Biography of Aristotle | His life and achievements.

Disciple of Plato and tutor of Alexander the great, has been the most influential philosopher in the history of Western thought.
Western philosophy is based on the work of the three great Greek philosophers of antiquity: Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Despite the unique relationship that United them (Socrates was Plato master, who was at the time of Aristotle), the orientation of his thinking took different paths, and would correspond to Aristotle, culminating the efforts of their teachers and more enduring influence, not only in the field of philosophy and theology, but virtually in all scientific and humanistic disciplines. In fact, the rigour of its methodology and for the breadth of the fields that it encompassed and it systematized, Aristotle can be considered the first scientific researcher in the modern sense of the word.

Some examples may give idea of up to what point Aristotle established the basis which shape the European thought: Christian and Muslim theologies of the middle ages took his metaphysics; Aristotelian physics and astronomy remained in force until the 17TH century; his zoological studies, until the 19th; logic, until the 20th century. its only fifty pages on aesthetics continue debating in our days. His undoubted authority, reinforced from the late Middle Ages by the ecclesiastical Aristotelianism, even slow down the development of the science. Take this fact as an accusation, would have to direct it not to the philosopher, but his dogmatic followers; but it is more reasonable to take it as an illustration of the superhuman scale of their mark and abysmal advancement which represented his work.

In Plato's Academy

Aristotle was born in 384 B.c. at Stagira, a small Macedonian town near Mount Athos; its native population comes from a common designation to refer to the philosopher: the Estagirita. His father, Nicomachus, was court physician of Amyntas III, father of Filipo II of Macedonia and, therefore, grandfather of Alexander the great. Nicomachus belonged to the family of the Asclepiades, descendant of the founder of medicine God is claimed and whose knowledge was transmitted from generation to generation. It invites you to think that Aristotle was initiated of child in the secrets of the medicine, and that hence came his hobby to experimental research and positive science. Orphaned of father and mother in full adolescence, was adopted by Proxeny, which could show years after his gratitude by adopting a son his call Nicanor.
In the year 367, i.e. when he was seventeen years of age, he was sent to Athens to study at Plato's Academy. It is not known what kind of personal relationship was established between both philosophers, but judging by the scarce references which make of the other in his writings, we cannot speak of a lasting friendship. Which, on the other hand, makes sense if you consider that Aristotle was going to start his own philosophical system based on a profound critique of the Platonic.

Plato and Aristotle in the school of Athens (1511), Rafael
Both departed from Socrates and his concept of eidos, but difficulties of Plato to insert in the real world your eidético world, the world of Ideas, Aristotle forced to go outlining terms such as 'substance', 'material' and «form», which would alienate him definitively from the Academy. On the other hand it is absolutely false legend according to which Aristotle left Athens fuming because Plato, on his death, appoint to his nephew Espeusipo to take charge of the Academy: for its condition of Macedonian, Aristotle was not legally eligible for the job.

Tutor of Alexander the great

The death of Plato in the 348, Aristotle had thirty-six-year-old, he had spent twenty of them simultaneously teaching with study and was in Athens, as they say, without trade or profit. So we must not think about it much when he learned that Hermias of Atarneus, a Greek soldier of Fortune (for more details, eunuch) is talking seized the Northwest of Asia minor, was gathering in the city of Axos many disciples of the Academy would like to collaborate with him on the hellenization of their domains. Aristotle was installed in Axos in company with Xenocrates of Chalcedon, a fellow academic, and Theophrastus, disciple and future heir of the Aristotelian legacy.
The Estagirita would there be three peaceful and fruitful years, dedicating himself to teaching, writing (much of his policy drafted it there) and domestic life. First married to a niece of Hermias named Pythias, with whom he had a daughter. Pythias he was supposed to die very shortly after and Aristotle joined to another estagirita's name Erpilis, which gave him a son, Nicomachus, which devoted its ethics. Since the own Aristotle wrote that male should marry at thirty-seven years and women at eighteen, it is easy to deduce what ages should have one and another when he joined them.

Alexander the great and Aristotle
After the murder of Hermias, the 345, Aristotle was installed in Mytilene (Lesbos Island), devoting, in company with Theophrastus, to the study of biology. Two years later, in 343, he was hired by Filipo II of Macedon to Alejandro, to take responsibility for their child's education at the time of thirteen years of age. Not much is known of the relationship between the two, since legends and falsifications have erased all traces of truth. If true the character that his contemporaries attributed to Alejandro (which branded unanimously arrogant, ignorant, vindictive, cruel, and drinker), do not notice feature of influence which Aristotle was able to exercise over it. As neither warns the influence of Alexander the great on his master in the political arena: years later, while Aristotle was still preaching the superiority of the City-State, his alleged disciple established the foundations of a universal empire without which, according to historians, the Hellenic civilization had succumbed much earlier.

