The Philosophy of Aristotle

Aristotle (384–322 bce) was born in Stagira. His father, Nicomachus, was a doctor at the court of Macedonia. The profession of medicine may well have influenced Aristotle’s interests, and his association with Macedon was lifelong: in 343 he became tutor to Alexander the Great. After Alexander’s death in 323, the political climate in Athens turned anti-Macedonian, and Aristotle went into voluntary exile. He died shortly thereafter, in 322.


At the age of 17, Aristotle went to Athens and studied at Plato’s Academy for twenty years, until the death of Plato in 348/7. Plato was succeeded as head of the Academy by his nephew Speusippus (c.407–339). Aristotle left Athens, traveling with another Academic, Xenocrates (c.396–314), who later succeeded Speusippus. There is no solid reason for supposing that Aristotle was disaffected with the Academy, or ever expected to become its head; both Speusippus and Xenocrates were senior to him. It was during this period that Aristotle acted as tutor to Alexander; he also married Pythias, adopted daughter of one of Aristotle’s fellow students at the Academy, Hermeias of Atarneus. Aristotle returned to Athens in 335 and founded his own “school,” the Lyceum or the “peripatetic school” (either because Aristotle and others lectured while walking or because the grounds had noted walkways).


Aristotle, like Plato, wrote dialogues. None has survived, nor have other works he wrote “for publication”; there are quotations or paraphrases from these lost works in later authors, and such material constitutes collections of Aristotle’s “fragments.” Among the more important of the lost works are: Eudemus, or On Soul, Protrepticus, Statesman, On Poets, On Philosophy, On Justice, On Contraries, On Ideas (or On Forms), On the Pythagoreans, On the Philosophy of Archytas, and On Democritus. Some of these works are datable, and most appear to have been published early in Aristotle’s career, while he was still in the Academy.

Cicero (Academica 2.38.119) speaks of Aristotle’s “golden river of eloquence,” and it is the lost works to which he is referring; what survives cannot be so described. What survives, rather, appears to be lecture notes, in which the style is compressed sometimes to the point of unintelligibility. This leads to a false contrast with Plato: Plato seems lively, where Aristotle is dry as dust. Their surviving works do present that contrast, but there is no reason to extend that to a comment on the men themselves.

What we have of these lecture notes is divided into separate areas of philosophy: logic (broadly conceived), natural philosophy or “physics,” “psychology” or the soul, biology, metaphysics, ethics, political philosophy, rhetoric, and poetics. This division into disciplines presumably does not go back to Aristotle, but is an artifact of the early editions of these writings: there are intricate interconnections among the views presented in these works that are to some extent masked by this compartmentalization, and some of the treatises (particularly the Physics and the Metaphysics) do not appear to have been composed by Aristotle as units.


Some think that a developmental pattern can be discerned in the material we have: for example, the early dialogue Eudemus appears to have presented a radical body–soul dualism of a sort the later treatise On the Soul could not have countenanced. But the question of Aristotle’s development is a highly controversial matter, and proponents of the developmental point of view do not agree.

The most famous developmentalist is Werner Jaeger, who believed that Aristotle started as a follower of Plato and gradually drifted in a more empirical direction. This has been challenged on the ground that the fragmentary material from the early lost works already shows Aristotle objecting to Plato’s views; on more than one point, one might see Aristotle as later approaching rather than receding from Platonism. But many continue to find this approach unpromising.


The first several books of the Aristotelian corpus – Categories, De interpretatione, Prior Analytics, Posterior Analytics, Topics (with On Sophistical Refutations) – are commonly referred to as the “Organon” or “instrument” of philosophizing.

Aristotle’s categories are variously types of predication and kinds of being: the predicate term in “S is P” may indicate what S is, its “substance” (the traditional translation for ousia) – it’s a man, a horse – or how much of it there is in one or another dimension, or one way or another in which it is qualified, or something to which it is related, where it is, when it is, and so on. Alternatively, these terms give us different types of being: substances, quantities, qualities, relatives, places, times, and so on. So construed, substances form the bottom level, and so-called primary substances the rock-bottom of that level. In the Categories, the primary substances are individuals: men, horses, etc. Aristotle’s fullest list of these categories (Categories 4, Topics I 9) enumerates ten; elsewhere fewer are listed: the enumeration is not fixed.

