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Aristotle was a Greek philosopher, a student of Plato, and teacher
of Alexander the Great. He wrote on diverse subjects, including
physics, metaphysics, poetry (including theater), logic, rhetoric, politics,
government, ethics, biology, and zoology. Along with Socrates and Plato, he
was among the most influential of the ancient Greek philosophers, as they
transformed Pre-Socratic Greek philosophy into the foundations of Western
philosophy as it is known today. Most researchers credit Plato and Aristotle
with founding two of the most important schools of ancient philosophy, along
with Stoicism and Epicureanism.
Aristotle's philosophy made a dramatic impact on both Western and Islamic
philosophy. The beginning of "modern" philosophy in the Western world is
typically located at the transition from medieval, Aristotelian philosophy
to mechanistic, Cartesian philosophy in the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries. Yet, even the new philosophy continued to put debates in largely
Aristotelian terms, or to wrestle with Aristotelian views. Today, there are
avowed Aristotelians in many areas of contemporary philosophy, including
ethics and metaphysics.
Given the volume of Aristotle's work, it is not possible to adequately
summarize his views in anything less than a book. This article focuses on the
aspects of his views that have been most influential in the history of

Aristotle was born in Stagira, Chalcidice, in 384


His father was

Nicomachus, who became physician to King Amyntas of Macedon. At about

the age of eighteen, he went to Athens to continue his education at Plato's
Academy. Aristotle remained at the academy for nearly twenty years, not
leaving until after Plato's death in 347


He then traveled with

Xenocrates to the court of Hermias of Atarneus in Asia Minor. While in Asia,

Aristotle traveled with Theophrastus to the island of Lesbos, where together
they researched the botany and zoology of the island. Aristotle married
Hermias' daughter (or niece) Pythias. She bore him a daughter, whom they
named Pythias. Soon after Hermias' death, Aristotle was invited by Philip of
Macedon to become tutor to Alexander the Great.
After spending several years tutoring the young Alexander, Aristotle returned
to Athens. By 334


he established his own school there, known as the

Lyceum. Aristotle conducted courses at the school for the next eleven years.
While in Athens, his wife Pythias died, and Aristotle became involved with
Herpyllis of Stageira, who bore him a son that he named after his father,
It is during this period that Aristotle is believed to have composed many of
his works. Aristotle wrote many dialogues, only fragments of which survived.
The works that have survived are in treatise form and were not, for the most

part, intended for widespread publication, and are generally thought to be

mere lecture aids for his students.
Aristotle not only studied almost every subject possible at the time, but
made significant contributions to most of them. In physical science, Aristotle
studied anatomy, astronomy, economics, embryology, geography, geology,
meteorology, physics, and zoology. In philosophy, he wrote on aesthetics,
ethics, government, logic, metaphysics, politics, psychology, rhetoric, and
theology. He also studied education, foreign customs, literature, and poetry.
Because his discussions typically begin with a consideration of existing
views, his combined works constitute a virtual encyclopedia of Greek
Upon Alexander's death in 323


anti-Macedonian sentiment in Athens

once again flared. Having never made a secret of his Macedonian roots,
Aristotle fled the city to his mother's family estate in Chalcis, explaining, "I
will not allow the Athenians to sin twice against philosophy."[1] However, he
died there of natural causes within the year.

Plato (left) and Aristotle (right), a detail of The School of Athens, a fresco
by Raphael. Aristotle gestures to the earth, representing his belief in
knowledge through empirical observation and experience, while holding a
copy of his Nicomachean Ethics in his hand, whilst Plato gestures to the
heavens, representing his belief in The Forms.

Both Plato and Aristotle regard philosophy as concerning universal truths.

Roughly speaking, however, Aristotle found the universal truths by
considering particular things, which he called the essence of things, while
Plato finds that the universal exists apart from particular things, and is
related to them as their prototype or exemplar. For Aristotle, therefore,
philosophic method implies the ascent from the study of particular
phenomena to the knowledge of essences; while for Plato philosophic
method means the descent from a knowledge of universal ideas to a
contemplation of particular imitations of those ideas (compare the metaphor
of the line in the Republic).
It is, therefore, unsurprising that Aristotle saw philosophy as encompassing
many disciplines which today are considered part of natural science (such as
biology and astronomy). Yet, Aristotle would have resisted the oversimplifying description of natural science as based entirely in observation.
After all, all data requires some interpretation, and much of Aristotle's work
attempts to provide a framework for interpretation.

