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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Aristotle (384–322 B.C.)
Critical and Biographical Introduction by Thomas Davidson (1840–1900)
 
THE “STAGIRITE,” called by Eusebius “Nature’s private secretary,” and by Dante “the master of those that know,”—the greatest thinker of the ancient world, and the most influential of all time,—was born of Greek parents at Stagira, in the mountains of Macedonia, in B.C. 384. Of his mother, Phæstis, almost nothing is known. His father, Nicomachus, belonged to a medical family, and acted as private physician to Amyntas, grandfather of Alexander the Great; whence it is probable that Aristotle’s boyhood was passed at or near the Macedonian court. Losing both his parents while a mere boy, he was taken charge of by a relative, Proxenus Atarneus, and sent, at the age of seventeen, to Athens to study. Here he entered the school of Plato, where he remained twenty years, as pupil and as teacher. During this time he made the acquaintance of the leading contemporary thinkers, read omnivorously, amassed an amount of knowledge that seems almost fabulous, schooled himself in systematic thought, and (being well off) collected a library, perhaps the first considerable private library in the world. Having toward the end felt obliged to assume an independent attitude in thought, he was not at the death of Plato (347) appointed his successor in the Academy, as might have been expected. Not wishing at that time to set up a rival school, he retired to the court of a former fellow-pupil, Hermias, then king of Assos and Atarneus, whom he greatly respected, and whose adopted daughter, Pythias, he later married. Here he remained, pursuing his studies, for three years; and left only when his patron was treacherously murdered by the Persians.  1
  Having retired to Mitylene, he soon afterward received an invitation from Philip of Macedonia to undertake the education of his son Alexander, then thirteen years old. Aristotle willingly obeyed this summons; and retiring with his royal pupil to Mieza, a town southwest of Pella, imparted his instruction in the Nymphæum, which he had arranged in imitation of Plato’s garden school. Alexander remained with him three years, and was then called by his father to assume important State duties. Whether Aristotle’s instruction continued after that is uncertain; but the two men remained fast friends, and there can be no doubt that much of the nobility, self-control, largeness of purpose, and enthusiasm for culture, which characterized Alexander’s subsequent career, were due to the teaching of the philosopher. What Aristotle was in the world of thought, Alexander became in the world of action.  2
  Aristotle remained in Macedonia ten years, giving instruction to young Macedonians and continuing his own studies. He then returned to Athens, and opened a school in the peripatos, or promenade, of the Lyceum, the gymnasium of the foreign residents, a school which from its location was called the Peripatetic. Here he developed a manifold activity. He pursued all kinds of studies, logical, rhetorical, physical, metaphysical, ethical, political, and æsthetic, gave public (exoteric) and private (esoteric) instruction, and composed the bulk of the treatises which have made his name famous. These treatises were composed slowly, in connection with his lectures, and subjected to frequent revision. He likewise endeavored to lead an ideal social life with his friends and pupils, whom he gathered under a common roof to share meals and elevated converse in common.  3
  Thus affairs went on for twelve fruitful years, and might have gone on longer, but for the sudden death of Alexander, his friend and patron. Then the hatred of the Athenians to the conqueror showed itself in hostility to his old master, and sought for means to put him out of the way. How hard it was to find a pretext for so doing is shown by the fact that they had to fix upon the poem which he had written on the death of his friend Hermias many years before, and base upon it—as having the form of the pæan, sacred to Apollo—a charge of impiety. Aristotle, recognizing the utter flimsiness of the charge, and being unwilling, as he said, to allow the Athenians to sin a second time against philosophy, retired beyond their reach to his villa at Chalcis in Eubœa, where he died of stomach disease the year after (322). In the later years of his life, the friendship between him and his illustrious pupil had, owing to certain outward circumstances, become somewhat cooled; but there never was any serious breach. His body was carried to Stagira, which he had induced Philip to restore after it had been destroyed, and whose inhabitants therefore looked upon him as the founder of the city. As such he received the religious honors accorded to heroes: an altar was erected to him, at which an annual festival was celebrated in the month named after him.  4
