Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, together with Socrates and Plato, laid much of the groundwork for western philosophy.

aristotle

Who Was Aristotle?

Early life, family and education.

Aristotle was born circa 384 B.C. in Stagira, a small town on the northern coast of Greece that was once a seaport.

Aristotle’s father, Nicomachus, was court physician to the Macedonian king Amyntas II. Although Nicomachus died when Aristotle was just a young boy, Aristotle remained closely affiliated with and influenced by the Macedonian court for the rest of his life. Little is known about his mother, Phaestis; she is also believed to have died when Aristotle was young.

After Aristotle’s father died, Proxenus of Atarneus, who was married to Aristotle’s older sister, Arimneste, became Aristotle’s guardian until he came of age. When Aristotle turned 17, Proxenus sent him to Athens to pursue a higher education. At the time, Athens was considered the academic center of the universe. In Athens, Aristotle enrolled in Plato ’s Academy, Greek’s premier learning institution, and proved an exemplary scholar. Aristotle maintained a relationship with Greek philosopher Plato, himself a student of Socrates , and his academy for two decades. Plato died in 347 B.C. Because Aristotle had disagreed with some of Plato’s philosophical treatises, Aristotle did not inherit the position of director of the academy, as many imagined he would.

After Plato died, Aristotle’s friend Hermias, king of Atarneus and Assos in Mysia, invited Aristotle to court.

Aristotle’s Books

Aristotle wrote an estimated 200 works, most in the form of notes and manuscript drafts touching on reasoning, rhetoric, politics, ethics, science and psychology. They consist of dialogues, records of scientific observations and systematic works. His student Theophrastus reportedly looked after Aristotle’s writings and later passed them to his own student Neleus, who stored them in a vault to protect them from moisture until they were taken to Rome and used by scholars there. Of Aristotle’s estimated 200 works, only 31 are still in circulation. Most date to Aristotle’s time at the Lyceum.

Poetics is a scientific study of writing and poetry where Aristotle observes, analyzes and defines mostly tragedy and epic poetry. Compared to philosophy, which presents ideas, poetry is an imitative use of language, rhythm and harmony that represents objects and events in the world, Aristotle posited. His book explores the foundation of storymaking, including character development, plot and storyline.

'Nicomachean Ethics' and 'Eudemian Ethics'

In Nichomachean Ethics , which is believed to have been named in tribute to Aristotle’s son, Nicomachus, Aristotle prescribed a moral code of conduct for what he called “good living.” He asserted that good living to some degree defied the more restrictive laws of logic, since the real world poses circumstances that can present a conflict of personal values. That said, it was up to the individual to reason cautiously while developing his or her own judgment. Eudemian Ethics is another of Aristotle’s major treatises on the behavior and judgment that constitute “good living.”

On happiness: In his treatises on ethics, Aristotle aimed to discover the best way to live life and give it meaning — “the supreme good for man,” in his words — which he determined was the pursuit of happiness. Our happiness is not a state but but an activity, and it’s determined by our ability to live a life that enables us to use and develop our reason. While bad luck can affect happiness, a truly happy person, he believed, learns to cultivate habits and behaviors that help him (or her) to keep bad luck in perspective.

The golden mean: Aristotle also defined what he called the “golden mean.” Living a moral life, Aristotle believed, was the ultimate goal. Doing so means approaching every ethical dilemma by finding a mean between living to excess and living deficiently, taking into account an individual’s needs and circumstances.

'Metaphysics'

In his book Metaphysics , Aristotle clarified the distinction between matter and form. To Aristotle, matter was the physical substance of things, while form was the unique nature of a thing that gave it its identity.

In Politics , Aristotle examined human behavior in the context of society and government. Aristotle believed the purpose of government was make it possible for citizens to achieve virtue and happiness. Intended to help guide statesmen and rulers, Politics explores, among other themes, how and why cities come into being; the roles of citizens and politicians; wealth and the class system; the purpose of the political system; types of governments and democracies; and the roles of slavery and women in the household and society.

In Rhetoric , Aristotle observes and analyzes public speaking with scientific rigor in order to teach readers how to be more effective speakers. Aristotle believed rhetoric was essential in politics and law and helped defend truth and justice. Good rhetoric, Aristotle believed, could educate people and encourage them to consider both sides of a debate. Aristotle’s work explored how to construct an argument and maximize its effect, as well as fallacious reasoning to avoid (like generalizing from a single example).

'Prior Analytics'

In Prior Analytics , Aristotle explains the syllogism as “a discourse in which, certain things having been supposed, something different from the things supposed results of necessity because these things are so.” Aristotle defined the main components of reasoning in terms of inclusive and exclusive relationships. These sorts of relationships were visually grafted in the future through the use of Venn diagrams.

Other Works on Logic

Besides Prior Analytics , Aristotle’s other major writings on logic include Categories, On Interpretation and Posterior Analytics . In these works, Aristotle discusses his system for reasoning and for developing sound arguments.

Works on Science

Aristotle composed works on astronomy, including On the Heavens , and earth sciences, including Meteorology . By meteorology, Aristotle didn’t simply mean the study of weather. His more expansive definition of meteorology included “all the affectations we may call common to air and water, and the kinds and parts of the earth and the affectations of its parts.” In Meteorology , Aristotle identified the water cycle and discussed topics ranging from natural disasters to astrological events. Although many of his views on the Earth were controversial at the time, they were re-adopted and popularized during the late Middle Ages.

Works on Psychology

In On the So ul , Aristotle examines human psychology. Aristotle’s writings about how people perceive the world continue to underlie many principles of modern psychology.

Aristotle’s work on philosophy influenced ideas from late antiquity all the way through the Renaissance. One of the main focuses of Aristotle’s philosophy was his systematic concept of logic. Aristotle’s objective was to come up with a universal process of reasoning that would allow man to learn every conceivable thing about reality. The initial process involved describing objects based on their characteristics, states of being and actions.

In his philosophical treatises, Aristotle also discussed how man might next obtain information about objects through deduction and inference. To Aristotle, a deduction was a reasonable argument in which “when certain things are laid down, something else follows out of necessity in virtue of their being so.” His theory of deduction is the basis of what philosophers now call a syllogism, a logical argument where the conclusion is inferred from two or more other premises of a certain form.

Aristotle and Biology

Although Aristotle was not technically a scientist by today’s definitions, science was among the subjects that he researched at length during his time at the Lyceum. Aristotle believed that knowledge could be obtained through interacting with physical objects. He concluded that objects were made up of a potential that circumstances then manipulated to determine the object’s outcome. He also recognized that human interpretation and personal associations played a role in our understanding of those objects.

Aristotle’s research in the sciences included a study of biology. He attempted, with some error, to classify animals into genera based on their similar characteristics. He further classified animals into species based on those that had red blood and those that did not. The animals with red blood were mostly vertebrates, while the “bloodless” animals were labeled cephalopods. Despite the relative inaccuracy of his hypothesis, Aristotle’s classification was regarded as the standard system for hundreds of years.

Marine biology was also an area of fascination for Aristotle. Through dissection, he closely examined the anatomy of marine creatures. In contrast to his biological classifications, his observations of marine life, as expressed in his books, are considerably more accurate.

Aristotle Photo

Wife and Children

During his three-year stay in Mysia, Aristotle met and married his first wife, Pythias, King Hermias’ niece. Together, the couple had a daughter, Pythias, named after her mother.

In 335 B.C., the same year that Aristotle opened the Lyceum, his wife Pythias died. Soon after, Aristotle embarked on a romance with a woman named Herpyllis, who hailed from his hometown of Stagira. According to some historians, Herpyllis may have been Aristotle’s slave, granted to him by the Macedonia court. They presume that he eventually freed and married her. Regardless, it is known that Herpyllis bore Aristotle children, including one son named Nicomachus, after Aristotle’s father.

In 338 B.C., Aristotle went home to Macedonia to start tutoring King Phillip II’s son, the then 13-year-old Alexander the Great . Phillip and Alexander both held Aristotle in high esteem and ensured that the Macedonia court generously compensated him for his work.

In 335 B.C., after Alexander had succeeded his father as king and conquered Athens, Aristotle went back to the city. In Athens, Plato’s Academy, now run by Xenocrates, was still the leading influence on Greek thought. With Alexander’s permission, Aristotle started his own school in Athens, called the Lyceum. On and off, Aristotle spent most of the remainder of his life working as a teacher, researcher and writer at the Lyceum in Athens until the death of his former student Alexander the Great.

Because Aristotle was known to walk around the school grounds while teaching, his students, forced to follow him, were nicknamed the “Peripatetics,” meaning “people who travel about.” Lyceum members researched subjects ranging from science and math to philosophy and politics, and nearly everything in between. Art was also a popular area of interest. Members of the Lyceum wrote up their findings in manuscripts. In so doing, they built the school’s massive collection of written materials, which by ancient accounts was credited as one of the first great libraries.

When Alexander the Great died suddenly in 323 B.C., the pro-Macedonian government was overthrown, and in light of anti-Macedonia sentiment, Aristotle was charged with impiety for his association with his former student and the Macedonian court. To avoid being prosecuted and executed, he left Athens and fled to Chalcis on the island of Euboea, where he would remain until his death a year later.

In 322 B.C., just a year after he fled to Chalcis to escape prosecution under charges of impiety, Aristotle contracted a disease of the digestive organs and died.

In the century following Aristotle’s death, his works fell out of use, but they were revived during the first century. Over time, they came to lay the foundation of more than seven centuries of philosophy. Aristotle’s influence on Western thought in the humanities and social sciences is largely considered unparalleled, with the exception of his teacher Plato’s contributions, and Plato’s teacher Socrates before him. The two-millennia-strong academic practice of interpreting and debating Aristotle’s philosophical works continues to endure.

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  • Name: Aristotle
  • Birth Year: 384
  • Birth City: Stagira, Chalcidice
  • Birth Country: Greece
  • Gender: Male
  • Best Known For: Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, together with Socrates and Plato, laid much of the groundwork for western philosophy.
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  • Death Year: 322
  • Death City: Chalcis, Euboea
  • Death Country: Greece

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Aristotle, His Life and Philosophical Ideas Essay (Biography)

Aristotle is considered to be one of the greatest Greek philosophers that ever lived according to the Encyclopedia of Classical philosophy (1997).

He lived between 384 B.C. and 322 B.C. having accomplished a lot in philosophy and all other fields of Education. At the age of seven, he joined Plato’s academy where he became one of his favorite student. He later on became a researcher then a teacher in the same institution. In his life, he taught Alexander the Great who at the time was thirteen years of age, at the invitation of his father King Phillip II.

This great philosopher was born in a town called Stageira in Chalcidice. Later on at the age of eighteen, he moved to Athens to study and this became his home for the next twenty years, after which he moved to Asia after the death of Plato where he concentrated in the study of biology at Lesbos Island. In fact, Meet the Philosophers of Ancient Greece (2005) indicates that he conducted most of his research in this period.

There are a number of significant events which took place during the times of Aristotle and which had an impact in his life. In Athens where he had lived for almost twenty years, there was the anti-Macedonia uprising around 347 B.C. which led to a series of political unrests. Being of Macedonian origin, he was forced to flee the country as indicated in The Columbia Encyclopedia (2008). Later on, King Philip came to power and restored peace between Macedonia and Athens, a gesture that saw to the return of peace. In 323 B.C. however, the political unrest revived again after the rule of Alexander the Great came to an end. Aristotle was considered to be a great sympathizer of Alexander and these latter revolts were directly focused on him. He was charged with blasphemy and forced to flee the country together with his family (Bryant 1996).

With the help of other scholars, Aristotle was able to establish his own school, the Lyceum which was later renamed to Peripatetic. According to the Encyclopedia of classical philosophy (1997), Alexander the Great who was one of Aristotle’s students “financed his research in Peripatetic and had ordered hunters, fishermen, bird-catchers, beekeepers and other professionals to convey to Aristotle any information of scientific interest” (pg 1).

The coming down of Alexander’s reign had negative effects to the life of Aristotle since it caused a security threat forcing him to flee (Bechler 1995). Besides this the death of Plato also caused a major turn of events in the life of Aristotle. This owes to the fact that he left the Academy and started working on his own philosophical dissertations.

After fleeing Athens in 323 BC, Aristotle’s life came to an end in 322 BC after an ailment of the digestive organs (Bar and Bat 1994). His work was considered as the most influential in the world of philosophy and was widely used between the period of antiquity and renaissance. He had a great influence in the western world especially with regards to social sciences and humanities and some of the ideas he developed are still debatable to date.

Aristotle was famous for a number of philosophical theories some of which survived while others were faced out. According to the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy (1999), a majority of his work was geared towards the public and it is believed that Plato played a big role in these writings.

There are however others which are historical in nature such as the Constitution of the Athenians, a piece that was used by his students in the study of political theories. Despite the fact that most of his writings got lost, the ones that survived are still considered the best writings of the time (Anton, George and Anthony 1971).

One of Aristotle’s most famous theories was the metaphysics. In this theory, he argues that “all investigation must begin with what the senses record and must move only from that point to thought” (Stern 1995, pg 4). The term metaphysics is directly interpreted to ‘what comes after physics’.

According to the Cambridge dictionary of philosophy , there were two conditions to this theory. The first one indicated that objects which were widely known needed to exist separately from the non-sensible objects. The second condition on the other hand had it that the objects which were known were just a generalization of objects.

The other theory developed by Aristotle was that of Practical philosophy . This was stipulated in two of his works namely the Nicomachean Ethics and the politics. The main aim of this was to bring out the best actions in issues related to conduct (Ferrarin 2001). As a result of this, he developed the Nicomachean Ethics as a reminder of the principle of becoming good and not just knowing what is good.

In this philosophy, he went ahead to explain that good people made that choice at one point or the other and not just the actions but the right way of performing those actions as well. He explained different types of individuals; the akratic being one who decides to act contrary to what they know is right out of desire while the enkratic despite feeling like they want to act contrary decide to take the right action.

Another philosophical theory that was brought forth by Aristotle was that of psychology. One of his writings, on the soul provided a universal interpretation of the nature and quantity of cognitive faculties principles of the soul. Other writings such as the Parva naturalia made use of the universal theory to a wide variety of psychological occurrences ranging from sleeping, dreaming and waking to memory and reminiscence (Bryant 1996).

He went ahead and subdivided the capacity to perform different actions into either potentiality or actuality. He explained potentiality as an inborn characteristic in an organism by virtue of it belonging to a specific species. Actuality on the other hand is gained through training and experience in that particular field.

The ideas developed by Aristotle were unique in their own ways. In the development of his theories he tried to bring the natural way of occurrences in to the thinking and actions of living creatures and specifically humans. As a result of this, his theories were subject to less disapproval since they were self-supportive.

The other significant element about these theories was that they remained relevant long afterwards, owing to his extensive research in the different fields. This implies that his ideas were viable in a way that has not been countered by any other scholars so far.

The philosophical ideas and theories developed by Aristotle were mainly influenced by his predecessors such as Socrates and Plato. Plato was his teacher earlier in life and he got an inspiration in mathematics while in the academy. He however opposed some of the speculations made by Plato but later on came to understand these ideas and incorporated some of them in his theories.

The other great influence to the development of Aristotle’s theories was Socrates who died long before Aristotle was born and who also happened to be Plato’s teacher ( Essentials of Philosophy and Ethics 2006 ). Socrates was among the original authors of Greek philosophies and made a great contribution to the development of ethics as a discipline. Aristotle built his theory of ethics on this hence making Socrates an important figure in his work.

The philosophical theories developed by Aristotle acted as the main guidelines to human living at the time. These philosophies played a major role in ensuring co-existence in a place where there were no laid down rules. The theory on ethics for example ensured that people were able to develop behavioral habits that were less of a bother to other people around them. These theories also had an impact on the future since they formed the foundation of the present day education system (Bodaeeus 1993).

Other scholars who came after Aristotle were developing their theories from what Aristotle had already researched on. He also pioneered the issue of gender equality by insisting that women needed to be happy just like their male counterparts. Some of the people who were directly influenced by Aristotle include Aristoxenus, Harpalus, Nichomacus and Dicaerchus among others, all of whom were students at the Lyceum.

Works Cited

Anton, John Peter, George L. Kustas, and Anthony Preus. Essays In Ancient Greek Philosophy . n.p.: State University of New York Press, 1971. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost) . Web.

“Aristotle (384-322 B.C.E.).” Encyclopedia of Classical Philosophy. Westport: Greenwood, (1997). Credo Reference. Web.

“Aristotle (384 – 322 B.C.).” The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, (1999). Credo Reference. Web.

“Aristotle (384–322 BCE).” The Essentials of Philosophy and Ethics. Abingdon: Hodder Education, (2006). Credo Reference. Web.

“Aristotle.” The Columbia Encyclopedia. New York: Columbia University Press, (2008). Credo Reference. Web.

Bar On and Bat Ami. Engendering Origins: Critical Feminist Readings In Plato And Aristotle . n.p.: State University of New York Press, 1994. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost) . Web.

Bechler, Zeafer. Aristotle’s Theory Of Actuality . n.p.: State University of New York Press, 1995. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost) . Web.

Bodaeeus, Richard. The Political Dimensions Of Aristotle’s Ethics . n.p.: State University of New York Press, 1993. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost) . Web.

Bryant, Joseph M. Moral Codes And Social Structure In Ancient Greece : A Sociology Of Greek Ethics From Homer To The Epicureans And Stoics . n.p.: State University of New York Press, 1996. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost) . Web.

Ferrarin, Alfredo. Hegel And Aristotle . n.p.: Cambridge University Press, 2001. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost) . Web.

“Introduction.” Meet the Philosophers of Ancient Greece. Surrey: Ashgate Publishing, (2005). Credo Reference. Web.

Stern-Gillet, Suzanne. Aristotle’s Philosophy Of Friendship . n.p.: State University of New York Press, 1995. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost) . Web.

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aristotle biography essay

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By: History.com Editors

Updated: June 13, 2023 | Original: November 9, 2009

Aristotle

The Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) made significant and lasting contributions to nearly every aspect of human knowledge, from logic to biology to ethics and aesthetics. Though overshadowed in classical times by the work of his teacher Plato , from late antiquity through the Enlightenment, Aristotle’s surviving writings were incredibly influential. In Arabic philosophy, he was known simply as “The First Teacher.” In the West, he was “The Philosopher.”

Aristotle's Early Life

Aristotle was born in 384 B.C. in Stagira in northern Greece. Both of his parents were members of traditional medical families, and his father, Nicomachus, served as court physician to King Amyntus III of Macedonia . His parents died while he was young, and he was likely raised at his family’s home in Stagira. At age 17 he was sent to Athens to enroll in Plato's Academy . He spent 20 years as a student and teacher at the school, emerging with both a great respect and a good deal of criticism for his teacher’s theories. Plato’s own later writings, in which he softened some earlier positions, likely bear the mark of repeated discussions with his most gifted student.

Did you know? Aristotle's surviving works were likely meant as lecture notes rather than literature, and his now-lost writings were apparently of much better quality. The Roman philosopher Cicero said that "If Plato's prose was silver, Aristotle's was a flowing river of gold."

When Plato died in 347, control of the Academy passed to his nephew Speusippus. Aristotle left Athens soon after, though it is not clear whether frustrations at the Academy or political difficulties due to his family’s Macedonian connections hastened his exit. He spent five years on the coast of Asia Minor as a guest of former students at Assos and Lesbos. It was here that he undertook his pioneering research into marine biology and married his wife Pythias, with whom he had his only daughter, also named Pythias.

In 342 Aristotle was summoned to Macedonia by King Philip II to tutor his son, the future Alexander the Great —a meeting of great historical figures that, in the words of one modern commentator, “made remarkably little impact on either of them.”

Aristotle and the Lyceum

Aristotle returned to Athens in 335 B.C. As an alien, he couldn’t own property, so he rented space in the Lyceum, a former wrestling school outside the city. Like Plato’s Academy, the Lyceum attracted students from throughout the Greek world and developed a curriculum centered on its founder’s teachings. In accordance with Aristotle’s principle of surveying the writings of others as part of the philosophical process, the Lyceum assembled a collection of manuscripts that comprised one of the world’s first great libraries .

Aristotle's Works

It was at the Lyceum that Aristotle probably composed most of his approximately 200 works, of which only 31 survive. In style, his known works are dense and almost jumbled, suggesting that they were lecture notes for internal use at his school. The surviving works of Aristotle are grouped into four categories. 

The “Organon” is a set of writings that provide a logical toolkit for use in any philosophical or scientific investigation. Next come Aristotle’s theoretical works, most famously his treatises on animals (“Parts of Animals,” “Movement of Animals,” etc.), cosmology, the “Physics” (a basic inquiry about the nature of matter and change) and the “Metaphysics” (a quasi-theological investigation of existence itself).

Third are Aristotle’s so-called practical works, notably the “Nicomachean Ethics” and “Politics,” both deep investigations into the nature of human flourishing on the individual, familial and societal levels. Finally, his “Rhetoric” and “Poetics” examine the finished products of human productivity, including what makes for a convincing argument and how a well-wrought tragedy can instill cathartic fear and pity.

The Organon

“The Organon” (Latin for “instrument”) is a series of Aristotle’s works on logic (what he himself would call analytics) put together around 40 B.C. by Andronicus of Rhodes and his followers. The set of six books includes “Categories,” “On Interpretation,” “Prior Analytics,” “Posterior Analytics,” “Topics,” and “On Sophistical Refutations.” The Organon contains Aristotle’s worth on syllogisms (from the Greek syllogismos , or “conclusions”), a form of reasoning in which a conclusion is drawn from two assumed premises. For example, all men are mortal, all Greeks are men, therefore all Greeks are mortal.

Metaphysics

Aristotle’s “Metaphysics,” written quite literally after his “Physics,” studies the nature of existence. He called metaphysics the “first philosophy,” or “wisdom.” His primary area of focus was “being qua being,” which examined what can be said about being based on what it is, not because of any particular qualities it may have. In “Metaphysics,” Aristotle also muses on causation, form, matter and even a logic-based argument for the existence of God.

To Aristotle, rhetoric is “the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion.” He identified three main methods of rhetoric: ethos (ethics), pathos (emotional) and logos (logic). He also broke rhetoric into types of speeches: epideictic (ceremonial), forensic (judicial) and deliberative (where the audience is required to reach a verdict). His groundbreaking work in this field earned him the nickname “the father of rhetoric.”

Aristotle’s “Poetics” was composed around 330 B.C. and is the earliest extant work of dramatic theory. It is often interpreted as a rebuttal to his teacher Plato’s argument that poetry is morally suspect and should therefore be expunged from a perfect society. Aristotle takes a different approach, analyzing the purpose of poetry. He argues that creative endeavors like poetry and theater provides catharsis, or the beneficial purging of emotions through art. 

Aristotle's Death and Legacy

After the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C., anti-Macedonian sentiment again forced Aristotle to flee Athens. He died a little north of the city in 322, of a digestive complaint. He asked to be buried next to his wife, who had died some years before. In his last years he had a relationship with his slave Herpyllis, who bore him Nicomachus, the son for whom his great ethical treatise is named.

Aristotle’s favored students took over the Lyceum, but within a few decades the school’s influence had faded in comparison to the rival Academy. For several generations Aristotle’s works were all but forgotten. The historian Strabo says they were stored for centuries in a moldy cellar in Asia Minor before their rediscovery in the first century B.C., though it is unlikely that these were the only copies.

In 30 B.C. Andronicus of Rhodes grouped and edited Aristotle’s remaining works in what became the basis for all later editions. After the fall of Rome, Aristotle was still read in Byzantium and became well-known in the Islamic world, where thinkers like Avicenna (970-1037), Averroes (1126-1204) and the Jewish scholar Maimonodes (1134-1204) revitalized Aritotle’s logical and scientific precepts.

Aristotle in the Middle Ages and Beyond

In the 13th century, Aristotle was reintroduced to the West through the work of Albertus Magnus and especially Thomas Aquinas, whose brilliant synthesis of Aristotelian and Christian thought provided a bedrock for late medieval Catholic philosophy, theology and science.

Aristotle’s universal influence waned somewhat during the Renaissance and Reformation , as religious and scientific reformers questioned the way the Catholic Church had subsumed his precepts. Scientists like Galileo and Copernicus disproved his geocentric model of the solar system, while anatomists such as William Harvey dismantled many of his biological theories. However, even today, Aristotle’s work remains a significant starting point for any argument in the fields of logic, aesthetics, political theory and ethics.

aristotle biography essay

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aristotle biography essay

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Aristotle (384 b.c.e.—322 b.c.e.).

aristotle biography essay

A prolific writer, lecturer, and polymath, Aristotle radically transformed most of the topics he investigated. In his lifetime, he wrote dialogues and as many as 200 treatises, of which only 31 survive. These works are in the form of lecture notes and draft manuscripts never intended for general readership. Nevertheless, they are the earliest complete philosophical treatises we still possess.

As the father of western logic, Aristotle was the first to develop a formal system for reasoning. He observed that the deductive validity of any argument can be determined by its structure rather than its content, for example, in the syllogism: All men are mortal; Socrates is a man; therefore, Socrates is mortal. Even if the content of the argument were changed from being about Socrates to being about someone else, because of its structure, as long as the premises are true, then the conclusion must also be true. Aristotelian logic dominated until the rise of modern propositional logic and predicate logic 2000 years later.

The emphasis on good reasoning serves as the backdrop for Aristotle’s other investigations. In his natural philosophy, Aristotle combines logic with observation to make general, causal claims. For example, in his biology, Aristotle uses the concept of species to make empirical claims about the functions and behavior of individual animals. However, as revealed in his psychological works, Aristotle is no reductive materialist. Instead, he thinks of the body as the matter, and the psyche as the form of each living animal.

Though his natural scientific work is firmly based on observation, Aristotle also recognizes the possibility of knowledge that is not empirical. In his metaphysics, he claims that there must be a separate and unchanging being that is the source of all other beings. In his ethics, he holds that it is only by becoming excellent that one could achieve eudaimonia, a sort of happiness or blessedness that constitutes the best kind of human life.

Aristotle was the founder of the Lyceum, a school based in Athens, Greece; and he was the first of the Peripatetics, his followers from the Lyceum. Aristotle’s works, exerted tremendous influence on ancient and medieval thought and continue to inspire philosophers to this day.

Table of Contents

  • Life and Lost Works
  • The Meaning and Purpose of Logic
  • Demonstrative Syllogistic
  • Induction, Experience, and Principles
  • Rhetoric and Poetics
  • Cosmology and Geology
  • Mathematics
  • First Philosophy
  • Habituation and Excellence
  • Ethical Deliberation
  • Self and Others
  • The Household and the State
  • Aristotle’s Influence
  • Abbreviations of Aristotle’s Works
  • Other Abbreviations
  • Aristotle’s Complete Works
  • Life and Early Works
  • Theoretical Philosophy
  • Practical Philosophy

1. Life and Lost Works

Though our main ancient source on Aristotle’s life, Diogenes Laertius, is of questionable reliability, the outlines of his biography are credible. Diogenes reports that Aristotle’s Greek father, Nicomachus, served as private physician to the Macedonian king Amyntas (DL 5.1.1). At the age of seventeen, Aristotle migrated to Athens where he joined the Academy, studying under Plato for twenty years (DL 5.1.9). During this period Aristotle acquired his encyclopedic knowledge of the philosophical tradition, which he draws on extensively in his works.

Aristotle left Athens around the time Plato died, in 348 or 347 B.C.E. One explanation is that as a resident alien, Aristotle was excluded from leadership of the Academy in favor of Plato’s nephew, the Athenian citizen Speusippus. Another possibility is that Aristotle was forced to flee as Philip of Macedon’s expanding power led to the spread of anti-Macedonian sentiment in Athens (Chroust 1967). Whatever the cause, Aristotle subsequently moved to Atarneus, which was ruled by another former student at the Academy, Hermias. During his three years there, Aristotle married Pythias, the niece or adopted daughter of Hermias, and perhaps engaged in negotiations or espionage on behalf of the Macedonians (Chroust 1972). Whatever the case, the couple relocated to Macedonia, where Aristotle was employed by Philip, serving as tutor to his son, Alexander the Great (DL 5.1.3–4). Aristotle’s philosophical career was thus directly entangled with the rise of a major power.

After some time in Macedonia, Aristotle returned to Athens, where he founded his own school in rented buildings in the Lyceum . It was presumably during this period that he authored most of his surviving texts, which have the appearance of lecture transcripts edited so they could be read aloud in Aristotle’s absence. Indeed, this must have been necessary, since after his school had been in operation for thirteen years, he again departed from Athens, possibly because a charge of impiety was brought against him (DL 5.1.5). He died at age 63 in Chalcis (DL 5.1.10).

Diogenes tells us that Aristotle was a thin man who dressed flashily, wearing a fashionable hairstyle and a number of rings. If the will quoted by Diogenes (5.1.11–16) is authentic, Aristotle must have possessed significant personal wealth, since it promises a furnished house in Stagira, three female slaves, and a talent of silver to his concubine, Herpyllis. Aristotle fathered a daughter with Pythias and, with Herpyllis, a son, Nicomachus (named after his grandfather), who may have edited Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics . Unfortunately, since there are few extant sources on Aristotle’s life, one’s judgment about the accuracy and completeness of these details depends largely on how much one trusts Diogenes’ testimony.

Since commentaries on Aristotle’s work have been produced for around two thousand years, it is not immediately obvious which sources are reliable guides to his thought. Aristotle’s works have a condensed style and make use of a peculiar vocabulary. Though he wrote an introduction to philosophy, a critique of Plato’s theory of forms, and several philosophical dialogues, these works survive only in fragments. The extant Corpus Aristotelicum consists of Aristotle’s recorded lectures, which cover almost all the major areas of philosophy. Before the invention of the printing press, handwritten copies of these works circulated in the Near East, northern Africa, and southern Europe for centuries. The surviving manuscripts were collected and edited in August Immanuel Bekker’s authoritative 1831–1836 Berlin edition of the Corpus (“Bekker” 1910). All references to Aristotle’s works in this article follow the standard Bekker numbering.

The extant fragments of Aristotle’s lost works, which modern commentators sometimes use as the basis for conjectures about his philosophical development, are noteworthy. A fragment of his Protrepticus preserves a striking analogy according to which the psyche or soul’s attachment to the body is a form of punishment:

The ancients blessedly say that the psyche pays penalty and that our life is for the atonement of great sins. And the yoking of the psyche to the body seems very much like this. For they say that, as Etruscans torture captives by chaining the dead face to face with the living, fitting each to each part, so the psyche seems to be stretched throughout, and constrained to all the sensitive members of the body. (Pistelli 1888, 47.24–48.1)

According to this allegedly inspired theory, the fetters that bind the psyche to the body are similar to those by which the Etruscans torture their prisoners. Just as the Etruscans chain prisoners face to face with a dead body so that each part of the living body touches a part of the corpse, the psyche is said to be aligned with the parts of one’s living body. On this view, the psyche is embodied as a painful but corrective atonement for its badness. (See Bos 2003 and Hutchinson and Johnson’s webpage ).

The incompatibility of this passage with Aristotle’s view that the psyche is inseparable from the body (discussed below) has been explained in various ways. Neo-Platonic commentators distinguish between Aristotle’s esoteric and exoteric writings, that is, writings intended for circulation within his school, and writings like the Protrepticus intended for a broader reading public (Gerson 2005, 47–75). Some modern scholars have argued to the contrary that the imprisonment of the psyche in the body indicates that Aristotle was still a Platonist at the time he composed the Protrepticus , which must have been written earlier than his mature works (Jaeger 1948, 100). Aristotle’s dialogue Eudemus , which contains arguments for the immortality of the psyche, and his Politicus , which is about the ideal statesman, seem to corroborate the view that Aristotle’s exoteric works hold much that is Platonic in spirit (Chroust 1965; 1966). The latter contains the seemingly Platonic assertion that “the good is the most exact of measures” (Kroll 1902, 168: 927b4–5).

But not all agree. Owen (1968, 162–163) argues that Aristotle’s fundamental logical distinction between individual and species depends on an antecedent break with Plato. According to this view, Aristotle’s On Ideas (Fine 1993), a collection of arguments against Platonic forms , shows that Aristotle rejected Platonism early in his career, though he later became more sympathetic to the master’s views. However, as Lachterman (1980) points out, such historical theses depend on substantive hermeneutical assumptions about how to read Aristotle and on theoretical assumptions about what constitutes a philosophical system. This article focuses not on this historical debate but on the theories propounded in Aristotle’s extant works.

2. Analytics or “Logic”

Aristotle is usually identified as the founder of logic in the West (although autonomous logical traditions also developed in India and China ), where his “Organon,” consisting of his works the Categories , On Interpretation , Prior Analytics , Posterior Analytics , Sophistical Refutations , and Topics , long served as the traditional manuals of logic. Two other works— Rhetoric and Poetics —are not about logic, but also concern how to communicate to an audience. Curiously, Aristotle never used the words “logic” or “organon” to refer to his own work but calls this discipline “analytics.” Though Aristotelian logic is sometimes referred to as an “art” (Ross 1940, iii), it is clearly not an art in Aristotle’s sense, which would require it to be productive of some end outside itself. Nevertheless, this article follows the convention of referring to the content of Aristotle’s analytics as “logic.”

a. The Meaning and Purpose of Logic

What is logic for Aristotle? On Interpretation begins with a discussion of meaning, according to which written words are symbols of spoken words, while spoken words are symbols of thoughts ( Int .16a3–8). This theory of signification can be understood as a semantics that explains how different alphabets can signify the same spoken language, while different languages can signify the same thoughts. Moreover, this theory connects the meaning of symbols to logical consequence, since commitment to some set of utterances rationally requires commitment to the thoughts signified by those utterances and to what is entailed by them. Hence, though Cook Wilson (1926, 30–33) correctly notes that Aristotle nowhere defines logic, it may be called the science of thinking, where the role of the science is not to describe ordinary human reasoning but rather to demonstrate what one ought to think given one’s other commitments. Though the elements of Aristotelian logic are implicit in our conscious reasoning, Aristotelian “analysis” makes explicit what was formerly implicit (Cook Wilson 1926, 49).

Aristotle shows how logic can demonstrate what one should think, given one’s commitments, by developing the syntactical concepts of truth, predication, and definition. In order for a written sentence, utterance, or thought to be true or false, Aristotle says, it must include at least two terms: a subject and a predicate. Thus, a simple thought or utterance such as “horse” is neither true nor false but must be combined with another term, say, “fast” in order to form a compound—“the horse is fast”—that describes reality truly or falsely. The written sentence “the horse is fast” has meaning insofar as it signifies the spoken sentence, which in turn has meaning in virtue of its signifying the thought that the horse is fast ( Int .16a10–18, Cat .13b10–12, DA 430a26–b1). Aristotle holds that there are two kinds of constituents of meaningful sentences: nouns and their derivatives, which are conventional symbols without tense or aspect; and verbs, which have a tense and aspect. Though all meaningful speech consists of combinations of these constituents, Aristotle limits logic to the consideration of statements, which assert or deny the presence of something in the past, present, or future ( Int .17a20–24).

Aristotle analyzes statements as cases of predication, in which a predicate P is attributed to a subject S as in a sentence of the form “S is P.” Since he holds that every statement expresses something about being, statements of this form are to be read as “S is (exists) as a P” (Bäck 2000, 11). In every true predication, either the subject and predicate are of the same category, or the subject term refers to a substance while the predicate term refers to one of the other categories. The primary substances are individuals, while secondary substances are species and genera composed of individuals ( Cat .2a11–18). This distinction between primary and secondary reflects a dependence relation: if all the individuals of a species or genus were annihilated, the species and genus could not, in the present tense, be truly predicated of any subject.

Every individual is of a species and that species is predicated of the individual. Every species is the member of a genus, which is predicated of the species and of each individual of that species ( Cat .2b13–22). For example, if Callias is of the species “man,” and the species is a member of the genus “animal,” then “man” is predicated of Callias, and “animal” is predicated both of “man” and of Callias. The individual, Callias, inherits the predicate “animal” in virtue of being of the species “man.” But inheritance stops at the individual and does not apply to its proper parts. For example, “man” is not truly predicated of Callias’ hand. A genus can be divided with reference to the specific differences among its members; for example, “biped” differentiates “man” from “horse.”

While no definition can be given of an individual or primary substance such as Callias, when one gives the genus and all the specific differences possessed by a kind of thing, one can define a thing’s species. A specific difference is a predicate that falls under one of the categories. Thus, Aristotelian categories can be seen as a taxonomical scheme, a way of organizing predicates for discovery, or as a metaphysical doctrine about the kinds of beings there are. But any reading must accommodate Aristotle’s views that primary substances are never predicated of a subject ( Cat .3a6), that a predicate may fall under multiple categories ( Cat .11a20–39), and that some terms, such as “good,” are predicated in all the categories ( NE 1096a23–29). Moreover, definitions are reached not by demonstration but by other kinds of inquiry, such as dialectic, the art by which one makes divisions in a genus; and induction, which can reveal specific differences from the observation of individual examples.

b. Demonstrative Syllogistic

Syllogistic reasoning builds on Aristotle’s theory of predication, showing how to reason from premises to conclusions. A syllogism is a discourse in which when taking some statements as premises a different statement can be shown to follow as a conclusion ( AnPr .24b18–22). The basic form of the Aristotelian syllogism involves a major premise, a minor premise, and a conclusion, so that it has the form

If A is predicated of all B,

And B is predicated of all C,

Then A is predicated of all C.

This is an assertion of formal logic, since by removing the values of the variables A, B, and C, one treats the inference formally, such that the values of the subject A and predicates B and C are not given as part of the syllogistic form (Łukasiewicz, 10–14).

Though this form can be utilized in dialectic, in which the major term A is related to C through the middle term B credibly rather than necessarily ( AnPo .81b10–23), Aristotle is mainly concerned with how to use syllogistic in what he calls demonstrative reasoning, that is, in inference from certain premises to a certain conclusion. A demonstrative syllogism is not concerned with a mere opinion but proves a cause, that is, answers a “why” question ( AnPo .85b 23–26).

