Part I. GREEK PHILOSOPHY – Sect. 3. The Systematic Period
Chap. II. Aristotle
Passing over the three more immediate followers of Plato, Speusippus, Xenocrates, and Polemon,who succeeded him as heads of the academy, the next name which claims our attention is Aristotle, who at once supplemented and completed the philosophy of Plato.
Aristotle (385-322) was born at Stagira, a Greek colony in Thrace. His father, Neomachus, was a physician at the court of Amytas, King of Macedonia. Left an orphan at seventeen, Aristotle came to Athens, where he remained in the society of Plato for twenty years. After the death of Plato he went to the court of Hermeias, in Mysia, whose sister he married. In the year 343 he was appointed by Philip of Macedon tutor to his son Alexander, and is supposed to have prepared the hero for his future destinies. Milton has told us how Aristotle "bred great Alexander to subdue the world." Hegel tells us this was done by giving to him a consciousness of himself and of his powers. Zeller discovers several good points in Alexanderhis precocious statesmanship, his zeal for Hellenic civilization, his moral restraint, and, amid all his subsequent aberrations, a nobility, moral purity, and culture which raise him above other great conquerors.
Grote gives, however, a very different view of his character, and describes him as arrogant, drunken, cruel and vindictive, wanting in every trait of gentleness or moderation. Aristotle himself in more than one passage seems to express admiration for Alexander, regarding him as his ideal of magnanimity. On the whole, however, we can trace little influence upon each other of these two extraordinary men. On Alexander’s departure for the East, Aristotle returned to Athens, where, amid the walks of the Lyceum, he meditated and taught: hence the name applied to his school and the epithet given to his disciplesPeripatetics. Charged with atheism, he left Athens in 322, and died soon after in Chalcis, in Euboea, at the age of 63.
The writings attributed to Aristotle deal with almost all the sciences known to antiquity. He neglected no branch of knowledge. It is beyond dispute that some of his works have been lost, and it has been said that only about a sixth part of his compositions have come down to us. The story told by Strabo of their concealment in a damp cellar and of their discovery in the age of Sulla is probably nothing more than a fable. But the fragmentary character of many of his writings, their disorder and general want of unity, lead to the surmise that we have only notes of oral lectures at the hands of his pupils. For style of diction and beauty of form they cannot compare with the writings of Plato, though they are distinguished by lucidity and exactness of terminology. Plato was a poet as well as a thinker. Aristotle was before all else a man of science. Of the lost writings, quite recently, in 1891, the fragment on the Constitution of Athens was discovered, the papyrus of which is now in the British Museum. Even of the extant works many are known to be spurious and some doubtful, and of those which are genuine it is not an easy matter to make a satisfactory classification. Aristotle himself has divided them into theoretic, practical and productive, corresponding to the three kinds of thinking. The theoreticwhose object is truthhave been subdivided into mathematics, physics and theology; the practical, which treat of the useful, embrace ethics, economics and politics; and the poetic or productive scienceswhose object is the beautiful deal with poetry, art and rhetoric.
It will be noticed, however, that an important class of writingsthe logicalare omitted from this classification. The reason, possibly, is that Aristotle, though justly famed as the founder of logic, did not regard it as an independent science, but simply as a method or technique of his philosophic investigationsas a kind of propaedeutic of science. His works on the Categories, Concerning Interpretation, the two Analytics and the Topics, have been collected under the title Organon, a name, it must be observed, not used by Aristotle, and first employed by later scholars.
His Physics, or natural philosophy, embrace (1) Physica, (2) De Coelo, (3) De Generatione et Corruptione, (4) Meteorology, (5) Historiae Animalium, (6) De Generatione Animalium, (7) De Partibus Animalium
Philosophy proper is discussed in a number of treatises, which were collected at a later time and placed after the physics : hence the name metaphysics.
Psychological treatises consist of (1) De Anima, (2) De Sensu et Sensibili, (3) De Memoria, (4) De Vita et Morte, and other minor works.
The Ethical writings include the Magna Moralia, the Nicomachean and Eudemian Ethics, and eight books of the Politics
As has been well said, the works of Aristotle, taken together, form a veritable encyclopaedia of the knowledge possessed in the fourth century before Christ.
There is considerable difficulty in presenting a complete view of Aristotle’s philosophy, because he treats of one subject at a time to the exclusion of all others. Before proceeding to consider his system according to his own division, we shall first endeavour to grasp the general character of his philosophy. Next, we shall glance at his contribution to logic and then treat of the three main divisionstheoretic, practical and poeticwhich Aristotle himself supplied.
