Aristotle’s Philosophy, Politics, Theories, and Thoughts

Aristotle's Philosophy, theories

Here in this article, you will find Aristotle’s Philosophy, Politics, Theories, and Thoughts.

Aristotle’s Life

Aristotle, one of Plato’s greatest students, was born in 384 BC. Aristotle’s father was a physician to the king of Macedonia, and when Aristotle was seven years old, his father sent him to study at the academy. He was there at the beginning as a student, then became a researcher and finally a teacher. He seemed to adopt and develop platonic ideas while there and to have expressed them in dialogue form. When Plato died, Plato willed the academy not to Aristotle, but to his nephew Speusippus.

Aristotle then left Athens with Xenocrates to go to Assos, in Asia Minor, where he opened a branch of the academy. This academy focused more on biology than its predecessor that relied on mathematics. There he met Hermias, another former student of Plato, who had become king of Assos. Aristotle married Hermia’s niece, Pythias, who died ten years later. During these years in Assos, Aristotle started to break away from Platonism and developed his own ideas.

King Philip of Macedonia invited Aristotle to the capitol around 343 BC to tutor his thirteen-year-old don, Alexander. Tutoring Alexander in the academy in Assos, Aristotle still remained the president of the academy in 359 BC, Alexander’s father, King Philip decided to set off to subdue the Greek city-states, and left Alexander in charge, thus stopping Aristotle’s tutoring of Alexander.

King Philip was then murdered, in 336 BC, and Alexander then became king. He mobilized his father’s great army and subdued some city-states, thus becoming “Alexander the great”. In 335 BC, Aristotle returned to Athens. Speusippus had died, but Aristotle was again not given the presidency of the academy in Athens, instead, it was given to one of his colleagues Xenocrates. So, Aristotle founded his own school this time, it was named the Lyceum, named after Apollo Lyceus.

In 323 BC, twelve years after founding the lyceum, Alexander the Great died. In Greece resentment against the Macedonia hegemony seethed and riots broke out. Aristotle was accused of impiety, and his life become in serious jeopardy. So he left Athens and went to his late mother’s estate at Chalcis on the island of Euboea. He died there in the next year 322 BC.

Read Important MCQs about Aristotle’s Life, philosophy, thouoghts and work.

Aristotle’s Legacy

Aristotelian ideas remain a fountain of inspiration for modern thinkers. The following list covers some of the main influences that Aristotle has had on the history of thought.

  • Aristotle summarised the whole of human knowledge as known to the Greeks of his time and advanced it across a broad front.
  • Aristotle provided the intellectual substance of Christianity and Western Culture until the end of the 17th century.
  • Aristotle ranged over most sciences and arts. He advanced the sciences of cosmology, physics, chemistry, biology, zoology, botany, and psychology.
  • Aristotle pioneered the study of zoology, both observa~ional and theoretical, and his work in this area was not surpassed until the 19th century.
  • Aristotle had profound insights into human science!) of political theory, psychology, and ethics.
  • Aristotle’s impact on philosophy resulted in the creation of  Aristotelian logic, which was regarded as a finished system until the 19th century (and still makes up the core of the subject).
  • Aristotle’s advances in metaphysics and ethics are still central to much current debate.

Politics of Aristotle

All associations are formed with the aim of achieving some good. The Greek city-state, or polis, is the most general association in the Greek world, containing all other associations, such as families and trade associations. As such, the city-state must aim at achieving the highest good. Aristotle concludes that “man is a political animal”: we can only achieve the good life by living as citizens ma state. In discussing the economic relations that hold within a city-state, Aristotle defends the institution of private property, condemns excessive capitalism, and notoriously defends the institutes of slavery.

Before presenting his own views, Aristotle discusses various theoretical and actual models current at his time. In particular, he launches lengthy attacks on Plato’s Republic and Laws, which most commentators find unsatisfying and off the mark, as well as criticizing other contemporary
philosophers and the constitutions of Sparta, Crete, and Carthage.

Aristotle identifies citizenship with the holding of public office and administration of justice and claims that the identity of a city rests in its constitution. In the case of a revolution, where the citizenship and constitution change, a city’s identity changes, and so it cannot be held responsible for its actions before the revolution.

