Online Encyclopedia

ARISTOTLE (384-322 B.C.)

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V02, Page 506 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
Spread the word: it!
ARISTOTLE (384-322 B.C.), the great Greek philosopher, was born at Stagira, on the Strymonic Gulf, and hence called " the Stagirite." Dionysius of Halicarnassus, in his Epistle on Demosthenes and Aristotle (chap. 5), gives the following sketch of his life:—Aristotle ('ApturorEkns) was the son of Nicomachus, who traced back his descent and his art to Machaon,son of Aesculapius; his mother being Phaestis, a descendant of one of those who carried the colony from Chalcis to Stagira. He was born in the 99th Olympiad in the archonship at Athens of Diotrephes (384-383), three years before Demosthenes. In the archonship of Polyzelus (367-366), after the death of his father, in his eighteenth year, he came to Athens, and having joined Plato spent twenty years with him. On the death of Plato (May 347) in the archonship of Theophilus (348-347) he departed to Hermias, tyrant of Atarneus, and, after three years' stay, during the archonship of Eubulus(345-344) he moved to Mitylene, whence he went to Philip of Macedon in the archonship of Pythodotus (343-342), and spent eight. years with him as tutor of Alexander. After the death of Philip (336), in the archonship of Euaenetus (335-334), he returned to Athens and kept a school in the Lyceum for twelve years. In the thirteenth, after the death of Alexander (June 323) in the archonship of Cephisodorus (323-322), having departed to Chalcis, he died of disease (322), after a life of three-and-sixty years. I. ARISTOTLE'S LIFE This account is practically repeated by Diogenes Laertius in his Life of Aristotle, on the authority of the Chronicles of Apollodorus, who lived in the 2nd century B.C. Starting then from this tradition, near enough to the time, we can confidently divide Aristotle's career into four periods: his youth under his parents till his eighteenth year; his philosophical education under Plato at Athens till his thirty-eighth year; his travels in the Greek world till his fiftieth year; and his philosophical teaching in the Lyceum till his departure to Chalcis and his death in his sixty-third year. But when we descend from generals to particulars, we become less certain, and must here content ourselves with few details. Aristotle from the first profited by having a father who, being physician to Amyntas IL, king of Macedon, and one of the Asclepiads who, according to Galen, practised their sons in dissection, both prepared the way for his son's influence at the Macedonian court, and gave him a bias to medicine and biology, which certainly led to his belief in nature and natural science, and perhaps induced him to practise medicine, as he did, according to his enemies, Timaeus and Epicurus, when he first went to Athens. At Athens in his second period for some twenty years he acquired the further advantage of balancing natural science by metaphysics and morals in the course of reading Plato's writings and of hearing Plato's unwritten dogmas (cf. v Tois Xeyoyivots aypar otc SoyµaQw, Ar. Physics, iv. 2, 209 b 15, Berlin ed.). He was an earnest, appreciative, independent student. The master is said to have called his pupil the intellect of the school and his house a reader's. He is also said to have complained that his pupil spurned him as colts do their mothers. Aristotle, however, always revered Plato's memory (Nic. Ethics, i. 6), and even in criticizing his master counted himself enough of a Platonist to cite Plato's doctrines as what " we say" (cf. cba jdv, Metaphysics, i. 9, 990 b 16). At the same time, he must have learnt much from other contemporaries at Athens, especially from astronomers such as Eudoxus and Callippus, and from orators such as Isocrates and Demosthenes. He also attacked Isocrates, according to Cicero, and perhaps even set up a rival school of rhetoric. At any rate he had pupils of his own, such as Eudemus of Cyprus, Theodectes and Hermias, books of his own, especially dialogues, and even to some extent his own philosophy, while he was still a pupil of Plato. Well grounded in his boyhood, and thoroughly educated in his manhood, Aristotle, after Plato's death, had the further advantage of travel in his third period, when he was in his prime. The appointment of Plato's nephew, Speusippus, to succeed his uncle in the Academy induced Aristotle and Xenocrates to leave Athens together and repair to the court of Hermias. Aristotle admired