JMC : Pre-Scholastic Philosophy / by Albert Stöckl

4. Aristotle.

Life and Writings of Aristotle. General Character of his Philosophy.

§ 33.

1. "With Aristotle the philosophy of Greece, which in the hands of Plato was in form and outline the philosophy of a particular people, becomes universal; it loses its special Hellenistic character; the Platonic dialogue is changed to a sober prose, and, instead of myths and poetic imagery, we have a fixed, unimpassioned, scientific language." A new tendency of thought, radically different from the Platonic, enters the sphere of philosophy with Aristotle. Aristotle does not, like Plato, begin with the Idea, and from the standpoint thus assumed proceed to study the data of experience. He begins with the data of experience, the empirical, the actual, and thence rises to universal, ultimate reasons. He does not proceed synthetically and progressively, like Plato, but for the most part analytically and regressively; his method is not of the a priori, or deductive kind; it is rather a posteriori, or inductive. "Hence his deliberate examination of facts, phenomena, circumstances, and possibilities as a means of rising to universal truths; hence his marked predilection for physical science, for nature is that which is nearest to us, and most actual in our experience; hence, too, his tendency to push scientific investigation in every direction, for in his mind all facts have equal claims to consideration. This tendency led him to become the founder of sciences which were either unknown till his time, or had previously received little attention, such as Logic, Empirical Psychology, Natural History, Jus Naturae."

Aristotle was born in the year B.C. 384 in Stagira, a Greek Colony of Thrace. His father, Nicomachus, was a physician, and was a friend of Amyntas, King of Macedonia. The former circumstance may have had some influence in determining Aristotle's love of natural science; the latter may have had something to do with his subsequent invitation to the Macedonian Court. He lost his parents while still young, and in his eighteenth year he came to Athens, where he followed for twenty years the instructions of Plato. Many stories are told of his intercourse with Plato. In one anecdote Plato is made to say of him that he needed the rein; that he was like a colt which kicks at its mother. He is charged with envy and ingratitude towards his teacher. What truth there is in the accusation we have no means of knowing. After the death of Plato (347), Aristotle, accompanied by Xenocrates, repaired to the Court of Hermias, Ruler of Atarneus, in Mysia, where he resided for three years, after which he went to Mitylene. In the year 343 he was invited by Philip, King of Macedonia, to undertake the education of his son Alexander, then thirteen years old. He was held in high honour by both princes, and Alexander subsequently assisted him in his studies with princely generosity. Soon after Alexander's accession to the throne, Aristotle returned to Athens, where he founded his school in the gymnasium, called the Lyceum (because dedicated to Apollo Lukeios). Walking up and down in the shaded valleys (peripatoi) of the Lyceum, Aristotle discoursed on philosophy with his disciples. His school was hence called the "Peripatetic." He presided over it for twelve years. In the morning he taught his more advanced pupils the more recondite truths of science (acroamatic investigations) in the evening he discoursed to a large crowd (exoteric discourses) on the sciences which belong to general culture (Gellius.) After the death of Alexander he was accused of impiety (asebeia) by the Macedonian party at Athens. He withdrew from the prosecution, and sought refuge at Chalcis, in Euboea, where he died soon after, B.C. 322.

3. The writings of Aristotle were composed partly in popular, and partly in scientific (acroamatic) form. The latter have, in large part, come down to us; of the former only fragments survive. The strictly scientific works of Aristotle, which were, with scarce an exception, composed during his stay at Athens, are divided, according to the nature of the subject-matter, into logical, metaphysical, physical, and ethical; in addition to which we have an incomplete treatise on Poetry, and a treatise on Rhetoric.

(a) The whole of the logical treatises of Aristotle are included under the title "Organon." To the Organon belong: -- (1) the Katêgoriai, a treatise on the highest or fundamental concepts; (2) Peri hermêneias (de interpretatione) a treatise on Judgments and Propositions; (3) Analutika protera, on Inference, and Analutika hustera on Proof, Definition, Division, and the Knowledge of Principles; (4) Topika treating of "dialectical" or probable conclusions; and (5) Peri sophistikôn elegchôn on Fallacies, and the means of detecting them.

(b) The works called the "Metaphysics" of Aristotle received this name from the circumstance that in the arrangement of the writings of Aristotle one of the editors of his works (most likely Andronicus of Rhodes), in view of the distinction drawn by Aristotle between the proteron pros hêmas and the proteron phusei, placed these books next in order to the Physics, and included them all under the title ta meta phusika. Aristotle himself gave the name prôtê philosophia to what we now call Metaphysics. The Metaphysics consist of fourteen books, which, however, do not stand in any strictly logical relations to one another; the second book is said to be spurious. We shall see later what, according to Aristotle, is the scope and subject-matter of Metaphysics.