The Lyceum of Athens

Shortly after the death of Philip (336 BC), Alejandro made to execute to a nephew of Aristotle, Callisthenes of Olynthus, who accused traitor. Knowing the vengeful nature of his disciple, Aristotle took refuge a year in its properties of Stagira, moving in the 334 to Athens to found always accompanied by Theophrastus, the Lyceum, a pedagogic institution that would compete with the Academy Platonic, directed at that time by his old comrade Xenocrates of Chalcedon for years.
The eleven years between his return to Athens and the death of Alexander, in the 323, were used by Aristotle to carry out a thorough review of a work that, in the words of Hegel, constitutes the Foundation of all sciences. To put it as the most concise possible, Aristotle was a prodigious synthesizer of knowledge, so attentive generalizations that constitute the science and the differences that distinguish individuals not only each other, but prevent from reducing large genera of phenomena and the sciences that study them. Humans, says Aristotle, can be mobile and immobile, and at the same time not separated or separated (of matter). The science that studies mobile and not separate beings is physics; stationary and not separate beings is mathematics, and the separate, and still things the theology.

Aristotle (José de Ribera oil, 1637)
The breadth and depth of his thought are such that it was necessary to wait 2,000 years for someone of similar stature arise. After that, in the 13th century, Holy Tomás de Aquino integrate their doctrines in Christian theology, the authority of the Estagirita came to be so established and unquestioned as it exercised the Church, and both in science and in philosophy any attempt at intellectual advancement would have to begin with an attack on any of the Aristotelian philosophical principles. However, the path followed by the thought of Aristotle until his later prominence is so amazing that, even discounting that the legend has been able to add, it seems an argument of adventure novel.

The adventure of the manuscripts

With the death of Alexander in the 323, spread a wave of nationalism in Athens (antimacedonio) triggered by Demosthenes, which marked Aristotle faced a charge of impiety. Not being in his mind repeating the adventure of Socrates, Aristotle went into exile to the island of Chalcis where he died in the 322. According to tradition, Aristotle gave their works to Theophrastus, which gave them in turn to Neleus, who sent them to her parent's House in Esquepsis solidly packed in boxes and with the order that escondiesen them in a cave to avoid that they were requisitioned with destination to the library of Pergamum.
Many years later, the heirs of Neleus sold them Apelicon of Teos, a philosopher who took them with him to Athens. In 86 BC, in full Roman occupation, Sila learned of the existence of those boxes and confiscated them to send them to Rome, where they were purchased by the Grammarian Tiranion. From hand to hand, the works were suffering successive deterioration until, in 60 BC, they were acquired by Andronicus of Rhodes, last responsible for the Lyceum, who proceeded to its final Edition.
Andronicus the introduction of the term "metaphysical" to, for example. In its management of the Aristotelian work, Andronikos was, next to books on physics, a series of treaties which grouped under the title of metaphysics, bland label that literally meant "after the physics" and who would later designate this fundamental branch of philosophy. Aristotle never used that term; the treaties thus titled dealt with what the Estagirita called "first philosophy".
With the fall of the Roman Empire, the works of Aristotle, as those of the rest of the Greco-Roman culture, disappeared until well into the twelfth century, were recovered by the Arab Averroes, who met them through the Syrian, Arab and Jewish versions. The total of 170 works collecting ancient catalogs, only 30, coming to occupy some two thousand printed pages have been saved. Most of them come from «acroamaticos» written appeals, designed to be used as treaties at the Liceo and not to be published. On the other hand, missed most of the works published in life of the own Aristotle, written (often in the form dialogues) for the general public.

Chronology of Aristotle

384 BCWas born in Stagira, Macedonia (hence his nickname of El Estagirita )).
367 BCHe moved to Athens to study at Plato's Academy, where he later serves as master.
347 BCPlato dies.
348 BCHe moved to Axos, serving to Hermias of Atarneus. During this period he married Pythias, Hermias's niece, with whom he had a daughter. After the premature death of Pythias he married Erpilis, with whom he has a son, Nicomachus, to which will dedicate his Nicomachean Ethics. It will also prepare its policy.
345 BCAfter the murder of Hermias, settles in Mytilene (Lesbos). It is dedicated to the study of biology with Theophrastus.
343 BCPhilip of Macedon hired him as tutor of his son Alejandro.
334 BCAccessing Alejandro to the throne, Aristotle returned to Athens and founds the Lyceum. At this stage he produced most of his work.
323 BCThe death of Alexander erected an antimacedonica wave on Athens forcing Aristotle to go into exile.
322 BCDies on the island of Chalcis, land of his mother, the sixty-two years of age.