Hermias, and married his friend's sister or niece, Pythias, by whom he had his daughter Pythias. After the tragic death of Hermias, he retired for a time to Mitylene, and in 343-342 was summoned to Macedon by Philip to teach Alexander, who was then a boy of thirteen. According to Cicero (De Oratore, iii. 41), Philip wished his son, then a boy of thirteen, to receive from Aristotle " agendi praecepta et eloquendi." Aristotle is said to have written on monarchy and on colonies for Alexander; and the pupil is said to have slept with his master's edition of Homer under his pillow, and to have respected him, until from hatred of Aristotle's tactless relative, Callisthenes, who was done to death in 328, he turned at last against Aristotle himself. Aristotle had power to teach, and Alexander to learn. Still we must not exaggerate the result. Dionysius must have spoken too strongly when he says that Aristotle was tutor of Alexander for eight years; for in 340, when Philip went to war with Byzantium, Alexander became regent at home, at the age of sixteen. From this date Aristotle probably spent much time at his paternal house in his native city at Stagira as a patriotic citizen. Philip had sacked it in 348: Aristotle induced him or his son to restore it, made for it a new constitution, and in return was celebrated in a festival after his death. All these vicissitudes made him a man of the world, drew him out of the philosophical circle at Athens, and gave him leisure to develop his philosophy. Besides Alexander he had other pupils: Callisthenes, Cassander, Marsyas, Phanias, and Theophrastus of Eresus, who is said to have had land at Stagira. He also continued the writings begun in his second period; and the Macedonian kings have the glory of having assisted the Stagirite philosopher with the means of conducting his researches in the History of Animals. At last, in his fourth period, after the accession of Alexander, Aristotle at fifty returned to Athens and became the head of his own school in the Lyceum, a gymnasium near the temple of Apollo Lyceius in the suburbs. The master and his scholars were called Peripatetics (ol EK rov reperarov), certainly from meeting, like other philosophical schools, in a walk (replraros), and perhaps also, on the authority of Hermippus of Smyrna, from walking and talking there, like Protagoras and his followers as described in Plato's Protagoras (314 E, 315 e). Indeed, according to Ammonius, Plato too had talked as he walked in the Academy; and all his followers were called Peripatetics, until, while the pupils of Xenocrates took the name " Academics," those of Aristotle retained the general name. Aristotle also formed his Peripatetic school into a kind of college with common meals under a president (apxwv) changing every ten days; while the philosopher himself delivered lectures, in which his practice, as his pupil Aristoxenus tells us (Harmonics, ii. init.), was, avoiding the generalities of Plato, to prepare his audience by explaining the subject of investigation and its nature. But Aristotle was an author as well as a lecturer; for the hypothesis that the Aristotelian writings are notes of his lectures taken down by his pupils is contradicted by the tradition of their learning while walking, and disproved by the impossibility of taking down such complicated discourses from dictation. Moreover, it is clear that Aristotle addressed himself to readers as well as hearers, as in concluding his whole theory of syllogisms he says, " There would remain for all of you or for our hearers (7ravrcov bv i7 rwv $Kpoaµ€vcwv) a duty of according to the defects of the investigation consideration, to its discoveries much gratitude " (Sophistical Elenchi, 34, 184 b 6). In short, Aristotle was at once a student, a reader, a lecturer, a writer and a book collector. He was, says Strabo (6o8), the first we knew who collected books and taught the kings in Egypt the arrangement of a library. In his library no doubt were books of others, but also his own. There we must figure to ourselves the philosopher, constantly referring to his autograph rolls; entering references and cross-references; correcting, rewriting, collecting and arranging them according to their subjects; showing as well as reading them to his pupils; with little thought of publication, but with his whole soul concentrated on being and truth. On his first visit to Athens, during which occurred the fatal battle of Mantineia (362 B.C.), Aristotle had seen the confusion of Greece becoming the opportunity of