Part I. GREEK PHILOSOPHY -
Sect. 3. The Systematic Period
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 Alexander—his 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.
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
disciples—Peripatetics. 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 theoretic—whose
object is truth—have been subdivided into mathematics, physics and theology; the
practical, which treat of the
useful, embrace ethics, economics and politics; and the poetic or productive
sciences—whose object is the beautiful —deal with poetry, art and rhetoric.
It will be noticed, however, that an important class of writings—the logical—are
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
investigations—as a kind of propaedeutic of science. His works on the
Categories, Concerning Interpretation, the two Analytics and the
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
divisions—theoretic, practical and poetic—which 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
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 number—substance,
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 two—substance 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 section—the Analytics—the 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
deduction—the 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 other—the 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
Aristotle's Philosophy proper, and we shall follow the classification which he
himself has laid down—Theoretic, 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
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 place—the 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 worlds—the world of matter and the world of
ideas—in 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
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 form—matter
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 system—the doctrine of Form and Matter, or Potentiality and
Actuality. Aristotle approaches the subject by asking not what substance or
being actually is, but—given any particular thing—say a table, a statue or a
man—What 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
(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
(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 end—the 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 them—the idea, the force, and
the purpose—may be regarded as one. If, for example, we take a work of art—a
statue—the 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
two—matter 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 actuality—δύναμις and
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 tree—the tree is the
actuality of the seed. The marble block is the potentiality of the statue—the
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 forms—each 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
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 unmoved—the first great final
cause of all that is—the 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
writings—De 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
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, incomplete—nature'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 considered—potentiality 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
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 matter—reason 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 friendship—the 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 based—according to some, resemblance;
according to others, dissimilarity; and to others, physical causes—he 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
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 relationships—man 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 are—tyranny, 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
III. Productive. The last division of the philosophy of Aristotle he calls
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 parts—epic,
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
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.
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.
Greek Philosophy. Plato Stoicism,