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This lesson will explore the life of the famous philosopher Aristotle. It will highlight his life in Northern Greece and Athens, as well as his interactions with Alexander the Great.

It will also explain the main tenants of Aristotelian logic.

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Life of Aristotle

Although they may have never opened up a single book about ancient Greece or darkened the door of a philosophy class, most people know the name Aristotle. They may not know the century in which he lived or the particulars of what he believed, but if given a multiple-choice test, a majority of folks could probably connect the name Aristotle to words like intelligent philosopher or keen mind. In doing so, they would only be scratching the surface of a man whose works continue to impact our modern world.To dig a bit deeper than this, we’re going to first take a look at Aristotle the man and then his teachings of logic and reasoning. Born to a wealthy family from Macedonia, or today’s Northern Greece, Aristotle had at his disposal the best of education and the arts. In his late teen years, he traveled to Athens to study under the leading mind of the time, Plato himself, at the famous school of Athens, known as the Academy.

At the Academy, Aristotle spent many years first learning, then teaching, the arts of logic, reasoning and debate. However, his most famous student did not come from the halls of the Academy. Instead, Aristotle returned to his native lands of Northern Greece to tutor none other than Alexander the Great, the man who conquered the civilized world of his day and spread in his wake the teachings of his tutor, Aristotle!After leaving Alexander the Great, Aristotle returned to Athens and founded his own school, known as the Peripatetic School, named not for any philosophical beliefs, but instead for Aristotle’s propensity to walk around while teaching. Here Aristotle shared his wisdom, known to us as Aristotelian logic – the teachings of Aristotle and his deductive methods of logic.

Syllogism

The first of his teachings we’ll seek to understand is probably his most popular. It is a type of logic reasoning, known today as a syllogism. In technical terms a syllogism is an argument which is based on two true statements making a third statement also true.

Since this technical term is hard to wrap our brains around, I’ll give you an example: If A = B, and B = C, then C must also equal A. This is a syllogism. Now, for those of us who have never been fond of using letters as variables, I’ll give you another one: If Sam likes everyone in his class, and Sarah is in his class, then we know that Sam likes Sarah. This is another syllogism, one of Aristotle’s most famous forms of logical teaching.

Causality

Along with the use of syllogism, Aristotle believed in the idea of causality, or the relationship between two events. In Aristotle’s logic, there can be more than one cause or relationship between events, and these causes can build on one another. For this one, let’s use the old, ‘Why did the chicken cross the road?’Using Aristotle’s belief in causality, this question can have many answers.

For instance, perhaps the chicken crossed the road because all chickens walk or fly, and there just happened to be a road in his path. Perhaps the chicken crossed the road because all chickens get hungry, and therefore, walk or fly to get food. Whatever the reason, Aristotle would say the causes could be many.

Mean

Along with the logic of the syllogism and causality, Aristotle gave the world the idea of the mean, which is, in short, the middle between two extremes. In order to live a virtuous life, Aristotle believed man should live in moderation, since even a virtue taken to an extreme becomes a vice. One example often used to explain this idea is courage.

Courage controlled is an excellent character trait. However, courage taken to an extreme usually leads to recklessness. Like our moms always said, ‘Do everything in moderation.

‘ Little did most of us know, they were sort of quoting Aristotle himself!

Lesson Summary

Perhaps one of the most famous philosophers of all time was Aristotle, a man from Northern Greece who traveled to Athens to study at Plato’s Academy. After studying and teaching at this famous school, Aristotle traveled to Macedonia to tutor the even more famous Alexander the Great. As Alexander conquered the known world he spread the teachings of Aristotle.When Aristotle returned to Athens, he founded his own school, known today as the Peripatetic School. At the school he taught his students his ideas of logic and reasoning.

Some of the most lasting of these teachings were his use of syllogism, his belief in causality and his belief in moderation, known to us as the mean. Although his teachings are thousands of years old, Aristotle and his logic still impact the world today.

Learning Outcomes

After studying this lesson, you may be ready to:

  • Recall details about Aristotle’s life and education
  • Specify the name of Aristotle’s school as well as his most famous student
  • Discuss Aristotle’s beliefs about courage and moderation
  • Understand the meanings of syllogism, causality, and mean
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