If we conceive “logic” more narrowly, as the analysis of the structure of argument or the study of validity, only the Prior Analytics and the Topics qualify for the label. The former gives us Aristotle’s formal analysis of argument, in which all arguments are said to reduce to “syllogisms”: arguments having three terms in two premises employing one of the four quantified predicational patterns “every B is an A,” “some B is an A,” “no B is an A,” and “some B is not an A.” Aristotle’s treatment of these arguments is awesome, as is his formulation of a completeness theorem for his logic: the claim that all arguments can be so analyzed. His attempt to prove it (in I 23) is less fortunate, since the claim is false.

Aristotle attempts to extend his syllogistic to include modal syllogisms (premises such as those above modified by “necessarily” and “possibly”). This is some of the most difficult material in Aristotle, and there appears to be some confusion in his treatment of it.

In the Topics Aristotle gives rules of thumb for “dialectical” argument: argument that takes place between two individuals in dialogue. This work goes back to the Academy, where such “dialectical” arguments were used as training techniques. It antedates the Prior Analytics, and, although it is concerned with validity, it does not have as systematic a method of analysis as does the latter.

The Posterior Analytics goes back into the area of logic more broadly conceived: it concerns the analysis of knowledge. According to the analysis, exemplary knowledge is systematic, laid out in premise-and-proof form, almost always in syllogisms. That layout gives to each of the domains of knowledge, or each of the “sciences” (not a separate word in Greek), a particular structure: each “science” considers a single domain of objects, a “genus” or “kind,” by starting from unproven assumptions about that kind and deducing ever more specific conclusions about it. Two sorts of examples dominate the treatise: biological ones and mathematical ones. Aristotle’s picture of mathematics was based on a pre-Euclidean axiomatization of “elements” about which we have no independent information: this is most unfortunate, since there is no plausible way of applying syllogistic to actual mathematical argument as we know it from Euclid on. If biology is construed as simply taxonomic, syllogistic might more plausibly apply.

There is a characteristic tension in this treatise between two tendencies: on the one hand, only eternal, non-fortuitous, and universal connections can be the objects of knowledge or science (I 8, 30, 31), and on the other, contra Plato, science or knowledge arises from senseperception (II 19). This looks like a tension between vestiges of Platonism and a nascent empiricism. Arguably, Aristotle never fully resolved the conflict.


Natural philosophy

Aristotle’s “physics” in fact comprises all of what takes place in nature: his views on the soul and on biology as well as what is more conventionally regarded as “physics.”

Physics I is devoted to problems pertaining to change, and it is here that Aristotle introduces the tripartite analysis of change – involving form, matter (subject), and privation – that stays with him throughout the rest of his work. To illustrate: when Socrates goes to the beach and gets a tan, he starts out pale and ends up dark, and he is there all along. He constitutes the subject for the change, and his initial pallor might be the privation and final tan the form he acquires in the change. This analysis is extended to cover the case in which he is born or dies: he can no longer be the subject that undergoes the change, since, in the latter case, he does not survive it; what does survive it is referred to as matter: the term “matter” is used for any continuing subject that survives a change, but comes into its own in cases such as the death of Socrates. The notion of matter did not appear in the Organon, and some think this significant, especially as it is prominent, and raises prominent diffi- culties, in later work (see below on Metaphysics).

In II we encounter the famous “four causes,” known now by their scholastic titles: the “material,” “formal,” “efficient,” and “final” causes. “Cause” translates a word (aition) that meant, used in a law court, the “guilty” or “responsible” party. Aristotle is listing four sorts of thing that might be held responsible for something’s being the way that it is. As an example (Aristotle’s), consider a bronze statue. Taking the causes in the above order, you might ask what it is made of (bronze), or what sort of thing it is (a statue), or what initiated whatever changes brought it into being (its sculptor), or what it is for (decoration).

As the example illustrates, Aristotle does not in the first instance focus on cases in which one event causes another (the situation taken as typical for the analysis of causality at least since Hume), and the extension of his analysis of efficient causality to such cases is somewhat difficult. But to the extent that Aristotle does take account of cases in which events cause events, one important difference between him and us is that Aristotle employs nothing like a principle of inertia, to the effect that once something is set in motion it will continue to move until something stops it. Rather, for Aristotle, the motion that causes another motion is exactly contemporaneous with it: the hand that pushes the book along the table is acting causally for precisely as long as the book is moving, and when the hand stops, the book stops. This model of causality (which we think of as motion modified by the effect of friction) gives Aristotle and his successors trouble over projectile motion, which Aristotle tried to explain, to his own dissatisfaction, by an aerodynamic theory in which the projectile causes eddies in the air that push the projectile along as it moves.

