Aristotle in a Nutshell

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Aristotle in a Nutshell

Aristotle is last of the “Big Three” of the Greek philosophers of the classical era. Socrates passed the torch to Plato and Plato to Aristotle. The latter is, arguably, the first Homo Universalis (a polymath). He didn’t live, however, in the time of the renaissance but 17 centuries earlier. 

Short Bio

Early Years

Aristotle was born in 384 (B.C.E), in Stagira, in the Greek Kingdom of Makedonia. His father was a doctor working in the court of king Amyntas II and he envisioned a similar career path for his son. However, Aristotle had the misfortune to be left an orphan in a very young age. His uncle, Atarneus raised him in Asia Minor, just toward the island of Lesvos. At the age of 17, Aristotle moved to Athens where he studied under Plato. The latter saw the brilliance of his young pupil and soon became one of his favorite students.

 Aristotle had a curious mind and a tendency to ask questions about EVERYTHING: Biology; zoology; chemistry; math; reasoning; botanology; meteorology; physics; astronomy; ethics; poetry; just name a topic and you will find out that Aristotle had a working theory in progress for everything.

He surprised his teacher when he volunteered to be the reader of the daily texts for study and debate. Usually, that was a job reserved for slaves but Aristotle didn’t like to simply listen to ideas but study them. Progressively, and more often than not, Aristotle took a different approach to thinking than his mentor.

While Plato was an idealist, Aristotle was practical. He didn’t concern himself with imaginary ideals but with concreate ideas that could be supported by empirical evidence. His classification, methodology and investigated approach to learning constitute Aristotle the first true scientists of the classical era and the father of the scientific method. 

Aristotle would stay by his mentor’s side for about 20 years, all the way until Plato’s death. When the later passed away, a process took place to select the successor of Plato as the head of the academy. Although the brightest, Aristotle did not receive this honor and the torch was passed to Plato’s nephew Speusippus. 

Aristotle Tutor of Alexander (The Great)

When Plato died, Aristotle returned to Asia Minor where he spent his time in the court of his friend Hermias, king of Atarneus and Assos. In 338 B.C.E, Aristotle traveled to his birth land under the invitation of King Phillip II. The latter invited Aristotle to become the tutor of his young son and successor to the throne Alexander. Aristotle agreed on the term that Philip would restore Stagira which Philip burnt down to the ground years earlier.   

The philosopher was intrigued with the brilliance of the young prince but often debated. While Aristotle was the personification of balance, Alexander, already from a young age was drawn to extremes. Regardless, the two grew very close together in the three years that Aristotle tutored Alexander. He taught him math, physics, history, ethics, leadership, politics, rhetoric and to think critically.

 

When Alexander defeated Athens and before he set for his campaign in Persia, he allowed Aristotle to return to Athens and he financed his newly set academy called Lyceum. 

 

Back to Athens

Aristotle not being an Athenian citizen was excluded from owning property. Instead he rented a former wrestling ground which is located where nowadays one will find the national garden of Athens (one of my favorite places in Athens).

In the next 13 years, Aristotle went overboard. He wrote 400 papers!!! To put this into perspective, in today’s standards that would be equal to 11.000 pages or 10 MILLION words. Sandy, only 47 remain today.

At Lyceum, he created a new type of student named peripatetic: Word to word translation from Greek to English would mean the walkers. However, a more meaningful translation would be the wonderers. He asked of his students to keep notes and to produce papers. It wouldn’t be much of an exaggeration to state that Aristotle created the first proper educational system of human history.  

Well Known Ideas & Contrubutions
Aristotle's Universe

Aristotle’s universe is an enclosed sphere with the Earth at its center. The philosopher gave to his universe three attributes: 

  1. Unified: Everything in the universe is connecting and enclosed withing a sphere

  2. Eternal; The universe will always be

  3. Unborn: The universe pre-existed everything

The essence of the universe, i.e. what the universe is made of, has four interconnected and interchangeable ingredients in a ranking order (bottom-up order):

Aristotle's Biology

Every living thing comes from the same essence but has come to life to fulfill a different purpose:

Aristotle's Ethics

The logical coherence of Aristotle’s ethics is based upon the presumption that humans are social beings.

 

Via interaction (a continuous process), humans observe behaviors and learn to distinguish right from wrong intuitively both internal (esoteric) and external (social). 

From this process some people will stand out as moral exemplars – people to look up to. These people all share a common trait. They have found the golden mean. The balance between excess and deficiency.

 

These exemplary have completed or they are closer to achieving Eudemonia – happiness or a meaningful life. 

According to Aristotle, the fastest track to achieving Eudemonia is through education and friendship. Mutual educated individuals create meaningful relationships and build their character together as they attempt to find self-actualization and fulfill their purpose in life. 

 

A great sub-benefit of this process is moral justice: true friends will do justice to one another. 

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