Aristotle: An Introduction and Collection of Resources

This page contains an organized collection of links to beginner friendly videos, podcasts and articles on Aristotle. To get started, simply choose a topic from the list below.

Who was Aristotle?

“Of Aristotle’s character and personality little is known. He came from a rich family. He was allegedly a dandy, wearing rings on his fingers and cutting his hair fashionably short. He suffered from poor digestion, and is said to have been spindle-shanked. He was a good speaker, lucid in his lectures, persuasive in conversation; and he had a mordant wit. His enemies, who were numerous, accused him of arrogance. His will, which has survived, is a generous document. His philosophical writings are impersonal; but they suggest that he prized both friendship and self-sufficiency, and that, while conscious of his place in an honourable tradition, he was properly proud of his own attainments. As a man, he was, perhaps, admirable rather than amiable.

That is thin material for a biographer; and we may not hope to know Aristotle as we might know Albert Einstein or Bertrand Russell – he lived too long ago and the abyss of time has swallowed up the facts of his life. One thing, however, can be said with reasonable confidence: throughout his life Aristotle was driven by one overmastering desire – the desire for knowledge. His whole career and his every known activity testify to the fact: he was concerned before all else to promote the discovery of truth and to increase the sum of human knowledge.” – Excerpt from Aristotle: A Very Short Introduction by Jonathan Barnes.

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Aristotle’s ethics

“If life is to be worth living, it must surely be for something that is an end in itself. One such end is pleasure. The pleasures of food and drink and sex are, on their own, too brutish to be a fitting end for human life: but if we combine them with aesthetic and intellectual pleasures we find a goal that has been seriously pursued by people of significance. Others prefer a life of virtuous action—the life of a real politician, not like the false politicians, who are only after money or power. Thirdly, there is the life of scientific contemplation, as exemplified by Anaxagoras, who when asked why one should choose to be born rather than not replied, ‘In order to admire the heavens and the order of the universe.’

Aristotle has thus reduced the possible answers to the question ‘What is a good life?’ to a shortlist of three: wisdom, virtue, and pleasure. All, he says, connect happiness with one or other of three forms of life, the philosophical, the political, and the voluptuary (1. 4. 1215a27). This triad provides the key to Aristotle’s ethical inquiry. Both the Eudemian and the Nicomachean treatises contain detailed analyses of the concepts of virtue, wisdom (phronesis), and pleasure. And when Aristotle comes to present his own account of happiness, he can claim that it incorporates the attractions of all three of the traditional forms of life.” – Excerpt from A New History of Western Philosophy by Anthony Kenny.

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Aristotle’s political philosophy

“Aristotle goes on to a detailed evaluation of constitutions of these various forms. He does so on the basis of his view of the essence of the state. A state, he tells us, is a society of humans sharing in a common perception of what is good and evil, just and unjust; its purpose is to provide a good and happy life for its citizens. If a community contains an individual or family of outstanding excellence, then monarchy is the best constitution. But such a case is very rare, and the risk of miscarriage is great: for monarchy corrupts into tyranny, which is the worst of all constitutions. Aristocracy, in theory, is the next best constitution after monarchy, but in practice Aristotle preferred a kind of constitutional democracy, for what he called ‘polity’ is a state in which rich and poor respect each others’ rights, and in which the best-qualified citizens rule with the consent of all the citizens (4. 8. 1293b30 ff.). The corruption of this is what Aristotle calls ‘democracy’, namely, anarchic mob rule. Bad as democracy is, it is in Aristotle’s view the least bad of the perverse forms of government.” – Excerpt from A New History of Western Philosophy by Anthony Kenny.

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Aristotle’s theory of knowledge

“The ultimate source of knowledge, in Aristotle’s view, is perception. Aristotle was a thoroughgoing ‘empiricist’ in two senses of that slippery term. First, he held that the notions or concepts in terms of which we seek to grasp and explain reality are all ultimately derived from perception; ‘and for that reason, if we did not perceive anything, we would not learn or understand anything, and whenever we think of anything we must at the same time think of an idea’. Secondly, he thought that all science or knowledge is ultimately grounded on perceptual observations. This is perhaps hardly surprising: as a biologist, Aristotle’s primary research tool was sense-perception, his own or that of others; as an ontologist, Aristotle’s primary substances were ordinary perceptible objects. Plato, having given abstract Forms the leading role in his ontology, was led to regard the intellect rather than perception as the searchlight which illuminated reality. Aristotle, placing sensible particulars at the centre of the stage, took sense perception as his torch.” – Excerpt from Aristotle: A Very Short Introduction by Jonathan Barnes.