Books III and IV give analyses of motion, the unlimited (infinite), place, void, and time. Aristotle’s procedure in each case is the same: he raises problems, discusses the views of others, and finally presents an analysis that solves the problems and explains the views he takes to be erroneous. It is plain that this is not a presentation of the “science” of “physics” such as the Posterior Analytics might have led us to expect; it is more like the philosophical groundwork that might have preceded such a presentation. Since part of Aristotle’s aim is to preserve what he can of the views handed down to him, his results are generally conservative, but not altogether: he denies that there can be an actual infinite or a void.

Later books of the Physics deal with temporal and spatial continuity and with theology. The last book, in particular, gives the most detailed treatment to be found in Aristotle of the familiar proof (adapted by Thomas Aquinas) for the existence of an “unmoved mover”: something that causes motion without itself moving. The proof is based on a causal principle: motion requires an efficient cause. This sets up a regress of efficient causes that must, Aristotle thinks, be stopped by at least one first efficient cause or unmoved mover (there could be many, but Aristotle prefers one as the simpler hypothesis). The contemporaneity Aristotle demands of efficient causal action with its effect has an important corollary here: the first cause of the motion in the universe does not precede that motion but goes along with it. This makes it possible for Aristotle to argue for the existence of a first mover although part of his proof requires that the universe has always and will always exist. Aristotle’s first mover is not a creator.

There are further elaborations of Aristotle’s views on these matters in Metaphysics XII: see below.

The treatise On Coming-to-Be and Passing-Away deals with the nature of such changes and ultimately with the four “so-called ‘elements’” earth, water, air, and fire, which are not really elements since they undergo transformation into each other, but are still as simple as any material can get. It remains a disputed question whether this drives Aristotle to the notion of a characterless “prime matter” that provides the material continuant for such changes.

The treatise On the Heavens adds a fifth element, unnamed there but “aither” in the later tradition, which is different from the previous four in that its motion is naturally in a circle whereas their motions are rectilinear. This is the element that composes the heavens. The treatise appears to be relatively early, and comes as close as anything in Aristotle to adhering to the syllogistic model that dominated the Posterior Analytics. Despite its title, its last two books deal with sublunary bodies and with the four elements – here Aristotle unhesitatingly so refers to them – once again.

The four books of the badly titled Meteorology (the Greek is much vaguer, and has no proper English translation) cover such things as comets, the nature of the sea, and chemistry, as well as winds, rain, and lightning.

Aristotle’s treatment of the soul (psuche¯), at least in the surviving treatises that deal with it, is that of a biologist: the soul is that aspect of an organism (including plants under this head) that constitutes its capacity for performing the activities characteristic of the sort of life it leads. A plant has a soul that enables it to grow and reproduce; an animal one that enables it to do that much and also to move around and perceive; a human being has one that enables it to do all that as well as think. In one of the most vexed chapters in any philosophical work in all of history (De anima III 5), Aristotle seems to be suggesting that there is a sort of immortality accorded to this last aspect of soul, but it is not an immortality that gives much comfort, since it does not carry any memory with it: even if Aristotle is allowing that you can think of your soul surviving your death (and it isn’t entirely clear whether he is allowing this), he isn’t allowing that your soul remembers anything of your life.

Book II contains an analysis of perception. Each sense has a domain of properties, which Aristotle refers to as “forms” (see above on the use of the matter–form distinction in Physics I), proper to it – colors for sight,etc. – and the sense organ is composed of a matter capable of taking on those forms: the eye is composed of something transparent, and so it can take on colors.

Aristotle’s biological works make up between a fifth and a quarter of the entire Aristotelian corpus. His interest in biology was plainly fostered by the twenty years he spent in Plato’s Academy, in which a fair amount of activity was devoted to biology. What we hear of it virtually all has to do with taxonomy, and this plays a large role in Aristotle as well.

The biological works, especially the enormous Historia Animalium (Investigation of Animals), incorporate some material that comes from other researchers in the Lyceum (such as Aristotle’s student Theophrastus), but for brevity the following is phrased in terms of Aristotle.

In a letter to William Ogle (translator of and commentator on On the Parts of Animals) Darwin spoke of his “two gods” Linnaeus and Cuvier as “mere schoolboys to old Aristotle”; he also found “curious” Aristotle’s “ignorance on some points.” The combination of insight and ignorance runs all through Aristotle’s biological work. There is a description of the development of the chick embryo in Historia Animalium VI 3 of remarkable accuracy that must have involved a great number of dissections and observations. But in the same work, in II 3.501b19–21, Aristotle tells us that women have fewer teeth than men. No doubt a research group embarking on the task of codifying the enormous amount of information to be found in the Aristotelian biological works is going to include a certain amount of misinformation as well.