  We may sum up the character of Aristotle by saying that he was one of the sanest and most rounded men that ever lived. As a philosopher, he stands in the front rank. “No time,” says Hegel, “has a man to place by his side.” Nor was his moral character inferior to his intellect. No one can read his ‘Ethics,’ or his will (the text of which is extant), without feeling the nobleness, simplicity, purity, and modernness of his nature. In his family relations, especially, he seems to have stood far above his contemporaries. The depth of his æsthetic perception is attested by his poems and his ‘Poetics.’  5
  The unsatisfactory and fragmentary condition in which Aristotle’s works have come down to us makes it difficult to judge of his style. Many of them seem mere collections of notes and jottings for lectures, without any attempt at style. The rest are distinguished by brevity, terseness, and scientific precision. No other man ever enriched philosophic language with so many original expressions. We know, from the testimony of most competent judges, such as Cicero, that his popular writings, dialogues, etc., were written in an elegant style, casting even that of Plato into the shade; and this is borne fully out by some extant fragments.  6
  Greek philosophy culminates in Aristotle. Setting out with a naïve acceptance of the world as being what it seemed, and trying to reduce this Being to some material principle, such as water, air, etc., it was gradually driven, by force of logic, to distinguish Being from Seeming, and to see that while the latter was dependent on the thinking subject, the former could not be anything material. This result was reached by both the materialistic and spiritualistic schools, and was only carried one step further by the Sophists, who maintained that even the being of things depended on the thinker. This necessarily led to skepticism, individualism, and disruption of the old social and religious order.  7
  Then arose Socrates, greatest of the Sophists, who, seeing that the outer world had been shown to depend on the inner, adopted as his motto, “Know Thyself,” and devoted himself to the study of mind. By his dialectic method he showed that skepticism and individualism, so far as anarchic, can be overcome by carrying out thought to its implications; when it proves to be the same for all, and to bring with it an authority binding on all, and replacing that of the old external gods. Thus Socrates discovered the principle of human liberty, a principle necessarily hostile to the ancient State, which absorbed the man in the citizen. Socrates was accordingly put to death as an atheist; and then Plato, with good intentions but prejudiced insight, set to work to restore the old tyranny of the State. This he did by placing truth, or reality (which Socrates had found in complete thought, internal to the mind), outside of both thought and nature, and making it consist of a group of eternal schemes, or forms, of which natural things are merely transient phantoms, and which can be reached by only a few aristocratic souls, born to rule the rest. On the basis of this distortion he constructed his Republic, in which complete despotism is exercised by the philosophers through the military; man is reduced to a machine, his affections and will being disregarded; community of women and of property is the law; and science is scouted.  8
  Aristotle’s philosophy may be said to be a protest against this view, and an attempt to show that reality is embodied in nature, which depends on a supreme intelligence, and may be realized in other intelligences, or thought-centers, such as the human mind. In other words, according to Aristotle, truth is actual in the world and potential in all minds, which may by experience put on its forms. Thus the individualism of the Sophists and the despotism of Plato are overcome, while an important place is made for experience, or science.  9