Roughly speaking, there are six kinds of constitution, three just and three unjust. A constitution is just when it benefits everyone in the city and unjust when it benefits only those m power. When a single person rules, a constitution is a monarchy if the ruler is good and tyranny if the ruler is bad. When a small elite rules, a constitution is an aristocracy if the rulers are good and an oligarchy if the rulers are bad. When the masses rule, a constitution is a polity if they rule well and democracy if they rule badly.

Aristotle acknowledges that giving full sovereignty to either the governing body or the laws might make room for abuses of power and suggests that a polity IS probably least susceptible to corruption,  especially when the laws are given higher authority than the governing body. He proposes a principle of distributive justice, saying that benefits should be conferred upon different citizens differently, depending on the contribution they make to the well-being of the state.

In Books IV to VI, Aristotle turns from his theoretical speculations to a practical examination of political institutions as they exist in the Greek world. He observes that the needs of city-states vary greatly depending on their wealth, population, class distribution, and so on. He examines the different varieties of states and constitutions and makes a number of general recommendations. The greatest tension in any state is the mutual resentment between the rich and the poor. Consequently, a strong middle class keeps a state in balance and guards against corruption and oppression.

The three branches of civic government are deliberate, which makes the major political decisions of the state; the executive, which runs the day-to-day business of the Hate; and the judicial, which oversees the legal affairs of the state. Though it is not necessary to give everyone equal access to public office, it is never wise to exclude entirely any group from power.

Constitutions are usually changed by a large, dissatisfied faction that rises up against the people in power. To preserve a constitution, Aristotle recommends moderation, education, and inclusiveness. The interests of the rich minority and poor majority can be balanced by allowing both factions a roughly equal amount of power. In such an arrangement, each individual rich person would have more political power than each individual poor person, but the poor and the rich as groups would be balanced against one another.

Books VII and VIII return to the question of what the ideal state would be like. The good life consists primarily m rational contemplation, so even though political action is admirable and necessary, it is only. a means to the end of securing the ultimate happiness of rational contemplation. An ideal city-state should be arranged to maximize the happiness of its citizens Such a city would be large enough for self-sufficiency but small enough to ensure fellow feeling.

It should be located by the water to allow for easy sea commerce. Young citizens serve in the military, middle-aged citizens govern, and older citizens take care of religious affairs while noncitizen laborers take care of farming and crafts. Education is important to ensuring the well-being of the city, and Aristotle prefers a public program of education to private tutoring.

He recommends that care be taken to breed the right habits in children from the time they are in the womb and that when they mature they learn to hone their reason. His recommended curriculum consists of reading and writing, physical education music, and drawing. This education will help citizens make the most of both work and play, as well as the leisure time m which to pursue the good life.

Aristotle’s Philosophy

Aristotle’s discussion of politics is firmly grounded in the world of the Greek city-state, or polis. He assumes that any state will consist of the same basic elements of a Greek city-state: male citizens who administer the state, and then women, slaves, foreigners, and noncitizen laborers who perform the necessary menial tasks to keep the city running. Citizenship in the Greek world was a much more involved responsibility than it is in modem representative democracies.

All citizens in a Greek city-state take part in government and hold various public offices, which is why Aristotle takes public office as a defining feature of citizenship. Because citizenship involves an active role in running the state, a citizen identifies strongly with the city-state to which he belongs, to the point that the Greeks consider exile to be a fate worse than death.

The tight bond between citizen and city-state also explains why Aristotle considers active citizenship as a necessary feature of the good life. He insists that we can only fully realize our rationality and humanity as citizens of a city-state, and so he concludes that fully realized humans are, by necessity, political animals.

Aristotle’s Politics is sometimes classified as “communitarian” because it places the well-being of the community as a whole above the well-being of the individual. Aristotle calls humans “political animals” because we cannot be fully human without active participation in a city-state, and his recommendations regarding justice and education bear in mind only what will make for the strongest state. Absent entirely is the concern of modem liberalism with individual freedoms and the protection of a citizen’s private life from the public eye.

