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Aristotle (384-322 BC), author of philosophical works including The Categories, which is his examination of the definition of the terms used in the process of logic and reasoning;

"Things are said to be named 'equivocally' when, though they have a common name, the definition corresponding with the name differs for each. Thus, a real man and a figure in a picture can both lay claim to the name 'animal'; yet these are equivocally so named, for, though they have a common name, the definition corresponding with the name differs for each. For should any one define in what sense each is an animal, his definition in the one case will be appropriate to that case only."

Whereas Plato said that the universal is found separately from things, the third of the three main Greek philosophers, Artistotle developed his own philosophy in deductive logic, trying to bring order to chaos; "the science of the universal essence of that which is actual". That being, reality, in the realm of the physical, is acquired through experience, that the universal is found within things. Though only a small percentage of the Aristotelian writings survive, and many appear as works in progress and acroatic papers, his meticulous studies and teachings in such topics as aesthetics, biology, ethics, government, logic, morality, physics, and poetry greatly influenced Western philosophical and scientific thought.

Born in the town of Stagirus on the Thracian peninsula in 384 BC, Aristotle was the son of Nichomachus, a court physician to King Amyntas of Macedonia. After his father's death his uncle Proxenus became his guardian, who sent him to study in Athens. For almost twenty years Aristotle studied (then taught) Philosophy at the Academy under Plato (who in turn had been taught by Socrates).

An accomplished student, Aristotle often disagreed with his teacher and after Plato's death in 347, Aristotle parted ways with the Platonic teachings. Although some of his studies are now disproven or antiquated, his extensive study and classification of animals into genera and species for example, expressed in such works as On the Parts of Animals and The History of Animals (350 BC) have contributed greatly to the modern study of biology.

With growing anti Macedonian sentiments, Aristotle left Athens for Assos, where he also met and married Pythias, daughter of King Hermeas, ruler of Atarneus and Assos in Mysia. They would have a daughter, also named Pythias. Around 345 he settled in Mytilene on the island of Lesbos and focused on his biological and zoological research. He also began tutoring the young Alexander the Great, son of Philip of Macedonia. When Alexander became King, Aristotle went back to Athens and founded the Lyceum. In his Poetics (c.330 BC) he states that poetry is "more philosophical and elevated than history". In the twenty-six sections of Poetics, most likely lecture notes written for his students, Aristotle discusses such issues as the aesthetic and ethical expression of various forms of poetry and drama. His studies and writings during the next dozen or so years were his most prodigious.

As Athens was rebelling against Macedonian rule imposed after the death of Alexander the Great, Aristotle's life was in peril because of his political ties so he fled to the island of Euboea. He died soon after at his home in Chalcis, Euboea, 322 BC at the age of sixty-two years. Aristotle believed in the eternal nature of the universe with no beginning and no end; "It is not once nor twice but times without number that the same ideas make their appearance in the world."--On the Heavens. In his research of the earth sciences such as Meteorology (350 BC), Aristotle discusses his findings in climactic activity such as thunderstorms, rainbows, and beyond to meteors and the Milky Way. In honour of his contribution to the studies of the heavens, a Lunar crater is now named after him.

"The whole is more than the sum of its parts".--Metaphysica

Biography written by C.D. Merriman for Jalic Inc. Copyright Jalic Inc. 2006. All Rights Reserved.

The above biography is copyrighted. Do not republish it without permission.

Recent Forum Posts on Aristotle


As everyone knows, Aristotle said, "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." How can one actually achieve this?

Aristotle in his Poetics emphasizes subject matter in poetry

As I reflect on these first associations in the Baha’i community I can’t help but also reflect on Aristotle's concept of mimesis "The instinct for imitation,” writes Aristotle, “is inherent in human beings from our earliest days; we differ from other animals in that we are the most imitative of creatures and learn our earliest lessons by imitation.” My association with the Baha’i community began when I was nine or ten and these several individuals whose homes I entered and who entered the home of my family had qualities worthy of emulation. We all have a sense of a public self, and we keep refashioning ourselves according to the information we process. In one form or another, we are performers. In 1953/4 I entered a world of performers. They were not paid for honing their craft as Shakespeare was in plays like Hamlet. But they were all performers who were keenly aware of their audience, as we all are. __________________________ Socrates once complained, in his Apology, of the inability of poets to talk analytically about their work. According to the significance of the Greek root of the word ‘poetry’ it covers all forms of art or human productivity. In the tradition of the great books, novelists like Cervantes, Fielding or Melville called themselves poets. Poetry with these writers was regarded as narrative, the invention of good stories. A poet was a teller of tales. Aristotle in his Poetics emphasizes subject matter in poetry not language; plot was the most important thing made by the poet in narrative poetry, not the verses, not the rhyme or metre, according to Aristotle. So, the historian and the poet differed not. “Epics,” wrote Cervantes, “may be as well written in prose as in verse.” So it is in this epic, this series of thousands of poems written in the fourth epoch of the Formative Age, that I continue a form of poetry, a poetic tradition, going back to the Greeks. -Ron Price with thanks to The Great ideas: A Synopticon of Great Books of the Western World, Vol. 2, William Benton, Toronto, 1952, p.400.

consistently inconsistent?

In "Poetics", Aristotle thinks that "in respect of character, there are four things to be aimed at...the fourth point is consistency: for though the subject of imitation, who suggested the type,be inconsistency, still he must be consistently inconsistent."What on earth does the sentence mean? Would you please tell me?

