychology, politics, and rhetoric. Aristotle appears to have thought through his views as he wrote, returning to significant issues at different stages of his own development. The result is less a consistent system of thought than a complex record of Aristotle’s thinking about many significant issues.

The aim of Aristotle’s logical treatises (known collectively as the Organon) was to develop a universal method of reasoning by means of which it would be possible to learn everything there is to know about reality. Thus, the Categories proposes a scheme for the description of particular things in terms of their properties, states, and activities. On InterpretationPrior Analytics, and Posterior Analytics examine the nature of deductive inference, outlining the system of syllogistic reasoning from true propositions that later came to be known as categorical logic. Though not strictly one of the logical works, the Physics contributes to the universal method by distinguishing among the four causes which may be used to explain everything, with special concern for why things are the way they are and the apparent role of chance in the operation of the world. In other treatises, Aristotle applied this method, with its characteristic emphasis on teleological explanation, to astronomical and biological explorations of the natural world

In Μεταφυσικη (Metaphysics) Aristotle tried to justify the entire enterprise by grounding it all in an abstract study of being qua being. Although Aristotle rejected the Platonic theory of forms, he defended his own vision of ultimate reality, including the eternal existence of substanceOn The Soul uses the notion of ahylomorphic composite to provide a detailed account of the functions exhibited by living things—vegetable, animal, and human—and explains the use of sensation and reason to achieve genuine knowledgeAristotleThat Aristotle was interested in more than a strictly scientific exploration of human nature is evident from the discussion of literary art (particularly tragedy) in Περι Ποιητικης (Poetics) and the methods of persuasion in the ‘Ρητορειας(Rhetoric).

Aristotle made several efforts to explain how moral conduct contributes to the good life for human agents, including the Εθικη Ευδαιμονης (Eudemian Ethics) and the Magna Moralia, but the most complete surviving statement ofhis views on morality occurs in the Εθικη Νικομαχοι (Nicomachean Ethics). There he considered the natural desire to achieve happiness, described the operation of human volition and moral deliberation, developed a theory of eachvirtue as the mean between vicious extremes, discussed the value of three kinds of friendship, and defended his conception of an ideal life of intellectual pursuit.

But on Aristotle’s view, the lives of individual human beings are invariably linked together in a social context. In the Περι Πολις (Politics) he speculated about the origins of the state, described and assessed the relative merits of various types of government, and listed the obligations of the individual citizen. He may also have been the author of a model Πολιτειας Αθηναων (Constitution of Athens), in which the abstract notion of constitutional government is applied to the concrete life of a particular society.


Recommended Reading:Primary sources:

  • Aristotelis opera, ed. by I. Bekker (Prussian Academy, 1831-70)
  • The Complete Works of Aristotle, ed. by Jonathan Barnes.(Princeton, 1984)
    • vol. 1 [includes the logical works, Physics, treatises on astronomy and animals, and Of the Soul]
    • vol. 2 [includes additional scientific treatises, Metaphysics, the works on ethics, PoliticsRhetoric, and Poetics.]
  • Basic Works of Aristotle, ed. by Richard McKeon (Random House, 1941)
  • Aristotle: Introductory Readings, tr. by Terence Irwin and Gail Fine (Hackett, 1996)
  • Nichomachean Ethics, tr. by Terence Irwin (Hackett, 1985)

Secondary sources:

  • The Cambridge Companion to Aristotle, ed. by Jonathan Barnes (Cambridge, 1995)
  • Aristotle the Philosopher, ed. by J. L. Ackrill (Oxford, 1981)
  • Henry Veatch, Aristotle, a Contemporary Appreciation (Indiana, 1974)
  • Jonathan Lear, Aristotle: The Desire to Understand (Cambridge, 1998)
  • Feminist Interpretations of Aristotle, ed. by Cynthia A. Freeland (Penn. State, 1998)
  • Kenneth McLeish, Aristotle (Routledge, 1999)
  • Joseph Owens, Doctrine of Being in the Aristotelian Metaphysics (Pontifical Institute, 1978)
  • Aristotle’s Metaphysics Book Lambda, ed. by Michael Frede and David Charles (Oxford, 2000)
  • Essays on Aristotle’s De Anima, ed. by Martha Nussbaum and Amelie Rorty (Clarendon, 1996)
  • Benjamin Morison, On Location: Aristotle’s Concept of Place (Oxford, 2002)
  • John M. Cooper, Reason and Emotion (Princeton, 1998)
  • Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy: Volume XX, ed. by David Sedley (Oxford, 2001)
  • Sarah Broadie, Ethics with Aristotle (Oxford, 1995)
  • Gerard J. Hughes, Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Aristotle on Ethics (Routledge, 2001)
  • Nicholas White, Individual and Conflict in Greek Ethics (Oxford, 2002)
  • Aristotle’s Ethics: Critical Essays, ed. by Nancy Sherman (Rowman & Littlefield, 1999)
  • J. O. Urmson, Aristotle’s Ethics (Blackwell, 1988)
  • Anthony Kenny, Aristotle’s Theory of the Will (Yale, 1979)
  • Fred D. Miller, Jr., Nature, Justice, and Rights in Aristotle’s Politics (Oxford, 1997)
  • Martha Husain, Ontology and the Art of Tragedy: an Approach to Aristotle’s Poetics (SUNY, 2002)

Additional on-line information about Aristotle includes:


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