Macedon under Philip; and on his second visit he was supported at Athens by the complete domination of Macedon under Alexander. Having witnessed the unjust exactions of a democracy at Athens, the dwindling population of an oligarchy at Sparta, and the oppressive selfishness of new tyrannies throughout the Greek world, he condemned the actual constitutions of the Greek states as deviations (rapeK-#6a-as) directed merely to the good of the government; and he contemplated a right constitution (opOit roXcreia), which might be either a commonwealth, an aristocracy or a monarchy, directed to the general good; but he preferred the monarchy of one man, pre-eminent in virtue above the rest, as the best of all governments (Nicomachean Ethics, viii. ro; Politics, P 14-18). Moreover, by adding (Politics, H 7, 1327 b 29-33) that the Greekrace could govern the world by obtaining one constitution (.u&.s rvyXavov 1roXimias), he indicated some leaning to a universal monarchy under such a king as Alexander. On the whole, however, he adhered to the Greek city-state (roes), partly perhaps out of patriotism to his own Stagira. Averse at all events to the Athenian democracy, leaning towards Macedonian monarchy, and resting on Macedonian power, he maintained himself in his school at Athens, so long as he was supported by the friendship of Antipater„ the Macedonian regent in Alexander's absence. But on Alexander's sudden death in 323, when Athens in the Lamian war tried to reassert her freedom against Antipater, Aristotle found himself in danger. He was accused of impiety on the absurd charge of deifying the tyrant Hermias; and, remembering the fate of Socrates, he retired to Chalcis in Euboea. There, away from his school, in 322 he died. (A tomb has been found in our time inscribed with the name of Biote, daughter of Aristotle. But is this our Aristotle?) Such is our scanty knowledge of Aristotle's life, which seems to have been prosperous by inheritance and position, and happy by work and philosophy. His will, which was quoted by Hermippus, and, as afterwards quoted by Diogenes Laertius, has come down to us, though perhaps not complete, supplies some further details, as follows: Antipater is to be executor with others. Nicanor is to marry Pythias, Aristotle's daughter, and to take charge of Nicomachus his son. Theophrastus is to be one of the executors if he will and can, and if Nicanor should die to act instead, if he will, in reference to Pythias. The executors and Nicanor are to take charge of Herpyllis, " because," in the words of the testator, " she has been good to me," and to allow her to reside either in the lodging by the garden at Chalcis or in the paternal house at Stagira. They are to provide for the slaves, who in some cases are to be freed. They are to see after the dedication of four images by Gryllion of Nicanor, Proxenus, Nicanor's mother and Arimnestus. They are to dedicate an image of Aristotle's mother, and to see that the bones of his wife Pythias are, as she ordered, taken up and buried with him. On this will we may remark that Proxenus is said to have been Aristotle's guardian after the death, of his father, and to have been the father of Nicanor; that Herpyllis of Stagira was the mother of Nicomachus by Aristotle; and that Arimnestus was the brother of Aristotle, who also had a sister, Arimneste. Every clause breathes the philosopher's humanity. II. DEVELOPMENT FROM PLATONISM Turning now from the man to the philosopher as we know him best in his extant writings (see Aristoteles, ed. Bekker, Berlin, 1831, the pages of which we use for our quotations), we find, instead of the general dialogues of Plato, special didactic treatises, and a fundamental difference of philosophy, so great as to have divided philosophers into opposite camps, and made Coleridge say that everybody is born either a Platonist or an Aristotelian. Platonism is the doctrine that the individuals we call things only become, but a thing is universal form beyond many individuals, e.g. one good beyond seeming goods; and that without supernatural forms, which are models of individuals, there is nothing, no being, no knowing, no good. Aristotelianism is the contrary doctrine: a thing is always a separate individual, a substance (data), natural such as earth or supernatural such as God; and without these individual substances, which have attributes. and universals belonging to them, there is nothing, to be, to know, to be good. Philosophic differences are best felt by their practical effects: philosophically, Platonism