Aristotle

, the chief of the peripatetic philosophers, and one of the most illustrious characters of ancient Greece, was born in the first year of the ninety-ninth olympiad, or 384 years before the Christian sera, at Stagyra, a town of Thrace, whence he is usually called the Stagyrite. His father was a physician, named Nicomachus: his mother’s name was Phaestias. He received the first rudiments of learning from Proxenus, of Atarna in Mysia, and at the age of 17 went to Athens, and studied in the school of Plato, where his acuteness and proficiency so attracted the notice of his master, that he used to call him “The mind of the school;” and said, when Aristotle happened to be absent, “Intellect is not here.” His works, indeed, prove that he had an extensive acquaintance with books; and Strabo says, he was the first person who formed a library. At this academy he continued until the death of Plato, whose memory he honoured by a monument, an oration, and elegies, which contradicts the report of his having had a difference with Plato, and erecting a school in opposition to him, as related by Aristoxenus. At the time of the death of Plato, Aristotle was in his thirty-seventh year; and when Speusippus, the nephew of Plato, succeeded him in the academy, our philosopher was so much displeased, that he left Athens, and paid a visit to Hermias, king of the Atarnenses, who had been his fellow-disciple, and now received him with every expression of regard. Here he remained three years, prosecuting his philosophical researches; and when Hermias was taken prisoner and put to death, he placed a statue of him in the temple at Delphos, and married his sister, who was now reduced to poverty and distress, by the revolution which had dethroned her brother. After these events, Aristotle removed to Mitelene, where, after he had resided two years, he received a respectful letter from Philip, king of Macedon, who had heard of his great fame, requesting him to undertake the education of his son, Alexander, then in his fifteenth year. Aristotle accepted the charge, and in 343 B. C. went to reside in the court of Philip.

Here he executed his trust with so much satisfaction to | Philip, that he admitted him into his confidence and counsels, an advantage which Aristotle is said have employed for the benefit of his friends and of the public, without any selfish views. He gained likewise the entire affection of his royal pupil, whom he instructed in all the learning of the age; and whose studies he directed in conformity to the prospects of a young, spirited, and ambitious prince. Immediately after the death of Philip, in the year 336 B. C. when Alexander formed the design of his Asiatic expedition, Aristotle returned to Athens, but not before he had prevailed on Alexander to employ his increasing power and wealth in the service of philosophy, by furnishing him, in his retirement, with the means of enlarging his acquaintance with nature. Alexander accordingly employed several thousand persons in different parts of Europe and Asia to collect animals of various kinds, and send them to Aristotle, who, from the information which this collection afforded him, wrote fifty volumes on the history of animated nature, ten of which are still extant. But a dispute which took place between Callisthenes, Aristotle’s nephew, who had accompanied Alexander, and that monarch, eventually produced a coolness, if not a total alienation, between Aristotle and his royal pupil.

Aristotle, upon his return to Athens, conceived the design of becoming a leader in philosophy, by founding a new sect, and chose for his school, the Lyceum, a grove in the suburbs of Athens, where he held daily conversation on subjects of philosophy with those who attended him, walking as he discoursed, whence his followers were called Peripatetics. According to the long-established practice of philosophers among the Grecians, Egyptians, and other nations, Aristotle had his public and his secret doctrine, the former of which he called the Exoteric, and the latter the Acroamatic or Esoteric. Hence he divided his auditors into two classes, to one of which he taught his Exoteric doctrine, discoursing on the principal subjects of logic, rhetoric, and policy; the other he instructed in the Esoteric, or concealed and subtle doctrine, concerning Being, Nature, and God. His more abstruse discourses he delivered in the morning to his select disciples, whom he required to have been previously instructed in the elements of learning, and to have discovered abilities and dispositions iuited to the study of philosophy. In the evening he | delivered lectures to all young men without distinction; the former he called his Morning Walk, the latter his Evening Walk, and both were much frequented.

