Meditation XVI, Aristotle (384-322 BC) – Prior Analytics and Posterior Analytics

Marble Bust of Aristotle

~ When two people meet, they unconsciously affect one another in ways the mind cannot even begin to comprehend. The meeting may be brief and uneventful with nothing fruitful happening as a result of it. But the die is cast and the wheels of time have turned. The present as we know it is now the past and the future is always just beyond reach. Looking backwards, we see the roads we travelled and everything is fated. Looking forward, we see nothing but mist and mazes.  Nothing happens out of mere coincidence and randomness. No effect is without a cause just as no cause is without an effect. For every action there is a reaction and we find that events of the past are necessary and certain. Our meeting today is inevitable.

~

Aristotle was born in Stagira in northern Greece. At age 17, he went to Athens to study at the Academy and remained there for twenty score years until the death of Plato. After the death of his mentor, Aristotle was invited to return to Macedonia to become to tutor of Alexander the Great, a job which he accepted graciously. He returned to Athens at the age of 49 and founded his own philosophical school, the Lyceum. Aristotle would stay in Athens for another twelve years until the death of Alexander the Great. Aristotle left Athens after the death of the monarch for fear of anti-Macedonian sentiments and charges of impiety (Socrates, mentor of Plato was executed for corrupting the minds of Athenian youths). He died one year later after leaving Athens at age 62, having sealed his name forever as one of the founders of Western philosophy.

The contributions of Aristotle to human knowledge are so wide and significant that he was regarded as the supreme philosopher of the ancient world bearing the nickname, ‘the master of those who know’. Both his writings and his thoughts have influenced the terminology of philosophy itself with words like syllogism, premise, conclusion, substance, essence, accident, metaphysics, species, genera, potentiality, categories, akrasia, dialectic and analytic. While his major works were centred on logic, ethics, and metaphysics, Aristotle also made substantial contributions in the fields of epistemology, physics, biology, meteorology, dynamics, mathematics, psychology, rhetoric, dialectic, aesthetics and politics.

One of his greatest contributions to philosophy was to found the science of logic. In one of his principal works called the Organon, Aristotle wrote six treatises on logic and syllogism that together with the Prior Analytics, laid the foundation for the traditional study of logic. Aristotle was the first to develop the study of deductive inference that defines syllogism as a ‘discourse in which certain things having been stated, something else follows the necessity from their being so’. Perfect syllogisms, according the Aristotle, share a certain form involving three terms, namely, two premises and a conclusion that obviously follow necessity.

Type 1 Type 2 Type 3 Type 4
  • All as are b
  • All bs are c
  • All as are c
  • All as are b
  • No bs are c
  • No a is c
  • Some as are b
  • All bs are c
  • Some as are c
  • Some as are b
  • No bs are c
  • Not all as are c

Having explained his theory on pure logic in the Prior Analytics, Aristotle proceeded in the Posterior Analytics to discuss the nature of a form of knowledge which we would come to know as ‘scientific knowledge’ or ‘scientific understanding’. Aristotle insisted that knowledge is not possible through acts of perception. A view that is makes him different from many other later day empiricists. Scientific knowledge involves an ability to explain and recognize as characteristics of knowledge a kind of necessity that unaided perception could never confer.

Unlike the accidental knowledge that we may acquire on a daily basis, scientific knowledge according to the great philosopher must be demonstrable and include the reason of why things must be as they are. In other words, scientific knowledge must enable one to deduce from basic premises and principles that are ‘true, primary, immediate, better known than and prior to the conclusion’. To prevent infinite regression, he maintained these basic premises must be indisputably true and need not be demonstrated themselves. Basic premises should include ‘definitions’ which according to Aristotle are the formulation of what things in their ‘essence’ are.

