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Aristotle was a Greek scholar. He is one of the most famous and influential philosophers and naturalists in history. His teacher was Plato, but Aristotle either founded or significantly influenced numerous disciplines, including philosophy of science, natural philosophy, logic, biology, physics, ethics, state theory and poetry theory. Aristotleism developed from his ideas.
Aristotle, who came from a family of doctors, came to Athens at the age of seventeen. In 367 B.C. he entered Plato’s Academy. There he took part in research and teaching. After Plato’s death he left Athens in 347. 343/342 he became teacher of Alexander the Great, heir to the throne in the kingdom of Macedonia. 335/334 he returned to Athens. He no longer belonged to the academy, but taught and researched independently with his students in Lykeion. 323/322 he had to leave Athens again because of political tensions and went to Chalkis, where he died soon afterwards.
The writings of Aristotle in the form of dialogue directed at the general public are lost. Most of the preserved doctrinal writings were intended for internal use only and were edited continuously. The subject areas are:
- Logic, theory of science, rhetoric: In the logical writings Aristotle works out a theory of argumentation (dialectic) on the basis of discussion practices in the academy and establishes formal logic with syllogistics. On the basis of his syllogistics he develops a theory of science and makes important contributions to definition theory and meaning theory. He describes rhetoric as the art of proving statements to be plausible, thus bringing them close to logic.
- Theory of Nature: Aristotle’s philosophy of nature deals with the fundamentals of every observation of nature: the types and principles of change. The then current question of how origin and decay is possible is answered by his well-known distinction between form and matter: the same matter can take on different forms. In his scientific works he also examines the parts and behaviour of animals as well as humans and their functions. In his teachings on souls – in which “to be animated” means “to be alive” – he argues that the soul, which constitutes the various vital functions of living beings, comes to the body as its form. However, he also conducts empirical research and makes important contributions to zoological biology.
- Metaphysics: In his metaphysics, Aristotle (against Plato’s assumption of abstract entities) first argues that the concrete individual things (like Socrates) are the substances, i.e. the fundamental of all reality. He supplements this with his later teaching, according to which the substance of concrete individual things is their form.
- Ethics and state theory: The goal of human life, according to Aristotle in his ethics, is good life, happiness. For a happy life, one must develop virtues of understanding and character (through education and habituation), including an appropriate handling of desires and emotions. His political philosophy follows ethics. Accordingly, the state as a form of community is a prerequisite for human happiness. Aristotle asks about the conditions of happiness and compares different constitutions for this purpose. The theory of forms of government that he developed enjoyed unchallenged authority for many centuries.
- Theory of poetry: In his theory of poetry, Aristotle deals in particular with tragedy, the function of which, in his view, is to arouse fear and compassion in order to purify the spectator of these emotions (catharsis).
Aristotle’s scientific research programme was continued after his death by his collaborator Theophrastos, who also founded the Aristotelian school, the Peripatos, in the legal sense. Aristotle’s commentary did not begin until the 1st century BC and was mainly run by Platonists. Through the mediation of Porphyrios and Boethius, Aristotle’s logic became groundbreaking for the Latin-speaking Middle Ages. Since the 12th/13th century, all of Aristotle’s fundamental works have been available in Latin translation. They were decisive for the scholarly activity of scholasticism up to the early modern period. The study of Aristotelian natural science shaped the natural sciences of the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance. In the Arabic-speaking world, Aristotle was the most intensively received ancient author in the Middle Ages. His work has shaped intellectual history in many ways; important distinctions and terms such as “substance”, “accident”, “matter”, “form”, “energy”, “potency”, “category”, “theory” and “practice” date back to Aristotle.