Who Was Aristotle?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Aristotle was a famous Greek philosopher, scientist, and educator. He was an adept student at Plato's Academy, where Plato often referred to him as the "intellect: of the school. Many of his theories can be seen as drawn from Plato's teaching, but he was more practical in many respects. Aristotle concerned himself more with how philosophy applied to subjects like writing, the arts, science, and logic.

Raphael's "School of Athens" - Aristotle (center, right), holding a book, stands next to Plato.
Raphael's "School of Athens" - Aristotle (center, right), holding a book, stands next to Plato.


Born in Macedonia in 384 BCE, Aristotle's father was a court physician who died when his son was about ten years old. His mother's death preceded his father's, but the exact date is not known. Historians believe that Aristotle's father would have taught him early on about biology, science, and medicine, which would form the basis for some of his later works.

Aristotle opened a school of philosophy in ancient Athens called the Lyceum.
Aristotle opened a school of philosophy in ancient Athens called the Lyceum.

His uncle Proxenus, who was a teacher of rhetoric and writing, cared for Aristotle after his parents' deaths. Since Aristotle was born in Macedonia, he did not speak formal Greek. Proxenus helped him learn the language, as well as writing and rhetoric, all of which helped prepare him for his later success in Athens. At 18, Aristotle joined Plato's Academy as a student; he would go on to become a teacher, and would remain there for the next 19 years. He was thought to be the first pick for running the Academy upon Plato's death; however, Aristotle disagreed with some of Plato's teachings, and Plato's nephew received the job instead.

Plato was a great influence on Aristotle.
Plato was a great influence on Aristotle.

Aristotle traveled for a time, married, and eventually was invited to tutor the young Alexander the Great. After Alexander became king of Macedonia, Aristotle returned to Athens and opened his school, The Lyceum, in 335 BCE. When Alexander died and anti-Macedonian feelings grew in Athens, Aristotle's association with him made living there dangerous, and he was charged with impiety, as Socrates had been charged before him. Instead of standing trial, he fled to the country, dying in 322 BCE of a stomach disorder.

Contributions to Philosophy

One of Aristotle's main contributions to philosophy was his work up of logic, upon which he wrote six texts, called together The Organon. Though much of his work was lost for a time, these texts were not. Through them, he explored the nature of the syllogism, the way in which logic must proceed to avoid fallacies, and the nature of writing "commonplaces," which can be adapted for the moral use of rhetoric. Throughout this, and all his other works, one sees that Aristotle loved classification and definition. When words did not previously exist for a logical phenomena, he made them up, as he did with the word "syllogism."

Aristotle appears to have studied marine biology, and made extensive notes on anatomy and observations of animals. He developed the scientific taxonomy that is still used to classify animals, although it has been significantly modified. While there are errors in his understanding of how many natural processed worked, Aristotle was correct about others, including how the water cycle works.

In his work on metaphysics, Aristotle attempted to define the causes for existence of each thing that could be observed. He defined several sets of causes, and further explored the physical make-up of the universe as being a mix of several forms. All objects, he argued, were made of matter, which is their potential, and their form, the actual state of being. For example, the matter — be it bronze or marble or some other material — is formed by a sculptor, based on his idea, into a final form: a statue.

In ethics, Aristotle's best-known work is the Niomachean Ethics which discusses the ways people can be virtuous. He believed that a person could not simply study what is good, but must also be good by performing virtuous deeds. In great length he classifies what constitutes virtue, how each virtue compares to other virtues, and what steps one must take to be virtuous.

Aristotle's Poetics prescribe a method for creative writing, particularly plays, which would be followed through the Renaissance. Comedy is an imitation of humanity's worst qualities, while tragedy looks at what is meaningful, with a focus on action. Poetic art was said to examine the universal character of things.

Aristotle's Influence

After his death, Aristotle's school continued to operate for a few years, but his writings fell out of circulation for a century or so. Once they were rediscovered, however, they spread broadly and were particularly influential in Byzantine and Arabic philosophies. Aristotle became the focus of serious study by both Jewish and Arabic philosophers in the 6th century CE. Early Western travelers to Arabic countries "discovered" his works, and many of his theories went on to form the basis for medieval thought and philosophy.

Aristotle's work continued to influence various disciplines throughout the 19th century. His views on natural sciences were eventually replaced by other theories, although some of his observations still hold up. While his philosophies no longer hold the prominent role they once did, his work is still widely studied and continue to influence modern thought.

Aristotle was a philospher, educator and scientist in Ancient Greece.
Aristotle was a philospher, educator and scientist in Ancient Greece.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


Why were people reluctant to dispute what Aristotle had to say?


How is the United States government influenced by the teachings of Aristotle?


With all of his quotes about love and friendship, can one make the assumption that he had little trust in the past?


Why were people reluctant to dispute what Aristotle had to say?


Actually, it doesn't matter what the ancient Macedonian language was: Aristotle was still an Ionian, born in the Ionian colony of Stagiros in coastal Macedonia. Regards.


Ancient Macedonians' language was Greek, as they were a Greek "tribe". The writings on everything ancient in Macedonia are ancient Greek. Proxenus didn't teach Greek language to Aristotle. Even Aristotle's name means something in Greek (Αριστοτέλης= άριστος τελος = the one with best intentions).


What was Aristotle best known for and how does it affect our knowledge about the solar system?


What are Aristotle's books called?

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