Aristotle: The Man, the Thinker, the Teacher

Alexander the Great (356 – 323 BC), later King of Macedon and conqueror of a vast empire stretching from the Balkans to India, listens studiously to his tutor, the philosopher Aristotle (384 – 322 BC), while they sit in a palace in ancient Pella, Greece, circa 342 BC. (Image by Stock Montage/Getty Images)
  • Aristotle was born in 384 BC in Stagira, Greece. His father, Nicomachus, was a doctor to the Macedonian king Amyntas III. Aristotle studied at Plato’s Academy in Athens for 20 years, and then traveled to Asia Minor for a few years. In 335 BC, he returned to Athens and founded his own school, the Lyceum.
  • Aristotle was a very smart man who thought about a lot of different things. He wrote about logic, physics, biology, ethics, politics, and many other subjects. His ideas have had a profound influence on Western thought, and they continue to be studied and debated today.
  • Some of Aristotle’s key ideas include:
    • The four causes of change: Aristotle believed that everything that happens has four causes:
      • The material cause is the stuff that something is made of. For example, the material cause of a table is wood.
      • The formal cause is the shape or structure of something. For example, the formal cause of a table is the way that the wood is arranged.
      • The efficient cause is the thing that makes something happen. For example, the efficient cause of a table being built is the carpenter who built it.
      • The final cause is the purpose of something. For example, the final cause of a table is to be used to eat on.
    • The four types of knowledge: Aristotle believed that there are four types of knowledge:
      • Theoretical knowledge is knowledge about the world around us. For example, theoretical knowledge includes knowledge about physics, biology, and mathematics.
      • Practical knowledge is knowledge about how to do things. For example, practical knowledge includes knowledge about how to cook, how to drive, and how to play the guitar.
      • Productive knowledge is knowledge about how to make things. For example, productive knowledge includes knowledge about how to build a house, how to sew a dress, and how to bake a cake.
      • Poetic knowledge is knowledge about how to create things. For example, poetic knowledge includes knowledge about how to write a poem, how to paint a picture, and how to compose a symphony.
    • The virtues of character: Aristotle believed that there are four virtues of character:
      • Courage is the ability to face danger.
      • Temperance is the ability to control our desires.
      • Justice is the ability to give each person their due.
      • Wisdom is the ability to use our knowledge to make good decisions.
    • The good life as a life of eudaimonia, or flourishing:** Aristotle believed that the good life is a life of eudaimonia, which is achieved by living a virtuous life. Eudaimonia is a Greek word that means “happiness” or “flourishing.” Aristotle believed that the good life is not just about pleasure or happiness, but about living a life that is meaningful and fulfilling.
    • The best form of government as a polity, or mixed constitution:** Aristotle believed that the best form of government is a polity, or mixed constitution. A polity is a government that is a mixture of democracy and oligarchy. Aristotle believed that a polity is the most stable and the most likely to promote the good life.

Aristotle’s ideas are still relevant to our own lives today. For example, his ideas about the four causes can help us to understand how things work in the world around us. His ideas about the four types of knowledge can help us to learn new things and to be more effective in our work. And his ideas about the virtues of character can help us to live better lives.

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