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Aristotle. Some Facts about Aristotle. Lived from 384-322 Plato’s best student at the Academy Father was a physician —presumably taught Aristotle to examine the natural world for the causes of things Tutor to the young Alexander the Great Founded the Lyceum in Athens in 334

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Some Facts about Aristotle

  • Lived from 384-322

  • Plato’s best student at the Academy

  • Father was a physician—presumably taught Aristotle to examine the natural world for the causes of things

  • Tutor to the young Alexander the Great

  • Founded the Lyceum in Athens in 334

  • Followers called “Peripatetics” for the peripatoi, or covered walkways (colonnades) in the Lyceum, where they would stroll and philosophize.

Some differences between Plato and Aristotle

  • For Plato, true knowledge does not rely on the senses

  • For Aristotle, knowledge begins with sense perception

    • Aristotle is an early empiricist

Some differences between Plato and Aristotle

  • Plato focuses on mathematics as a way to guide people into thinking about philosophy

  • Aristotle focuses on biologyand


  • Observation,not theory,

    is the starting point for Aristotle

Some differences between Plato and Aristotle

  • For Plato, the Forms are separately, transcendently existing realities

  • For Aristotle, forms they do not have a separate existence beyond inhering in specific material things

Aristotle’s revision of Plato

  • For Plato the ever-changing phenomenal world is separate from the true and eternal world of Forms

    • A thing participates in its eternal Form

  • Aristotle suggests that the form is found “inside” the phenomena, the universals “inside” the particulars.

Aristotle’s revision of Plato

  • Aristotle thought Plato’s separation of sensible things and their forms to be nonsense.

  • He called the form of something its essence, that which gives shape, form or purpose to something

  • The opposite of essence he called matter

  • Essence without matter is perfect, complete and ideal, but has no substance or solidity (and certainly no independent existence

  • Matter without essence is formless stuff, not actual but pure potential

  • Essence “realizes” (makes real) matter.

Entelechy: Potentiality becomes Actuality

  • Aristotle thought that things “participating” in the Forms was insufficient to explain their existence

  • How did they becomewhat they are? Aristotle believed that nature provided the answer

  • An acorn becomes an oak over time, but has no choice but to be an oak!(In other words, it cannot be a pine, or a birch) The potential to be an oak is in the acorn, and this potential is actualized when the acorn becomes an oak.

  • The essence, which exists potentially, of something is actualized in the thing’s matter.

  • This process of actualization or becoming is called entelechy

  • (Okay, got all that?

    • (Good, because it gets better)

  • Aristotle believed that the entelechy of a thing could be explained in four ways

  • That is, there are four causes of a thing, or four answers to the question, why is a thing what it is?

    1.  The material cause: what something is made of.

    2.  The formal cause: the thing’s shape, form, or essence; its definition.

    3. The efficient cause: the motion or energy that changes matter.

    4.  The final cause: its reason, its purpose, the intention behind it.

The Four Causes

  • The material cause: the bronze

  • The formal cause: the shape of the statue the sculptor had in made

  • The efficient cause: the heat, the forge, the tools, the sculptor

  • The final cause: to decorate a temple or a palace, to venerate Zeus, to give people something to pray to

Statue of Zeus or Poseidon, Athens

The Four Causes

The Soul

  • Aristotle’s main work on the soul is De Anima (Latin for Par Psyche, “About the Soul”)

  • For Aristotle, the soul is the “first entelechy” of the body, the force that moves it to fulfill its potential

    • The soul animates (gives life to), or realizesa body

  • Unlike Plato, Aristotle believed the soul and the body cannot exist separately from each other

  • Unlike Plato, Aristotle did NOT believe in the soul’s immortality. When the body dies, the soul dies.

The Soul of a Human

  • Unlike Plato, Aristotle did not believe in a personal or unique soul. All living things have different souls, but soul does not account for their differences.

  • LIKE Plato, Aristotle believed in a three-part division of the soul. UNLIKE Plato, Aristotle’s divisions were functional:

    • The nutritive soul: The souls of all living things (plants, animals, and humans) have this function in common. It is the driving force toward growth

    • The sensitive soul: Only the souls of animals and humans have this in common. It is the ability to sense one’s surroundings and have feelings

    • The rational soul: Only humans have this ability to think, reason, and gain abstract knowledge. Only humans can be logical, creative, and imaginative

Human Nature

  • For Plato, a human being is an immortal soul trapped in matter, whose true nature is to be one with the Forms

  • For Aristotle, a human being is a rational animal, that is, an animal that reasons

  • For both, REASON is what separates humans from all living things.

  • Functional argument:

    • It is the nature of a knife to cut (its final cause), it is proper for a good knife to cut well

    • It is the nature of a fish to swim, and proper for a good fish to swim well

    • Just so it is the nature of a human to reason, and proper for a good human to reason well!

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