Aristotle: The Philosopher

Aristotle was a Greek philosopher who lived from 384-322 BC. He was the philosopher for a very long time, until other philosophers like Plato and Pythagoras got a slice of the pie.

Aristotle was the son of a physician which set him up to make many scientific observations about everything he did. His students gathered all kinds of scientific information, from Greek constitutions and the histories of science and philosophy to animals and plants.

Aristotle’s central difference with Plato, another famous Greek philosopher, was the Forms. Plato believed that (for example) every chair derived its chairness from one eternal source and that every chair answered to that source. Aristotle, on the other hand, claimed the opposite. Chairness answered to chair, not chair to chairness. I am more inclined to Plato’s way of thinking. An easy was to memorize this is to think Plato=eternal and Aristotle=physical.

Aristotle wrote a treatise on meteorology, which was very odd at times. He looked for natural causes.

Aristotle’s History of Animals categorizes and subdivides different animal species. Aristotle was fascinated by animals. He documented everything from locomotion and digestion to reproduction and hibernation. But the book also has many errors.

Aristotle’s analysis of change is one of the theories that made him exceptionally famous. His theory was that everything has a potential. Now that sounds like basic stuff, but let me explain.

Say you put a pot of soup on the stove. The soup eventually heats up. Aristotle would say that the soup always had the potential to heat up. It just needed the tool, in this case the stove.

There are some contrasting theories that are foundational to understanding Aristotle:

  1. Potential vs. Actual
  2. Essential vs. Accidental
  3. Matter vs. Form

He visits and argues about these at length, trying to define the differences.

Aristotle wrote a book called the Organon, which deals with logic. He takes up many fallacies, such as the undistributed middle. The undistributed middle is a very silly theory. Example: All men eat. All elephants eat. Therefore all men are elephants. Anyone with half a brain knows that’s ridiculous.

He also says “If A, then B.” Not the other way around. If you’re in Madrid, you’re in Spain. If you’re in Spain, you’re not necessarily in Madrid.

Aristotle discusses at length the matter of the Soul. His definition of soul is whatever is making that thing Live. He offers these three:

  1. Nutritive: plants
  2. Nutritive and sensitive: animals
  3. Nutritive, sensitive and rational: humans

These describe the different levels of the soul.

Aristotle’s main policy however, is his idea about rationalism. He believed that what makes men different from giraffes is reason. Nothing else. I do not hold this theory.

Aristotle was a key figure in developing the Western Civilization we know today.


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