Philosopher of the Week. January 20th, 2003.

Aristotle (384-322 BCE.)


Aristotle was born at Stagirius, a Greek colony on the coast of Thrace. His father was the court physician for the king of Macedonia. When he was 17, Aristotle was sent to Athens to study at Plato's Academy. He stayed at the Academy for 20 years both as a student and then as a teacher.

After Plato died in 347, Aristotle left Athens, eventually ending up in Macedonia, where he became the tutor of Alexander (the Great), son of the Macedonian king. When Alexander became king in 335, Aristotle returned to Athens to establish his own school called the Lyceum. At the Lyceum, discussions were held while the teachers and students walked around the grounds of the school, earning it the name of the "peripatetic", or walking, school.

Aristotle's philosophy stresses biology, instead of mathematics like Plato. He believed the world was made up of individuals (substances) occurring in fixed natural kinds (species). Each individual has built-in patterns of development, which help it grow toward becoming a fully developed individual of its kind. Nature has built into each individual patterns for growth, purpose, and direction.

To organize these patterns, Aristotle introduced the philosophic idea of causality. He believed that each thing or event has more than one "reason" that helps to explain what, why, and where it is. To Aristotle the four causes are: the material cause, what something is made out of; the efficient cause, the source of motion; the formal cause, the species, kind, or type; and the final cause, the full development of an individual or the intended function of an invention. For example, a young lion is made up of tissue and organs (material cause) by its parents who generated it (efficient cause). The formal cause is its species, lion; and its final cause is its instinct and drive to become a mature lion. Aristotle believed that all things could be better understood when its causes were stated in specific terms. He used his causal pattern to organize all knowledge. Some of Aristotle's words of wisdom:

• "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then is not an act, but a habit."

• "Dignity does not come in possessing honors, but in deserving them."

• "Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime."

• "Man perfected by society is the best of all animals; he is the most terrible of all when he lives without law, and without justice."

• "It is not always the same thing to be a good man and a good citizen."

• "What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies."

• "We make war that we may live in peace."

• "In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous."

• "Man is by nature a political animal."

• "Art completes what nature cannot bring to finish."

• "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."

Classroom Discussion Questions:

How would Aristotle, have answered the question, what is the meaning of life?

Which side would Aristotle argue in the discussions about the possibility of war with Iraq? Why?

Aristotle wrote extensively on both politics and ethics. Did he think they could co-exist? Why or why not?

Do you think that they can exist together? Why or why not?

Plato, Aristotle's teacher, had envisioned an ideal society. How does Aristotle's ideal society differ from Plato's? How are they the same?

What would Aristotle argue needs to be done in order to create a perfect society?

How would you create a perfect society? Support your answer.

To learn more about Aristotle, follow these links:


Kids Philosophy Slam Home Page