One of the most interesting and controversial aspects of Aristotle’s biology is his use of final causes: his explanations of the parts of animals in particular are “teleological”: “each of the parts of the body is for the sake of something . . . also the body they compose exists for the sake of a full activity” (Parts of Animals I 5.645b 14–17). The eye is composed of transparent material so that it can take on colors. Aristotle’s explanation opposes the final cause (the function to be served by an organ) to the material cause or matter (the nature of the materials available to constitute that organ). The final cause is at the same time the essence of the organ, its formal cause: what it is, is an eye, and what an eye is, is an organ for seeing. For the organ to fulfil its function certain demands are made on the material (the eye-material must be transparent), but the matter makes demands back: transparent liquid, which is better for the purpose than air, which is very difficult to contain, still requires a certain sort of container. And the matter may, independently of all this, be responsible for such accidents as eye color. This picture gives the essence–accident distinction a respectable scientific role: it is the distinction between features that play a functional role in the life of the organism, e.g. the transparency of the cornea, and those that do not, e.g. eye color.

The biggest difficulty is seeing how Aristotle might account for natural teleology. He cannot appeal to a cosmic designer, and he nowhere tries: one of his favorite sayings, “nature does nothing in vain,” should presumably be read as saying “an organism’s nature does nothing in vain.” Aristotle’s teleology is sometimes called “immanent” for that reason: it is somehow “in” the organism that it has organs that are advantageous for its lifestyle. But Aristotle firmly rejects (Physics II 8) evolutionary explanations in the only form in which they were known to him, that employed by Empedocles, who had described a history of the world in the course of which organisms came into existence but were “unfit” to survive, and hence died out. To Aristotle, there could not have been any such history: the universe not only has always existed and will always exist, it has been and will be just the way it is, with all its species of organisms. So explanations of the purpose of organs that turn on survival value are ruled out.

Still, Aristotle’s teleology leads him to an immense amount of detailed work devoted to teasing out the purposes of various organs, and some of his descriptions (e.g. some of the minutiae concerning crabs and cray- fish in Historia Animalium IV 3–4) have only recently been matched for accuracy.

Unfortunately, some of his errors in biology were more influential than these accurate observations; the most famous of them is his endorsement of the idea that some animals are spontaneously generated, e.g. certain shellfish and insects.



The term “metaphysics” does not go back to Aristotle; it seems merely to be a title in early editions of his works meaning “Appendix to the Physics.” Aristotle himself describes what we count under this head as “first philosophy” or “wisdom.” There are two tasks he allots to this discipline: the investigation of beings in general, and the investigation of a particular being or set of beings, namely god or the gods. These look to be different tasks, and it is not clear how Aristotle himself meant to connect them. In fact, he mostly pursues them separately.

Metaphysics XII contains an account of theology, sketchier in most respects but fuller in others than that in the Physics: in particular, it connects theology with astronomy by coming down on the side of a plurality of unmoved movers each associated with one of the spheres that carry the heavenly bodies in their rotations. Aristotle accepts from the mathematician and astronomer Eudoxus (who was present in Plato’s Academy) and Eudoxus’ student Callippus a scheme for explaining the observed motions of the sun, moon, and planets, according to which each of those heavenly bodies is fixed to the innermost sphere of a set of nested spheres rotating on orbits inclined with respect to each other: the motion of the body then becomes a composite motion, one of whose features was that it could perform something like a figure eight from the point of view of an observer at the center of the set, thus accounting for retrograde motion. Aristotle, in order to turn what seems to have been a purely geometrical model into a physical one, added spheres to the Eudoxan total, and each of these was to have its motion explained by appeal to an unmoved mover. The result was a total of 47 or 55 unmoved movers (there is some confusion over the arithmetic).

The consideration of beings in general, or of “beings qua being,” is prominent in Metaphysics IV and VII–IX. The question under consideration here is: what is imported by the notion of being, all by itself? What follows from the claim that something is? There are not separate words in Aristotle’s vocabulary for “to be” and “to exist”; the question could as well be put by asking: what does a thing’s existence consist in?

In IV, Aristotle argues that a thing’s existence carries with it obedience to the laws of non-contradiction and excluded middle; the argument is mostly negative, opposing those who would reject the laws of logic.

