Aristotle is one of the most renowned philosophers of ancient Greek period. His name is remembered along with other great philosophers of that time, such as Socrates and Plato. Although only one third of Aristotle's works has survived, his concepts have been instrumental and extremely influential for modern ideologies. Aristotle was in fact the student of Plato and had studied in the Academy, founded by Plato, for almost twenty years. When Plato died, it is at this time that he left the institution.
Aristotle was born in 384 BC at Stagira, Halkidiki. His father, Nichomachus, worked at the royal residence of the King of Macedon, Amyntas, as a physician. At the age of 18, Aristotle went to Athens to study at the Academy that Plato had founded. He remained there for almost 20 years, till 347 BC, the year of Plato's death.
Then Aristotle left for Asia Minor where he visited his dear friend Hermias of Atameus. With another friend, he went to the island of Lesvos where he spent time studying zoology and botany. In Asia Minor, Aristotle married Pythias, the adoptive daughter of Hermias, who gave him a girl child.
When Hermias passed away, Aristotle was invited by King of Macedon, Philip II, to teach his son, Alexander the Great. He also taught philosophy, literature and politics to other Macedonian nobles. In 335 BC, Aristotle returned to Athens and established his own school, Lyceum, where he taught for about 12 years. At that time, he wrote most of his works, which used to be lecture aids for his students. Unfortunately, today only some fragments of these material survive and they are mostly in form of discourses.
In the meantime, Pythias, his wife, had died and Aristotle had taken a second wife, Herpyllis, who gave him a son. However, as Aristotle had a lot of students, he also had a lot of adversaries. When he was accused that he showed no respect to the gods with his philosophical ideas, Aristotle left Athens and went to Halkis, the birthplace of his mother. There, he died in 332 BC of natural causes.
Aristotle dealt with every possible subject of his time: from anatomy, zoology, physics and metaphysics, to theology, rhetoric, psychology, geology and meteorology. It is said by historians that Aristotle literally studied everything that constituted the Greek encyclopedia of that time.
Aristotle also was the founder of notion of formal logic, as its references can be seen in most of his works. His theories on logic were considered till the 19th century as the ultimate concepts of Western Logic.
The three notions of science
His method of dealing with philosophy is both inductive and deductive. His concept of natural philosophy deals with the exploration of nature in terms of physics, biology and other similar sciences. He considered philosophy to have a harmonic balance with another science, known as reasoning.
To him, science had an altogether different meaning. Science had three basic characteristics or better explained as having a certain sort of classification. The three words "practical, poetical and theoretical" very well explains science. Practical science would suggest concepts dealing with ethics and politics. Poetical science deals with research of poetry and artistic endeavours, and by theoretical science he refers to physics, mathematics and metaphysics.
The five elements of the Universe
Aristotle in his study of Physics has said that there are basically five elements which constitute the universe: these are fire, earth, air, water and aether. These elements are positioned according to their gravitational pull from the centre of the universe. When, by chance, they tend to shift from their natural domain, then they again fall back to the same region or place without the use of necessary force. Thus heavy objects tend to sink in water, air bubbles usually rise upwards, rain water falls on the earth and flames shoots up in the air.
In the field of biology, especially zoology, Aristotle has dissected and studied animals during his stay on the island of Lesvos which enabled him to understand a lot about various species. He used to categorize animals as having blood and not having blood. Moreover, the animals having blood were further divided into two types: life bearing and egg bearing. In case of animals without blood there were basically three types: insects, crustacea and testacea.
In Ethical theory, it is seen that Aristotle regards the concept of ethics to be a part of practical science. In this sphere, actions bear more importance than reasoning. Ethical knowledge is basically general knowledge. Moreover, he says that virtue is related to an object's proper actions. Soul functions as the giver of happiness. An individual must not be tempted to have excess and thereby should be happy with whatever he has. He also introduced the golden mean, believing that virtue in not in excess or in deficiency, but somewhere in the middle.
Aristotle's concept of politics was however different. He considered city to be a political community. This city can thrive on the basis of political partnership. The creation of a city gives one a good life. He stated that man was a political animal. He makes us comprehend the fact that individual leads to the formation of the family which in turn leads to the formation of a city. This order in Aristotelian concept is in the reverse. Politics functions like an organism and is the collective action of several individual parts, which are all interrelated.
In the field of Poetics, Aristotle considered all forms of art (epic poetry, tragedy, comedy or music) to be an imitation. He believed that mankind has advantage over animals as they can subject themselves to imitation. Aristotle's Poetics had two parts: tragedy and comedy. He believed that comedy makes people look worse than the average, while tragedy makes them look better than the average man. Tragedy is the resultant effect of actions that lead to the arousal of emotions, like pity or fear, and thereby causes catharsis of these emotions. In any case, they both deal with imitation, which is natural in man.
Unfortunately, most of Aristotle's works were actually lost after the fall of Rome. Still his philosophies have been instrumental in shaping modern thoughts and language structures. Till the 20th century, Aristotle's Logic was considered supreme. With the arrival of Renaissance, many of Aristotle's theories of the Universe were taken as the basis for the formation of newer theories by astronomers of those periods.
Before Charles Darwin came to the forefront in the field of zoology, Aristotle's findings and classifications had great importance. The 20th century saw Aristotle being praised for the amount of work he had done and the theories he had left behind in education, literary criticism, human and political analysis being studied worldwide.