Aristotle continued his school in the Lyceum twelve years; for, although the superiority of his abilities, and the novelty of his doctrines, created him many rivals and enemies, during the life of Alexander, the friendship of that prince, unbroken in this respect, protected him from insult. But after Alexander’s death, in 324 B. C. his adversaries and rivals instigated Eurymedon, a priest, to accuse him of holding and propagating impious tenets. What these were we are not expressly informed; but such was the vigour of their prosecution, that he thought proper to retire from Athens. Alluding to the fate of Socrates, of which he appears to have been apprehensive, he told his friends that he was not willing to give the Athenians an opportunity of committing a second offence against philosophy. He retired, accordingly, with a few of his disciples, to Chalcis, where he remained till his death in 322 B. C. in the sixty-third year of his age. Many idle tales are related concerning the manner of his death. It is most likely that it was the effect of premature decay, in consequence of excessive watchfulness and application to study. His body was conveyed to Stagyra, where his memory was honoured with an altar and a tomb.

Aristotle was twice married; first to Pythias, sister to his friend Hermias, and after her death, to Herpilis, a native of Stagyra. By his second wife he had a son named Nicomachus, to whom he addressed his “Great Morals.” His person was slender; he had small eyes, and a shrill voice, and when he was young, a hesitation in his speech. He endeavoured to supply the defects of his natural form, by an attention to dress; and commonly appeared in a costly habit, with his beard shaven, and his hair cut, and with rings on his fingers. He was subject to frequent indispositions, through a natural weakness of stomach; but he corrected the infirmities of his constitution by a temperate regimen.

The character of Aristotle appears to be justly appreciated by Brucker, who observes, that some of Aristotle’s panegyrists, not contented with ascribing to him the virtues of a philosopher, or rather, perhaps, jealous of the credit which heathen philosophy might acquire from so illustrious | a name, have ascribed his wisdom to divine revelation. The Jews have said that he gained his philosophy in Judea, and borrowed his moral doctrine from Solomon, and have even asserted, that he was of the seed of Israel, and the tribe of Benjamin. Christians have assigned him a place amongst those who were supeniaturally ordained to prepare the way for divine revelation, and have acknowledged themselves indebted to the assistance of the Peripatetic philosophy, for the depth and accuracy of their acquaintance with the sublime mysteries of religion. Others, who have confined their encomiums within the limits of probability, have said, that Aristotle was an illustrious pattern of gratitude, moderation, and the love of truth; and in confirmation of this general praise, have referred to his behaviour to his preceptor, his friends, and his countrymen, and to the celebrated apophthegm which has been commonly ascribed to him: Amicus Plato, amicus Socrates, magis tamen arnica veritas; “I respect Plato, and I respect Socrates, but I respect truth still more.” On the other hand, there have not been wanting writers who have represented Aristotle as the most infamous of human beings, and charged him with every kind of impiety and wickedness. Many of the calumnies against his memory, which have been transmitted to posterity, doubtless originated in the jealousy and envy of the rival sects, which were contemporaries with the Peripatetic school. To this source may be fairly referred the abuse of Timaeus, the Tauromenite, who says, that Aristotle, when he was a young man, after wasting his patrimony in prodigality, opened a shop for medicine in Athens, and that he was a pretender to learning, a vile parasite, and addicted to gluttony and debauchery.

If, without regard to the fictions either of calumny or panegyric, the merit of Aristotle be weighed in the equal balance of historical truth, it will, perhaps, be found, that neither were his virtues of that exalted kind which command admiration, nor his faults so highly criminal as not to admit of some apology. He may, perhaps, be justly censured for having taught his pupil Alexander, principles of morals and policy which were accommodated to the manners of a court, and which might easily be rendered subservient to his ambitious views. And it cannot be doubted that his philosophical doctrines concerning nature were not | favourable to the public forms of religion. But neither his doctrine, nor his life, afford sufficient grounds for condemning him as the advocate of immorality or impiety.

As a writer, there can be no doubt that Aristotle is entitled to the praise of deep erudition. At the same time it must be owned, that he is frequently deserving of censure, for giving a partial and unfair representation of the opinions of his predecessors in philosophy, that he might the more easily refute them; and that he seems to have made it the principal object of his extensive reading, to depreciate the wisdom of‘ all preceding ages. In short, whilst in point of genius we rank Aristotle in the first class of men, and whilst we ascribe to him every attainment which, at the period in which he lived, indefatigable industry, united with superior abilities, could reach, we must add, that his reputation in philosophy is in some measure tarnished by a too daring spirit of contradiction and innovation; and in morals, by an artful conformity to the manners of the age in which he lived.