1. General character Aristotle’s view of philosophy agrees in the main with that of Plato. For him also it is the knowledge of the universal essence of things, and he is convinced that only by the pathway of scientific generalization is the knowledge of reality possible. But at the same time, while Plato starts with general ideas, Aristotle begins with actual things as they are commonly presented to us, and proceeds inductively from the particular to the general. The one idea to which he may be said to remain true is that the individual is the real. If Plato emphasizes the universal, Aristotle emphasizes the particular. The process of all thought he conceives to be a rising from the individual to the general, and thence by analysis to arrive again at the individual.
The difference might also be stated in another way. Plato discusses the problem of reality as it is. Aristotle is concerned rather with the causes of reality. Being for him is a process of development or growth, and it is more interesting for him to inquire how and whence a thing came to be than to ask what it is. There is no such thing as pure matter. It is always in a process of becoming. All matter contains within it the potentiality of something more. Hence it is the inner meaning and final cause of a thing that is its true significance. The transition from the potential to the actual is always conceived by Aristotle as motion, growth, development. Hence while Plato dwells upon the static reality of the world, Aristotle insists upon its dynamic aspects, and sees everything as moving upwards towards the realization of an end, which was implicitly contained within it from the beginning. The world therefore presents a gradated series of realities which leads upwards from lower to higher forms till at last it attains its climax in the perfect being of God.
2. The logic of Aristotle In keeping with this general character we may mark also a difference in the logical method of Aristotle. While that of Plato was in general deductive, that of Aristotle is inductive as well. Aristotle’s idea of logic was more formal and technical than Plato’s dialectic. Hence, according to Aristotle, the analytical investigations which have been gathered together under the name of Organon were intended as a methodological preparation for philosophy, and not as a body of properly philosophical doctrine.
The first section of the Organon is entitled the Categories, which deal with notions proper or the predicates of being. The various species of mental representations correspond, according to Aristotle, with definite forms of that which exists. The most universal forms of existence are ten in numbersubstance, quantity, quality, relation, place, time, position, possession, action, passion. Their use may be thus illustrated: ‘Socrates is a man, seventy years old, wise, the teacher of Plato, now sitting on his couch, in prison, having fetters on his legs, instructing his disciples, and questioned by them.’ It has been pointed out that this classification errs both by excess and defect. The first four are really the essential, the others are but qualifications of them. As a matter of fact, Aristotle makes little use of them, and practically they may be reduced to twosubstance and accident, or, logically, subject and predicate.
The second of the logical treatises, De Interpretatione, deals with the proposition in which the distinctions between contrary and contradictory, and between possible and necessary propositions, are for the first time clearly explained. In the third sectionthe Analyticsthe doctrine of the syllogism is set forth, together with an account of applied reasoning under the two heads of Demonstration and Dialectic. It further distinguishes between induction, arguing upwards to universals from particulars, and deduction, arguing downwards to particulars from universals.
The doctrine of the syllogism is the central point of the Aristotelian logic. On this converges all he taught concerning the forms of thought and their various applications and uses. The outline of this doctrine, which forms the basis of logic to this day, is thus presented by Aristotle. The syllogism is the deduction of a judgment from two other judgments. Since in a judgment one concept, viz., the predicate, is affirmed of another concept,the subject, this affirmation requires a third,a middle term, which is related to both the subject and the predicate.
These two relationships form two statements or judgments, which are called the premisses (πρότασεις) of the syllogism.
There are three kinds of syllogisms(1) Apodictic, where the truth is certain; (2) Dialectic, where the truth is disputable and only probable; (3) the Sophistic or fallacious.
According to Aristotelian logic, inference or proof can only follow from premisses that are already known or sure. But behind these premisses there must be other ultimate grounds which cannot be proved. It is the task of science before deducing particulars from generals, to search out the starting-point for deductionthe ultimate grounds of proof. The activity of thought involved in this process Aristotle calls dialectic, and has laid down its principles in the Topics. This procedure of searching out the ground is not attended by the same apodictic certainty as that of deducing consequences from already given premisses. Investigation, therefore, takes the opposite course of that of deduction; while the one inference proceeds from the general to the particular : the otherthe searching process proceeds from the particular to the general. The one is the deductive method, the other is the inductive. Every true deduction, therefore, implies a previous process of induction.
According to the conception of its founder, Logic is the propaedeutic to his first philosophy or metaphysic. Accordingly, we now proceed to a consideration of Aristotle’s Philosophy proper, and we shall follow the classification which he himself has laid downTheoretic, Practical, and Poetic.
I. Theoretic, which deals with truth as such, is further divided into metaphysics or first philosophy, physics and mathematics, the latter of which we may omit.
1. Metaphysics. Under this head (although the word was not employed by Aristotle himself) he treats of the principles common to all things, the universal constituents of being. The particular sciences have to do with the proximate causes of being, but metaphysics considers Being as such, irrespective of all considerations of time and placethe eternal essence of things as opposed to the relative and the accidental.