  Aristotle, accepting the world of common-sense, tried to rationalize it; that is, to realize it in himself. First among the Greeks he believed it to be unique, uncreated, and eternal, and gave his reasons. Recognizing that the phenomenal world exists in change, he investigated the principle and method of this. Change he conceives as a transition from potentiality to actuality, and as always due to something actualized, communicating its form to something potential. Looking at the “world” as a whole, and picturing it as limited, globular, and constructed like an onion, with the earth in the center, and round about it nine concentric spheres carrying the planets and stars, he concludes that there must be at one end something purely actual and therefore unchanging,—that is, pure form or energy; and at the other, something purely potential and therefore changing,—that is, pure matter or latency. The pure actuality is at the circumference, pure matter at the center. Matter, however, never exists without some form. Thus, nature is an eternal circular process between the actual and the potential. The supreme Intelligence, God, being pure energy, changelessly thinks himself, and through the love inspired by his perfection moves the outmost sphere; which would move all the rest were it not for inferior intelligences, fifty-six in number, who, by giving them different directions, diversify the divine action and produce the variety of the world. The celestial world is composed of eternal matter, or æther, whose only change is circular motion; the sublunary world is composed of changing matter, in four different but mutually transmutable forms—fire, air, water, earth—movable in two opposite directions, in straight lines, under the ever-varying influence of the celestial spheres.  10
  Thus the world is an organism, making no progress as a whole, but continually changing in its various parts. In it all real things are individuals, not universals, as Plato thought. And forms pass from individual to individual only. Peleus, not humanity, is the parent of Achilles; the learned man only can teach the ignorant. In the world-process there are several distinct stages, to each of which Aristotle devotes a special work, or series of works. Beginning with the “four elements” and their changes, he works up through the mineral, vegetable, and animal worlds, to man, and thence through the spheral intelligences to the supreme, divine intelligence, on which the Whole depends. Man stands on the dividing line between the temporal and the eternal; belonging with his animal part to the former, with his intelligence (which “enters from without”) to the latter. He is an intelligence, of the same nature as the sphere-movers, but individuated by mutable matter in the form of a body, matter being in all cases the principle of individuation. As intelligence, he becomes free; takes the guidance of his life into his own hand; and, first through ethics, politics, and æsthetics, the forms of his sensible or practical activity, and second through logic, science, and philosophy, the forms of his intellectual activity, he rises to divine heights and “plays the immortal.” His supreme activity is contemplation. This, the eternal energy of God, is possible for man only at rare intervals.  11
  Aristotle, by placing his eternal forms in sensible things as their meaning, made science possible and necessary. Not only is he the father of scientific method, inductive and deductive, but his actual contributions to science place him in the front rank of scientists. His Zoölogy, Psychology, Logic, Metaphysics, Ethics, Politics, and Æsthetics, are still highly esteemed and extensively studied. At the same time, by failing to overcome the dualism and supernaturalism of Plato, by adopting the popular notions about spheres and sphere-movers, by separating intelligence from sense, by conceiving matter as independent and the principle of individuation, and by making science relate only to the universal, he paved the way for astrology, alchemy, magic, and all the forms of superstition, retarding the advance of several sciences, as for example astronomy and chemistry, for many hundred years.  12
  After Aristotle’s death, his school was continued by a succession of studious and learned men, but did not for many centuries deeply affect contemporary life. At last, in the fifth century A.D., his thought found its way into the Christian schools, giving birth to rationalism and historical criticism. At various times its adherents were condemned as heretics and banished, mostly to Syria. Here, at Edessa and Nisibis, they established schools of learning which for several centuries were the most famous in the world. The entire works of Aristotle were turned into Syriac; among them several spurious ones of Neo-Platonic origin, notably the famous ‘Liber de Causis’ and the ‘Theology of Aristotle.’ Thus a Neo-Platonic Aristotle came to rule Eastern learning. On the rise of Islâm, this Aristotle was borrowed by the Muslims, and became ruler of their schools at Bagdad, Basra, and other places,—schools which produced many remarkable men. On the decay of these, he passed in the twelfth century into the schools of Spain, and here ruled supreme until Arab philosophy was suppressed, shortly before 1200. From the Arabs he passed into the Christian Church about this date; and though at first resisted, was finally accepted, and became “the philosopher” of the schools, and the inspirer of Dante. The Reformers, though decrying him, were forced to have recourse to him; but his credit was not re-established until the present century, when, thanks to Hegel, Trendelenburg, Brandis, and the Berlin Academy, his true value was recognized and his permanent influence insured.  13