Aristotle is, without question, the most important logician in history. He
deserves this title for two main reasons: (1) He was the first to consider the
systematization of inferences as a discipline in itself (it would not be an
exaggeration to say that he invented logic), and (2) his logical system was
the dominant one for approximately 2000 years. Kant famously claimed that

nothing significant had been added to logic since Aristotle, and concluded
that it was one of the few disciplines that was finished. The work of
mathematicians such as Boole and Frege in the nineteenth century showed
that Kant was wrong in his estimation, but even contemporary logicians hold
Aristotle in high regard.
Central to Aristotle's theory was the claim that all arguments could be
reduced to a simple form, called a "syllogism." A syllogism was a set of three
statements, the third of which (the conclusion) was necessarily true if the
first two (the premises) were. Aristotle thought that the basic statements
were of one of four forms:
1. All X's are Y's
2. No X's are Y's
3. Some X's are Y's
4. Some X's are not Y's
Aristotle's main insight, the insight that more or less began logic as a proper
discipline, was that whether an inference was successful could depend on
purely formal features of the argument. For instance, consider the following
two arguments:
1. All cats are animals
2. All animals are made of cells
3. Therefore, all cats are made of cells

1. All ducks are birds

2. All birds have feathers
3. Therefore, all ducks have feathers
The particular substantive words differ in these two arguments.
Nevertheless, they have something in common: a certain structure. On
reflection, it becomes clear that any argument with this structure will be one
where the truth of the conclusion is guaranteed by that of the premises.

Substance, matter, and form

Aristotelian metaphysics discusses particular objects using two related
distinctions. The first distinction is that between substances and "accidents"
(the latter being "what is said of" a thing). For instance, a cat is a substance,
and one can say of a cat that it is gray, or small. But the greyness or
smallness of the cat belong to a different category of beingthey
are features of the cat. They are, in some sense, dependent for their
existence on the cat.
Aristotle also sees entities as constituted by a certain combination of matter
and form. This is a distinction which can be made at many levels. A cat, for
instance, has a set of organs (heart, skin, bones, and so on) as its matter,
and these are arranged into a certain form. Yet, each of these organs in turn
has a certain matter and form, the matter being the flesh or tissues, and the
form being their arrangement. Such distinctions continue all the way down to
the most basic elements.

Aristotle sometimes speaks as though substance is to be identified with the

matter of particular objects, but more often describes substances as
individuals composed of some matter and form. He also appears to have
thought that biological organisms were the paradigm cases of substances.

Universals and particulars

Aristotle's predecessor, Plato, argued that all sensible objects are related to
some universal entity, or "form." For instance, when people recognize some
particular book for what it is, they consider it as an instance of a general
type (books in general). This is a fundamental feature of human experience,
and Plato was deeply impressed by it. People don't encounter general things
in their normal experience, only particular thingsso how could people have
experience of particulars as being of some universal type?
Plato's answer was that these forms are separate and more fundamental
parts of reality, existing "outside" the realm of sensible objects. He claimed
(perhaps most famously in the Phaedo) that people must have encountered
these forms prior to their birth into the sensible realm. The objects people
normally experience are compared (in the Republic) with shadows of the
forms. Whatever else this means, it shows that Plato thought that the forms
were ontologically more basic than particular objects. Because of this, he
thought that forms could exist even if there were no particular objects that
were related to that form. Or, to put the point more technically, Plato
believed that some universals were "un-instantiated."

Aristotle disagreed with Plato on this point, arguing that all universals are
instantiated. In other words, there are no universals that are unattached to
existing things. According to Aristotle, if a universal exists, either as a
particular or a relation, then there must have been, must be currently, or
must be in the future, something on which the universal can be predicated.
In addition, Aristotle disagreed with Plato about the location of universals. As
Plato spoke of a separate world of the forms, a location where all universal
forms subsist, Aristotle maintained that universals exist within each thing on
which each universal is predicated. So, according to Aristotle, the form of
apple exists within each apple, rather than in the world of the forms. His view
seems to have been that the most fundamental level of reality is just what
people naturally take it to be: The particular objects people encounter in
everyday experience. Moreover, the main way of becoming informed about
the nature of reality is through sensory experience.
The basic contrast described here is one that echoed throughout the history
of Western philosophy, often described as the contrast
between rationalism and empiricism.

The five elements

Aristotle, developing one of the main topics of the Pre-Socratic, believed that
the world was built up of five basic elements. The building up consisted in
the combining of the elements into various forms. The elements were:

Fire, which is hot and dry

Earth, which is cold and dry

Air, which is hot and wet

Water, which is cold and wet

Aether, which is the divine substance that makes up the heavenly

spheres and heavenly bodies (stars and planets)

Each of the four earthly elements has its natural place; the earth at the
center of the universe, then water, then air, then fire. When they are out of
their natural place they have natural motion, requiring no external cause,
which is towards that place; so bodies sink in water, air bubbles up, rain falls,
flame rises in air. The heavenly element has perpetual circular motion.
This view was key to Aristotle's explanation of celestial motion and of gravity.
It is often given as a paradigm of teleological explanation, and became the
dominant scientific view in Europe at the end of the middle ages.