Philosophy of Aristotle

As the author of a philosophical and scientific system that become base and vehicle of medieval Christianity and the Islamic and Jewish Scholastic, Aristotle has been determined, more than any other philosopher, orientation, and the contents of the history of Western thought. His works would have a notable influence on countless thinkers for nearly two thousand years, and continue to be studied by multiple specialists in our days. The philosophy of Aristotle is, together with his teacher Plato, the most important legacy of the thought of the ancient Greece.
Despite being a disciple of Plato, Aristotle distanced himself from the idealistic positions to create a naturalistic and realistic thoughts. Against the radical separation between the sensible world and the intelligible world posed by the Platonic doctrines, he defended the possibility of apprehending reality from the experience. So, against the thesis of his master, he considered that ideas or concepts universal things must not be separated, but are immersed in them as informants principles of matter.

Aristotle (oil on canvas by Francesco Hayez, 1811)
However, the efforts of Aristotle not only addressed the speculative study of things and their causes, but that consistent with their concepts, it gave great importance to scientific studies and the observation of nature. No less important are his writings on formal logic and its reflections on morality, politics and aesthetics. According to ancient sources, the Greek philosopher wrote 170 works, but only 30 have been preserved up to our days.


The metaphysics of Aristotle is hand criticism regarding his teacher Plato, and by another constructive, since it intends to reach a new systematization. It should be noted that neither the master nor disciple employed the term "metaphysics", which was coined by Andronicus of Rhodes, editor of the Aristotelian legacy. What it purports to metaphysics is to get to know "first causes and principles", and why Aristotle called "first philosophy", science which considers being insofar as being to the study of metaphysical issues. By addressing the first and real causes, can be considered equally divine, theological science science (Stoicheiosis episteme )).
Aristotle rejects the Platonic theory of Ideas separate from the entities of this world. What truly exists are not the "Reflections" of Ideas, but the entities, captured by intelligence and in which lies the universal aspect. All be it gives the substance (ousia, essence of each individual entity subsisting in itself) and the accident (a quality that does not exist in itself but in the substance). The substance remains beyond all accidental changes you experience. For example, the tree is still a tree although lose their leaves in autumn; If the tree dies, it undergoes a substantial change, and ceases to be a tree.

The hylomorphism

Sensitive substances are formed by two principles: matter, saying what is done one thing, and shape, layout or structure of the same. This doctrine is called hylomorphism or theory hilemorfic (of hile, matter, and morphe, form). Matter is the overall substrate of any corporeal substance, and from it derive physical properties common to all bodies, but, if single, isn't even knowable: it is impossible to experience an unspecified matter, not integrated in a form. Matter is an indeterminate principle that acquires its determination due to the shape; the form is the determining principle that makes matter what. Both principles are inseparable.
The Aristotelian distinction between substance and accidentally helps to understand the concept of form. An individual being is composed of matter and a substantial form, which is the structural design of the matter. Through the senses and the intellect we identify such design and include being in a genre; the substantial form allows us to include some fruit in the genre "Apple" and distinguish it from a nut. Now, the size, shape, color or flavor vary from one block to another; such traits, which identified an Apple in particular, set up his accidentally.

Aristotle studying nature
As you can see, substantial forms and Platonic ideas are related notions. But for Plato the ideas are transcendent: found in a world apart, the world of Ideas, and the beings of the sensible world (ours) are mere reflections of Ideas. In Aristotle, there is only the sensible world; matter and the substantial forms are two constituent principles that reside in the same beings, i.e. are immanent.

Power and act

To explain the change, Aristotle uses the concepts of Act and power, first determinations of being. Power means a potential which has a being; the Act is the realization of that potential. Aristotle defines change as the passage of the power to act. Thus, grape must has among its powers or abilities the become wine. After the fermentation of the must, obtain wine: this power or potential of the grape juice has been made.
As already indicated, there are two types of change: the change and accidental change. In substantial change, a being converted into another, which implies a double simultaneous process of corruption of the first and the second generation . In the accidental change, the substance remains; only the accidental qualities are modified. Accidental changes can be of three types. On the quantitative change quantity is altered (the tree that grows gains in height, but is still a tree). Qualitative change modifies the attribute (lentils are soft after a prolonged cooking). Local change is simply change or movement from one place to another.