  The extant works of Aristotle, covering the whole field of science, may be classified as follows:—  14
  A.  Logical or Formal, dealing with the form rather than the matter of science:—‘Categories,’ treating of Being and its determination, which, being regarded ontologically, bring the work into the metaphysical sphere; ‘On Interpretation,’ dealing with the proposition; ‘Former Analytics,’ theory of the syllogism; ‘Later Analytics,’ theory of proof; ‘Topics,’ probable proofs; ‘Sophistical proofs,’ fallacies. These works were later united by the Stoics under the title ‘Organon,’ or Instrument (of science).  15
  B.  Scientific or Philosophical, dealing with the matter of science. These may be subdivided into three classes: (a) Theoretical, (b) Practical, (c) Creative.  16
  (a) The Theoretical has further subdivisions: (a) Metaphysical, (b) Physical, (c) Mathematical.—(a) The Metaphysical works include the incomplete collection under the name ‘Metaphysics,’—(b) The Physical works include ‘Physics,’ ‘On the Heavens,’ ‘On Generation and Decay,’ ‘On the Soul,’ with eight supplementary tracts on actions of the soul as combined with the body; viz., ‘On Sense and Sensibles,’ ‘On Memory and Reminiscence,’ ‘On Sleep and Waking,’ ‘On Dreams,’ ‘On Divination from Dreams,’ ‘On Length and Shortness of Life,’ ‘On Life and Death,’ ‘On Respiration,’ ‘Meteorologics,’ ‘Histories of Animals’ (Zoögraphy), ‘On the Parts of Animals,’ ‘On the Generation of Animals,’ ‘On the Motion of Animals,’ ‘Problems’ (largely spurious), ‘On the Cosmos,’ ‘Physiognomies,’ ‘On Wonderful Auditions,’ ‘On Colors.’—The Mathematical works include ‘On Indivisible Lines,’ ‘Mechanics.’  17
  (b) The Practical works are ‘Nicomachean Ethics,’ ‘Endemean Ethics,’ ‘Great Ethics’ (‘Magna Moralia’), really different forms of the same work; ‘Politics,’ ‘Constitutions’ (originally one hundred and fifty-eight in number; now represented only by the recently discovered ‘Constitution of Athens’), ‘On Virtues and Vices,’ ‘Rhetoric to Alexander,’ ‘Œconomics.’  18
  (c) Of Creative works we have only the fragmentary ‘Poetics.’ To these may be added a few poems, one of which is given here.  19
  Besides the extant works of Aristotle, we have titles, fragments, and some knowledge of the contents of a large number more. Among these are the whole of the “exoteric” works, including nineteen Dialogues. A list of his works, as arranged in the Alexandrian Library (apparently), is given by Diogenes Laërtius in his ‘Life of Aristotle’ (printed in the Berlin and Paris editions of ‘Aristotle’); a list in which it is not easy to identify the whole of the extant works. The ‘Fragments’ appear in both the editions just named. Some of the works named above are almost certainly spurious; e.g., the ‘Rhetoric to Alexander,’ the ‘Œconomics,’ etc.  20
  The chief editions of Aristotle’s works, exclusive of the ‘Constitution of Athens,’ are that of the Berlin Academy (Im. Bekker), containing text, scholia, Latin translation, and Index in Greek (5 vols., square 4to); and the Paris or Didot (Dübner, Bussemaker, Heitz), containing text, Latin translation, and very complete Index in Latin (5 vols., 4to). Of the chief works the best editions are:—‘Organon,’ Waitz; ‘Metaphysics,’ Schwegler, Bonitz; ‘Physics,’ Prantl; ‘Meteorologies,’ Ideler; ‘On the Generation of Animals,’ Aubert and Wimmer; ‘Psychology,’ Trendelenburg, Torstrik, Wallace (with English translation); ‘Nicomachean Ethics,’ Grant, Ramsauer, Susemihl; ‘Politics,’ Stahr, Susemihl; ‘Constitution of Athens,’ Kenyon, Sandys; ‘Poetics,’ Susemihl, Vahlen, Butcher (with English translation). There are few good English translations of Aristotle’s works; but among these may be mentioned Peter’s ‘Nicomachean Ethics,’ Jowett’s and Welldon’s ‘Politics,’ and Poste’s ‘Constitution of Athens.’ There is a fair French translation of the principal works by Barthélemy St.-Hilaire. The Berlin Academy is now (1896) publishing the ancient Greek commentaries on Aristotle in thirty-five quarto volumes. The best work on Aristotle is that by E. Zeller, in Vol. iii. of his ‘Philosophie der Griechen.’ The English works by Lewes and Grote are inferior. For Bibliography, the student may consult Ueberweg, ‘Grundriss der Geschichte der Philosophie,’ Vol. i., pages 196 seq.  21
 
 
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