Who Was Aristotle?

Aristotle was a prominent philosopher in ancient Greece, and his ideas had a widespread influence on Western philosophy.

Jul 16, 2023By Luke Dunne, BA Philosophy & Theology

who was aristotle


Aristotle was one of the most important philosophers of ancient Greece, and arguably one of the most influential thinkers of all time. He was active during the 4th Century BC as a scientist and polymath who made significant contributions to various fields, but perhaps his most celebrated concepts are those he made during his study of ethics, logic and knowledge. This article is a brief introduction to his life and work.


Aristotle Was Alexander the Great’s Teacher

Mosaic of Alexander the Great, 100 BC
Mosaic of Alexander the Great, 100 BC, via Wikimedia Commons


Aristotle was born in Stagira, a city in ancient Macedonia (now part of modern-day Greece). He came from a well-educated family and at a young age, he moved to Athens to study under the renowned philosopher Plato at his Academy. Aristotle spent around 20 years at the Academy as a student and later as a teacher. After leaving Athens, Aristotle became the tutor of a young prince named Alexander, who later became Alexander the Great.


The significance of this period, and how much influence Aristotle had on Alexander’s career as a military commander and a political leader, isn’t clear. What we do know is that Aristotle would have educated Alexander in a range of subjects, including philosophy, politics, and natural science. This pedagogic relationship lasted for several years until Alexander ascended to the throne.


He Founded His Own School

 Athenian Acropolis photograph 2013
Athenian Acropolis photograph, 2013, via Wikimedia Commons


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Following his time with Alexander, Aristotle returned to Athens and founded his own school, known as the Lyceum. It became a prominent center of learning, and Aristotle lectured on various subjects, including philosophy, biology, physics, and ethics. This period can be seen as Aristotle putting the scientific principles he had developed the theoretical basis of into practice. He was a particularly prominent biologist, collected specimens, and wrote extensively on the subject during this period.


Aristotle on Ethics

Aristotle with a bust of Homer Rembrandt 1653
Aristotle with a bust of Homer, Rembrandt, 1653, via The Met Museum


In the context of ethics, Aristotle is one of only two philosophers who has a major branch named for them (the other being Immanuel Kant). Aristotelian ethics is concerned above all with answering two questions: what does it mean to live a good life, and what qualities should a person have in order to do so? Aristotle developed many ethical concepts – the idea of ‘practical wisdom’, and the concept of ‘flourishing’ remain particularly important. Moreover, his approach to ethics has been revived in the past three-quarters of a century, and now exerts an exceptionally broad influence on modern day ethicists.



Aristotle on Logic and Knowledge

Aristotle Jusepe de Ribera 1637
Aristotle, Jusepe de Ribera, 1637, via Fine Art America


Aristotle’s treatment of logic was similarly novel, extensive and, for well over 2,000 years, broadly seen as definitive. Immanuel Kant, writing at the turn of the 19th century, held that Aristotle had discovered all that there was to discover about the subject. That is no longer thought to be true, but even developments in modern logic owe much to Aristotle’s pursuit of the logical structure of languages, and his attempt to represents arguments in such a way as to avoid some of the ambiguities and misunderstandings caused by natural languages. 


Theory of Knowledge


Aristotle’s theory of knowledge was a version of empiricism, which is the idea that what we know, we know through our senses. Now, something like this was undoubtedly held by previous philosophers – Protagoras seems to have been one. The suggestion we get from earlier discussions of empiricism was that empiricist theories were intrinsically reductionist, limiting our capacity to explain the world in sophisticated and extensive ways. Aristotle’s distinctive contribution lies partly in his development of a sophisticated, extensive and pointedly non-reductive conception of things, and a similarly extensive relationship between things and our capacity to know them, even taking empiricism as his epistemological framework (that his, his theory of knowledge).

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By Luke DunneBA Philosophy & TheologyLuke is a graduate of the University of Oxford's departments of Philosophy and Theology, his main interests include the history of philosophy, the metaphysics of mind, and social theory.