But how do we proceed to define an object or a term? Aristotle answers that a good definition must contain two parts or steps. The first step is to assign the object in question to its class or group whose members share a common characteristic with it. The second step is to indicate the difference between the object and all other members of its group and class. Hence, man is a rational animal because man shares common characteristics and needs with other animals but is unique in its ability to think. Although Aristotle believed in ‘universals’ (Jack and Jill exist but man, their class, do not), he did not believed in Plato’s ‘Theory of Forms’. He held that universals were just names with no tangible objective existence while Plato maintained that the Forms had objective existence more important and everlasting than any individual.

Amicus Plato, sed magis amica veritas“Dear is Plato, but dearer still is the truth,” said Aristotle. This phrase was likely the result of his disagreement with his former mentor on the ‘Theory of Forms’. Barring the arguments between mentor and pupil and any favouritism we show to either one of them, it is important to remind ourselves that the ultimate goal of philosophy is to seek the truth. ‘All men by nature desire to know’ said Aristotle is his greatest work, Metaphysics. I would like to add that all philosophers should by nature desire to know the truth.

~ Ee Suen Zheng

Bibliography

  • Peter E. Cooper & Peter S. Fosl, eds, 2010, Philosophy: The Classic Readings, Wiley-Blackwell, United Kingdom.
  • Tom Honderich, ed, 2005, The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, Second Edition, Oxford University Press, United States.
  • Will Durant, 2005, The Story of Philosophy, Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, United States.
  • Robert Paul Wolff, ed, 2002, Ten Great Works of Philosophy, Signet Classic, Penguin Group, United States.

“Plato is dear to me, but dearer still in the truth.”

~ Aristotle

Having explained his theory on pure logic in the Prior Analytics, Aristotle proceeded in the Posterior Analytics to discuss the nature of a form of knowledge which we would come to know as ‘scientific knowledge’ or ‘scientific understanding’. Aristotle insisted that knowledge is not possible through acts of perception. A view that is makes him different from many other later day empiricists. Scientific knowledge involves an ability to explain and recognize as characteristics of knowledge a kind of necessity that unaided perception could never confer.

Unlike the accidental knowledge that we may acquire on a daily basis, scientific knowledge according to the great philosopher must be demonstrable and include the reason of why things must be as they are. In other words, scientific knowledge must enable one to deduce from basic premises and principles that are ‘true, primary, immediate, better known than and prior to the conclusion’. To prevent infinite regression, he maintained these basic premises must be indisputably true and need not be demonstrated themselves. Basic premises should include ‘definitions’ which according to Aristotle are the formulation of what things in their ‘essence’ are.

But how do we proceed to define an object or a term? Aristotle answers that a good definition must contain two parts or steps. The first step is to assign the object in question to its class or group whose members share a common characteristic with it. The second step is to indicate the difference between the object and all other members of its group and class. Hence, man is a rational animal because man shares common characteristics and needs with other animals but is unique in its ability to think. Although Aristotle believed in ‘universals’ (Jack and Jill exist but man, their class, do not), he did not believed in Plato’s ‘Theory of Forms’. He held that universals were just names with no tangible objective existence while Plato maintained that the Forms had objective existence more important and everlasting than any individual.

Amicus Plato, sed magis amica veritas“Dear is Plato, but dearer still is the truth,” said Aristotle. This phrase was likely the result of his disagreement with his former mentor on the ‘Theory of Forms’. Barring the arguments between mentor and pupil and any favouritism we show to either one of them, it is important to remind ourselves that the ultimate goal of philosophy is to seek the truth. ‘All men by nature desire to know’ said Aristotle is his greatest work, Metaphysics. I would like to add that all philosophers should by nature desire to know the truth.

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  1. […] the death of Plato and Aristotle, three schools, the Stoics, the Epicureans and the Sceptics would dominate the Greek philosophy. […]

  2. […] of the works of Aquinas is an extension of Aristotle. It was his aim to show through his work that Aristotle’s system could be incorporated into […]

  3. […] documents in the development of modern science, Novum Organum (New Instrument, in contrast to Aristotle’s Organon), he considered it crucial that ‘scientists interrogate nature by their experiments […]



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