is a philosophy of universal forms, Aristotelianism a philosophy of individual substances: practically, Plato makes us think first of the super-natural and the, kingdom of heaven, Aristotle of the natural and the whole world. So diametrical a difference could not have arisen at once. For, though Aristotle was different from Plato, and brought with him from Stagira a Greek and Ionic but colonial origin, a medical descent and tendency, and a matter-of-fact worldly kind of character, nevertheless on coming to Athens as pupil of Plato he must have begun with his master's philosophy. What then in more detail was the philosophy which the pupil learnt from the master? When Aristotle at the age of eighteen came to Athens, Plato, at the age of sixty-two, had probably written all his dialogues except the Laws; and in the course of the remaining twenty years of his life and teaching, he expounded " the so-called unwritten dogmas " in his lectures on the Good. There was therefore a written Platonism for Aristotle to read, and an unwritten Platonism which he actually heard. To begin with the written philosophy of the Dialogues. Individual so-called things neither are nor are not, but become: the real thing is always one universal form beyond the many individuals, e.g. the one beautiful beyond all beautiful individuals; and each form (t a) is a model which causes individuals by participation to become like, but not the same as, itself. Above all forms stands the form of the good, which is the cause of all other forms being, and through them of all individuals becoming. The creator, or the divine intellect, with a view to the form of the good, and taking all forms as models, creates in a receptacle (varo&oxil, Plato, Timaeus, 49 A) individual impressions which are called things but really change and become without attaining the permanence of being. Knowledge resides not in sense but in reason, which, on the suggestion of sensations of changing individuals, apprehends, or (to be precise) is reminded of, real universal forms, and, by first ascending from less to more general until it arrives at the form of good and then descending from this unconditional principle to the less general, becomes science and philosophy, using as its method the dialectic which gives and receives questions and answers between man and man. Happiness in this world consists proximately in virtue as a harmony between the three parts, rational, spirited and appetitive, of our souls, and ultimately in living according to the form of the good; but there is a far higher happiness, when the immortal soul, divesting itself of body and passions and senses, rises from earth to heaven and contemplates pure forms by pure reason. Such in brief is the Platonism of the written dialogues; where the main doctrine of forms is confessedly advanced never as a dogma but always as a hypothesis, in which there are difficulties, but without which Plato can explain neither being, nor truth nor goodness, because throughout he denies the being of individual things. In the unwritten lectures of his old age, he developed this formal into a mathematical metaphysics. In order to explain the unity and variety of the world, the one universal form and the many individuals, and how the one good is the main cause of everything, he placed as it were at the back of his own doctrine of forms a Pythagorean mathematical philosophy. He supposed that the one and the two, which is indeterminate, and is the great and little, are opposite principles or causes. Identifying the form of the good with the one, he supposed that the one, by combining with the indeterminate two, causes a plurality of forms, which like every combination of one and two are numbers but peculiar in being incommensurate with one another, so that each form is not a mathematical number (paBnparn,ds apLBpds), but a formal number (el5natxds It ptOpos). Further he sup-posed that in its turn each form, or formal number, is a limited one which, by combining again with the indeterminate two, causes a plurality of individuals. Hence finally he concluded that the good as the one combining with the indeterminate two is directly the cause of all forms as formal numbers, and indirectly through them all of the multitude of individuals in the world. Aristotle knew Plato, was present at his lectures on the Good, wrote a report of them (arepi rayaBo"v), and described this latter philosophy of Plato in his Metaphysics. Modern critics, who were not present and knew neither, often accuse Aristotle of misrepresenting