Philosophy of Religion

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Aristotle: Overview

Biographical Details

  • Aristotle (384 – 322 BCE)
  • He was sent to the Academy at the age of 17 where he was a pupil of Plato
  • Remained at the Academy for 20 years
  • He hoped to succeed Plato at the Academy after Plato’s death
  • Later became a tutor to Alexander the Great
  • Returned to Athens to lecture at the Lyceum
  • Taught his pupils as he walked about
  • Wrote on a wide range of subjects
  • Developed a theory of matter
  • Introduced a notion of categories and classification of species
    "Aristotle's genius ranged widely. [...] There are works on logic and on language; on the arts; on ethics and politics and law; on constitutional history and on intellectual history; on psychology and physiology; on natural history -zoology, biology, botany; on chemistry, astronomy, mechanics, mathematics; on the philosophy of science and the nature of motion, space and time; on metaphysics and the theory of knowledge. Choose a field of research, and Aristotle laboured it; pick an area of human endeavour, and Aristotle discoursed upon it. His range is astonishing."

Jonathan Barnes, Aristotle in Greek Philosophers, Oxford, 1999

  • Like Socrates, Aristotle was charged with impiety
  • Aristotle decided to leave Athens rather than face death
  • He died after only one year in exile
    "Reading Aristotle is a bit like eating dried hay."

Thomas Gray (1716 – 1771)

Aristotle’s Writings

  • Most of Aristotle’s works were lost
  • His work was mainly forgotten in Europe after the classical period
  • Aristotle’s works were translated in Arabic and studied by Muslims
  • His work was only rediscovered by European traders in the Middle Ages
  • Some saw his writings as a threat to Christianity
  • Thomas Aquinas used Aristotle’s logic to help support Christian philosophy

Aristotle and Plato

  • Aristotle rejected Plato’s theory of Forms
  • He refused to accept that true knowledge cannot be attained through empirical investigation
  • For Aristotle we can have real knowledge of the world
  • It is through our experience that we come to know things
  • Aristotle argues that there is no evidence for any so called realm of Forms
  • It is only through our senses that we can get reliable facts
  • Even today there are some philosophers who believe along with Plato that reason comes first when seeking true knowledge
  • On the other hand there are some philosophers who insist that Aristotle is right when he states that we must start with our experience

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