The Life and Legacy of Aristotle

Aristotle painted by Francesco Hayez in 1811.

Francesco Hayez/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Aristotle (384–322 B.C.) was one of the most important western philosophers, a student of Plato, teacher of Alexander the Great, and tremendously influential in the Middle Ages. Aristotle wrote on logic, nature, psychology, ethics, politics, and art. He is credited with developing deductive reasoning, the procedure of logic that fictional detective Sherlock Holmes used to solve his cases.

Family of Origin

Aristotle was born in the city of Stagira in Macedonia. His father, Nichomacus, was the personal physician to King Amyntas of Macedonia.

Aristotle in Athens

In 367, at the age of 17, Aristotle went to Athens to attend the institution of philosophical learning known as the Academy, which was founded by Socrates' pupil Plato, where he stayed until Plato's death in 347. Then, since he wasn't named successor, Aristotle left Athens, traveling around until 343 when he became tutor for Amyntas' grandson, Alexander -- later known as "the Great."

In 336, Alexander's father, Philip of Macedonia, was assassinated. Aristotle returned to Athens in 335.

The Lyceum and Peripatetic Philosophy

Upon his return to Athens, Aristotle lectured for twelve years in a place that came to be known as the Lyceum. Aristotle's style of lecturing involved walking around in in a covered walkways, for which reason Aristotle was called "Peripatetic" (i.e., walking about).

Aristotle in Exile

In 323, when Alexander the Great died, the Assembly in Athens declared war against Alexander's successor, Antipon. Aristotle was considered an anti-Athenian, pro-Macedonian, and so he was charged with impiety. Aristotle went into voluntary exile to Chalcis, where he died of a digestive ailment in 322 B.C., at the age of 63.

Legacy of Aristotle

Aristotle's philosophy, logic, science, metaphysics, ethics, politics, and system of deductive reasoning have been of inestimable importance ever since. Aristotle's syllogism is at the basis of deductive reasoning. A textbook example of a syllogism is:

Major premise: All humans are mortal.
Minor premise: Socrates is a human.
Conclusion: Socrates is mortal.

In the Middle Ages, the Church used Aristotle to explain its doctrines.