Figure 1: The Traditional Square of Opposition illustrates the relations between the fundamental judgment-forms in Aristotelian syllogistic: (A) All S are P, (E) No S are P, (I) Some S are P, and (O) Some S are not P.

Syllogistic may be employed dialectically when the premises are accepted on the authority of common opinion, from tradition, or from the wise. In any dialectical syllogism, the premises can be generally accepted opinions rather than necessary principles ( Top .100a25–b21). At least some premises in rhetorical proofs must be not necessary but only probable, happening only for the most part.

When the premises are known, and conclusions are shown to follow from those premises, one gains knowledge by demonstration. Demonstration is necessary ( AnPo .73a21–27) because the conclusion of a demonstrative syllogism predicates something that is either necessarily true or necessarily false of the subject of the premise. One has demonstrative knowledge when one knows the premises and has derived a necessary conclusion from them, since the cause given in the premises explains why the conclusion is so ( AnPo .75a12–17, 35–37). Consequently, valid demonstration depends on the known premises containing terms for the genus of which the species in the conclusion is a member ( AnPo .76a29–30).

One interesting problem that arises within Aristotle’s theory of demonstration concerns the connection between temporality and necessity. By the principle of excluded middle, necessarily, either there will be a sea-battle tomorrow or there will not be a sea-battle tomorrow. But since the sea-battle itself has yet neither come about nor failed to come about, it seems that one must say, paradoxically, that one alternative is necessary but that either alternative might come about ( Int .19a22–34). The question of how to account for unrealized possibilities and necessities is part of Aristotle’s modal syllogistic, which is discussed at length in his Prior Analytics . For a discussion, see Malink (2013).

c. Induction, Experience, and Principles

Whenever a speaker reasons from premises, an auditor can ask for their demonstration. The speaker then needs to adduce additional premises for that demonstration. But if this line of questioning went on interminably, no demonstration could be made, since every premise would require a further demonstration, ad infinitum. In order to stop an infinite regress of premises, Aristotle postulates that for an inference to count as demonstrative, one must know its indemonstrable premises ( AnPo .73a16–20). Thus, demonstrative science depends on the view that all teaching and learning proceed from already present knowledge ( AnPo .72b5–20). In other words, the possibility of making a complete argument, whether inductive or deductive, depends on the reasoner possessing the concept in question.

The acquisition of concepts must in some way be perceptual, since Aristotle says that universals come to rest in the soul through experience, which comes about from many memories of the same thing, which in turn comes about by perception ( AnPo .99b32–100a9). However, Aristotle holds that some concepts are already manifested in one’s perceptual experience: children initially call all men father and all women mother, only later developing the capacity to apply the relevant concepts to particular individuals ( Phys .184b3–5). As Cook Wilson (1926, 45) puts it, perception is in a way already of a universal. Upon learning to speak, the child already possesses the concept “mother” but does not grasp the conditions of its correct application. The role of perception, and hence of memory and experience, is then not to supply the child with universal concepts but to fix the conditions under which they are correctly predicated of an individual or species. Hence the ability to arrive at definitions, which serve as starting points of a science, rests on the human being’s natural capacity to use language and on the culturally specific social and political conditions in which that capacity is manifested (Winslow 2013, 45–49).

While deduction proceeds by a form of syllogistic reasoning in which the major and minor premise both predicate what is necessarily true of a subject, inductive reasoning moves from particulars to universals, so it is impossible to gain knowledge of universals except by induction ( AnPo .81a38–b9). This movement, from the observation of the same occurrence, to an experience that emerges from many memories, to a universal judgment, is a cognitive process by which human beings understand reality (see AnPo .88a2–5, Met .980b28–981a1, EN 1098b2–4, 1142a12).

But what makes such an inference a good one? Aristotle seems to say an inductive inference is sound when what is true in each case is also true of the class under which the cases fall ( AnPr .68b15–29). For example, it is inferred from the observation that each kind of bileless animal (men, horses, mules, and so on) is long-lived just when the following syllogism is sound: (1) All men, horses, mules, and so on are long-lived; (2) All long-lived animals are bileless; therefore (3) all men, horses, mules, and so on are bileless (see Groarke sections 10 and 11). However, Aristotle does not think that knowledge of universals is pieced together from knowledge of particulars but rather he thinks that induction is what allows one to actualize knowledge by grasping how the particular case falls under the universal ( AnPr .67a31–b5).

A true definition reveals the essential nature of something, what it is to be that thing ( AnPo .90b30–31). A sound demonstration shows what is necessary of an observed subject ( AnPo .90b38–91a5). It is essential, however, that the observation on which a definition is based be inductively true, that is, that it be based on causes rather than on chance. Regardless of whether one is asking what something is in a definition or why something is the way it is by giving its cause, it is only when the principles or starting points of a science are given that demonstration becomes possible. Since experience is what gives the principles of each science ( AnPr .46a17–27), logic can only be employed at a later stage to demonstrate conclusions from these starting points. This is why logic, though it is employed in all branches of philosophy, is not a part of philosophy. Rather, in the Aristotelian tradition, logic is an instrument for the philosopher, just as a hammer and anvil are instruments for the blacksmith (Ierodiakonou 1998).

d. Rhetoric and Poetics

Just as dialectic searches for truth, Aristotelian rhetoric serves as its counterpart ( Rhet .1354a1), searching for the means by which truth can be grasped through language. Thus, rhetorical demonstration, or enthymeme, is a kind of syllogism that strictly speaking belongs to dialectic ( Rhet .1355a8–10). Because rhetoric uses the particularly human capacity of reason to formulate verbal arguments, it is the art that can cause the most harm when it is used wrongly. It is thus not a technique for persuasion at any cost, as some Sophists have taught, but a fundamentally second-personal way of using language that allows the auditor to reach a judgment (Grimaldi 1972, 3–5). More fundamentally, rhetoric is defined as the detection of persuasive features of each subject matter ( Rhet .1355b12–22).

Proofs given in speech depend on three things: the character ( ethos ) of the speaker, the disposition ( pathos ) of the audience, and the meaning ( logos ) of the sounds and gestures used ( Rhet .1356a2–6). Rhetorical proofs show that the speaker is worthy of credence, producing an emotional state (pathos) in the audience, or demonstrating a consequence using the words alone. Aristotle holds that ethos is the most important of these elements, since trust in the speaker is required if one is to believe the speech. However, the best speech balances ethos, pathos, and logos. In rhetoric, enthymemes play a deductive role, while examples play an inductive role ( Rhet .1356b11–18).

The deductive form of rhetoric, enthymeme, is a dialectical syllogism in which the probable premise is suppressed so that one reasons directly from the necessary premise to the conclusion. For example, one may reason that an animal has given birth because she has milk ( Rhet .1357b14–16) without providing the intermediate premise. Aristotle also calls this deductive form of inference “reasoning by signs” or “reasoning from evidence,” since the animal’s having milk is a sign of, or evidence for, her having given birth. Though the audience seemingly “immediately” grasps the fact of birth without it being given in perception, the passage from the perception to the fact is inferential and depends on the background assumption of the suppressed premise.

The inductive form of rhetoric, reasoning from example, can be illustrated as follows. Peisistratus in Athens and Theagenes in Megara both petitioned for guards shortly before establishing themselves as tyrants. Thus, someone plotting a tyranny requests a guard ( Rhet .1357b30–37). This proof by example does not have the force of necessity or universality and does not count as a case of scientific induction, since it is possible someone could petition for a guard without plotting a tyranny. But when it is necessary to base some decision, for example, whether to grant a request for a bodyguard, on its likely outcome, one must look to prior examples. It is the work of the rhetorician to know these examples and to formulate them in such a way as to suggest definite policies on the basis of that knowledge.

Rhetoric is divided into deliberative, forensic, and display rhetoric. Deliberative rhetoric is concerned with the future, namely with what to do, and the deliberative rhetorician is to discuss the advantages and harms associated with a specific course of action. Forensic rhetoric, typical of the courtroom, concerns the past, especially what was done and whether it was just or unjust. Display rhetoric concerns the present and is about what is noble or base, that is, what should be praised or denigrated ( Rhet .1358b6–16). In all these domains, the rhetorician practices a kind of reasoning that draws on similarities and differences to produce a likely prediction that is of value to the political community.

A common characteristic of insightful philosophers, rhetoricians, and poets is the capacity to observe similarities in things that are unlike, as Archytas did when he said that a judge and an alter are kindred, since someone who has been wronged has recourse to both ( Rhet .1412a10–14). This noticing of similarities and differences is part of what separates those who are living the good life from those who are merely living ( Sens .437a2–3). Likewise, the highest achievement of poetry is to use good metaphors, since to make metaphors well is to contemplate what is like ( Poet .1459a6–9). Poetry is thus closely related to both philosophy and rhetoric, though it differs from them in being fundamentally mimetic, imitating reality through an artistic form.

Imitation in poetry is achieved by means of rhythm, language, and harmony ( Poet .1447a13–16, 21–22). While other arts share some or all these elements—painting imitates visually by the same means, while dance imitates only through rhythm—poetry is a kind of vocalized music, in which voice and discursive meaning are combined. Aristotle is interested primarily in the kinds of poetry that imitate human actions, which fall into the broad categories of comedy and tragedy. Comedy is an imitation of worse types of people and actions, which reflect our lower natures. These imitations are not despicable or painful, but simply ridiculous or distorted, and observing them gives us pleasure ( Poet .1449a31–38). Aristotle wrote a book of his Poetics on comedy, but the book did not survive. Hence, through a historical accident, the traditions of aesthetics and criticism that proceed from Aristotle are concerned almost completely with tragedy.

Tragedy imitates actions that are excellent and complete. As opposed to comedy, which is episodic, tragedy should have a single plot that ends in a presentation of pity and fear and thus a catharsis—a cleansing or purgation—of the passions ( Poet .1449b24–28). (As discussed below, the passions or emotions also play an important role in Aristotle’s practical philosophy.) The most important aspect of a tragedy is how it uses a story or myth to lead the psyches of its audience to this catharsis ( Poet .1450a32–34). Since the beauty or fineness of a thing—say, of an animal—consists in the orderly arrangement of parts of a definite magnitude ( Poet .1450b35–38), the parts of a tragedy should also be proportionate.

A tragedy’s ability to lead the psyche depends on its myth turning at a moment of recognition at which the central character moves from a state of ignorance to a state of knowledge. In the best case, this recognition coincides with a reversal of intention, such as in Sophocles’ Oedipus , in which Oedipus recognizes himself as the man who was prophesied to murder his father and marry his mother. This moment produces pity and fear in the audience, fulfilling the purpose of tragic imitation ( Poet .1452a23–b1). The pity and fear produced by imitative poetry are the source of a peculiar form of pleasure ( Poet .1453b11–14). Though the imitation itself is a kind of technique or art, this pleasure is natural to human beings. Because of this potential to produce emotions and lead the psyche, poetics borders both on what is well natured and on madness ( Poet .1455a30–34).

Why do people write plays, read stories, and watch movies? Aristotle thinks that because a series of sounds with minute differences can be strung together to form conventional symbols that name particular things, hearing has the accidental property of supporting meaningful speech, which is the cause of learning ( Sens .437a10–18). Consequently, though sound is not intrinsically meaningful, voice can carry meaning when it “ensouled,” transmitting an appearance about how absent things might be ( DA 420b5-10, 27–33). Poetry picks up on this natural capacity, artfully imitating reality in language without requiring that things are actually the way they are presented as being ( Poet .1447a13–16).

The poet’s consequent power to lead the psyche through true or false imitations, like the rhetorician’s power to lead it through persuasive speech, leads to a parallel question: how should the poet use his power? Should the poet imitate things as they are, or as they should be? Though it is clear that the standard of correctness in poetry and politics is not the same ( Poet .1460b13–1461a1), the question of how and to what extent the state should constrain poetic production remains unresolved.

3. Theoretical Philosophy

Aristotle’s classification of the sciences makes a distinction between theoretical philosophy, which aims at contemplation, and practical philosophy, which aims at action or production. Within theoretical philosophy, first philosophy studies objects that are motionless and separate from material things, mathematics studies objects that are motionless but not separate, and natural philosophy studies objects that are in motion and not separate ( Met .1026a6–22).

This threefold distinction among the beings that can be contemplated corresponds to the level of precision that can be attained by each branch of theoretical philosophy. First philosophy can be perfectly exact because there is no variation among its objects and thus it has the potential to give one knowledge in the most profound sense. Mathematics is also absolutely certain because its objects are unchanging, but since there are many mathematical objects of a given kind (for example, one could draw a potentially infinite number of different triangles), mathematical proofs require a peculiar method that Aristotle calls “abstraction.” Natural philosophy gives less exact knowledge because of the diversity and variability of natural things and thus requires attention to particular, empirical facts. Studies of nature—including treatises on special sciences like cosmology, biology, and psychology—account for a large part of Aristotle’s surviving writings.

a. Natural Philosophy

Aristotle’s natural philosophy aims for theoretical knowledge about things that are subject to change. Whereas all generated things, including artifacts and products of chance, have a source that generates them, natural change is caused by a thing’s inner principle and cause, which may accordingly be called the thing’s “nature” ( Phys. 192b8–20). To grasp the nature of a thing is to be able to explain why it was generated essentially: the nature of a thing does not merely contribute to a change but is the primary determinant of the change as such (Waterlow 1982, p.28).

Though some hold that Aristotle’s principles are epistemic, explanatory concepts, principles are best understood ontologically as unique, continuous natures that govern the generation and self-preservation of natural beings. To understand a thing’s nature is primarily to grasp “how a being displays itself by its nature.” Such a grasp counts as a correct explanation only insofar as it constitutes a form of understanding of beings in themselves as they give themselves (Winslow 2007, 3–7).

Aristotle’s description of principles as the start and end of change ( Phys .235b6) distinguishes between two kinds of natural change. Substantial change occurs when a substance is generated ( Phys .225a1–5), for example, when the seed of a plant gives rise to another plant of the same kind. Non-substantial change occurs when a substance’s accidental qualities are affected, for example, the change of color in a ripening pomegranate. Aristotelians describe this as the activity of contraries of blackness and whiteness in the plant’s material in which the fruit of the pomegranate, as its juices become colored by ripening, itself becomes shaded, changing to a purple color ( de Coloribus 796a20–26). Ripening occurs when heat burns up the air in the part of the plant near the ground, causing convection that alters the originally light color of the fruit to its dark contrary ( de Plantis 820b19–23). Both kinds of change are caused by the plant’s containing in itself a principle of change. In substantial change, a new primary substance is generated; in non-substantial change, some property of preexisting substance changes to a contrary state.

A process of change is completely described when its four causes are given. This can be illustrated with Aristotle’s favorite example of the production of a bronze sculpture. The (1) material cause of the change is given when the underlying matter of the thing has been described, such as the bronze matter of which a statue is composed. The (2) formal cause is given when one says what kind of thing the thing is, for example, “sphere” for a bronze sphere or “Callias” for a bronze statue of Callias. The (3) efficient cause is given when one says what brought the change about, for example, when one names the sculptor. The (4) final cause is given when one says the purpose of the change, for example, when one says why the sculptor chose to make the bronze sphere ( Phys. 194b16–195a2).

In natural change the principle of change is internal, so the formal, efficient, and final causes typically coincide. Moreover, in such cases, the metaphysical and epistemological sides of causal explanation are normally unified: a formal cause counts both as a thing’s essence—what it is to be that thing—and as its rational account or reason for being (Bianchi 2014, 35). Thus, when speaking of natural changes rather than the making of an artifact, Aristotle will usually offer “hylomorphic” descriptions of the natural being as a compound of matter and form.

Because Aristotle holds that a thing’s underlying nature is analogous to the bronze in a statue ( Phys. 191a7–12), some have argued that the underlying thing refers to “prime matter,” that is, to an absolutely indeterminate matter that has no form. But Cook (1989) has shown that the underlying thing normally means matter that already has some form. Indeed, Aristotle claims that the matter of perceptible things has no separate existence but is always already informed by a contrary ( Gen et Corr. 329a25–27). The matter that traditional natural philosophy calls the “elements”—fire, water, air, and earth—already has the form of the basic contraries, hot and cold, and moist and dry, so that, for example, fire is matter with a hot and dry form ( Gen et Corr .330a25–b4). Thus, even in the most basic cases, matter is always actually informed, even though the form is potentially subject to change. For example, throwing water on a fire cools and moistens it, and bringing about a new quality in the underlying material. Thus, Aristotle sometimes describes natural powers as being latent or active “in the material” ( Meteor. 370b14–18).

Aristotle’s general works in natural philosophy offer analyses of concepts necessarily assumed in accounts of natural processes, including time, change, and place. In general, Aristotle will describe changes that occur in time as arising from a potential, which is actualized when the change is complete. However, what is actual is logically prior to what is potential, since a potentiality aims at its own actualization and thus must be defined in terms of what is actual. Indeed, generically the actual is also temporally prior to potentiality, since there must invariably be a preexisting actuality that brings the potentiality to its own actualization ( Met .1049b4–19). Perhaps because of the priority of the actual to the potential, whenever Aristotle speaks of natural change, he is concerned with a field of naturalistic inquiry that is continuous rather than atomistic and purposeful or teleological rather than mechanical. In his more specific naturalistic works, Aristotle lays out a program of specialized studies about the heavens and Earth, living things, and the psyche.

i. Cosmology and Geology

Aristotle’s cosmology depends on the basic observation that while bodies on Earth either rise to a limit or fall to Earth, heavenly bodies keep moving, without any apparent external force being exerted on them ( DC 284a10–15). On the basis of this observation, he distinguishes between circular motion, which is operative in the “superlunary” heavens, and rectilinear motion on “sublunary” Earth below the Moon. Since all sublunary bodies move in a rectilinear pattern, the heavenly bodies must be composed of a different body that naturally moves in a circle ( DC 269a2–10, Meteor .340b6–15). This body cannot have an opposite, because there is no opposite to circular motion ( DC 270a20, compare 269a19–22). Indeed, since there is nothing to oppose its motion, Aristotle supposes that this fifth element, which he calls “aether,” as well as the heavenly bodies composed of it, move eternally ( DC 275b1–5, 21–25).

In Aristotle’s view the heavens are ungenerated, neither coming to be nor passing away ( DC 279b18–21, 282a24–30). Aristotle defines time as the number of motion, since motion is necessarily measured by time ( Phys .224a24). Thus, the motion of the eternal bodies is what makes time, so the life and being of sublunary things depends on them. Indeed, Aristotle says that their own time is eternal or “aeon.”

Noticing that water naturally forms spherical droplets and that it flows towards the lowest point on a plane, Aristotle concludes that both the heavens and the earth are spherical ( DC 287b1–14). This is further confirmed by observations of eclipses ( DC 297b23–31) and that different stars are visible at different latitudes ( DC 297b14–298a22).

The gathering of such observations is an important part of Aristotle’s scientific procedure ( AnPr .46a17–22) and sets his theories above those of the ancients that lacked such “experience” ( Phys. 191a24–27). Just as in his biology, where Aristotle draws on animal anatomy observed at sacrifices ( HA 496b25) and records reports from India ( HA 501a25), so in his astronomy he cites Egyptian and Babylonian observations of the planets ( DC 292a4–9). By gathering evidence from many sources, Aristotle is able to conclude that the stars and the Moon are spherical ( DC 291b11–20) and that the Milky Way is an appearance produced by the sight of many stars moving in the outermost sphere ( Meteor .346a16–24).

Assuming the hypothesis that the Earth does not move ( DC 289b6–7), Aristotle argues that there are in the heavens both stars, which are large and distant from earth, and planets, which are smaller and closer. The two can be distinguished since stars appear to twinkle while planets do not (Aristotle somewhat mysteriously attributes the twinkling stars to their distance from the eye of the observer) ( DC 290b14–24). Unlike earthly creatures, which move because of their distinct organs or parts, both the moving stars and the unmoving heaven that contains them are spherical ( DC 289a30–b11). As opposed to superlunary (eternal) substances, sublunary beings, like clouds and human beings, participate in the eternal through coming to be and passing away. In doing so, the individual or primary substance is not preserved, but rather the species or secondary substance is preserved (as we shall see below, the same thought is utilized in Aristotle’s explanation of biological reproduction) ( Gen et Corr .338b6–20).

Aristotle holds that the Earth is composed of four spheres, each of which is dominated by one of the four elements. The innermost and heaviest sphere is predominantly earth, on which rests upper spheres of water, air, and fire. The sun acts to burn up or vaporize the water, which rises to the upper spheres when heated, but when cooled later condenses into rain ( Meteor. 354b24–34). If unqualified necessity is restricted to the superlunary sphere, teleology—the seeking of ends that may or may not be brought about—seems to be limited to the sublunary sphere.

Due to his belief that the Earth is eternal, being neither created nor destroyed, Aristotle holds that the epochs move cyclically in patterns of increase and decrease ( Meteor. 351b5–19). Aristotle’s cyclical understanding of both natural and human history is implicit in his comment that while Egypt used to be a fertile land, it has over the centuries grown arid ( Meteor. 351b28–35). Indeed, parts of the world that are ocean periodically become land, while those that are land are covered over by ocean ( Meteor. 253a15–24). Because of periodic catastrophes, all human wisdom that is now sought concerning both the arts and divine things was previously possessed by forgotten ancestors. However, some of this wisdom is preserved in myths, which pass on knowledge of the divine by allegorically portraying the gods in human or animal form so that the masses can be persuaded to follow laws ( Met. 1074a38-b14, compare Meteor. 339b28–30, Pol .1329b25).

Aristotle’s geology or earth science, given in the latter books of his Meteorology , offers theories of the formation of oceans, of wind and rainfall, and of other natural events such as earthquakes, lightning, and thunder. His theory of the rainbow suggests that drops of water suspended in the air form mirrors which reflect the multiply-colored visual ray that proceeds from the eye without its proper magnitude ( Meteor. 373a32–373b34). Though the explanations given by Aristotle of these phenomena contradict those of modern physics, his careful observations often give interest to his account.

Aristotle’s material science offers the first description of what are now called non-Newtonian fluids—honey and must—which he characterizes as liquids in which earth and heat predominate ( Meteor. 385b1–5). Although the Ancient Greeks did not distill alcohol, he reports on the accidental distillation of some ethanol from wine (“sweet wine”), which he observes is more combustible than ordinary wine ( Meteor. 387b10–14). Finally, Aristotle’s material science makes an informative distinction between compounds, in which the constituents maintain their identity, and mixtures, in which one constituent comes to dominate or in which a new kind of material is generated (see Sharvy 1983 for discussion). Though it would be inaccurate to describe him as a methodological empiricist, Aristotle’s collection and careful recording of observations shows that in all of his scientific endeavors, his explanations were designed to accord with publicly observable natural phenomena.

ii. Biology

The phenomenon of life, as opposed to inanimate nature, involves distinctive types of change ( Phys .244b10–245a5) and thus requires distinctive types of explanation. Biological explanations should give all four causes of an organism or species—the material of which it is composed, the processes that bring it about, the particular form it has, and its purpose. For Aristotle, the investigation of individual organisms gives one causal knowledge since the individuals belong to a natural kind. Men and horses both have eyes, which serve similar functions in each of them, but because their species are different, a man’s eye is similar to the eyes of other men, while a horse’s eyes are similar to the eyes of other horses ( HA 486a15–20). Biology should explain both why homologous forms exist in different species and the ways in which they differ, and therefore the causes for the persistence of each natural kind of living thing.

Although all four causes are relevant in biology, Aristotle tends to group final causes with formal causes in teleological explanations, and material causes with efficient causes in mechanical explanations. Boylan (section 4) shows, for example, that Aristotle’s teleological explanation of respiration is that it exists in order to bring air into the body to produce pneuma, which is the means by which an animal moves itself. Aristotle’s mechanical explanation is that air that has been heated in the lungs is pushed out by colder air outside the body ( On Breath  481b10–16, PA 642a31–b4).

Teleological explanations are necessary conditionally; that is, they depend on the assumption that the biologist has correctly identified the end for the sake of which the organism behaves as it does. Mechanical explanations, in distinction, have absolute necessity in the sense that they require no assumptions about the purpose of the organism or behavior. In general, however, teleological explanations are more important in biology ( PA 639b24–26), because making a distinction between living and inanimate things depends on the assumption that “nature does nothing in vain” ( GA 741b5).

The final cause of each kind corresponds to the reason that it continues to persist. As opposed to superlunary, eternal substances, sublunary living things cannot preserve themselves individually or, as Aristotle puts it, “in number.” Nevertheless, because living is better than not living ( EN 1170b2–5), each individual has a natural drive to preserve itself “in kind.” Such a drive for self-preservation is the primary way in which living creatures participate in the divine ( DA 415a25–b7). Nutrition and reproduction therefore are, in Aristotle’s philosophy, value-laden and goal-directed activities. They are activated, whether consciously or not, for the good of the species, namely for its continuation, in which it imitates the eternal things ( Gen et Corr .338b12–17). In this way, life can be considered to be directed toward and imitative of the divine ( DC 292b18–22).

This basic teleological or goal-directed orientation of Aristotle’s biology allows him to explain the various functions of living creatures in terms of their growth and preservation of form. Perhaps foremost among these is reproduction, which establishes the continuity of a species through a generation. As Aristotle puts it, the seed is temporally prior to the fully developed organism, since each organism develops from a seed. But the fully developed organism is logically prior to the seed, since it is the end or final cause, for the sake of which the seed is produced ( PA 641b29–642a2).

In asexual reproduction in plants and animals, the seed is produced by an individual organism and implanted in soil, which activates it and thus actualizes its potentiality to become an organism of the kind from which it was produced. Aristotle thus utilizes a conception of “type” as an endogenous teleonomic principle, which explains why an individual animal can produce other animals of its own type (Mayr 1982, 88). Hence, the natural kind to which an individual belongs makes it what it is. Animals of the same natural kind have the same form of life and can reproduce with one another but not with animals of other kinds.

In animal sexual reproduction, Aristotle understands the seed possessed by the male as the source or principle of generation, which contains the form of the animal and must be implanted in the female, who provides the matter ( GA 716a14–25). In providing the form, the male sets up the formation of the embryo in the matter provided by the female, as rennet causes milk to coagulate into cheese ( GA 729a10–14). Just as rennet causes milk to separate into a solid, earthy part (or cheese), and a fluid, watery part (or whey), so the semen causes the menstrual fluid to set. In this process, the principle of growth potentially contained in the seed is activated, which, like a seed planted in soil, produces an animal’s body as the embryo ( GA 739b21–740a9).

The form of the animal, its psyche, may thus be said to be potentially in the matter, since the matter contains all the necessary nutrients for the production of the complete organism. However, it is invariably the male that brings about the reproduction by providing the principle of the perceptual soul, a process Aristotle compares with the movement of automatic puppets by a mover that is not in the puppet ( GA 741b6–15). (Whether the female produces the nutritive psyche is an open question.) Thus, form or psyche is provided by the male, while the matter is provided by the female: when the two come together, they form a hylomorphic product—the living animal.

While the form of an animal is preserved in kind by reproduction, organisms are also preserved individually over their natural lifespans through feeding. In species that have blood, feeding is a kind of concoction, in which food is chewed and broken down in the stomach, then enters the blood, and is finally cooked up to form the external parts of the body. In plants, feeding occurs by the nutritive psyche alone. But in animals, the senses exist for the sake of detecting food, since it is by the senses that animals pursue what is beneficial and avoid what is harmful. In human beings, a similar explanation can be given of the intellectual powers: understanding and practical wisdom exist so that human beings might not only live but also enjoy the good life achievable by action ( Sens .436b19–437a3).

Although Aristotle’s teleology has been criticized by some modern biologists, others have argued that his biological work is still of interest to naturalists. For example, Haldane (1955) shows that Aristotle gave the earliest report of the bee waggle dance, which received a comprehensive explanation only in the 20 th century work of Von Frisch. Aristotle also observed lordosis behavior in cattle ( HA 572b1–2) and notes that some plants and animals are divisible ( Youth and Old Age 468b2–15), a fact that has been vividly illustrated in modern studies of planaria. Even when Aristotle’s biological explanations are incorrect, his observations may be of enduring value.

iii. Psychology

Psychology is the study of the psyche, which is often translated as “soul.” While prior philosophers were interested in the psyche as a part of political inquiry, for Aristotle, the study of the psyche is part of natural science (Ibn Bajjah 1961, 24), continuous with biology. This is because Aristotle conceives of the psyche as the form of a living being, the body being its material. Although the psyche and body are never really separated, they can be given different descriptions. For example, the passion of anger can be described physiologically as a boiling of the blood around the heart, while it can be described dialectically as the desire to pay back with pain someone who has insulted one ( DA 403a25–b2). While the physiologist examines the material and efficient causes, the dialectician considers only the form and definition of the object of investigation ( DA 403a30–b3). Since the psyche is “the first principle of the living thing” ( DA 402a6–7), neither the dialectical method nor the physiological method nor a combination of the two is sufficient for a systematic account of the psyche ( DA 403a2, b8). Rather than relying on dialectical or materialist speculation, Aristotle holds that demonstration is the proper method of psychology, since the starting point is a definition ( DA 402b25–26), and the psyche is the form and definition of a living thing.

Aristotle conceives of psychology as an exact science, with greater precision than the lesser sciences ( DA 402a1–5), and accordingly offers a complete sequence of the kinds or “parts” of psyche. The nutritive psyche—possessed by both plants and animals—is responsible for the basic functions of nourishment and reproduction. Perception is possible only in an animal that also has the nutritive power that allows it to grow and reproduce, while desire depends on perceiving the object desired, and locomotion depends on desiring objects in different locations ( DA 415a1–8). More intellectual powers like imagination, judgment, and understanding itself exist only in humans, who also have the lower powers.

The succession of psychological powers ensures the completeness, order, and necessity of the relations of psychological parts. Like rectilinear figures, which proceed from triangles to quadrilaterals, to pentagons, and so forth, without there being any intermediate forms, there are no other psyches than those in this succession ( DA 414b20–32). This demonstrative approach ensures that although the methods of psychology and physiology are distinct, psychological divisions map onto biological distinctions. For Aristotle, the parts of the psyche are not separable or “modular” but related genetically: each posterior part of the psyche “contains” the parts before it, and each lower part is the necessary but not sufficient condition for possession of the part that comes after it.

The psyche is defined by Aristotle as the first actuality of a living animal, which is the form of a natural body potentially having life ( DA 412a19–22). This form is possessed even when it is not being used; for example, a sleeping person has the power to hear a melody, though while he is sleeping, he is not exercising the power. In distinction, though a corpse looks just like a sleeping body, it has no psyche, since it lacks the power to respond to such stimuli. The second actuality of an animal comes when the power is actually exercised such as when one actually hears the melody ( DA 417b9–16).

Perception is the reception of the form of an object of perception without its matter, just as wax receives the seal of a ring without its iron or gold ( DA 424a17–28). When one sees wine, for example, one perceives something dark and liquid without becoming dark and liquid. Some hold that Aristotle thinks the reception of the form happens in matter so that part of the body becomes like the object perceived (for example, one’s eye might be dark while one is looking at wine). Others hold that Aristotelian perception is a spiritual change so that no bodily change is required. But presumably one is changing both bodily and spiritually all the time, even when one is not perceiving. Consequently, the formulation that perception is of “form without matter” is probably not intended to describe physiological or spiritual change but rather to indicate the conceptual nature of perception. For, as discussed in the section on first philosophy below, Aristotle considers forms to be definitions or concepts; for example, one defines “horse” by articulating its form. If he is using “form” in the same way in his discussion of perception, he means that in perceiving something, such as in seeing a horse, one gains an awareness of it as it is; that is, one grasps the concept of the horse. In that case, all the doctrine means is that perception is conceptual, giving one a grasp not just of parts of perceptible objects, say, the color and shape of a horse, but of the objects themselves, that is, of the horse as horse. Indeed, Aristotle describes perception as conferring knowledge of particulars and in that sense being like contemplation ( DA 417b19–24).

This theory of perception distinguishes three kinds of perceptible objects: proper sensibles, which are perceived only by one sense modality; common sensibles, which are perceived by all the senses; and accidental sensibles, which are facts about the sensible object that are not directly given ( DA 418a8–23). For example, in seeing wine, its color is a proper sensible, its volume a common sensible, and the fact that it belongs to Callias an accidental sensible. While one normally could not be wrong about the wine’s color, one might overestimate or underestimate its volume under nonstandard conditions, and one is apt to be completely wrong about the accidental sensible (for example, Callias might have sold the wine).

The five senses are distinguished by their proper sensibles: though the wine’s color might accidentally make one aware that it is sweet, color is proper to sight and sweetness to taste. But this raises a question: how do the different senses work together to give one a coherent experience of reality? If they were not coordinated, then one would perceive each quality of an object separately, for example, darkness and sweetness without putting them together. However, actual perceptual experience is coordinated: one perceives wine as both dark and sweet. In order to explain this, Aristotle says that they must be coordinated by the central sense, which is probably located in the body’s central organ, the heart. When one is awake, and the external sense organs are functioning normally, they are coordinated in the heart to discern reality as being the way it is ( Sens .448b31–449a22).

Aristotle claims that one hears that one hears and sees that one sees ( DA 425b12–17). Though there is a puzzle as to whether such higher-order seeing is due to sight itself or to the central perceptual power (compare On Sleep 455a3–26), the higher-order perception counts as an awareness of how the perceptual power grasps an object in the world. Though later philosophers named this higher-order perception “consciousness” and argued that it could be separated from an actualized perception of a real object, for Aristotle it is intrinsically dependent on the first-order grasp of an object (Nakahata 2014, 109–110). Indeed, Aristotle describes perceptual powers as being potentially like the perceptual object in actuality ( DA 418a3–5) and goes so far as to say that the activity of the external object and that of the perceptual power are one, though what it is to be each one is different ( DA 425b26–27). Thus, consciousness seems to be a property that arises automatically when perception is activated.

In at least some animals, the perceptual powers give rise to other psychological powers that are not themselves perceptual in a strict sense. In one simple case, the perception of a color is altered by its surroundings, that is, by how it is illuminated and by the other colors in one’s field of vision. Far from assuming the constancy of perception, Aristotle notes that under such circumstances, one color can take the place of another and appear differently than it does under standard conditions, for example, of full illumination ( Meteor. 375a22–28).

Memory is another power that arises through the collection of many perceptions. Memory is an affection of perception (though when the content of the memory is intellectual, it is an affection of the judgmental power of the psyche, see Mem .449b24–25), produced when the motion of perception acts like a signet ring in sealing wax, impressing itself on an animal and leaving an image in the psyche ( Mem .450a25–b1). The resultant image has a depictive function so that it can be present even when the object it portrays is absent: when one remembers a person, for example, the memory-image is fully present in one’s psyche, though the person might be absent ( Mem .450b20–25).

Closely related to memory, the imagination is a power to present absent things to oneself. Identical neither to perception nor judgment ( DA 427b27–8, 433a10), imagining has an “as if” quality. For example, imagining a terror is like looking at a picture without feeling the corresponding emotion of fear ( DA 427b21–24). Imagination may be defined as a kind of change or motion that comes about by means of activated perception ( DA 429a1–2). This does not entail that imagination is merely reproductive but simply that activated perceptions trigger the imagination, which in turn produces an image or appearance “before our eyes” ( DA 427b19–20). The resultant appearances that “comes to be for us” ( DA 428a1–2, 11–12) could be true or false, since unlike the object of perception, what is imagined is not present (Humphreys 2019).

Human beings are distinct from other animals, Aristotle says, in their possession of rational psyche. Foremost among the rational powers is intellect or understanding (this article uses the terms interchangeably), which grasps universals in a way that is analogous to the perceptual grasp of particulars. However, unlike material particulars grasped by perception, universals are not mixed with body and are thus in a sense contained in the psyche itself ( DA 417b22–24, 432a1–3). This has sometimes been called the intentional inexistence of an object, or intentionality, the property of being directed to or about something. Since one can think or understand any universal, the understanding is potentially about anything, like an empty writing tablet ( DA 429b29–430a1).

The doctrine of the intentionality of intellect leads Aristotle to make a distinction between two kinds of intellect. Receptive or passive intellect is characterized by the ability to become like all things and is analogous to the writing tablet. Productive or active intellect is characterized by the ability to bring about all things and is analogous to the act of writing. The active intellect is thus akin to the light that illuminates objects, making them perceptible by sight. Aristotle holds that the soul never thinks without an image produced by imagination to serve as its material. Thus, in understanding something, the productive intellect actuates the receptive intellect, which stimulates the imagination to produce a particular image corresponding to the universal content of the understanding. Hence, while Aristotle describes the active intellect as unaffected, separate, and immaterial, it serves to bring to completion the passive intellect, the latter of which is inseparable from imagination and hence from perception and nutrition.

Aristotle’s insistence that intellect is not a subject of natural science ( PA 641a33–b9) motivates the view that thinking requires a contribution from the supernatural or divine. Indeed, in Metaphysics (1072b19–30) Aristotle argues that intellect actively understanding the intelligible is the everlasting God. For readers like the medieval Arabic commentator Ibn Rushd , passive intellect is spread like matter among thinking beings. This “material intellect” is activated by God, the agent intellect, so that when one is thinking, one participates in the activity of the divine intellect. According to this view, every act of thinking is also an act of divine illumination in which God actuates one’s thinking power as the writer actuates a blank writing tablet.

However, in other passages Aristotle says that when the body is destroyed, the soul is destroyed too ( Length and Shortness of Life , 465b23–32). Thus, it seems that Aristotle’s psychological explanations assume embodiment and require that thinking be something done by the individual human being. Indeed, Aristotle argues that if thinking is either a kind of imaginative representation or impossible without imagination, then it will be impossible without body ( DA 403a8–10). But the psyche never thinks without imagination ( DA 431a16–17). It seems to follow that far from being a part of the everlasting thinking of God, human thinking is something that happens in a living body and ends when that body is no longer alive. Thus, Jiminez (2014, 95–99) argues that thinking is embodied in three ways: it is proceeded by bodily processes, simultaneous with embodied processes, and anticipates bodily processes, namely intentional actions. For further discussion see Jiminez (2017).

