Aristotle and the Legacy of Logic

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Significant scientific contribution has never been restrained to those who start their scientific endeavors as grown adults. In fact, history thrives with scientists who have shaped the world thanks to work they have conducted, or at least started, as teenagers. Had they been disregarded simply because of their age, many things we take for granted today may have not existed.

In the 3rd century BCE, Aristotle embarked on his life-long, eternally influential career in his late teens, when he attended Plato’s Academy, Greek’s premier learning institution, where he studied nearly every subject offered at the time. Aristotle proved to be an exemplary scholar; he maintained a relationship with Plato, himself a student of Socrates, and his academy for two decades. However, because he had disagreed with some of Plato’s philosophical treatises, when Plato passed away in 347 BCE, Aristotle did not inherit the position of director of the Academy as many imagined he would.

A prolific writer and polymath, Aristotle radically transformed most, if not all, areas of knowledge he touched. He wrote as many as 200 treatises, only 31 of which survive. Unfortunately, these works are in the form of lecture notes and draft manuscripts never intended for general readership; they do not demonstrate his reputed polished prose style, which attracted many great followers, including the Roman Cicero. Aristotle was the first to classify areas of human knowledge into distinct disciplines such as mathematics, biology, and ethics; some of these classifications are still used today.

As the “Father of Logic”, Aristotle was the first to develop a formalized system for reasoning. He observed that the validity of any argument can be determined by its structure rather than its content. Aristotle’s brand of logic dominated this area of thought until the rise of modern propositional logic and predicate logic 2000 years later.

Aristotle’s emphasis on good reasoning, combined with his belief in the scientific method, forms the backdrop for most of his work. For example, in his work on psychology and the soul, Aristotle distinguishes sense perception from reason, which unifies and interprets the sense perceptions and is the source of all knowledge.

One of the main focuses of Aristotle’s philosophy was his systematic concept of logic; his objective was to come up with a universal process of reasoning that would allow man to learn every conceivable thing about reality. The initial process involved describing objects based on their characteristics, states of being, and actions. In his philosophical treatises, he discussed how Man might next obtain information about objects through deduction and inference.

Although Aristotle was not technically a scientist by today’s definitions, science was among the subjects that he researched at length during his time at the Lyceum—a school he founded. Aristotle believed that knowledge could be obtained through interacting with physical objects. He concluded that objects were made up of a potential that circumstances then manipulated to determine the object’s outcome. He also recognized that human interpretation and personal associations played a role in our understanding of those objects.

Aristotle’s research in the sciences included a study of biology. He attempted, with some error, to classify animals into genera based on their similar characteristics. He further classified animals into species based on those that had red blood and those that did not. The animals with red blood were mostly vertebrates, while the “bloodless” animals were labeled cephalopods. Despite the relative inaccuracy of his hypothesis, Aristotle’s classification was regarded as the standard system for hundreds of years.

In 322 BCE, Aristotle contracted a disease of the digestive organs and passed away. In the century following his passing away, his works fell out of use, but were revived during the first century CE; over time, they came to lay the foundation of more than seven centuries of philosophy. Aristotle’s influence on Western thought in the humanities and social sciences is largely considered unparalleled, with the exception of his teacher Plato’s contributions, and Plato’s teacher Socrates before him. The two-millennia-strong academic practice of interpreting and debating Aristotle’s philosophical works continues to endure.

With his vast knowledge of subject material, Aristotle completed encyclopedias of information, covering biology, ethics, logic, metaphysics, music, physics, poetry, politics, rhetoric, theater, and zoology; paving the way for many scientists and philosophers to follow in his footsteps to this day in time.

References

blogs.scientificamerican.com

www.biography.com

www.iep.utm.edu

prezi.com


This article was first published in print in SCIplanetSummer 2016 Issue "Brilliant Young Minds"


Cover Image by frimufilms on Freepik.

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