Though Aristotle treats of a number of subjects in his metaphysics which are not very closely connected, perhaps the best way to get to the core of his philosophy is to contrast his position with that of Plato, from whom he inherited the problem of knowledge which mainly occupies his thought. Plato, as we saw, practically placed the two worldsthe world of matter and the world of ideasin opposition. And the question which Aristotle had to solve was how to get quit of this duality. In setting up a world of ideas, Plato so far from solving the problem of being, really complicates it by adding to the real world a world of useless names or abstractions. We are at a loss to know what is the relation between things and ideas. Plato’s theory does not really account for being. The "ideas" were only a repetition of things. They were but poetic fictions with no causative or motive power in them but "things of sense eternalized."
They existed apart (χωριστά) from individual things, which were formed after their pattern. Hence Aristotle objected to Plato’s theory on four grounds:
(1) Such a doctrine is a mere doubling of sensible existence.
(2) The ideas have no real being, and cannot be the causes of motion, nor can they explain the varying phenomena of the world.
(3) They are contradictory, inasmuch as they are presented as the essence of things and yet as existing separate from things.
(4) Supposing the ideas to exist, they and the things which are their copies would require to be subsumed under a higher idea; e.g. if the idea "man" exists as something apart from actual men, we must have a higher idea to embrace both the ideal and the actual man. That is to say, as Aristotle expresses this objection, the ideal theory involves the supposition of a " third man." Aristotle’s merit here lies in showing that the genus has no existence apart from the individual, that, indeed, a thing and its idea cannot be separated.
Aristotle therefore rejects Plato’s theory of specific types or real entities, considered apart from things. He does not of course deny the objective existence of species. For him as well as for Plato the general idea is the essence of the particular. What he denies is that ideas as such exist apart from things. The idea is inherent in the thing. It is its form, and cannot be separated from it.
On the other hand, if idealism, as represented by Plato, is untenable, not less is materialism. Matter also has no reality apart from the idea or formmatter without the inherent idea is as much an abstraction.
Nor does movement exist of itself. It presupposes at once a mover and an element that is moved. The ideas of Plato were static. They are finished products, having in them no force or energy, so that there is no possible transition from ideas to things or things to ideas. Hence neither the idea nor matter, nor movement, has a substantial or independent existence. Reality consists in all three notions taken as a whole.
The criticism of Plato’s theory led Aristotle therefore to the positive statement of his own doctrine of Being and in particular to the elaboration of the two main features of his systemthe doctrine of Form and Matter, or Potentiality and Actuality. Aristotle approaches the subject by asking not what substance or being actually is, butgiven any particular thingsay a table, a statue or a manWhat are the generative causes of it, what are the productive elements which go to make it what it is? All things which have been produced, whether by nature or by art, are ultimately dependent upon four principles form or essence, matter or substratum, moving or efficient cause, and end or final cause.
(1) Matter is not, properly speaking, the existent, neither is it the non-existent. It is not empty space, but a corporeal substratum (ύποκείμενον). It is the mere potentiality or capacity of existence (δύναμις).
(2) Form or essence (ἔιδος or οὔσια) is that which gives actuality to existence. Matter void of all form would be in a state of privation (στέρησις). Matter united with form is matter as we find it, and is called by Aristotle organized, or realized, being that has come to existence in the processes of nature (έντελέχεια).
(3) The efficient cause is that power which raises matter, the mere capacity of being, into form, the perfected existence. Every change from the potential to the actual is brought about by a cause, called by Aristotle τὸ κίνησαν, the moving cause. It may either operate from within, as in the case of organized existences (e.g. when in the plant or the animal or man there is contained the germ which gradually unfolds and develops); or it may operate from without, as in the case of artistic construction, in which the material is given and the work of the artist or artificer is added to produce the shape he has in his own mind. In either case there is an operative cause by which the materials are moulded into form.
(4) The final cause or end is that for which everything exists. Everything has a purpose, and that purpose is called its final cause. A final cause always implies intelligence, which an efficient cause does not necessarily imply.
To illustrate the operation of these various elements we may take the case of a house. There is first the potential material for the house (matter). There is the house actually existing in the mind of the builder (form). There is the builder (efficient cause). There is the purpose or endthe house realized (final cause).
The same is true in the realm of nature. A living organism, say a man, is the product of four causes : (1) The substance or substratum out of which he is made; (2) the type or idea according to which the embryo tends to develop; (3) the act of creation or generation; (4) the purpose or end for which he has been created. Matter, idea, force, purpose, are the four principles involved in the production of everything that exists. But while we may distinguish these four generative causes, it will be seen that three of themthe idea, the force, and the purposemay be regarded as one. If, for example, we take a work of arta statuethe idea, the purpose, and the creative power exist in the mind of the sculptor, while the matter, the block of marble which he manipulates, is really separate and distinct. So that ultimately the four causes may be reduced to twomatter and form. The one is that out of which the thing is made; the other, the idea or form, is that which causes it to assume a particular character.
