Who is Aristotle?

This tile takes a look at the philosphy and ideas of the philosopher known today as the first teacher. Learn all about Aristotle and his principles of life and logic.

Aristotle who?

**Aristotle** is one of the many towering figures of ancient Greek philosophy. As a student of Plato, Aristotle made many contributions to the fields of logic, rhetoric, mathematics, ethics, politics, and, of course, philosophy. Infamously, Aristotle rejected his teacher’s theory of forms and instead took a more empirical stance on metaphysics and philosophy than either Plato or Socrates.

A prolific writer, Aristotle wrote dialogues, essays, and more than 200 philosophical treatises, only 31 of which remain today. His legacy is so plentiful and profound that he is known today as ‘the First Teacher’ or, simply, ‘The Philosopher.’ In 334 BC, Aristotle founded the **Peripatetic school** of philosophy at the Lyceum in Athens.

Aristotle’s beloved syllogism

Aristotle took an empirical approach to philosophy and was particularly interested in the logic of philosophical propositions. While philosophers before him were interested in the content of their arguments, Aristotle was interested in the form of a deduction or logical argument itself.

An example is **syllogism**. This form of argument takes two statements, which, if true, mean the following third statement must be true. If this sounds confusing, here’s an example.

– All mammals have hair or fur.
– Dogs have fur.
– Therefore, dogs are mammals.

Aristotle was interested in the form of the argument and the validity of the statements rather than the metaphysics that may form the argument itself.

He identified that, through logic, deeper truths of reality and ourselves could break through. According to Aristotle, written words symbolize spoken words, which symbolize ideas. While the language may vary according to culture, the ideas or thoughts behind the many different languages and words are unifying.

Inductive reasoning

Aristotle’s emphasis on logic and empirical thought does not stop at deductive reasoning or attaining what is true from a series of true statements. He also believed that **inductive reasoning**, or reasoning based on the inference of universal truths, was equally important.

Aristotle did not believe that observations or sensory data should be ignored as more radical philosophers before him did; instead, he believed this type of knowledge was important if it could be supported or proved. While deductions are easily understood as a syllogism, inductions are truths that come as a logical conclusion after proving that the data or ideas on which the induction relies are true.

An example of an induction is the observation that snow falls when it rains and it is cold. On a cold day, one might notice clouds forming, signifying rain. An inductive inference to conclude based on data and observations is that snow will soon fall.

Knowledge is necessary

One of Aristotle’s core philosophies was the importance of the psyche, or mental health, and the dignity of the human mind. Aristotle was firm in his belief that humans were driven by a desire for knowledge and similarly desired an explanation of things in the world around them.

While the depth of the knowledge each person wants may vary – let’s face it, not all of us are intellectuals or scientists – there is an innate curiosity about the mechanics of the universe that resides in each of us. However, to attain this knowledge, Aristotle believed it was important to use empirical methods and form sound arguments rather than base them on observations or sensory information alone.

Knowledge of the fundamental function and form of an object or idea is necessary. Because of this, Aristotle formulated a system of logic, deductive reasoning, and rhetoric with the intention of helping himself, and humanity, realize a deeper understanding of the universe.

Upon closer inspection

According to Plato, the first step in acquiring knowledge is to identify the problems and contradictions that present themselves when we attempt to learn. Aristotle writes, *“[P]eople who inquire without first stating the difficulties are like those who do not know where they have to go.”*

While philosophers before him attempted to parse out intellectual reality from material reality, Aristotle believed that observations were imperative to collect information and form educated inferences on the nature of the universe. Consequently, Aristotle’s devotion to scientific observation and deduction led him to make astounding discoveries.

After careful observation that water forms spherical droplets and pools in the lowest place of any slope or plane, Aristotle concluded that Earth had to be spherical itself. After even closer observation of eclipses, he deducted that the heavens must be spherical as well. The fact that Earth is round isn’t exactly news today, but Aristotle learned that without satellites or maps.

Aristotle’s endoxa

While Aristotle placed a heavy emphasis on knowledge attained from the senses and observations, he also believed in the importance of *endoxa* or ‘credible belief or opinion.’ It’s because of the importance he placed on endoxa that he studied the teachings and writings of his teacher, Plato, and the philosophers who came before him.

According to Aristotle, these credible beliefs come in many forms, and as long as they can be placed into a sound, logical argument, they can be considered true even if they are not empirically provable.

