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Aristotle (384-322 B.C.)


Aristotle (384-322 B.C.)

Rembrandt, "Aristotle with a Bust of Homer" (1653)

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Who Is?:

One of the most influential philosophers to date, Aristotle was a student of Plato and the teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings redefined or established an impressive variety of areas, including ethics, metaphysics, political philosophy, logic, epistemology, rhetoric, and tragedy.


The son of was an established physician, Aristotle was born in 383B.C. in Stageira (north of modern Greece.) There he was finely educated till the age of eighteen, when he left for Athens to study at Plato’s Academy. Aristotle lived in Athens till 348/7B.C., when Plato died, and he set to travel in Asia Minor. In 343B.C. he accepted Philip II of Macedon’s invitation to tutor the young Alexander the Great and to chair the royal academy of Macedon. In 335B.C. he returned to Athens and opened a school, the Lyceum, which he run till his death in 323B.C. The bulk of his teachings were composed during those twelve years.

The Peculiarity of Aristotle's Writings:

Aristotle was a student of Plato. Yet, while Plato's dialogues spark for accessible and elegant style, Aristotle's writings are remarkably dry and difficult: why such a difference? What we read from Aristotle today were not meant to become widely read books; it appears, rather, that they were sort of study notes for internal use of the Lyceum. The notes were collected by Theophrastus, Aristotle’s successor at the head of the Lyceum, and subsequently hidden to prevent theft. It wasn’t until 100B.C. circa that Apellicon, a wealthy book collector living in Athens, found the notes and rescued them.

"Corpus Aristotelicum":

The collection of Aristotle’s writings, also known as corpus aristotelicum, includes over thirty treatises traditionally divided into five categories: metaphysics; ethics and politics; logic; on nature; rhetoric and poetics. Some treatises are considered by many scholars not to be of Aristotle’s own making. Curiously influent the origin of the title “Metaphysics”, which inspired also the name of a major branch of philosophy. It seems to derive from the first edition of the corpus: since the treatise came after the teachings on nature, The Physics, it was named Meta (after) Physics, that is “after the Physics.”


Aristotle is famous for having proposed a model of reality alternative to the one of Plato, which was based on universals. Aristotle’s metaphysics has concrete individuals as protagonists; each individual has some essential properties and some accidental ones. Roughly speaking, essential properties of an individual are those defining it and without which it could not exist; the other properties of the individual are accidental, as they do not define it. Aristotle’s metaphysical teachings shed light also o other key topics such as persistence through time, possibility, and necessity.

Virtue Ethics:

Aristotle was an engaged and curious natural scientist, contributing to important progresses in the field; this vein of his is reflected also in the ethical writings, most notably the Nichomachean Ethics. For Aristotle the life worth to be lived is spent in the attempt to achieve virtue. Education to virtue is the goal of philosophy. Yet, emphasizing the biological component of human spirituality, Aristotle added a temporal dimension to the achievement of the highest forms of good reserved to humans: for him, virtue stands at the end of a personal development, which even in the best scenario occupies a great deal of an average human life.

Virtue and Politics:

Among the most important virtues, Aristotle includes courage, honesty, liberality, magnificence, justice, friendship, intellectual virtues. The good citizen and the ruler will be defined on the basis of the fine and appropriate balance of the virtues they possess, as Aristotle argues in the Politics.

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