A Blupete Biography Page

(BC, 384-322)

Locke concluded that Aristotelianism was "perplexed with obscure terms and useless questions"; to the Swiss psychologist, Jean Piaget (1896-1980), Aristotle had "a naive and childlike animistic view of the world." In more recent times an evolutionary approach to the understanding of our world has progressively displaced the stationary Aristotelian view.

"As a young man, we are told, he [Aristotle] squandered his patrimony in riotous living; he joined the army, and was thrown out of it; for a while he sold drugs and nostrums to make a living. Finally, at the age of thirty, he ended up in college -- in Plato's Academy."1 Aristotle was still plugging away at Plato's Academy some twenty years later, when, in 348 BC, Plato died. On Plato's death Aristotle set out and traveled for three years throughout Asia Minor. After that Aristotle was called to take up a most prestigious position at the Macedonian court. The king of Macedonia, Philip, appointed Aristotle to teach his young son, Alexander. (Aristotle's appointment likely came from his family connections, but, no doubt, his twenty year stint at the Academy helped.) Aristotle proved to be a brilliant teacher of both rhetoric and the art of efficient public speech. His young student, however, had little regard for "logic choppers," and few, if any, of Aristotle's ideals rubbed off on Alexander the Great (356-323 BC). With the death of Philip II (382-336 BC), and with Alexander off to duel with Darius and the rest of the world, Aristotle, at the age 50, decided to give the Academy some competition and opened up a rival institution, the Lyceum, which had the impressive address of the gymnasium of the temple of Apollo Lyceus, at Athens.

At Alexander's death, 323 BC, Aristotle found himself connected to the wrong crowd; he fled Athens, and -- just in time -- for charges of "impiety" were brought against him; the same charges, which, 76 years earlier, had led to the death of Socrates. He did not live long in exile: he died within the year.

Ethically, Aristotle figured that "happiness is the goal of life. Pleasure, fame, and wealth, however, will not bring one the highest happiness"; it is achieved by a contemplative and monastic way of life. (Benet's.)

Aristotle had an extraordinary impact on both the people of his day and those who followed him down through the centuries; it is to be attributed to his logistical way of thinking, his rigorous scientific procedure. His premises, however, were not correct. If you are a believer in the proposition that all men are created equal, then Aristotle is not your man. Aristotle considered slavery to be entirely natural, -- simply because "some men are adapted by nature to be the physical instruments of others." Further, and more generally, Aristotle had "an intense conviction of the natural inferiority of the 'barbarian.'"

Though Aristotle was not religious, -- none of the classical Greeks were -- he did allow that the study of theology, as a theoretical "science," was a study of the highest kind. Thus it was, that Aristotle became the darling of the medieval church. Aristotle had a stationary, that is to say, a non-evolutionary view of the universe. (It was Charles Darwin (1809-82) who put Aristotelian philosophy on its ear.)

Aristotle, being a student of Plato, it should not be surprising, was a "dualist."

"Aristotle's conception of a God, outside of the world, causing all motion in nature, supplying the efficient cause for the universe, was just suited for a philosophy whose primary purpose was to find confirmation for the Church. The fact that Aristotle's God was devoid of all qualities so essential for a religious Divine Creator offered small difficulty to the theologians, whose minds were very quick to find reasons and explanations even for things most mysterious. Certainly Aristotle was not concerned with attributing mercy, love, sympathy and similar qualities to God, who, he considered, was leading a life of contemplation and supplied purely the metaphysical need for explaining the efficient cause and the goal for universal progress.
This apparently irreconcilable conflict [the conflict between science and religion] led to many unjust punishments visited upon leading thinkers by the religious zealots, who happened to wield the then existing power. Socrates was condemned to die for the denial of the gods. ... In comparatively modern times, Bruno was burned at the stake; Descartes, as we have seen, made many concessions to the church in his philosophy; Spinoza was excommunicated by his own people. Leibniz, on the other hand, making the most extraordinary claims for religion, was extolled and showered with honors."2
Aristotle's thoughts were to "come to dominate social theory and is the foundation of socialist thought." And through Aquinas (1225-74), Aristotelian ethics, with its anti-commercial attitude, became the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. Galileo (1564-1642) was one of a number to refute the Aristotelian philosophy, and by the eighteenth century Aristotle's influence was thoroughly weakened. With the enlightenment came insights, such as the conception of self-organizing structures, which have since become the basis of our understanding of all those complex orders, complex orders which had, until then, appeared as miracles that could be brought about only by some super-human version of the universe. Man evolved and has proceeded, and generally continues to proceed, to use his own individual knowledge for his own individual purposes while being ignorant of most of the order into which he had to fit his actions.

In conclusion, then, we can do no better than to quote Jeremy Bentham: "Aristotle divides mankind into two distinct species that of freeman and that of slaves." For this reason, one should have no part of aristotlianism.


A featured sketch in a book


Biographical Sketches: The Thinkers



1 Aristotle, by John H. Randall, Columbia University Press, 1960.

2 See Henry Alphern, An Outline History of Philosophy (Forum House, 1969) pp. 11,153.


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Peter Landry