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Brief definition of the most important concepts of philosophy.


 A Dictionary of English Philosophical Terms  Francis Garden


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Introductory Paragraph

Early Ionic Natural Philosophers

The Pythagoreans

The Eleatics


Later Natural Philosophers

General Character of the First Period in the History of Greek Philosophy

The Sophist


The Followers of Socrates

The Lesser Socratics

Plato. Life. Works

Plato. Philosophy

The Disciples of Plato

The Old Academy

Aristotle: Life and works

Aristotle: Theory of Knowledge

Aristotle: Metaphysics

Aristotle: Physics

Aristotle: Psychology

Aristotle: Practical Philosophy

Aristotle: Rhetoric and Poetic

Aristotle: Sources

Aristotle: Unity of Plato and Aristotle

Aristotle: result

The Peripatetic School

Three Leading Post-Aristotelian Schools

The Stoics and Stoicism

The Epicureans and Epicureanism

The Sceptics

The Common Ground of the Stoics, Epicureans, and Sceptics

Philosophy in Rome: Eclecticism

The Later Peripatetics

The Later Academics

The Later Stoics

General Character of the Second Period

Standpoint and Schools of the Third and Latest Period of Greek Philosophy

Jewish-Alexandrian School


The Eclectic Platonist

Neo-Platonism. Plotinus

Neo-Platonism. Porphyry. Jamblichus

Neo-Platonism. Proclus




B. C. BURT (1852-1915) - Table of contents                        




§ 14 - Aristotle

Life of Aristotle

Aristotle was born at Stagira, in Thrace, in the year 384 B.C. He was the son of Nicomachus, friend and physician to Amyntas, king of Macedonia. Early left an orphan, he came under the charge of a guardian, named Proxenus, a native of Atarneus, in Asia Minor. In his eighteenth year (367 B.C.), he went to Athens, and for about twenty years was associated with Plato, a considerable portion of the time, no doubt, as pupil, directly and indirectly. Diogenes Laertius says(1) that Aristotle "seceded" from Plato, and that there was a tradition that Plato once declared, "Aristotle has kicked us off as chickens do their mother after they have been hatched"; but modern critics(2) are unwilling to believe that there was any serious breach between master and pupil.


  Every reader of Aristotle knows, however, that Plato receives a full share of the criticism that it was Aristotle's habit to mete out to all his predecessors in philosophy. Aristotle's ability, intellectual independence, and disposition to criticise, were doubtless early felt by his teacher. Not long after the death of Plato, and perhaps because of that, Aristotle left Athens. He resided at Atarneus, the native place of his guardian, Proxenus, and of Hermeias, a fellow-pupil and governor of Atarneus and Assos.

Here he married Pythias, a near relative or friend of Hermeias, and remained until, three years afterwards, Hermeias was betrayed to the Persian king to be put to death; thence he went to Mytelene, and from that place, two or three years later (342 or 341 B.C.), to the court of Philip of Macedon to become the tutor of his son Alexander, afterwards surnamed "The Great". What the effect of this relationship between Aristotle and his pupil was upon the mind and future career of Alexander we cannot exactly say. By it Aristotle gained a royal friend and patron, who rendered him large pecuniary aid towards the prosecution of scientific and philosophical research. At this time he obtained King Philip's consent to the rebuilding of his native city, Stagira, which had a few years previously been destroyed in war, and he himself directed the rebuilding. In 335 B.C., he returned to Athens and there established a philosophical school (a rival to the Academy) in a gymnasium "attached to the temple of Apollo Lyceius," whence the school was called the Lyceum. To this school, which became flourishing, and to the composition of scientific and speculative  treatises, the next twelve years of Aristotle's life were exclusively devoted. From the fact that instruction was given while the teacher, or teacher and pupils, were walking, or was given in a place called "The walk" (ό περίπατος), the school received the name of the Peripatetic School. As between Plato and his pupils, so between Aristotle and his, the friendliest personal relations were cultivated. In 323 B.C., because of his friendship with Alexander and other members of the Macedonian Court, and his supposed sympathy with the Macedonian power, and because of popular, democratic animosity towards philosophers, and of religious bigotry among the Athenians (for he was formally accused of impiety by the chief priest), Aristotle felt compelled to leave Athens. He died the next year, on the island of Eubœa, at the age of sixty-three. From the events of his life, from his will, a copy of which may be found in the "Life" of him by Diogenes Laertius, and from his ethical and political writings, it may be inferred that he was a man of probity and good feeling, and deserved and won the respect and kindly regard of his fellows.