Books VII–IX are hard, particularly VII and VIII, which contain some of the most difficult chapters in all of Aristotle. It has been plausibly claimed that they are not continuous expositions of doctrine but expositions of argument, sometimes on opposite sides of the same question, without resolution.

The general position, essentially stated in book IV, is that anything whatever that can be can only do so on the basis of its enjoying some relation or other to a privileged set of beings, the substances: a quality such as a color can only exist by being a quality of a substance, so that the substances turn out to be the existence-makers. This much Aristotle might have said back in the Categories. But in Metaphysics VII he turns to the question: what, after all, is a substance? To settle the question whether Platonic Forms or Aristotelian individuals are rock-bottom beings or substances, to what can we appeal? This, on Aristotle’s account, is not an all-or-nothing affair. Lots of different things will count as substances, so the question becomes: which of them has the best credentials?

Aristotle, somewhat confusingly, speaks of the substance of a thing in this connection: a thing’s substance is what you point to by way of justifying the claim that it is a substance. There are three main candidates for the title of a thing’s substance: its matter, its form, or its being a composite of matter and form. The first of these three is the weakest candidate, although it is not excluded altogether. The third, the fact that a thing is a composite of matter and form, is seen as derivative. So the form of a thing is left as its primary substance, what primarily makes it count as a substance.

But the individuals referred to as primary substances back in the Categories are now composites of matter and form, and once we make this fact about them derivative, we weaken or even destroy their claim to be primary substances. On the face of it, if there were any such thing as a pure form that had no admixture of matter, this would have the strongest claim to being a substance, a rock-bottom being. And this sounds a good deal more like Plato than like the Aristotle of the Categories.

But this is where the metaphysics of these books seems to fail to come to a stable position: Aristotle seems to be going in different directions at different junctures. There are many possibilities: perhaps Aristotle is here pointing toward his own unmoved movers as the primary substances, supposing that they are matterless forms. Then the individuals of the Categories are demoted. Or perhaps Aristotle thinks he has a way of making the fact that an individual is a form–matter composite less damaging to its claim to be a substance. Some (including the present author) see in the very lack of resolution, the open-endedness, of these books something very exciting: a great philosopher at work, without dogmatic answers.


There are four books in the Aristotelian corpus devoted to ethics; the authorship of one, the Magna Moralia, is in great dispute, and the treatise On Virtues and Vices is universally declared spurious, but the remaining two, the Eudemian Ethics and the Nicomachean Ethics, are generally thought to be genuine, and a smaller consensus would make the Eudemian the earlier of the two. Books IV–VI of the Eudemian are the same as V–VII of the Nicomachean, and, although they are always printed with the latter, they probably belonged to the former. Comments here are confined to the Nicomachean Ethics as standardly printed.

Aristotle’s ethical views (like Plato’s and most of the other ancients’) are of a type known as “eudaimonistic”: their primary focus is on happiness (eudaimonia), or the good for man, and how to obtain it. Happiness is not here to be construed as a subjective feeling of well-being, but as human well-being itself. Aristotle explains the “human good” in NE I 7 as “activity of the soul in accordance with excellence” (or “virtue,” arete¯): the realization of the capacities distinctive of human life, particularly contemplation and political activity. The role of these latter activities in happiness overall is a matter of some dispute: sometimes Aristotle seems to paint a comprehensive picture in which both figure, while at other times he seems to place exclusive emphasis on contemplation (compare NE I with X).

Aristotle differs from Plato in the Republic in insisting that a minimum of external goods is a prerequisite for human well-being. But he rejects hedonism, one of whose advocates was Eudoxus and one of whose strongest enemies was Speusippus. But he devotes more time to refuting the arguments against hedonism than he does to refuting hedonism itself, and the two discussions of pleasure (EN VII 11–14, X 1–5) reflect differing attitudes toward hedonism: in the latter, Aristotle seems to reject hedonism on the ground that pursuit of pleasure as a goal, rather than the activities in which one takes pleasure, is bound to be frustrated.

We are responsible for our actions, even when they emerge from our characters, which are settled relatively early in our lives: Aristotle appears to recognize no problem about the “freedom of the will,” unlike the Stoics and the Epicureans in the next generation of philosophers. The purpose of studying ethics is, he thinks, to make ourselves good, but Aristotle supposes that we already want to become good: he is lecturing to male Greeks who have been well brought up and have come of age.