The whole psyche governs the characteristic functions and changes of a living thing. The nutritive psyche is the formal cause of growth and metabolism and is shared by plants, while the perceptual psyche gives rise to desire, which causes self-moving animals to act. When one becomes aware of an apparent good by perception or imagination, one forms either an appetite, the desire for pleasure, or thumos, the spirited desire for revenge or honor. A third form of desire, wish, is the product of the rational psyche ( DA 433a20–30).

Boeri has pointed out that Aristotle’s psychology cuts a middle path between physicalism, which identifies the psyche with body, and dualism, which posits the independent existence of the soul and body. By characterizing the psyche as he does, Aristotle can at once deny that the psyche is a body but also insist that it does not exist without a body. The living body of an animal can thus be thought of as a form that has been “materialized” (Boeri 2018, 166–169).

b. Mathematics

Aristotle was educated in Plato’s Academy, in which it was commonly argued that mathematical objects like lines and numbers exist independently of physical beings and are thus ”separable” from matter. Aristotle’s conception of the hierarchy of beings led him to reject Platonism since the category of quantity is posterior to that of substance. But he also rejects nominalism, the view that mathematical things are not real. Against both positions, Aristotle argues that mathematical things are real but do not exist separately from sensible bodies ( Met. 1090a29–30, 1093b27–28). Mathematical objects thus depend on the things in which they inhere and have no separate or independent being ( Met. 1059b12–14).

Although mathematical beings are not separate from the material cosmos, when the mathematician defines what it is to be a sphere or circle, he does not include a material like gold or bronze in the definition, because it is not the gold ball or bronze ring that the mathematician wants to define. The mathematician is justified in proceeding in this way, because although there are no separate entities beyond the concrete thing, it is just the mathematical aspects of real things that are relevant to mathematics ( DC 278a2–6). This process by which the material features of a substance are systematically ignored by the mathematician, who focuses only on the quantitative features, Aristotle describes as “abstraction.” Because it always involves final ends, no abstraction is possible in natural science ( PA 641b11–13, Phys .193b31–35). A consequence of this abstraction is that “why” questions in mathematics are invariably answered not by providing a final cause but by giving the correct definition ( Phys .198a14–21, 200a30–34).

One reason that Aristotle believes that mathematics must proceed by abstraction is that he wants to prevent a multiplication of entities. For example, he does not want to say that, in addition to there being a sphere of bronze, there is another separate, mathematical sphere, and that in addition to that sphere, there is a separate mathematical plane cutting it, and that in addition to that plane, there is an additional line limiting the plane (see Katz 2014). It is enough for a mathematical ontology simply to acknowledge that natural objects have real mathematical properties not separate in being, which can nevertheless be studied independently from natural investigation. Aristotle also favors this view due to his belief that mathematics is a demonstrative science. Aristotle was aware that geometry uses diagrammatic representations of abstracted properties, which allow one to grasp how a demonstration is true not just of a particular object but of any class of objects that share its quantitative features (Humphreys 2017). Through the concept of abstraction, Aristotle could explain why a particular diagram may be used to prove a universal geometrical result.

Why study mathematics? Although Aristotle rejected the Platonic doctrine that mathematical beings are separate, intermediate entities between perceptible things and forms, he agreed with the Platonists that mathematics is about things that are beautiful and good, since it offers insight into the nature of arrangement, symmetry, and definiteness ( Met .1078a31–b6). Thus, the study of mathematics reveals that beauty is not so much in the eye of the beholder as it is in the nature of things (Hoinski and Polansky 2016, 51–60). Moreover, Aristotle holds that mathematical beings are all potential objects of the intellect, which exist only potentially when they are not understood. The activity of understanding is the actuation of their being, but also actuates the intellect ( Met .1051a26–33). Mathematics, then, not only gives insight into beauty but is also a source of intellectual pleasure, since gaining mathematical knowledge exercises the human being’s best power.

c. First Philosophy

In addition to natural and mathematical sciences, there is a science of independent beings that Aristotle calls “first philosophy” or “wisdom.” What is the proper aim of this science? In some instances, Aristotle seems to say that it concerns being insofar as it is ( Met .1003a21–22), whereas in others, he seems to consider it to be equivalent to “theology,” restricting contemplation to the highest kind of being ( Met .1026a19–22), which is unchanging and separable from matter. However, Menn (2013, 10–11) shows that Aristotle is primarily concerned with describing first philosophy as a science that seeks the causes and sources of being qua being. Hence, when Aristotle holds that wisdom is a kind of rational knowledge concerning causes and principles ( Met .982a1–3), he probably means that the investigation of these causes of being as being seeks to discover the divine things as the cause of ordinary beings. First philosophy is consequently quite unlike natural philosophy and mathematics, since rather than proceeding from systematic observation or from hypotheses, it begins with an attitude of wonder towards ordinary things and aims to contemplate them not under a particular description but simply as beings ( Sachs 2018 ).

The fundamental premise of this science is the law of noncontradiction, which states that something cannot both be and not be ( Met .1006a1). Aristotle holds that this law is indemonstrable and necessary to assume in any meaningful discussion about being. Consequently, a person who demands a demonstration of this principle is no better than a plant. As Anscombe (1961, 40) puts it, “Aristotle evidently had some very irritating people to argue with.” But as Anscombe also points out, this principle is what allows Aristotle to make a distinction between substances as the primary kind of being and accidents that fall in the other categories. While it is possible for a substance to take on contrary accidents, for example, coffee first being hot and later cold, substances have no contraries. The law requires that a substance either is or is not, independently of its further, accidental properties.

Aristotle insists that in order for the word “being” to have any meaning at all, there must be some primary beings, whereas other beings modify these primary beings ( Met .1003b6–10). As we saw in the section on Aristotle’s logic, primary substances are individual substances while their accidents are what is predicated of them in the categories. This takes on metaphysical significance when one thinks of this distinction in terms of a dependence relation in which substances can exist independently of their accidents, but accidents are dependent in being on a substance. For example, a shaggy dog is substantially a dog, but only accidentally shaggy. If it lost all its hair, it would cease to be shaggy but would be no less a dog: it would then be a non-shaggy dog. But if it ceased to be a dog—for example, if it were turned into fertilizer—then it would cease to be shaggy at the same moment. Unlike the “shagginess,” “dogness” cannot be separated from a shaggy dog: the “what it is to be” a dog is the dog’s dogness in the category of substance, while its accidents are in other categories, in this case shagginess being in the category of quality ( Met .1031a1–5).

Given that substances can be characterized as forms, as matter, or as compounds of form and matter, it seems that Aristotle gives the cause and source of a being by listing its material and formal cause. Indeed, Aristotle sometimes describes primary being as the “immanent form” from which the concrete primary being is derived ( Met .1037a29). This probably means that a primary substance is always a compound, its formal component serving as the substance’s final cause. However, primary beings are not composed of other primary beings ( Met .1041a3–5). Thus, despite some controversy on the question, there seems to be no form of an individual, form being what is shared by all the individuals of a kind.

A substance is defined by a universal, and thus when one defines the form, one defines the substance ( Met .1035b31–1036a1). However, when one grasps a substance directly in perception or thought, one grasps the compound of form and matter ( Met .1036a2–8). But since form by itself does not make a primary substance, it must be immanent—that is, compounded with matter—in each individual, primary substance. Rather, in a form-matter compound, such as a living thing, the matter is both the prior stuff out of which the thing has become and the contemporaneous stuff of which it is composed. The form is what makes what a thing is made of, its matter, into that thing (Anscombe 1961, 49, 53).

Due to this hylomorphic account, one might worry that natural science seems to explain everything there is to explain about substances. However, Aristotle insists that there is a kind of separable and immovable being that serves as the principle or source of all other beings, which is the special object of wisdom ( Met .1064a35–b1). This being might be called the good itself, which is implicitly pursued by substances when they come to be what they are. In any case, Aristotle insists that this source and first of beings sets in motion the primary motion. But since whatever is in motion must be moved by something else, and the first thing is not moved by something else, it is itself motionless ( Met .1073a25–34). As we have seen, even the human intellect is “not affected” ( DA 429b19–430a9), producing its own object of contemplation in a pure activity. Following this, Aristotle describes the primary being as an intellect or a kind of intellect that “thinks itself” perpetually ( Met .1072b19–20). Thus, we can conceive of the Aristotelian god as being like our own intellect but unclouded by what we undergo as mortal, changing, and fallible beings (Marx 1977, 7–8).

4. Practical Philosophy

Practical philosophy is distinguished from theoretical philosophy both in its goals and in its methods. While the aim of theoretical philosophy is contemplation and the understanding of the highest things, the aim of practical philosophy is good action, that is, acting in a way that constitutes or contributes to the good life. But human beings can only thrive in a political community: the human is a “political animal” and thus the political community exists by nature ( Pol .1253a2–5, compare EN 1169b16–19). Thus, ethical inquiry is part of political inquiry into what makes the best life for a human being. Because of the intrinsic variability and complexity of human life, however, this inquiry does not possess the exactness of theoretical philosophy ( EN 1094b10–27).

In a similar way that he holds animals are said to seek characteristic ends in his biology, Aristotle holds in his “ergon argument” that the human being has a proper ergon —work or function ( EN 1097b24–1098a18). Just as craftsmen like flautists and sculptors and bodily organs like eyes and ears have a peculiar work they do, so the human being must do something peculiarly human. Such function is definitive, that is, distinguishes what it is to be the thing that carries it out. For example, a flautist is a flautist insofar as she plays the flute. But the function serves as an implicit success condition for being that thing. For example, what makes a flautist good as a what she is (“good qua flautist” one might say) is that she plays the flute well. Regardless of the other work she does in her other capacities (qua human, qua friend, and so forth) the question “is she a good flautist?” can be answered only in reference to the ergon of the flautist, namely flute playing.

The human function cannot be nutrition or perception, since those activities are shared with other living things. Since other animals lack reason, the human function must be an activity of the psyche not without reason. A human being that performs this function well will be functioning well as a human being. In other words, by acting virtuously one will by that fact achieve the human good (Angier 2010, 60–61). Thus, Aristotle can summarize the good life as consisting of activities and actions in accordance with ­arete —excellence or virtue—and the good for the human being as the activity of the psyche in accordance with excellence in a complete life ( EN 1098a12–19). Though it has sometimes been objected that Aristotle assumes without argument that human beings must have a characteristic function, Angier (2010, 73–76) has shown that the key to Aristotle’s argument is his comparison of the human function to a craft: just as a sculptor must possess a wide variety of subordinate skills to achieve mastery in his specialized activity, so in acting well the human being must possess an inclusive set of dispositions and capacities that serve to fulfill the specialized task of reason.

Ethics and politics are, however, not oriented merely to giving descriptions of human behavior but on saying what ends human beings ought to pursue, that is, on what constitutes the good life for man. While the many, who have no exposure to philosophy, should agree that the good life consists in eudaimonia —happiness or blessedness—there is disagreement as to what constitutes this state ( EN 1095a18–26). The special task of practical philosophy is therefore to say what the good life consists in, that is, to give a more comprehensive account of eudaimonia than is available from the observation of the diverse ends pursued by human beings. As Baracchi (2008, 81–83) points out, eudaimonia indicates a life lived under the benevolent or beneficial sway of the daimonic, that is, of an order of existence beyond the human. Thus, the view that eudaimonia is a state of utmost perfection and completion for a human being ( Magna Moralia 1184a14, b8) indicates that the full actualization of a human depends on seeking something beyond what is strictly speaking proper to the human.

a. Habituation and Excellence

Though the original meaning of ethics has been obscured due to modern confusion of pursuing proper ends with following moral rules, in the Aristotelian works, ethical inquiry is limited to the investigation of what it is for a human being to flourish according to her own nature. For the purposes of this inquiry, Aristotle distinguishes three parts of the psyche: passions, powers, and habits ( EN 1105b20). Passions include attitudes such as feeling fear, hatred, or pity for others, while powers are those parts of our form that allow us to have such passions and to gain knowledge of the world. However, while all human beings share passions and powers, they differ with regard to how they are trained or habituated and thus with respect to their dispositions or states of character. Those who are habituated correctly are said to be excellent and praiseworthy, while those whose characters are misshapen through bad habituation are blameworthy ( EN 1105b28–a2).

How does a human being become good, cultivating excellence within herself? Aristotle holds that this happens by two related but distinct mechanisms. Intellectual excellences arise by teaching, whereas ethical excellences by character, such as moderation and courage, arise by ethos, habituation, or training ( EN 1103a14–26). Since pleasure or pain results from each of our activities ( EN 1104b4), training happens through activity; for example, one learns to be just by doing just things ( EN 1103a35–b36). Legislators, who aim to make citizens good, therefore must ensure that citizens are trained from childhood to produce certain good habits—excellences of character—in them ( EN 1103b23–25).

Such training takes place via pleasure and pain. If one is brought up to take pleasure or suffer pain in certain activities, one will develop the corresponding character ( EN 1104b18–25). This is why no one becomes good unless one does good things ( EN 1105b11–12). Rather than trying to answer the question of why one ought to be good in the abstract, Aristotle assumes that taking pleasure in the right kinds of activities will lead one to have a good life, where “right kinds” means those activities that contribute to one’s goal in life. Hence the desires of children can be cultivated into virtuous dispositions by providing rewards and punishments that induce them to follow good reason ( EN 1119b2–6).

Since Aristotle conceives of perception as the reception of the perceived object’s form without its matter, to perceive correctly is to grasp an object as having a pleasurable or painful generic form ( DA 424a17–19, 434a27–30). The cognitive capacity of perception and the motive capacity of desire are linked through pleasure, which is also “in the soul” ( EE 1218b35). Excellence is not itself a pleasure but rather a deliberative disposition to take pleasure in certain activities, a mean between extreme states ( EN 1106b36–1107a2).

Although he offers detailed descriptions of the virtues in his ethical works, Aristotle summarizes them in a table:

This shows that each excellence is a mean between excessive and defective states of character ( EE 1220b35–1221a15). Accordingly, good habituation is concerned with avoiding extreme or pathological states of character. Thus, Aristotle can say that ethical excellence is “concerned with pleasures and pains” ( EN 1104b8–11), since whenever one has been properly trained to take the correct pleasure and suffer correct pain when one acts in excess or defect, one possesses the excellence in question.

b. Ethical Deliberation

Human action displays excellence only when it is undertaken voluntarily, that is, is chosen as the means to bring about a goal wished for by the agent. Excellence in general is thus best understood as a disposition to make correct choices ( EN 1106b36–1107a2), where “choice” is understood as the product of deliberation or what “has been deliberated upon” ( EN 1113a4). Deliberation is not about ends but about what contributes to an end already given by one of the three types of desire discussed above: appetite, thumos, or wish ( EN 1112b11–12, 33–34).

But if all excellent action must be chosen, how can actions undertaken in an instant, such as when one acts courageously, be excellent? Since such actions can be undertaken without the agent having undergone a prior process of conscious deliberation, which takes time, it seems that one must say that quick actions were hypothetically deliberated, that is, that they count as what one would have chosen to do had one had time to deliberate (Segvic 2008, 162–163).

Such reasoning can be schematized by the so-called the “practical syllogism.” For example, supposing one accepts the premises

One should not drink heavy water

This water in this cup is heavy

The syllogism concludes with one’s not drinking water from the cup ( EN 1142a22–23). If this is how Aristotle understands ethical deliberation, then it seems that all one’s voluntary actions count as deliberated even if one has not spent any time thinking about what to do.

However, Contreras (2018, 341) points out that the “practical syllogism” cannot represent deliberation since its conclusion is an action, whereas the conclusion of deliberation is choice. Though one’s choice typically causes one to act, something external could prevent one from acting even once the choice has been made. Thus, neither are choice and action the same, nor are the processes or conditions from which they result identical. Moreover, even non-rational desires like appetite and thumos present things under the “guise of the good” so that whatever one desires appears to be good. Hence an action based on those desires could still be described by a practical syllogism, though it would not be chosen through deliberation. Deliberation does not describe a kind of deduction but a process of seeking things that contribute to an aim already presented under the guise of the good (Segvic 2008, 164–167).

This “seeking” aspect of deliberation is brought out in Aristotle’s comparison of the deliberator to the geometer, who searches and analyzes by diagrams ( EN 1112b20–24). Geometrical analysis is the method by which a mathematician works backwards from a desired result to find the elements that constitute that result. Similarly, deliberation is a search for the elements that would allow the end one has in view to be realized ( EN 1141b8–15).

However, while geometrical reasoning is abstracted from material conditions, the prospective reasoning of deliberation is constrained both modally and temporally. One cannot deliberate about necessities, since practical things must admit of being otherwise than they are ( DA 433a29–30). Similarly, one cannot deliberate about the past, since what is chosen is not what has become—“no one chooses that Ilium be destroyed”—but what may or may not come about in the future ( EN 1139b5–9, DA 431b7–8). One can describe deliberation, then, as starting from premises in the future perfect tense, and as working backwards to discover what actions would make those statements true.

In addition to these constraints, the deliberating agent must have a belief about herself, namely that she is able to either bring about or not bring about the future state in question ( EN 1112a18–31). Since rational powers alone are productive of contrary effects, deliberation must be distinctively rational, since it produces a choice to undertake or not to undertake a certain course of action ( Met .1048a2–11). In distinction to technical deliberation, the goal of which is to produce something external to the activity that brings it about, in ethical deliberation there is no external end since good action is itself the end (EN 1140b7). So rather than concerning what an agent might produce externally, deliberation is ethical when it is about the agent’s own activity. Thus, deliberation ends when one has reached a decision, which may be immediately acted upon or put into practice later when the proper conditions arise.

c. Self and Others

Life will tend to go well for a person who has been habituated to the right kinds of pleasures and pains and who deliberates well about what to do. Unfortunately, this is not always sufficient for happiness. For although excellence might help one manage misfortunes well and avoid becoming miserable as their result, it is not reasonable to call someone struck with a major misfortune blessed or happy ( EN 1100b33–1101a13). So there seems to be an element of luck in happiness: although bad luck cannot make one miserable, one must possess at least some external goods in order to be happy.

One could also ruin things by acting in ignorance. When one fails to recognize a particular as what it is, one might bring about an end one never intended. For example, one might set off a loaded catapult through one’s ignorance of the fact that it was loaded. Such actions are involuntary. But there is a more fundamental kind of moral ignorance for which one can be blamed, which is not the cause of involuntary actions but of badness ( EN 1110b25–1111a11). In the first case, one does what one does not want to do because of ignorance, so is not worthy of blame. In the second case, one does what one wants to do and is thus to be blamed for the action.

Given that badness is a form of ignorance about what one should do, it is reasonable to ask whether acting acratically, that is, doing what one does not want to do, just comes down to being ignorant. This is the teaching of Socrates, who, arguing against what appears to be the case, reduced acrasia to ignorance ( EN 1145b25–27). Though Aristotle holds that acrasia is distinct from ignorance, he also thinks it is impossible for knowledge to be dragged around by the passions like a slave. Aristotle must, then, explain how being overcome by one’s passions is possible, when knowledge is stronger than the passions.

Aristotle’s solution is to limit acrasia to those cases in which one generically knows what to do but fails to act on it because one’s knowledge of sensibles is dragged along by the passions ( EN 1147b15–19). In other words, he admits that the passions can overpower perceptual knowledge of particulars but denies that it can dominate intellectual knowledge of universals. Hence, like Socrates, Aristotle thinks of acrasia as a form of ignorance, though unlike Socrates, he holds that this ignorance is temporary and relates only to one’s knowledge of particulars. Acrasia consists, then, in being unruled with respect to thumos or with respect to sensory pleasures. In such cases, one is unruled because one’s passions or lower desires temporarily take over and prevent one from grasping things as one should ( EN 1148a2–22). In this sense, acrasia represents a conflict between the reasoning and unreasoning parts of the psyche (for discussion see Weinman 2007, 95–99).

If living well and acting well are the same ( EN 1095a18–20, EE 1219b1–4) and acting well consists in part in taking the proper pleasure in one’s action, then living well must be pleasurable. Aristotle thinks the pleasure one has in living well comes about through a kind of self-consciousness, that of being aware of one’s own activity. In such activity, one grasps oneself as the object of a pleasurable act of perception or contemplation and consequently takes pleasure in that act (Ortiz de Landázuri 2012). But one takes pleasure in a friend’s life and activity almost as one takes pleasure in one’s own life ( EN 1170a15–b8). Thus, the good life may be accompanied not only by a pleasurable relation to oneself but also by relationships to others in which one takes a contemplative pleasure in their activities.

The value of friendship follows from the ideas that when a person is a friend to himself, he wishes the good for himself and thus to improve his own character. Only such a person who has a healthy love of self can form a friendship with another person ( EN 1166b25–29). Indeed, one’s attitudes towards a friend are based on one’s attitudes towards oneself ( EN 1166a1–10), attitudes which are extended to another in the formation of a friendship ( EN 1168b4–7). However, because people are by nature communal or political, in order to lead a complete life, one needs to form friendships with excellent people, and it is in living together with others that one comes to lead a happy life. When a true friendship between excellent persons is formed, each will regard one another with the same attitude with which he regards himself, and thus as an “another self” ( EN 1170b5–19)

Friendship is a bridging concept between ethics concerning the relations of individuals and political science, which concerns the nature and function of the state. For Aristotle, friendship holds a state together, so the lawgiver must focus on promoting friendship above all else ( EN 1155a22–26). Indeed, when people are friends, they treat one another with mutual respect so that justice is unnecessary or redundant ( EN 1155a27–29). Aristotle’s ethics are thus part of his political philosophy. Just as an individual’s good action depends on her taking the right kinds of pleasures, so a thriving political community depends on citizens taking pleasure in one another’s actions. Such love of others and mutual pleasure are strictly speaking neither egoistic nor altruistic. Instead, they rest on the establishment of a harmony of self and others in which the completion of the individual life and the life of the community amount to the same thing.

d. The Household and the State

Aristotle’s political philosophy stems from the idea that the political community or state is a creation of nature prior to the individual who lives within it. This is shown by the fact that the individual human being is dependent on the political community for his formation and survival. One who lives outside the state is either a beast or a god, that is, does not participate in what is common to humanity ( Pol .1253a25–31). The political community is natural and essentially human, then, because it is only within this community that the individual realizes his nature as a human being. Thus, the state exists not only for the continuation of life but for the sake of the good life ( Pol .1280a31–33).

Aristotle holds that the human being is a “political animal” due to his use of speech. While other gregarious animals have voice, which nature has fashioned to indicate pleasure and pain, the power of speech enables human beings to indicate not only this but also what is expedient and inexpedient and what is just and unjust ( Pol .1253a9–18). Berns (1976, 188–189) notes that for Aristotle, the speech symbol’s causes are largely natural: the material cause of sound, the efficient cause of the living creatures that produce them, and the final cause of living together, are all parts of human nature. However, the formal cause, the distinctive way in which symbols are organized, is conventional. This allows for a variability of constitutions and hence the establishment of good or bad laws. Thus, although the state is natural for human beings, the specific form it takes depends on the wisdom of the legislator.

Though the various forms of constitution cannot be discussed here (for discussion, see Clayton, Aristotle: Politics ), the purpose of the state is the good of all the citizens ( Pol .1252a3), so a city is excellent when its citizens are excellent ( Pol .1332a4). This human thriving is most possible, however, when the political community is ruled not by an individual but by laws themselves. This is because even the best rulers are subject to thumos, which is like a “wild beast,” whereas law itself cannot be perverted by the passions. Thus, Aristotle likens rule of law to the “rule of God and reason alone” ( Pol .1287a16–32). Although this is the best kind of political community, Aristotle does not say that the best life for an individual is necessarily the political life. Instead he leaves open the possibility that the theoretical life, in which philosophy is pursued for its own sake, is the best way for a person to live.

The establishment of any political community depends on the existence of the sub-political sphere of the household, the productive unit in which goods are produced for consumption. Whereas the political sphere is a sphere of freedom and action, the household consists of relations of domination: that of the master and slave, that of marriage, and that of procreation. Hence household management or “economics” is distinct from politics, since the organization of the household has the purpose of production of goods rather than action ( Pol .1253b9–14). Crucial to this household production is the slave, which Aristotle defines as a living tool ( Pol .1253b30–33) who is controlled by a master in order to produce the means necessary for the survival and thriving of the household and state. As household management, economics is concerned primarily with structuring slave labor, that is, with organizing the instruments of production so as to make property necessary for the superior, political life.

Aristotle thus offers a staunch defense of the institution of slavery. Against those who claim that slavery is contrary to nature, Aristotle argues that there are natural slaves, humans who are born to be ruled by others ( Pol .1254a13–17). This can be seen by analogy: the body is the natural slave of the psyche, such that a good person exerts a despotic rule over his body. In the same way, humans ought to rule over other animals, males over females, and masters over slaves ( Pol .1254a20–b25). But this is only natural when the ruling part is more noble than the part that is ruled. Thus, the enslavement of the children of conquered nobles by victors in a war is a mere convention since the children may possess the natures of free people. For Aristotle, then, slavery is natural and just only when it is in the interest of slave and master alike ( Pol .1255b13–15).

The result of these doctrines is the view that political community is composed of “unlikes.” Just as a living animal is composed of psyche and body, and psyche is composed of a rational part and an appetite, so the family is composed of husband and wife, and property of master and slave. It is these relations of domination, in Aristotle’s view, that constitute the state, holding it together and making it function ( Pol .1277a5–11). As noted in the biographical section, Aristotle had close ties to the expanding Macedonian empire. Thus his political philosophy, insofar as it is prescriptive of how a political community should be managed, might have been intended to be put into practice in the colonies established by Alexander. If that is the case, then perhaps Aristotle’s politics is at base a didactic project intended to teach an indefinite number of future legislators (Strauss 1964, 21).

5. Aristotle’s Influence

Aristotle and Plato were the most influential philosophers in antiquity, both because their works were widely circulated and read and because the schools they founded continued to exert influence for hundreds of years after their deaths. Aristotle’s school gave rise to the Peripatetic movement, with his student Theophrastus being its most famous member. In late antiquity, there emerged a tradition of commentators on Aristotle’s works, beginning with Alexander of Aphrodisias, but including the Neo-Platonists Simplicius, Syrianus, and Ammonius. Many of their commentaries have been edited and translated into English as part of the Ancient Commentators on Aristotle project .

In the middle ages, Aristotle’s works were translated into Arabic, which led to generations of Islamic Aristotelians, such as Ibn Bajjah and Ibn Rushd (see Alwishah and Hayes 2015). In the Jewish philosophical tradition, Maimonides calls Aristotle the chief of the philosophers and uses Aristotelian concepts to analyze the contents of the Hebrew Bible. Though Boethius’ Latin commentaries on Aristotle’s logical works were available from the fifth century onwards, the publication of Aristotle’s works in Latin in the 11 th and 12 th centuries led to a revival of Aristotelian ideas in Europe. Indeed, a major controversy broke out at the University of Paris in the 1260s between the Averroists—followers of Ibn Rushd who believed that thinking happens through divine illumination—and those who held that the active intellect is individual in humans (see McInerny 2002). A further debate, concerning realism (the doctrine that universals are real) and nominalism (the doctrine that universals exist “in name” only) continued for centuries. Although they disagreed in their interpretations, prominent scholastics like Bacon, Buridan, Ockham, Scotus, and Aquinas, tended to accept Aristotelian doctrines on authority, often referring to Aristotle simply as “The Philosopher.”

Beginning in the sixteenth century, the scholastics came under attack, particularly from natural philosophers, often leading to the disparagement of Aristotelian positions. Copernicus’ model made Earth not the center of the universe as in Aristotle’s cosmology but a mere satellite of the sun. Galileo showed that some of the predictions of Aristotle’s physical theory were incorrect; for example, heavier objects do not fall faster than lighter objects. Descartes attacked the teleological aspect of Aristotle’s physics, arguing for a mechanical conception of all of nature, including living things. Hobbes critiqued the theory of perception, which he believed unrealistically described forms or ideas as travelling through the air. Later, Hume disparaged causal powers as mysterious, thus undermining the conception of the four causes. Kantian and utilitarian ethics argued that duties to humanity rather than happiness were the proper norms for action. Darwin showed that species are not eternal, casting doubt on Aristotle’s conception of biological kinds. Frege’s logic in the late nineteenth century developed notions of quantification and predication that made the syllogism obsolete. By the beginning of the twentieth century, Aristotle looked not particularly relevant to modern philosophical concerns.

The latter part of the twentieth century, however, has seen a slow but steady intellectual shift, which has led to a large family of neo-Aristotelian positions being defended by contemporary philosophers. Anscombe’s (1958) argument for a return to virtue ethics can be taken as a convenient starting point of this change. Anscombe’s claim, in summary, is that rule-based ethics of the deontological or utilitarian style is unconvincing in an era wherein monotheistic religions have declined, and commandments are no longer understood to issue from a divine authority. Modern relativism and nihilism on this view are products of the correct realization that without anyone making moral commandments, there is no reason to follow them. Since virtue ethics grounds morality in states of character rather than in universal rules, only a return to virtue ethics would allow for a morality in a secular society. In accordance with this modern turn to virtue ethics, neo-Aristotelian theories of natural normativity have increasingly been defended, for example, by Thompson (2008). In political philosophy, Arendt’s (1958) distinction between the public and private spheres takes the tension between the political community and household as a fundamental force of historical change.

In the 21 st century, philosophers have drawn on Aristotle’s theoretical philosophy. Cartwright and Pemberton (2013) revive the concept of natural powers being part of the basic ontology of nature, which explain many of the successes of modern science. Umphrey (2016) argues for the real existence of natural kinds, which serve to classify material entities. Finally, the ‘Sydney School’ has adopted a neo-Aristotelian, realist ontology of mathematics that avoids the extremes of Platonism and nominalism (Franklin 2011). These philosophers argue that, far from being useless antiques, Aristotelian ideas offer fruitful solutions to contemporary philosophical problems.

6. Abbreviations

A. abbreviations of aristotle’s works, b. other abbreviations, 7. references and further reading, a. aristotle’s complete works.

  • Aristotelis Opera. Edited by A.I. Bekker, Clarendon, 1837.
  • Complete Works of Aristotle. Edited by J. Barnes, Princeton University Press, 1984.

b. Secondary Sources

I. life and early works.

  • Bos, A.P. “Aristotle on the Etruscan Robbers: A Core Text of ‘Aristotelian Dualism.’” Journal of the History of Philosophy, vol. 41, no. 3, 2003, pp. 289–306.
  • Chroust, A-H. “Aristotle’s Politicus: A Lost Dialogue.” Rheinisches Museum für Philologie, Neue Folge, 108. Bd., 4. H, 1965, pp. 346–353.
  • Chroust, A-H. “Eudemus or on the Soul: A Lost Dialogue of Aristotle on the Immortality of the Soul.” Mnemosyne, Fourth Series, vol. 19, fasc. 1, 1966, pp. 17–30.
  • Chroust, A-H. “Aristotle Leaves the Academy.” Greece and Rome, vol. 14, issue 1, April 1967, pp. 39–43.
  • Chroust, A-H. “Aristotle’s Sojourn in Assos.” Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschischte, Bd. 21, H. 2, 1972, pp. 170–176.
  • Fine, G. On Ideas. Oxford University Press, 1993.
  • Jaeger, W. Aristotle: Fundamentals of the History of His Development. 2nd ed., Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1948.
  • Kroll, W., editor. Syrianus Commentaria in Metaphysica (Commentaria in Aristotelem Graeca, vol. VI, part I). Berolini, typ. et impensis G. Reimeri, 1902.
  • Lachterman, D.R. “Did Aristotle ‘Develop’? Reflections on Werner Jaeger’s Thesis.” The Society for Ancient Greek Philosophy Newsletter, vol. 33, 1980.
  • Owen, G.E.L. “The Platonism of Aristotle.” Studies in the Philosophy of Thought and Action, edited by P.F. Strawson, Oxford University Press, 1968, pp. 147–174.
  • Pistelli, H., editor. Iamblichi Protrepticus. Lipsiae: In Aedibus B.G. Tubneri, 1888.
  • Bäck, A.T. Aristotle’s Theory of Predication. Leiden: Brill, 2000.
  • Cook Wilson, J. Statement and Inference, vol.1. Clarendon, 1926.
  • Groarke, L.F. “Aristotle: Logic.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, www.iep.utm.edu/aris-log.
  • Ierodiakonou, K. “Aristotle’s Logic: An Instrument, Not a Part of Philosophy.” Aristotle: Logic, Language and Science, edited by N. Avgelis and F. Peonidis, Thessaloniki, 1998, pp. 33–53.
  • Lukasiewicz, J. Aristotle’s Syllogistic. 2nd ed., Clarendon, 1957.
  • Malink, M. Aristotle’s Modal Syllogistic. Harvard University Press, 2013.

iii. Theoretical Philosophy

  • Anscombe, G.E.M. and P.T. Geach. Three Philosophers. Cornell University Press, 1961.
  • Bianchi, E. The Feminine Symptom. Fordham University Press, 2014.
  • Boeri, M. D. “Plato and Aristotle on What Is Common to Soul and Body. Some Remarks on a Complicated Issue.” Soul and Mind in Greek Thought. Psychological Issues in Plato and Aristotle, edited by M.D. Boeri, Y.Y. Kanayama, and J. Mittelmann, Springer, 2018, pp. 153–176.
  • Boylan, M. “Aristotle: Biology.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, https://www.iep.utm.edu/aris-bio.
  • Cook, K. “The Underlying Thing, the Underlying Nature and Matter: Aristotle’s Analogy in Physics I 7.” Apeiron, vol. 22, no. 4, 1989, pp. 105–119.
  • Hoinski, D. and R. Polansky. “Aristotle on Beauty in Mathematics.” Dia-noesis, October 2016, pp. 37–64.
  • Humphreys, J. “Abstraction and Diagrammatic Reasoning in Aristotle’s Philosophy of Geometry.” Apeiron, vol. 50, no. 2, April 2017, pp. 197–224.
  • Humphreys, J. “Aristotelian Imagination and Decaying Sense.” Social Imaginaries. 5:1, 37-55, Spring 2019.
  • Ibn Bjjah. Ibn Bajjah’s ‘Ilm al-Nafs (Book on the Soul). Translated by M.S.H. Ma’Sumi, Karachi: Pakistan Historical Society, 1961.
  • Ibn Rushd. Long Commentary on the De Anima of Aristotle. Translated by R.C. Taylor, Yale University Press, 2009.
  • Jiminez, E. R. “Mind in Body in Aristotle.” The Bloomsbury Companion to Aristotle, edited by C. Baracchi, Bloomsbury, 2014.
  • Jiminez, E. R. Aristotle’s Concept of Mind. Cambridge University Press, 2017.
  • Katz, E. “An Absurd Accumulation: Metaphysics M.2, 1076b11–36.” Phronesis, vol. 59, no. 4, 2014, pp. 343–368.
  • Marx, W. Introduction to Aristotle’s Theory of Being as Being. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1977.
  • Mayr, E. The Growth of Biological Thought. Harvard University Press, 1982.
  • Menn, S. “The Aim and the Argument of Aristotle’s Metaphysics.” Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, 2013, www.philosophie.hu-berlin.de/de/lehrbereiche/antike/mitarbeiter/menn/contents.
  • Nakahata, M. “Aristotle and Descartes on Perceiving That We See.” The Journal of Greco-Roman Studies, vol. 53, no. 3, 2014, pp. 99–112.
  • Sachs, J. “Aristotle: Metaphysics.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, www.iep.utm.edu/aris-met.
  • Sharvy, R. “Aristotle on Mixtures.” The Journal of Philosophy, vol. 80, no. 8, 1983, pp. 439–457.
  • Waterlow, S. Nature, Change, and Agency in Aristotle’s Physics: A Philosophical Study. Clarendon, 1982.
  • Winslow, R. Aristotle and Rational Discovery. New York: Continuum, 2007.

iv. Practical Philosophy

  • Angier, T. Techne in Aristotle’s Ethics: Crafting the Moral Life. London: Continuum, 2010.
  • Baracchi, C. Aristotle’s Ethics as First Philosophy. Cambridge University Press, 2008.
  • Berns, L. “Rational Animal-Political Animal: Nature and Convention in Human Speech and Politics.” The Review of Politics, vol. 38, no. 2, 1976, pp. 177–189.
  • Clayton, E. “Aristotle: Politics.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, www.iep.utm.edu/aris-pol.
  • Contreras, K.E. “The Rational Expression of the Soul in the Aristotelian Psychology: Deliberating Reasoning and Action.” Eidos, vol. 29, 2018, pp. 339–365 (in Spanish).
  • Ortiz de Landázuri, M.C. “Aristotle on Self-Perception and Pleasure.” Journal of Ancient Philosophy, vol. VI, issue. 2, 2012.
  • Segvic, H. From Protagoras to Aristotle. Princeton University Press, 2008.
  • Strauss, L. The City and Man. University of Chicago Press, 1964.
  • Weinman, M. Pleasure in Aristotle’s Ethics. London: Continuum, 2007.

v. Aristotle’s Influence

  • Alwishah, A. and J. Hayes, editors. Aristotle and the Arabic Tradition. Cambridge University Press, 2015.
  • Anscombe, G.E.M. “Modern Moral Philosophy.” Philosophy, vol. 33, no. 124, 1958, pp. 1–19.
  • Arendt, H. The Human Condition. 2nd ed., University of Chicago Press, 1958.
  • Cartwright, N. and J. Pemberton. “Aristotelian Powers: Without Them, What Would Modern Science Do?” Powers and Capacities in Philosophy: The New Aristotelianism, edited by R. Groff and J. Greco, Routledge, 2013, pp. 93–112.
  • Franklin, J. “Aristotelianism in the Philosophy of Mathematics.” Studia Neoaristotelica, vol. 8, no. 1, 2011, pp. 3–15.
  • McInerny, R. Aquinas Against the Averroists: On There Being Only One Intellect. Purdue University Press, 2002.
  • Umphrey, S. Natural Kinds and Genesis. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2016.