Aristotle does not fail to discuss the tension between individual liberty and the demands of the state so much as he does not have in a world where this tension exists. The idea of private life would seem absurd in a Greek city-state. All the highest aims in life, from political debate to physical exercise, take place in the public sphere, and there is no conception of a “private persona,” which differs from the face of people present in public.

Consequently, the interests of the individual and the interests of the state are equivalent in Aristotle’s view. His prioritizing of the community above the individual, as well as his warnings about the dangers of unrestrained capitalism, had a strong influence on the work of Karl Marx.

While Aristotle’s conception of distributive justice gives a clear indication of his own aristocratic leanings, much of Aristotle’s discussion of justice remains relevant to this day. Distributive justice is the idea that honors and wealth should be distributed according to merit so that the best people get the highest rewards. Though Aristotle insists that “best” is a matter of merit, he seems unconcerned that the rich have much greater opportunities for achieving merit and that noncitizens, women, and slaves have no opportunity at all.

Effectively, he condemns them to the lowest rung of the social ladder by insisting that benefits be accorded to those with merit and defining merit in terms of qualities that their low status bars them from.

Despite these aristocratic leanings, however, Aristotle has a keen sense of the dangers of power abuse. In book ill, he discusses at length the difficulties of ensuring that all citizens are accountable. He is not the first to recommend that the written law have greater authority than the ruling class, but he makes the argument forcefully and it is largely thanks to his influence that we take the primacy of the law as a given in the modem world.

One of the less attractive features of Politics is Aristotle’s endorsement of slavery, which, not surprisingly, rings hollow. His argument rests on the claim that everyone needs to be ruled and those who lack the rationality to rule themselves need to be ruled by others. Aristotle opposes the enslavement of other Greeks because he believes that all Greeks are at least somewhat rational beings and so their enslavement would be unjust.

One of the less attractive features of Politics is Aristotle’s endorsement of slavery, which, not surprisingly, rings hollow. His argument rests on the claim that everyone needs to be ruled and those who lack the rationality to rule themselves need to be ruled by others. Aristotle opposes the enslavement of other Greeks because he believes that all Greeks are at least somewhat rational beings and so their enslavement would be unjust.

If we follow Aristotle’s reasoning to its logical conclusion, we can argue that slavery is always wrong because those who make capable slaves necessarily have a level of rationality that renders their enslavement unjust. Unfortunately, Aristotle himself was too caught up in the prejudices of his own time to recognize that his argument refutes itself.

Main Points of Aristotle’s Thought

Now lets’ discuss the political thoughts of Aristotle.

The Criticism of Plato’s Theory of Forms

In general, Aristotle thought that Plato’s theory of forms with its two separate realms failed to explain what it was meant to explain. That is, it failed to explain how there could be permanence and order in this world and how we could have objective knowledge of this world. By separating the realm of forms so radically from the material realm, Plato made it impossible to explain how the realm of forms made objectivity and permanence possible in the material realm.

The objectivity and permanence of the realm of forms do not help to explain the material world because the connection between the two worlds is so hard to understand. The theory of forms, therefore, is an unnecessary proposal. There is no need to split the world up into two separate realms in order to explain objectivity and permanence in our experience.

Aristotle elaborated this general criticism into two more particular objections:

The Obscurity of the Notion of Participation or Imitation

According to Plato, material objects participate in or imitate the forms. It is in virtue of this relation to the realm of forms that material objects are knowable and have ordered. Yet, Aristotle argues, it is almost impossible to explain what exactly this participation or imitation is. The properties that the forms have (eternal, unchanging, transcendent, etc. ) are all incompatible with material objects.

How, for example, can a white object be said to participate in or copy the form of whiteness? Is the form of whiteness white itself? How can there be whiteness without anything which is white? What can a white object and the form of whiteness be said to have in common? It seems that the metaphor of imitation or participation seems to break down in these cases because of the special properties that Plato ascribes to the forms. The only link between the realm of forms and the material world, then, breaks down. The forms cannot explain anything in the material world.