Plato. But Heracleides and Hestiacus, Speusippus and Xenocrates were also present and wrote similar reports. What is more, both Speusippus and Xenocrates founded their own philosophies on this very Pythagoreanism of Plato. Speusippus as president of the Academy from 347 to 339 taught that the one and the many are principles, while abolishing forms and reducing the good from cause to effect. Xenocrates as president from 339 onwards taught that the one and many are principles,503 only without distinguishing mathematical from formal numbers. Aristotle's critics hardly realize that for the rest of his life he had to live and to struggle with a formal and a mathematical Platonism, which exaggerated first universals and attributes and afterwards the quantitative attributes, one and many, into substantial things and real causes. Aristotle had no sympathy with the unwritten dogmas of Plato. But with the written dialogues of Plato he always continued to agree almost as much as he disagreed. Like Plato, he believed in real universals, real essences, real causes; he believed in the unity of the universal, and in the immateriality of essences; he believed in the good, and that there is a good of the universe; he believed that God is a living being, eternal and best, who is a supernatural cause of the motions and changes of the natural world, and that essences and matter are also necessary causes; he believed in the divine intelligence and in the immortality of our intelligent souls; he believed in knowledge going from sense to reason, that science requires ascent to principles and is descent from principles, and that dialectic is useful to science; he believed in happiness involving virtue, and in moral virtue being a control of passions by reason, while the highest happiness is speculative wisdom. All these inspiring meta-physical and moral doctrines the pupil accepted from his master's dialogues, and throughout his life adhered to the general spirit of realism without materialism pervading the Platonic philosophy. But what he refused to believe with Plato was that reality is not here, but only above; and what he maintained against Plato was that it is both, and that universals and forms, one and many, the good, are real but not separate realities. This deep metaphysical divergence was the prime cause of the transition from Platonism to Aristotelianism. Fragmenta Aristotelis.—Aristotle's originality soon asserted itself in early writings, of which fragments have come down to us, and have been collected by Rose (see the Berlin edition of Aristotle's works, or more readily in the Teubner series, which we shall use for our quotations). Many, no doubt, are spurious; but some are genuine, and a few perhaps cited in Aristotle's extant works. Some are dialogues, others didactic works. A special interest attaches to the dialogues written after the manner of Plato but with Aristotle as principal interlocutor; and some of these, e.g. the crept arocalr&v and the Eudemus, seem to have been published. It is not always certain which were dialogues, which didactic like Aristotle's later works; but by comparing those which were certainly dialogues with their companions in the list of Aristotle's books as given by Diogenes Laertius, we may conclude with Bernays that the books occurring first in that list were dialogues. Hence we may perhaps accept as genuine the following: r. Dialogues: arepi S&KacoQVvals : On justice. crept arotnr&'v: On poets (perhaps cited in Poetics, 15, 1454 b 18, Ev TOES EKSeSopEVOCS )^dyOLS). crept dat Aovo4.ias: On philosophy (perhaps cited in Physics, ii. 2, 194 a 35-36). arepi aroALTIKOU: A politician. 'rep' p~lrOpcKrls Fp(AAos: On rhetoric. arporpearrucds: An exhortation to philosophy (probably in dialogue, because it is the model of Cicero's dialogue Hortensisys). Ev6npos i) arepi NYuxiIs: On soul (perhaps cited in De Anima, i. 4, 407 b 29, Kai Tocs Ev Kocvui yevopEvocs Adyois). 2. Didactic writings: (.) Metaphysical: are pt T&yaBoE': On the good (probably not a dialogue but a report of Plato's lectures), arepl lleiav: On forms. (2) Political: crept /3auiXeias: On monarchy. 'AAE avapos it iarip a7oi/wv: On colonies. 504 (3) Rhetorical: sixvgs T7ls eeo5 , End of Article: ARISTOTLE (384-322 B.C.)

Additional information and Comments

There are no comments yet for this article.
» Add information or comments to this article.
Please link directly to this article:
Highlight the code below, right click and select "copy." Paste it into a website, email, or other HTML document.