Plato and the legacy of Socrates: Aristotle

Plato and the legacy of Socrates: Aristotle Aristotle bust (Louvre, Paris)

Plato's own pupil, Aristotle, was born in 384 BC and began as an ardent supporter of his teacher. However, gradually he modified his teacher's views and turned away from the world of ideas back to the real world.

Fascinated by how things worked, Aristotle attempted to understand, classify and examine the natural world. He divided things into classes and sub-classes by finding out what important qualities they shared, and ignoring insignificant differences. For example, human beings have many shared qualities (such as intelligence, language, a body with four limbs, and so on) that allow them to be defined as human, while differing in numerous insignificant qualities (hair color, height, weight, etc.).

As well as natural history, botany and biology, Aristotle became a master of logic and devised a hierarchy of living things which ranked creatures from the lowest form of life (plants) to the highest (man). Unlike his teacher, he did not believe the soul survived death in individual form, but thought it became part of a greater collective whole. In political and everyday life he rejected Plato's ideas, which he found too excessive, and advocated 'The Golden Mean' - the middle way between extremes.

Like Plato before him, who briefly taught Dionysis II of Sicily, Aristotle tutored Alexander the Great in the hope he could turn him into a philosopher-king. Neither succeeded. Aristotle died in 322 BC.

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