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Aristotle was born near the Greek village of Stagira. While he was still a young man, this area came under the control of the kingdom of Macedonia. Aristotle’s father was a physician in the royal Macedonian court, which led to the son’s early interest in biology and, later, to his becoming the tutor of Alexander the Great (356–323 BCE). At the age of eighteen, Aristotle departed for Athens, where he attended Plato’s Academy for twenty years. After Plato’s death, Aristotle spent a couple of years in Asia Minor, where he married and engaged in biological research. When Alexander became king of Macedonia in 336 BCE, Aristotle returned to Athens, where he established the Lyceum, a rival school to Plato’s Academy. Plato’s Academy continued until it was closed by Emperor Justinian in the sixth century CE. After Alexander’s death in 323 BCE, Aristotle came under suspicion as an agent of Macedonia and was forced to flee Athens.
Aristotle’s works may be broadly classified into those dealing with the theoretical sciences (e.g., physics, mathematics, and metaphysics) and those dealing with the practical sciences (e.g., ethics, political science, rhetoric, and poetics). Informing all of Aristotle’s works is his approach to logic. The six logical works are the Categories, On Interpretation, the Prior Analytics, the Posterior Analytics, the Topics, and On Sophistical Refutations. These works are traditionally collected together under the title of the Organon. Important works in the theoretical sciences are the Physics, On the Soul, and the Metaphysics. In the practical sciences, the Nichomachean Ethics, Politics, and Poetics are particularly noteworthy. All of these works have been influential, in varying degrees, in the development of the modern social sciences. But Aristotle’s influence has been particularly important in the development of political science, and the seminal works here are the Nichomachean Ethics and the Politics.
In most of the contemporary social sciences a factvalue dichotomy is observed. That is, the researcher must carefully distinguish between facts based on empirical observation and values based on personal preferences. This distinction is denied in Aristotle’s works, however, and one must read the Nichomachean Ethics and the Politics as one extended work. Thus, Aristotle distinguishes six types of states, according to qualitative as well as quantitative considerations. Monarchy is the rule of one in the interest of all, while tyranny is a corrupted form of monarchy. Similarly, aristocracy is the rule of the few in the interest of all, while oligarchy is the selfish rule of the few. Polity, finally, is the rule of the many in the interest of all, while democracy is the decayed rule of the many in their own interest. To Aristotle, human beings are political by nature, for they develop in association with others—beginning with the household, progressing through a village organization, and coming to full maturity in the polis, or city-state. This teleological approach to the human or social sciences pervades all of Aristotle’s writings on the practical sciences.
Aristotle’s influence in Western civilization is such that he was considered “the philosopher” throughout the Middle Ages. His influence has also been considerable in Christian theology, especially through the works of Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274); in philosophy, especially in his teachings regarding intellectual and moral virtues; in the physical sciences, notably as the target of extensive criticism by modern giants such as Galileo Galilei (1564–1642); and in the modern social sciences, with particular reference to political science.
- Jaeger, Werner. 1960. Aristotle: Fundamentals of the History of His Development, 2nd ed. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press.
- Voegelin, Eric. 2000. Order and History: Plato and Aristotle. In The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin. Ed. Dante L. Germino. Vol. 16. Columbia: University of Missouri Press.
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