Author Information

Justin Humphreys Email: [email protected] University of Pennsylvania U. S. A.

An encyclopedia of philosophy articles written by professional philosophers.

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Aristotle: A Complete Overview of His Life, Work, and Philosophy

Aristotle is one of the most influential thinkers in the history of Western philosophy. But how much do you really know about this ancient philosopher?

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As Plato’s student and Alexander the Great’s teacher, Aristotle left a lasting impact on Western philosophy. He has shaped today’s perceptions of philosophy with his teachings on ethics and logic and thoughts on politics and metaphysics. His philosophy has been both scrutinized and venerated for years, thereby establishing him as an essential personality in Western philosophy.

From discussing topics like ethics to exploring concepts like metaphysics and politics, Aristotle’s writings had a profound influence that endures to this day. Let’s explore Aristotle’s life, his teachings, and their legacy!

Who Was The Great Philosopher Aristotle?

francesco hayez aristotle painting

Aristotle (384 – 322 BC) was a renowned ancient Greek philosopher who greatly influenced the world of philosophy, science, and logic. He is considered one of the most influential figures in the history of Western thought.

His works have been pivotal in developing metaphysics , ethics, politics, biology, and aesthetics. In addition, he famously wrote about topics such as natural philosophy, logic, and rhetoric which were studied extensively by many later philosophers.

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Aristotle was born in 384 BC in a doctor’s family, which is likely why his future works would also focus on physiology and anatomy. At 15, he became an orphan, and his uncle, who took the boy under his guardianship, told him about the already famous teacher at that time— Plato in Athens.

At 18, Aristotle independently reached Athens and entered the academy of Plato, whose admirer he had already been for three years. Due to his talent and success in scientific activity, Aristotle was given a teaching position in the academy.

In 347 BC, after the death of Plato, Aristotle moved to the city of Assos. Five years later, the Macedonian King Philip invited the philosopher to educate his son Alexander .

In 339 BC, Philip died, and the heir no longer needed lessons, so Aristotle returned to Athens, now a popular and well-known scholar, largely due to his connection to the royal court.

Contribution-wise, Aristotle played an important role in developing both zoology and anatomy via various research methods. He gained recognition for his exceptional contributions to fields like zoology by creating an animal classification system that factored in both physical traits and habits.

In addition to receiving credit for having revolutionized military tactics at that moment in history, another tremendous feat achieved by Aristotle was passing on this knowledge to Alexander The Great . His contribution to military strategy has been commended through time, resulting in his recognition as a brilliant strategist.

Aristotle’s Writings & Works

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Aristotle is highly esteemed for his significant contributions across a vast range of human knowledge fields. His numerous written works have profoundly impacted philosophy, science, mathematics, and more.

Aristotle’s The Nicomachean Ethics is a significant work where he presents his theory on the appropriate way to live life. It explores the concept of virtues and their contribution to leading a satisfying life.

Another prominent example is Aristotle’s Politics . In this groundbreaking work, the author explains his political views, including the state’s role, what citizenship should be, and different types of government systems. He claims that the ideal state should be based on a constitution that respects the needs and desires of its citizens.

Another famous work by Aristotle is his Poetics . This piece is considered to be the first work on literary criticism, interpreting and analyzing the genre and structure of Greek literature. It has influenced the study of literature, film, and other art forms. Aristotle discussed the effects of plot, character, and tragedy on audiences to better understand how these devices can be used effectively.

Aristotle is also widely known for his works in the natural sciences. One of the most popular ones is the Metaphysics . This work deals with the fundamental issues of reality, including the study of existence, causality, and substance.

Relatedly, another one of his famous works is named Physics . It laid out his views on motion, time, space, and other important concepts later built upon in the scientific revolution.

Aristotle’s numerous works have made a lasting impact on history by providing valuable insights and knowledge to humanity. They have helped us gain a better understanding of our world, and continue to be discussed in academic and non-academic contexts alike.

Aristotle Was A Student Of Plato

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One important fact already stated is that Aristotle was a student of Plato and is widely considered his most illustrious student.

Plato (c. 428 – c. 348 BC) was an ancient Greek philosopher who was one of the preeminent minds in Western philosophy, laying down foundations for many areas such as epistemology, metaphysics, and political theory through his numerous dialogues and other works.

While studying at the Academy based in ancient Athens, Aristotle grew intellectually under mentorship from its founder – Plato—hence cementing its status as one of antiquity’s foremost places of advanced studies.

Some of Aristotle’s most prominent works, like Metaphysics and Nicomachean Ethics , discussed various topics, including metaphysics, ethics, or morality, as well as communication through the spoken word—known as rhetoric .

The combination of Aristotle’s education under Plato and his own personal research made him a key figure in philosophy due to his logical yet creative approach to arguments and reasoning. His writing has been fundamental in the formation of traditional thought up until modern times, making him one of the most influential thinkers ever known.

Aristotle’s Style Of Teaching

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Aristotle’s pedagogy emphasized using the Socratic method for stimulating dialogue, ideas generation, opinion sharing, and conclusion building. The method focused on dialogues between the teacher and student to generate new ideas, express opinions and reach conclusions.

This was done by starting with a given problem or premise and then questioning it, with each student considering alternate solutions or alternative interpretations.

For example, when teaching, Aristotle might ask his students: “If we assume that all men are mortal, what does this imply about our understanding of Socrates?” Then, through further questioning, he would lead his students to conclude that Socrates is mortal.

In this way, the Socratic method allowed for deeper learning through active participation and discourse from both the teacher and the students.

By prioritizing logic over traditional sources of information like doctrine or custom when arriving at conclusions, Aristotle effectively shaped subsequent philosophical movements.

This influence would even stretch centuries into the future, with figures like Cicero and Augustine citing his work, which is still taught in schools and universities today.

Teaching Alexander The Great

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When Alexander the Great was a teenager, his father, Philip II, turned to the famous philosopher of the time, Aristotle, with a request to become his son’s teacher. Aristotle agreed to be Alexander’s teacher on one condition: if Philip restored his hometown of Stagira, which had been destroyed by the Macedonian king.

In that short time (343-340 BC), when the great thinker was Alexander’s teacher, he managed to instill in him a love for philosophy, art, and poetry, which acted as a catalyst in shaping the personality of a young man.

But the Homeric epic Iliad especially influenced Alexander. With the help of this work about the Trojan War, the philosopher found a good means for educating military prowess in his ward. This book accompanied Alexander throughout his short life.

Aristotle taught in the classroom about the duties of rulers and the art of government. He tried to develop the ability to perceive various factors, analyze them, and then make a decision. In addition, he enriched the young ruler with scientific knowledge in the lessons of physics, biology, mathematics, medicine, and geography.

The philosopher was preparing the future ruler so that he would become a full-fledged individual.

Aristotle Gave Us Scientific Reasoning

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Aristotle was a pioneering figure in the development of scientific reasoning . By combining his deep knowledge of philosophy, biology, and physics—he laid out the foundations for modern science by advocating for empirical observation, testing, and experimentation to draw meaningful conclusions.

While other philosophers tended towards deriving explanations from religious beliefs or authoritative sources, he stood out due to the emphasis on his analytical abilities tempered with insights into causation.

For instance, Aristotle postulated about natural phenomena, including the behavior of falling objects and species distribution in nature, which later became foundational concepts of classical physics.

To document animal behavior and analyze anatomy, Aristotle produced a multitude of writings on biology for future generations to learn from.

By careful observation, he deduced that every living organism was made up of equivalent elemental constituents. This served as a prefatory notion behind present-day notions concerning evolution and genetics .

Aristotle’s methodical approach to understanding nature left an indelible mark on human thinking. Scientific reasoning has since revolutionized how we understand and interact with our environment; from advances in medicine to space exploration, but Aristotle’s approach to problem-solving has had a lasting legacy.

Aristotle Laid The Foundation For A System Of Logic

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Aristotle’s most invaluable and lasting contribution to the world of knowledge was undoubtedly his development of syllogistic logic . He coined the term “ logic ,” emphasizing logical relations between terms in reasonable conclusions. His approach to understanding philosophy and our conception of reality endeavored to explain how we think and develop ideas.

Aristotle’s landmark work, Prior Analytics , put forth syllogism as his chief logical contribution. Syllogisms are modes of reasoning that involve specific assumptions or premises from which a conclusion can be drawn. This logic system marked the starting point for much of our current understanding of argumentation processes.

Moreover, Aristotle presented rules for appropriate reasoning, such as the law of non-contradiction, which expresses that two conflicting statements cannot simultaneously be true. This principle is still recognized as true today in many disciplines, including mathematics and science.

From its inception, Aristotle’s work on logic has been a driving force throughout the ages. Its pervasive impact can be seen in our modern-day understanding of philosophy and knowledge.

His contributions inform us about how we think and enable us to make more rational decisions concerning ourselves and our environment. Truly, his legacy will remain with us for generations to come!

Aristotle Established The Principle Of Inductive Reasoning

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Establishing the principle of inductive reasoning is one of Aristotle’s credited accomplishments. Inductive reasoning involves drawing general conclusions from specific observations and experiences. Generalizing fetched evidence helps us draw closer-to-truth conclusions, even if they’re not completely certain.

Aristotle first proposed the concept of induction in his book Prior Analytics . Initially described by Aristotle, induction involves collecting factual data and formulating hypotheses accordingly before reconciling them with further empirical research. Modern logic and systematic research owe much to this groundbreaking theory.

Starting from concrete observations up to developing more theoretical concepts is how inductive logic works differently than deductive logic, which goes straight from theory to specifics. This approach has been incredibly valuable in advancing scientific inquiry by eliminating false premises from the discussion.

Aristotle was a pioneer in many aspects of philosophy. Still, his establishment of the principle of inductive reasoning stands as one of his most significant contributions to our understanding of how knowledge is best acquired and evaluated.

Aristotle Was A Biologist Even Before There Was Biology

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Before the formal practice of biology existed, Aristotle showed a remarkable talent for observing and classifying living things. Combining keen observations with philosophy, Aristotle established himself as an early maker of modern-day biological knowledge before it became more established and formalized.

Aristotle is rightly considered the creator of biology as a science. Several of his works are devoted to the problems of biology: The History of Animals , On the Parts of Animals , On the Origin of Animals , On the Movement of Animals , and a small essay, On the Walking of Animals .

In addition to these special works, which treat questions of zoology, the first two books of On the Soul are also devoted to the problem of life and the living.

In works devoted to the study of wildlife, the “empirical component” is especially striking: the philosopher relies both on his observations and on the vast experience gleaned from the practice of contemporary agriculture, fishing, etc.

Judging by his writings, Aristotle collected information about animals primarily from fishermen, shepherds, beekeepers, pig breeders, and veterinarians.

It should be noted that the philosopher shared some of the prejudices of his time, believing, for example, that males are warmer than females and the right side of the body of animals is warmer than the left.

In humans, he believed, the left side of the body is colder than in other living beings, so the heart is shifted to the left to balance the temperature of both sides of the body.

Aristotle’s pioneering work in biology and his insistence on empirical observation exemplify the power of scientific inquiry. Thanks to his observatory approach toward life sciences, many biologists have—a couple of millennia later—decoded nature’s clandestine ways.

Aristotle “Invented” the Field of Economics

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The economic views of Aristotle are not separated from his philosophical teachings. They are woven into the general theme of reasoning about the foundations of ethics and politics (and, more broadly, how people and the state should be managed).

In his treatises, one can see the desire to single out and understand certain categories and connections that later became the subject of political economy as a science.

For example, in Aristotle’s time, the basis of wealth and the main source of its increase were slaves. Aristotle called slaves “the first object of possession,” so he advised that care must be taken to acquire good slaves who can work long and hard.

Barter trade’s evolution into large-scale commerce through history was also a subject matter Aristotle examined extensively. He tried with great persistence to understand the laws of exchange.

Aristotle’s focus was on comprehending how barter trade transformed into large-scale operations through historical analysis. Large-scale trade facilitated and contributed to state formation.

Aristotle approved of the type of management that pursued the goal of acquiring goods for the home and the state, calling it “economy.” The economy is associated with the production of products necessary for life. The activities of commercial and usurious capital, aimed at enrichment, he characterized as unnatural, calling it “ chrematistics .”

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Chrematistics is focused on making a profit and primarily aims at the accumulation of wealth. Aristotle argues that trading in commodities is not part of chrematistics because it only involves exchanging objects necessary for buyers and sellers.

Therefore, the original form of commodity profit was barter, but with its expansion, money necessarily arises. With the invention of money, barter must inevitably develop into commodity trade. The latter turned into chrematistics, the art of making money.

Arguing in this way, Aristotle concludes that chrematistics is built on money since money is the beginning and end of any exchange.

Therefore, Aristotle tried to determine the nature of these two phenomena (economics and chrematistics) to determine their historical place. On this path, he was the first to distinguish between money as a simple means of enrichment and money that has become capital.

Aristotle’s Views On Death And The Afterlife

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Aristotle, who considered the ability to think about death an indispensable condition for active happiness and a wonderful life, did not try to embellish the bitter truth. On the contrary, he believed death was the worst thing because this was the limit.

The philosopher knew that many of his readers believed in an afterlife . We can find hints that his ethics were compatible with a belief in the so’s immortality in a dialogue designed to console those mourning the heroic death of a Cypriot named Evdem, who did not belong to philosophical circles.

But Aristotle, like most of today’s atheists and agnostics, certainly considered death final and irrevocable. Immortality can be desired, he says in Nicomachean Ethics , but it is not given to a person to consciously choose it.

Aristotle believed life and death are not opposites but two parts of a natural process. He theorized that when a person dies, their soul leaves their body and enters either the celestial realm or Hades —depending on whether they had lived virtuously or unvirtuously during their lifetime.

The souls in the celestial realm would enjoy an eternal existence full of happiness, wisdom, and moral fulfillment. At the same time, those who lived a more unvirtuous life would be doomed to an eternity of instability and suffering within Hades.

Aristotle also thought that certain spiritual objects, such as friendship, love , knowledge, and beauty, could exist beyond physical death. Furthermore, he believed that these non-physical forms were immutable and could, therefore, never perish.

Aristotle’s Views On Justice / Equality

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Aristotle also expressed his views on justice in Nicomachean Ethics . For him, justice is the equalization of one’s own interest with the interests of others. The task of justice is to serve society, and if the law is violated, it is a crime.

According to the philosopher, actions consistent with justice and contrary to it can be of two types: they can affect one person or the whole society. A person who commits adultery and inflicts beatings is doing injustice to one particular person, and a person who evades military service is doing injustice to society.

For Aristotle, justice is a principle that regulates relations between people regarding the distribution of social values. The ancient Greek philosopher points out the differences between justice and injustice.

He believed that justice is retribution to everyone for his merits. Injustice is arbitrariness that violates human rights. Objective decisions are fair. It is unfair to transfer one’s own responsibilities to others and receive benefits at the expense of others.

Aristotle distinguishes two types of justice—comparative and distributive. Comparative justice implies a comparison of actions between people, and distributive justice focuses on the equitable distribution of social resources to all members of society.

Aristotle’s views on justice are not dissimilar from those of modern society, as he believed that law should be based on equality and applied to all people without discrimination. He also argued that justice should work for the benefit of all it affects.

Aristotle’s Views On Politics

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Aristotle plunged into politics with the same passion with which he studied nature and ethics. Aristotle considered man a “political animal” ( zoon politikon ), which acquires its true essence only in community with other people. In his opinion, a person must live in a political society to be complete and happy.

According to Aristotle, the ideal state should be neither too big nor too small so that citizens can personally participate in political life and follow justice. Furthermore, Aristotle taught that the best way of life and government is the golden mean between extremes.

Thus, an ideal state is a place where the interests of different social strata are balanced, and no one group dominates the others.

Aristotle did a great job of studying the history and experience of different forms of government to understand what kind of government best promotes the common good. In his Politics , he analyzes over 150 city-states and their constitutions.

Aristotle argued that a good state should provide education for all its citizens since educated people can better serve their state and live in harmony with laws and morals. For the philosopher, politics was an art and science to secure a just common good.

Aristotle’s Views On Slavery

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Aristotle’s singular approach toward envisaging enslavement as a crucial piece of historical community sets him apart. He viewed slavery as a necessary phenomenon in the social structure. That said, his viewpoint was detailed and layered, though unacceptable by today’s ethical standards.

According to the thinker, there exist segments of the human population that are predestined by nature towards servitude. In his opinion, slaves had physical abilities but could not manage their lives or make decisions. So, those born as slaves required leadership from the wise.

One of Aristotle’s beliefs was that slavery actually proved advantageous for both masters and slaves alike. He believed that slavery was advantageous for slave owners and slaves alike because, he argued, masters provided protection and provision to their slaves in exchange for their labor and services.

Aristotle also acknowledged that slaves could be “improved” through the upbringing they received from their masters. In his view, the masters are responsible for teaching the slaves virtues and discipline.

Part of a slave’s improvement process involved learning from their master how to live virtuously, leading them to become more independent individuals with greater responsibilities towards society.

Aristotle’s Views On Women

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Aristotle’s views on women became influential in the further development of philosophy and thoughts of future thinkers until the end of the Middle Ages. In his treatise on state Politics , Aristotle defined women as the subordinate sex to men.

As stipulated by Aristotle, according to his beliefs expressed within Politics —when males maintained dominance over politics—females were considered higher class individuals when compared with slaves.

Among the notable features of women were: expansiveness, compassion, and naivety, which also hindered them in political life.

However, in writing Rhetoric , Aristotle put women’s happiness on the same level of importance as men’s because he believed it is impossible to achieve general happiness in society if some segments of the population remained dissatisfied.

Aristotle believed that men and women possess differing levels of intelligence and physiological distinctions. Some recent studies have shown that memory strength may vary between genders, though the reasons for this are unclear.

Besides, the thinker said that fair-skinned women, but not black-skinned women, can climax during sex. Aristotle believed women were more passionate than men despite having weaker intellects.

Overall, even though it might not seem that way, Aristotle’s views on women were somewhat progressive for his time. Aristotle’s outlook on female empowerment and rights was somewhat liberal for its period; nevertheless, it remained insufficiently evolved compared with present-day perspectives.

Aristotle’s Views On Homosexuality

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With a discussion of homosexuality in the Nichomachean Ethics , Aristotle was one of the first early Ancient Philosophers who shared their thoughts on this topic.

He proposed that one’s ability and character should outweigh their sex when it comes to making friends. Aristotle asserted that a gentleman should not feel attracted to someone of the same sex if their relationship is solely based on physical pleasure, which would go against nature’s purpose for human sexuality.

Homosexual behavior might cause a man to act against his nature, thus leading him toward moral wickedness.

While generally expressing disapproval of such relationships, the author also recognized their potential benefits in boosting a person’s physical and emotional wellness whenever the relationship is based on genuine mutual affection.

Despite holding these relatively open attitudes towards homosexuality compared to other ancient thinkers, it’s clear that Aristotle still viewed it as primarily something harmful or unnatural. This reflects the prevailing attitudes towards LGBT+ people during his lifetime. Nevertheless, contemporary societal standards classify these views as obsolete and morally questionable.

So, Who Was The Great Philosopher Aristotle?

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As a renowned philosopher and polymath from ancient Greece, Aristotle’s contributions have influenced fields including politics, logic, science, mathematics, and philosophy.

Aside from his groundbreaking contributions in these fields, he authored several works on various subjects like ethics, politics, morality, etc., which many scholars continue to study today.

Looking at reality and considering the philosophical disputes prevalent during his time formed Aristotle’s foundation for philosophy. Throughout the Middle Ages, Aristotle’s perspective towards topics such as homosexuality, slavery, and women has been considered influential for later scientific thought.

That being said, most people now regard Aristotle’s beliefs about slavery, homosexuality, and women as archaic.

The level of admiration directed towards Aristotle persists even today because of his extraordinary intelligence and the breadth of his work. He managed to organize and deepen the lessons of his ancestors and lay them out into a large number of works that, fortunately, remain available to us to this day.

Therefore, Aristotle made a far-reaching arrangement of theories, covering all areas of human thought and interest, from what would later become the topics of social sciences and governmental issues to physical science and rationality.

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What Was Aristotle’s Opinion on Metaphysics?

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By Viktoriya Sus MA Philosophy Viktoriya is a writer from L’viv, Ukraine. She has knowledge about the main thinkers. In her free time, she loves to read books on philosophy and analyze whether ancient philosophical thought is relevant today. Besides writing, she loves traveling, learning new languages, and visiting museums.

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Aristotle, His Life and Philosophical Ideas Essay (Biography)

1. early life and education.

Aristotle was born in 384 BC in Stageira in Northern Greece. His father, Nicomachus, was a doctor, and his mother, Phaestis, came from a politically active family. Although Aristotle's family background was relatively privileged, it is clear from his writings that he had a deep respect for social justice and equality. In line with his upper-class background, Aristotle received a typical education of that time, studying a wide range of subjects, such as biology, grammar, logic, music, natural history, and rhetoric. He was trained in the tradition of a particular strand of philosophy that had been established long before his time, called the 'Peripatetic' tradition. His education helped to set the course of his life and development of his philosophical ideas. Aristotle was only 17 when his father died and, as the son of a famous doctor, he was pressured into the medical profession. However, it seems that he was always more interested in philosophy and learning, and it was this inclination that led to his departure for Athens at the age of 18. In particular, his enthusiasm for the work of Plato, another famous ancient Greek philosopher, influenced his decision to study and teach philosophy there. He became a student at Plato's Academy, which was a world-renowned center for study and learning, and it was there that his talent and interest in philosophy really began to flourish under the guidance of his multiple major early philosophical influences, especially Plato. Plato was one of the earliest and most important influences on Aristotle. Born around 428 BC, Plato was about 46 years older than Aristotle, and his sophisticated philosophical works focused on defining a strong rivalry between the material and immaterial worlds; this was an influential debate that has continued throughout the history of philosophy. Often, Plato's later works, such as The Republic, are remembered for their promotion of metaphysical ideas. The Republic is a Socratic dialogue; the principal speaker is Socrates himself, with potential mind from other speakers, including a former student called Glaucon. Socrates is concerned with the nature of a 'perfect' city, its 'guardians,' and the idea of justice in this city and beyond. The work is considered a tour de force of political theory and helped to lay some of the basic principles for the philosophy of society.

1.1. Birth and Family Background

Aristotle was born in 384 BCE in Stagirus, a small town on the northwest coast of the Aegean. His father, Nicomachus, was the family physician of King Amyntas of Macedonia. Although Aristotle's family had a long history in the medical field, they were of low social standing. This was partly because the practice of medicine was considered to be a kind of manual labour. In ancient Greek society, where the intellectual skills associated with activities such as public speaking and politics were highly prized, people who worked with their hands were seen to be lower in status. Wealth and poverty were measured by the ownership of land and by the ability to rule and defend one's city. Aristotle's family would have been expected to do this in Macedon. Nevertheless, having high-status patrons, such as the king, would have lifted the family's social standing, so Aristotle was able to enjoy the privileges of an upper-class background in his early years. He lost both his parents at a young age; his father died while he was still a child and his mother died when he was in early adolescence. Wealth and poverty were measured by the ownership of land and by the ability to rule and defend one's city. Aristotle's family would have been expected to do this in Macedon. Nevertheless, having high-status patrons, such as the king, would have lifted the family's social standing, so Aristotle was able to enjoy the privileges of an upper-class background in his early years. He lost both his parents at a young age; his father died while he was still a child and his mother died when he was in early adolescence.

1.2. Education and Mentors

Aristotle's mention of physical objects does indeed seem to imply the existence of sensible qualities. His fascination with change and the ideal was sparked while discovering the teachings of his philosophy mentor, Plato, at the age of 17 in 367 B.C. In 367 B.C., when Aristotle was 17, his uncle, Hermeius, was made the new ruler in Atarneus and Assos. Hermeius left Pella, the earlier capital of Macedon, and went to Atarneus. There, he founded a new ruling centre in the following year and he asked his nephew, Aristotle, to join him. Hermeius governed the new area and Aristotle actually became a counselor. The presence of a form or essence common to various instances of a natural kind was what he discovered through the work of his philosophy mentor, Plato. When he was 37, Aristotle was asked to tutor Alexander, who was only 13 years old at the time and was to become a famous figure in history known as Alexander the Great. This provided Aristotle an opportunity of doing research and experimentation at the new court for four years. It was also the ideal environment to critically appraise Plato's views on the nature of the physical world and try to develop a fresh and original framework instead of mimicking the work of other philosophers, according to the book. This is because Alexander the Great's father, King Phillip II of Macedon, proclaimed that the Mountaineers (including Aristotle) were to have political as well as private rights and privileges and he also ordered a council of the representatives from the Coast to meet the Mountaineer's council in order to discuss common affairs. So, Aristotle was given the chance to make a proper understanding of the political situation in Macedonia and further establish an independent state on the coastal area for Mountaineers. It was a realm full of different races, a place where intellectuals were valued and respected and where scientific researches seemed to be encouraged. Tapies states that Aristotle's time at the court - the period he spent with Alexander and the time after that - brought him a holistico-political approach. In other words, Aristotle's philosophy was primarily the analysis of all political states of his time. He completed his work in politics and also made huge contributions to lots of the different fields in natural and social sciences. His fame soon spread all over and to some extent, he was considered both as the intellectual and the spiritual leader at the same time. In conclusion, the education from his philosophy mentors, first Plato and then Xenocrates from whom he discovered the doctrines of mathematics, astronomy and harmonics, does tell us that they have exerted a profound influence on the philosophical development of Aristotle. The belief in the importance of empirical observation and that knowledge always starts from experience and ends in it - attributing to the practice where biology was taught and the research on plant and animal were carried out at the Lycaeum, led to the study of natural science and so did he. His mental training, such as training of critical ability by discovering self-evident truths in course of arguments based on assumption and conclusions as well as the division and classification - matured in Plato's Academy enhanced by subsequent academic activities in the Lyceum - has formed the foundation of his philosophical thoughts and arguments. His method of systematic inquiry and investigation, through the process of posing a series of questions and critiquing his own and others' arguments through dialectics and debate, was what he learned systematically in the Academy. These have given him the confidence and ability to start studying and critically analyzing the popular views on ethics at that time, as required by his first original work, the Nicomachean Ethics.

1.3. Influence of Plato

Aristotle's exposure to Plato had a significant impact on his intellectual development. Many of his own philosophical ideas were intended as criticisms against Plato's theories. As he deviated from Platonic idealism to a more individual and empirical view of the world, Aristotle began to formulate his own theories. For example, Plato had argued that the material world is an imperfect and impermanent reflection of the world of forms, which alone is completely real. In his view, what we perceive with our physical senses is a confused and insufficient version of the world of forms - only the intellect can perceive the true reality. This theory is evident in his work "Alcibiades I" which critiques a person who believes they are well informed and complete in themselves. By favoring the world of forms, Plato's epistemology suggests that only the knowledge of the perfect forms can translate to genuine understanding. However, Aristotle disagreed with this sharp separation between the material and immaterial worlds. He argued that, while knowledge always begins with sense experience, it should be the intellect's role to organize and interpret the information that the senses present and that understanding is intrinsically linked with sense experience. This suggests a much more individualist and empirical approach to knowledge, asserting that it is through examining the particular qualities of the material world that genuine truths can be revealed. This focus on the importance of experience and the rejection of the idea that understanding is found in a higher reality is evident in Aristotle's "Nicomachean Ethics" where he details his theory of eudaimonia: a good life that is associated with rational activities and requires practical and rational ways to achieve it. It is clear that Aristotle's departure from Platonic forms, towards the belief that the material world is crucial to gaining true knowledge. His empiricist view that knowledge is cultivated through everyday, rational experiences was clearly paramount in the foundation of many of his own theories in metaphysics and science.

2. Contributions to Philosophy

Aristotle made significant contributions to various areas of philosophy, including metaphysics, ethics, politics, and sciences. First, in the investigation of being, it is necessary to follow a rational method. Empirical studies show that structured, discernible, and evidencing phenomena prove that a being is available. The being is a forming component and psychological mode, which can be demonstrated with an example in psychology: the four causes would make the material, form, and space, and lastly the efficient cause. Additionally, things in nature do not leap. The things are a product of their several causes. The form itself is also, in fact, very clear. Just like when building a house, humanity is not merely a work of art but a certain kind of architectural relationship with definite objects; in stating that form is impending, or in complete actuality and the material or incomplete in potency. First potency is the source of change; something that it can change, and then it will change. However, if it is not change, it does not impart the form. For example, a cup may be made of bronze, except it may become something else to change; then it also can be altered into a different form and purpose, and the thing keeps changing endlessly. Every change is kind of that form is impending on the thing, and soon it is in complete actuality. Applying to psychology, when a human being possesses sensations, then some activities will change and the form will be. This is kind of like human study and knowledge that potential is accepted, and it will change lastly. I think that the last cause means that why we do something. The morality in human beings is different from metaphysics and although both are generally abstract and discuss the existence. As for Aristotle, he insists that ethics and sciences give the people any knowledge of form and the true happiness and good. Every morality must be references to a certain kind of activities and of activities that are desired of that are good in themselves. So, teleology is applied in the ethical theory. Just like desire and choice is the most important in ethical studies, and the will is from the human being. The will is an intellectual appetite for a certain end. Also, actuality is the most important in this field of philosophy. This is because actuality and the full perfection will give the form; just like knowledge will give the truth in the mind. So everyone has an individual perfect possibility in it; that is the reason mankind has to seek their own target, the perfection and obtain what they desire, the real good. I think that politics nowadays should be influenced by the great philosopher, Aristotle. Many well-known forefathers, e.g. Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, quote that from Aristotle. "...for that which is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it. Everyone thinks chiefly of his own, hardly at all of the common interest; and only when he is himself concerned as an individual. For besides other considerations, everybody is more inclined to neglect the duty which he expects another to fulfill..." from the book of Politics. The ideology of shared governance for social responsibilities is deeply rooted from ancient times. However, the fast-changing world may soon forget it; I strongly agree with Aristotle's concept of politics. He said the man is by nature a "political animal" and he argues that the good life is a whole.

2.1. Metaphysics and Essence

Aristotle addressed the topic of existence in his "Metaphysics". He believed that existence is not just an aspect of individual things but is the essence of all things. For Aristotle, everything, from the smallest thing to God, has its existence and its essence. The problem he was dealing with was the problem that had bothered philosophers ever since. In his view, the study of existence - "being as being is" - was the true way to understand the basic natures of things. This is very different from what modern science tries to do. According to Aristotle's belief, a person can get closest to the truth if one would understand the ways in which each thing is said "to be". The study of "being qua being" leads one to the understanding of primary substance. By looking and learning about the primary substance, one can acquire the knowledge of everything else because everything else is known through its relationship with primary substance. This primary substance is what exists purely in itself, not in anything else. From his analysis in Metaphysics, for something to be fully understood, the understanding of its four causes is necessary: its material cause, its formal cause, its efficient cause, and its final cause. By doing so, one can get the full and exact proper explanation as to why something is the way it is. These four causes also lead to Aquinas' argument of existence of God. He believes that these four causes are the evidence of God's existence. These causes form a consecutive and dependent series of causes and there must be a first cause to begin the series. This first cause is God. Everything is coming and depending on one another's causation and the whole series must be created and started by a first cause, God.

2.2. Ethics and Virtue

Aristotle's ethical views are best known through his writings in Nicomachean Ethics. He says that an action is virtuous if it is something that a virtuous person would do in the same situation. For example, we know that courage is a virtue because brave people are seen to perform courageous acts. His ethical ideas are consistently based on the belief that happiness is the highest good, disclosing the notable influence of his teacher, Plato. Nonetheless, Aristotle clearly argues that there is a difference between the philosophers and the rest of mankind when it comes to happiness. As he points out, philosophical wisdom is a great part of virtue, which is a necessary means to supreme happiness. According to Aristotle, the mission of each person's life is to achieve happiness. Emphasizing on human mind and the unique capacity the person has to think, the life in accordance with the rational principle is the best way of living. He identifies that there are 'moral virtues' such as courage, generosity, and justice and 'intellectual virtues' such as wisdom, which are developed through education, experience, and time. However, these virtues are not an end in themselves and they are in harmony. For instance, wisdom is the most precious intellectual virtue and legislates how other intellectual virtues should be used. On the other hand, courage is viewed as the 'first principle' of moral virtues and ensures all other virtues are regulated appropriately. He therefore purposefully wrote that 'happiness extends just so far as contemplation'. At last, happiness refers to the activity of the soul in the way of full virtue. He agrees that the happy life is a good life but it is not just a good life in a moral sense, but also in a pleasurable sense. He points out that happiness must be a mixture of pleasure and pain. And happiness is the result of a successful cultivation of virtue, though it is not a guarantee. He says that to be truly happy, man must engage in activity which is best for the human soul and that is the activity of the rational soul but it needs some form of external goods, too, to support contemplation. Yet, by comparing with the life of pleasure and the life of politics and honor, Aristotle gives a preference to the life of philosophy. He assumes that when a person lives a life of pleasure, which could be led by any human being, a person cannot be considered as a human being but life of politics and honor could be affected by factors such as fortune, which is external to the agent. In contrast, the contemplative life is seen to be the greatest life for a human being because it is the best manifestation of a good doer, who is leading a life in full virtue. He says that the person that chooses a mind's life, the person has an ultimate good that the external fortune cannot affect him. In this regard, his ethical ideas reflect the key theme of his overall work, 'the good for man', which is to achieve happiness. And ethical virtue is a habit disposed towards action by deliberate choice, being at the mean relative to us, this being determined by reason and in the way in which the man of practical wisdom would determine it.

2.3. Politics and Governance

Aristotle's view on politics is a natural outcome of his philosophical works. He has borrowed his concept of politics from the Greeks. His work on politics is actually based on his theory of ethics. Politics is a normative science because it is based on values. Here he has tried to apply the same method that he adopted in his treatises of ethics. Common good is the highest end of the state and an individual is able to achieve morality only if he is discharging his services as a part of the state. A true citizen is not a man who lives his life for the sake of his own individual good but for the sake of the state. According to Aristotle, there are several types of states. It is the function of the good man to know the method of ruling in each and every one of these states because he himself possesses the characteristics of all such forms. This is also a content of his theory of virtue. He says that true knowledge means knowledge for the sake of all men and for the sake of the earth. Aristotle also goes on to stress that personal slavery is a result of natural slavery. Because there are two kinds of servitude - that which comes from law and that which comes by agreement. And among barbarians, servitude is a result of war; because the intention of barbarians is to be able to feed themselves. But for such a thing it is necessary to conquer those weaker than them and lead a life of mugging. Background Aristotle's politics is in continuation to his ethics. When a thing has been considered and studied, certain knowledge has been obtained. This knowledge is of a thing that is necessary and cannot be other than it is. For example, knowledge about the existence of water. When a thing is considered, but studied in a different manner, opinion is the outcome. Opinion is defined by Aristotle as a judgment that the good or bad, that is denied or affirmed, is to be accomplished in a certain manner on account of some or other thing. All activities in Greece are divided into theoretical and practical. Science and actions are of different natures. The end and the output of a theoretical science are knowledge. Knowledge is an end in itself. The exact definition of knowledge, according to Aristotle, is a judgment that cannot be other than it is. But the ultimate object of practical activity is action. Action is something different from activities. The outcome of actions is production or creation. When a production is studied, it gives rise to a different kind of science and that is productive knowledge. Aristotle says that he would consider a different and higher sort of life which is going to be devoted to contemplation. Ergon is study; that is the function of the subject under examination. Hpjecos is outcome; this is known as work; and telos is the completion, that is the final end. Ergon is in close connection with telos. Telos can be defined as the end or the intention of affairs while according to ergon, something is at work. He says that 'man' is not just an explanation or a mere idea of a living creature, but however a productive life has to be assigned to him. Aristotle's claim is that the human function is an active life of the rational element. This can be proved by the method and manner of the life of the gods. If they live in eternal blessedness, there is something, some kind of activity, that they must be having. For Aristotle, slavery in the traditional sense is justified only if the master has the welfare of the slave at heart and tries to benefit the slave. This kind of slavery is a redundancy. It is not limited to the present conditions and the master will gain largely by the service of the slave. It is not natural and does not proceed from nature, according to traditional logic of slavery. Slavery for the sake of others is a cunning and is a means to avoid servitude. Aristotle ends his treatise on Politics.

3. Legacy and Influence

It is in these later works that Aristotle's thought is most clearly in dialogue with Plato. In this dialogue, Aristotle's thought often works to respond to and criticize the positions articulated in Plato's work. The works clearly demonstrate the ongoing relevance of his philosophy to his own work and the range of contributors who engage with it. For many centuries, Aristotle's solid objects in opposition to Plato's theory of Forms. Forms are perfect templates for which objects in the world are simply imperfect copies. While Forms have no matter, objects in the world are made out of matter and therefore too perishable and corruptible. By placing a greater emphasis on the physical world that we encounter every day, and by showing the importance of empirical observation, it could be said that Aristotle helped to encourage scientific investigation. In contrast to the vision of philosophy put forward by Plato in which we turn away from the physical object in search of perfect Forms, Aristotle provides a vision of philosophy in which it is the physical world that is the proper focus of our attention. It is in this way that the legacy of Aristotle's philosophy of the natural world is tied up with the ongoing influence of his work as a scientific ground.