If Aristotle had gone no further he would have been no more successful than Plato in overcoming the duality between matter and idea. But he now proceeds to introduce two new determinations which help to bridge over the breach between these two notions. These are potentiality and actualityδύναμις and ἐνέργεια. All Being consists in a relation of these two. And both are different stages of the same development. The seed is the potentiality of the treethe tree is the actuality of the seed. The marble block is the potentiality of the statuethe statue is the actuality of the marble. Thus matter and form, potentiality and actuality, cannot be separated. There is no such thing as matter existing for itself. It always contains within it that which it may become. Nor is there any such thing as pure form. It always requires a certain substratum or potentiality as a basis for its realization. From matter arise the imperfections, limitations and individual qualities. From form come the essential, unalterable attributes, the specific nature of the thing. Matter is never pure privation. It is always something, which by its nature is disposed to become determined by means of form. There is even a certain longing or desire in it for realization. There is an idea or form in every piece of matter : there is matter underlying every special form.
Matter and idea are therefore correlative terms, which, instead of excluding, presuppose and supplement each other. Motion is the term which mediates between them. Hence the importance, as we have seen, which Aristotle attaches to the notion of movement. By the employment of this category, which inheres both in the matter and form and belongs to each, Aristotle escapes the duality of Plato. Everything is in a process of development, of becoming. All potentiality is actuality: all actuality is potentiality. The organism is the actuality of the germ. Nay more, each thing looked at from a different point of view is both matter and form. Brass is form or energy in relation to the raw material, matter or potentiality in relation to the finished statue. The tree of which a table is made is form in relation to the seed from which it grew; but it is matter in relation to the table. The boy is form in relation to the infant; but matter or potentiality in relation to the man. Thus there is a continuous gradation rising from lower to higher formseach thing being the substratum of that which is above it and idea of that which is below it. The whole universe of inorganic and organic forms presents a continuous development which has its worth and meaning in the final cause or end towards the realization of which it is moving.
This ideological view of the world naturally suggests a final and intelligent cause, and therefore theology is the cope-stone of Aristotle’s metaphysics. Metaphysics he called the theological science, because God is the highest object of inquiry. The universe is a thought in die mind of God. Although matter never exists without form, nor form apart from matter, there is one essence which is self-existent, and unmovedthe first great final cause of all that isthe intelligence which originally sets in motion the whole universe. Everything that is moved must have its cause. But if we follow the series of causes back, we reach at last the immaterial prime mover (πρῶτον κινοῡν), that which moves all but is itself unmoved, the one perfect incorporeal and, therefore, divine spirit. In his proofs of God’s existence it was natural for Aristotle, who sees adaptation and design everywhere, to accept the teleological view which had already been suggested by Socrates and Plato. But the argument from design is not the only or chief one with him. He argues also that, although motion is eternal, there cannot be an infinite series of causes, and therefore there must be a first, which is the source of all others. Still further, he contends that the actual, though last in appearance, is really first in nature. Hence before all matter, before all generation and production, pure actuality must have existed. Actuality therefore is the cause of all things that are. This original ground of being and prime mover means for Aristotle very much the same thing as the idea of the Good means for Plato, and to it Aristotle ascribes all the predicates of the Platonic idea. It is eternal, unchangeable, immovable, wholly independent, separated from all else, incorporeal, yet the cause of all generation and change. He is, as Aristotle calls him, "the thought of thought" (νόησις νοησεως), the absolute spirit, who dwells in eternal peace and self-enjoyment, who knows himself as the absolute truth and is in need of neither action nor virtue. Aristotle’s conception of deity has had an incalculable influence upon the future of theological thought. Not only has it laid the foundation of the cosmological argument, but it has shaped the monotheism of European theology.
At the same time, it cannot be denied that he has not completely succeeded in deducing the Absolute Spirit nor satisfactorily reconciled it with the rest of his system. Why the ultimate ground of movement should also be a personal being Aristotle does not clearly show.
It is also impossible to see how there can be something that is a moving cause and yet itself is unmoved. How can that which is static and inactive, permanently self-identical and self-contained be the occasion of movement and change in others? His Divine being is without activity and influence, and enters in no way into the life of the world. Just as the duality between matter and form is never quite overcome, so here in the relation of God to the world the dualism becomes more apparent.