Kinds of causes

With the notions of power and act we know how are the changes or movements. Now, the transition from power to act does not happen spontaneously; the action of an external agent, of a cause is accurate. For Aristotle, the reasons or causes of change are four: causes material, causes formal, causes efficient and final causes (or teleological). Own philosopher illustrates them with the realization of a sculpture. The efficient causes of the transformation of the block of marble statue is the action of the sculptor, which models and chiseling the marble up a representation of, for example, the goddess Aphrodite.
In the modern and common sense of the word, the only cause is the efficient cause. But Aristotle, is more that causes, speaking of "elements" that are necessarily involved in change and explain it; Thus, the causes material determines and explains that the completed statue is made of marble, and the formal cause, that plays a beautiful woman's body. In common language we would talk about final causes, but, simply, purpose. In the example, the final cause is the purpose of the sculptor, which is also a factor that affects the passage of marble statue; Thus, the work will respect traditional iconography if the artist intends to devote it to preside over a temple dedicated to the goddess, but can be more personal if the purpose is to decorate a private stay.
Example of the sculptor, it is clear that some purpose pushes him to execute the statue, but would say the changes operated by agents not aware, by forces of nature? For example, the sun warms up the water of the sea, which evaporates and raises forming clouds. Sun to form clouds with some purpose, but that such a change have what might be called an "ultimate aim" cannot be said: the clouds bring rain, which fertilizes the Earth and makes possible the existence of living beings (above the inert); plants animals are fed and of both men, the most perfect being. The final cause is of great importance for the Estagirita, since it is convinced that everything exists for a purpose, for all, by their own immanence, seeketh his intrinsic perfection.

First engine and pure Act

The metaphysical science of Aristotle culminates in theology, which deals if there is per is, i.e., the entity in its fullest sense, pure form without matter. To prove the existence of that be appeals to several arguments: "among the things that there are one is better than the other; "from there that there is an optimal thing, which should be the divine". His best-known argument is the so-called cosmologicalpredicament: things of this world are perishable, and therefore suffer change; This change is happening at the time. Change and time are, well, Evergreen; more to allow the change or eternal movement must be an eternal substance capable of producing that movement. But not we can go back to infinity to find the causes of the causes, so we must get to a supreme being. That being, however, does not appear in Aristotle as the creator of the world, because it is eternal.

Aristotle (José de Ribera oil, 1637)
Already in their treatises on physics, Aristotle had exposed the concept of first engine. Every creature that it moves is moved by another; Since we can not go back in this chain to infinity, there must be a first engine, which is still: if it is mobile, it would be moved by another former engine, and would not be the first. Aristotle delves into this idea in his metaphysical writings. As the movement is passage of power to act, the same immobility implies that the prime mover is not in power with respect to any act, i.e., does not have any potential: is pure Act. Consequently, it is immaterial (the matter always assumes potential) and absolutely perfect; Nothing in the order of being and perfection, can not miss you as if you're missing something would be in power with respect to that of that idea, and would no longer be a pure Act.
By the same perfection we must attribute life to this being higher, and life in its most perfect degree; and we can not give it another activity than the theoretical or contemplative, that does not require movement and is not oriented to satisfy any need. Thus, the Aristotelian God is pure intelligence, pure relentless thought that thinks to himself; the object of his thought cannot consist of things external to it, because it would then depend on such things. Autonomous, transcendent, detached from the world, God is eternally happy thinking forever.
Being separated from the cosmos and without any contact with it, how can Dios act upon the world, move it as a first engine? Given its utmost perfection and its fullness if, in God all palatable lies, everything worthy it of being referred to, everything that deserves to be possessed; as a result, moves to all things as good moves to the desired or beauty moves which contemplates it. God moves the world not as efficient cause, but as a final cause, i.e. as ultimate (perfect) to which tends the universe. In the same way that the beloved is her beauty and kindness enough to attract a lover, God not exercises no force: movement emerges in things as an effort toward perfection.

Soul and knowledge

All living beings are presented to Aristotle as possessors of soul (psyche), why are distinguished from inorganic or inanimate beings. According to its known definition, the soul is the shape of a body that has life in power. Doctrine hilemorfic applies also to living beings: are composed of matter (the body) and form (the soul). The soul is the vital principle that performs a potentiality of matter: constitute a living being. Aristotle distinguishes three kinds of soul: vegetative (of plants, but also in animals and in man), sensitive (own animals and of man) and rational (exclusive of the man). This has three characteristics: it is cause of the movement of the body, known and is disembodied.