To this general character by Brucker, it may be added, that no philosopher ever enjoyed so long a reign in the schools, or came nearer to our own times in the extent of his doctrine. The charm is, indeed, now broken: Christianity, the revival of letters and of sound learning since the reformation, and especially the introduction of experimental philosophy, have tended to lessen the value of the labours of this distinguished philosopher. Much praise, however, may be yet attributed to him, on permanent ground. His Dialectics show how the reasoning faculties may be employed with skill and effect; his ten celebrated Categories have not yet been convicted of great error, and his political and critical writings have very recently obtained the attention and approbation of some of our most eminent scholars and critics. “Whoever surveys,” says Dr. Warton, “the variety and perfection of his productions, all delivered in the chastest style, in the clearest order, and the most pregnant brevity, is amazed at the immensity of his genius. His Logic, however neglected for those redundant and verbose systems, which took rise from Locke’s Essay on the Human Understanding, is a mighty effort of the mind; in which are discovered the principal sources of art and reasoning, and the dependences of one thought on another; and where, by the different combinations he hath made of all the forms the | understanding can assume in reasoning’, which he hath traced for it, he hath so closely confined it, that it cannot depart from them, without arguing inconsequentially. His Physics contain many useful observations, particularly his History of Animals. His Morals are perhaps the purest system in antiquity. His Politics are a most valuable monument of the civil wisdom of the ancients, as they preserve to us the descriptions of several governments, and particularly of Crete and Carthage, that otherwise would have been unknown. But of all his compositions, his Rhetoric and Poetics are most complete: no writer has shewn a greater penetration into the recesses of the human heart than this philosopher, in the second book of his Rhetoric, where he treats of the different manners and passions that distinguish each different age and condition of man; and from whence Horace plainly took his famous description in the Art of Poetry. La Brnyere, Rochefoucalt, and Montaigne himself, are not to be compared to him in this respect. No succeeding writer on eloquence, not even Tully, has added any thing new or important on this subject. His Poetics seem to have been written for the use of that prince, with whose education Aristotle was honoured, to give him a just taste in reading Homer and the tragedians; to judge properly of which was then thought no unnecessary accomplishment in the character of a prince. To attempt to understand poetry without having diligently digested this treatise, would be as absurd and impossible, us to pretend to a skill in geometry without having studied Euclid. The fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth chapters, wherein he has pointed out the properest methods of exciting terror and pity, convince us that he was intimately acquainted with these objects, which most forcibly affect the heart. The prime excellence of this precious treatise is the scholastic precision, and philosophical closeness, with which the subject is handled, without any address to the passions or imagination. It is to be lamented that the part of the Poetics, in which he had given precepts for comedy, did not likewise descend to posterity.

But before mentioning the opinions of modern critics, it may be necessary to give some account of the various writings of Aristotle, in which we shall partly follow Brucker, who observes that many of his writings are lost: few of them were made public during his life, and it was not long after his death before spurious productions were mixed with his | genuine writings, so that it became difficult to distinguish them. Those which are at present generally received under his name, may he classed under the several heads of Logic, Physics, Metaphysics, Mathematics, Ethics, Rhetoric, and Poesy. The Logical writings of Aristotle are the “Categories,” attributed by some to Archytas, a Pythagorean; “Of the Explanation of Nouns and Verbs,” a work which explains the philosophical principles of grammar; “Analytics,” including the whole doctrine of syllogism and demonstration eight books of “Topics,” or common places, from which probable: arguments are to be drawn; and “Sophistic Arguments,” enumerating the several species of false reasoning. These logical pieces are usually published in one volume under the general title of the “Organon” of Aristotle. His Physical writings are, “On the Doqtrine of Nature,” explaining the principles and properties of natural bodies; “On Meteors;” “Of Animal Life;” “Physical Miscellanies;” “On the Natural History of Animals;” “On the Anatomy of Animals;” “On Plants;” “On Colours;” “On Sound;” “A Collection of Wonderful Facts;” “Against the doctrine of Xenophanes, Zeno, and Gorgias;” “On the Winds;” “On Physiognomy;” and “Miscellaneous Problems.” The Metaphysics of Aristotle are contained in fourteen books. Under the head of Mathematics, are included “A Book of Questions in Mechanics,” and another “On Incommensurable Lines.” His doctrine of Ethics is contained in ten books “To Nicomachus.” “The greater Morals;” “Seven Books to Eudemus,” ascribed by some to Theophrastus; a book “On Virtue and Vice;” two “On Œconomics;” and eight “On Government.” He treats in three distinct books “On the art of Rhetoric,” and in another, “On the art of Poetry.

