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Aristotle Biography

Aristotle and Plato have been the most influential philosophers of the Western tradition.
Aristotle, designed from Copy of Lysipps Atistotle, Roma
An Aristotle (384322 BCE)

Aristotle biography - Text An impertinent chatterbox who was entertaining Aristotle with a tedious discourse, noticed that the philosopher did not regard him much. So the man made an apology that he was afraid he had interrupted him.

"Not really," replied the thinker, "I did not mind one word you said."


Aristotle was born at Stagira in Macedonia on the northwest coast of the Aegean Sea, as the son of Nicomachus, the court physician to the king of Macedonia and grandfather of Alexander the Great. When Aristotle was seventeen he entered Plato's academy in Athens, and remained there until Plato's death. Aristotle then accepted the invitation of Hermias to live at Assos.

When Hermias died in 345, Aristotle married his niece, Pythias. Aristotle was himself 37 at this time - and he taught in the Politics that the ideal ages for marriage was 37 for the husband and 18 for the wife . . . Pythias bore him a daugher, and did not live long. After she died, he lived with Herpyllis, and had a son, Nicomachus, with her. Herpyllis outlived Aristotle.

After three years at Assos, Aristotle went to Mytilene on the island of Lesbos, and focused on biology. In Aristotle's biology observations is before theory. Thus, he wrote in On the Generation of Animals:

The facts have not yet been sufficiently established. If ever they are, then credit must be given to observation rather than to theories . . .

In late 343 or early 342 Philip II invited Aristotle to return to the Macedonian court. Between 343/2 and 340 he acted as the tutor to the young Alexander the Great, who gave his teacher a large sum of money to set up a school in Athens. Alexander had been instructed by Aristotle to refrain from any physical intermixture with the barbarians, i.e., non-Greeks, and that Greeks were superior. But Alexander became committed to intermarriage; he chose a wife from the Persian nobility and forced his high-ranking officers and encouraged his troops to do likewise. So he and Aristotle did not quite agree.

Aristotle withdrew and returned to his paternal property at Stagira around 339 BC. And in 335 Aristotle returned to Athens where he founded a school, the Lyceum, which was very important to him. There they dissected animals and studied the habits of insects, etc. As it is said, "the science of observation" - observing rigorously, calmly and skillfully - was something new to the Greeks. And hampered by lack of instruments, the thinkers at the Lyceum were not always correct in their conclusions. Anyway, at the Lyceum Aristotle organized and conducted research on many subjects, and built the first great library of antiquity. Aristotle sorted branches of knowledge into physics, metaphysics, psychology, rhetoric, poetics, and logic.

In later years he renounced some of Plato's theories. And he considered a man sufficiently educated if he knew the theory of medicine without having gained experience practicing it . . . When Alexander died in 325, anti-Macedonian feeling in Athens made Aristotle retire to Chalcis on the island of Euboea, to his mother's estates there. He died in 322 from a stomach illness.

His work remains a powerful current even in contemporary philosophical debate. Some of his concepts and ideas have remained embedded in Western thinking "all the time". For one thing he designed a system of logic, and pioneered the study of zoology. His writings in philosophy, ethical and political theory, metaphysics and the philosophy of science are still widely taught for various reasons.

"There is nothing as practical as a good theory," said Kurt Lewin

Aristotle, who was writing about two centuries after the death of the thinker Thales of Miletus, shows Thales as entrepreneur.

People often taunted Thales, saying that all his wisdom had failed to make him rich. Thales responded by buying up all the olive presses in Miletus in a year when his knowledge of meteorology made him predict a bumper crop of olives. By charging monopolistic prices for the use of his newly acquired presses, he became extremely wealthy in one season. Having proved his point, Thales then sold all the presses again and returned to philosophy.

The Socratic Doctrine

Plato was giving a reading of Socrates' last day. The dialogue was moving and solemn. But as Plato was reading, his audience gradually melted away. In the end, Aristotle alone was left.

The anecdote was probably made to signal that Aristotle was quite spellbound by the Socratic doctrine of immortality as expounded by Plato.


Aristotle Works

The works known in his lifetime include dialogues modelled on those of Plato - these are now lost. He accumulated a large collection of natural and historical observations while he headed the Lyceum, but these too are mainly lost.

What is left, was preserved through the edition of Andronicus of Rhodes that was made in the first century BCE. Important works are:

On logic
On Interpretation
Prior Analytics
Posterior Analytics
Sophistical Refutations

On physics
On The Heavens
On Generation and Corruption

On psychology and natural history
On The Soul
On The Parts Of Animals
On The Motion Of Animals
On The History Of Animals
On The Gait Of Animals
On The Generation Of Animals

On ethics
Nicomachean Ethics
Eudemian Ethics
Magna Moralia

General investigation of the things

Other works
On Dreams
On Longevity and Shortness Of Life
On Memory and Reminiscence
On Prophesying by Dreams
On Sense and The Sensible
On Sleep and Sleeplessness
On Youth and Old Age, On Life And Death, On Breathing
The Athenian Constitution


From On Dreams

We can best obtain a scientific view of the nature of the dream and the manner in which it originates by regarding it in the light of the circumstances attending sleep. [Aristotle, On Dreams 2]

Some persons . . . return answers to questions put to them in sleep. [Aristotle, On Dreams 3] - That was the way of Edgar Cayce too.

It is not surprising that, as age advances, a dream should at length appear. [Aristotle, On Dreams 3]

The dream is a sort of presentation, and, more particularly, one which occurs in sleep. [Aristotle, On Dreams 3] (3)

It is plain . . . that . . . 'dreaming', is no mere exercise of opinion . . . [Aristotle, On Dreams I]

We must . . . investigate the subject of the dream. [Aristotle, On Dreams I] (5)

SO: It is fit to investigate how to make dreams come up with answers to problems. Edgar Cayce has some advice on that too. C. G. Jung too. Yet another dream page is here.


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