The Third Man Argument

This argument, like the first one, was first given by Plato himself in his later dialogues. It is related to the first objection but is a more technical way of getting at the main problem with the theory of forms. The resemblance between any two material objects is explained by Plato in terms of their joint participation in a common form. A red book and a red flower, for example, resemble each other in virtue of being copies of the form of redness. Because they are copies of this form, they also resemble the form. But this resemblance between the red object and the form of redness must also be explained in terms of another form.

What form does a red object and the form of redness both copy to account for their similarity? One can see that this will lead to an infinite regress. Whenever someone proposes another form that two similar things copy, you can always ask them to explain the similarity between the form and the objects. This will always require another form. The notion of imitation or copying used in the theory of forms, then,
runs into logical difficulties.

The theory of forms really explains nothing about the similarity of objects; another fom1 is always needed beyond the one proposed. Thus to explain the similarity between a man and the form of man, one needs a third form of man, and this always requires another form. The explanation of the original similarity is never given; it is only put off to the next level.

Aristotle’s Theories

It’s time to introduce you to Aristotle’s theories.

Aristotle’s Theory of Form and Matter

Aristotle, then, thought that in order to explain coherence and objective knowledge in this world, the form must be located in particular individual objects. Yet, he still had to explain how things could change, how they could have permanence, and how we could have knowledge. He still had to address the problem of reconciling the objective and subjective views of the world. Instead of splitting the world into two separate realms, Aristotle divides objects into two parts or aspects: form and matter.

All objects are composed of a certain material arranged in a certain way. The material they are composed of is their matter. The way it is arranged in their form. Take as an example a child playing with building blocks. The child could use the same blocks to first build a wall, and then tear it down and build a house. The material or matter in each case would be the same, the blocks. Yet, the house and the wall have the matter arranged in different ways. They have different forms. The house is still just one material object; yet It has two different aspects, its form, and its matter.

All objects then have a matter, or the material of which they are composed, and form, the way the matter is arranged. It is the form of a thing, however, that makes a thing what it is. When the child knocked down the block wall, the blocks or matter remained·. The wall no longer existed, however, because the blocks no longer had the arrangement or form characteristic of a wall. It is the form of an object that makes it the particular object that it is.

It is also the form of a thing that we know when we have knowledge of it. To know a wall or a person is to know the peculiar arrangement of matter or its form. This is what makes them what they are.

Aristotle also uses this distinction to explain how there can be both permanence and change in the world:

Explanation of Change: Change can occur because the same matter can be arranged in different ways. When the block wall has destroyed the matter, the blocks, remained. In change, therefore, it is the form that changes while the matter remains the same. Change occurs when the arrangement of the matter changes when it moves from one form to another.

Explanation of permanence:

Yet, even though the form of an object can change, it is formed, not matter, that provides order and permanence in the world. The matter of all things is ultimately the same; it could not account for the order and intelligibility that the changes of things have. There must be some part of the form of a thing, its essential form, that remains the same as the thing changes. The essential form of a thing determines what an object is and guides the changes and development of that thing.

That is why we find changes intelligible or orderly. While some aspects of the form of a thing are always changing, as long as a thing remains in existence, its essential form must remain the same. For example, as a tree develops from a seed into a giant oak tree its form is constantly changing. Yet its changes are not random; it does not change into a rock or a pig. It changes in just the ways necessary to make it an oak tree. This is because some part of the tree stays the same from the time it is a seed until it is a mature oak. The essential form of a thing makes it what it is and guides the thing through its changes to its final goal. This is how there can be permanent objects in a world that are always changing.

Aristotle’s theory Four Causes

In order to understand how a thing comes about, there are four things that it is necessary to know:

  1. What type of material it is made of.
  2. What type of thing it is.
  3. What caused it to come into being; and
  4. What purpose or function the thing is meant to fulfill.

Take, for example, a table. To understand the table fully you need to know:

  1. its material, that it is made of wood;
  2. the arrangement of that material, the type of table it is, or its shape (this is the form of the table);
  3. how it was built, the various thing that had to be done to manufacture the table; and
  4. the function of the table, that it is meant to be a dinner table or a desk.

The first of these is the material cause. The second is the formal cause. The third is the efficient cause. The fourth is the final cause.

