- Philosopher, Logician, and Scientist. The foremost student of Plato
- Aristotle is generally regarded as one of the most influential ancient thinkers in a number of philosophical fields, including political theory.
- Was the tutor of Alexander the Great
- After the conquest of Alexander, Aristotle returned to Athens, where he wrote and taught. During this time, he wrote his most famous work, The Politics and Nicomachean Ethics
- Founded his own academy, the Lyceum
- The death of Alexander made Aristotle unwelcome in Athens
- Died in exile, stipulating that his slaves should be freed.
- Aristotle’s works were lost in the West after the decline of Rome. During the 9th century AD, Arab scholars introduced Aristotle, in Arabic translation, to the Islamic world. The 12th-century Spanish-Arab philosopher Averroes is the best known of the Arabic scholars who studied and commented on Aristotle. In the 13th century, the Latin West renewed its interest in Aristotle’s work, and Saint Thomas Aquinas found in it a philosophical foundation for Christian thought.
- According to A.N. Whitehead, all of Western Philosophy is “nothing more than footnotes to Plato and Aristotle.”
- Ever since, Western Philosophers have tended to divide into two camps—Platonic( seeking hidden and mystical truths through reason) or Aristotelian (methodical, sensory based).
- Rejected Plato’s theory that things in the world were imperfect copies of the forms. Instead, all things are comprised of substances, which have both essential and accidental properties.
- All biological forms have souls. Plants have vegetative souls, animals have senses, and humans have senses and reason. No guarantee of immortal, immutable souls for Aristotle.
The Doctrine of the Mean
- The Golden Mean or Doctrine of the Mean. Aristotle argued that the temperate virtue was the one that lay between two extremes, or vices. While Aristotle was certainly not the first to avow “moderation in all things,” he was certainly one of its major proponents.
- JCWT: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
- Confucius: “Do not do to others what you would not want done to you.”
- To find the Golden Mean, Aristotle points out that two extremes must be identified in order to find the balance between the two
- Choosing the middle road may seem to be the “easy way out,” yet Aristotle finds this to be the most difficult way to virtue. For instance, there is no clear answer to right and wrong. The judgment of character depends on the situation one is put in. Once moderation has been acquired, keeping this level ground is easier, according to Aristotle.
- Some actions (killing) have no mean.
The Nine Elements of Virtue
- Virtue is rooted in deliberation, the knowledge of all the relevant facts. This can be contrasted to some extent with the Platonic focus on discernment.
- Virtue, then, is rooted in intellect, not feelings. We may believe that gut feelings tell us the right course of action, but Aristotle believed the exercise of reason was crucial.
- The highest purpose of a human is contemplation.
- Virtue is all or nothing. A person cannot be virtuous if they are brave, but slovenly. A virtuous person will be virtuous in all her life.
- Virtue is destroyed by excess. Aristotle wrote, “it is the nature of such things to be destroyed by defect and excess, as we see in the case of strength and of health (for to gain light on things imperceptible we must use the evidence of sensible things); both excessive and defective exercise destroys the strength, and similarly drink or food which is above or below a certain amount destroys the health, while that which is proportionate both produces and increases and preserves it. So too is it, then, in the case of temperance and courage and the other virtues. For the man who flies from and fears everything and does not stand his ground against anything becomes a coward, and the man who fears nothing at all but goes to meet every danger becomes rash; and similarly the man who indulges in every pleasure and abstains from none becomes self-indulgent, while the man who shuns every pleasure, as boors do, becomes in a way insensible; temperance and courage, then, are destroyed by excess and defect, and preserved by the mean.”
- Virtue is the result of constant practice. The Greeks believed in a concept called arete, which means excellence. Like Achilles was an excellent warrior because he continued to practice warcraft, Aristotle believed a person could be virtuous through practice and effort.
- The sensations of pleasure and pain reveal virtue. Aristotle wrote, “For moral excellence is concerned with pleasures and pains; it is on account of the pleasure that we do bad things, and on account of the pain that we abstain from noble ones.”
- A virtuous person is not conflicted, but at peace.
- Punishment is designed to be painful because it will encourage virtue.
Special Case: Desire
- Natural desires: Inherent needs (always right)
- Food, shelter, water, etc.
- Acquired Desires: Individual wants developed over time (Good if: not self-interested, moderation, intellect)
- Specific foods, drinks, possessions
- He devoted a great deal of attention to friendship, once writing: “What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies.”
- He connected the idea of friendship to the idea of the city-state. In each case, mutual assistance and regard benefits the individual and the group.
- Aristotle argued that there were three kinds of friendship:
- The first is friendship of utility, based primarily on deriving benefit from the other. He believed these are easily dissolved, but important because the friend can bring something based on their skills.
- The second is a friendship of pleasure, where people are drawn to each other because of appreciation of the other’s cleverness, looks, humor, charm, or other characteristics. He compares this kind of friendship to the kind of relationships between lovers, because it is based on a form of passion. These are also often short-lived, because they bring nothing essential to a person.
- The third is a friendship of goodness, where people admire each other’s virtue and strive to help the other be virtuous. Friends like this enjoy each other’s character, and strive for Philia, brotherly love. Those involved in friendship of the good must be able to value loving over being loved and as such, their relationship will be based more around loving the other person and wanting what is good for them. Goodness is an enduring quality, so friendships based on goodness tend to be long lasting. This friendship encompasses the other two, as good friends are useful to one another and please one another. Such friendship is rare and takes time to develop, but it is the best.
The Four Causes
- In order to know a thing, anything at all, Aristotle says that one must be able to answer four questions
- The material cause (the matter from which a thing is made)
- The formal cause (the pattern, model or structure from which a thing is made)
- The efficient cause (the means by which a thing comes into existence)
- The final cause[telos] (the function or potential of a thing)
- Aristotle’s thought is consistently teleological: everything is always changing and moving, and has some aim, goal, or purpose (telos ). To borrow from a Newtonian physics, we might say that everything has potential which may be actualized (an acorn is potentially an oak tree; the process of change and motion which the acorn undertakes is directed at realizing this potential).