Aristotle, Classic Technique, and Greek Drama

Aristotle, Classic Technique, and Greek Drama By Tariq Hayat Lashari IT is to the Greeks that we owe not only the first great plays, but also the first principles of criticism and of dramatic construction. Not every Athenian was a good critic, as some would have us think; but we know that the comic poets took it upon themselves to deliver judgments, to compare one writer with another, and in some measure, to lay down the laws of drama. It fell, however, to Aristotle, a philosopher and teacher born in the first quarter of the fourth century, to become not only the most important mouthpiece of Greek dramatic criticism, but also one of the most important influences in all the history of literature. He analyzed the plays of the fifth century as well as those of his own time, classified the kinds of drama, and laid down rules for the construction of tragedy. Aristotle had the very human characteristic of harking back to the good old days, and thinking them much better than the days in which he lived. Taking scant account of Aeschylus he regarded Sophocles and Euripides as models in tragedy. His chief complaints were that the poets of his own time spoiled their work by rhetorical display; that the actor was often of more importance than the play; and that the poets tampered with the plot in order to give a favorite actor an opportunity of displaying his special talent. He said that the poets were deficient in the power of portraying character, and that it was not even fair to compare them with the giants of the former era; that the drama was greatly in need of fresh topics, new treatment, and original ideas; that it was polished in diction, but lacking in force and vitality. The playwrights too frequently made use of the god-from-the-machine for the purpose of extricating characters from their troubles. Such was the tenor of Aristotle's "reviews" and criticisms. THE GENERAL PRINCIPLES OF ARISTOTLE The greatest tragedy, in the opinion of Aristotle, was Oedipus the King by Sophocles. The reasons for its supremacy lay in the excellent management of plot and chorus, in the beauty of the language, in the irony of the situations, and in the general nobility of conception. Aristotle cited also the Helena of Euripides as a model of its kind, and lauded the author for the skill with which he had set forth the complicated plot. Euripides was to him the most tragic of the poets. At the same time, he found much in Euripides to censure. Only in Sophocles, the perfect writer, were united ideal beauty, clearness of construction and religious inspiration--the three qualities which alone make tragedy great. The subjects of tragic drama, Aristotle said, were rightly drawn from ancient mythology, because coming from that source they must be true. If man had invented such strange incidents, they would have appeared impossible. The chief characters of a tragic action should be persons of consequence, of exalted station. The leading personage should not be a man characterized by great virtue or great vice, but of a mixed nature, partly good and partly bad. His errors and weaknesses lead him into misfortune. Such a mixture of good and evil makes him seem like ourselves, thus more quickly arousing our sympathy. The course of the tragic action should be such as to saturate the spectator with feelings of compassion, drive out his petty personal emotions, and so "purge" the soul through pity and terror (Catharsis). The crimes suitable for tragic treatment may be committed either in ignorance, or intentionally, and are commonly against friends or relatives. Crimes committed intentionally are generally the more dramatic and impressive. (This in spite of the fact that the central crime in Oedipus the King was committed in ignorance.) As to style, a certain archaic quality of diction is needful to the dignity of tragedy. THE THREE UNITIES: The most famous of the Aristotelian rules were those relating to the so-called unities--of time, place, and action. The unity of time limits the supposed action to the duration, roughly, of a single day; unity of place limits it to one general locality; and the unity of action limits it to a single set of incidents which are related as cause and effect, "having a beginning, a middle, and an end." Concerning the unity of time, Aristotle noted that all the plays since Aeschylus, except two, did illustrate such unity, but he did not lay down such a precept as obligatory. Perhaps tacitly he assumed that the observance of the unity of place would be the practice of good playwrights, since the chorus was present during the whole performance, and it would indeed be awkward always to devise an excuse for moving fifteen persons about from place to place. The third unity that of action, is bound up with the nature not only of Greek but of all drama. GREEK DRAMA MORE CONCERNED WITH PLOT THAN WITH CHARACTER: Aristotle conceived the action, or plot, of a play as of far greater importance than the characters. This conception he gained from the plays of the fifth century, which, in general, centered around a personified passion rather than around a character. The action was "the vital principle and very soul of drama." Again he says, "Tragedy is an imitation, not of men, but of actions." Second in importance was characterization; and third were the sentiments aroused by the action. He insisted very clearly that in tragedy the plot does not rise out of the characters, but on the contrary the plot tests the characters through the working-out of destiny -- "blind fate." The main duty of the dramatist was to organize first the action, then display the moral character of his people under the blows of fate. "The incidents of the action, and the structural ordering of these incidents, constitute the end and purpose of tragedy." Finally and perhaps most important of all, was Aristotle's belief that although tragedy should purge the emotions through pity and terror, yet all drama was meant to entertain: tragedy through the sympathies, comedy through mirth. PERVERSION OF ARISTOTLE'S PRINCIPLES: In this manner was begun the formulated technique of the drama. The principles enunciated by Aristotle were deduced from a study of the plays which were effective in his time, and under the conditions of the Athenian stage; but as time went on, critics and playwrights often studied Aristotle instead of plays, and left out of consideration differing circumstances and conditions. In this way, rules, created for the open-air Athenian production, were applied indiscriminately to all sorts of stages, whether indoors or out. Many writers failed to recognize the new life in their own art, and missed seeing the truth that a first-hand observation of life is always of more value than rules of any sort. Therefore an immemorial war has been waged between the sticklers for old laws, on the one side, and, on the other, the genuinely creative writers. In no art has this war been more apparent than in the drama; and in no art have rigid rules been more oppressive. There have been long periods when the dominance of technical rules, wholly or partially outgrown, has sterilized and all but killed the theater.

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