It was the fourth of these causes that was Aristotle’s most original contribution and which played the greatest role in both his theory of nature and his theory of form.

Aristotle’s Theory of Nature

Aristotle applied his doctrine of the four causes to the study of the natural world. Although all-natural objects were composed of a certain matter and certain immediate causes for all their changes, it was the formal and final causes that drew most of Aristotle’s attention. All objects, both alive and inanimate, have an essential form that makes them what they are and a goal or final state that they are progressing towards.

These two causes were very closely related to Aristotle’s natural science. Consider, for example, an acorn. It has a particular form, the particular way that its matter is arranged. This is what makes it the type of thing it is, in this case, the seed of an oak tree. This form defines for the acorn a goal or final state which defines it and guides all the various changes the acorn will go through. In this case, the goal or final state is to be an oak tree. The goal or final cause guides the object through the various changes of form that the object goes through on the way to the accomplishment of its goal.

It provides coherence, order, and intelligibility to the change that an object undergoes. The essential form of the thing, however, determines what goal it pursues. The final state of a thing depends upon what type of thing it is. This close connection of the final and formal causes led Aristotle to combine the two in his later account of what form is.

One of the most important applications that Aristotle made of this theory was the explanation of the motions of physical objects. Aristotle held that there were only four main types of things or elements.  These were earth, air, fire, and water. Each of these had a natural place, which it strived to move towards. Earth strived to move towards the center of the planet Earth. Water’s natural place was on the surface of the planet Earth.

Air’s natural place was next furthest from the earth, followed by fire. Finally, outside of the realm of the planet Earth, where the spheres of the stars. This was the place of a fifth, different element, aether. It was what made up the stars. The natural motions of objects and their weight depended, then, upon what type of object they were, for this determined their natural place or goal.

Dirt for example moved down towards the natural place of Earth and was heavier than cotton because it was composed mostly of earth instead of air and water. Everything moves the way it does because of the type of thing it is, because of Its form. It was this that determined the natural place of the thing.

God in Aristotle’s Theory of Nature and Theory of Form

God, for Aristotle, plays the role of both the eternal cause of all motion and the ultimate final cause of all motion and change. Motion is eternal for Aristotle; It is imposs1ble that there could be the first motion, for this would require another motion to get it started. Nothing moves without a cause for Aristotle. The cause of this eternal motion cannot be simply another motion in the chain, it must itself be eternal and it must be unmoved itself.

If it were not eternal it could not explain eternal motion. If it were moved, this motion itself would require another explanation. The eternal motion of nature requires an eternal unmoved mover or cause. This unmoved eternal mover is God for Aristotle.

God is also the ultimate final cause of all things. All things tend towards God as their final state or goal, as a lover moves toward his beloved. It is the desire for this ultimate goal or fulfillment that fuels each object’s development towards its own particular goal. God is seen as a perfect activity or pure form; it is thought thinking itself.

Aristotle’s Theory of the Soul

For Aristotle, the soul is the form of a living creature. It is the arrangement of the matter of its body so as to allow it to carry on all of the peculiar functions of living organisms. He identifies five such distinctive powers of the soul, all of which are not found in all organisms:

  1. The nutritive: This is the power living beings have to grow and take in nourishment.
  2. The appetitive: This is the power of desiring.
  3. The sensory: This is the power of perceiving things with the senses.
  4. The locomotive: This is the ability to move.
  5. The reasoning

These are the different functions that the souls of different organisms fulfill. They are not parts of the soul, but different powers that organisms organized by a soul or form of the right type can exercise.

Aristotle’s Human Nature and Happiness

The essential form of human beings is their reason. Humans are rational animals. This determines what our final goal or purpose is. The reason is the ability to separate form from matter in abstract thought. For example, when I think of a table, I have the form of the table in my mind, but not the wood or matter. Thus, the reason is the one way we can separate form from matter. Our final goal, then, is ‘to separate our form from our matter and become like God, pure form or thought. We do this by developing our reason through the speculative life.

Read more about other Political thinkers like Plato, John Lock, Thomas Hobbes, Rousseau, Edmund Burke, Machiavelli, etc.

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