Aristotle is a towering figure in ancient Greek philosophy. A giant figure who made many great contributions in various fields including physics, mathematics, politics, ethics, and even dance and theatre, Aristotle radically reformed most fields of knowledge he touched. Notably, he was the first person to construct classifications for different areas of human knowledge such as ethics, mathematics, biology.

One of the greatest philosophers of all time, Aristotle was born on 384 BCE, in the Macedonian region of northeastern Greece. In 343 BCE, he moved to the Macedonian capital to tutor Alexander, the king’s thirteen-year-old son, who eventually became Alexander the Great. Aristotle was also the one encouraging Alexander towards eastern conquest. Later in 335 BCE, he went back to Athens and spent the next twelve years conducting courses at his own established school, Lyceum. It was also during this period that Aristotle created most of his works, which were said to have consisted of about 150 philosophical treatises. They fall under three types: dialogues and other works of a popular character; collection of facts and materials from scientific treatment; and systematic works.

Aristotle’s approach to science differed from his teacher Plato’s. Plato thought only pure mathematical reasoning was necessary, and therefore, only focused on mathematics and metaphysics. Aristotle, however, thought that in addition to this “first philosophy”, it is also essential to undertake detailed empirical investigations of nature. Thus, he also focused his studies on what he called “second philosophy”, which includes subjects such as mechanics or biology. His philosophy, as a result, involved both inductive and deductive reasoning, observing the workings of the world around him, then reasoning from the particular to a knowledge of essences and universal laws. In a sense, Aristotle was the first major proponent of the modern scientific method.

Aristotle’s influence to today’s science is most significant in the resurgence of virtue ethics  in the second half of the 20th century. Many virtue ethics took inspirations from Aristotle who declared that a virtuous person is someone with ideal character traits. Theses traits, despite deriving from natural internal tendencies, need to be cultivated. Once established, however, they will become stable. Unlike deontological and consequentialist, virtue ethics do not aim primarily to identify universal principles that can be applied in any moral situation. Rather, virtue ethics deal with wider questions such as “How should I live?” and “What are proper family and social values?”. Until today, many philosophers still look to Aristotle for guidance and inspiration in many areas.

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2 responses »

  1. Jordi says:

    Given that, I think, Alexander died in his Eastern adventure, maybe that is not the best strategy to praise Aristotle with.

  2. Jordi says:

    The role of empirical knowledge in Aristotle’s work is so clear to me in how I structured the class with cases and with the whole “social science” sector of our Venn diagram.

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