(c) Of the works relating to Physics or Natural Science, the following are of special importance to philosophy: -- (1) The Phusikê akooasis (de physica auscultatione, also called phusika or ta peri phuseôs) in eight books -- a treatise on physical nature; (2) Peri ouranou (de coelo), on the heavens, in our ooks; (3) Peri geneseôs kai phthoras (de generatione et corruptione) in five books -- an exposition of the principles of generation and dissolution in nature; (4) Meteôrologika or Peri meteôrôn (de meteoris) in four books; (5) Peri ta zôa historiai (de historia animalium) in ten books, of which, however, the tenth is said to be spurious -- a natural history and comparative physiology of animals; to which are to be added (6) Peri zôôn moriôn (de partibus animalium) in four books, and (7) Peri zôôn geneseôs (de generatione animalium) in five books.{1}

(d) The psychological treatises of Aristotle arc usually included in the list of his treatises on physical nature. (1) First in this section comes his treatise Peri psuches in three books, in which Aristotle develops his theory of psychology. We have, in addition, a number of smaller treatises, dealing with special psychological questions; (2) Peri aisthêseôs kai aisthêtou (de sensu et sensili); (3) Peri mnêmês kai anamnêseôs (de memoria et reminiscentia); (4) Peri enupniôn (de insomniis); (5) Peri hupnon kai egrêgorseôs (de somno et vigilia); (6) Peri mantikês kai en tois hupnois (de divinatione per somnium); (7) Peri makrobiotêtos kai brachubiotêtos (de longitudine et brevitate vitae); (8) Peri zôês kai thanatou (de vita et morte); (9) Peri neotêtos kai gêros (de juventute et senectute).

(e) In the list of Aristotle's ethical and political writings we find: (1) The Ethika Nikomacheia, in ten books; (2) the Ethika Eudêmeia in seven books; and (3) the Ethika megala in two books. The Nicomachean Ethics is undoubtedly the work of Aristotle himself; the Eudemian Ethics is regarded as the work of his pupil Eudemus -- not however an original work, but merely the lectures of Aristotle preserved and reproduced; the "greater ethics" -- Magna Moralia -- appears to be an extract from the two former works. We have furthermore (3) the Politika, a political philosophy based on the ethics, in eight books; the (4) Oikonomika, and (5) the treatise Peri aretôn kai kakiôn (de virtutibus et vitiis), judged by many critics to be spurious -- an opinion which cannot be received without question. The treatise Politeiai, an account of the Constitutions of 158 States, is lost. Lastly, we may class with the ethical writings the treatise Peri poiêtikês; the treatise Peri hrêtorikês in three books: the Problêmata, a collection made on the basis of Aristotle's notes; and the Mêchanika.

4. The writings here enumerated were not, it would appear, published by Aristotle at the time his lectures on the several subjects were delivered. This work of publication seems to have been done by his pupils. In some cases, as already noticed with regard to the Eudemian Ethics, the treatise would appear to have been written or compiled by the pupils on the basis of a written treatise or lecture by Aristotle. This may account for the fact that in many instances the exposition is interrupted or defective, and that we frequently meet with mutilated sentences. The chronological order of the several treatises cannot he determined with certainty. The earliest were doubtless the logical treatises, then followed in all probability the ethical, and after these the physical, the psychological, and the metaphysical.

5. According to Strabo (xiii. 1, 54), and Plutarch (Vit. Sull. c. 26) a strange fortune befell the works of Aristotle after the death of Theophrastus. "The library of Aristotle came first into the possession of Theophrastus, who bequeathed it to Neleus of Scepsis in Troas. After the death of the latter it passed into the hands of his relatives in his own country, and they out of fear lest the princes of Pergamus should take the books for their own library, concealed them in a cellar or pit (diorux), where they suffered considerable injury. At last (about B.C. 100) Apellicon, of Tros, a rich bibliophile, discovered the manuscripts, purchased them, and carried them to Athens. He endeavoured, as best he could, to fill up the gaps, and then publish the works. The difficulty of filling up the hiatuses in the much disfigured manuscripts accounts for the defective condition of the text of Aristotle's works in subsequent times. Soon after this, on the taking of Athens by the Romans (B.C. 87), the manuscripts fell into the hands of Sylla. A grammarian named Tyrannion had access to them, and from him the Peripatetic Andronicus of Rhodes received copies, upon which he based a new edition of the works of Aristotle, arranging them in suitable order."

