Philospher and scientist; b. 384 BC (Stagira, Chalcidice, Greece), d. 322 BC (Chalcis, Euboea, Athens)
Aristotle was the son of Nicomachus, court physician to King Amyntas III of Macedonia, the father of Phillip II and grandfather of Alexander the Great. His father died while Aristotle was still young, and his ward Proxenus sent him in 367 to the Academy of Plato in Athens. Aristotle remained at the Academy for 20 years.
After Plato's death in 348/347 he left Athens to begin a 12 year period of travels, establishing a new academy in Assus on the invitation of the local ruler, Hermeias of Atarneus, who had visited Plato's Academy earlier, and marrying his nice Pythias. Three years later he moved to Mytilene, capital of the Greek island of Lesbos, and established another academy there.
In 343 or 342 Philipp II asked Aristotle to tutor his son Alexander the Great, and Aristotle lived for three years in Pella, capital of Macedonia. His teachings had little impact on the future emperor. Aristotle withdrew to his paternal property in the small Greek township of Stagira.
At the age of 50 Aristotle returned to Athens in about 335 and opened his own school of philosophy, the Lyceum, to rival the Academy. The Lyceum was housed in a gymnasium, and much of its discourse happened in its covered walkway, the peripatos, so his school became known as the Peripatetic. Aristotle lectured in the Lyceum for 12 years, until the death of Alexander the Great in 323 resulted in brief but vigurous anti-Macedonian agitation in Athens. Aristotle retreated to his mother's estates in Chalcis on the island of Euboea, where he died a year later from a stomach illness.
Aristotle's interests were widespread. They covered initially medicine and its history and the study of rhetorics but expanded quickly into all areas of human activity. On Lesbos he undertook extensive biological studies, emphasizing the combination of observation and theory: "Credit must be given to observation rather than to theories, and to theories only insofar as they are confirmed by the observed facts."
Most of Aristotle's teachings are known only from lecture notes for his classes at the Lyceum, but much has been reported by later scholars. From this it is known that his work covered treaties on
Aristotle's writings on politics opposed Plato's position that wise government comes from a philosopher as a ruler; in his view it would be "not merely unnecessary for a king to be a philosopher, but even be a disadvantage. Rather a king should take the advice of true philosphers. Then he would fill his reign with good deeds, not with good words." His ideal was the city-state reigned by an educated aristocracy. It was based on the belief of the superiority of the Greeks, who had to use non-Greeks as serfs or slaves to maintain the ideal order.
Of the three great Greek philosophers (with Socrates) Aristotle arguably had the greatest influence on the development of thought and science in the European and Islamic civillizations. For nearly 2000 years his writings formed the reference for all investigation. His heritage can still be found in European and North American philosophy of today.
Portrait bust: copy of a work of Lysippos, Louvre, Paris; public domain (Wikipedia)