3.1. Impact on Western Philosophy

Approaching the Middle Ages, the arguments presented by Aristotle seemed to be too logical and rigorous to be dismissed. As a result, there was a conscious effort to reconcile the works of Aristotle and Christianity. This led to the emergence of Scholasticism. Scholastic philosophers sought to apply the ideas of Aristotle and other ancient thinkers to the faculties of theology and rational explanation. The Roman Catholic Church embraced the works of Aristotle. Soon, Aristotle's philosophy became a symbol of science. Scientific findings had to correlate with the ideas of Aristotle. This exacerbated the criticisms that have always been leveled at his ideas. However, it was not until the 16th century that people started to question the validity of Aristotle's claim to the truth of the physical world. It was in the modern period, which came after the Middle Ages, that theologians and philosophers began to dispute the role of Aristotle's political and ethical works in the church and in the governmental bodies of various countries. His theory was both moral and political, which led to discussions regarding Aristotle's teachings and their applications in forming national policies and lifestyles. Critics of that time, including the well-regarded Bertrand Russell, have pointed out that it was 'unfortunate' that nowadays people do not study Aristotle's works as much as they study the works of Plato. In Russell's view, the importance of Aristotle's works was brought about by the fact that they were 'intimately connected with the Greek science of his century and of the two centuries preceding'. But since the Renaissance, he laments, 'progress in science has caused the work of those centuries to be [somewhat unfairly] despised'. However, history has proven that the so-called progress - albeit with good intentions - compromised the introduction of such groundbreaking ideas that Aristotle has envisaged, such as democracy. It wasn't until the emergence of the United States of America that the true wisdom behind Aristotle's political restructuring surfaced. The "creation of a system of government that upholds liberty and justice" in American politics is a realization of the Nicomachean Ethics, where Aristotle discussed the essence of goodness and how we may achieve it in a potential life. Since then, the importance of Aristotle's political theory in structuring the government and policies in various countries has been gaining more and more attention.

3.2. Aristotle's Influence on Science

Aristotle's influence on the physical sciences is equally deep. That influence, it could be argued, never ceases, since his ideas began the era in which the groundwork was being laid. His ideas formed an overall system in which scientific work could be conducted for over 2000 years, and several subsequent scholars and researchers have applied his mode of thinking. Even in those cases where something new was learned and involved the discarding of one of his ideas, Aristotle's way of articulating the nature of the phenomena to be encountered and the questions to be asked was helpful to their progress. In some cases, it has taken a long and painful time for scientists in physical science to realize that the origin of some deep-seated and persistent obstacles to progress were found in the views of ancient authority, such as Aristotle. For instance, Aristotle's physics, a study concerned with the phenomena of motion and change in the physical world, may be said to be based on certain fundamental assumptions which he made. These assumptions were thought by Aristotle to be obvious from experience and the direct perception of the nature of the things in the world around him. The most important assumptions were that nature works for an end or purpose and there is an absolute distinction between what is natural and what is not. These things and motions have their own natures which dictate the way in which they will tend to move, if at all, and that in turn the stoppage. Aristotle's study of this aspect of the natural world contains a body of work which is still used as an exemplification of science misconceived by the Greeks. Specifically, the earth was held to be the center of the universe, around which the rest of the celestial bodies rotate in uniform, circular motion. This theory remained the cornerstone of astronomy and cosmology until the 16th century when it was essentially destroyed by Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo. However, not until the system of Copernicus and the exact formulas of Kepler was a clearer view of the universe available. Scholastic philosophy has been traced back to the attempt to make a theism or Christianized form of Aristotelian thought acceptable. The reflection of Aristotle's error remained even through the formulation of Newton's theorem of gene. Such a long persistence of a mistaken way of understanding the universe has been blamed largely upon following the authority of Aristotle in that manner which was termed a science for several centuries. His ideas and the worldview created a great influence on science as he made the environment for the extension and confirmation of his great idea, based on the assumption of observation, leading people to the correct conclusion on the phenomena. In this way, the foundation of his theory on the natural look and one of assumption on observation had generated the area for not only the development of science itself but also the training of many generations using the same approach until new theories overruled it.

3.3. Relevance of Aristotle's Ideas in Modern Society

Throughout human history, which is marked by specifically distinctive eras, people have always been in pursuit of ways to illustrate, express, and manifest their needs and desires. The attempt to make clear the objective reality has never been so vigorous. This is why classics, including the ideas by Aristotle, are considered relevant and precious, deserving to be well kept in the treasury of human knowledge. In our fast-changing society, however, it is not hard to find people tend to ignore the significance of knowing and understanding the ancient theories like the four causes, which Aristotle spent a lot of effort explaining and illustrating. Instead, it seems that modern technology has gradually taken over people's way of cognition and functioning, and the supremacy of the present time is rooted in the use of material and ways of working. But what we need to bear in mind is that these things are transient and liable to cease or perish, and there is no denying that everyone is being dominated by this power - desire, which leads to the chain reaction affecting people physically, emotionally, spiritually, and morally. By looking into what Aristotle put forward in Nicomachean Ethics, which elucidates the highest good for human beings - eudaimonia, and the way to achieve it - virtues, we can see that in fact, there are some radical similarities between the materialistic modern society and Aristotle's concern of leading a good life. Both of them focus on the well-being, happiness, and satisfaction of humanity. While people nowadays are enthusiastic in seeking a higher living standard and quality of life, Aristotle, through his cardinal virtues - prudence, temperance, courage, and justice, emphasizes the significance and essentials of the spiritual life and how one can achieve ultimate happiness. Also, Aristotle's political theories stress the value of examining the multitude of forms of government. It advocates the practice of exploring the strengths and weaknesses of various constitutions, and thus, individuals would not be swayed by mere examples but would understand what would make a society most fulfilling to all, which corresponds to the civic life nowadays that citizens are encouraged to take an active part in the development of the community. These show us that not only did Aristotle pay attention to the connection between the individual and the communal, but also his ideas are of universal, timeless value, and they can definitely shed light on how people today can live a meaningful life. Therefore, it is of vital importance for us to retrieve and recapture the understanding and cognition of human life and value, and the adaptability and relevance of Aristotle's ideas in current society have shown us that his philosophy will never be an out-of-date intellectual fossil.

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Essay on Aristotle

Students are often asked to write an essay on Aristotle in their schools and colleges. And if you’re also looking for the same, we have created 100-word, 250-word, and 500-word essays on the topic.

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100 Words Essay on Aristotle

Aristotle: the philosopher.

Aristotle was a famous Greek philosopher and scientist born in 384 BC. He studied under Plato and later taught Alexander the Great. His work covers many subjects including physics, biology, zoology, metaphysics, logic, ethics, aesthetics, poetry, theatre, music, rhetoric, psychology, linguistics, economics, politics, and government. Aristotle’s writings greatly influenced Western philosophy.

Contributions to Science

Aristotle made significant contributions to science, especially in the field of biology. He was one of the first to classify animals and study their behavior. His observations and methods laid the groundwork for modern scientific research.

Aristotle’s Ethics

In ethics, Aristotle proposed the concept of “virtue ethics”. He believed that moral virtue is about finding a moderate path between extremes. This idea continues to be influential in modern ethical thought.

250 Words Essay on Aristotle

Aristotle: the epitome of western philosophy.

Aristotle, a Greek philosopher born in 384 BC, is often hailed as the cornerstone of Western philosophy. A student of Plato, and tutor to Alexander the Great, Aristotle’s influence transcends time, permeating various spheres of human knowledge.

Contributions to Philosophy

Aristotle’s contributions to philosophy are vast. He pioneered “empiricism,” the theory that knowledge is derived from sensory experience. Unlike his teacher Plato, who emphasized abstract ideals, Aristotle focused on the concrete and physical world. His work in metaphysics, the study of reality beyond the physical, laid the groundwork for centuries of philosophical inquiry.

Aristotle and Science

In the realm of science, Aristotle’s impact is profound. His scientific method, involving observation and logical deduction, was a precursor to the modern scientific method. He made significant strides in biology, classifying organisms and dissecting animals to understand their anatomy.

Ethics, according to Aristotle, is the pursuit of “eudaimonia,” often translated as happiness or flourishing. He proposed the “Golden Mean,” a path of moderation between excess and deficiency, as the key to virtuous living.

Aristotle’s legacy is enduring. His philosophies have shaped Western thought, influencing fields as diverse as politics, rhetoric, and even drama. The Aristotelian tradition continues to be a vital part of contemporary philosophical discourse.

In conclusion, Aristotle’s life and work represent a monumental contribution to human knowledge. His ideas continue to influence our understanding of the world, making him a timeless figure in the annals of philosophy.

500 Words Essay on Aristotle

Introduction to aristotle.

Aristotle, the ancient Greek philosopher, stands as one of the most influential figures in Western intellectual history. Born in 384 BC, Aristotle was a student of Plato and later became the tutor of Alexander the Great. His contributions span numerous fields, including logic, metaphysics, ethics, political theory, and the natural sciences.

Aristotle’s Metaphysics

Aristotle’s metaphysical thought marked a significant departure from his mentor Plato’s idealistic philosophy. While Plato posited the existence of ideal forms separate from the physical world, Aristotle proposed a more grounded theory. He argued that form and matter are inseparable, with form being the actuality of a thing and matter its potentiality. This perspective, known as hylomorphism, asserts that everything in the natural world is a combination of form (essence) and matter (substrate).

Logic and Epistemology

Aristotle’s contributions to logic and epistemology were groundbreaking. He developed a system of logic known as syllogistic logic, which involves deducing conclusions from two related premises. This system became the foundation for Western logical thought until the 19th century. In terms of epistemology, Aristotle proposed that all knowledge begins with sensory experience, laying the groundwork for empirical science.

Ethics and Virtue

In ethics, Aristotle proposed the concept of eudaimonia, often translated as “flourishing” or “the good life.” He argued that the ultimate goal of human life is to achieve eudaimonia through virtuous action and rational activity. Virtue, for Aristotle, is a mean between extremes and is acquired through habituation.

Politics and Society

Aristotle’s political philosophy emphasized the role of the community in cultivating virtuous citizens. He viewed the state as a natural institution, whose primary purpose is to enable human beings to achieve the good life. Aristotle’s political thought also recognized the importance of a balanced constitution, combining elements of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy.

Impact and Legacy

Aristotle’s influence on Western thought is immeasurable. His works have shaped the course of philosophy, science, and political theory. His empirical approach laid the foundation for the scientific method, and his ethical and political theories continue to inform contemporary discourse. Despite the passage of centuries, Aristotle’s ideas remain relevant, providing profound insights into the nature of reality, knowledge, virtue, and the good life.

In conclusion, Aristotle is a monumental figure in Western intellectual history. His contributions to various fields continue to influence contemporary thought, testifying to the enduring power of his philosophy. His approach to understanding the world around us, grounded in empirical observation and logical reasoning, remains a cornerstone of Western intellectual tradition.

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aristotle biography essay

Biography of Aristotle

Aristotle was born in 384 BC, in Stagira, near Macedonia at the northern end of the Aegean Sea. His father, Nicomachus, was the family physician of King Amyntas of Macedonia. It is believed that Aristotle's ancestors had been the physicians of the Macedonian royal family for several generations. Having come from a long line of physicians, Aristotle received training and education that inclined his mind toward the study of natural phenomena. This education had long-lasting influences, and was probably the root cause of his less idealistic stand on philosophy as opposed to Plato. Aristotle's father died when he was a boy, and Aristotle was left under the care of his guardian Proxenus.

When Aristotle was seventeen, Proxenus sent him to study at Plato's Academy in Athens, the heart of the intellectual world at the time. Aristotle remained at the Academy for twenty years, until Plato's death in 347 BC. Although Aristotle was Plato's most promising student, Aristotle did not succeed Plato as head of the Academy because of their opposing views on several fundamental philosophical issues, specifically regarding Plato's theory of ideas. As has already been noted, Aristotle was more concerned than Plato with the actual material world, and did not believe that the only thing that mattered is the realm of ideas and perfect forms.

After leaving the Academy, Aristotle was invited to go live in the court of his friend Hermeas, ruler of Atarneus and Assos in Mysia. Aristotle remained there for three years, during which time he married Pythias, the niece and adopted daughter of the king. Later in life Aristotle married Herpyllis, with whom had a son, named Nicomachus after his father. When Hermeas' kingdom was taken over by Persians, Aristotle moved to Mytilene. King Amyntas invited Aristotle to tutor his thirteen-year old son, Alexander. Aristotle tutored Alexander for five years until King Amyntas died and Alexander came to power. In gratitude for Aristotle's services, Alexander provided Aristotle generously with means for the acquisition of books and for the pursuit of scientific inquiry. While the extent to which Aristotle's tutoring influenced Alexander's successes in conquering an empire is disputable, Alexander did try to organize much of his empire along the model of the Greek city-state.

In 335 BC Aristotle went back to Athens, where he found the Academy flourishing under Xenocrates. Aristotle founded his own school, the Lyceum, and ran it for twelve years. The school is often called the Peripatetic School, because Aristotle used to like walking around and discusses his ideas with his colleagues. Peripatetics are "people who walk around." Aristotle would have detailed discussions with a small group of advanced students in the mornings, and larger lectures in the evenings. During his time at the Lyceum, Aristotle wrote extensively on a wide range of subjects: politics, metaphysics, ethics, logic and science.

Aristotle agreed with Plato that the cosmos is rationally designed and that philosophy can come to know absolute truths by studying universal forms. Their ideas diverged, however, in that Aristotle thought that the one finds the universal in particular things, while Plato believed the universal exists apart from particular things, and that material things are only a shadow of true reality, which exists in the realm of ideas and forms. The fundamental difference between the two philosophers is that Plato thought only pure mathematical reasoning was necessary, and therefore focused on metaphysics and mathemtics. Aristotle, on the other hand, thought that in addition to this "first philosophy," it is also necessary to undertake detailed empirical investigations of nature, and thus to study what he called "second philosophy," which includes such subjects as physics, mechanics and biology. Aristotle's philosophy therefore involved both inductive and deductive reasoning, observing the workings of the world around him and then reasoning from the particular to a knowledge of essences and universal laws. In a sense, Aristotle was the first major proponent of the modern scientific method. The Lyceum was an unprecedented school of organized scientific inquiry. There was no comparable scientific enterprise for over 2,000 years after the founding of the Lyceum.

In 323 BC Alexander the Great died unexpectedly and the government of Athens was overthrown by anti-Macedonian forces. Having had close connections with the Macedonian royal family, Aristotle was associated with the Macedonians and was unpopular with the new ruling powers. The new government brought charges of impiety against Aristotle, but he fled to his country house in Chalcis in Euboea to escape prosecution. Aristotle commented that he fled so that "the Athenians might not have another opportunity of sinning against philosophy as they had already done in the person of Socrates." About a year later, Aristotle died after complaints of a stomach illness.

Aristotle's writings were preserved by his student Theophrastus, his successor as leader of the Peripatetic School. Theophrastus' pupil Neleus and his heirs concealed the books in a vault to protect them from theft, but they were damaged by dampness, moths and worms. The books were found around 100 BC by Apellicon, who brought them to Rome. In Rome, scholars took interest in the works and prepared new editions of them. The writings of Aristotle that we have today are based on this collection. Overall, Aristotle wrote three types of works: dialogues or other works of a popular character, collections of scientific data and observations, and systematic treatises. His philosophy can be divided into four main areas: 1) Logic; 2) Theoretical Philosophy, including Metaphysics, Physics and Mathematics; 3) Practical Philosophy, such as Ethics and Politics; and 4) Poetical Philosophy, covering the study of poetry and the fine arts.

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Study Guides on Works by Aristotle

Aristotle's metaphysics aristotle.

The Metaphysic or Metaphysics is a canonical collection of various writings by Aristotle which were collected and featured in the order they now appear, although there are historical-critical debates about whether this was the originally intended...

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Aristotle's Poetics Aristotle

Though the precise origins of Aristotle's Poetics are not known, researchers believe that the work was composed around 330 BCE and was preserved primarily through Aristotle's students' notes. Despite its vague beginning, the Poetics has been a...

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Aristotle's Politics Aristotle

Aristotle's Politics is one of the most influential and enduring texts of political philosophy in all of history. The Aristotelian tradition, following from the philosophy of Plato and continuing in the writings of Cicero, Augustine, Aquinas and...

Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle

Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics was written around 340 BC. It is probably named after either his father or son, who were both named Nicomachus. Nicomachean Ethics is Aristotle's most mature work on ethics. That the argument as presented in the book...

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Aristotle Biography Essay

Aristotle Jared Utley Aristotle was a Greek philosopher, also known as the teacher of Alexander the Great.He was the student of Plato and was considered to be an important figure in Western Philosophy. Famous for his writings on physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology, he was an extremely intellectual and educated being. He is also among the first person to set a comprehensive system of Western philosophy, which include views about morality and aesthetics, logic and science, politics and metaphysics. This system became the foundation of both Islamic and Christian scholastic thought. It is said that he was perhaps the last man who had the knowledge of all the known subjects at that time. His intellectual knowledge ranged from every known field of science and arts of that era. His writing includes work in physics, chemistry, biology, zoology, botany, psychology, political theory, logic, metaphysics, history, literary theory, and rhetoric. One of his greatest achievements was formulating a finished system also known as Aristotelian syllogistic. His other significant contribution was towards the development of zoology. It is quite true that Aristotle’s zoology is now obsolete but his work and contribution was unchallenged till 19th century. His historical importance and contribution towards science is irreplaceable. Aristotle was born in the small Greek town of Stageira, Chalcidice in 384 B.C. His father, Nicomachus was the physician of King Amyntas of Macedon. There isn’t much record of Aristotle’s early life, but it was evident that he was trained and educated as an aristocratic member. Being a physician’s son, he was inspired to his father’s scientific work but didn’t show much interest in medicine.When he turned eighteen, he headed towards Athens and joined the Plato Academy to continue his education. He spent next twenty years of his life in this academy only. It is said that even though Aristotle really admired and respected Plato, some considerable differences occurred between the two. After the death of Plato in 348/347 B.C., when his nephew Speusippus became the head of the Plato Academy, Aristotle left Athens. He and his friend Xenocrates moved towards the court of Hermias of Atarneus in Asia Minor. In year 343 B.C., Philip II of Macedon invited Aristotle to be the tutor of his son Alexander who later became Alexander the Great. He was also appointed as the head of the royal academy of Macedon. There are significant indications that Aristotle encouraged Alexander towards eastern conquest. In one of his examples, he told Alexander that he is the leader of Greeks and Persians are Show More

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  • Philosophers

Aristotle Biography

Updated 08 May 2023

Subject Philosophers ,  Learning

Downloads 27

Category Philosophy ,  Religion ,  Education

Topic Aristotle ,  Theology ,  Research

The Writings of Mr. Aristotle

The writings of one distinguished philosopher, Mr. Aristotle, shall be discussed in this article. The author of this article felt that it was important to first define the philosopher in order to provide the parties involved in this paper a more comprehensive understanding of what the paper comprises before starting to write the works of this great philosopher. Thus, a philosopher is somebody who engages in philosophy, which involves conducting extensive research on a national level in fields unrelated to science or theology (Finardi, 2013). The word "philosophy" itself derives from the Greek adjective "philosophos," which simply means "lover of wisdom." Therefore, to achieve the aim of this paper, the writer will briefly give the description of Mr. Aristotle's biography and lastly discuss critically his contribution in the field of philosophy.

This great philosopher Mr. Aristotle was born in the Stagira over the decades of years ago, 384 B.C. in Greece. At the age of 17 Mr. Aristotle commenced his education in Plato's Academy. Years later Mr. Aristotle completed his education successfully and started his first job at Alexander the Great. Mr. Aristotle continued to expand his professional ladder. This great philosopher spent most of his life in the city of Lyceum in Athens studying teaching and writing. The works of this great philosopher came to an end after he passed on 322 B.C.

Ideas of Mr. Aristotle

How does Aristotle incorporate the three kinds of goodness in his writings on ethics? What is good and bad about each kind, and what place does each play in excellence and the happy life?

Aristotle first discusses the three kinds of goodness, those external, those associated with the soul, and those associated with the body (Moed, 2012). Throughout his writings Aristotle brings up each of these various kinds of goodness in reference to the vast majority of his teachings regarding things such as virtue, justice, happiness, and friendship. Aristotle claims that people normally talk what is associated with their soul particularly what is good (Moed, 2012).

Mr. Aristotle goes on to explain that pleasure belongs to the soul, and thus the goodness of the soul accounts for all innate pleasures, and passions of an individual, leading to the ultimate end of happiness. Though good of the soul is considered the most governing, goods of the body encompass things such as good health and one's physical well-being, which are integral to attaining happiness. External goods are those things that likely have the least merit, as it only encompasses things that are not directly pertaining to the individual or his well-being, but merely his state of living in reference to society.

Each of these also has the potential to be bad, because desiring any of these goods in excess, can lead to vice. An excess of goods of the soul, body, or external can lead to such things such as self-obsession, health problems, and material obsession respectively. However, in moderation, and in the hands of excellent individuals, these goods lead to the ultimate end of ethical behavior, according to Aristotle, happiness.

What is Aristotle's purpose in writing this book?

What is Aristotle's purpose in writing this book? How does he answer Socrates' suggestion that virtue cannot be taught? Is ethics like math, which is teachable? What does Aristotle think human beings can be taught about virtue? How ought ethics to be taught?

In writing Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle attempts to outline an ethical system in which the final end of all human behavior is happiness. Aristotle discusses many things in his work, arguably one of the most important of which is virtue. According to Aristotle, "habit creates excellence of character (Willmatt, 2012). He further argues that virtue is an active condition, thus it must be habituated, and cannot occur naturally. Socrates claims that virtue simply cannot be taught, whereas Aristotle claims it is habituated. Though these seem like fairly similar claims, Socrates' suggestion does not allow for anyone to be taught virtue at all, whereas, Aristotle argues that 'sort of virtue is attached to pleasures and pains. Which I believe means that so long as someone can be taught as a child what to take pleasure and what to take pain from, they can be taught to be virtuous. In Aristotle's ethics, virtue and excellence are synonymous and thus if at a young age, excellence can be taught, then virtue is as well.

However, ethics is not like math, where it can be taught in a classroom setting. Ethics is centered on virtue, and virtue can only be taught in the sense of habituation, practicing over and over until one is excellent. Aristotle thinks that human beings can be taught the theory behind their virtue, but to actually achieve virtue is impossible without consistent habituation. Ethics ought to be taught at a young age, to make children aware of what to take pain and pleasure in, so that they understand what to actively do and avoid for the sake of virtue.

Book IX: Why is the friend another self?

Do we need friends to live a happy life? Do we choose friends or good things according to self-love, or not?

Aristotle begins Chapter Four of Book Nine by claiming that the things by which friendships are defined, claiming that they are related to one's own self, discussing what unifies friendship as opposed to the varieties between them. Friendship, as defined by Aristotle, as the person who respects himself and values herself / himself and whatever he/she does is for the benefit of him/herself (Van Gusteren, 2013).

By discussing the type of friendship that arises due to mutual goodness and alikeness in virtue, it becomes apparent that each individual in that sort of friendship would act for their friend as if their friend was an extension of themselves, thus I believe that the friend is another self. I do not believe that Aristotle explicitly states whether or not friends are a necessity to living a happy life, but he does argue, that friends and friendships that are another self tend to hardly be present in people of low character. Aristotle states, Aristotle's states that people with such kind of character do not typically enjoy themselves since their soul is victimized by the civil wars. (Finardi, 2013).

This heavily implies that though they may be able to live a happy life somehow, those of low character tend to despise themselves, and thus despise those in similar states, that would be their friends. Thus I believe that Aristotle means that those that are devoid of friends are unhappy, and thus in such a state that it is difficult to create friendships. I believe that we do choose friends according to self-love, as self-love, as previously stated, implies a love of those that share goodness and are both actively virtuous. However, as mentioned in Book Eight, not all friendships are based upon alikeness in virtue, which even those could be argued to be chosen due to self-love, as they are created for the purpose of being of some use or pleasure to the self. Would Aristotle consider choosing friends based off of usefulness or pleasure unethical, or merely not as important?

Book VIII: Why is friendship between people alike in excellence more long-lasting than pleasure or usefulness?

Why is there no justice among friends? Why is friendship a better model for ethical life than justice, according to Aristotle?

In the article of Nicomachen Ethics by Aristotle he discussed the virtue of friendship. The author Aristotle explains the virtue of friendship as people who have the common interest of helping each and that they share out their problems and seek solution together. They wish good things to each other he further retaliate that such kind of friendship last for long time (Van Gunsterean, 2013).

Friends that share the qualities of being good and share the same virtue will ultimately last longer than any friendship merely based off of pleasure or usefulness. Relationships that are based off of only pleasure or usefulness are essentially one sided, making them incidental friendships, as they are based entirely off of wanting something good from the other party, thus they tend to dissolve or wither once the usefulness or pleasure fades. There is no justice between friends, because as Aristotle explains, in respect to justice, equality is in accordance with whatever is observed consequently, in friendship equality is in respect to amount and also what is observed (Willmott, 2012).

In a situation regarding friendship, justice is not the same, as equality comes first to what is deserved. Aristotle does not necessarily believe that friendship in itself is a better model for ethical life, but rather that friendship akin to brotherhood is a better model for ethical life than justice. Aristotle claims that even though all friendships vary slightly, comrades and brothers hold the strongest relationships, and thus it is more terrible to cheat or hurt a comrade than anyone else. Thus, if all were to achieve brotherhood and community with all those that they interact with, the end result would be a much more ethical society. Why is it that Aristotle claims that there is no justice among friends, when it is simply a different type of justice?

Finardi, U. (2013). Correlation between journal impact factor and citation performance: An experimental study. Journal of informetrics, 7(2), 357-370.

Moed, H. F., (2012). Citation-based metrics are appropriate tools in journal assessment provided that they are accurate and used in an informed way. Scientometrics, 92(2), 367-376.

Willmott, M. A., Dunn, K. H., & Durance, E. F. (2012). The accessibility quotient: A new measure of open access.

Van Gunsteren, W. F. (2013). Die sieben Todsünden akademischen Handelns in der naturwissenschaftlichen Forschung. Angewandte Chemie, 125(1), 128-132.

Van Gunsteren, W. (2015). On the pitfalls of peer review. F1000Research, 4.

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John Locke (b. 1632, d. 1704) was a British philosopher, Oxford academic and medical researcher. Locke’s monumental An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689) is one of the first great defenses of modern empiricism and concerns itself with determining the limits of human understanding in respect to a wide spectrum of topics. It thus tells us in some detail what one can legitimately claim to know and what one cannot. Locke’s association with Anthony Ashley Cooper (later the First Earl of Shaftesbury) led him to become successively a government official charged with collecting information about trade and colonies, economic writer, opposition political activist, and finally a revolutionary whose cause ultimately triumphed in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Among Locke’s political works he is most famous for The Second Treatise of Government in which he argues that sovereignty resides in the people and explains the nature of legitimate government in terms of natural rights and the social contract. He is also famous for calling for the separation of Church and State in his Letter Concerning Toleration . Much of Locke’s work is characterized by opposition to authoritarianism. This is apparent both on the level of the individual person and on the level of institutions such as government and church. For the individual, Locke wants each of us to use reason to search after truth rather than simply accept the opinion of authorities or be subject to superstition. He wants us to proportion assent to propositions to the evidence for them. On the level of institutions it becomes important to distinguish the legitimate from the illegitimate functions of institutions and to make the corresponding distinction for the uses of force by these institutions. Locke believes that using reason to try to grasp the truth, and determine the legitimate functions of institutions will optimize human flourishing for the individual and society both in respect to its material and spiritual welfare. This in turn, amounts to following natural law and the fulfillment of the divine purpose for humanity.

1.1 Locke’s Life up to His Meeting with Lord Ashley in 1666

1.2 locke and lord shaftesbury 1666 to 1688, 1.3 the end of locke’s life 1689–1704, 2.2 book ii, 2.3 book iii, 2.4 book iv, 2.5 knowledge and probability, 2.6 reason, faith and enthusiasm, 3. locke’s major works on education, 4.1 the second treatise of government, 4.2 human nature and god’s purposes, 4.3 of war and slavery, 4.4 of property, 4.5 the social contract theory, 4.6 the function of civil government, 4.7 rebellion and regicide, 5. locke and religious toleration, primary sources, secondary sources, other internet resources, related entries, 1. historical background and locke’s life.

John Locke (1632–1704) was one of the greatest philosophers in Europe at the end of the seventeenth century. Locke grew up and lived through one of the most extraordinary centuries of English political and intellectual history. It was a century in which conflicts between Crown and Parliament and the overlapping conflicts between Protestants, Anglicans and Catholics swirled into civil war in the 1640s. With the defeat and death of Charles I, there began a great experiment in governmental institutions including the abolishment of the monarchy, the House of Lords and the Anglican church, and the establishment of Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate in the 1650s. The collapse of the Protectorate after the death of Cromwell was followed by the Restoration of Charles II—the return of the monarchy, the House of Lords and the Anglican Church. This period lasted from 1660 to 1688. It was marked by continued conflicts between King and Parliament and debates over religious toleration for Protestant dissenters and Catholics. This period ends with the Glorious Revolution of 1688 in which James II was driven from England and replaced by William of Orange and his wife Mary. The final period during which Locke lived involved the consolidation of power by William and Mary, and the beginning of William’s efforts to oppose the domination of Europe by the France of Louis XIV, which later culminated in the military victories of John Churchill—the Duke of Marlborough.

Locke was born in Wrington to Puritan parents of modest means. His father was a country lawyer who served in a cavalry company on the Puritan side in the early stages of the English Civil War. His father’s commander, Alexander Popham, became the local MP, and it was his patronage which allowed the young John Locke to gain an excellent education. In 1647 Locke went to Westminster School in London.

From Westminster school he went to Christ Church, Oxford, in the autumn of 1652 at the age of twenty. As Westminster school was the most important English school, so Christ Church was the most important Oxford college. Education at Oxford was medieval. Locke, like Hobbes before him, found the Aristotelian philosophy he was taught at Oxford of little use. There was, however, more at Oxford than Aristotle. The new experimental philosophy had arrived. John Wilkins, Cromwell’s brother in law, had become Warden of Wadham College. The group around Wilkins was the nucleus of what was to become the English Royal Society. The Society grew out of informal meetings and discussion groups and moved to London after the Restoration and became a formal institution in the 1660s with charters from Charles II. The Society saw its aims in contrast with the Scholastic/Aristotelian traditions that dominated the universities. The program was to study nature rather than books. [ 1 ] Many of Wilkins associates were people interested in pursuing medicine by observation rather than the reading of classic texts. Bacon’s interest in careful experimentation and the systematic collection of facts from which generalizations could be made was characteristic of this group. One of Locke’s friends from Westminster school, Richard Lower, introduced Locke to medicine and the experimental philosophy being pursued by the virtuosi at Wadham.

Locke received his B.A. in February 1656. His career at Oxford, however, continued beyond his undergraduate days. In June of 1658, Locke qualified as a Master of Arts and was elected a Senior Student of Christ Church College. The rank was equivalent to a Fellow at any of the other colleges, but was not permanent. Locke had yet to determine what his career was to be. Locke was elected Lecturer in Greek at Christ Church in December of 1660 and he was elected Lecturer in Rhetoric in 1663. At this point, Locke needed to make a decision. The statutes of Christ Church laid it down that fifty five of the senior studentships should be reserved for men in orders or reading for orders. Only five could be held by others, two in medicine, two in law and one in moral philosophy. Thus, there was good reason for Locke to become a clergyman. Since his graduation Locke had been studying medicine. Locke decided to become a doctor.

John Wilkins had left Oxford with the Restoration of Charles II. The new leader of the Oxford scientific group was Robert Boyle. He was also Locke’s scientific mentor. Boyle (with the help of his astonishing assistant Robert Hooke) built an air pump which led to the formulation of Boyle’s law and devised a barometer as a weather indicator. The work on the air pump led to a controversy with Thomas Hobbes because Boyle’s explanations of the working of the air pump were incompatible with Hobbes’ micro-corpuscular theory. This controversy continued for ten years. Boyle was, however, most influential as a theorist. He was a mechanical philosopher who treated the world as reducible to matter in motion. But he had no micro-corpuscular account of the air.

Locke read Boyle before he read Descartes. When he did read Descartes, he saw the great French philosopher as providing a viable alternative to the sterile Aristotelianism he had been taught at Oxford. In writing An Essay Concerning Human Understanding Locke adopted Descartes’ ‘way of ideas’; though it is transformed so as to become an organic part of Locke’s philosophy. Still, while admiring Descartes, Locke’s involvement with the Oxford scientists gave him a perspective that made him critical of the rationalist elements in Descartes’ philosophy.

In the Epistle to the Reader at the beginning of the Essay Locke remarks:

The commonwealth of learning is not at this time without master-builders, whose mighty designs, in advancing the sciences, will leave lasting monuments to the admiration of posterity: but everyone must not hope to be a Boyle or a Sydenham; and in an age that produces such masters as the great Huygenius and the incomparable Mr. Newton, with some others of that strain, it is ambition enough to be employed as an under-labourer in clearing the ground a little, and removing some of the rubbish that lies in the way to knowledge …. (N: 9–10; all quotations are from the Nidditch edition of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding [N])

Locke knew all of these men and their work. Locke, Boyle and Newton were all founding or early members of the English Royal Society. It is from Boyle that Locke learned about atomism (or the corpuscular hypothesis) and it is from Boyle’s book The Origin of Forms and Qualities that Locke took the language of primary and secondary qualities. Sydenham was an English physician and Locke did medical research with him. Sydenham championed careful observation of disease and rejected appeal to underlying causes. Both Boyle and Newton did work on colors that did not involve micro-corpuscular explanations. Locke read Newton’s Principia Mathematica Philosophiae Naturalis while in exile in Holland, and consulted Huygens as to the soundness of its mathematics. Locke and Newton became friends after Locke’s return from Holland in 1688. It may be that in referring to himself as an ‘under-labourer’, Locke is not only displaying a certain literary modesty, he is contrasting the positive discoveries of these men, with his own attempt to show the inadequacies of the Aristotelian and Scholastic and to some degree the Cartesian philosophies. There are, however, many aspects of Locke’s project to which this image of an under-labourer does not do justice (see Jolley 1999: 15–17). While the corpuscular philosophy and Newton’s discoveries clearly influenced Locke, it is the Baconian program of producing natural histories that Locke makes reference to when he talks about the Essay in the Introduction. He writes:

It shall suffice to my present Purpose, to consider the discerning Faculties of a Man, as they are employ’d about the Objects, which they have to do with: and I shall imagine that I have not wholly misimploy’d my self in the Thoughts I shall have on this Occasion, if in this Historical, Plain Method, I can give any Account of the Ways, whereby our Understanding comes to attain those Notions of Things, and can set down any Measure of the Certainty of our Knowledge…. (I.1.2, N: 43–4—the three numbers, are book, chapter and section numbers respectively, followed by the page number in the Nidditch edition)

The ‘Historical, Plain Method’ is apparently to give a genetic account of how we come by our ideas. Presumably this will reveal the degree of certainty of the knowledge based on such ideas. Locke’s own active involvement with the scientific movement was largely through his informal studies of medicine. Dr. David Thomas was his friend and collaborator. Locke and Thomas had a laboratory in Oxford which was very likely, in effect, a pharmacy. In 1666 Lord Ashley, one of the richest men in England, came to Oxford in order to drink some medicinal waters there. He had asked Dr. Thomas to provide them. Thomas had to be out of town and asked Locke to see that the water was delivered. As a result of this encounter, Ashley invited Locke to come to London as his personal physician. In 1667 Locke did move to London becoming not only Lord Ashley’s personal physician, but secretary, researcher, political operative and friend. Living with him Locke found himself at the very heart of English politics in the 1670s and 1680s.

Locke’s chief work while living at Lord Ashley’s residence, Exeter House, in 1668 was as Ashley’s physician. Locke used his medical training to organize a successful operation on Ashley. This was perhaps the most carefully documented operation in the 17th century. Locke consulted doctors across the country to determine what the best practices were for this operation and made cleanliness a priority. In doing so he saved his patron’s life and thus changed English history.

Locke had a number of other jobs. He worked as secretary of the Board of Trade and Plantations and Secretary to the Lords Proprietors of the Carolinas. Lord Ashley was one of the advocates of the view that England would prosper through trade and that colonies could play an important role in promoting trade. Ashley persuaded Charles II to create a Board of Trade and Plantations to collect information about trade and colonies, and Locke became its secretary. In his capacity as the secretary of the Board of Trade Locke was the collection point for information from around the globe about trade and colonies for the English government. Among Ashley’s commercial projects was an effort to found colonies in the Carolinas. In his capacity as the secretary to the Lords Proprietors, Locke was involved in the writing of the fundamental constitution of the Carolinas. There is some controversy about the extent of Locke’s role in writing the constitution. [ 2 ] In addition to issues about trade and colonies, Locke was involved through Shaftesbury in other controversies about public policy. There was a monetary crisis in England involving the value of money, and the clipping of coins. Locke wrote papers for Lord Ashley on economic matters, including the coinage crisis.

While living in London at Exeter House, Locke continued to be involved in philosophical discussions. He tells us that:

Were it fit to trouble thee with the history of this Essay, I should tell thee, that five or six friends meeting at my chamber, and discoursing on a subject very remote from this, found themselves quickly at a stand, by the difficulties that rose on every side. After we had awhile puzzled ourselves, without coming any nearer a resolution of those doubts which perplexed us, it came into my thoughts that we took a wrong course; and that before we set ourselves upon inquiries of that nature, it was necessary to examine our own abilities, and see what objects our understandings were, or were not, fitted to deal with. This I proposed to the company, who all readily assented; and thereupon it was agreed that this should be our first inquiry. Some hasty and undigested thoughts, on a subject I had never before considered, which I set down against our next meeting, gave the first entrance into this Discourse; which having been thus begun by chance, was continued by intreaty; written by incoherent parcels; and after long intervals of neglect, resumed again, as my humour or occasions permitted; and at last, in a retirement where an attendance on my health gave me leisure, it was brought into that order thou now seest it. (Epistle to the Reader, N: 7)

James Tyrrell, one of Locke’s friends was at that meeting. He recalls the discussion being about the principles of morality and revealed religion (Cranston 1957: 140–1). Thus the Oxford scholar and medical researcher came to begin the work which was to occupy him off and on over the next twenty years.

