Monday, May 31, 2010

The Length and Breadth of Aristotle

It doesn’t take long, once one examines the works of Aristotle, to appreciate the accomplishments of this great ancient philosopher and scientist. I call him a tertiary thinker – taking human thought to the highest levels and building a world view around its components.

Perhaps the best way to impress you is through a simple listing of his works and subject areas. I have placed relevant quotes under some of the sections and noted the quote's relationship to modern thinking where appropriate.

Logic (Organon)

Categories – enumeration of things that can be the subject or predicate of a proposition
On Interpretation – describes the relationship between language and logic
Prior Analytics – inferences and how they are used in syllogisms.
Posterior Analytics – describes deductive reasoning
Topics – treatise on the art of the dialectic
Sophistical Refutations – discussion of thirteen logical fallacies

Physics (the study of nature) – discusses the principle causes of change, movement, and motion

“Why then should it not be the same with the parts in nature, e.g. that our teeth should come up of necessity-the front teeth sharp, fitted for tearing, the molars broad and useful for grinding down the food-since they did not arise for this end, but it was merely a coincident result; and so with all other parts in which we suppose that there is purpose? Wherever then all the parts came about just what they would have been if they had come be for an end, such things survived, being organized spontaneously in a fitting way; whereas those which grew otherwise perished and continue to perish, as Empedocles says his 'man-faced ox-progeny' did.” (Darwin’s evolution and natural selection)

“Further, no one could say why a thing once set in motion should stop anywhere; for why should it stop here rather than here? So that a thing will either be at rest or must be moved ad infinitum, unless something more powerful get in its way.” (Newton’s first law of motion)

On the Heavens – behavior of heavenly bodies

“There are similar disputes about the shape of the earth. Some think it is spherical, others that it is flat and drum-shaped. For evidence they bring the fact that, as the sun rises and sets, the part concealed by the earth shows a straight and not a curved edge, whereas if the earth were spherical the line of section would have to be circular. In this they leave out of account the great distance of the sun from the earth and the great size of the circumference, which, seen from a distance on these apparently small circles appears straight.

“Also, those mathematicians who try to calculate the size of the earth's circumference arrive at the figure 400,000 stades (45,000 miles). This indicates not only that the earth's mass is spherical in shape, but also that as compared with the stars it is not of great size.”

“That the heaven as a whole neither came into being nor admits of destruction, as some assert, but is one and eternal, with no end or beginning of its total duration, containing and embracing in itself the infinity of time, we may convince ourselves not only by the arguments already set forth but also by a consideration of the views of those who differ from us in providing for its generation.”

“Secondly, like the upward movement of fire, the downward movement of earth and all heavy things makes equal angles on every side with the earth's surface: it must therefore be directed towards the centre. Whether it is really the centre of the earth and not rather that of the whole to which it moves, may be left to another inquiry, since these are coincident.” (Gravitation)

On Generation and Corruption – do things come from causes, prime material, or alteration?

On the Soul – the kinds of souls possessed by living things. This does not mean soul in the religious sense but the character of the mind (ego?).

Little Physical Treatises

On Memory and Reminiscence
On Dreams
On Prophesying by Dreams

The History of Animals – zoology and natural history

The Parts of Animals – the character of natural science and a defense of the study of animal structure.

On the Generation of Animals – Sexual reproduction in animals and plants

Metaphysics (above physics) – what can be asserted about anything that exists apart from its qualities. Causation, form and matter, and God.

“Now all causes must be eternal, but especially these; for they are the causes that operate on so much of the divine as appears to us. There must, then, be three theoretical philosophies, mathematics, physics, and what we may call theology (or metaphysics), since it is obvious that if the divine is present anywhere, it is present in things of this sort. And the highest science must deal with the highest genus. Thus, while the theoretical sciences are more to be desired than the other sciences, this is more to be desired than the other theoretical sciences.”

Ethics – moral problems as related to political circumstances
Politics – things concerning the Polis, origin and structure of the state

Rhetoric – the art of persuasion
Poetics – treatise on drama as an art form


Geoff Carter said...

Hi Mike,
Nice summery, and some excellent examples of the quality of his work.
Despite the encyclopaedic range of his scholarship, the sad thing is more of his work has been lost than remains.

Mike Anderson said...

Yes, we think we have about 40% of his work.