The most influential thinker of all times is considered by many, to be Aristotle. He was a pioneer in many fields in science and a great philosopher. We will talk about him, and his philosophical differences with Plato’s ideas.
This is the 3rd part or article of The Beginning of Physics series. If you didn’t read the previous part then you should read it first – The Beginning of Physics: Socrates and Plato (Part-2)
If you are new then I will suggest you to read this series from the first part: The Beginning of Physics: The Presocratics (Part-1)
Aristotle was likely born in the year of 384 B.C in the town of Stagira, in Macedonia. His father was the court physician to the Macedonian’s King, Amyntus II. He had a brother and a sister, both older than him, who would raise Aristotle, due to their parent’s early deaths.
At the age of 17, Aristotle was sent to Athens, in Greece, to study at the Academia. Here he would study Philosophy, Math, and Astronomy with his teacher Plato. Aristotle would spend 20 years here, advancing from student to teacher. He would develop a close friendship with Plato, and became his brightest student. They did, however, have some philosophical differences. As a result when Plato died Academia’s directorship would fall on Speusippu’s shoulders, instead of Aristotle’s. Probably this annoyed Aristotle, and so he left the Academy.
The creation of a new field
After Aristotle left the Academia, he was invited to live in Assos, where he became the leader of a group of philosophers. Here and in a nearby island, Lesbos, he intensively studied marine life, and divided the animals he found in groups, according to their characteristics. This gave rise to a whole new field, Biology. This resulted in the publication of three books which minutely detailed living things. So minutely that some of the discoveries he made weren’t verified until the 1800s!
Alexander and the Lyceum
In 343 B.C. Aristotle was invited by Philip II of Macedon to educate his son, Alexander (later, Alexander, The Great). Alexander was known to be a ‘savage’ warrior and resisted his teachers, but Aristotle was patient, and Alexander was inevitably conquered by Aristotle’s reasoning. Aristotle also encouraged the prince to conqueror the barbarians lands to the East when he became the ruler.
After Philip’s II death Alexander would become the ruler of Macedon, and one of his first acts was to conquer Athens. This made the return of Aristotle to Athens possible, where he would create the Lyceum. The Lyceum was very different from Plato’s Academy. First, the school was in a grove of trees outside the city (which was once a wrestling school). Unlike the Academy, the Lyceum wasn’t a private club: half of the day he would teach is most advanced students and in the afternoons’ anyone who wanted to attend could do so free of charge.
His school was called the Peripatetic, or “people who wonder about”, due to the unique style of teaching by Aristotle. He would teach his students while they wandered around the gardens of the school.
Aristotle’s ideas about the physical Universe were pretty important. They lasted 2000 years, that should be something. Most of then might be wrong, yes, but that is part of the process. Aristotle believed in the same 5 elements of Plato and used them to explain everything. The earth was the heaviest, followed by water, air, fire, and the Eather (the cosmic stuff of the Universe). He arrived at these ideas via empirical evidence, and so his theories made more common sense then Plato’s.
This idea would endure and be used by the Christian church for centuries. But they failed to listen to some very very important words from Aristotle:
Regardless of what theories you may hold, if observation proved them wrong you must have the humility to discard them, and go with the evidence.
We will explore more of the evolution of physics in the next part and the persons who made it possible! Please tell me what did you think of this article in the comments!
Here is the next part of this series: The Beginnings of Physics: The Vedas – India (Part-4)