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Aristotle’s natural philosophy and metaphysics

“In his philosophical lexicon in Metaphysics D, and also in Physics 2. 3 (194b16–195b30), Aristotle distinguishes four types of cause, or explanation. First, he says, there is that of which and out of which a thing is made, such as the bronze of a statue and the letters of a syllable. This is called the material cause. Secondly, he says, there is the form and pattern of a thing, which may be expressed in its definition: his example is that the proportion of the length of two strings in a lyre is the cause of one note being an octave away from the other. The third type of cause is the origin of a change or state of rest in something; Aristotle’s followers often called it the ‘efficient cause’. Aristotle gives as examples a person reaching a decision, a father who begets a child, a sculptor carving a statue, a doctor healing a patient, and in general anyone who makes a thing or changes a thing. The fourth and last type of cause is the end or goal, that for the sake of which something is done; it is the type of explanation we give if someone asks us why we are taking a walk, and we reply ‘In order to keep healthy’. This last kind of cause became known as the ‘final cause’.” – Excerpt from A New History of Western Philosophy by Anthony Kenny.

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Aristotle’s Aesthetics

“All art, Aristotle thinks, is a matter of representation or ‘imitation’. ‘Epic, and tragic poetry, and also comedy and dithyramb and most flute- and harp-music, are all by and large imitations.’ Art imitates or represents human life, and in particular human action. Human actions differ in character, ‘and it is this difference which distinguishes tragedy from comedy; for the latter is supposed to imitate men who are worse, and the former men who are better, than those of today’. Much of the Poetics is devoted to tragedy. The discussion starts from a definition. ‘Tragedy is an imitation of an action which is serious and complete, and which has a certain magnitude. Its language is well seasoned, with each of the kinds of seasoning used separately in its different parts. It is in dramatic, not narrative, form. And through pity and fear it accomplishes a purgation of emotions of that sort’.” – Excerpt from Aristotle: A Very Short Introduction by Jonathan Barnes.

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Aristotle’s Logic

Why is Aristotle worth studying?

“It is sometimes said that a philosopher should be judged by the importance of the questions he raises, not the correctness of the answers he gives. If that is so, then Plato has an uncontestable claim to pre-eminence as a philosopher. He was the first to pose questions of great profundity, many of which remain open questions in philosophy today. But Aristotle too can claim a significant contribution to the intellectual patrimony of the world. For it was he who invented the concept of Science as we understand it today and as it has been understood since the Renaissance.

First, he is the first person whose surviving works show detailed observations of natural phenomena. Secondly, he was the first philosopher to have a sound grasp of the relationship between observation and theory in scientific method. Thirdly, he identified and classified different scientific disciplines and explored their relationships to each other: the very concept of a distinct discipline is due to him. Fourthly, he is the first professor to have organized his lectures into courses, and to have taken trouble over their appropriate place in a syllabus (cf. Pol. 1. 10. 1258a20). Fifthly, his Lyceum was the first research institute of which we have any detailed knowledge in which a number of scholars and investigators joined in collaborative inquiry and documentation. Sixthly, and not least important, he was the first person in history to build up a research library—not simply a handful of books for his own bookshelf, but a systematic collection to be used by his colleagues and to be handed on to posterity. For all these reasons, every academic scientist in the world today is in Aristotle’s debt. He well deserved the title he was given by Dante: ‘the master of those who know’.” – Excerpt from A New History of Western Philosophy by Anthony Kenny.

Further Reading

If you’re new to the philosophy of Aristotle, the following books are a good place to start:

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Secondary Sources:

Miscellaneous Resources

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If you are interested in the ideas of Aristotle, the following pages may also be of interest: