384-322 B.C.


Biographical Sketch

--Born in Thrace where his father was physician in the court of Philip V of Macedonia-grandfather of Alexander the Great.

--Joined Plato's Academy in Athens at age seventeen, and soon became known as "the reader" assisting in the instruction of the younger students.

--Continued in the Academy for 20 years until Plato's death when he married and became the tutor for Alexander.

At age 41 he returned to Athens and opened his own school, the Lyceum on the eastern side of the city where he taught until Alexander's death in 323 B.C.

The Essence of Aristotle's Thought

(A Summary Outline of Mortimer J. Adler's Aristotle for Everybody: Difficult thought made easy)

Classification of Bodies

    A) Inanimate (Occupying space & having weight)

       -Elementary e.g., gold, copper

-Composite, e.g., brass (copper-zinc)


    B) Animate (Living)

        Plants--take nourishment & reproduce

        Animals-locomotion; do not take nourishment from air or soil


    C) Man-the rational or philosophical animal


Differences Distinguished

    Differences within each subgroup are accidental, e.g. short, tall, etc.

    Differences between subgroups are essential, i.e., they have to do with the very essence              of each subgroup.


Aristotle did not overlook: Objects of thought that are not bodies, e.g., mathematical concepts, angels, spirits, God, fictitious characters, minds, ideas, or theories.



Distinction between bodies and their attributes, e.g., size, weight, color, sound, texture, shape.

Bodies or physical things change; attributes do not; attributes are the respects in which things change.


Three Basic Attributes (i.e., 3 Kinds of Changes)

    1) Quantity-weight & size

    2) Quality-shape, texture, and color

    3) Place or position-motion from here to there


Man: the Rational Animal

Three Dimensions of Man

Man as a body has three physical dimensions: height, breadth, and width.

Man as a person has three dimensions: making, doing, & knowing.

(1) Man as Maker: artisan & producer of everything artificial (not natural)

    (2) Man as Doer: moral and social being

        a) right or wrong; b) happiness; c) association

    (3) Man as Knower: learner

        a) nature; b) society; c) man; d) knowledge itself


Three Kinds of Thinking:

1) Productive thinking: man as maker

2) Practical thinking: man as doer

3) Speculative or Theoretical thinking: man as knower

Universal Values: Area of Application

1) Beauty: Man as Maker

2) Goodness: Man as Doer

3) Truth: Man as Knower

Man the Maker


Preliminary Distinctions

Fire by lightning: A natural happening (event)

Fire started by man accidentally: A natural happening (event)

Fire started by man intentionally: An artificial happening (event)

Robinson Crusoe's house: An artificial product (not creation since made of natural materials)

Human children: Reproduction or procreation

Motion (change of place or position)


-combines permanence with change, e.g. tennis ball remains the same after moving from point A to point B

-violent motion: so-called because it violates the natural tendency (due to gravity) of the ball to remain inert

-natural motion: the mere dropping of a tennis ball yielding to law of gravity

Other Changes

Other natural alteration: ripening of a tomato (qualitive change--affecting color)

Artificial alteration:

-painting of a table (qualitative–affecting color)

-blowing up a balloon (qualitative and quantitative change–affecting both shape & size)

Destruction of artificial things is similar but not the same as destruction of natural things. When artificial things are destroyed, materials remain; when natural things are destroyed, matter remains.

Four Causes of Production

1) Material cause: the material used: -that out of which

2) Efficient cause: the maker: -that by which

3) Formal cause: the product: -that into which

4) Final cause: the purpose -that for the sake of which


Production of shoes=transforming leather into shoes, i.e., giving the materials a new form.

