02 Jan 2011

Sample Essay: The Significant Accomplishments in life Aristotle

“A tragedy is a representation of an action that is whole and complete and of a certain magnitude. A whole is what has a beginning and middle and end”.

This famous quote is by none other than the celebrated ancient Greek philosopher and scientist, Aristotle, 384 BC – 322 BC, whose intellectual thoughts determined the course of Western intellectual history for two millennia. Aristotle is one of the three most gifted and famous philosophers of the Greek Age, the others being Socrates and Plato, the latter also happened to be Aristotle’s guide and mentor. After Plato’s death he travelled widely and became the tutor of Alexander the Great, the Macedonian who nearly conquered the world. During his lifetime, Aristotle produced many notable works in the fields of physics, metaphysics, poetry, theatre, logic, rhetoric, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology. “What really characterizes Aristotle as a philosopher is not the number and weight of his conclusions (his ‘doctrines’), but the number and power and subtlety of his arguments and ideas and analyses”, (Ackrill, p. 2). Though Aristotle wrote many elegant treatises and dialogues, it is thought that the majority of his writings are now lost and only about one-third of the original works have survived.

In order to understand Aristotle better, we must take a look at his countless contributions for no major philosophical figure has left a more complex legacy for the scholarly editor. Ancient tradition divides the writings of Aristotle into two major categories: exoteric and esoteric. The exoteric publications were written for a wider audience and were meant to be published and distributed beyond the walls of the Academy, Plato’s academy where Aristotle spent twenty years of his life under the guidance of Plato, and were therefore written and edited appropriately by Aristotle himself. Unfortunately, all of these exoteric works have disappeared and hence no evidence of a suitably finished composition by the author exists.

The esoteric works, by contrast, were never designed by Aristotle for publication. They were basically lecture notes or rough drafts, either by Aristotle or recorded by students at the Lyceum, dealing with the many different courses in logic, physics, biology, metaphysics, ethics, politics, rhetoric, and aesthetics which Aristotle gave over a period of more than thirty years. Every text of Aristotle that we are familiar with falls into this category. “Aristotle’s attitude to his predecessors is that of a philosopher rather than a historian. He sees them as aids to reaching the truth; he is not seeking to give a full and accurate account of each of them for his own sake”, (Ackrill, p. 10).

It is believed that Aristotle wrote most of is esoteric texts while still at the Academy and his exoteric texts were written after leaving the school. His surviving works fall into five main categories, the six logical works, which together are known as the Organon,(tool or instrument); the three works on the physical sciences; the work devoted to first philosophy, the most fundamental and abstract of studies, now known as the Metaphysics; six works in politics, ethics, and aesthetics, including most importantly the Nicomachean Ethics named for his son by his second wife, Nicomachus and a vast number of works on psychology and natural history, including On the Soul.

Aristotle founded his own school outside Athens, in a place called the Lyceum. He taught there for thirteen years, giving both public and private lectures. The Lyceum had a broader curriculum than the Academy, and a stronger emphasis on natural philosophy. During this time Aristotle conducted most of the scientific thinking and research for which he is renowned today. In fact, most of Aristotle’s life was devoted to the study of the objects of natural science. Aristotle’s metaphysics contains observations on the nature of numbers but he made no original contributions to mathematics. He did, however, perform original research in the natural sciences, e.g., botany, zoology, physics, astronomy, chemistry, meteorology, and several other sciences.

Aristotle’s writings on science are largely qualitative, as opposed to quantitative. Beginning in the 16th century, scientists began applying mathematics to the physical sciences, and Aristotle’s work in this area was considered to be hopelessly short and inadequate. This was largely due to the absence of concepts like mass, velocity, force and temperature. He had a conception of speed and temperature, but no quantitative understanding of them, due to lack of devices to prove his point. in Physics, Aristotle is famous for the addition of a new element to the already existing four basic elements of life namely, air, earth, fire and water. He named the new element as Aether which is the divine substance that makes up the heavenly spheres and heavenly bodies like stars and planets. Aristotle also contributed to the field of optics. His camera obscura was a device he invented through which he used to examine the shape of the sun. Aristotle is known as The Father of Biology because he was the first person to classify, although crudely, organisms into classes, largely, plants and animals.

“Aristotle’s Ethics begins and ends with this question of the best life, since the task of ethics, as he conceives it, is to seek a systematic answer”, (Broadie, p. 3). Aristotle considered ethics to be a practical rather than theoretical study, i.e., one aimed at doing well rather than knowing for its own sake. He wrote several texts on ethics, including his famous Nichomachean Ethics. Aristotle taught that to achieve a virtuous and potentially happy character requires a first stage of having the fortune to be habituated not deliberately, but by teachers, and experience, leading to a later stage in which one consciously chooses to do the best things. When the best people come to live life this way their practical wisdom and their intellect can develop with each other towards the highest possible ethical virtue, that of wisdom.