The account of excellence or virtue he offers locates each virtue in between two opposed vices: the simplest example is courage, which is a mean between the two opposed vices of cowardice and rashness. His notion of virtue as a mean is not an ethics of moderation, as is sometimes supposed; he certainly recommends moderation, but as one virtue among others: a mean state between being self-indulgent and being “insensible” (a term Aristotle coins for this otherwise nameless vice: EN II 7).

He takes up (VII 1–10) Socrates’ denial of moral weakness, and rejects it, but not without sympathy: when we do something we know to be wrong, this involves a momentary suppression of that knowledge. EN VIII–IX is a detailed discussion of friendship, an essential component of human well-being. Friendship may be based on utility, on pleasure in each other’s company, or on mutual respect for each other’s goodness. The last is the best and stablest.


The closing chapter of NE is an introduction to politics, not exactly to the Politics, which is a collection of treatments originally separate, but plainly Aristotle thought of ethics and politics as continuous disciplines.

Politics I argues that various institutions, including the polis (conventionally translated “city-state”; plural poleis) itself, are natural. The polis is natural because man is by nature “political”: suited for a life in a polis. Slavery is natural because some humans are naturally suited to be living tools, which is what slaves are. The subjection of women is natural, because men are naturally more fit to rule than women.

II discusses proposed and actual poleis, including Plato’s Republic; the discussion of this does not always correspond to the Republic as we have it.

III attempts to say what a polis is via explaining what a citizen (polites) is: the polis will be a community of citizens. And a citizen is defined as a participant in government, someone entitled to hold office. (Aristotle does not envisage representative democracy; he is talking about those who may actually rule in the polis.) But then it turns out that different types of poleis differ in who counts as a citizen, and each type has a “correct” form and a “deviant” form, depending on whether the rule is for the common good: government may be by a single man (kingship is the correct and tyranny the deviant form), a few men (aristocracy and oligarchy), or many men (“polity” and democracy). Books IV–VI go into some detail about these (V is a historically rich discussion of revolutions, their causes and prevention, very Machiavellian in tone).

VII and VIII take up Aristotle’s own ideal polis, including lengthy consideration of education in it.


Rhetoric is a speaker’s manual. It is not the first, but none earlier has survived. Aristotle’s own emphasis is on the importance of argument for persuasion, and has a good deal in common with the Topics, but also includes (in II) a discussion of the emotions notably missing from the psychological works. And III, on style, is very detailed: there is even a discussion of prose-rhythms (the alternation of long and short syllables that is regimented in Greek poetry but not in prose, where it requires special attention).


Looking at all the Aristotelian treatises, the ratio of influence to size in the case of the Poetics is the greatest: it is tiny (and fragmentary) but of enormous historical importance. It was at some point organized into two books; the second, on comedy, is now lost (although a sketch of it may survive in the so-called Tractatus Coislianus). The first considers the general nature of poetry, which Aristotle takes to be mimesis, “imitation” or “representation,” and then takes up tragedy and epic.

Tragedy is defined (chapter 6) in terms of the representation or imitation by actors in poetic speech of a serious action in its entirety that by means of pity and fear achieves the catharsis of such emotions. The most controversial aspect of this definition is the catharsis or “purification” claimed for tragedy; there are two main lines of interpretation, one adopting a sort of medical model (tragedy purges one of excesses of pity and fear) and the other an educative model (one learns the appropriate degree of pity and fear to have). Epic (chapter 23) represents the same sort of thing but in narration, at greater length, and in a fixed verse-structure. Aristotle’s elaboration of both these forms of poetry represents a considerable advance: Aristotle initiates the idea that they have their own rules of construction and are not simply to be criticized on a moralizing basis.


Aristotle has been one of the most influential philosophers of all time, sometimes beneficially and sometimes harmfully. But had his successors been as critical of his views as he was of his predecessors’, the balance of benefit to harm would have been greater. Those who acquiesced in Aristotle’s wisdom without questioning it have only themselves to blame.

Aristotelis Opera, five volumes, ed. I. Bekker (Berlin: W. de Gruyter, 1960 and later, first published in 1831–70)
The Complete Works of Aristotle, two volumes, ed. Jonathan Barnes (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984).
Further reading
Barnes, Jonathan (ed.): The Cambridge Companion to Aristotle (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).
Ross, W. D.: Aristotle, 5th edn (London: Methuen, 1949).
Wians, William (ed.): Aristotle’s Philosophical Development: Problems and Prospects (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1996).

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