Aristotle – Biography

450px-aristoteles_louvreAristotle (384–322 B.C.E.) is one of the greatest philosophers of all time. Together with Plato, he shaped Western philosophy for two millenia, and his ideas and concepts are still discussed today. He wrote about two-hundred treatises, but we currently know only about 31. He writes about logic, metaphysics, philosophy of mind, ethics, political theory, aesthetics and rhetoric.

The following short biography is quoted from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

(Shields, Christopher, “Aristotle”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.) <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2011/entries/aristotle/>.)

Aristotle’s Life

Born in 384 B.C.E. in the Macedonian region of northeastern Greece in the small city of Stagira (whence the moniker ‘the Stagirite’), Aristotle was sent to Athens at about the age of seventeen to study in Plato’s Academy, then a pre-eminent place of learning in the Greek world. Once in Athens, Aristotle remained associated with the Academy until Plato’s death in 347, at which time he left for Assos, in Asia Minor, on the northwest coast of present-day Turkey. There he continued the philosophical activity he had begun in the Academy, but in all likelihood also began to expand his researches into marine biology. He remained at Assos for approximately three years, when, evidently upon the death of his host Hermeias, a friend and former Academic who had been the ruler of Assos, Aristotle moved to the nearby coastal island of Lesbos. There he continued his philosophical and empirical researches for an additional two years, working in conjunction with Theophrastus, a native of Lesbos who was also reported in antiquity to have been associated with Plato’s Academy. While in Lesbos, Aristotle married Pythias, the niece of Hermeias, with whom he had a daughter, also named Pythias.

In 343, upon the request of Philip, the king of Macedon, Aristotle left Lesbos for Pella, the Macedonian capital, in order to tutor the king’s thirteen-year-old son, Alexander—the boy who was eventually to become Alexander the Great. Although speculation concerning Aristotle’s influence upon the developing Alexander has proven irresistible to historians, in fact little concrete is known about their interaction. On the balance, it seems reasonable to conclude that some tuition took place, but that it lasted only two or three years, when Alexander was aged from thirteen to fifteen. By fifteen, Alexander was apparently already serving as a deputy military commander for his father, a circumstance undermining, if inconclusively, the judgment of those historians who conjecture a longer period of tuition. Be that as it may, some suppose that their association lasted as long as eight years.

It is difficult to rule out that possibility decisively, since little is known about the period of Aristotle’s life from 341–335. He evidently remained a further five years in Stagira or Macedon before returning to Athens for the second and final time, in 335. In Athens, Aristotle set up his own school in a public exercise area dedicated to the god Apollo Lykeios, whence its name, the Lyceum. Those affiliated with Aristotle’s school later came to be called Peripatetics, probably because of the existence of an ambulatory (peripatos) on the school’s property adjacent to the exercise ground. Members of the Lyceum conducted research into a wide range of subjects, all of which were of interest to Aristotle himself: botany, biology, logic, music, mathematics, astronomy, medicine, cosmology, physics, the history of philosophy, metaphysics, psychology, ethics, theology, rhetoric, political history, government and political theory, rhetoric, and the arts. In all these areas, the Lyceum collected manuscripts, thereby, according to some ancient accounts, assembling the first great library of antiquity.

During this period, Aristotle’s wife Pythias died and he developed a new relationship with Herpyllis, perhaps like him a native of Stagira, though her origins are disputed, as is the question of her exact relationship to Aristotle. Some suppose that she was merely his slave, others infer from the provisions of Aristotle’s will that she was a freed woman and likely his wife at the time of his death. In any event, they had children together, including a son, Nicomachus, named for Aristotle’s father and after whom his Nicomachean Ethics is presumably named.

After thirteen years in Athens, Aristotle once again found cause to retire from the city, in 323. Probably his departure was occasioned by a resurgence of the always-simmering anti-Macedonian sentiment in Athens, which was free to come to the boil after Alexander succumbed to disease in Babylon during that same year. Because of his connections to Macedon, Aristotle reasonably feared for his safety and left Athens, remarking, as an oft-repeated ancient tale would tell it, that he saw no reason to permit Athens to sin twice against philosophy. He withdrew directly to Chalcis, on Euboea, an island off the Attic coast, and died there of natural causes the following year, in 322.

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