Philosophy of mind
Aristotle's major discussion of the nature of the mind appears in De
Anima. His concern is with the "principle of motion" of living entities. He
distinguishes three types of soul:
1. Nutritive
2. Sensory
3. Thinking

All plants and animals are capable of absorbing nutrition, so Aristotle held
that they all have a nutritive soul. Yet, not all are capable of perceiving their
surroundings. Aristotle thought this was indicated by a lack of movement,
holding that stationary animals cannot perceive. He, therefore, concluded
that the presence of this type of soul was what distinguished plants from
animals. Finally, Aristotle held that what was distinctive of humans is their
ability to think, and held that this requires yet another principle of motion,
the thinking soul.
Most of Aristotle's discussion of the soul is "naturalistic"that is, it appears
to only describe entities whose existence is already countenanced in the
natural sciences (primarily, physics). This is especially brought out by his
claim that the soul seems to be the form of the organism. Because of this,
some contemporary advocates of functionalism in the philosophy of mind
(just as Hilary Putnam) have cited Aristotle as a predecessor.
In the De Anima discussion, however, there are places where Aristotle seems
to suggest that the rational soul requires something beyond the body. His
remarks are very condensed, and so incredibly difficult to interpret, but these
few remarks were the focus of Christian commentators who attempted to
reconcile Aristotelian philosophy with Christian doctrine.

Practical philosophy

Aristotle's main treatise on ethics is the Nichomachean Ethics, in which he

gives the first systematic articulation of what is now called virtue ethics.
Aristotle considered ethics to be a practical science, that is, one mastered by
doing rather than merely reasoning. This stood in sharp contrast to the views
of Plato. Plato held that knowledge of the good was accomplished through
contemplation, much in the way in which mathematical understanding is
achieved through pure thought.
By contrast, Aristotle noted that knowing what the virtuous thing to do was,
in any particular instance, was a matter of evaluating the many particular
factors involved. Because of this, he insisted, it is not possible to formulate
some non-trivial rule that, when followed, will always lead the virtuous
activity. Instead, a truly virtuous person is one who, through habituation, has
developed a non-modifiable ability to judge the situation and act accordingly.
This view ties in with what is perhaps Aristotle's best-known contribution to
ethical theory: The so-called "doctrine of the mean." He held that all the
virtues were a matter of a balance between two extremes. For instance,
courage is a state of character in between cowardice and brashness.
Likewise, temperance is a state of character in between dullness and hotheadedness. Exactly where in between the two extremes the virtuous state
lies is something that cannot be stated in any abstract formulation.
Also significant here is Aristotle's view (one also held by Plato) that the
virtues are inter-dependent. For instance, Aristotle held that it is not possible

to be courageous if one is completely unjust. Yet, such interrelations are also

too complex to be meaningfully captured in any simple rule.
Aristotle taught that virtue has to do with the proper function of a thing. An
eye is only a good eye in so much as it can see, because the proper function
of an eye is sight. Aristotle reasoned that humans must have a function that
sets them apart from other animals, and that this function must be an
activity of the soul, in particular, its rational part. This function essentially
involves activity, and performing the function well is what constitutes
human happiness.

Golden Mean
The concept of Aristotle's theory of golden mean is represented in his work called
Nicomachean Ethics, in which Aristotle explains the origin, nature and development
of virtues which are essential for achieving the ultimate goal, happiness (Greek:
Eudaimonia), which must be desired for itself. It must not be confused with carnal or
material pleasures, although there are many people who consider this to be real
happiness, since they are the most basic form of pleasures. It is a way of life that
enables us to live in accordance with our nature, to improve our character, to better
deal with the inevitable hardships of life and to strive for the good of the whole, not
just of the individual.