2. Physics The physics of Aristotle, the second division of theoretical science, occupies a very large portion of his writings, and continues the consideration of the rise of matter into form, unfolding with a wealth of illustration and argument the graduated series through which nature passes upwards till it finds its completion in the soul of man. Among the physical treatises of Aristotle may be mentioned De Coelo, De Generatione et Corrup-tione, Historiae Animalium; and to these may be added his psychological writingsDe Anima, De Sensu et Sensibili, and other minor works on Memory, Life and Death, etc. Though Aristotle’s fame rests upon his labours in the realm of natural science even more than upon his metaphysical and ethical works, it will not be possible for us here to do more than indicate the trend of his thought on nature. He may be regarded as the founder of comparative zoology, botany and meteorology, not less than the first to give impulse to the study of biology and psychology.
Physics, or the study of nature, considers existence not as it is in itself, but so far as it participates in movement. The works of nature differ from the products of art, for while the latter has no tendency to change, nature is essentially spontaneous and self-determining. Nature, however, does not determine this internal activity except according to definite law. There is no accident in nature. "Nature," he says, "does nothing in vain." She is always striving after the best. Everything in the world has an end in view. If nature does not always attain to perfection or to the realization of the idea, it is because it has to contend with matter, which is at once the vehicle and the obstacle of its realization. Hence nature must often be content with the less perfect. The end of all terrestrial life is man. In comparison with man, Aristotle considers woman generally as something maimed, incompletenature’s failure; and the other animals he finds still more deficient. Did nature act with full consciousness these imperfect formations would not exist.
In his purely physical works, Aristotle considers the universal conditions of all natural existence to be motion, space, time. These elements he reduces to the two principles already consideredpotentiality and actuality.
Motion is the transition of the possible into the actual. Space is the possibility of motion, and is infinitely divisible. Time is the measure of motion, and is also divisible and expressible in numbers.
Aristotle derives from his idea of motion his theory of the universe in his work De Coelo. The world is globe-shaped, circular, the most perfect form. The heaven, which is composed of ether, stands in immediate contact with the first cause. The stars, which are passionless, eternal, and in restless activity, come next in order. The earth-ball is in the middle of the world, and is furthest from the prime mover and least participant of divinity. All nature exhibits a progressive series of organisms rising from inorganic matter, to plants and animals. That which produces the movement from one condition to another is the principle of life or the soul of things. Life is defined in the power of self-movement. The word ψυχή is not limited to intelligence, it is the living power in things. Even in plants soul is present, in virtue of which they are able to assimilate what is needful for their support and to propagate themselves. In animals the soul manifests itself in sensation, desire, and locomotion. The functions of this principle are directed and restrained by a moderating power which is wanting in plant life. Man is the goal of all the various forms of life. While in the plants the soul is the principle of nourishment, and in animals also, the source of sensation and the principle of production, in man there is added the fourth power, the νοῡς, or active reason, which comprehends all the other principles, and has besides a power of imagination, of memory, and of free will.
In his first book of the De Anima, Aristotle presents an elaborate discussion of the nature of the soul. He begins by refuting some of the views held by his predecessors. The soul is not simply a distinct entity from the body. Nor is it a mere harmony of the body or blending of opposites. Nor is it one of the four elements nor even a compound of the four. There is something in it which defies all analysis and transcends all material conditions. In no sense can it be conceived as corporeal. The soul must be conceived as the form of the body, related as form to matter. Soul and body are not therefore two distinct things, but one in two different aspects. The soul is not the body, but it belongs to the body. It is the power which the living body possesses but the lifeless body lacks. It is, in short, the end for which the body exists the final cause of its being.
But while the soul, which is the radical principle of all life, is one, we may distinguish its several faculties. These are nutritive, sensitive, appetitive, locomotive and rational.
Of these the sensitive and rational are the most important. Sensation is the faculty "by which we receive the forms of sensible things, as the wax receives the figure of the seal without the metal of which the seal is composed." There are five external senses. In addition to these there are internal senses, of which memory and imagination are examples.
The intellect (νοῡς), which constitutes what is specific in man, is the faculty by which intellectual knowledge is acquired. It differs from the sensitive faculties in that it has for its object the abstract and universal. It may be called the "locus of ideas," in so far as it is there that ideas are received. But it must be remembered that Aristotle gives no countenance to the doctrine of innate ideas. All knowledge comes through the senses, and the intellect in no way creates the concept, though it is improper to attribute to him the view that the mind is a tabula rasa, afterward maintained by Locke. If Aristotle speaks of the "passive" intellect and distinguishes it from the "active" (though there is much diversity of opinion as to his meaning), it is possible that he intended the active reason to be regarded as the intellect in its purity, independent of and unaffected by matterreason as it exists in God; whereas by the passivity of reason he implied reason as it is in man, subject to the impressions of the senses.
II. Practical Philosophy Under this division are included the Ethical and Political doctrines of Aristotle.
1. Ethics is the natural outcome of his psychology. Man not only sums up the whole development of nature, but adds something higher. In virtue of his intelligence he stands out of the chain of causality and is able to make himself the object of his consciousness.
