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Aristotle – The Greatest

Syllogism (συλλογισμός)

Through the ages, many scholars, professors, and other professional people have been recognized with awards and accolades for their extensive studies in a particular science or field. None could compare, however, with Aristotle (384-322 BC) who excelled as philosopher and scientist and pioneered several fields. He is among the greatest thinkers in politics, psychology, and ethics.

His father, Nicomachus, was physician to King Amyntas of Macedonia, but Aristotle, born in Stagira, Macedonia, was orphaned when he was about thirteen. His brother-in-law, Proxenus, became his guardian, and at 17 years of age sent him to Athens for a higher education and enrolled him in Plato’s Academy. He proved an exemplary student, impressing Plato, who was influenced by Socrates. But, because Aristotle disagreed with some of Plato’s philosophical treatises, he didn’t inherit, as was expected, the position of director of the academy when Plato died. The academy was given to Plato’s nephew, Speusippus.

In 338 BC he was called by King Phillip of Macedonia to tutor his son, Alexander, then 13 years old. He was generously compensated for his teachings.

He wrote on papyrus, producing over 200 works; about 31 are still in circulation. Those manuscripts and notes told about reasoning, rhetoric, ethics, science, psychology, poetry, and politics.

In 335 BC, when Alexander succeeded his father as king and conquered Athens, Aristotle opened his school there, the Lyceum, where studying and thinking was done by walking around, thus the name of his movement: ‘the Peripatetics’. That year his wife, Pythias, died, leaving him with his daughter, who was named after the mother. He then met a slave woman named Herpyllis, bought her release, and married her. They had children, and one son he named after his father, Nicomachus.

In politics he examined human behavior, believing that statesmen and rulers should make it possible for citizens to achieve and pursue virtue and happiness. His words were probably the basis for “the pursuit of happiness,” as was written by the forefathers of this country in the Constitution of the United States.

In science, he composed writings on astronomy, physics, biology, and meteorology. Many of his views were controversial at the time but they were popular beginning in the Middle Ages.

He pioneered rhetoric – the word ‘Syllogism (sulogismos) means to think, reflect, meditate, and make sense. Good rhetoric, he believed, could educate the public about how to construct an argument, maximize its effect, and avoiding fallacious reasoning  – like generalizing from a single example.

The Golden Mean, he wrote, was the key to living a moral life and giving it meaning. He believed in finding a way between excesses and living deficiently, taking into account an individual’s circumstances.

In biology, Aristotle’s classifications were regarded as standard for hundreds of years.

After Alexander’s death, anti-Macedonian sentiment spread and Aristotle was charged with impiety due to his association with his former student. To avoid persecution and execution, he fled to the island of Euboea until his death (322 BC) a year later. He coined or emphasized words like ‘psyche’ (soul), often highlighting them as titles for his works like Peri Psyche (On the Soul), and ‘pepeirameni’ meaning observations, ‘nous’ (intellect), ‘logos’ (reason), ‘eudaimonia’ (happiness), ‘ithiki’ (ethics), and ‘areti’ (virtue). He used ‘kinisis’ (movement, change) to illustrate the concept of potentiality, and ‘entelecheia’ for actuality – perhaps ‘ousia’ (substance) is the most famous of the words he used. All these words are still common in today’s Greek language and in philosophical discourse.

He wrote that to have the potential of ever being happy requires a good moral character. While he believed women should have equal access to education and politics, he also believed that women should be subjects of male protection since they are the nurturers.

His influence on Western thinking in the humanities and social sciences is unparalleled, but he gives credit to his teacher Plato’s massive contributions and to Socrates before him.

More than 2,300 years after his death, Aristotle remains one of the most influential people who ever lived. He was called ‘Father’ of many branches of intellectual enterprise: Father of  political theory, theology, rhetoric and literary analysis, logic, zoology, meteorology, realism, metaphysics, geology,  embryology, poetry, teleology, and philosophy. Dante called him “the Master of all knowing” and Charles Darwin regarded Aristotle to be, “the greatest thinker of all times.”

Although his ideas lost favor among scientists after the 17th century, at the start of the 21st Century, Aristotle was taken more seriously.

One major question is how what are known as his ‘exoteric writings’ were lost and how those now in existence – the ‘esoteric’ – were found. Maybe, if a few politicians were in possession of some of those lost writings now, the world might be in a better place.



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