Examples of causal relationships in changes:

    Hitting tennis ball from point A to point B:

        Material cause=ball

        Efficient cause=person

        Formal cause="over there"

        Final cause=same as formal cause in this case (though it conceivably might be in order        that another person might try to return it, i.e., to have a real tennis match)


   Painting a chair

        Material cause=paint & chair

        Efficient cause=painter

        Formal cause="redness"

        Final cause=same as formal cause in this case (though conceivably it could be to make customer happy)

Application of causes to natural changes

   The form and the end (related to formal and final causes) are present in a seed, such as an acorn--not actually but potentially.  Aristotle designated this potentiality in natural forms  by the Greek word "entelechy" from which we get our English word intelligence.  "Entelechy" describes the potential motion and direction inherent in the seed by virtue of its particular form.  One seed differs from another because of its particular form.  An acorn always becomes an oak tree--never a cherry tree.  Conversely, a cherry seed always becomes a cherry tree--never an oak tree.  In modern language, entelechy may be compared to DNA, the genetic code or programming of a particular species.  Modern technology is involved in the artificial alteration or restructuring of genetic codes.  This raises ethical questions concerning man's relationship to nature, his stewardship over it, and his accountability to God who has established the genetic codes or entelechy.

Relationship between matter, form, potentiality, & actuality

   Matter which is totally deprived of form has unlimited potentiality, but no actuality, i.e., it is non-existent!  While formless matter is actually nothing, it is potentially everything!  This fact is helpful for understanding the birth and death of animals.  For example, when a wolf eats a rabbit, the matter of the rabbit loses its form and takes on the form of the wolf.  When a human eats an apple, the matter of the apple loses its form, and assumes the form of the human through assimilation.

   In sexual reproduction, the sperm and the ovum, which individually have potentiality (but no actuality) as far as a new organism is concerned, are united to become a new actuality or a new form--a living being has become actualized!  In the case of a rabbit, neither the sperm nor the ovum was an actual rabbit--though both had that potentialityActuality took place at the moment of fertilization.  During gestation the new organism exists, i.e., is actual.  Birth represents the separation of one natural living organism from another. 

Productive Thinking

   Productive thinking consists of productive ideas and know-how.  The idea in the mind of the maker is the form which will be bestowed upon the matter or materials as the result of the production process.  The know-how involves (1) the selection of the right materials; (2) the use of tools; and (3) the step-by-step procedure.

   The mind, the hands, and the tools are the efficient cause, the mind being the principle factor, and the hands and tools, the instrumental factors.  Know-how is skill or technique (from Greek techné).  It may also be regarded as "art" (from Latin ars).  Skill or art must exist in the mind before it can be applied to the materials in man's work.

   Such occupations as teaching, farming, and medicine, are cooperative arts, as distinct from productive arts. That is, these occupations involve a simple cooperation with nature rather than artificial production.

   Music, sculpture, and poetry, while all are arts, may be seen to differ from one another.  For example, one can enjoy the product of a musician without any spatial limitations, whereas  sculpture requires on location enjoyment of its beauty.  The language of music is of a universal character in contract to poetry written in a particular human language and requiring translation to other languages.

   Technology, as we use that term in the modern world, refers to scientific know-how, as distinct from common sense know-how.

   Philosophy is not know-how--however it may be helpful in analyzing the theoretical aspects of production, it is useless in producing bridges, furniture, or pastries.


Man the Doer

Practical thinking --what needs to be done

   Except for exceptional instances of aimless behavior, man always acts with an end in view.

The end is always perceived as desirable--it would be absurd for man to seek his own misery; rather he acts with a view to his own happiness.


A means may be an end to achieve by other means, e.g., a college education may be the means to attain a particular career, but it could also be the end of getting a job.  An end may be a means to a further end, e.g., a college education, the end of getting a job, is also the means of entering a particular career.  this observation raises two questions:

  1. Are there any means that are always means and never ends?  Aristotle answered "Yes."

  2. Are there any ends that are always ends and never means? , i.e., ultimate ends or final ends.  Aristotle answered "yes."

   Without ultimate ends practical thinking could never begin, for, otherwise, in thinking toward an end, there would always be a further end to which the first end would then become the means.  Without a pure means we could not begin.

