Probably born in 384BC, at Stagyra in Thrace. His father was physician to the king of Macedonia.

At around 18 he became a student of Plato, and remained so for 20 or so years, until Plato’s death.

He tutored Alexander for a short time when he was 13-16. The status of this relationship is largely unknown.

Between 335-232BC, Aristotle lived in Athens and founded his school and wrote most of his books. In 321 the attitude in Athens changed and he had to flee, dying one year later in 322.

He was the first philosopher to write systematically, like a professional teacher rather than a crazed religious prophet. His work is critical, careful and without inspiration from religious ideology.

Watered down a lot of the religious elements from Plato and used a lot of ‘common sense.’

Russell: Consider Aristotle with reference to his successors and predecessors. In terms of his predecessors his merits are enormous, but demerits are equally enormous.

He came at the end of the creative period in Greek thought, and it was many years before anyone who could be considered his equal. Russell believes that belief in his philosophy came as a major hurdle for almost 2000 years. Every intellectual advance had to begin with an attack on some part of his doctrine (still true in logic today!). Though he notes it would be equally bad if any of his predecessors had reached a similar status (with the exception perhaps of the Atomists).



Attacks Plato’s Theory of Ideas and gives his own idea of Universals. Arguments:

  • Third man. If a man is a man because he resembles the ideal man, there must be a still more ideal man to whom both ordinary men and the ideal man are similar.
  • If Socrates is both a man and an animal. Is the ideal man the ideal animal? If he is, there must be as many ideal animals as there are species of animal.

He makes it clear that when when a number of individuals share a predicate, this cannot be because of relation to something of the same kind as themselves but more ideal.

Russell describes his metaphysics as those of Plato, diluted by common sense. That he is often trying to lay forth Platonism with a new vocabulary, from a common-sense perspective.

Universals only apply to non-proper nouns (cat, dog etc), and adjective (blue, round etc). Note that this is a syntactic determination: proper nouns are individuals, adjectives are universals, relation words are relations.

“By the term universal, I mean that which is of such a nature as to be predicated of many subjects. By individual that which is not thus predicated.”

What is signified by a proper name is a ‘substance,’ while adjectives or class-names are universals. A substance is a ‘this’ while a universal is a ‘such’ (such a sort of thing).

Aristotle disagrees with Plato here, since Plato believes that an ideal object would by perceivable by those with such a perception, and would be capable of being a ‘this’ individual. A universal cannot exist by itself, but only in things. There is such a thing as sweetness, but only because there are sweet things. But sweet things would still exist as things if they weren’t sweet (though they may not be called sweet things, this is perhaps a poor example. Though, think, things which were once sweet may turn sour.).

It is difficult to specify this idea, since a universal needs some subject. The quality ‘redness’ cannot exist without some subject, but it can exist without this or that subject. In a similar way, a subject can exist without some quality, but not without any qualities. By this argument, Russell says that the distinction between things and qualities is illusory.

Outside of universals, there is also the idea of ‘essence,’ defined as ‘what you are by your very nature.’ Rather, those properties an individual cannot lose without ceasing to be itself. For example, the definition of a species would contain discussion of its essence.

Form & Matter

The other major theory put forward by Aristotle is the distinction between ‘form’ and ‘matter.’

Aristotle’s examples:

  • If a man makes a bronze sphere, bronze is the matter and sphericity is the form.
  • In the case of a calm sea, water is the matter and smoothness is the form.

It is in the virtue of the tform that the matter is one definite thing, and this is the substance is the thing. A thing must be bounded, and the boundary constitutes its form. Any part of a mass of water can be marked off from the rest by being enclosed in a vessel, and then this part becomes a ‘thing.’ He would say that atoms are ‘things’ in virtue of its being delimited from other atoms i.e. having a ‘form.’

He goes further to say that the soul is the form of the body. In this case he seems not to mean ‘shape.’ Aristotle believes that the soul is what makes the body ‘one’ thing. Having unity of purpose and characteristics we refer to as an ‘orgnism.’ The purpose of the eye is to see, but it cannot see when parted from the body. Thus, it is the ‘soul’ which sees.

Form gives a teleological unity to matter. It is the essence and primary substance. Note: forms are substantial, while universals are not.

