Aristotle

Aristotle

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Who was he?

Born: 384 BCE

Died: 322 BCE

Joined Plato’s Academy when 17 years old. Stayed there for 20 years, first as a student and eventually as a teacher.

After Plato died he left the Academy, possibly annoyed that he wasn’t given control of the school. Became tutor to the future Alexander the Great.

After years of travel and study, he returned to Athens, and founded the Lyceum.

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Ideas

Aristotle on knowledge

  • Knowledge is perception
    (if we did not perceive, we would not understand)
  • The natural world is the real world
  • The reality of the world is in the ‘matter and stuff’

Matter and Goal

  • Everything in the world is made of stuff called matter
  • The matter of each kind of object has the potentiality for acquiring a form proper to the object (called its end form of telos)
  • Motion is the actualising of the potentiality of the object
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Example

example (acorn and oak tree)

  1. Acorn has the potentiality to become an oak tree
  2. Process of change of acorn to oak is actualisation
  3. End of ‘telos’ for acorn was to become an oak tree
  • Instances in which objects do not change or move to accomplish an end have been interfered with by some outside agency. E.g. acorn eaten by squirrel
  • Aristotle termed this unnatural interference
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Cause and Purpose

Cause and purpose

Aristotle believed that the visible world was the real world and sought all his life to describe the principles that brought about change and motion. Ultimately, Aristotle attempted to answer the question, “what does it mean for something to exist?” and “what causes motion and change in the universe?”

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Four Causes

  1. The Material Cause
    The matter out of which a thing is made (e.g. marble for a statue)
  2. The Formal Cause
    The characteristics of a thing (e.g. resemblance to a famous person for a statue)
  3. The Efficient Cause
    The means or agency by which a thing comes into existence (e.g. the sculptor that sculpted the statue)
  4. The Final (‘Telos’) Cause
    The goal or purpose of a thing, its function or potential. The most important cause for Aristotle. (e.g. the sculptor may have meant the statue to be an attractive ornament)
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Humans Final Cause

Well, Aristotle highlighted that a distinctive feature of humans is that they are rational creatures.

The goal of human life is to live a rational life in pursuit of excellence.

Aristotle called this eudaimonia which means ‘happiness’ or ‘well-being’.

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The Unmoved Mover

Aristotle believed that all movement depends on there being a mover. i.e if nothing acted on A then it would not change in any way. However, if A is moving or changing then it must have been acted upon by B, which in turn was set in motion by C. Since an infinite series is impossible, Aristotle said that this chain leads to something which moves but is itself unmoved or motionless – the Prime Mover or Unmoved Mover. The Christian Church adopted this Unmoved Mover as the basis for the Christian God.

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Differences with Aristotle and Plato

  1. Plato believed that empirical knowledge is merely opinion and thus is unreliable and useless since the world is a constant state of flux. He said that true knowledge cannot come from perceiving things in the world and so our senses are not to be trusted. He contends that in fact true knowledge is already in the mind – we only remember things, not learn them.

However, Aristotle said that the world that we live in is the real world and all knowledge we gain comes from our senses.

  1. Plato also believed that the soul was separate to the body and could access the Forms to gain true knowledge. Since it is from the World of Ideals, Plato believed that it was eternal.
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