   Euclid's geometry includes definitions and axioms--fixed rules which never change, as well as postulates, notions that we assume without proof to be true in order to proceed. In order to begin with an ultimate end, practical thinking may have to postulate or assume that something, such as a career decision is final, though it may not actually be final, in order to get on with one's life. 


Living or living well?


   Just as there is a difference between play and work, so there is a difference between living and living well, acting aimlessly and having an ulterior purpose.  Play all the time is expected in children but not in adults.  If Socrates could say an unexamined life was not worth living,  Aristotle could say an unplanned life was not worth examining.  The key was finding the right plan.


One Right Plan


   There are lots of wrong plans but only one right plan.  The right plan is the one that aimns at the right ultimate end--the end that all of us ought to aim at:


        "Just as we find it impossible to think of the part as greater than the whole of which it is a part, so we find it impossible to think that a wring end is one that we ought to aim at."


   But what is the right end?  Aristotle's answer: The good life--living well, i.e., happiness.  But this means different things for different people; therefore it is an incomplete answer.


Sharing a Common Humanity: Needs and Wants


Needs are inborn or innate desires; whereas, wants are acquired.


Hunger is the experiencing of a natural need for food.  Your wants might determine the particular kind of food you eat--but that is a matter of preference rather than necessity, biologically speaking.


Knowledge is also an innate need, though it does not have the same universal pangs associated with it that hunger has.  While people readily acknowledge their hunger for food, they rarely admit their need for knowledge.


Our wants, therefore, do not match our needs.  what we want is not necessarily what we need.  a person can have a wrong want, but he cannot have a wrong need.


Aristotle's distinction between natural and acquired desires closely relates to his distinction between real goods and apparent goods.  The things that are really good for us are the things that satisfy our innate needs rather than our acquired wants.


The right plan, therefore, consists of seeking and acquiring all that is really good for us.  For simply living this means food, drink, clothing, shelter, and sleep.  For living well more is necessary.


The best plan of all, the one we all ought to adopt, is the one that aims at every real good in the right order and measure, and in addition, allows us to seek things we want but do not need, so long as getting them does not interfere with our being able to satisfy our needs or fulfill our capacity.  This is simply to say that the pursuit of happiness was, for Aristotle, a duty, as well as a right.

 Aristotle recognized that we need a certain amount of freedom and wealth to attain bodily needs, i.e., for simply living.  To live well, however, we need psychological goods--the goods of the soul as follows:

  1. knowledge & skill, especially the skill of thinking

  2. friends

  3. honor or respect--provided, of course, it is deserved

  4. good habits of choice, i.e., excellence or virtue

            --morally virtuous choices

            --choices that leave no regrets


Vices are habits of making the wrong choices. 

A virtuous person makes right choices regularly. 

Moral virtue is an unlimited good; you cannot have too much of it.


Moral Virtue

  1. Temperance:    Resisting the temptation to overindulge or seek more than is good of a limited good, e.g., food or rest.

  2. Courage:   Habitual decision to take necessary pains to do what one ought for the sake of the good life, e.g. Acquiring skills can be painful.  Cowardice, the opposite of courage, is avoiding the pain necessary for the good life.

  3. Justice: Concerning oneself with the good of others.  The pursuit of happiness becomes enlightened when one realizes we cannot be happy without considering the happiness of others.

 Man: the Political Animal


   Justice would not be necessary if all men were friends.  Because all men are not friends, justice becomes the bond of men living together in a state.  Families originated in order that human beings might stay alive and protect and rear their young.  The good life, however, is the civil or civilized life made possible by the state.