Aristotle's ethics is strongly teleological, practical, which means that it should

be the action that leads to the realization of the good of the human being as
well as the whole. This end is realized through continuous acting in

accordance with virtues which, like happiness, must be desired for

themselves, not for the short term pleasures that can be derived from them.
This is not to say that happiness is void of pleasures, but that pleasures are a
natural effect, not the purpose. In order to act virtuously, we must first
acquire virtues, by parental upbringing, experience and reason. It is very
important to develop certain principles in the early stages of life, for this will
profoundly affect the later life. Aristotle's ethics is centered at a person's
character, because by improving it, we also improve our virtues. A person
must have knowledge, he must choose virtues for their own sake and his
activities must originate from a firm and unshakeable character, which
represents the conditions for having virtues. If we behave like this, our
happiness will have a positive influence on other people as well, and will
improve their characters.
The golden mean represents a balance between extremes, i.e. vices. For
example, courage is the middle between one extreme of deficiency
(cowardice) and the other extreme of excess (recklessness). A coward would
be a warrior who flees from the battlefield and a reckless warrior would
charge at fifty enemy soldiers. This doesn't mean that the golden mean is
the exact arithmetical middle between extremes, but that the middle
depends on the situation. There is no universal middle that would apply to
every situation. Aristotle said, "It's easy to be angry, but to be angry at the
right time, for the right reason, at the right person and in the right intensity
must truly be brilliant." Because of the difficulty the balance in certain

situations can represent, constant moral improvement of the character is

crucial for recognizing it. This, however, doesn't imply that Aristotle upheld
moral relativism because he listed certain emotions and actions (hate, envy,
jealousy, theft, murder) as always wrong, regardless of the situation at hand.
The golden mean applies only for virtues, not vices. In some ethical systems,
however, murder can be justified in certain situations, like self-defense.
The importance of the golden mean is that it re-affirms the balance needed
in life. It remains puzzling how this ancient wisdom, known before Aristotle
re-introduced it, (it is present in the myth of Icarus, in a Doryc saying carved
in the front of the temple at Delphi: "Nothing in Excess," in the teachings of
Pythagoras, Socrates and Plato) can be so forgotten and neglected in the
modern society. Today's modern man usually succumbs in the extreme of
excess, which can be seen in the uncontrollable accumulation of material
wealth, food, alcohol, drugs, but he can descend into deficiency as well, like
inadequate attention to education, healthy sport activities, intellectual
pursuits, etc. Since Aristotle was interested in the studying of nature, he, like
any great person, quickly realized the importance of balance in nature and
the tremendous effect it has on keeping up so many forms of life in nature
going. Since human beings are from nature, which gives them life, isn't it
reasonable to conclude that humans should also uphold the balance, just like
nature? The problem is that the vast majority of people are unwilling to
admit that they are not at the top of nature, just a part of it. The reason for
this are the limits of human perception, which cannot grasp the complex

ways that nature, that vastly intricate and greater system, operates, so they
fear it because they don't fully understand it. That's why people invent god
who is primarily concerned with them, because it is their arrogance and pride
that propels their desperate need of wanting to be the center of everything,
wanting to know everything, or at least pretend so. They explain away death,
pain, suffering, thus robbing their lives of its natural aspects, turning it into a
bus station to heaven, where they just keep waiting and waiting for a ride,
while doing nothing.
The people in modern society need to overcome their pride and arrogance
and look in nature for guidance, because we all depend on it. Staring into the
sky and imagining ourselves in heaven will not accomplish anything; it is
better instead to accept our role in the world and appreciate the beauty of
life, and death, which gives meaning to it. We don't need "new" and
"progressive" ways of life when the ancient wisdom of the world's greatest
thinkers is in front of us, forgotten in the dusty shelves in some crumbling
library. The balance, the golden mean of which Aristotle talked about must
be recognized as beneficial and important, as it is in nature itself.

Cowardice (too little
Foolhardiness (too little fear)

Insensibility (too little

Meanness or Stinginess (too


Rashness (too much


Cowardice (too much


Selfindulgence (too


much pleasure)
Prodigality or

little giving)

Wastefulness (too

Stinginess (in giving out large

much giving)
Tastelessness and

sums of money)


Vulgarity (giving out

Undue Humility (too little

In irascibility (too little anger)

Shamelessness (too little


Proper Pride

large sums)
Empty Vanity (too

Good Temper

much honor)
Irascible (too much


Bashfulness (too much



In conclusion, according to Aristotle, what is happiness?

Happiness is the ultimate end and purpose of human existence

Happiness is not pleasure, nor is it virtue. It is the exercise of virtue.

Happiness cannot be achieved until the end of ones life. Hence it is a

goal and not a temporary state.

Happiness is the perfection of human nature. Since man is a rational

animal, human happiness depends on the exercise of his reason.

Happiness depends on acquiring a moral character, where one displays

the virtues of courage, generosity, justice, friendship, and citizenship in
ones life. These virtues involve striking a balance or mean between
an excess and a deficiency.

Happiness requires intellectual contemplation, for this is the ultimate

realization of our rational capacities.