General Character of Aristotle's System, and his Chief Philosophical Works

To understand the general character of Aristotle's philosophy, not only, but even the outward character of his chief philosophical works, it is necessary to bear in mind the status of philosophical thinking when he began to frame his system. The personal element which Socrates by his character and method had made prominent in philosophy, had been, in large measure, preserved by Plato. Definite and penetrating as was Plato's conception of philosophy, there is, manifestly, in his writings a large mixture, as regards both matter and method, of purely philosophical elements with elements not purely philosophical but personal; though in a larger sense of the term than is applicable to the Socratic philosophizing, for the personal element of the Platonic Dialogues is not merely individual and realistic (as is that in Xenophon's Memorabilia, for example), but largely dramatic and poetic. From one point of view, though perhaps not the highest and truest, there is an essential duality in the Platonic philosophy, in that it is a compound of philosophical and in a sort non-philosophical elements. Now it happened that (as must be perfectly evident to any one upon even a superficial acquaintance with any of Aristotle's extant writings) Aristotle was, by mental temperament, just of a nature to observe and feel this duality, and to take up and prosecute the inquiry, What is and what is not pure philosophy, as regards both matter and method? His earliest works, written probably when he was under the influence of Plato, were, it is known, dialogues, and were praised by Cicero in such terms that we may properly infer that they were in part imitations—and not unworthy ones—of Plato himself. But his late works, those from which we have to draw our knowledge of his philosophy, are evidently based on a full consciousness of what is, technically speaking, philosophy and what is not, and of the grand divisions of philosophy itself.

There had been practised from the time of the Sophists a certain art, or method, of handling ideas as such. This art, which he found in considerable degree of perfection, Aristotle investigated thoroughly, —and was the first who did so,— discovering that there was one branch of it that, if developed, was adequate to real, or scientific, truth, and another that was adequate to probable truth only. This art, or method, and particularly the first-named branch of it, he thought to be an essential feature in philosophical thought (though not a branch of philosophy proper) as distinguished from that which is not philosophical. He expounded it in certain works, which, taken collectively, are now known as his Organon, the name originating not with Aristotle himself but with certain of his followers. The name was adopted because of a remark dropped by Aristotle that the thing treated of in the works was a means to, or instrument (όργανον) of, philosophy rather than a part of philosophy itself. The works are, therefore, in large measure merely introductory to the strictly philosophical works, though an account of his philosophy has to borrow much from them. One of the six works constituting the Organon is on categories of thought, its title, The Categories; one on terms and propositions, viz., On Interpretation; two on scientific proof, or demonstration, The Prior Analytics and The Posterior Analytics ; and two on probable proof, The Topics and The Sophistical Refutations. But now, philosophy, as a system, has certain parts or branches, distinguished by the having of different ends, or objects.

According to Aristotle, one branch has for its end pure truth as such, another truth in conduct, and a third truth in art(3). The first of these is termed Theoretical, or Speculative, Philosophy, the second, Practical Philosophy, the third, Poetical, or if, for distinction's sake, we transfer the Greek term (ποιητική) without alteration, Poietical Philosophy. Speculative Philosophy has three branches: First Philosophy (πρωτή φιλοσοφία) or Theology, Mathematics, and Physics. The parts of Practical Philosophy are Ethics, Œconomics (there is no complete genuine Aristotelian treatise extant on this subject(4), and Politics(5). First philosophy, or theology, is treated particularly in the so-called Metaphysics (= μετά τά φυσικά = "after or beyond the physics," a name given by editors of Aristotle's writings to certain books, either because they followed The Physics in the manuscript or were regarded as treating subjects logically subsequent to "physical subjects"). Physical subjects (i.e., subjects relating to nature) are treated in several works, the chief of which are The Physics, On the Heavens, On the History of Animals, De Anima, or Psychology. No extant work of Aristotle is devoted to mathematical topics.

The chief works in Practical Philosophy are The Nicomachean Ethics(6), and The Politics. The Poetic is the only work exclusively devoted to Poietical Philosophy; certain chapters (Bk. V. [VIII.]) in the Politics, however, treat important topics in this branch of philosophy. Aristotle's Rhetoric stands alone as a kind of appendix to the logical and ethical works.—

As to the time and order of the production of the works above-mentioned, it has been conjectured that they were written during Aristotle's last residence in Athens, while he was at the head of the Lyceum, and probably in nearly the following order(7): 1st, The Organon ; 2d, The Nicomachean Etics and The Politics ; 3d, The Poetic and The Rhetoric; 4th, The Physics, On the Heavens, On the History of Animals, The De Anima, or Psychology; 5th, The Metaphysics. It seems certain that they were all produced after the general idea of his system had matured in Aristotle's mind. In this regard, as in others, Aristotle's method, we may note in passing, was quite different from Plato's. In fact, growth is not particularly characteristic of the philosophy of Aristotle as exhibited in his works.


(1) Lives of the Philosophers (Bohn's Class. Lib.), p. 181.

(2) See Ueberweg, Zeller, and Grant.

(3) Aristotle's Metaphysics, Bk. V. ch. I; Bk. I. ch. I, De Caelo; Bk. III. ch. 7.

(4) See Ueberweg, V. 1. I. p. 148.

(5) Metaphysics, Bk. V. ch. I; Bk. X. ch. 7; Nic. Ethics, Bk. VI. ch. 8.

(6) The Eudemian Ethics and The Great Ethics (Magna Moralia) are "Aristotelian", but not Aristotle's own. Certain books (V.-VII.) of the Nicomachean Ethics, however, are probably Eudemian in authorship.

(7) Compare the statements of Ueberweg, Zeller, Grant, and Wallace.



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