It has been doubted, however, by many critics whether all the works which bear his name are genuine. Brucker has given an interesting account of the way in which they have descended to modern times, according to which it appears, that they certainly have suffered much by the ignorance of transcribers and the carelessness of editors. A more obvious cause, too, of their inaccuracy, maybe found in the nature of maiiy of Aristotle’s writings, the subjects of which are in the highest degree abstruse and difficult to be comprehended. For an excellent analysis | of his philosophy, we must refer to Brucker, vol. I. p. 268—288, which is illustrated by a profusion of references to authors whose writings will furnish the curious reader with every information he can desire.

The first edition of Aristotle’s works was in Latin by Averroes, Venet. 1472—3, 4 vols. fol. The first Greek edition, usually reckoned thetiditioprinceps, is that of Aldus, in six volumes, 1495, fol. which is very rare. His distinct treatises have been published so often, that it is impossible to enumerate then) in this place, but the reader will find a copious list in the Bibliographical Dictionary. The best editions of the entire works are those of Casaubon, Ludg, 1590, 1606, 2 vols. fol. and of Duval, 2 or 4 vols. fol. Par. 1629.

Although the philosophy of Aristotle no longer prevails in schools and seminaries, the attention of the English public has lately been directed to the critical and political works of the Stagyrite, by the translations and commentaries of some eminent living scholars. With respect to the “Poetics,” Dr. Warton’s opinion will not be thought overcharged, as that treatise has been revived with the eagerness of rivalship. The first English translation of the “Poetics,” which is rather literal than elegant, appeared in 1775, from an anonymous pen. In 1788, Henry James Pye, esq. the present Laureat, published a translation of the same in 8vo, and another came from the pen of Mr. Twining in 1789, in 4to, the latter accompanied with notes on the translation and original, and two dissertations on poetical and musical imitation. The appearance of this very learned work induced Mr. Pye to revise his translation, and in 1792, he published in 4to, “A Commentary illustrating the Poetic of Aristotle, by examples taken chiefly from the modern poets, and a new and corrected edition of the translation of the Poetic.” In both these works, the author and the subject are illustrated with great ability.

Of Aristotle’s other writings, Mr. Ellis published the “Treatise on Government,” 4to, 1778. In 1797 Dr. Gillies made the English reader acquainted with tl Aristotle’s Ethics and Politics, comprising his practical Philosophy.“This elaborate work was illustrated by introductory matter and notes; the critical history of Aristotle’s life, and a new analysis of his speculative writings, the whole comprised in 2 vols. 4to. In 1801, Mr. Thomas Taylor | published a quarto volume of which we shall give only the title,” The Metaphysics of Aristotle, translated from the Greek; with copious notes, in which the Pythagoric and Platonic Dogmas respecting numbers and ideas are unfolded from ancient sources. To which is added, a dissertation on Nullities and diverging Series; in which the conclusions of the greatest modern mathematicians on this subject are shown to be erroneous, the nature of infinitely small quantities is explained, and the To tv or the one of the Pythagoreans and Platonists, so often alluded to by Aristotle in this work, is elucidated." Mr. Bridgman in 1804, published a Synopsis of the Virtues or Vices, 8vo; and in 1807, the same gentleman gave ``The paraphrase of Andronicus Rhodius on the Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle,‘’ a work which we regret we had not seen while preparing the article of Andronicus. As to the commentators on Aristotle, they are so numerous as to include the learned of all ages until within a century, and many hundreds are noticed in this Dictionary. 1

1

Brucker. Gen. Dict. Stanley. Fabric. Bihl. Grose. Warton’s Essay on Pope, vol. I. p. 168. Fenelou’s Lives of the Philosophers. —Saxii Onomasticon. For a most masterly defence of Aristotle, as far as now taught in our universities, see chap. I. of a Reply to the Calumuies of the Edinburgh Review against Oxford, 8vo, 1810.