Biography of Aristotle
- Occupation: Philosopher and Scientist
- Born: 384 BC in Stagira, Greece
- Died: 322 BC in Euboea, Greece
- Best known for: Student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great
Aristotle by Jastrow
Aristotle by Jastrow
Where did Aristotle grow up?
Aristotle was born in northern Greece in the city of Stagira around the year 384 BC. He grew up as part of the aristocracy as his father, Nicomachus, was the doctor to King Amyntas of Macedonia. It was at the king's court that he met his son, Philip, who would later become king.
Growing up the son of a doctor, Aristotle became interested in nature and anatomy. He grew up putting a premium on education and the arts.
Did Aristotle go to school?
As a youth, Aristotle likely had tutors who taught him about all sorts of subjects. He learned to read and write Greek. He also learned about the Greek gods, philosophy, and mathematics.
When Aristotle turned seventeen he traveled to Athens to join Plato's Academy. There he learned about philosophy and logical thinking from Plato. He stayed at the Academy for nearly 20 years, at first as a student and later as a teacher.
What was the Academy like?
Plato's Academy was not a school or college like we have today. They didn't have classes on specific subjects taught by teachers. What they did was challenge each other with questions and debate. One method of doing this was to have dialogues where one person would ask a question and the other person would attempt to answer it. They would then continue to discuss the question in a debate format, asking new questions as they came up in the debate.
Plato (left) and Aristotle (right)
from The School of Athens by Raffaello Sanzio
After leaving the Academy in 347 BC, Aristotle traveled throughout Greece and Turkey. He got married and wrote several works including The Natural History of Animals, the Reproduction of Animals, and The Parts of Animals.
Aristotle had new ideas on how the world should be studied. He liked to make detailed observations of the world, taking notes and records of what he saw. He went so far as to dissect animals to learn more about their anatomy. This was very different from the other Greek philosophers and educators of the day. They did all their work in their mind, thinking about the world, but not observing it. In this way Aristotle laid the foundation of science today.
Aristotle spent a lot of time learning about biology. He was the first to try and classify different types of animals into different groups. He made drawings of different animal parts and tried to determine the function of different organs. Aristotle made many discoveries and interesting observations.
Tutoring Alexander the Great
In 343 BC, Philip II of Macedonia asked Aristotle to tutor his son Alexander. Aristotle spent the next several years teaching Alexander a wide range of subjects including philosophy, logic, and mathematics. Alexander went on to conquer much of the civilized world and became known as Alexander the Great.
After tutoring Alexander, Aristotle returned to Athens and opened his own school. It was called the Peripatetic School. He taught his students subjects such as logic, physics, public speaking, politics, and philosophy.
At this point in his career Aristotle began to study logic and the process of thinking. Here are some of Aristotle's most famous ideas:
- Syllogism - Syllogism is a type of reasoning. Assuming you had three categories of things: A, B, and C. If all of the As are Bs and all of the Bs are Cs, then all of the As are Cs.
- Five elements - At the time of Aristotle, people believed that everything was made of four elements: earth, water, air, and fire. Aristotle proposed that there was a fifth element called aether. He thought that aether is what heavenly bodies such as the stars and planets are made of.
- Four causes - Aristotle felt that everything that happened could be explained by one of four causes: material cause, formal cause, efficient cause, and final cause.
- Astronomy - Aristotle rightly determined that the Earth was round. However, he also thought that the Earth was stationary and the center of the universe.
- The "mean" - He believed that the best way for people to behave was to avoid any extremes. Today we call this "doing everything in moderation".
- The name Aristotle means "the best purpose".
- King Philip II of Macedon rebuilt Aristotle's hometown of Stagira and freed the inhabitants from slavery as a reward for his tutoring Alexander.
- It is thought that Aristotle left Plato's Academy after Plato died and his son Speusippus took over.
- Not all of Aristotle's observations were accurate. He thought the heart was the center of intelligence (not the brain). He also thought that goats could be male or female depending on which way the wind was blowing.
- Plato referred to Aristotle as "the Mind".
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