Aristotle started, like his predecessors, with the idea of an end. Man, being intelligent, must seek the highest end. The end of man has usually been held to be happiness. But there has been a diversity of view as to what happiness is. There have been four theories of happiness in vogue.
1. Sensual pleasures.
2. Honour or social distinction.
3. Intellectual life.
4. The good, which belongs to certain things by nature. All these Aristotle in part rejects. As intelligence is the distinguishing feature of man, intelligence must indeed form the chief factor in any true notion of happiness. In order, however, to ascertain the true nature of happiness for any man, we must first find out what is his proper work or place in the world. "Man’s proper work," as defined by Aristotle, "is a conscious and active life of the soul in accordance with reason." Hence follows his definition of happiness. "Man’s good or happiness is a conscious and active and rational life of the soul in accordance with virtue and carried on in favourable circumstances."
It is to be noted that in Aristotle’s view happiness is (1) mental and not physical; (2) it cannot be obtained without the practice of virtue; (3) it is an activity or energy and not a mere potentiality; (4) it implies a life of favourable circumstances.
This definition leads to three ethical questions:
(1) What are the outward conditions necessary for happiness?
(2) What are the inward qualities?
(3) What is the energy and activity by means of which these conditions are to be brought into play?
Under the first question Aristotle discusses the dependence of happiness on external circumstances, and holds generally that sufficient means, noble birth, family, friends, personal advantages, are more or less necessary to perfect happiness.
Under the second question Aristotle discusses the nature and scope of virtue or intelligence, which is the peculiar gift of man. This intelligence manifests itself in two ways: (a) It has a life of its own; (b) it can govern the passions. Hence there are two classes of virtues: the intellectual and the moral. Virtue, in reference to intelligence, is one; in regard to the passions, it is manifold. As the passions must be trained, virtue becomes a habit. Hence we have what has been called the "golden mean" of virtue. Virtue is defined as "a habit of observing the relative mean in action to be determined by reason."
Under the third question is considered the discipline or activity by which the highest good is to be brought about.
Virtue, it will thus be seen, is to be acquired through practice. Aristotle opposes the theory that virtue is implanted in man by nature, or is a mere knowledge of what is right, as Plato held. It follows, therefore, that virtue is not the same for every man, but is determined by the circumstances and relations of the individual. There are indeed as many virtues as there are relations of life. At the same time Aristotle gives a list of the principal virtues, which include, temperance, valour, generosity, magnanimity. Each of these principal virtues stands as a mean between two opposite vices, one being an excess and the other a deficiency. Courage is the due mean between cowardice and rashness. Temperance is related, on the one hand, to insensibility, and on the other to greed. In like manner liberality lies between avarice and prodigality, modesty between impudence and bashfulness, sincerity between self-disparagement and boastfulness, good temper between surliness and obsequiousness, just resentment between callousness and spitefulness, magnanimity between meanness of mind and pomposity.
According to Aristotle the highest virtue is wisdom; and the highest wisdom,the supreme aim of man’s life, philosophy, the love of wisdom. Here the highest virtue and the greatest happiness are one. "To every man that energy is the most eligible which is according to his proper habit; and, therefore, to the good man that is most eligible which is according to virtue." Consequently, "happiness does not consist in amusement; for it is absurd that the end should be amusement… The happy life seems to be, therefore, according to virtue." And if we ask what kind of virtue? the answer is, "the virtue of the best part of man." The highest virtue, then, since the intellect is the highest part of man, is the life of reflection or contemplation. This energy is at once the noblest, the most constant, the pleasantest, and the most self-sufficient. It is true that even this perfect happiness is dependent on favourable circumstances. The contemplative man requires indeed the necessaries of life, but he does not require, like those who practise the moral virtues, others to act upon. Contemplation can be loved for its own sake, and can be pursued in quietness and leisure. In this he differs from the statesman and the soldier, both of whom are immersed in the affairs of life. Indeed, such a life, the life of intellectual enjoyment, approaches nearest to the divine. Though this happiness is beyond man, yet, as there is in him something divine, he ought to aspire to the satisfaction of this divine nature, and not to mind only earthly things because he is mortal. "As far as it is in him, he should make himself immortal and do everything with a view to living in accordance with the best principle in him." Besides, he should remember that "this principle is each man’s ‘self’ if it is really the ruling and better part, and though it may be small as compared with his bodily frame, yet it immeasurably surpasses it in value." Moreover, the happiness of contemplation is that which the gods themselves enjoy. Moral virtues are human, but this is divine, "for it is ridiculous to suppose that the gods are engaged in pursuits like men." He who, therefore, would attain to the likeness of the gods and partake of their felicity, will seek to enter on this life of intellectual bliss.