   What other citizens have a right to expect from us:

  1. that we keep our promises       

  2. that we tell the truth when telling a lie would hurt them in some way

  3. that we not steal from them

  4. that we not injure their health, endanger their bodies, or kill them

  5. that we not interfere with their freedom of action when their conduct in no way injures us

What we have a right to expect from other citizens and from the state

  1. that others not interfere with or prevent our obtaining or possessing real goods.  It is our need for these goods that gives us the right to them, and to respect the right of others in  the same regard.

  2. not that others should positively assist us in the pursuit of happiness.  Aristotle recognized the difference between justice and love.  The state cannot require the latter.

    The end of the state is the happiness of the individuals who compose it.  Government that serves the self-interest of the ruler is tyrannical.  Consequently, Aristotle preferred constitutional government. 

    The government cannot make its citizens virtuous, but it can relieve deprivations resulting from bad luck or misfortunate.

    Unfortunately, Aristotle argued that there were those who were fit to be ruled as full citizens, whereas others were unfit for anything more than despotism, or to be ruled as slaves or subjects.


Man the Knower



Theoretical Thinking: thinking for the sake of knowing

   --knowledge of the way things are and the way they ought to be 

   We cannot be in error about something and have knowledge of the same something. 

   The senses are the doorways to the mind.  In Aristotle's day, five senses were recognized: sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste. 

   Ideas are based on information which the senses receive from the outside world, but the ideas themselves are not received from the outside world; they are the product of the mind's activity in its effort to understand the world experienced through the senses.

   Just as the human hand is the tool of tools for man the maker, so the human mind is the form of forms for man the knower, i.e., the mind is the place where the forms that are in things become our ideas of those things.  The mind forms ideas by taking the forms of things and separating them from the matter of things.  Producing ideas, accordingly, is the very opposite of producing things.

   We can understand what our senses cannot perceive, e.g., justice, goodness, evil, etc.

   Thinking relates the ideas it produces; thereby thought is connected.


   Whenever "is" and "is not" enter our thinking, we have moved from merely having ideas to forming opinions (connected thought).  From opinions we graduate to arguments, and, on the basis of sound argument, we arrive at knowledge.  The mind can hold true opinions without arriving at those opinions by logical process, and false opinions as a result of logical thinking.  Some truth is self-evident and does not require a logical process.  On the other hand, some falsehoods can be perpetrated or maintained by means of valid logic in which the premises are false. 

   If we regard something to be true merely because someone told us that it was true, then, according to Aristotle, we are merely holding to an opinion--even though it may well be, in many cases, a true opinion.  If we hold something to be true on the basis of reason, first-hand understanding, or observation, then we have knowledge.  Something that is regarded as scientifically true, forensically true (i.e., proven in a court of law), or historically true could conceivably be proven to be false at a later date if evidence were discovered to form the basis for a new scientific theory, to overthrow the findings of a jury, or to cause historians to revise their conclusions. 

   Something that is philosophically true, being based upon common experience, is far less likely to be considered false at a later date.  For example, Aristotle reasoned that in order for the human mind to hold forms separate from matter, the mind had to be immaterial.  He reasoned further that God must be immaterial; otherwise he would possess the quality of potentiality rather than actuality.  If God possessed potentiality, he would be subject to change.  If he were subject to change, he could not be the immutable or unchangeable Prime Mover.  While pure matter cannot exist without form, pure actuality can exist without matter. 

   Aristotle's conclusions, regarding the immateriality of the human mind and of God, in this respect, cohere with the testimony of the Bible.  The biblical writers described man, not merely as a physical being, but as a "living soul," and a "spirit" by virtue of God's breathing into man the breath of life.  They referred to God as "Spirit" and "invisible."  Materialistic philosophers of the modern world have not shaken the foundational thinking of Aristotle in regard to the nature of man and of God.  Though for a limited time in the twentieth century, atheistic materialism was imposed on a large segment of the world's population, it did not crush the human spirit, much less the idea of it; nor did it stamp out the notion of God's spirit-nature.  On the contrary, biblical theistic religion flourished under the oppression of Communist dictators much to the surprise of many in the western world.