Aristotle (detail of a painting by Justus of Ghent, c. 1476)
This conception is inferred consequences immediate and contrary to the thinking of Plato and other philosophers; for example, the soul does not exist before the birth of the living being (refuses the pre-existence of the soul), or pass from one living being to another (transmigration of souls). The soul does not is accidentally imprisoned in the prison of the body; as well as matter and form, the body and the soul are inseparable and interdependent constitutive principles which form a substantial compound, so that neither can have an own existence.
With the extinction of the soul in death, the body loses its vital principle and its matter decomposes. This certainly occurs in plants and animals; on the other hand, the position of Aristotle on the possible immortality of the human soul has been subject to divergent interpretations. With respect to knowledge, Aristotle does not support the doctrines of Plato, nor the innatism. The mind at birth is "tamquam tabula rasa", in which nothing is written. Knowledge begins in the senses, as experience shows us. The catchments of the senses are apprehended by the intellect, passing the concept. In this way we arrive at the spiritual knowledge.


The ethics of Aristotle has a purpose which is summed up in the pursuit of happiness. For some, happiness consists in the pleasures; for others, the wealth; but the wise man seeks it in the exercise of the activity which is her own man, i.e., in the intellectual life. This does not exclude the moderate enjoyment of the sensitive pleasures and other goods, as long as it does not obstruct the contemplation of truth.
On this basis, Aristotle developed the concept of virtue. Virtue consists of medium; Thus, courage is the virtue that lies between two extremes equally vicious, (lack of value) cowardice and recklessness (excess value that leads to unnecessary risk). What you want to mean acting man must be governed by prudence or straight rule. There are two modes of virtue: the dianoeticas (which relate to the exercise of intelligence) and ethics (referring to the sensitivity and affection). All virtues are habits that are acquired through repetition. The virtue par excellence is justice, which is in compliance with the laws and respect to other citizens.


For Aristotle, the man is a "political animal" in nature; This famous expression has to be understood as "social animal", since "political" derives from polis, the Greek city-State, which is the most advanced form of society. Only animals and gods can live isolated. Natural force toward reproduction and conservation tips to men to live United, first in the family, then in the village (union of several families) and finally in the City-State (neither too few nor too many inhabitants). The proper functioning of a city-state is not secured only by combining wills towards the same aim; It is required also of sensible and appropriate laws that respect differences and educate citizens to the civil responsibility within liberty (Aristotle, in its Greek class mentality, not conceived the right to citizenship either for women or slaves).
There are three forms of legitimate Government: monarchy (Government of one), aristocracy (Government of the best) and democracy (Government of many). These straight forms of Government oppose three degenerate forms, in which Governments dispense with the general good and seek only their own interest: tyranny, oligarchy and demagoguery. You cannot tell which of the three is better, because for every town in particular you have to deduct it from an objective investigation of the various historical forms of Government, and define the circumstances what is more suitable for a certain State (Aristotle collected and studied the constitutions of 158 States). In principle, any form of Government is good if who governs seeks the good of the governed.

Its influence

For a long time the Aristotelian thought was eclipsed by the prestige of the doctrines of Plato. In time of the Christianized Rome, naturalism and realism of Aristotle were despised, and neo-Platonic Plotinus and Beocio readings are based. Because of the spiritualism that characterized medieval thought, the doctrines of Plato enjoyed pre-eminence until the 12th century.
Arab philosophers (and, particularly, Avicenna and Averroes) helped that Aristotelian thought was again object of attention in the West. Growing interest in nature shown by Christian thought in the middle ages made it possible that the works of Aristotle were studied. Albertus Magnus and Roger Bacon claimed the Estagirita thinking, and Holy Tomás de Aquino transformed it into the basis of Christian theology.
The scientific revolution of the Renaissance, with key figures such as Britain's Francis Bacon at the philosophical level and Galileo in the scientist, undermined the authority of Aristotle. Although Galileo and Newton finiquitaron Aristotelian physics and astronomy, studies on biology and logic of the Estagirita kept in force until the 19th and 20th centuries, respectively, and his philosophical writings continued to exercise influence over diverse currents of thought the idealism, the neoescolasticismo, Behaviorism and the dynamism of Bergson, among others.
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