In 1674 after Shaftesbury had left the government, Locke went back to Oxford, where he acquired the degree Bachelor of medicine, and a license to practice medicine, and then went to France (Cranston 1957: 160). In France Locke went from Calais to Paris, Lyons and on to Montpellier, where he spent the next fifteen months. Much of Locke’s time was spent learning about Protestantism in France. The Edict of Nantes (promulgated by Henry IV in 1598) was in force, and so there was a degree of religious toleration in France. Louis XIV was to revoke the edict in 1685 and French Protestants were then killed while some 400,000 went into exile.

While Locke was in France, Shaftesbury’s fortunes fluctuated. In 1676 Shaftesbury was imprisoned in the tower. His imprisonment lasted for a year. In 1678, after the mysterious murder of a London judge, informers (most notably Titus Oates) started coming forward to reveal a supposed Catholic conspiracy to assassinate the King and put his brother on the throne. This whipped up public anti-Catholic frenzy. Though Shaftesbury had not fabricated the conspiracy story, nor did he prompt Oates to come forward, he did exploit the situation to the advantage of his party. In the public chaos surrounding the sensational revelations, Shaftesbury organized an extensive party network, exercised great control over elections, and built up a large parliamentary majority. His strategy was to secure the passage of an Exclusion bill that would prevent Charles II’s openly Catholic brother from becoming King. Although the Exclusion bill passed in the Commons it was rejected in the House of Lords because of the King’s strong opposition to it. As the panic over the Popish plot receded, Shaftesbury was left without a following or a cause. Shaftesbury was seized on July 21, 1681 and again put in the tower. He was tried on trumped-up charges of treason but acquitted by a London grand jury (filled with his supporters) in November.

At this point some of the Country Party leaders began plotting an armed insurrection which, had it come off, would have begun with the assassination of Charles and his brother on their way back to London from the races at Newmarket. The chances of such a rising occurring were not as good as the plotters supposed. Memories of the turmoil of the civil war were still relatively fresh. Eventually Shaftesbury, who was moving from safe house to safe house, gave up and fled to Holland in November 1682. He died there in January 1683. Locke stayed in England until the Rye House Plot (named after the house from which the plotters were to fire upon the King and his brother) was discovered in June of 1683. Locke left for the West country to put his affairs in order the very week the plot was revealed to the government and by September he was in exile in Holland. [ 3 ]

While in exile, Locke finished An Essay Concerning Human Understanding and published a fifty-page advanced notice of it in French. (This was to provide the intellectual world on the continent with most of their information about the Essay until Pierre Coste’s French translation appeared in 1704.) He also wrote and published his Epistola de Tolerentia in Latin. Richard Ashcraft, in his Revolutionary Politics and Locke’s Two Treatises of Government (1986) suggests that while in Holland, Locke was not only finishing An Essay Concerning Human Understanding and nursing his health, he was closely associated with the English revolutionaries in exile. The English government was much concerned with this group. They tried to get a number of them, including Locke, extradited to England. Locke’s studentship at Oxford was taken away from him. In the meanwhile, the English intelligence service infiltrated the rebel group in Holland and effectively thwarted their efforts—at least for a while. While Locke was living in exile in Holland, Charles II died on Feb. 6, 1685, and was succeeded by his brother, who became James II of England. Soon after this, the rebels in Holland sent a force of soldiers under the Duke of Monmouth to England to try to overthrow James II. The revolt was crushed, and Monmouth was captured and executed (Ashcraft 1986). For a meticulous, if cautious review, of the evidence concerning Locke’s involvement with the English rebels in exile see Roger Woolhouse’s Locke: A Biography (2007).

Ultimately, however, the rebels were successful. James II alienated most of his supporters, and William of Orange was invited to bring a Dutch force to England. After William’s army landed, James II, realizing that he could not mount an effective resistance, fled the country to exile in France. This became known as the Glorious Revolution of 1688. It is a watershed in English history. For it marks the point at which the balance of power in the English government passed from the King to the Parliament. Locke returned to England in February 1689.

After his return from exile, Locke published An Essay Concerning Human Understanding and The Two Treatises of Government . In addition, Popple’s translation of Locke’s A Letter Concerning Toleration was also published. It is worth noting that the Two Treatises and the Letter Concerning Toleration were published anonymously. Locke took up residence in the country at Oates in Essex, the home of Sir Francis and Lady Masham (Damaris Cudworth). Locke had met Damaris Cudworth in 1682 and became involved intellectually and romantically with her. She was the daughter of Ralph Cudworth, the Cambridge Platonist, and a philosopher in her own right. After Locke went into exile in Holland in 1683, she married Sir Francis Masham. Locke and Lady Masham remained good friends and intellectual companions to the end of Locke’s life. During the remaining years of his life, Locke oversaw four more editions of the Essay and engaged in controversies over the Essay most notably in a series of published letters with Edward Stillingfleet, Bishop of Worcester. In a similar way, Locke defended the Letter Concerning Toleration against a series of attacks. He wrote The Reasonableness of Christianity and Some Thoughts on Education during this period as well.

Nor was Locke finished with public affairs. In 1696 the Board of Trade was revived. Locke played an important part in its revival and served as the most influential member on it until 1700. The new Board of Trade had administrative powers and was, in fact, concerned with a wide range of issues, from the Irish wool trade and the suppression of piracy, to the treatment of the poor in England and the governance of the colonies. It was, in Peter Laslett’s phrase “the body which administered the United States before the American Revolution” (Laslett 1954 [1990: 127]). During these last eight years of his life, Locke was asthmatic, and he suffered so much from it that he could only bear the smoke of London during the four warmer months of the year. Locke plainly engaged in the activities of the Board out of a strong sense of patriotic duty. After his retirement from the Board of Trade in 1700, Locke remained in retirement at Oates until his death on Sunday 28 October 1704.

2. The Limits of Human Understanding

Locke is often classified as the first of the great English empiricists (ignoring the claims of Bacon and Hobbes). This reputation rests on Locke’s greatest work, the monumental An Essay Concerning Human Understanding . Locke explains his project in several places. Perhaps the most important of his goals is to determine the limits of human understanding. Locke writes:

For I thought that the first Step towards satisfying the several Enquiries, the Mind of Man was apt to run into, was, to take a Survey of our own Understandings, examine our own Powers, and see to what Things they were adapted. Till that was done, I suspected that we began at the wrong end, and in vain sought for Satisfaction in a quiet and secure Possession of Truths, that most concern’d us whilst we let loose our Thoughts into the vast Ocean of Being , as if all the boundless Extent, were the natural and undoubted Possessions of our Understandings, wherein there was nothing that escaped its Decisions, or that escaped its Comprehension. Thus Men, extending their Enquiries beyond their Capacities, and letting their Thoughts wander into those depths where they can find no sure Footing; ’tis no Wonder, that they raise Questions and multiply Disputes, which never coming to any clear Resolution, are proper to only continue and increase their Doubts, and to confirm them at last in a perfect Skepticism. Wheras were the Capacities of our Understanding well considered, the Extent of our Knowledge once discovered, and the Horizon found, which sets the boundary between the enlightened and the dark Parts of Things; between what is and what is not comprehensible by us, Men would perhaps with less scruple acquiesce in the avow’d Ignorance of the one; and employ their Thoughts and Discourse, with more Advantage and Satisfaction in the other. (I.1.7, N: 47)

Some philosophers before Locke had suggested that it would be good to find the limits of the Understanding, but what Locke does is to carry out this project in detail. In the four books of the Essay Locke considers the sources and nature of human knowledge. Book I argues that we have no innate knowledge. (In this he resembles Berkeley and Hume, and differs from Descartes and Leibniz.) So, at birth, the human mind is a sort of blank slate on which experience writes. In Book II Locke claims that ideas are the materials of knowledge and all ideas come from experience. The term ‘idea’, Locke tells us “…stands for whatsoever is the Object of the Understanding, when a man thinks” (I.1.8, N: 47). Experience is of two kinds, sensation and reflection. One of these—sensation—tells us about things and processes in the external world. The other—reflection—tells us about the operations of our own minds. Reflection is a sort of internal sense that makes us conscious of the mental processes we are engaged in. Some ideas we get only from sensation, some only from reflection and some from both.

Locke has an atomic or perhaps more accurately a corpuscular theory of ideas. [ 4 ] There is, that is to say, an analogy between the way atoms or corpuscles combine into complexes to form physical objects and the way ideas combine. Ideas are either simple or complex. We cannot create simple ideas, we can only get them from experience. In this respect the mind is passive. Once the mind has a store of simple ideas, it can combine them into complex ideas of a variety of kinds. In this respect the mind is active. Thus, Locke subscribes to a version of the empiricist axiom that there is nothing in the intellect that was not previously in the senses—where the senses are broadened to include reflection. Book III deals with the nature of language, its connections with ideas and its role in knowledge. Book IV, the culmination of the previous reflections, explains the nature and limits of knowledge, probability, and the relation of reason and faith. Let us now consider the Essay in some detail.

At the beginning of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding Locke says that since his purpose is “to enquire into the Original, Certainty and Extent of human knowledge, together with the grounds and degrees of Belief, Opinion and Assent” he is going to begin with ideas—the materials out of which knowledge is constructed. His first task is to “enquire into the Original of these Ideas…and the ways whereby the Understanding comes to be furnished with them” (I.1.3, N: 44). The role of Book I of the Essay is to make the case that being innate is not a way in which the understanding is furnished with principles and ideas. Locke treats innateness as an empirical hypothesis and argues that there is no good evidence to support it.

Locke describes innate ideas as “some primary notions…Characters as it were stamped upon the Mind of Man, which the Soul receives in its very first Being; and brings into the world with it” (I.2.1, N: 48). In pursuing this enquiry, Locke rejects the claim that there are speculative innate principles (I.2), practical innate moral principles (I.3) or that we have innate ideas of God, identity or impossibility (I.4). Locke rejects arguments from universal assent and attacks dispositional accounts of innate principles. Thus, in considering what would count as evidence from universal assent to such propositions as “What is, is” or “It is impossible for the same thing to be and not to be” he holds that children and idiots should be aware of such truths if they were innate but that they “have not the least apprehension or thought of them”. Why should children and idiots be aware of and able to articulate such propositions? Locke says:

It seems to me a near Contradiction to say that there are truths imprinted on the Soul, which it perceives or understands not; imprinting if it signify anything, being nothing else but the making certain Truths to be perceived. (I.2.5, N: 49)

So, Locke’s first point is that if propositions were innate they should be immediately perceived—by infants and idiots (and indeed everyone else)—but there is no evidence that they are. Locke then proceeds to attack dispositional accounts that say, roughly, that innate propositions are capable of being perceived under certain circumstances. Until these circumstances come about the propositions remain unperceived in the mind. With the advent of these conditions, the propositions are then perceived. Locke gives the following argument against innate propositions being dispositional:

For if any one [proposition] may [be in the mind but not be known]; then, by the same Reason, all Propositions that are true, and the Mind is ever capable of assenting to, may be said to be in the Mind, and to be imprinted: since if any one can be said to be in the Mind, which it never yet knew, it must be only because it is capable of knowing it; and so the Mind is of all Truths it ever shall know. (I.2.5, N: 50)

The essence of this argument and many of Locke’s other arguments against dispositional accounts of innate propositions is that such dispositional accounts do not provide an adequate criterion for distinguishing innate propositions from other propositions that the mind may come to discover. Thus, even if some criterion is proposed, it will turn out not to do the work it is supposed to do.

When Locke turns from speculative principles to the question of whether there are innate practical moral principles, many of the arguments against innate speculative principles continue to apply, but there are some additional considerations. Practical principles, such as the Golden Rule, are not self-evident in the way such speculative principles as “What is, is” are. Thus, one can clearly and sensibly ask reasons for why one should hold the Golden Rule true or obey it (I.3.4, N: 68). There are substantial differences between people over the content of practical principles. Thus, they are even less likely candidates to be innate propositions or to meet the criterion of universal assent. In the fourth chapter of Book I, Locke raises similar points about the ideas which compose both speculative and practical principles. The point is that if the ideas that are constitutive of the principles are not innate, this gives us even more reason to hold that the principles are not innate. He examines the ideas of identity, impossibility and God to make these points.

In Book I Locke says little about who holds the doctrine of innate principles that he is attacking. For this reason he has sometimes been accused of attacking straw men. John Yolton has persuasively argued (Yolton 1956) that the view that innate ideas and principles were necessary for the stability of religion, morality and natural law was widespread in England in the seventeenth century, and that in attacking both the naive and the dispositional account of innate ideas and innate principles, Locke is attacking positions which were widely held and continued to be held after the publication of the Essay . Thus, the charge that Locke’s account of innate principles is made of straw, is not a just criticism. But there are also some important connections with particular philosophers and schools that are worth noting and some points about innate ideas and inquiry.

At I. 4. 24. Locke tells us that the doctrine of innate principles once accepted “eased the lazy from the pains of search” and that the doctrine is an inquiry stopper that is used by those who “affected to be Masters and Teachers” to illegitimately gain control of the minds of their students. Locke rather clearly has in mind the Aristotelians and scholastics at the universities. Thus Locke’s attack on innate principles is connected with his anti-authoritarianism. It is an expression of his view of the importance of free and autonomous inquiry in the search for truth. Ultimately, Locke holds, this is the best road to knowledge and happiness. Locke, like Descartes, is tearing down the foundations of the old Aristotelian scholastic house of knowledge. But while Descartes focused on the empiricism at the foundation of the structure, Locke is focusing on the claims that innate ideas provide its first principles. The attack on innate ideas is thus the first step in the demolition of the scholastic model of science and knowledge. Ironically, it is also clear from II.1.9. that Locke sees Descartes’ claim that his essence is to be a thinking thing as entailing a doctrine of innate ideas and principles.

In Book II of the Essay , Locke gives his positive account of how we acquire the materials of knowledge. Locke distinguishes a variety of different kinds of ideas in Book II. Locke holds that the mind is a tabula rasa or blank sheet until experience in the form of sensation and reflection provide the basic materials—simple ideas—out of which most of our more complex knowledge is constructed. While the mind may be a blank slate in regard to content, it is plain that Locke thinks we are born with a variety of faculties to receive and abilities to manipulate or process the content once we acquire it. Thus, for example, the mind can engage in three different types of action in putting simple ideas together. The first of these kinds of action is to combine them into complex ideas. Complex ideas are of two kinds, ideas of substances and ideas of modes. Substances are independent existences. Beings that count as substances include God, angels, humans, animals, plants and a variety of constructed things. Modes are dependent existences. These include mathematical and moral ideas, and all the conventional language of religion, politics and culture. The second action which the mind performs is the bringing of two ideas, whether simple or complex, by one another so as to take a view of them at once, without uniting them. This gives us our ideas of relations (II.12.1, N: 163). The third act of the mind is the production of our general ideas by abstraction from particulars, leaving out the particular circumstances of time and place, which would limit the application of an idea to a particular individual. In addition to these abilities, there are such faculties as memory which allow for the storing of ideas.

Having set forth the general machinery of how simple and complex ideas of substances, modes, relations, and so forth are derived from sensation and reflection, Locke also explains how a variety of particular kinds of ideas, such as the ideas of solidity, number, space, time, power, identity, and moral relations arise from sensation and reflection. Several of these are of particular interest. Locke’s chapter on power gives rise to a discussion of free will and voluntary action (see the entry on Locke on freedom ). Locke also made a number of interesting claims in the philosophy of mind. He suggested, for example, that for all we know, God could as easily add the powers of perception and thought to matter organized in the right way as he could add those powers to an immaterial substance which would then be joined to matter organized in the right way. His account of personal identity in II. xxvii was revolutionary. (See the entry on Locke on personal identity) . Both of these topics and related ones are treated in the supplementary document: Some Interesting Issues in Locke’s Philosophy of Mind

In what follows, we focus on some central issues in Locke’s account of physical objects. (See also the entry Locke’s philosophy of science , which pursues a number of topics related to Locke’s account of physical objects that are of considerable importance but largely beyond the scope of this general account of Locke’s philosophy.) These include Locke on knowledge in natural philosophy, the limitations of the corpuscular philosophy and Locke’s relation to Newton.

Locke offers an account of physical objects based on the mechanical philosophy and the corpuscular hypothesis. The adherents of the mechanical philosophy held that all material phenomena can be explained by matter in motion and the impact of one body on another. They viewed matter as passive. They rejected the “occult qualities” and “causation at a distance” of the Aristotelian and Scholastic philosophy. Robert Boyle’s corpuscularian hypothesis treated the material world as made up of particles. Some corpuscularians held that corpuscles could be further divided and that the universe was full of matter with no void space. Atomists, on the other hand, held that the particles were indivisible and that the material world is composed of atoms and the void or empty space in which the atoms move. Locke was an atomist.

Atoms have properties. They are extended, they are solid, they have a particular shape and they are in motion or rest. They combine together to produce the familiar stuff and physical objects, the gold and the wood, the horses and violets, the tables and chairs of our world. These familiar things also have properties. They are extended, solid, have a particular shape, and are in motion and at rest. In addition to these properties that they share with the atoms that compose them, they have other properties such as colors, smells, tastes that they get by standing in relation to perceivers. The distinction between these two kinds of properties goes back to the Greek atomists. It is articulated by Galileo and Descartes as well as Locke’s mentor Robert Boyle.

Locke makes this distinction in Book II Chapter 8 of the Essay and using Boyle’s terminology calls the two different classes of properties the primary and secondary qualities of an object. This distinction is made by both of the main branches of the mechanical philosophy of the seventeenth and early eighteenth century. Both the Cartesian plenum theorists, who held that the world was full of infinitely divisible matter and that there was no void space, and the atomists such as Gassendi, who held that there were indivisible atoms and void space in which the atoms move, made the distinction between these two classes of properties. Still, the differences between these two branches of the mechanical philosophy affect their account of primary qualities. In the chapter on Solidity (II.4) Locke rejects the Cartesian definition of body as simply extended and argues that bodies are both extended and impenetrable or solid. The inclusion of solidity in Locke’s account of bodies and of primary qualities distinguishes them from the void space in which they move.

The primary qualities of an object are properties which the object possesses independent of us—such as occupying space, being either in motion or at rest, having solidity and texture. The secondary qualities are powers in bodies to produce ideas in us like color, taste, smell and so on that are caused by the interaction of our particular perceptual apparatus with the primary qualities of the object. Our ideas of primary qualities resemble the qualities in the object, while our ideas of secondary qualities do not resemble the powers that cause them. Locke also distinguishes a second class of secondary properties that are the powers that one substance has to effect another, e.g. the power of a fire to melt a piece of wax.

There has been considerable scholarly debate concerning the details of Locke’s account of the distinction. Among the issues are which qualities Locke assigns to each of the two categories. Locke gives several lists. Another issue is what the criterion is for putting a quality in one list rather than another. Does Locke hold that all the ideas of secondary qualities come to us by one sense while the ideas of primary qualities come to us through two or is Locke not making the distinction in this way? Another issue is whether there are only primary qualities of atoms or whether compounds of atoms also have primary qualities. And while Locke claims our ideas of primary qualities resemble the primary qualities in objects, and the ideas of secondary qualities do not resemble their causes in the object, what does ‘resemble’ mean in this context? Related to this issue is how we are supposed to know about particles that we cannot sense. It seems clear that Locke holds that there are certain analogies between the middle sized macroscopic objects we encounter in the world, e.g. porphyry and manna for example, and the particles that compose these things. Maurice Mandelbaum called this process ‘transdiction’. These analogies allow us to say certain things about the nature of particles and primary and secondary qualities. For example we can infer that atoms are solid and that heat is a greater rate of motion of atoms while cold is a slower motion. But these analogies may not get us very far in grasping the necessary connections between qualities in nature. Yet another issue is whether Locke sees the distinction as reductionistic. If what we mean by reductionistic here is that only the primary qualities are real and these explain the secondary qualities then there does not seem to be a clear answer. Secondary qualities surely are nothing more than certain primary qualities that affect us in certain ways. This seems to be reductionistic. But on Locke’s account of “real ideas” in II.30 both the ideas of primary and secondary qualities count as real. And while Locke holds that our ideas of secondary qualities are caused by primary qualities, in certain important respects the primary qualities do not explain them. Locke holds that we cannot even conceive how the size, figure and motion of particles could cause any sensation in us. So, knowing the size, figure and motion of the particles would be of no use to us in this regard (see IV.3.11–40, N: 544–546).

Locke probably holds some version of the representational theory of perception, though some scholars dispute this. On such a theory what the mind immediately perceives are ideas, and the ideas are caused by and represent the objects which cause them. Thus perception is a triadic relation, rather than simply being a dyadic relation between an object and a perceiver. Such a dyadic relational theory is often called naive realism because it suggests that the perceiver is directly perceiving the object, and naive because this view is open to a variety of serious objections. Some versions of the representational theory are open to serious objections as well. If, for example, one treats ideas as things, then one can imagine that because one sees ideas, the ideas actually block one from seeing things in the external world. The idea would be like a picture or painting. The picture would copy the original object in the external world, but because our immediate object of perception is the picture we would be prevented from seeing the original just as standing in front of a painting on an easel might prevent us from seeing the person being painted. Thus, this is sometimes called the picture/original theory of perception. Alternatively, Jonathan Bennett called it “the veil of perception” to emphasize that ‘seeing’ the ideas prevents us from seeing the external world. One philosopher who arguably held such a view was Nicholas Malebranche, a follower of Descartes. Antoine Arnauld, by contrast, while believing in the representative character of ideas, is a direct realist about perception. Arnauld engaged in a lengthy controversy with Malebranche, and criticized Malebranche’s account of ideas. Locke follows Arnauld in his criticism of Malebranche on this point (Locke, 1823, Vol. IX: 250). Yet Berkeley attributed the veil of perception interpretation of the representational theory of perception to Locke as have many later commentators including Bennett. A.D. Woozley puts the difficulty of doing this succinctly:

…it is scarcely credible both that Locke should be able to see and state so clearly the fundamental objection to the picture-original theory of sense perception, and that he should have held the same theory himself. (Woozley 1964: 27)

Just what Locke’s account of perception involves, is still a matter of scholarly debate. A review of this issue at a symposium including John Rogers, Gideon Yaffe, Lex Newman, Tom Lennon, and Vere Chappell at a meeting of the Pacific Division of the American Philosophical Association in 2003 and later expanded and published in the Pacific Philosophical Quarterly (2004, volume 85, issue 3) found most of the symposiasts holding the view that Locke holds a representative theory of perception but that he is not a skeptic about the external world in the way that the veil of perception doctrine might suggest.

Another issue that has been a matter of controversy since the first publication of the Essay is what Locke means by the term ‘substance’. The primary/secondary quality distinction gets us a certain ways in understanding physical objects, but Locke is puzzled about what underlies or supports the primary qualities themselves. He is also puzzled about what material and immaterial substances might have in common that would lead us to apply the same word to both. These kinds of reflections led him to the relative and obscure idea of substance in general. This is an “I know not what” which is the support of qualities which cannot subsist by themselves. We experience properties appearing in regular clumps, but we must infer that there is something that supports or perhaps ‘holds together’ those qualities. For we have no experience of that supporting substance. It is clear that Locke sees no alternative to the claim that there are substances supporting qualities. He does not, for example, have a theory of tropes (tropes are properties that can exist independently of substances) which he might use to dispense with the notion of substance. (In fact, he may be rejecting something like a theory of tropes when he rejects the Aristotelian doctrine of real qualities and insists on the need for substances.) He is thus not at all a skeptic about ‘substance’ in the way that Hume is. But, it is also quite clear that he is regularly insistent about the limitations of our ideas of substances. Bishop Stillingfleet accused Locke of putting substance out of the reasonable part of the world. But Locke is not doing that.

Since Berkeley, Locke’s doctrine of the substratum or substance in general has been attacked as incoherent. It seems to imply that we have a particular without any properties, and this seems like a notion that is inconsistent with empiricism. We have no experience of such an entity and so no way to derive such an idea from experience. Locke himself acknowledges this point (I.4.18, N: 95). In order to avoid this problem, Michael Ayers has proposed that we must understand the notions of ‘substratum’ and ‘substance in general’ in terms of Locke’s distinction between real and nominal essences and particularly his doctrine of real essences developed in Book III of the Essay rather than as a separate problem from that of knowing real essences. The real essence of a material thing is its atomic constitution. This atomic constitution is the causal basis of all the observable properties of the thing, from which we create nominal essences. Were the real essence known, all the observable properties could be deduced from it. Locke claims that the real essences of material things are quite unknown to us. Locke’s concept of substance in general is also a ‘something I know not what’. Thus, on Ayers’ interpretation ‘substance in general’ means something like ‘whatever it is that supports qualities’ while the real essence means ‘this particular atomic constitution that explains this set of observable qualities’. Thus, Ayers wants to treat the unknown substratum as picking out the same thing as the real essence—thus eliminating the need for particulars without properties. This proposed way of interpreting Locke has been criticized by scholars both because of a lack of textural support, and on the stronger grounds that it conflicts with some things that Locke does say (see Jolley 1999: 71–3). As we have reached one of the important concepts in Book III, let us turn to that Book and Locke’s discussion of language.

Locke devotes Book III of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding to language. This is a strong indication that Locke thinks issues about language were of considerable importance in attaining knowledge. At the beginning of the Book he notes the importance of abstract general ideas to knowledge. These serve as sorts under which we rank all the vast multitude of particular existences. Thus, abstract ideas and classification are of central importance in Locke’s discussion of language and its importance for knowledge. Without general terms and classes we would be faced with the impossible task of trying to know a vast world of particulars.

There is a clear connection between Books II and III in that Locke claims that words stand for ideas. In his discussion of language Locke distinguishes words according to the categories of ideas established in Book II of the Essay . So there are ideas of substances, simple modes, mixed modes, relations and so on. It is in this context that Locke makes the distinction between real and nominal essences noted above. Perhaps because of his focus on the role that kind terms play in classification, Locke pays vastly more attention to nouns than to verbs. Locke recognizes that not all words relate to ideas. There are also the many particles, words that “…signify the connexion that the Mind gives to Ideas, or Propositions, one with another” (II.7.1, N: 471). Still, it is the relation of words and ideas that gets most of Locke’s attention in Book III.

Norman Kretzmann calls the claim that “words in their primary or immediate signification signify nothing but the ideas in the mind of him that uses them ” (III.2.2) “Locke’s main semantic thesis” (see Kretzmann 1968:179). This thesis has often been criticized as a classic blunder in semantic theory. Thus Mill, for example, wrote, “When I say, ‘the sun is the cause of the day’, I do not mean that my idea of the sun causes or excites in me the idea of day” (Mill 1843: bk 1, ch. 2, § 1). This criticism of Locke’s account of language parallels the “veil of perception” critique of his account of perception and suggests that Locke is not distinguishing the meaning of a word from its reference. Kretzmann, however, argues persuasively that Locke distinguishes between meaning and reference and that ideas provide the meaning but not the reference of words. Thus, the line of criticism represented by the quotation from Mill is ill founded.

In addition to the kinds of ideas noted above, there are also particular and abstract ideas. Particular ideas have in them the ideas of particular places and times which limit the application of the idea to a single individual, while abstract general ideas leave out the ideas of particular times and places in order to allow the idea to apply to other similar qualities or things. There has been considerable philosophical and scholarly debate about the nature of the process of abstraction and Locke’s account of it. Berkeley argued that the process as Locke conceives it is incoherent. In part this is because Berkeley is an imagist—that is he believes that all ideas are images. If one is an imagist it becomes impossible to imagine what idea could include both the ideas of a right and equilateral triangle. Michael Ayers has recently argued that Locke too was an imagist. This would make Berkeley’s criticism of Locke very much to the point. Ayers’ claim, however, has been disputed (see, for example, Soles 1999). The process of abstraction is of considerable importance to human knowledge. Locke thinks most words we use are general (III.1.1, N: 409). Clearly, it is only general or sortal ideas that can serve in a classificatory scheme.

In his discussion of names of substances and in the contrast between names of substances and names of modes, a number of interesting features of Locke’s views about language and knowledge emerge. Physical substances are atoms and things made up of atoms. But we have no experience of the atomic structure of horses and tables. We know horses and tables mainly by secondary qualities such as color, taste and smell and so on and primary qualities such as shape, motion and extension. So, since the real essence (the atomic constitution) of a horse is unknown to us, our word ‘horse’ cannot get its meaning from that real essence. What the general word signifies is the complex of ideas we have decided are parts of the idea of that sort of thing. These ideas we get from experience. Locke calls such a general idea that picks out a sort, the nominal essence of that sort.

One of the central issues in Book III has to do with classification. On what basis do we divide things into kinds and organize those kinds into a system of species and genera? In the Aristotelian and Scholastic tradition that Locke rejects, necessary properties are those that an individual must have in order to exist and continue to exist. These contrast with accidental properties. Accidental properties are those that an individual can gain and lose and yet continue in existence. If a set of necessary properties is shared by a number of individuals, that set of properties constitutes the essence of a natural kind. The borders between kinds are supposed to be sharp and determinate. The aim of Aristotelian science is to discover the essences of natural kinds. Kinds can then be organized hierarchically into a classificatory system of species and genera. This classification of the world by natural kinds will be unique and privileged because it alone corresponds to the structure of the world. This doctrine of essences and kinds is often called Aristotelian essentialism. Locke rejects a variety of aspects of this doctrine. He rejects the notion that an individual has an essence apart from being treated as belonging to a kind. He also rejects the claim that there is a single classification of things in nature that the natural philosopher should seek to discover. He holds that there are many possible ways to classify the world each of which might be particularly useful depending on one’s purposes.

Locke’s pragmatic account of language and the distinction between nominal and real essences constitute an anti-essentialist alternative to this Aristotelian essentialism and its correlative account of the classification of natural kinds. He claims that there are no fixed boundaries in nature to be discovered—that is there are no clear demarcation points between species. There are always borderline cases. There is debate over whether Locke’s view is that this lack of fixed boundaries is true on both the level of appearances and nominal essences, and atomic constitutions and real essences, or on the level of nominal essences alone. The first view is that Locke holds that there are no Aristotelian natural kinds on either the level of appearance or atomic reality. The second view holds that Locke thinks there are Aristotelian natural kinds on the atomic level, it is simply that we cannot get at them or know what they are. On either of these interpretations, the real essence cannot provide the meaning to names of substances. A.O. Lovejoy in the Great Chain of Being , and David Wiggins are proponents of the second interpretation while Michael Ayers and William Uzgalis argue for the first (Uzgalis 1988; Ayers 1991: II. 70).

By contrast, the ideas that we use to make up our nominal essences come to us from experience. Locke claims that the mind is active in making our ideas of sorts and that there are so many properties to choose among that it is possible for different people to make quite different ideas of the essence of a certain substance. This has given some commentators the impression that the making of sorts is utterly arbitrary and conventional for Locke and that there is no basis for criticizing a particular nominal essence. Sometimes Locke says things that might suggest this. But this impression should be resisted. Peter Anstey has characterized Locke’s conventionalism about classificatory terms as both constrained and convergent (Anstey 2011: 209, 212). Locke claims that while the making of nominal essences is the work of the understanding, that work is constrained both by usage (where words stand for ideas that are already in use) and by the fact that substance words are supposed to copy the properties of the substances they refer to. Locke says that our ideas of kinds of substances have as their archetype the complex of properties that produce the appearances we use to make our nominal essences and which cause the unity of the complex of ideas that appear to us regularly conjoined. The very notion of an archetype implies constraints on what properties (and hence what ideas) can go together. If there were no such constraints there could be no archetype. (For further discussion of the nominal-real essence distinction see the entry Locke on Real Essences) .

Let us begin with the usage of words. It is important in a community of language users that words be used with the same meaning. If this condition is met it facilitates the chief end of language which is communication. If one fails to use words with the meaning that most people attach to them, one will fail to communicate effectively with others. Thus one would defeat the main purpose of language. It should also be noted that traditions of usage for Locke can be modified. Otherwise we would not be able to improve our knowledge and understanding by getting more clear and determinate ideas.

In the making of the names of substances, there is a period of discovery as the abstract general idea is put together (e.g. the discovery of violets or gold) and then the naming of that idea and then its introduction into language. Language itself is viewed as an instrument for carrying out the mainly prosaic purposes and practices of everyday life. Ordinary people are the chief makers of language.

Vulgar Notions suit vulgar Discourses; and both though confused enough, yet serve pretty well for the Market and the Wake. Merchants and Lovers, Cooks and Taylors, have Words wherewith to dispatch their ordinary affairs; and so, I think, might Philosophers and Disputants too, if they had a mind to understand and to be clearly understood. (III.11.10, N: 514)

These ordinary people use a few apparent qualities, mainly ideas of secondary qualities to make ideas and words that will serve their purposes.

Natural philosophers (i.e. scientists) come along later to try to determine if the connections between properties which the ordinary folk have put together in a particular idea in fact holds in nature. Scientists are seeking to find the necessary connections between properties. Still, even scientists, in Locke’s view, are restricted to using observable (and mainly secondary) qualities to categorize things in nature. Sometimes, the scientists may find that the ordinary folk had erred, as when they called whales ‘fish’. A whale is not a fish, as it turns out, but a mammal. There is a characteristic group of qualities that fish have that whales do not have. There is a characteristic group of qualities that mammals have that whales also have. To classify a whale as a fish, therefore, is a mistake. Similarly, we might make an idea of gold that only included being a soft metal and gold color. If so, we would be unable to distinguish between gold and fool’s gold. Thus, since it is the mind that makes complex ideas (they are ‘the workmanship of the understanding’), one is free to put together any combination of ideas one wishes and call it what one will. But the product of such work is open to criticism, either on the grounds that it does not conform to already current usage or that it inadequately represents the archetypes that it is supposed to copy in the world. We engage in such criticism in order to improve human understanding of the material world and thus the human condition. This is the convergent character of Locke’s conventionalism. In becoming more accurate, the nominal essence converges on the real essence.

However, we should not forget the master-builders that Locke mentions at the beginning of the Essay . Stephen Gaukroger (2010) claims that Locke’s great achievement was to provide a philosophical justification for the kind of experimental philosophy that Boyle’s work on the air pump, and his and Newton’s work on colors, as well as Sydenham’s observational medicine. All of these had been attacked for not providing explanations in terms of matter theory. Thus, Locke is justifying the autonomy of experimental philosophy. Such experimental explanations depend solely on the relation between phenomena, even when there is some micro-corpuscular basis for the phenomena being explained. According to Gaukroger, this is Locke’s contribution to the collapse of mechanism. For the details of the problem and its solution, see Chapters 4 and 5 of Gaukroger (2010).

The distinction between modes and substances is surely one of the most important in Locke’s philosophy. In contrast with substances, modes are dependent existences—they can be thought of as the ordering of substances. These are technical terms for Locke, so we should see how they are defined. Locke writes:

First, Modes I call such complex Ideas , which however compounded, contain not in themselves the supposition of subsisting by themselves; such are the ideas signified by the Words Triangle, Gratitude, Murther, etc . (II.12.4, N: 165)

Locke goes on to distinguish between simple and mixed modes. He writes:

Of these Modes , there are two sorts, which deserve distinct consideration. First, there are some that are only variations, or different combinations of the same simple Idea , without the mixture of any other, as a dozen or score; which are nothing but the ideas of so many distinct unities being added together, and these I call simple Modes , as being contained within the bounds of one simple Idea . Secondly, There are others, compounded of Ideas of several kinds, put together to make one complex one; v.g. Beauty , consisting of a certain combination of Colour and Figure, causing Delight to the Beholder; Theft , which being the concealed change of the Possession of any thing, without the consent of the Proprietor, contains, as is visible, a combination of several Ideas of several kinds; and these I call Mixed Modes . (II.12.5, N: 165)

When we make ideas of modes, the mind is again active, but the archetype is in our mind. The question becomes whether things in the world fit our ideas, and not whether our ideas correspond to the nature of things in the world. Our ideas are adequate. Thus we define ‘bachelor’ as an unmarried, adult, male human being. If we find that someone does not fit this definition, this does not reflect badly on our definition, it simply means that that individual does not belong to the class of bachelors. Modes give us the ideas of mathematics, of morality, of religion and politics and indeed of human conventions in general. Since these modal ideas are not only made by us but serve as standards that things in the world either fit or do not fit and thus belong or do not belong to that sort, ideas of modes are clear and distinct, adequate and complete. Thus in modes, we get the real and nominal essences combined. One can give precise definitions of mathematical terms (that is, give necessary and sufficient conditions), and one can give deductive demonstrations of mathematical truths. Locke sometimes says that morality too is capable of deductive demonstration. Though pressed by his friend William Molyneux to produce such a demonstrative morality, Locke never did so. The entry Locke’s moral philosophy provides an excellent discussion of Locke’s views on morality and issues related to them for which there is no room in this general account. The terms of political discourse also have some of the same modal features for Locke. When Locke defines the states of nature, slavery, and war in the Second Treatise of Government , for example, we are presumably getting precise modal definitions from which one can deduce consequences. It is possible, however, that with politics we are getting a study that requires both experience as well as the deductive modal aspect.

In the fourth book of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding Locke tells us what knowledge is and what humans can know and what they cannot (not simply what they do and do not happen to know). Locke defines knowledge as “the perception of the connexion and agreement or disagreement and repugnancy of any of our Ideas” (IV.1.1, N: 525). This definition of knowledge contrasts with the Cartesian definition of knowledge as any ideas that are clear and distinct. Locke’s account of knowledge allows him to say that we can know substances in spite of the fact that our ideas of them always include the obscure and relative idea of substance in general. Still, Locke’s definition of knowledge raises in this domain a problem analogous to those we have seen with perception and language. If knowledge is the “perception of … the agreement or disagreement … of any of our Ideas”—are we not trapped in the circle of our own ideas? What about knowing the real existence of things? Locke is plainly aware of this problem, and very likely holds that the implausibility of skeptical hypotheses, such as Descartes’ Dream hypothesis (he doesn’t even bother to mention Descartes’ malin genie or Evil Demon hypothesis), along with the causal connections between qualities and ideas in his own system is enough to solve the problem. It is also worth noting that there are significant differences between Locke’s brand of empiricism and that of Berkeley that would make it easier for Locke to solve the veil of perception problem than Berkeley. Locke, for example, makes transdictive inferences about atoms where Berkeley is unwilling to allow that such inferences are legitimate. This implies that Locke has a semantics that allows him to talk about the unexperienced causes of experience (such as atoms) where Berkeley cannot. (See Mackie’s perceptive discussion of the veil of perception problem, in Problems from Locke , 1976: 51 through 67.)

