Aristotelian Philosophy

To Aristotle the scientist and philosopher may be attributed several innovations in the examination and analysis of natural phenomena and human behavior. In the organization of his analysis, Aristotle divides the sciences into three classes:

  1. Theoretical or speculative philosophy (theological, physical and metaphysical, and bio-psychological)
  2. Practical philosophy (ethics and political science)
  3. Productive philosophy (rhetoric, aesthetics, and literary criticism).

His teacher Plato sought to reconcile physical and moral phenomena with transcendental or idealized forms of non-temporal, non-spatial being; Aristotle, on the other hand, drew on the experience of the senses as interpreted by the emotions and the intellect and saw the universal residing or inherent in the particular object or state. Thus for him the particular object or state participated in the universal, and the universal provided a criterion of value for the particular. The universal and the particular are inalienably associated, and this affinity of participation underlies most of Aristotle’s approach to the problem of causation.

His teleology and epistemology are largely determined by this examination of reality and nature. Reality consists not of transcendental ideas but of individual, observable phenomena, with the application of the human intellect upon them. Motion and movement, deriving ultimately from what Aristotle calls the Prime Mover existing in the universe, cause the development from one form of existence to another and the transformation of matter. To motion may be assigned the transition from potentiality to actuality, for each object or state of being in nature has a potentiality of development that may be actualized or realized, in the course of time, in its growth.

In logic, Aristotle employs both the categories and the syllogism to define more precisely the essence of matter and form. An extension of the dialectic method displayed by Plato in his later dialogues, this analysis by deductive logic provides a basis for exploring the essentials of being. The syllogism attempts to separate one judgment from another by means of a middle term (for example, the original notion, the judgment on this notion, and the logical conclusion).

Since Aristotle maintains that all knowledge is gained from perception by the senses, he effects a close association between mind and soul on the one hand and body on the other. The soul may be identified with the principle of life, everywhere present in the human body. Through experience the mind develops in its capacity to govern action and choice. The chief good for man is said to be happiness, consisting of rational activity pursued in accordance with virtue. The virtues, as they are manifested by the individual man, may be divided into two groups, moral and intellectual. In discussing the several virtues Aristotle proposes the ethical mean, and each virtue is shown to occupy a middle position between the extremes of excess and defect (for example, courage is the main state between the extremes of rashness and cowardice). Character is determined by choice, and choice is governed by experience and the intellect or by the interrelationship of the two. In the Reid of government, Aristotle posits the constitutional democracy as the most effective type of state, since it aims at the greatest good for its citizens, the majority of whom, in turn, excel in virtue.

Productive art is considered by Aristotle to be the result of reason, but it is conditioned by (1) the morality that it may convey to human beings and (2) the validity of the representation that it achieves . Thus, in imitating or representing facts and states of nature, art can be a strong determinant in the virtue and happiness of man.

Logic by Aristotle

Aristotle has written very fully in the area that has come to be identified as logic. His expressed purpose here is to define a method for the isolation and criticism of substance insofar as such isolation and criticism are pertinent to his scientific investigations. Logic is not properly a science in and by itself but an epistemological procedure whereby reality may be described accurately in language. It is an introduction to the pursuit of science. Perhaps the most basic isolation of being is provided in Aristotle’s 10 categories.

While Aristotle does not insist on analyzing matter in each of these categories, it will be observed that these 10 qualifications serve amply to identify the full nature of an object or being.

Taking Socrates as the subject of his definition in the categories, Aristotle would make the complete analysis as follows: (1) substance (man), (2) quantity (five feet tall), (3) quality (white), (4) relation (married), (5) place (in the Athenian Agora), (6) date (400 B.C. ), (7) position (sitting), (8) state (is sober), (9) action (drinking hemlock), (10) passivity (is convicted).

The relation of language as thought to material reality and being is conveyed further by the Aristotelian examination of the proposition.
In the proposition, Aristotle analyzes the expression of judgment, notably the association between noun and verb. Thus he cites the distinction of meaning in the proposition: “man is” versus “man is not” versus “not-man is” versus “not-man is not.” With the addition of a predicate adjective, such as “good,” to the original proposition “man is,” the variety of identification and analysis is increased.

In his treatment of inference Aristotle advances the syllogism. This he defines as an argument that produces a conclusion different from the assumptions employed in reaching that conclusion (for example, A is true of B; B is true of C; therefore, A is true of C). Aristotle was aware, however, of certain weaknesses in the combination of terms a syllogism employs, and subsequent logicians have supplemented his version.

One difficulty that he recognized is the question of probability regarding the assumption used in developing the syllogism. There are certain basic principles that must be accepted as postulates, and from these is deduced the proof. Whereas the syllogism proceeds from the universal to the particular, Aristotle proposes induction as the method to reach the universal from the particular.

Finally, as it were to introduce his works on essence and being and to clarify his manner of approach, Aristotle effects the relationship of logic and science through a consideration of those premises that are not analyzed by means of demonstrative proof. It may be asked how man knows them and what validity they possess that makes them knowledgeable. Perception and experience are described as potentials that are actualized within the life of man; these enable him to move into the realm of universals, into the area where intuitive reason illuminates all universals.

Physics and Metaphysics

In the area of theoretical, or speculative, philosophy Aristotle explores the meaning and properties of being and of nature.

He himself never employed the term “metaphysics,” which arose from the analysis of what he called First Philosophy. The 10 books of his study of causation, which have come to be known as the Metaphysics, were placed by an early editor after (Greek meta, after) the works on physical phenomena. Physics may be described as the science that has for its subject the study of phenomena that are changeable, insofar as they possess a source of movement. These phenomena, such as are found in the study of the biological and natural sciences, may increase and decrease in growth, may come into being and pass away; yet they all are subject to certain established laws in the universe involving matter and motion. Motion that is to be found in natural objects effects the transition from potentiality to actuality.

Motion, therefore, along with the actualization of potentiality in matter, defines the natural universe into a great scale of being, ranging from the most inorganic substance to the most highly developed being or form of reality. While this is not to be conceived of as a scale of evolution, it does provide an effective analysis of scientific phenomena in a universe that is forever changing. The responsibility of the scientist or the philosopher is the evaluation of matter within this scale with regard to the teleological questions : “What is the purpose of a physical phenomenon?” “What is its end?” “In what form will its development occur?
Like most ancient philosophers, Aristotle was concerned with causation. He attempted to identify causation with the substance of matter itself.

In First Philosophy, Aristotle seeks to isolate a principle of causation, and this he defines as a universal that is real and that is the formative principle of being. This principle may exist apart from motion, for motion presupposes a moving cause. The First Cause in the universe Aristotle calls the Prime Mover, which may be identified with God; in the isolation of other causes the Prime Mover serves as the norm.

Motion is eternal because the Prime Mover is eternal; a degree of perfection may be observed in the material universe because this is communicated by the Prime Mover, who is perfect. In nature Aristotle enumerates four causes: material, formal, efficient, and final. Thus a work of art as well as a phenomenon in the natural universe can manifest cause in these areas: the substance is the material, the architectural plan is the formal, the execution or creation is the efficient, and the purpose is the final. The physical world, then, for Aristotle represents an intermediate being between the Prime Mover, who is perfect form, and the formless substance of matter.

In the development of this explanation of causation and being, Aristotle places the greatest emphasis on the mind of man as an interpretative and creative principle, but the reasoning of this interpretation derives largely from the principles of his logic. His concept of the Prime Mover has been severely criticized, for without this First Cause the regress into the rationalized universe would be endless.

Recommended reading: The Basic Works of Aristotle

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