Monday, May 24, 2010


I have written extensively about the Athenian Polis and its accomplishments -- the revolutionary political system which gave power to the people, and the intellectual successes which have profoundly influenced Western thought for 2,500 years. Though the number of great Athenian thinkers is large, two stand out -- the philosophers Plato and Aristotle. How different they were: idealist and practical thinker, external ideal versus internal essence, patron of Augustine and patron of Aquinas.

During my review of the Sophists, I became focused on Aristotle because of his book on rhetoric. I wanted to see whether he was as critical of them as Plato and whether he saw rhetoric as a positive development in the communication between men. Unfortunately, you can’t bite off little pieces of Aristotle, so I became immersed, and moved beyond rhetoric to other subjects. It will take a few posts to say all that should be said about Aristotle.

His dates are 384 B.C. to 322 B.C, and he began life in Stagira on the peninsula of Chalcidice. His father was a physician serving as the court doctor for the King of Macedon. The son had probably begun training as a physician when he was sent to Athens and became a pupil in Plato’s Academy. Aristotle stayed there for some twenty years until Plato’s death in 347 B.C. Then, after studying biology for five years in Asia Minor, he began to tutor the future Alexander the Great. Aristotle mentored Alexander until the death of Alexander’s father Philip in 335 B.C., He then returned to Athens, and founded the Lyceum, an academy for scientific research.

Aristotle’s reputation has waxed and waned over the centuries through no fault of his own. The first books to be translated into Latin were Categories and On Interpretation by Boethius in the sixth century. They were ignored until the other books were translated in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Embraced by Aquinas, Aristotle suffered during the renaissance for that association. Later, his physics was debunked by Newton and the picture of discredit was made complete. Still, Aristotle’s reputation was revived a hundred years ago when new editions and translations stimulated scholars to look under the covers.

Today, we recognize Aristotle as the first scientist – a man who took the contemplation of man’s place in the world to a new level. How many of his contemporaries knew what he had accomplished?

1 comment:

monkeyface said...

Haven't checked in here in a while... I guess I have some reading to do... Kind of hard to imagine Aristotle falling out of favor, tho. Guess I should read some Aquinus, wasn't aware of the connection....