What then can we know and with what degree of certainty? We can know that God exists with the second highest degree of assurance, that of demonstration. We also know that we exist with the highest degree of certainty. The truths of morality and mathematics we can know with certainty as well, because these are modal ideas whose adequacy is guaranteed by the fact that we make such ideas as ideal models which other things must fit, rather than trying to copy some external archetype which we can only grasp inadequately. On the other hand, our efforts to grasp the nature of external objects are limited largely to the connection between their apparent qualities. The real essence of elephants and gold is hidden from us: though in general we suppose them to be some distinct combination of atoms which cause the grouping of apparent qualities which leads us to see elephants and violets, gold and lead as distinct kinds. Our knowledge of material things is probabilistic and thus opinion rather than knowledge. Thus our “knowledge” of external objects is inferior to our knowledge of mathematics and morality, of ourselves, and of God. We do have sensitive knowledge of external objects, which is limited to things we are presently experiencing. While Locke holds that we only have knowledge of a limited number of things, he thinks we can judge the truth or falsity of many propositions in addition to those we can legitimately claim to know. This brings us to a discussion of probability.

Knowledge involves the seeing of the agreement or disagreement of our ideas. What then is probability and how does it relate to knowledge? Locke writes:

The Understanding Faculties being given to Man, not barely for Speculation, but also for the Conduct of his Life, Man would be at a great loss, if he had nothing to direct him, but what has the Certainty of true Knowledge … Therefore, as God has set some Things in broad day-light; as he has given us some certain Knowledge…So in the greater part of our Concernment, he has afforded us only the twilight, as I may say so, of Probability, suitable, I presume, to that State of Mediocrity and Probationership, he has been pleased to place us in here, wherein to check our over-confidence and presumption, we might by every day’s Experience be made sensible of our short sightedness and liableness to Error… (IV.14.1–2, N: 652)

So, apart from the few important things that we can know for certain, e.g. the existence of ourselves and God, the nature of mathematics and morality broadly construed, for the most part we must lead our lives without knowledge. What then is probability? Locke writes:

As Demonstration is the shewing of the agreement or disagreement of two Ideas, by the intervention of one or more Proofs, which have a constant, immutable, and visible connexion one with another: so Probability is nothing but the appearance of such an Agreement or Disagreement, by the intervention of Proofs, whose connection is not constant and immutable, or at least is not perceived to be so, but is or appears, for the most part to be so, and is enough to induce the Mind to judge the Proposition to be true, or false, rather than the contrary. (IV.15.1, N: 654)

Probable reasoning, on this account, is an argument, similar in certain ways to the demonstrative reasoning that produces knowledge but different also in certain crucial respects. It is an argument that provides evidence that leads the mind to judge a proposition true or false but without a guarantee that the judgment is correct. This kind of probable judgment comes in degrees, ranging from near demonstrations and certainty to unlikeliness and improbability in the vicinity of impossibility. It is correlated with degrees of assent ranging from full assurance down to conjecture, doubt and distrust.

The new science of mathematical probability had come into being on the continent just around the time that Locke was writing the Essay . His account of probability, however, shows little or no awareness of mathematical probability. Rather it reflects an older tradition that treated testimony as probable reasoning. Given that Locke’s aim, above all, is to discuss what degree of assent we should give to various religious propositions, the older conception of probability very likely serves his purposes best. Thus, when Locke comes to describe the grounds for probability he cites the conformity of the proposition to our knowledge, observation and experience, and the testimony of others who are reporting their observation and experience. Concerning the latter we must consider the number of witnesses, their integrity, their skill in observation, counter testimony and so on. In judging rationally how much to assent to a probable proposition, these are the relevant considerations that the mind should review. We should, Locke also suggests, be tolerant of differing opinions as we have more reason to retain the opinions we have than to give them up to strangers or adversaries who may well have some interest in our doing so.

Locke distinguishes two sorts of probable propositions. The first of these have to do with particular existences or matters of fact, and the second that are beyond the testimony of the senses. Matters of fact are open to observation and experience, and so all of the tests noted above for determining rational assent to propositions about them are available to us. Things are quite otherwise with matters that are beyond the testimony of the senses. These include the knowledge of finite immaterial spirits such as angels or things such as atoms that are too small to be sensed, or the plants, animals or inhabitants of other planets that are beyond our range of sensation because of their distance from us. Concerning this latter category, Locke says we must depend on analogy as the only help for our reasoning. He writes:

Thus the observing that the bare rubbing of two bodies violently one upon the other, produce heat, and very often fire it self, we have reason to think, that what we call Heat and Fire consist of the violent agitation of the imperceptible minute parts of the burning matter…. (IV.16.12, N: 665–6)

We reason about angels by considering the Great Chain of Being; figuring that while we have no experience of angels, the ranks of species above us is likely as numerous as that below of which we do have experience. This reasoning is, however, only probable.

The relative merits of the senses, reason and faith for attaining truth and the guidance of life were a significant issue during this period. As noted above James Tyrrell recalled that the original impetus for the writing of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding was a discussion about the principles of morality and revealed religion. In Book IV Chapters 17, 18, and 19 Locke deals with the nature of reason, the relation of reason to faith and the nature of enthusiasm. Locke remarks that all sects make use of reason as far as they can. It is only when this fails them that they have recourse to faith and claim that what is revealed is above reason. But he adds:

And I do not see how they can argue with anyone or even convince a gainsayer who uses the same plea, without setting down strict boundaries between faith and reason. (IV.18.2, N: 689)

Locke then defines reason as

the discovery of the certainty or probability of such propositions or truths, which the mind arrives at by deduction made from such ideas, as it has got by the use of its natural faculties; viz, by the use of sensation or reflection. (IV.18.2, N: 689)

Faith, on the other hand, is assent to any proposition “…upon the credit of the proposer, as coming from God, in some extraordinary way of communication”. That is we have faith in what is disclosed by revelation and which cannot be discovered by reason. Locke also distinguishes between the original revelation by God to some person, and traditional revelation which is the original revelation “…delivered over to others in Words, and the ordinary ways of our conveying our Conceptions one to another” (IV.18.3, N: 690).

Locke makes the point that some things could be discovered both by reason and by revelation—God could reveal the propositions of Euclid’s geometry, or they could be discovered by reason. In such cases there would be little use for faith. Traditional revelation can never produce as much certainty as the contemplation of the agreement or disagreement of our own ideas. Similarly revelations about matters of fact do not produce as much certainty as having the experience oneself. Revelation, then, cannot contradict what we know to be true. If it could, it would undermine the trustworthiness of all of our faculties. This would be a disastrous result. Where revelation comes into its own is where reason cannot reach. Where we have few or no ideas for reason to contradict or confirm, these are the proper matters for faith.

…that Part of the Angels rebelled against GOD, and thereby lost their first happy state: and that the dead shall rise, and live again: These and the like, being Beyond the Discovery of Reason, are purely matters of Faith; with which Reason has nothing to do. (IV.18.8, N: 694)

Still, reason does have a crucial role to play in respect to revelation. Locke writes:

Because the Mind, not being certain of the Truth of that it evidently does not know, but only yielding to the Probability that appears to it, is bound to give up its assent to such Testimony, which, it is satisfied, comes from one who cannot err, and will not deceive. But yet, it still belongs to Reason, to judge of the truth of its being a Revelation, and of the significance of the Words, wherein it is delivered. (IV.18.8, N: 694)

So, in respect to the crucial question of how we are to know whether a revelation is genuine, we are supposed to use reason and the canons of probability to judge. Locke claims that if the boundaries between faith and reason are not clearly marked, then there will be no place for reason in religion and one then gets all the “extravagant Opinions and Ceremonies, that are to be found in the religions of the world…” (IV.18.11, N: 696).

Should one accept revelation without using reason to judge whether it is genuine revelation or not, one gets what Locke calls a third principle of assent besides reason and revelation, namely enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is a vain or unfounded confidence in divine favor or communication. It implies that there is no need to use reason to judge whether such favor or communication is genuine or not. Clearly when such communications are not genuine they are “the ungrounded Fancies of a Man’s own Brain” (IV.19.2, N: 698). This kind of enthusiasm was characteristic of Protestant extremists going back to the era of the civil war. Locke was not alone in rejecting enthusiasm, but he rejects it in the strongest terms. Enthusiasm violates the fundamental principle by which the understanding operates—that assent be proportioned to the evidence. To abandon that fundamental principle would be catastrophic. This is a point that Locke also makes in The Conduct of the Understanding and The Reasonableness of Christianity . Locke wants each of us to use our understanding to search after truth. Of enthusiasts, those who would abandon reason and claim to know on the basis of faith alone, Locke writes:

…he that takes away Reason to make way for Revelation, puts out the Light of both, and does much what the same, as if he would perswade a Man to put out his eyes, the better to receive the remote Light of an invisible Star by a Telescope. (IV.19.4, N: 698)

Rather than engage in the tedious labor required to reason correctly to judge of the genuineness of their revelation, enthusiasts persuade themselves that they are possessed of immediate revelation. This leads to “odd Opinions and extravagant actions” that are characteristic of enthusiasm and which should warn that this is a wrong principle. Thus, Locke strongly rejects any attempt to make inward persuasion not judged by reason a legitimate principle.

We turn now to a consideration of Locke’s educational works.

Locke’s Some Thoughts Concerning Education and his Conduct of the Understanding form a nice bridge between An Essay Concerning Human Understanding and his political works. Ruth Grant and Nathan Tarcov write in the introduction to their edition of these works:

The idea of liberty, so crucial to all of Locke’s writings on politics and education, is traced in the Essay to reflection on the power of the mind over one’s own actions, especially the power to suspend actions in the pursuit of the satisfaction of one’s own desires until after a full consideration of their objects (II.21.47, N: 51–52). The Essay thus shows how the independence of mind pursued in the Conduct is possible. (G&T 1996: xvi)

Some Thoughts Concerning Education was first published in 1693. This book collected together advice that Locke had been giving his friend Edward Clarke about the education of Clarke’s son (and also his daughters) since 1684. In preparing the revision for the fourth edition of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding Locke began writing a chapter called “The Conduct of the Understanding”. This became quite long and was never added to the Essay or even finished. It was left to Locke’s literary executors to decide what to do with it. The Conduct was published by Peter King in his posthumous edition of some of Locke’s works in 1706. As Locke was composing these works, some of the material from the Conduct eventually made its way into the Thoughts . Grant and Tarcov write that the Thoughts and the Conduct “complement each other well: the Thoughts focuses on the education of children by their parents, whereas the Conduct addresses the self-education of adults” (G&T 1996: vii). Though they also note tensions between the two that illustrate paradoxes in liberal society. The Thoughts is addressed to the education of the sons and daughters of the English gentry in the late seventeenth century. It is in some ways thus significantly more limited to its time and place than the Conduct . Yet, its insistence on the inculcating such virtues as

justice as respect for the rights of others, civility, liberality, humanity, self-denial, industry, thrift, courage, truthfulness, and a willingness to question prejudice, authority and the biases of one’s own self-interest

very likely represents the qualities needed for citizens in a liberal society (G&T 1996: xiii).

Locke’s Thoughts represents the culmination of a century of what has been called “the discovery of the child”. In the Middle Ages the child was regarded as

only a simple plaything, as a simple animal, or a miniature adult who dressed, played and was supposed to act like his elders…Their ages were unimportant and therefore seldom known. Their education was undifferentiated, either by age, ability or intended occupation. (Axtell 1968: 63–4)

Locke treated children as human beings in whom the gradual development of rationality needed to be fostered by parents. Locke urged parents to spend time with their children and tailor their education to their character and idiosyncrasies, to develop both a sound body and character, and to make play the chief strategy for learning rather than rote learning or punishment. Thus, he urged learning languages by learning to converse in them before learning rules of grammar. Locke also suggests that the child learn at least one manual trade.

In advocating a kind of education that made people who think for themselves, Locke was preparing people to effectively make decisions in their own lives—to engage in individual self-government—and to participate in the government of their country. The Conduct reveals the connections Locke sees between reason, freedom and morality. Reason is required for good self-government because reason insofar as it is free from partiality, intolerance and passion and able to question authority leads to fair judgment and action. We thus have a responsibility to cultivate reason in order to avoid the moral failings of passion, partiality and so forth (G&T 1996: xii). This is, in Tarcov’s phrase, Locke’s education for liberty.

We turn now to Locke’s political writings. (See the entry on Locke’s political philosophy , which focuses on five topics (the state of nature, natural law, property, consent and toleration) and goes into these topics in more depth than is possible in a general account and provides much useful information on the debates about them.)

4. The Two Treatises Of Government

Lord Shaftsbury had been dismissed from his post as Lord Chancellor in 1673 and had become one of the leaders of the opposition party, the Country Party. In 1679 the chief issue was the attempt by the Country Party leaders to exclude James, Duke of York from succeeding his brother Charles II to the throne. They wanted to do this because James was a Catholic, and England by this time was a firmly Protestant country. They had acquired a majority in the House of Commons through serious grass roots election campaigns, and passed an exclusion bill, but given the King’s unwillingness to see his brother excluded from the throne, the bill failed in the House of Lords. They tried a couple of more times without success. Having failed by parliamentary means, some of the Country Party leaders started plotting armed rebellion.

The Two Treatises of Government were published in 1689, long after the rebellion plotted by the Country party leaders had failed to materialize and after Shaftsbury had fled the country for Holland and died. The introduction of the Two Treatises was written after the Glorious Revolution of 1688, and gave the impression that the book was written to justify the Glorious Revolution. We now know that the Two Treatises of Government were written during the Exclusion crisis in 1681 and may have been intended in part to justify the general armed rising which the Country Party leaders were planning.

There were serious obstacles to a rebellion to force James’ exclusion from the throne. The English Anglican gentry needed to support such an action. But the Anglican church from childhood on taught that: “…men’s political duties were exhaustively determined by their terrestrial superiors, that under grave conscientious scruples they might rightly decline to carry out those decrees of authority which were in direct breach of divine law, they could under no circumstances have a right to resist such authority”. (Dunn, 1968, 48) Since by 1679 it was abundantly clear that the King opposed excluding his brother from the throne, to favor exclusion implied “explicit and self-conscious resistance to the sovereign”. Passive resistance would simply not do. On the other hand, the royal policy “outraged their deepest religious prejudices and stimulated their most obscure emotional anxieties.” So, the gentry were deeply conflicted and neither of the choices available to them looked very palatable. John Dunn goes on to remark: “To exert influence upon their choice it was above all necessary to present a more coherent ordering of their values, to show that the political tradition within which the dissenters saw their conduct was not necessarily empirically absurd or socially subversive. The gentry had to be persuaded that there could be reason for rebellion which could make it neither blasphemous or suicidal.” (Dunn, 1968, 49) To achieve this goal Locke picked the most relevant and extreme of the supporters of the divine right of Kings to attack. Sir Robert Filmer (c 1588–1653), a man of the generation of Charles I and the English Civil War, who had defended the crown in various works. His most famous work, however, Patriarcha , was published posthumously in 1680 and represented the most complete and coherent exposition of the view Locke wished to deny. Filmer held that men were born into helpless servitude to an authoritarian family, a social hierarchy and a sovereign whose only constraint was his relationship with God. Under these circumstances, anything other than passive obedience would be “vicious, blasphemous and intellectually absurd.” So, Locke needed to refute Filmer and in Dunn’s words: “rescue the contractarian account of political obligation from the criticism of impiety and absurdity. Only in this way could he restore to the Anglican gentry a coherent basis for moral autonomy or a practical initiative in the field of politics.” (Dunn, 1968, 50)

The First Treatise of Government is a polemical work aimed at refuting the theological basis for the patriarchal version of the Divine Right of Kings doctrine put forth by Sir Robert Filmer. Locke singles out Filmer’s contention that men are not “naturally free” as the key issue, for that is the “ground” or premise on which Filmer erects his argument for the claim that all “legitimate” government is “absolute monarchy”—kings being descended from the first man, Adam, and their subjects being naturally slaves. Early in the First Treatise Locke denies that either scripture or reason supports Filmer’s premise or arguments. In what follows in the First Treatise , Locke minutely examines key Biblical passages.

While The Second Treatise of Government provides Locke’s positive theory of government, it also continues his argument against Sir Robert Filmer’s claims that monarchs legitimately hold absolute power over their subjects. Locke holds that Filmer’s view is sufficiently incoherent to lead to governments being established by force and violence. Thus, Locke claims he must provide an alternative account of the origin of government “lest men fall into the dangerous belief that all government in the world is merely the product of force and violence” ( Treatises II,1,4). Locke’s account involves several devices which were common in seventeenth and eighteenth century political philosophy—natural rights theory and the social contract. Natural rights are those rights which we are supposed to have as human beings before ever government comes into being. We might suppose, that like other animals, we have a natural right to struggle for our survival. Locke will argue that we have a right to the means to survive. When Locke comes to explain how government comes into being, he uses the idea that people agree that their condition in the state of nature is unsatisfactory, and so agree to transfer some of their rights to a central government, while retaining others. This is the theory of the social contract. There are many versions of natural rights theory and the social contract in seventeenth and eighteenth century European political philosophy, some conservative and some radical. Locke’s version belongs on the radical side of the spectrum. These radical natural right theories influenced the ideologies of the American and French revolutions.

Locke’s strategy for refuting Filmer’s claims that monarchs have absolute power over their subjects is to show that Filmer is conflating a whole variety of limited powers, all of which might be held by one man and thus give the false appearance that a king has absolute power over wives, children, servants and slaves as well as subjects of a commonwealth. When properly distinguished, however, and the limitations of each displayed, it becomes clear that monarchs have no legitimate absolute power over their subjects.

An important part of Locke’s project in the Second Treatise is to figure out what the role of legitimate government is, thus allowing him to distinguish the nature of illegitimate government. Once this is done, the basis for legitimate revolution becomes clear. Figuring out what the proper or legitimate role of civil government is would be a difficult task indeed if one were to examine the vast complexity of existing governments. How should one proceed? One strategy is to consider what life is like in the absence of civil government. Presumably this is a simpler state, one which may be easier to understand. Then one might see what role civil government ought to play. This is the strategy which Locke pursues, following Hobbes and others. So, in the first chapter of the Second Treatise Locke defines political power.

Political power , then, I take to be a right of making laws with penalties of death, and consequently all less penalties, for the regulating and preserving of property, and of employing the force of the community, in the execution of such laws, and in the defence of the common-wealth from foreign injury; and all this only for the public good. ( Treatises, II, 1,3)

In the second chapter of The Second Treatise Locke describes the state in which there is no government with real political power. This is the state of nature. It is sometimes assumed that the state of nature is a state in which there is no government at all. This is only partially true. It is possible to have in the state of nature either no government, illegitimate government, or legitimate government with less than full political power. (See the section on the state of nature in the entry on Locke’s political philosophy.)

If we consider the state of nature before there was government, it is a state of political equality in which there is no natural superior or inferior. From this equality flows the obligation to mutual love and the duties that people owe one another, and the great maxims of justice and charity. Was there ever such a state? There has been considerable debate about this. Still, it is plain that both Hobbes and Locke would answer this question affirmatively. Whenever people have not agreed to establish a common political authority, they remain in the state of nature. It’s like saying that people are in the state of being naturally single until they are married. Locke clearly thinks one can find the state of nature in his time at least in the “inland, vacant places of America” ( Second Treatise V. 36) and in the relations between different peoples. Perhaps the historical development of states also went though the stages of a state of nature. An alternative possibility is that the state of nature is not a real historical state, but rather a theoretical construct, intended to help determine the proper function of government. If one rejects the historicity of states of nature, one may still find them a useful analytical device. For Locke, it is very likely both.

According to Locke, God created man and we are, in effect, God’s property. The chief end set us by our creator as a species and as individuals is survival. A wise and omnipotent God, having made people and sent them into this world:

…by his order and about his business, they are his property whose workmanship they are, made to last during his, not one another’s pleasure: and being furnished with like faculties, sharing all in one community of nature, there cannot be supposed any subordination among us, that may authorize us to destroy one another, as if we were made for one another’s uses, as the inferior ranks of creatures are for our’s. ( Treatises II,2,6)

It follows immediately that “he has no liberty to destroy himself, or so much as any creature in his possession, yet when some nobler use than its bare possession calls for it” ( Treatises II.2.6). So, murder and suicide violate the divine purpose.

If one takes survival as the end, then we may ask what are the means necessary to that end. On Locke’s account, these turn out to be life, liberty, health and property. Since the end is set by God, on Locke’s view we have a right to the means to that end. So we have rights to life, liberty, health and property. These are natural rights, that is they are rights that we have in a state of nature before the introduction of civil government, and all people have these rights equally.

There is also a law of nature. It is the Golden Rule, interpreted in terms of natural rights. Thus Locke writes:

The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges everyone: and reason which is that law, teaches all mankind who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions…. ( Treatises II.2.6)

Locke tells us that the law of nature is revealed by reason. Locke makes the point about the law that it commands what is best for us. If it did not, he says, the law would vanish for it would not be obeyed. It is in this sense that Locke means that reason reveals the law. If you reflect on what is best for yourself and others, given the goal of survival and our natural equality, you will come to this conclusion. (See the section on the law of nature in the entry on Locke’s Political Philosophy.)

Locke does not intend his account of the state of nature as a sort of utopia. Rather it serves as an analytical device that explains why it becomes necessary to introduce civil government and what the legitimate function of civil government is. Thus, as Locke conceives it, there are problems with life in the state of nature. The law of nature, like civil laws can be violated. There are no police, prosecutors or judges in the state of nature as these are all representatives of a government with full political power. The victims, then, must enforce the law of nature in the state of nature. In addition to our other rights in the state of nature, we have the rights to enforce the law and to judge on our own behalf. We may, Locke tells us, help one another. We may intervene in cases where our own interests are not directly under threat to help enforce the law of nature. This right eventually serves as the justification for legitimate rebellion. Still, in the state of nature, the person who is most likely to enforce the law under these circumstances is the person who has been wronged. The basic principle of justice is that the punishment should be proportionate to the crime. But when the victims are judging the seriousness of the crime, they are more likely to judge it of greater severity than might an impartial judge. As a result, there will be regular miscarriages of justice. This is perhaps the most important problem with the state of nature.

In chapters 3 and 4, Locke defines the states of war and slavery. The state of war is a state in which someone has a sedate and settled intention of violating someone’s right to life (and thus all their other rights). Such a person puts themselves into a state of war with the person whose life they intend to take. In such a war the person who intends to violate someone’s right to life is an unjust aggressor. This is not the normal relationship between people enjoined by the law of nature in the state of nature. Locke is distancing himself from Hobbes who had made the state of nature and the state of war equivalent terms. For Locke, the state of nature is ordinarily one in which we follow the Golden Rule interpreted in terms of natural rights, and thus love our fellow human creatures. The state of war only comes about when someone proposes to violate someone else’s rights. Thus, on Locke’s theory of war, there will always be an innocent victim on one side and an unjust aggressor on the other.

Slavery is the state of being in the absolute or arbitrary power of another. On Locke’s definition of slavery, there is only one rather remarkable way to become a legitimate slave. In order to do so, one must be an unjust aggressor defeated in war. The just victor then has the option to either kill the aggressor or enslave them. Locke tells us that the state of slavery is the continuation of the state of war between a lawful conqueror and a captive, in which the conqueror delays taking the life of the captive, and instead makes use of him. This is a continued war because if conqueror and captive make some compact for obedience on the one side and limited power on the other, the state of slavery ceases and becomes a relation between a master and a servant in which the master only has limited power over his servant. The reason that slavery ceases with the compact is that “no man, can, by agreement pass over to another that which he hath not in himself, a power over his own life” ( Treatises II.4.24). Legitimate slavery is an important concept in Locke’s political philosophy largely because it tells us what the legitimate extent of despotic power is and defines and illuminates by contrast the nature of illegitimate slavery. Illegitimate slavery is that state in which someone possesses absolute or despotic power over someone else without just cause. Locke holds that it is this illegitimate state of slavery which absolute monarchs wish to impose upon their subjects. It is very likely for this reason that legitimate slavery is so narrowly defined. This shows that the chapter on slavery plays a crucial role in Locke’s argument against Sir Robert Filmer and thus could not have been easily dispensed with. Still, it is possible that Locke had an additional purpose or perhaps a quite different reason for writing about slavery.

There has been a steady stream of articles and books over the last sixty years arguing that given Locke’s involvement with trade and colonial government, the theory of slavery in the Second Treatise was intended to justify the institutions and practices of Afro-American slavery. If this were the case, Locke’s philosophy would not contradict his actions as an investor and colonial administrator. However, there are strong objections to this view. Had he intended to justify Afro-American slavery, Locke would have done much better with a vastly more inclusive definition of legitimate slavery than the one he gives. It is sometimes suggested that Locke’s account of “just war” is so vague that it could easily be twisted to justify the institutions and practices of Afro-American slavery. This, however, is also not the case. In the chapter “Of Conquest” Locke explicitly lists the limits of the legitimate power of conquerors. These limits on who can become a legitimate slave and what the powers of a just conqueror are ensure that this theory of conquest and slavery would condemn the institutions and practices of Afro-American slavery in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. Nonetheless, the debate continues. One element of the debate has to do with Locke’s role in the writing of the Fundamental Constitutions of the Carolinas . David Armitage in his 2004 article “John Locke, Carolina and the Two Treatises of Government” argues that Locke was involved in a revision of the Fundamental Constitution of the Carolinas at the very time he was writing The Two Treatises of Government . The provision that “Every Freedman of the Carolinas has absolute power and authority over his negro slaves” remained in the document unchanged. In his 2016 book The Ashley Cooper Plan , Thomas Wilson gives a detailed account of Ashley Cooper’s intentions for the Carolina colony and how Cooper’s intent was thwarted by Barbadian slave owners who changed Carolina society from a society with slaves to a slave society. L. H. Roper, in his 2004 book Conceiving Carolina: Property, Planters and Plots 1662–1729 , offers a different account of what went wrong, focusing on conflicts over the trade in Indian slaves. James Farr’s article “Locke, Natural Law and New World Slavery” (2008) is one of the best statements of the position that Locke intended his theory of slavery to apply to English absolutism and not Afro-American slavery while noting that Locke’s involvement with slavery has ruined his reputation as the great champion of liberty Roger Woolhouse in his recent biography of Locke (Woolhouse 2007: 187) remarks that “Though there is no consensus on the whole question, there certainly seems to be ‘a glaring contradiction between his theories and Afro-American slavery’”.

Recently, there has been a debate over whose theory of slavery and absolutism Locke was attacking. Johan Olsthoorn and Laurens van Apeldoorn (2020) argue that Locke’s account of slavery and in particular, that no person can consensually establish absolute rule over themselves with all its consequences has little force against other classical contract theories, in particular those of Grotius and Puffendorf. Both Grotius and Puffendorf defended both absolutism and colonial slavery.

Felis Waldmann in “Slavery and Absolutism in Locke’s Two Treatises: A Response to Olsthoorn and van Apeldoorn” objects to a number of their claims finding others not relevant. Most notably, he objects to these claims: First, “Locke is working with an idiosyncratic conception of slavery and absolute rule repudiated by prominent early modern thinkers defending political absolutism.” Second: “Like Filmer, Locke maintains that absolute rulers may arbitrarily kill and maim their subjects at will, by dint of having a dominium in the latter’s lives.” Finally, he objects to the claim that: “Early modern natural lawyers, from Grotius onward, conceptualized slavery rather differently, insisting that enslaved people were not owned in the way we own things (which may be destroyed at will)” (Waldmann 7).

In brief, Waldmann’s response to the first claim is that Filmer accurately represented the Royalist position in the late 1670s and early 1680s and so Locke’s account is not a straw man. Thus, Locke is attacking Filmer’s account of slavery and not some weak and extreme version of the argument for absolutism that no one held. Waldmann suggests that the second claim magnifies this tendency of the two authors’ portrayal of Locke’s argument as not responding to the standard arguments for absolutism. Thus, Olsthoorn and van Apeldoorn attribute Filmer’s position to Locke. Waldmann concludes that the claims of Olsthoorn and van Apeldoorn that since Locke’s position on slavery was significantly different from those of Grotius and Puffendorf, it had little force against them is, in fact, the case. But he thinks this is of little importance since Locke was not arguing against them. One suggestion he considers plausible is that Locke is aiming his argument against the possibility of self-enslavement at Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes was recognized by his contemporaries as asserting both that one could by contract enslave oneself and that the king had dominium, over his subjects.

William Uzgalis, in his 2017 chapter “John Locke, Slavery and Indian Lands,” holds that Locke has two theories of slavery, one of them of legitimate slavery and the other of illegitimate slavery. Note that the authors discussed above simply don’t make this distinction. If they had, it would be plain that while Locke shares with Filmer the dominium conception of slavery that allows a master to kill or maim a slave, neither theory belongs to Filmer, and if Locke is correct about royal absolutism and given the character of the practices of the slave trade and colonial slavery, both absolutism at home and the slave trade and colonial slavery fall under the theory of illegitimate slavery. Neither Grotius, Puffendorf or Hobbes has an explicit theory of illegitimate slavery. Uzgalis also notes that Grotius and Puffendorf provided claims that Locke could have adopted had he wished to justify the slave trade and slavery in the colonies. Still, he denies them all, and with good reason. He would have substantially weakened his argument against the kind of absolutism he attributed to Filmer and the Stuarts had he done so. This suggests that he was crafting an alternative theory and not arguing against its competitors, with the exception, perhaps, of Hobbes.

Holly Brewer in her 2017 article “Slavery, Sovereignty, and ‘Inheritable Blood’, Reconsidering John Locke and the Origins of American Slavery” argues for a different approach to these questions. She presents evidence that the Stuart kings, and Charles II and his brother James, Duke of York, in particular, were not just interested in absolute government at home; they actively promoted the Royal Africa Company, the slave trade and slavery in the colonies as it provided considerable amounts of money to the royal coffers. James was the Governor (the President) of the Royal Africa Company and Admiral of the English fleet. Lord Shaftesbury, Locke’s patron, was the sub-governor, and Locke assisted him. Using the fleet, James attacked and captured Dutch forts on the coast of Africa to make bases for the Royal Africa Company and deprive the Dutch of them. The Stuarts minted guinea coins to celebrate these efforts. After becoming King, James continued as Governor of the Royal Africa Company. Thus Brewer underlines the similarities and connections between the absolutism Locke objected to at home and the slave trade and slavery in the colonies. She argues that the spread of slavery needs to be understood as an English imperial policy and not something that occurred in different times and places unconnected with one another. She also claims that while Locke was a member of King William III’s Board of Trade in the waning years of the seventeenth century, he sought to undo Stuart policies concerning slavery in the colonies.

Chapter 5 “Of Property” is one of the most famous, influential and important chapters in the Second Treatise of Government . Indeed, some of the most controversial issues about the Second Treatise come from varying interpretations of it. In this chapter Locke, in effect, describes the evolution of the state of nature to the point where it becomes expedient for those in it to found a civil government. So, it is not only an account of the nature and origin of private property but leads up to the explanation of why civil government replaces the state of nature (see the section on property in the entry on Locke’s political philosophy).

In discussing the origin of private property Locke begins by noting that God gave the earth to all men in common. Thus there is a question about how private property comes to be. Locke finds it a serious difficulty. He points out, however, that we are supposed to make use of the earth “for the best advantage of life and convenience” ( Treatises II.5.25). What then is the means to appropriate property from the common store? Locke argues that private property does not come about by universal consent. If one had to go about and ask everyone if one could eat these berries, one would starve to death before getting everyone’s agreement. Locke holds that we have property in our own person. And the labor of our body and the work of our hands properly belong to us. So, when one picks up acorns or berries, they thereby belong to the person who picked them up. There has been some controversy about what Locke means by “labor”. Daniel Russell claims that for Locke, labor is a goal-directed activity that converts materials that might meet our needs into resources that actually do (Russell 2004). This interpretation of what Locke means by “labor” connects nicely with his claim that we have a natural law obligation first to preserve ourselves and then to help in the preservation and flourishing of others.

One might think that one could then acquire as much as one wished, but this is not the case. Locke introduces at least two important qualifications on how much property can be acquired. The first qualification has to do with waste. Locke writes:

As much as anyone can make use of to any advantage of life before it spoils, so much by his labor he may fix a property in; whatever is beyond this, is more than his share, and belongs to others. ( Treatises II.5.31)

Since originally, populations were small and resources great, living within the bounds set by reason, there would be little quarrel or contention over property, for a single man could make use of only a very small part of what was available.

Note that Locke has, thus far, been talking about hunting and gathering, and the kinds of limitations which reason imposes on the kind of property that hunters and gatherers hold. In the next section he turns to agriculture and the ownership of land and the kinds of limitations there are on that kind of property. In effect, we see the evolution of the state of nature from a hunter/gatherer kind of society to that of a farming and agricultural society. Once again it is labor which imposes limitations upon how much land can be enclosed. It is only as much as one can work. But there is an additional qualification. Locke says:

Nor was this appropriation of any parcel of land , by improving it, any prejudice to any other man, since there was still enough, and as good left; and more than the as yet unprovided could use. So that, in effect, there was never the less for others because of his inclosure for himself: for he that leaves as much as another can make use of, does as good as take nothing at all. No body could consider himself injured by the drinking of another man, though he took a good draught, who had a whole river of the same water left to quench his thirst: and the case of land and water, where there is enough, is perfectly the same. ( Treatises II.5.33)

The next stage in the evolution of the state of nature involves the introduction of money. Locke remarks that:

… before the desire of having more than one needed had altered the intrinsic value of things, which depends only on their usefulness to the life of man; or had agreed, that a little piece of yellow metal, which would keep without wasting or decay, should be worth a great piece of flesh, or a whole heap of corn; though men had a right to appropriate by their labor, each one of himself, as much of the things of nature, as he could use; yet this could not be much, nor to the prejudice of others, where the same plenty was left to those who would use the same industry. ( Treatises II.5.37)

So, before the introduction of money, there was a degree of economic equality imposed on mankind both by reason and the barter system. And men were largely confined to the satisfaction of their needs and conveniences. Most of the necessities of life are relatively short lived—berries, plums, venison and so forth. One could reasonably barter one’s berries for nuts which would last not weeks but perhaps a whole year. And says Locke:

…if he would give his nuts for a piece of metal, pleased with its color, or exchange his sheep for shells, or wool for a sparkling pebble or diamond, and keep those by him all his life, he invaded not the right of others, he might heap up as much of these durable things as he pleased; the exceeding of the bounds of his property not lying in the largeness of his possessions, but the perishing of anything uselessly in it. ( Treatises II.5.146)

The introduction of money is necessary for the differential increase in property, with resulting economic inequality. Without money there would be no point in going beyond the economic equality of the earlier stage. In a money economy, different degrees of industry could give men vastly different proportions.

This partage of things in an inequality of private possessions, men have made practicable out of the bounds of society, and without compact, only by putting a value on gold and silver, and tacitly agreeing to the use of money: for in governments, the laws regulate the rights of property, and the possession of land is determined by positive constitutions. ( Treatises II.5.50)

The implication is that it is the introduction of money, which causes inequality, which in turn multiplies the causes of quarrels and contentions and increased numbers of violations of the law of nature. This leads to the decision to create a civil government. Before turning to the institution of civil government, however, we should ask what happens to the qualifications on the acquisition of property after the advent of money? One answer proposed by C. B. Macpherson in The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism is that the qualifications are completely set aside, and we now have a system for the unlimited acquisition of private property. This does not seem to be correct. It seems plain, rather, that at least the non-spoilage qualification is satisfied, because money does not spoil. The other qualifications may be rendered somewhat irrelevant by the advent of the conventions about property adopted in civil society. This leaves open the question of whether Locke approved of these changes. Macpherson, who takes Locke to be a spokesman for a proto-capitalist system, sees Locke as advocating the unlimited acquisition of wealth. James Tully, on the other side, in A Discourse of Property holds that Locke sees the new conditions, the change in values and the economic inequality which arise as a result of the advent of money, as the fall of man. Tully sees Locke as a persistent and powerful critic of self-interest. This remarkable difference in interpretation has been a significant topic for debates among scholars over the last forty years. Though the Second Treatise of Government may leave this question difficult to determine, one might consider Locke’s remark in Some Thoughts Concerning Education that

Covetousness and the desire to having in our possession and our dominion more than we have need of, being the root of all evil, should be early and carefully weeded out and the contrary quality of being ready to impart to others inculcated. (G&T 1996: 81)

Let us then turn to the institution of civil government.

Just as natural rights and natural law theory had a fluorescence in the seventeenth and eighteenth century, so did the social contract theory. Why is Locke a social contract theorist? Is it merely that this was one prevailing way of thinking about government at the time which Locke blindly adopted? The answer is that there is something about Locke’s project which pushes him strongly in the direction of the social contract. One might hold that governments were originally instituted by force, and that no agreement was involved. Were Locke to adopt this view, he would be forced to go back on many of the things which are at the heart of his project in the Second Treatise , though cases like the Norman conquest force him to admit that citizens may come to accept a government that was originally forced on them. Remember that the Second Treatise provides Locke’s positive theory of government, and that he explicitly says that he must provide an alternative to the view

that all government in the world is merely the product of force and violence, and that men live together by no other rules than that of the beasts, where the strongest carries it … . ( Treatises II, 1, 4)

So, while Locke might admit that some governments come about through force or violence, he would be destroying the most central and vital distinction, that between legitimate and illegitimate civil government, if he admitted that legitimate government can come about in this way. So, for Locke, legitimate government is instituted by the explicit consent of those governed. (See the section on consent, political obligation, and the ends of government in the entry on Locke’s political philosophy.) Those who make this agreement transfer to the government their right of executing the law of nature and judging their own case. These are the powers which they give to the central government, and this is what makes the justice system of governments a legitimate function of such governments.

