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ARISTOTLE

What was Aristotle's main contribution to Western philosophy?

Aristotle (384-322 b.c.e.) curbed the strain of intellectual mysticism that had been inaugurated by Parmenides (c. 515—450 b.c.e.) and he formalized common sense in ways that checked the speculative excesses of his teacher, Plato (c. 428-c. 348 b.c.e.). This enabled a solid foundation for empiricism, or knowledge based on sensory observation and direct experience. Aristotle accomplished his task via encyclopedic accounts of the existing knowledge of his day, assessments of that knowledge, and developments of it into new areas, using new methods of thought. He was a rare combination of a highly well-informed and diligent scholar and an original thinker. Like his nineteenth century successor Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831), Aristotle was capable of "thinking the whole world." But unlike Hegel, he thought of the whole world not as an abstract and speculative theorist would but as an ordinary person would, if he or she could do that.

What is known about Aristotle's life?

Aristotle of Stagira (384-322 b.c.e.), also known as The Stagirite, was the son of Nichomachus, who was the Macedonian King Amyntas Il's court physician. Aristotle's career was shaped by this relationship with his scientific father. When Aristotle was 17, he enrolled in Plato's Academy in Athens. After Plato died in 347 b.c.e. and the Academy's curriculum changed toward the mathematical and speculative interests of its new head, Speusippus (407-339 b.c.e.), Aristotle left for Assos, which was then under the leadership of Hermias, a former slave who rose to the position of ruler that his master had held. Aristotle married Hermias' niece, Pythias, in 345 b.c.e., and after Hermias died, he traveled to Lesvos.

The island of Lesvos, in the northeastern Aegean Sea, had a great diversity of marine creatures and contemporary mammals, as well as many ancient fossils. Aristotle pursued his biological research on the taxonomy of living beings there. In 343 b.c.e., King Philip of Macedonia invited Aristotle to serve as tutor to his son, Alexander, who was to become Alexander the Great. In 335 b.c.e., Aristotle returned to Athens. He founded a school, the Lyceum, in a grove dedicated to Apollo Lyceus outside of the city. At the Lyceum, Aristotle lectured and directed research. He also constructed and stocked the first great library in ancient times. The walkway under a colonnade, or "peripatos," was the source of the name "Perapatetics" that was given to the members of the Lyceum.

After the death of his wife, Pythias, Aristotle lived with and had a son with Herphyllis. Their son was named after Aristotle's father, Nichomachus, after

A statue of Aristotle is located at a park named in his honor in Stagira, Halkidiki, Greece (iStock).

A statue of Aristotle is located at a park named in his honor in Stagira, Halkidiki, Greece (iStock).

What survives of Aristotle's work?

After Aristotle left the Lyceum, many of his books and dialogues were never seen again, and other works of his were hidden in a vault for two centuries. Indeed, until the European Renaissance, Aristotle's writings suffered a pattern of loss and rediscovery. A good part of Aristotle's existing corpus may have been reconstructed by his students from lecture notes they took, or compiled years later by Aristotelians consulting secondary sources. Some of it may have been written by Aristotle or other members of the Lyceum as lecture preparation.

Scholars now agree that the following works of Aristotle have been lost: dialogues in the same style as Plato; a vast collection of natural observations; popular publications; lectures on the good and Plato's forms; as many as 158 constitutions for Greek states, of which only the one for Athens survives.

In the first century c.e., Andronicus of Rhodes organized the existing Aristotelian corpus into its present form, but the earliest transcriptions of this are from the ninth century. The first critical edition of Aristotle's works was published by the Berlin Academy in 1831. It is estimated to represent as little as a fifth of Aristotle's total output, but in amounting to about 1,500 pages of small print in typical translations of Aristotle's "collected works," it provides a substantial basis for scholarly reference today.

whom he also named his work on ethics. When Alexander, now Alexander the Great, died in 325 b.c.e., Aristotle retired to Chalcis, where he lived for the remainder of his life.

 
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