It has been remarked that Aristotle’s list of virtues lacks system, and is marred by significant omissions. There is no mention, for example, of humility, gentleness, or charity. The list is aristocratic. They are the virtues of a gentleman and not of man as man. He does not consider a slave as capable of either virtue or happiness, and a poor man is handicapped in the exercise of his moral and intellectual energies. It is obvious that such an artificial parallelism as Aristotle presents in his classification of the virtues can scarcely be carried out without a considerable distortion of the facts. The only virtue which can be with truth described as a form of moderation is temperance. Sometimes, it will be observed, he seems to deduce the extremes from the mean rather than the mean from the extremes, and sometimes one of the extremes would seem to be created to balance the other. It has been objected by some that by the doctrine of the ‘mean’ Aristotle "obliterates the absolute and awful difference between right and wrong." Aristotle, however, anticipates this last objection by remarking that it is only according to the most abstract and metaphysical conception that virtue is a mean between vices, whereas, from a moral point of view, it is an extreme. If we substitute for ‘mean’ ‘law,’ as Kant suggests, some of the ambiguity is obviated. Still, after all extenuation is made, it may be questioned whether any qualitative term be a fit expression for a moral idea. "The theory of duty," says Sir Alex. Grant, "can scarcely be said to exist in Aristotle, and all that relates to the moral will is with him only in its infancy." Μεσότης expresses the beauty of good acts, but scarcely expresses the goodness of them.
But the main defect of Aristotle’s treatment of virtue is that he regards the passions as wholly irrational and immoral. Passion in this sense can have no "mean," nor can habit of itself make a man virtuous. Mere habit may be a hindrance to higher pursuits. It is indeed a good master, but a bad servant. You cannot reduce morality to mechanical rules. The spiritual life of man is based on the possibility of breaking through habit and making a new start.
The discussion of the virtues or mean states, both moral and intellectual, forms an important part of the Ethics. In the practical consideration of each individual virtue, Aristotle treats of the moral and intellectual virtues separately, but it must not be supposed that he implied that they could exist independently. According to his view, moral virtue implies the due regulation of our moral nature, with all its instincts, appetites, and passions; and this state only exists when they are subordinated to the control of the reasoning faculties. Again, the reason does not attain to its full vigour if our moral nature be not in a well-regulated state. Hence the different parts of human nature reciprocally act and react on each other; every act of self-control and every good resolution carried into effect increase the vigour of the pure reason and render this highest faculty of our being more capable of performing its work. On the other hand, the more powerful the reason becomes, the fewer obstacles the lower part of our nature puts in its way, the more effectually does it influence the moral life, and strengthen and confirm our habits of virtue.
It will be seen that several of the virtues discussed by Aristotle belong to man in his political and social, rather than in his individual character, and hence we are naturally led from the Ethics to the Politics, of which indeed it forms a part.
Among others of this nature he treats of magnificence, the virtue of the rich, which we nowadays would hardly consider a virtue, but which to the Greek mind was akin to patriotism. Aristotle also deals with justice, not merely in its universal aspect as implying right conduct towards god and man, but also in its special aspect as the virtue of a man engaged in the public and political exercise of authority. In its more general meaning justice signifies the observance of the right order of all the faculties of man, but in its more restricted sense it is the virtue which regulates a man’s dealings with his fellowmen. It is divided into distributive, corrective and commutative justice. And lastly, he treats of friendshipthe law of sympathy, concord, and love, existing between the good and virtuous, inseparably connected with, and, indeed, based upon a reasonable "self-love." Friendship is a subject congenial to the Greek mind. "It pervades many of her historical and poetic traditions; it is interwoven with many of her best institutions, her holiest recollections." In the form of hospitality it was the bond which united the Greeks into one vast family, whose claims, even in time of warfare, were sacred. It is natural that both Plato and Aristotle should devote themselves to its consideration. Aristotle places it supreme among the virtues, regarding it as superseding even the necessity of justice itself. "When men are friends there is no need of justice: but when just, they still need friendship." Friendship, he says, is necessary to life. It not only encourages moral virtue, supplying opportunities for its exercise, but it is absolutely necessary to the happiness of man, which cannot be considered complete unless his amiable affections and social sympathies are satisfied. After treating of the grounds on which friendship is basedaccording to some, resemblance; according to others, dissimilarity; and to others, physical causeshe asks what is the object of friendship, which he discovers in the good, the pleasant, and the useful. Friendship, for the sake of the merely useful or the pleasant, is not real friendship, for when the object passes away the friendship is dissolved. The friendship of the good is the highest form of friendship, for it is based on mutual respect and reciprocity of service (Ethics, bk. VIII.).