In addition to his works on ethics, which address the individual, Aristotle addressed the city in his work titled Politics. He used to consider the city as a natural community. He considered the city to be a priority to the individuals residing within it, “for the whole must of necessity be prior to the part”. He is also famous for his statement that “man is by nature a political animal.” Aristotle conceived of politics as being like an organism rather than like a machine, and as a collection of parts none of which can exist without the others. Aristotle’s conception of the city is organic, and he is considered one of the first to conceive of the city in this manner.

Aristotle’s immense contribution to the philosophy is still widely praised because his philosophy gave a practical understanding of the world. Most of his philosophy is ethics related that gives a lesson of pursuing a life full of joy and happiness. The philosophy of Aristotle is pro-life, pro-happiness and pro-reason. It is his philosophy that has helped the human beings to achieve greatest successes that they wouldn’t have even dreamed of. The development of America and the industrial revolution is also associated with the philosophy of Aristotle that promotes logical reasoning and acquisition of knowledge to live a happy life.

His explanation of role of senses and validity of reasoning helped the mankind to develop a thought process that would eventually help them in achieving everything that seemed impossible to achieve. He is also famous for creating “this-worldly” ethics that aim to make people realize that happiness is something necessary for the existence of mankind and the ultimate goal of the human beings is to achieve the happiness by utilizing all the resources and capabilities that they possess.

“Aristotle is far from suggesting that all we need is to follow some single direction, no matter what. On the contrary, he continues to say that we should define to ourselves’ what it is to live well and what are the conditions required”, (Broadie, p. 4). Aristotle’s view of happiness was different than the view that the society has, today. For human beings, happiness is a kind of emotional state in which a person is delightful and in peace but according to Aristotle, happiness is achieved when the human beings achieve everything that they can. It is about being what you are and pursuing goals that are necessary for you to flourish. Living at the fullest of your potential is the real meaning of happiness. There is no particular route to happiness but it’s an ongoing struggle to pursue realistic goals that can lead to the state of being happy. Aristotle’s philosophy of happiness revolves around the balance in life. Modesty, according to Aristotle, is very necessary to achieve the happiness because the excessiveness or dearth of something can lead to distress in life. Modesty balances the life in its own pleasant sense.

“What is the best sort of life for a man to lead, and what political arrangements are the best? These are questions Aristotle addresses in his ethical works and in the Politics”, (Ackrill, p. 135). The difference between good and bad presented by Aristotle still guides the societal debate for right and wrong. The debate for right and wrong is also a result of reasoning and logic that was presented by Aristotle. According to him, the biggest crime was to know the right course in life but not taking it. Everyone can distinguish between right and wrong and if someone is not doing the right thing then he is doing the biggest crime. Doing only the right thing through right actions can lead to a happy life that is desired by every individual but acquired by a few people. For Aristotle, happiness is a long-term phenomenon that gives the ultimate wealth to the human beings. For the refinement of thought it is necessary for the human beings to contemplate. The surroundings of a person are the best source for contemplation as they help a person to understand all the worldly things and the virtues of a happy life.

Aristotle’s influence on the drama and fiction is not to be ignored. He wrote a book name “the poetics” in 4th century but it is still widely accepted as the guiding principle for dramas and acts performed live by the artists, (Stenudd, 2006). The fiction in movies and books is completely inspired by Aristotle’s ideas. The structure and theory about drama is influenced by the writings of Aristotle. His short book is a guide for any structural composition of dramas and plays in western society. Every theory about drama is written with reference to him and there is no one who can prove his notions wrong as his writings have presented a complete structure of the drama. His writings were later interpreted by many of the authors but they were challenged because of the misinterpretation due to lack of understandings of the terms that Aristotle has used in his short book, (stenudd, 2006).

His theory is too perfect to be rejected but there are many people who put questions about the validity of his arguments. No one possibly can dismiss whatever he has proved in his book about the structure of the drama. The tragedy genre is also influenced by his writings as he believes that tragedy must be acted as it is not something to be narrated to the audience. Aristotle has also explained the parts of the tragedy and according to him the most important part of a tragedy is fable, which is also known as the “soul of a tragedy”, (Stenudd, 2006).

Twenty-three hundred years after his death, Aristotle remains one of the most influential people who ever lived. He was the founder of formal logic, pioneered the study of zoology, and left every future scientist and philosopher in his debt through his contributions to the scientific method. His writings were the first to create a comprehensive system of Western philosophy, encompassing morality and aesthetics, logic and science, politics and metaphysics. Even if we restrict ourselves to the narrower modern notion of philosophy, his work and influence is too vast to cover in a short space. His research on empirical observation wasn’t restricted to sciences such as biology and astronomy, but extended to history, psychology, language, ethics, and politics. His innumerable contributions have been and will continue to be a source of inspiration and enlightenment to all the future scientists, philosophers, historians and politicians.

References

Ackrill, J. L. Aristotle the Philosopher, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1981

Broadie, Sarah. Ethics with Aristotle, Oxford University Press, New York, 1991

Politis, vasilis. Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Aristotle and the Metaphysics, Routledge, London, 2004

Stennud, Stefan. Aristotle’s poetics, 2006, retrieved on 21/11/2010 from http://www.stenudd.com/myth/greek/aristotle/aristotle-poetics.htm

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