Raphael School of Athens

This fourth century philosopher wins credit for originating whole fields of inquiry. Though a pioneer and trail-blazer, his work ended as a cap or lid for some of these fields. Through no fault of his own, his achievement would ultimately develop into a barrier to further progress.

His approach differs from those Greek materialists who preceded him in that he takes biology as the gold standard for what the world is like. Organisms maintain and perpetuate their own existence; the various natural processes that characterize them are ordered to an end. His field of study was, basically, everything:

Logic Categories
  On Interpretation
  Prior Analytics
  Posterior Analytics
  On Sophistical Refutation
On Nature On Divination
  On Dreams
  On the Gait of Animals
  On Generation and Corruption
  On the Generation of Animals
  On the Heavens
  The History of Animals
  On Longevity and Shortness of Life
  Memory and Reminiscence
  On the Motion of Animals
  Parts of Animals
  On Sense and the Sensible
  On Sleep and Waking
  On Youth and Old Age
Philosophy Eudemian Ethics
  Nicomachean Ethics
  On the Soul
Politics Athenian Constitution
Rhetoric Rhetoric

Aristotle founded a school, and certain surviving treatises may, or may not, be written by his followers:

Theophrastus On Colors
  Magna Moralia
  Virtues and Vices

Plato Home Aristotle Home

Students of ancient science are bewildered by the simultaneous perplexity, 'How can they have known so much?' and 'How can they have believed that?' An entry in the latter category is Aristotle's insistence upon spontaneous generation, even against those of his contemporaries who gently suggested the pond was stocked with living things whose eggs and spores had survived dessication. The problem: a mud puddle or small pond, teeming with life, dries up completely in the hot Mediterannean sun. This condition persists for several months; inspection reveals nothing but dry, hard baked, cracked clay. Then one day there is a torrential down-pour, the puddle is refilled, and almost before it has stopped raining, the observer sees signs of life. Within days, the pond is fully re-stocked with living creatures ranging from pond-scum to highly organized creatures such as insects; even little amphibians begin tentatively darting around. Nature's productive resources are so prompt and overpowering that this feat of creation, making living creatures out of bare mud, did not take aeons, but a day!

"However, there are some fish that proceed from mud and sand, even of those kinds that proceed also from pairing and the egg. This occurs in ponds here and there, and especially in a pond in the neighborhood of Cnidos. This pond, it is said, at one time ran dry about the rising of the Dog-star, and the mud had all dried up; at the first fall of the rains there was a show of water in the pond, and on the first appearance of the water shoals of tiny fish were found in the pond." (Aristotle, History of Animals, Book VI, Chapter 15).

Aristotle persuaded everyone until Louis Pasteur in the nineteenth century convinced them that this does not happen.

An interesting off-site resource for further study of ancient science:


Holy, Holy, HolyThe Philo LibraryHypatia's Bookshelf