Ruth Grant has persuasively argued that the establishment of government is in effect a two step process. Universal consent is necessary to form a political community. Consent to join a community once given is binding and cannot be withdrawn. This makes political communities stable. Grant writes: “Having established that the membership in a community entails the obligation to abide by the will of the community, the question remains: Who rules?” (1987: 114–115). The answer to this question is determined by majority rule. The point is that universal consent is necessary to establish a political community, majority consent to answer the question who is to rule such a community. Universal consent and majority consent are thus different in kind, not just in degree. Grant writes:

Locke’s argument for the right of the majority is the theoretical ground for the distinction between duty to society and duty to government, the distinction that permits an argument for resistance without anarchy. When the designated government dissolves, men remain obligated to society acting through majority rule. (1987: 119)

It is entirely possible for the majority to confer the rule of the community on a king and his heirs, or a group of oligarchs or on a democratic assembly. Thus, the social contract is not inextricably linked to democracy. Still, a government of any kind must perform the legitimate function of a civil government.

Locke is now in a position to explain the function of a legitimate government and distinguish it from illegitimate government. The aim of such a legitimate government is to preserve, so far as possible, the rights to life, liberty, health and property of its citizens, and to prosecute and punish those of its citizens who violate the rights of others and to pursue the public good even where this may conflict with the rights of individuals. In doing this it provides something unavailable in the state of nature, an impartial judge to determine the severity of the crime, and to set a punishment proportionate to the crime. This is one of the main reasons why civil society is an improvement on the state of nature. An illegitimate government will fail to protect the rights to life, liberty, health and property of its subjects, and in the worst cases, such an illegitimate government will claim to be able to violate the rights of its subjects, that is it will claim to have despotic power over its subjects. Since Locke is arguing against the position of Sir Robert Filmer who held that patriarchal power and political power are the same, and that in effect these amount to despotic power, Locke is at pains to distinguish these three forms of power, and to show that they are not equivalent. Thus at the beginning of chapter 15 “Of Paternal, Political and Despotic Power Considered Together” he writes:

THOUGH I have had occasion to speak of these before, yet the great mistakes of late about government, having as I suppose arisen from confounding these distinct powers one with another, it may not be amiss, to consider them together.

Chapters 6 and 7 give Locke’s account of paternal and political power respectively. Paternal power is limited. It lasts only through the minority of children, and has other limitations. Political power, derived as it is from the transfer of the power of individuals to enforce the law of nature, has with it the right to kill in the interest of preserving the rights of the citizens or otherwise supporting the public good. Legitimate despotic power, by contrast, implies the right to take the life, liberty, health and at least some of the property of any person subject to such a power.

At the end of the Second Treatise we learn about the nature of illegitimate civil governments and the conditions under which rebellion and regicide are legitimate and appropriate. As noted above, scholars now hold that the book was written during the Exclusion Crisis, and may have been written to justify a general insurrection and the assassination of the king of England and his brother. The argument for legitimate revolution follows from making the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate civil government. A legitimate civil government seeks to preserve its subjects’ life, health, liberty, and property insofar as this is compatible with the public good. Because it does this, it deserves obedience. An illegitimate civil government seeks to systematically violate the natural rights of its subjects. It seeks to make them illegitimate slaves. Because an illegitimate civil government does this, it puts itself in a state of nature and a state of war with its subjects. The magistrate or king of such a state violates the law of nature and so makes himself into a dangerous beast of prey who operates on the principle that might makes right, or that the strongest carries it. In such circumstances, rebellion is legitimate, as is the killing of such a dangerous beast of prey. Thus Locke justifies rebellion and regicide under certain circumstances. Presumably, this justification was going to be offered for the killing of the King of England and his brother had the Rye House Plot succeeded. Even if this was not Locke’s intention, it still would have served that purpose admirably.

The issue of religious toleration was of widespread interest in Europe in the seventeenth century, largely because religious intolerance with accompanying violence was so pervasive. The Reformation had split Europe into competing religious camps, and this provoked civil wars and massive religious persecutions. John Marshall, in his massive study John Locke, Toleration and Early Enlightenment Culture notes that the 1680s were the climactic decade for this kind of persecution. The Dutch Republic, where Locke spent years in exile, had been founded as a secular state which would allow religious differences. This was a reaction to the Catholic persecution of Protestants. However, once the Calvinist Church gained power, they began persecuting other sects, such as the Remonstrants, who disagreed with them. Nonetheless, The Dutch Republic remained the most tolerant country in Europe. In France, religious conflict had been temporarily quieted by the edict of Nantes. But in 1685, the year in which Locke wrote the First Letter concerning religious toleration, Louis XIV had revoked the Edict of Nantes, and the Huguenots were being persecuted. Though prohibited from doing so, some 200,000 emigrated, while probably 700,000 were forced to convert to Catholicism. People in England were keenly aware of the events taking place in France.

In England itself, religious conflict dominated the seventeenth century, contributing in important respects to the coming of the English Civil War, and the abolishing of the Anglican Church during the Protectorate. After the Restoration of Charles II, Anglicans in parliament passed laws that repressed both Catholics and Protestant sects such as Presbyterians, Baptists, Quakers and Unitarians who did not agree with the doctrines or practices of the state Church. Of these various dissenting sects, some were closer to the Anglicans, others more remote. One reason, among others, why King Charles may have found Shaftesbury useful was that they were both concerned about religious toleration. They parted when it became clear that the King was mainly interested in toleration for Catholics, and Shaftesbury for Protestant dissenters.

One widely discussed strategy for reducing religious conflict in England was called comprehension. The idea was to reduce the doctrines and practices of the Anglican church to a minimum so that most, if not all, of the dissenting sects would be included in the state church. For those which even this measure would not serve, there was to be toleration. Toleration we may define as a lack of state persecution. Neither of these strategies made much progress during the course of the Restoration.

When Locke fled to Holland after the discovery of the Rye house plot, he became involved with a group of scholars advocating religious toleration. This group included Benjamin Furly, a quaker with whom Locke lived for a while, the noted philosopher Pierre Bayle, several Dutch theologians, and many others. This group read all the arguments for religious intolerance and discussed them in book and conversation clubs. Members of the group considered toleration not only for Protestants and Protestant dissenters but Jews, Moslems, and Catholics. A recent discovery of a page of Locke’s reflections on toleration of Catholics shows that Locke considered even the pros and cons of toleration for Catholics (Walmsley and Waldmann 2019). Some members of the group also wrote tolerationist articles and books. They helped each other get jobs. Some of their members founded journals that reviewed books and articles on religious, scientific, and other topics. The group took the notion of free speech, civility, and politeness in discourse seriously. They called themselves the ‘the Republic of Letters’ or in Locke’s phrase ‘the commonwealth of learning.’

What were Locke’s religious views and where did he fit into the debates about religious toleration? This is a quite difficult question to answer. Religion and Christianity in particular, is perhaps the most important influence on the shape of Locke’s philosophy. But what kind of Christian was Locke? Locke’s family were Puritans. At Oxford, Locke avoided becoming an Anglican priest. Still, Locke himself claimed to be an Anglican until he died and Locke’s nineteenth-century biographer Fox Bourne thought that Locke was an Anglican. Others have identified him with the Latitudinarians—a movement among Anglicans to argue for a reasonable Christianity that dissenters ought to accept. Still, there are some reasons to think that Locke was neither an orthodox Anglican or a Latitudinarian. Locke got Isaac Newton to write Newton’s most powerful anti-Trinitarian tract. Locke arranged to have the work published anonymously in Holland though in the end, Newton decided not to publish (McLachlan 1941). This strongly suggests that Locke too was by this time an Arian or unitarian. (Arius, c. 250–336, asserted the primacy of the Father over the Son and thus rejected the doctrine of the Trinity and was condemned as a heretic at the Council of Nicaea in 325. Newton held that the Church had gone in the wrong direction in condemning Arius.) Given that one main theme of Locke’s Letter on Toleration is that there should be a separation between Church and State, this does not seem like the view of a man devoted to a state religion. It might appear that Locke’s writing The Reasonableness of Christianity in which he argues that the basic doctrines of Christianity are few and compatible with reason make him a Latitudinarian. Yet Richard Ashcraft has argued that comprehension for the Anglicans meant conforming to the existing practices of the Anglican Church; that is, the abandonment of religious dissent. Ashcraft also suggests that Latitudinarians were thus not a moderate middle ground between contending extremes but part of one of the extremes—“the acceptable face of the persecution of religious dissent” (Ashcraft 1992: 155). Ashcraft holds that while the Latitudinarians may have represented the “rational theology” of the Anglican church, there was a competing dissenting “rational theology”. Thus, while it is true that Locke had Latitudinarian friends, given Ashcraft’s distinction between Anglican and dissenting “rational theologies”, it is entirely possible that The Reasonableness of Christianity is a work of dissenting “rational theology”.

Locke had been thinking, talking and writing about religious toleration since 1659. His views evolved. In the early 1660s he very likely was an orthodox Anglican. He and Shaftesbury had instituted religious toleration in the Fundamental Constitutions of the Carolinas (1669). He wrote the Epistola de Tolerantia in Latin in 1685 while in exile in Holland. He very likely was seeing Protestant refugees pouring over the borders from France where Louis XIV had just revoked the Edict of Nantes. Holland itself was a Calvinist theocracy with significant problems with religious toleration. But Locke’s Letter does not confine itself to the issues of the time. Locke gives a principled account of religious toleration, though this is mixed in with arguments which apply only to Christians, and perhaps in some cases only to Protestants. He excluded both Catholics and atheists from religious toleration. In the case of Catholics it was because he regarded them as agents of a foreign power. Because they do not believe in God, atheists, on Locke’s account: “Promises, covenants and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist” (Mendus 1991: 47). He gives his general defense of religious toleration while continuing the anti-Papist rhetoric of the Country party which sought to exclude James II from the throne.

Locke’s arguments for religious toleration connect nicely to his account of civil government. Locke defines life, liberty, health and property as our civil interests. These are the proper concern of a magistrate or civil government. The magistrate can use force and violence where this is necessary to preserve civil interests against attack. This is the central function of the state. One’s religious concerns with salvation, however, are not within the domain of civil interests, and so lie outside of the legitimate concern of the magistrate or the civil government. In effect, Locke adds an additional right to the natural rights of life, liberty, health and property—the right of freedom to choose one’s own road to salvation. (See the section on Toleration in the entry on Locke’s Political Philosophy.)

Locke holds that the use of force by the state to get people to hold certain beliefs or engage in certain ceremonies or practices is illegitimate. The chief means which the magistrate has at her disposal is force, but force is not an effective means for changing or maintaining belief. Suppose then, that the magistrate uses force so as to make people profess that they believe. Locke writes:

A sweet religion, indeed, that obliges men to dissemble, and tell lies to both God and man, for the salvation of their souls! If the magistrate thinks to save men thus, he seems to understand little of the way of salvation; and if he does it not in order to save them, why is he so solicitous of the articles of faith as to enact them by a law? (Mendus 1991: 41)

So, religious persecution by the state is inappropriate. Locke holds that “Whatever is lawful in the commonwealth cannot be prohibited by the magistrate in the church”. This means that the use of bread and wine, or even the sacrificing of a calf could not be prohibited by the magistrate.

If there are competing churches, one might ask which one should have the power? The answer is clearly that power should go to the true church and not to the heretical church. But Locke claims this amounts to saying nothing. For every church believes itself to be the true church, and there is no judge but God who can determine which of these claims is correct. Thus, skepticism about the possibility of religious knowledge is central to Locke’s argument for religious toleration.

Finally, for an account of the influence of Locke’s works, see the supplementary document: Supplement on the Influence of Locke’s Works

Locke’s Works

Oxford University Press is in the process of producing a new edition of all of Locke’s works. This will supersede The Works of John Locke of which the 1823 edition is probably the most standard. The new Clarendon editions began with Peter Nidditch’s edition of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding in 1975. The Oxford Clarendon editions contain much of the material of the Lovelace collection, purchased and donated to Oxford by Paul Mellon. This treasure trove of Locke’s works and letters, which includes early drafts of the Essay and much other material, comes down from Peter King, Locke’s nephew, who inherited Locke’s papers. Access to these papers has given scholars in the twentieth century a much better view of Locke’s philosophical development and provided a window into the details of his activities which is truly remarkable. Hence the new edition of Locke’s works will very likely be definitive.

  • [N] An Essay Concerning Human Understanding , Peter H. Nidditch (ed.), 1975. doi:10.1093/actrade/9780198243861.book.1/actrade-9780198243861-book-1
  • Some Thoughts Concerning Education , John W. Yolton and Jean S. Yolton (eds.), 1989. doi:10.1093/actrade/9780198245827.book.1/actrade-9780198245827-book-1
  • Drafts for the Essay Concerning Human Understanding, and Other Philosophical Writings: In Three Volumes , Vol. 1: Drafts A and B, Peter H. Nidditch and G. A. J. Rogers (eds.), 1990. doi:10.1093/actrade/9780198245452.book.1/actrade-9780198245452-book-1
  • The Reasonableness of Christianity: As Delivered in the Scriptures , John C. Higgins-Biddle (ed.), 2000. doi:10.1093/actrade/9780198245254.book.1/actrade-9780198245254-book-1
  • An Essay Concerning Toleration: And Other Writings on Law and Politics, 1667–1683 , J. R. Milton and Philip Milton (eds.), 2006. doi:10.1093/actrade/9780199575732.book.1/actrade-9780199575732-book-1
  • Vindications of the Reasonableness of Christianity , Victor Nuovo (ed.), 2012. doi:10.1093/actrade/9780199286553.book.1/actrade-9780199286553-book-1
  • volume 1, 1987. doi:10.1093/actrade/9780198248019.book.1/actrade-9780198248019-book-1
  • volume 2, 1987. doi:10.1093/actrade/9780198248064.book.1/actrade-9780198248064-book-1
  • Volume 1, 1991. doi:10.1093/actrade/9780198245469.book.1/actrade-9780198245469-book-1
  • Volume 2, 1991,. doi:10.1093/actrade/9780198248378.book.1/actrade-9780198248378-book-1
  • Vol. 1: Introduction; Letters Nos. 1–461 , 2010. doi:10.1093/actrade/9780199573615.book.1/actrade-9780199573615-book-1
  • Vol. 2: Letters Nos. 462–848 , 1976. doi:10.1093/actrade/9780198245599.book.1/actrade-9780198245599-book-1
  • Vol. 3: Letters Nos. 849–1241 , 1978. doi:10.1093/actrade/9780198245605.book.1/actrade-9780198245605-book-1
  • Vol. 4: Letters Nos. 1242–1701 , 1978. doi:10.1093/actrade/9780198245612.book.1/actrade-9780198245612-book-1.
  • Vol. 5: Letters Nos. 1702–2198 , 1979. doi:10.1093/actrade/9780198245629.book.1/actrade-9780198245629-book-1
  • Vol. 6: Letters Nos. 2199–2664 , 1980. doi:10.1093/actrade/9780198245636.book.1/actrade-9780198245636-book-1
  • Vol. 7: Letters Nos. 2665–3286 , 1981. doi:10.1093/actrade/9780198245643.book.1/actrade-9780198245643-book-1
  • Vol. 8: Letters Nos. 3287–3648 , 1989. doi:10.1093/actrade/9780198245650.book.1/actrade-9780198245650-book-1

In addition to the Oxford Press edition, there are a few editions of some of Locke’s works which are worth noting.

  • An Early Draft of Locke’s Essay, Together with Excerpts from his Journal , Richard I. Aaron and Jocelyn Gibb (eds.), Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1936.
  • John Locke, Two Tracts of Government , Phillip Abrams (ed.), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967.
  • Locke’s The Two Treatises of Civil Government , Richard Ashcraft (ed.), London: Routledge, 1987.
  • [Axtell 1968], The Educational Writings of John Locke: A Critical Edition , James L. Axtell (ed.), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • [Gay 1964], John Locke on Education , Peter Gay (ed.), New York: Bureau of Publications, Columbia Teachers College, 1964.
  • Epistola de Tolerantia: A Letter on Toleration , Latin text edited with a preface by Raymond Klibansky; English translation with an introduction and notes by J. W. Gough, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1968.
  • [G&T 1996] “Some Thoughts Concerning Education” and “The Conduct of the Understanding” , Ruth W. Grant and Nathan Tarcov (eds), Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co., 1996.
  • [Laslett 1960] Locke’s Two Treatises of Government , Peter Laslett (ed.), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1960.
  • [Woozley 1964], An Essay Concerning Human Understanding , abridged, A.D. Woozley (ed.), London: Fontana Library, 1964.

Other Primary Sources

  • Boyle, Robert, 1675 [1979], “Some Physico-Theological Considerations About the Possibility of the Resurrection”, in Selected Philosophical Papers of Robert Boyle , M.A. Stewart (ed.), New York: Manchester University Press.
  • Mill, John Stuart, 1843, A System of Logic Ratiocinative and Inductive , London: John W. Parker.

Biographies

  • King, Lord Peter, 1991, The Life of John Locke: with extracts from his correspondence, journals, and common-place books , Bristol: Thoemmes.
  • Fox Bourne, H.R., 1876, Life of John Locke , 2 volumes, New York: Harper & Brothers. Reprinted Scientia Aalen, 1969.
  • Cranston, Maurice, 1957, John Locke, A Biography , reprinted Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985.
  • Woolhouse, Roger, 2007, Locke: A Biography , Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Books and Articles

  • Aaron, Richard, 1937, John Locke , Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Aarsleff, Hans, 1982, From Locke to Saussure: Essays on the Study of Language and Intellectual History , Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  • –––, 1994 “Locke’s Influence”, in Vere Chappell (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Locke , Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 252–289. doi:10.1017/CCOL0521383714.011
  • Alexander, Peter, 1985, Ideas Qualities and Corpuscles: Locke and Boyle on the External World , Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Alston, William and Jonathan Bennett, 1988, “Locke on People and Substances”, The Philosophical Review , 97(1): 25–46. doi:10.2307/2185098
  • Anstey, Peter R., 2011, John Locke and Natural Philosophy , Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199589777.001.0001
  • Armitage, David, 2004, “John Locke, Carolina and the Two Treatises of Government ”, Political Theory , 32(5): 602–27. doi:10.1177/0090591704267122
  • Arneil, Barbara, 1996, John Locke and America , Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Ashcraft, Richard, 1986, Revolutionary Politics and Locke’s Two Treatises of Civil Government , Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • –––, 1992, “Latitudinarianism and Toleration: Historical Myth versus Political History”, in Kroll, Ashcraft, and Zagorin 1992: 151–177. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511896231.008
  • Ayers, Michael, 1991, Locke: Epistemology and Ontology , 2 volumes, London: Routledge.
  • Barresi, John, and Raymond Martin, 2000, Naturalization of the Soul: Self and Personal Identity in the 18th Century , London: Routledge.
  • Bennett, Jonathan, 1971, Locke, Berkeley, Hume: Central Themes , Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Bolton, Martha Brandt, 2004, “Locke on the Semantic and Epistemic Role of Simple Ideas of Sensation”, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly , 85(3): 301–321. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0114.2004.00200.x
  • Brandt, Reinhard (ed.), 1981, John Locke: Symposium Wolfenbuttel 1979 , Berlin: de Gruyter.
  • Brewer, Holly, 2017, “Slavery, Sovereignty, and ‘Inheritable Blood’: Reconsidering John Locke and the Origins of American Slavery”, The American Historical Review , 122(4): 1038–1078. doi:10.1093/ahr/122.4.1038
  • Chappell, Vere, 1992, Essays on Early Modern Philosophy, John Locke—Theory of Knowledge , London: Garland Publishing, Inc.
  • –––, 1994, The Cambridge Companion to Locke , Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • –––, 2004a, “Symposium: Locke and the Veil of Perception: Preface”, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly , 85(3): 243–244. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0114.2004.00196.x
  • –––, 2004b, “Comments”, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly , 85(3): 338–355. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0114.2004.00202.x
  • Chomsky, Noam, 1966, Cartesian Linguistics: A Chapter in the History of Rationalist Thought , New York: Harper & Row.
  • Dunn, John, 1969, The Political Thought of John Locke , Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Farr, James, 2008, “Locke, Natural Law and New World Slavery”, Political Theory , 36(4): 495–522. doi:10.1177/0090591708317899
  • Fox, Christopher, 1988, Locke and the Scriblerians , Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Garrett, Don, 2003, “Locke on Personal Identity, Consciousness and ‘Fatal Errors’”, Philosophical Topics , 31: 95–125. doi:10.5840/philtopics2003311/214
  • Geach, Peter, 1967, “Identity”, The Review of Metaphysics , 21(1): 3–12.
  • Gibson, James, 1968, Locke’s Theory of Knowledge and its Historical Relations , Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Gordon-Roth, Jessica, 2015, “Locke’s Place-Time-Kind Principle”, Philosophy Compass , 10(4): 264–274. doi:10.1111/phc3.12217
  • Grant, Ruth, 1987, John Locke’s Liberalism , Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Gaukroger, Stephen, 2010, The Collapse of Mechanism and the Rise of Sensibility: Science and the Shaping of Modernity 1680–1760 , Oxford, Clarendon Press.
  • Kretzmann, Norman, 1968, “The Main Thesis of Locke’s Semantic Theory”, The Philosophical Review , 77(2): 175–196. Reprinted in Tipton 1977: 123–140. doi:10.2307/2183319
  • Kroll, Peter, Richard Ashcraft, and Peter Zagorin (eds), 1992, Philosophy, Science and Religion in England 1640–1700 , Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511896231
  • Jolley, Nicholas, 1984, Leibniz and Locke , Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • –––, 1999, Locke, His Philosophical Thought , Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • –––, 2015, Locke’s Touchy Subjects: Materialism and Immortality , Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198737094.001.0001
  • Laslett, Peter, 1954 [1990], “John Locke as Founder of the Board of Trade”, The Listener , 52(1342): 856–857. Reprinted in J.S. Yolton 1990: 127–136.
  • Lennon, Thomas M., 2004, “Through a Glass Darkly: More on Locke’s Logic of Ideas”, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly , 85(3): 322–337. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0114.2004.00203.x
  • LoLordo, Antonia, 2010, “Person, Substance, Mode and ‘the moral Man’ in Locke’s Philosophy”, Canadian Journal Of Philosophy , 40(4); 643–668. doi:10.1080/00455091.2010.10716738
  • Lott, Tommy, 1998, Subjugation and Bondage: Critical Essays on Slavery and Social Philosophy , New York: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Inc.
  • Lovejoy, Arthur O., 1936, The Great Chain of Being; a Study of the History of an Idea , Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Lowe, E.J., 1995, Locke on Human Understanding , London: Routledge Publishing Co.
  • Mackie, J. L. 1976, Problems from Locke , Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Macpherson, C.B., 1962, The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism , Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Mandelbaum, Maurice, 1966, Philosophy, Science and Sense Perception: Historical and Critical Studies , Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press.
  • Marshall, John, 2006, John Locke, Toleration and Early Enlightenment Culture , Cambridge UK, Cambridge University Press.
  • Martin, C. B. and D. M. Armstrong (eds.), 1968, Locke and Berkeley: A Collection of Critical Essays , New York: Anchor Books.
  • Mattern, Ruth, 1980, “Moral Science and the Concept of Persons in Locke”, The Philosophical Review , 89(1): 24–45. doi:10.2307/2184862
  • McCann, Edwin, 1987, “Locke on Identity, Life, Matter and Consciousness” Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie , 69(1): 54–77. doi:10.1515/agph.1987.69.1.54
  • McLachlan, Hugh, 1941, Religious Opinions of Milton, Locke and Newton , Manchester: Manchester University Press.
  • Mendus, Susan, 1991, Locke on Toleration in Focus , London: Routledge.
  • Newman, Lex, 2004, “Locke on Sensitive Knowledge and the Veil of Perception—Four Misconceptions”, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly , 85(3): 273–300. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0114.2004.00199.x
  • Olsthoorn, Johan and Laurens van Apeldoorn, 2020, “‘This man is my property’: Slavery and political absolutism in Locke and the classical social contract tradition”, European Journal of Political Theory , 21(2): 253–275. doi:10.1177/1474885120911309
  • Rogers, G.A. John, 2004, “Locke and the Objects of Perception”, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly , 85(3): 245–254. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0114.2004.00197.x
  • Roper, John, April 2004, Conceiving Carolina: Proprietors, Planters and Plots 1662–1729 , New York, Palgrave/Macmillan.
  • Russell, Daniel, 2004, “Locke on Land and Labor”, Philosophical Studies , 117(1–2): 303–325. doi:10.1023/B:PHIL.0000014529.01097.20
  • Schouls, Peter, 1992, Reasoned Freedom: John Locke and the Enlightenment , Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
  • Simmons, A. John, 1992, The Lockean Theory of Rights , Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Soles, David, 1999, “Is Locke an Imagist?” The Locke Newsletter , 30: 17–66.
  • Strawson, Galen, 2011, Locke on Personal Identity , Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Stuart, Matthew, 2013, Locke’s Metaphysics , Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199645114.001.0001
  • Thiel, Udo, 2011, The Early Modern Subject: Self-Consciousness and Personal Identity from Descartes to Hume , Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199542499.001.0001
  • Tarcov, Nathan, 1984, Locke’s Education for Liberty , Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
  • Tipton, I.C. (ed.), 1977, Locke on Human Understanding: Selected Essays , Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Tully, James, 1980, A Discourse on Property , Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • –––, 1993, An Approach to Political Philosophy: Locke in Contexts , Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Uzgalis, William L., 1988, “The Anti-Essential Locke and Natural Kinds”, The Philosophical Quarterly , 38(152): 330–339. doi:10.2307/2220132
  • –––, 1990, “Relative Identity and Locke’s Principle of Individuation”, History of Philosophy Quarterly , 7(3): 283–297.
  • –––, 2007, Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding—A Reader’s Guide , London: Continuum.
  • –––, 2017, “John Locke, Racism, Slavery and Indian Lands”, in Naomi Zack (ed.), The Oxford Handbook to Philosophy and Race , Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Walmsley, Jonathan and Waldman Felix, 2019 “John Locke and Toleration of Catholics: A New Manuscript”, Historical Journal , 62: 1093–1115. [Includes transcription of “Reasons for tolerating papists with others” St. Johns College, Annapolis, Maryland, Greenfield Library.]
  • Wilson, Margaret Dauler, 1999, Ideas and Mechanism: Essays on Early Modern Philosophy , Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Wilson, Thomas D., 2016, The Ashley Cooper Plan: The Founding of Carolina and the Origins of Southern Political Culture , Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.
  • Wood, Neal, 1983, The Politics of Locke’s Philosophy , Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Woolhouse, R.S., 1971, Locke’s Philosophy of Science and Knowledge , New York: Barnes and Noble.
  • –––, 1983, Locke , Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  • –––, 1988, The Empiricists , Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Yaffe, Gideon, 2000, Liberty Worth the Name: Locke on Free Agency , Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • –––, 2004, “Locke on Ideas of Substance and the Veil of Perception”, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly , 85(3): 252–272. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0114.2004.00198.x
  • Yolton, Jean S., 1990, A Locke Miscellany , Bristol: Thoemmes Antiquarian Books.
  • Yolton, John, 1956, John Locke and the Way of Ideas Oxford, Oxford University Press; reprinted, Bristol: Thoemmes Press, 1996.
  • –––, 1969, John Locke: Problems and Perspectives: New Essays , Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • –––, 1970, John Locke and the Compass of Human Understanding , Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • –––, 1983, Thinking Matter: Materialism in Eighteenth Century Britain , Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  • –––, 1984, Perceptual Acquaintance: From Descartes to Reid , Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Bibliographies

  • Hall, Roland, and Roger Woolhouse, 1983, 80 Years of Locke Scholarship: A Bibliographical Guide , Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh Press.
  • Locke Studies (formerly The Locke Newsletter) , edited by Timothy Stanton, Heslington: University of York.
How to cite this entry . Preview the PDF version of this entry at the Friends of the SEP Society . Look up topics and thinkers related to this entry at the Internet Philosophy Ontology Project (InPhO). Enhanced bibliography for this entry at PhilPapers , with links to its database.
  • “John Locke” , entry on Locke, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy .
  • Images of Locke , National Portrait Gallery, Great Britain.

Berkeley, George | Hume, David | Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm | liberalism | Locke, John: moral philosophy | Locke, John: on freedom | Locke, John: on personal identity | Locke, John: philosophy of science | Locke, John: political philosophy | Masham, Lady Damaris | personal identity | substance | tropes

Acknowledgments

The editors would like to thank Sally Ferguson for carefully proofreading the text.

Copyright © 2022 by William Uzgalis < buzgalis @ gmail . com >

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[W]ho knows but after my honourable burial, I might have a glorious resurrection in following ages, since time brings strange and unusual things to passe.

The Physical and Philosophical Opinions (1655)

Early forms of human symbolic communication testify to pre-literate notions of fame, which Homer metaphorised in Mount Ossa, while Virgil, in the Aeneid , posited "no evil faster than [fame].” Plato and Aristotle took fame seriously as the pursuit of honour and glory, while the Stoics tended to view it as a by-product of living in harmony with nature and virtue. As a result, during the classical revival of the Renaissance, the concept of fame was often associated with notions of honour, virtue, and achievement. Petrarch's sonnets and Shakespeare's plays concretized the humanist tradition of seeking immortality through renowned literary works. We might even turn to the University of Seville’s emblem, which features a coronary statue of Fame as “public messenger.”

Across her career, Cavendish was obsessed with fame. While she was critical of the pursuit of fame for its own sake, and expressed reservations about the vanity, wealth, or false learning that might lead to “bastard fame,” she nonetheless devoted her writing career to the pursuit of a “true fame” that might be earned through virtue, originality, wit, and wisdom. She also recognized, as an early female author and iconoclast, that fame was her only avenue to a more sympathetic future audience. Indeed, her work abounds in haunting expressions of her desire for longevity. As she frequently expounded, she sought to climb “Fames Tower” and “Live in Many Brains.” Now, in 2024, the world is finally listening. 

Cavendish offers a unique opportunity to discuss fame, its impact on individuals and societies, and its continuities with concepts of immortality. More broadly, she offers valuable insights into the human condition and the power of public perception. Of course, the trope of fame continues to resonate today, as we explore the human complexities of ambition, desire, vanity, and identity.

We warmly invite papers from any discipline that touch—explicitly or implicitly—on the topic of fame, as we meet in Seville to discuss Cavendish in 2024. We especially encourage papers from postgraduate students and scholars not adequately represented in the academy. The event will be held in person, although online options might be available (TBA). Topics might include, but are not limited to:

-         Cavendish and fame in literature (poetry, fiction, biography, literary history and literary theory).

-         Cavendish and fame in philosophy.

-         Cavendish and fame in herstory/women’s studies.

-         Cavendish and fame as it relates to queer theory.

-         Cavendish and theology, especially notions of the afterlife.

-         Cavendish, fame, and biography.

-         Cavendish and fame in the fine arts.

-         Cavendish and fame as it relates to the history of science/intellectual history.

-         Cavendish and fame in early modern society, or her growing stature in contemporary pop culture.

-         Cavendish and fame in communication.

-         Cavendish, fame, and ethics.

Please send an abstract of no more than 250 words and a brief (100-word) bio to the Conference Committee by July 15, 2024.

For any questions, or for more information, please contact the team at [email protected] .

We look forward to hosting you in Seville!

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  1. Aristotle

    Aristotle was born on the Chalcidic peninsula of Macedonia, in northern Greece. His father, Nicomachus, was the physician of Amyntas III (reigned c. 393-c. 370 bce ), king of Macedonia and grandfather of Alexander the Great (reigned 336-323 bce ). After his father's death in 367, Aristotle migrated to Athens, where he joined the Academy ...

  2. Aristotle

    1. 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', which one still occasionally encounters in Aristotelian scholarship), 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.

  3. Aristotle: Biography, Greek Philosopher, Western Philosophy

    Aristotle (c. 384 B.C. to 322 B.C.) was an Ancient Greek philosopher and scientist who is still considered one of the greatest thinkers in politics, psychology and ethics. When Aristotle turned 17 ...

  4. Aristotle, His Life and Philosophical Ideas Essay (Biography)

    After fleeing Athens in 323 BC, Aristotle's life came to an end in 322 BC after an ailment of the digestive organs (Bar and Bat 1994). His work was considered as the most influential in the world of philosophy and was widely used between the period of antiquity and renaissance. He had a great influence in the western world especially with ...

  5. Aristotle

    Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) was a Greek philosopher who made significant and lasting contributions to nearly every aspect of human knowledge, from logic to biology to ethics and aesthetics.

  6. Aristotle

    Aristotle (Greek: Ἀριστοτέλης Aristotélēs, pronounced [aristotélɛːs]; 384-322 BC) was an Ancient Greek philosopher and polymath.His writings cover a broad range of subjects spanning the natural sciences, philosophy, linguistics, economics, politics, psychology, and the arts.As the founder of the Peripatetic school of philosophy in the Lyceum in Athens, he began the wider ...

  7. Aristotle Biography

    Biography. Aristotle 384 B. C.-322 B. C. Greek philosopher and scientist. GENERAL INTRODUCTION. Aristotle wrote on a multitude of topics including metaphysics, biology, psychology, logic, and ...

  8. Aristotle

    Aristotle (384 B.C.E.—322 B.C.E.) Aristotle is a towering figure in ancient Greek philosophy, who made important contributions to logic, criticism, rhetoric, physics, biology, psychology, mathematics, metaphysics, ethics, and politics.He was a student of Plato for twenty years but is famous for rejecting Plato's theory of forms. He was more empirically minded than both Plato and Plato's ...

  9. Aristotle: A Complete Overview of His Life, Work, and Philosophy

    Aristotle, Francesco Hayez, 1811, via Wikimedia Commons. Aristotle (384 - 322 BC) was a renowned ancient Greek philosopher who greatly influenced the world of philosophy, science, and logic. He is considered one of the most influential figures in the history of Western thought. His works have been pivotal in developing metaphysics, ethics ...

  10. Aristotle Biography

    features significant essays on major aspects of his work. Edel, Abraham. Aristotle and His Philosophy.New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Books, 1996.

  11. Aristotle, His Life and Philosophical Ideas Essay (Biography)

    1. Early Life and Education. Aristotle was born in 384 BC in Stageira in Northern Greece. His father, Nicomachus, was a doctor, and his mother, Phaestis, came from a politically active family. Although Aristotle's family background was relatively privileged, it is clear from his writings that he had a deep respect for social justice and equality.

  12. Essay on Aristotle

    Aristotle was a famous Greek philosopher and scientist born in 384 BC. He studied under Plato and later taught Alexander the Great. His work covers many subjects including physics, biology, zoology, metaphysics, logic, ethics, aesthetics, poetry, theatre, music, rhetoric, psychology, linguistics, economics, politics, and government.

  13. Aristotle Biography

    Biography of. Aristotle. Aristotle was born in 384 BC, in Stagira, near Macedonia at the northern end of the Aegean Sea. His father, Nicomachus, was the family physician of King Amyntas of Macedonia. It is believed that Aristotle's ancestors had been the physicians of the Macedonian royal family for several generations.

  14. Aristotle's Political Theory

    Aristotle (b. 384-d. 322 BCE), was a Greek philosopher, logician, and scientist. Along with his teacher Plato, Aristotle is generally regarded as one of the most influential ancient thinkers in a number of philosophical fields, including political theory. Aristotle was born in Stagira in northern Greece, and his father was a court physician ...

  15. Life and Legacy of Aristotle: The Philosopher of Ancient Greece

    C. in Stagira, Greece. When he turned 17, he enrolled in Plato's Academy. In 338, he began tutoring Alexander the Great. In 335, Aristotle founded his own school, the Lyceum, in Athens, where he spent most of the rest of his life studying, teaching and writing. Aristotle died in 322 B.C., after he left Athens and fled to Chalcis.

  16. Aristotle Biography Essay

    Aristotle: a Biography Essay. Greggory Adams 9/5/12 World Lit Biography Aristotle Aristotle was born in 384 BC at Stagira, a Greek colonial town on the Aegean Sea near the Macedonian border. His mother was a native of Chalcis, from which Stagira had been colonized. His father, Nicomachus, was court physician to the father of Philip of Macedon.

  17. About Aristotle's Ethics

    Introduction. The Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle's most important study of personal morality and the ends of human life, has for many centuries been a widely-read and influential book.Though written more than 2,000 years ago, it offers the modern reader many valuable insights into human needs and conduct. Among its most outstanding features are Aristotle's insistence that there are no known ...

  18. Aristotle Biography

    Aristotle Biography. This great philosopher Mr. Aristotle was born in the Stagira over the decades of years ago, 384 B.C. in Greece. At the age of 17 Mr. Aristotle commenced his education in Plato's Academy. Years later Mr. Aristotle completed his education successfully and started his first job at Alexander the Great.

  19. John Locke

    John Locke (b. 1632, d. 1704) was a British philosopher, Oxford academic and medical researcher. Locke's monumental An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689) is one of the first great defenses of modern empiricism and concerns itself with determining the limits of human understanding in respect to a wide spectrum of topics. It thus tells us in some detail what one can legitimately claim ...

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    Call for Papers The International Margaret Cavendish Society biannual conference will be held on the 12th and 13th of December, 2024, at Universidad de Sevilla (Spain).. FAME: "Absence and Death are much alike" Fame is a report that travells far, and Many times lives long, and The older it groweth, The more it florishes, and is The more particularly a mans own…

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    Abstract. This essay is an exposition of the philosophy of populism, a philosophy by and large inspired by Michel Foucault to herald the New Discourse called 'post-Marxism' a term made famous by Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe which would lay the foundations for not so much the secular New Social Movements comprising multiple issues like gay rights and environment, but ironically would be ...