2. The treatment of friendship naturally leads Aristotle to the discussion of the social and political aspects of life. Indeed, as we have already said, the Ethics is but a subdivision of the great and comprehensive science of politics. Man is really a political or social being; that science, therefore, which would investigate the subject of human good, must study the nature of man, not only as an individual, but also in relation to his fellows, as a member of a family, as a member of a State or political community. The development, therefore, of the principles of man’s moral nature must necessarily precede, and be an introduction to an investigation of the principles of human society.
Neither virtue nor happiness can be attained by the individual alone. Man is a part of a larger whole. The State is the measure of the individual. Life is only possible for a man in so far as he shares it with others. The basis of life is the family, which is composed of three relationshipsman and wife, parents and children, master and slaves. The family gives rise to the community, the community to the State. The object of all civil and political order is the well-being of all the members, and as that ultimately depends on virtue, so the production and development of social virtue are the first object of the State. "Political science is concerned with nothing so much as with producing a certain character in the citizens, or, in other words, with making them good and capable of performing noble actions."
Aristotle proceeds to discuss the various theories of government which have been proposed and the different forms which the State has assumed. He criticises the republic of Plato, and takes exception especially to its communistic features. He justly says that it is not so much the circumstances as human nature itself which must be improved. In general, he says, there are three kinds of political constitutions, and three corruptions of them monarchy, aristocracy, and timocracy. Of these monarchy is the best and timocracy the worst. The three corruptions aretyranny, oligarchy, and democracy. Of these tyranny is the worst and democracy the least bad. The best form of government is that which most fully meets the needs of the individual and family, and most effectively promotes the moral culture and activity of the greatest number. The rule of a single individual may be right as a kingdom, bad as a despotism. The rule of the few may be good if it is based on wisdom, bad if based on birth or property.
Aristotle emphasizes the necessity of education both for children and adults. It is not sufficient to be acquainted with the theory of virtue, but to possess virtue and practise it, education is needed, and must be enforced by law. Aristotle here agrees with Plato in his demand for a public system of instruction.
III. Productive The last division of the philosophy of Aristotle he calls The Productive (ποιεῑν). Of this section there is preserved, besides the rhetoric, only a fragment of his theory of the art of poetry, under the name of the Poetic. It starts from the principles relating to the nature of art in general, but it offers only an outline of a theory of tragedy. Art, says Aristotle, is imitative production. The arts are distinguished both by their objects and materials. The object of poetic art are men and their actions. Its means are language, rhythm, and harmony. Tragedy in particular represents an important action as performed by speech and act. Poetry is divided into three partsepic, tragic, and comic poetry. The purpose of these imitative arts is an ethical one. They, indeed, afford pleasure, but that is not their special aim. The passions of men, fear and sympathy, are to be excited, so that gradually, the purification of the soul and the conquest of the passions, may be achieved. The aim of art as of science is the highest good of man, and is to be reached in the realm of knowledge.
The intellectual life, as we have already seen, is the highest, to the cultivation of which all the arts and all the disciplines must ever be directed. The knowledge of the highest truths is designated by Aristotle "a beholding" (θεωρία), and with this contemplation of truth man gains a participation in that pure thought in which the essence of God consists, and thus also in the eternal blessedness of the divine self-consciousness.
We may now briefly sum up the position we have reached. With the realization of the mind and its ideas on the one hand, and of matter and its forms on the other, Greek philosophy may be said to have attained its consummation. For Plato, the principal elements of knowledge are the universal ideas; for Aristotle the chief factors are matter and form. While Plato seeks the principle of things in the ideal world, Aristotle fixes his attention on the actual or objective world. Aristotle, indeed, does acknowledge with Plato reason and its functions as factors of knowledge, but he demands also due regard for the sensible world, which, he holds, must furnish the material for thought. In his view there are two essential elements which must be taken account of in any rational apprehension of the world. The first is the ὕλη or raw material, which human activity shapes to various objects of use. The second is the "form" which the human intelligence imparts to the material that is already given. "The form," he says, "is the essential part of the thing." "The soul," he remarks, in a famous passage, "may be compared to the hand, for the hand is the tool of tools, as the mind is the form of forms." This conception of purpose or design, which Aristotle introduced into the philosophy of nature, may be regarded as one of his chief merits, marking as it does a distinct advance of thought.
But just as we saw the weakness of Plato lay in the abstraction of his "ideas," so the weakness of Aristotle lies in the abstraction of his "matter." He conceives of it as already given, and as throughout passive and inert, without qualities or motion in itself. The human mind may modify and work it into various shapes, but it itself has no movement or inherent force. The question which inevitably suggested itself was,whence and how came motion out of matter? How are we to account for the perpetual change and evolution which the material world presents? How, in a word, did the world as we know it come into being? Aristotle, in so far as he realized the significance of the problem, was forced to resort to a deus ex machina or "prime mover" standing outside the world, the πρῶτον κινοῡν άκίνητον that set all things in eternal motion.