It was Aristotle’s belief that both endoxa and observations from our senses were jumping-off points for the attainment of more knowledge. Aristotle valued what he called endoxa as well as observations and sensory experience, but he realized it was imperative to find a way to verify the information that comes from senses or from beliefs and ideas.

The four causal accounts of explanatory adequacy

To form a basis of understanding and a way in which to verify ideas, observations, and beliefs, Aristotle devised what is called the **Four Causal Accounts of Explanatory Adequacy**. This doctrine is one of the most important aspects of Aristotle’s philosophy as it demonstrates his desire to form a cohesive system of thought based on sound, verifiable information and ideas.

The material cause is the first and represents the identification of what something is made of so as to attain knowledge. Next is the formal cause, which is the pattern, structure, or form that something takes. The efficient cause is the agent or entity responsible for making an object take its specific pattern, structure, or form. Finally, the aptly named final cause comes when someone can explain what the purpose or function of the thing being learned is.

The four causal accounts – an example

The Four Causal Accounts of Explanatory Adequacy was the system Aristotle created to verify ideas and observations. To help explain these four causes, Aristotle provides the example of a bronze statue.
– The material cause, or what it’s made of, is bronze.
– The formal cause, or the form and structure of the object, is the body of its subject.
– The efficient cause, or what has made the object and given it form, is the sculptor.
– Lastly, the final cause of the statue, or its purpose, is to honor and memorialize.

These causes for knowledge are not limited to physical objects but should be extended to ideas as well. Aristotle saw that it is important to understand what role an idea or belief plays, what structure it forms in society or in our psyche, and the final cause or purpose it carries.

Criticism of Aristotle’s final cause

Aristotle received a significant amount of criticism through the centuries for applying the final cause to nature. He devised these four causes to verify knowledge, and this final cause is the purpose or function of an object or idea.

His critics see the application of this final cause as a teleological view of nature in which Aristotle assigns a purpose to all living things, even internal organs and matter. While it may sound strange today to study the metaphysical reason for a liver or tooth, this teleological view of nature is based on a response to the mechanistic view of nature that came to Aristotle from his predecessors, the pre-Socratics.

This mechanistic view was one in which all physical phenomena were reducible to elemental processes that are innately without purpose and accidental. Aristotle didn’t buy this.

Understanding Aristotle’s teleology

Instead, Aristotle saw innate purposiveness in nature. This view can be described as a *teleological* view, with *telos* meaning ‘end result’ or ‘reason.’ He explained that if the final cause – the ultimate purpose or function of an object or even a part of an object – was true, then it would be true for each of its parts as well.

He believed that the form behind the whole of the being was also intrinsic in each of the smaller parts making up that being. While the metaphysical purpose of a tooth may not ever be precisely known, according to Aristotle, it can be understood as sharing in the same final cause as a human being, since that cause is embedded into each of its parts.

Aristotle’s critique of Plato’s metaphysics

Aristotle’s emphasis on empiricism and logic does not mean he discounts the metaphysical. Make no mistake: Aristotle, just like other philosophers, believed it is wrong to reduce reality to merely natural phenomena and what is observable.

However, he infamously criticized Plato, his friend and teacher, and Plato’s theory of forms. According to Aristotle, the separation of material reality from a transcendental reality of forms was erroneous, as it lacks an explanation for how an object participates in the function of that metaphysical form.

Aristotle also criticized Plato’s belief that true reality was something transcendent and beyond experience or knowledge. Aristotle saw the world as a dance between observable reality and the deeper, unchanging forms that underlie reality, but he believed that, ultimately, these two are unified and work with each other.

Aristotle’s metaphysics

While metaphysics is the study of ultimate reality, according to Aristotle, metaphysics also encompasses the study of nature as of ourselves. He saw metaphysics as the interplay of substance and form.

Substance is the basic category to which all other categories refer or the particular object and its properties. For example, take Joe. Joe is the primary substance and he has hair, teeth, eyes, et cetera. Joe can exist without that hair or those teeth, but that specific hair and those teeth cannot exist without Joe. These, then, are secondary properties.

Plato saw form and substance as separate, with form, or a transcendental, deeper layer of reality, being the more important and more distant of the two. Aristotle, in contrast, believed substance was the most knowable as it is the most real, the most important for us to understand to live happy lives. As a secondary property, form cannot be separated from the substance, working cohesively with it to provide well-rounded knowledge.

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