  • When a man makes a bronze sphere, both the matter and the form already existed, and he just brings them together. The man does not make the form, any more than he makes the brass.
  • Not everything has matter; there are eternal things, and these have no matter - except those of them which are movable in space.
  • Things increase in actuality by acquiring form. Matter without form is just potentiality.

Russell notes that his argument that forms are substances which exist independently of matter, exposes him to his own arguments against Platonic theory of ideas. It’s intended as different from universals, but we are told that form is more real than matter. Zeller says that forms are similar to Platonic ideas in that they had a metaphysical existence of their own - as conditioning all individual things, moving into ‘supersensible world, and the object, in that sense, of an intellectual intuition.’ His possible rebuttal may be to say that no two things may have the same form.

He discusses form and matter with respect to potential and actuality. Matter alone is simply potentiality, and that with more form is more ‘actual.’ He also says that all change is a greater distinction in form. In this way, Aristotle can be called an optimist - since all things are gaining more form with evolution over time and becoming more ‘actual.’ Note: he also says that God is pure form and thus pure actuality, unchanging.

Common-sense in such that “bronze is potentially a sphere,” a “block of marble is potentially a statue.”

Further substance and Theology

He says there are three kinds of substance:

  1. Those which are sensible and perishable.
    • Plants, animals.
  2. Those that are sensible but not perishable.
    • Planets, heavenly bodies.
  3. Those which are neither sensible nor perishable.
    • The rational ‘soul’ or man, and God.

His argument for God is essentially that of First Cause: something must have been something to initiate motion, and this must be something unmoved and eternal, fully actual. He says the objects of desire and thought cause movement in this way, without themselves being in motion. so god produces motion by being loved, while every other motion is caused by influential motion. “God is pure thought, for thought is what’s best.”

“Life also belongs to God; for the actuality of thought is life, and God is that actuality; and God’s self-dependent actuality is life most good and eternal. We say therefore that God is a living being, eternal, most good, so that life and duration continuous and eternal belong to God; for this is God.”

Aristotle, like Spinoza, thinks that while men must love God, it is impossible that God should love men.

God is not definable as the “unmoved mover,” rather he concluded that there were about 47 or 55 gods, or such those.

He thought there were four causes:

  1. Material
  2. Formal
  3. Efficient
  4. Final

The material cause of a statue is the marble, the formal cause is the essence of the statue to be procued, the efficient cause is the contact of the chisel with the marble, and the final cause is the end that the sculptor has in view. In modern terminology, the word ‘cause’ is generally confined to the efficient sense. The unmoved mover is more like a final cause.

Russel concludes his thughts on religion as: “God exists eternally, as pure thought, happiness, complete fself-fulfillment, without any unrealised purposes. The sensible world, on the contrary, is imperfect, but it has life, desire thought of an imperfect kind and aspiration. All living things are in a greater or less degree aware of God, and are moved to action by admiration and love of God. Thus God is the final cause of all activity. Change consists in giving form to matter, but, where sensible things are concerned, a substratum of matter always remains. Only God consists of form without matter. The world is continually evolving towards a greater degree of form, and thus becoming progressively more like God. But the process cannot be completeed because matter cannot be wholly elimiated. This is a religion of progress and evoluation, for God’s static perfection moves the world only through the love that finite beings feel for Him. Plato was mathematical, Aristotle was biological.”

Averroes thought aristotle did not teach immortality: the extremists of which were called Epicureans, whom Dante found in hell.

In actuality he says that the soul is bound with the body, and says it seems the soul perishes with the body. Though, he adds “or at any rate certain parts of it are” Body and soul are related as a matter and form. Generally it’s hard to know what he believed in this respect. But the general gist of it is that he probably believed that because the objects of thought are timeless (maths and philosophy), it itself is timeless. Thus, the mind can be immortal, while the rest of the mind cannot.

In Nicomachean Ethics, he says there is a soul in one element that is rational, and one irrational.

  • Irrational
    1. The vegetative (plants)
    2. Appetitive (Plants & animals)
  • Rational: Contemplation, the complete happiness of man.

He says that reason is divine. He says that what distinguishes one man from another, is connected with the body and the irrational soul, while the rational soul or mind is divine and impersonal.

One man likes oysters, and another likes pineapples. This distinguishes them, but if they think correctly there is no difference between their conception of multiplication. The irrational seperates us, the rational unites us.

Thus the immortality of mind or reason is not a personal immoirtality, but a share in God’s immortality.