6. A Latin translation of the works of Aristotle, accompanied by the Commentaries of the Arabian philosopher Averroes (written about A.D. 1180), was printed at Venice in 1489; and again in the same city in 1496, 1507, 1588; and at Basle in 1538; the Greek text was printed for the first time at Venice, apud Aldum Manutium, in 1495-98, and then under the supervision of Erasmus and Simon Grynaeus, Basileae 1531; again at Basle in 1539 and 1550; and then in many various editions, among which we may note as specially important the editions of Fried. Sylburg, Francof, 1584-87; of Isaac Casaubon (with a Latin translation) Ludg. 1590; of Du Val (Greek and Latin) Par. 1629 and 1639. Many of the special treatises, especially the Nicomachean Ethics, were published in repeated editions up to the middle of the seventh century. After this, editions of the special treatises rarely appear, and no edition of the complete works is published till the close of the eighteenth century, when Buhle published a new edition (Greek and Latin), Biponti et Argentorati, 1794-1800. The most remarkable edition of the present century is that published by the Academy of Science, Berlin, Vols. I. and II.; Aristoteles Graece ex rec. Imm. Bekker, Berol. 1831, Vols. 3; Aristoteles latine, interpretibus variis, Ib. 1831, Vols. 4; Scholia in Arist. Coll. Christ. Aug. Brandis, Th. 1836. We have further a valuable Parisian edition, Didot 1848-1857, and a stereotyped Tauchnitz edition, 1831-32, and 1843. (Cfr. Ueberweg.)

7. Aristotle, like Plato, makes no rigid distinction between philosophy and the other sciences. With him the notion of philosophy is one with the notion of science in general. He regards philosophy as the knowledge of facts and phenomena in their causes. But this definition refers only to such facts and phenomena as are unchangeably the same, or at least such as constitute the usual order of things. With the merely casual, the casus fortuitus, science is not concerned. The complete definition of philosophy, as understood by Aristotle, has been expressed by the later exponents of his teaching in the formula: Cognitio rerum necessariarum et immutabilum per veras et proprias causas."

8. But Aristotle goes further. He distinguishes between "First" and "Second" philosophy. Under the notion "Second" philosophy, he includes all the sciences which deal with special branches of knowledge; the "First" philosophy is the universal science, and, as such, is the only philosophy, in the stricter sense of the word. Each science selects for investigation a special province, a special department of Being, but there is none which deals with Being in general. We want, therefore, a science which shall take as the subject of its investigations that which the others assume. This science is the "First" philosophy. It deals with all Being, which it studies in its ultimate causes and principles. This is the ultimate basis of all the other sciences, inasmuch as it traces the principles peculiar to them back to the ultimate principles from which they are derived, and thus lays the ultimate foundation which all must rest on.

9. Philosophy is not pursued because of any advantage or utility external to itself. It is its own object; it is of such a nature that it can and must be sought for itself alone. It is rightly called divine wisdom, partly because God alone can possess it in perfection, partly because the highest point which philosophical knowledge strives to reach is God -- the first and fundamental cause of all things. Philosophy is the best and most excellent science; other systems of mental discipline may be more necessary for certain special purposes, but there is none of greater worth or excellence; for philosophy has knowledge for its aim, and is no mere means to particular practical ends. It is the queen of sciences; all others are to it as hand-maidens.

10. Aristotle has not given us a complete division of philosophy, at least he has not established any such division as the basis of his system. He speaks indeed of different parts of philosophy, but he does not always enumerate the same parts, and he has not followed in practice any one of the divisions he indicates. He distinguishes between theoretical, practical, and poetical philosophy; and he includes in the first division Mathematics, Physics, and the "First" Philosophy -- the logical studies of the Organon he appears to have regarded merely as a science of method preparatory to philosophy. Again, he speaks of philosophy as consisting of three parts: Logic, Physics, Ethics. But he does not follow either of these divisions in his exposition; he sets little store by such divisions.

11. In separating the several parts of philosophy in our exposition of Aristotle's teaching, we are not following any order traced by Aristotle himself. We are making our own division. We select, as the most appropriate order of treatment, first Logic and Theory of Knowledge, then Metaphysics, then Psychology, and finally Ethics and Political Philosophy.

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{1} The Treatises Peri kosmou, peri phutôn, peri zôôn kinêseôs, phusiognômika and peri thaumasiôn akousmatôn, are declared spurions by the critics, the genuineness of the peri automôn grammôn is also a matter of doubt.