Greek Philosophy – Aristotle
Aristotle (384 – 322 BCE), the most famous of Greek philosophers along with his teacher Plato and Plato’s teacher, Socrates, was born in Strageira, north of Athens. His father was the personal physician of Amyntas, King of Macedon. Later, Aristotle would become the tutor and advisor to Alexander the Great, himself a Macedonian monarch. When he was old enough, Aristotle traveled to Athens to join Plato’s Academy, his group of students who met to hear Plato lecture and get heckled by Diogenes. He studied with Plato for twenty years until Plato’s death. Tradition has it that the Academy was taken over by Plato’s nephew Speusippus even though Aristotle was more qualified, possibly because Aristotle had come to disagree with Plato’s theory of ideal forms, and so Aristotle left.
He traveled and studied in Ionia and Asia before King Philip of Macedon invited him to tutor his young son Alexander, thirteen at the time, who would go on to conquer and unify ancient Greece within his brief empire along with Egypt and Persia. Aristotle also tutored Ptolemy and Cassander, who after Alexander’s death would take over parts of his divided empire.
Aristotle founded his school in Athens in 335 BCE, holding meetings of his students at a public gymnasium named the Lyceum after a form of Apollo as a wolf god. The Lyceum had seen earlier philosophers give public talks, including Socrates and Plato, and it continued to be the meeting place for followers of Aristotle until Athens was sacked by the Romans 250 years later. The followers of Aristotle became known as the Peripatetics, the “Walk-about-ers”, as Aristotle enjoyed walking as he lectured, taught and answered questions. In the mornings, he would walk with a select number of advanced students in detailed, advanced seminars, and then in the evening give general talks open to any who would gather. A study at Stanford has shown that if one wants to retain knowledge through study, one should sit, but if one wants to stimulate critical and creative thinking, walking outside is best.
After Alexander died, Aristotle feared being killed by the Athenians as he was not only a barbarian foreigner and a Macedonian but the tutor of Alexander, who was not loved by the Athenians. After he was accused publicly of impiety towards the gods, showing little in Athens had changed since the death of Socrates, Aristotle left Athens saying he would not allow the Athenians “to sin against philosophy twice”, recalling the death of Socrates due to similar charges. Aristotle died within a year of leaving Athens due to a stomach illness. While some sources said that he was poisoned, like Socrates though not self-administered, this is not considered credible by scholars today, a myth that likely arose making the lives of the two philosophers similar. Considering that Socrates was originally quite skeptical, questioning everyone to show them that no human mortals understood much, and Aristotle said that skeptics are no better than plants and are mere destroyers, the two were quite dissimilar.
Aristotle, like his teacher Plato “the broad”, wrote on a great number of subjects. Many of his writings are now lost, and scholars debate which of his works are his own or the notes of his students. Diogenes Laertius wrote in Roman times about the work of Aristotle, though none of the works he mentions are known today. It is also possible that many of the texts we have are lecture notes, either Aristotle’s or his students’, and may not have been intended to stand as texts in their own right. We will be concentrating on his studies of metaphysics, psychology, logic, ethics and politics.