Study Guide

Aristotle Biography

Basic Information

Name

Ἀριστοτέλης; i.e., Aristotles; i.e., (in English) Aristotle

Nickname

The Stagirite (I'm from Stagira, get it?)
The Philosopher (that's what Medieval thinkers called me)
The Reader (one of the nicknames Plato gave me—for obvious reasons)
The Foal (another nickname bestowed on me by Plato, based on the fact that foals kick their mothers when they've had enough milk)
The A-ster

Sex

Male

Home town

I was born in Stagira, a small town in Chalcidice, which some years later was annexed by Macedonia. It's true that I spent most of my life elsewhere, but in my heart I was always a Macedonian man.

Where else have you been? you ask. Well, Athens was one destination. I spent 20 years studying there with a man named Plato (perhaps you've heard of him?). Then, after Plato died, I went abroad: I spent three years in Assos, a small town in what you modern people call "Turkey," where I got married; then I spent a couple more years on the Greek island of Lebos. After that I went back home to Macedonia, where I was asked by the king, Philip, to tutor someone by the name of Alexander the Great (NBD).

After another six years, it was back to Athens for me, where I founded my own university—the Lyceum (I thought Plato's Academy needed some healthy competition). I spent another good 12 or 13 years in Athens, but then Alexander the Great died, and with all the anti-Macedonian sentiment that was going around, I thought it best for me to split town for a while.

And so I returned to Chalcidice—home. Too bad I only lasted a year. But hey, age 62 ain't bad for someone living before the turn of the first millennium.

Work & Education

Occupation

"Work" isn't something that someone of my station occupies himself with. Rather, I like to say that I responded to a higher calling: the pursuit of knowledge.

Do you think I endured 20 years of higher education because I couldn't think of what else to do? Not at all! I wanted to know, like, everything. That has been my one and only "job" (if I must use the language of the hoi polloi): to learn and then pass on that learning to others.

That's why I involved myself in endless empirical research, studying the structure of animals, plants, the heavenly bodies, and on and on. That's why I studied proper reasoning, physics, drama and everything else.

Oh, of course I wrote…constantly, and in many different styles. In fact, I even wrote philosophical dialogues, just like Plato. (Sadly, these, like most of my writings, haven't survived.) But none of this was done for the purpose of earning—what do you call it?—"money." It was all done for the sake of knowledge. 

Around 335 BCE, I even opened my own school in Athens: the Lyceum. Again, this was not to obtain a professor's salary (especially since no one was paying me to do it). It was part of my higher calling. In the morning I would teach advanced subjects for my best students. Then in the afternoon I would lecture on rhetoric for the general public. Plus, I now had a team to help me with all my research projects.

I know what you're wondering: "If you're so high-minded, Aristotle, what were you doing tutoring Alexander the Great? You must have been trying to get rich or at least to gain influence in the world." Well, I told you I am a Macedonian at heart and the king of Macedonia, Philip, had asked me to teach Alexander, who happened to be his son. No patriot would turn down such an opportunity. Plus, that boy had a true thirst for knowledge! At least in the beginning, anyway. How was I supposed to know that his thirst for taking over the world was going to turn out to be just a tad stronger?

Education

I was born into what we like to call a "good" family. So we were aristocrats—do I have to apologize for that? Anyhow, I vaguely remember getting a pretty standard aristocratic education until the age of 17. I forget the details. But after that, I remember my education quite distinctly. I studied at Plato's Academy! And not for a few weeks or months either—no, I was there for 20 (that's right, twenty) long years.

Sure, I was intimidated by the place at first. I may have a very wide range of knowledge, but I confess mathematics was never my best subject. So what do I see above the door at the Academy when I walk in? "Let no one ignorant of geometry enter here." And all those nerds looking at me disapprovingly—not exactly a chill atmostphere.

But I figured it out pretty quickly. I steeped myself in Plato's dialogues (the Phaedo was my favorite), even if Plato himself wasn't around very much those first few years. Before too long I was the Academy's top dog. 

So, yes, I learned at the feet of the master. But that doesn't mean I ultimately accepted much of what he had to teach.

Beliefs

Political views

It seems people these days always love what I have to say about politics—at first. But the more they hear, the less they seem to like it. So I guess I should keep it brief (I do want your respect, after all, Shmoopers).

Anyhow, my most famous statement in this area is "Men are by nature political animals." What I mean by that is that the state is one of the proper expressions of human nature. I'm not one of those whacked-out guys like Rousseau who thinks society is some kind of unnatural imposition, limiting our freedom.

For me, it follows that a state is more than some kind of economic arrangement; it has a larger purpose, which is the happiness of its citizens. And I go on to suggest that of the three main ways of structuring a state—monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy—democracy is generally the best way of achieving that end. I sound even more modern in holding that liberty is a key principle of democracies.

Are you with me so far? If so, let me hear you say "Yeah"! (Yeah!)

Now it's true that I don't understand liberty in exactly the same way you probably do. For me, liberty can be enjoyed only by citizens, and there will be certain members of the population who will not have citizenship. Women, for example. Also slaves.

Okay, you may think it's outrageous that I tolerated slavery, but I actually have a long argument showing that some people are naturally slaves. So it's not so bad, right? Does anyone want to give me a "Yeah"?

Anyone?

Bueller?

I knew I should have kept it brief.

Religious views

I have generally followed the customs of my society, but I'm not a particularly religious person. That's kind of ironic, given how much influence my views have had on St. Thomas Aquinas and Catholic theology in general. Now I do talk about the divine, but only in very abstract, impersonal terms; I treat the subject much more like a philosopher (surprise, surprise!) than a traditional theologian.

Along these lines, one of my most famous "theological" ideas is that of the "unmoved mover." No, this is not a reference to an unsentimental moving company employee. I'm talking about God, baby! My point is that, in general, every action requires a cause. And I suggest that in one way or another we can trace the chain of causes back to the heavenly bodies. But that chain can't go on forever—that would be insane. So there must be a first cause in the series, something that causes motion without itself being in motion.

That's all to say there must be an unmoved mover, namely, God. Now God initially causes motion not like someone pushing a billiard ball, but rather by being an object of love. That's right, it's the power of loooove (who knew that Celine Dion was such a fan of my work?) that initiates the motion of the heavenly bodies.

Ever heard the phrase "the love that moves the stars"? Well, I took it literally.

(And yes, I know that saying wasn't around till after my time. Shush.)

Activities & Interests

Likes

Rational thinking
Building systems of knowledge
Areas of study—every single one of them
Observing the natural world
Recording my observations of the natural world…in excruciating detail
Writing extensive lecture notes
Stylish haircuts

Dislikes

Being told I don't know something
Suspecting I possibly might not know something
Attempts to draw a sharp distinction between philosophy and science
Political intrigue
Having to suffer the fate of Socrates

Interests

Metaphysics
Epistemology
Logic
Ethics
Aesthetics
Political Theory
Philosophy of Mind
Physics
Rhetoric
Zoology
Biology
Mathematics
Medicine
Anatomy
Must I go on?

Groups

Ancient Philosophers
Scientifically-Minded Philosophers
Virtue Ethicists
Naturalists
People Who Write Very Detailed Lecture Notes