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Aristotle
(384 - 322 BC)


Aristotle, born in 384 B.C., is widely considered the father of western logic. His study of how humans reason resulted in a system of logic known as syllogism, a process of deductive reasoning which could be used to draw conclusions from two or more given facts. The system remains in use today and forms the basis of both scientific and legal inquiry.

Early Life: Education and Career

At 17, Aristotle began studying at the Platonic Academy, the leading scholarly institution in ancient Greece which was founded by the famed philosopher Plato. Aristotle remained at the academy until Plato's death in 347 B.C. He briefly lived in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) and the Isle of Lesbos. King Philip of Macedonia eventually summoned him to tutor the thirteen-year-old prince Alexander, later known as Alexander the Great. 

In 335 B.C., once Alexander's tutoring was ended so he could assist his father in running the kingdom, Aristotle returned to Athens. There, he founded an informal institution in a public exercise area called the Lyceum, a name which eventually came to denote the school, as well. At the Lyceum, students could pursue studies in subjects ranging from music to metaphysics, astronomy to theology, marine biology to animal science. Because Aristotle often walked around the exercise area during his lectures, students had to follow him, thereby becoming “The Peripatetics” or "the walkers."

The Lyceum is said to have collected many manuscripts, including those of Aristotle. Unfortunately, no manuscript in Aristotle’s hand exists today.  

Portrait of Aristotle.
Aristotle. 24" x 33". 2003. Collection of Estate of John O'Quinn. O’Quinn Law Firm. Houston, TX.

Aristotle's Works

Only thirty-one medieval documents thought to contain Aristotle’s treatises still exist today. Furthermore, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy posits that these extant works are probably, “lecture notes, drafts first written and then reworked, ongoing records of continuing investigations, and, generally speaking, in-house compilations intended not for a general audience but for an inner circle of auditors.” 

Aristotle’s treatises can be divided into three distinct areas: the theoretical sciences, the practical sciences, and the productive sciences. In their entirety, though, he touches upon metaphysics, ethics, politics, the natural sciences, and rhetoric.

Aristotle’s Organon (“tool”) compiles his six major works on logic. In these, Aristotle defined the “calculative” or rational part of the soul as having three functions: contemplation, reasoning, and formulation. When contemplation and reasoning result in a well-founded formulation, “intellectual virtue” results. 

Departure from Athens and Death

Alexander the Great's death triggered a wave of significant anti-Macedonian sentiment throughout Eurasia. Fearing for his safety, Aristotle fled Athens in 323 B.C. Aware of the parallels between his own precarious standing and the public outcry that led to the execution of the philosopher Socrates, he is said to have quipped that there was “no reason to permit Athens to sin against philosophy twice.”  

Aristotle died of natural causes the next year in Chalcis, Greece.

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