Tag Archives: Aristotelianism

What is “Aristotelianism” ?

Aristotelianism

Aristotelianism
Aristotelianism
Aristotelianism

Aristotelianism is a tradition of philosophy that takes its defining inspiration from the work of Aristotle. The works of Aristotle were initially defended by the members of the Peripatetic school, and, later on, by the Neoplatonists, who produced many commentaries on Aristotle’s writings. In the Islamic world, the works of Aristotle were translated into Arabic, and under philosophers such as Al-Kindi, Al-Farabi, Avicenna, and Averroes, Aristotelianism became a major part of early Islamic philosophy. Moses Maimonides adopted Aristotelianism from these Islamic scholars and based his famous Guide of the Perplexed on it. That became the basis of Jewish Scholastic Philosophy. Although some knowledge of Aristotle’s logical works was known to western Europe, it wasn’t until the Latin translations of the 12th century that the works of Aristotle and his Arabic commentators became widely available. Scholars such as Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas interpreted and systematized Aristotle’s works in accordance with Christian theology.

After retreating under criticism from modern natural philosophers, the distinctively Aristotelian idea of teleology was transmitted through Wolff and Kant to Hegel, who applied it to history as a totality. Although this project was criticized by Trendelenburg and Brentano as non-Aristotelian, Hegel’s influence is now often said to be responsible for an important Aristotelian influence upon Marx. Postmodernists, in contrast, reject Aristotelianism’s claim to reveal important theoretical truths. In this, they follow Heidegger’s critique of Aristotle as the greatest source of the entire tradition of Western philosophy.

Recent Aristotelian ethical and ‘practical’ philosophy, such as that of Gadamer and McDowell, is often premissed upon a rejection of Aristotelianism’s traditional metaphysical or theoretical philosophy. From this viewpoint, the early modern tradition of political republicanism, which views the res publica, public sphere or state as constituted by its citizens’ virtuous activity, can appear thoroughly Aristotelian.

The most famous contemporary Aristotelian philosopher is Alasdair MacIntyre. Especially famous for helping to revive virtue ethics in his book After Virtue, MacIntyre revises Aristotelianism with the argument that the highest temporal goods, which are internal to human beings, are actualized through participation in social practices. He opposes Aristotelianism to the managerial institutions of capitalism and its state, and to rival traditions – including the philosophies of Hume and Nietzsche – that reject its idea of essentially human goods and virtues and instead legitimate capitalism. Therefore, on MacIntyre’s account, Aristotelianism isn’t identical with Western philosophy as a whole; rather, it is “the best theory so far, [including] the best theory so far about what makes a particular theory the best one.” Politically and socially, it has been characterized as a newly ‘revolutionary Aristotelianism‘. This may be contrasted with the more conventional, apolitical and effectively conservative uses of Aristotle by, for example, Gadamer and McDowell. Other important contemporary Aristotelian theorists include Fred D. Miller, Jr. in politics and Rosalind Hursthouse in ethics.

The original followers of Aristotle were the members of the Peripatetic school. The most prominent members of the school after Aristotle were Theophrastus and Strato of Lampsacus, who both continued Aristotle’s researches. During the Roman era the school concentrated on preserving and defending his work. The most important figure in this regard was Alexander of Aphrodisias who commentated on Aristotle’s writings. With the rise of Neoplatonism in the 3rd century, Peripateticism as an independent philosophy came to an end, but the Neoplatonists sought to incorporate Aristotle’s philosophy within their own system, and produced many commentaries on Aristotle.

In the Abbasid Empire, many foreign works were translated into Arabic, large libraries were constructed, and scholars were welcomed. Under the caliphs Harun al-Rashid and his son Al-Ma’mun, the House of Wisdom in Baghdad flourished. Christian scholar Hunayn ibn Ishaq was placed in charge of the translation work by the caliph. In his lifetime, Ishaq translated 116 writings, including works by Plato and Aristotle, into Syriac and Arabic. Al-Kindi (801–873) was the 1st of the Muslim Peripatetic philosophers, and is known for his efforts to introduce Greek and Hellenistic philosophy to the Arab world. He incorporated Aristotelian and Neoplatonist thought into an Islamic philosophical framework. This was an important factor in the introduction and popularization of Greek philosophy in the Muslim intellectual world.

The philosopher Al-Farabi had great influence on science and philosophy for several centuries, and was widely regarded to be 2nd only to Aristotle in knowledge (alluded to by his title of “the Second Teacher”) in his time. His work, aimed at synthesis of philosophy and Sufism, paved the way for the work of Avicenna (980–1037). Avicenna was one of the main interpreters of Aristotle. The school of thought he founded became known as Avicennism, which was built on ingredients and conceptual building blocks which are largely Aristotelian and Neoplatonist.

At the western end of the Mediterranean Sea, during the reign of Al-Hakam II in Cxrdoba, a massive translation effort was undertaken, and many books were translated into Arabic. Averroes (1126–1198), who spent much of his life in Cordoba and Seville, was especially distinguished as a commentator of Aristotle. He often wrote two or three different commentaries on the same work, and some 38 commentaries by Averroes on the works of Aristotle have been identified. Although his writings had only marginal impact in Islamic countries, his works would eventually have a huge impact in the Latin West, and would lead to the school of thought known as Averroism.

Although some knowledge of Aristotle seems to have lingered on in the ecclesiastical centres of western Europe after the fall of the Roman empire, by the ninth century nearly all that was known of Aristotle consisted of Boethius’s commentaries on the Organon, and a few abridgments made by Latin authors of the declining empire, Isidore of Seville and Martianus Capella. From that time until the end of the eleventh century, little progress is apparent in Aristotelian knowledge.

The renaissance of the 12th century saw a major search by European scholars for new learning. James of Venice, who probably spent some years in Constantinople, translated Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics from Greek into Latin in the mid-twelfth century, thus making the complete Aristotelian logical corpus, the Organon, available in Latin for the 1st time. Scholars travelled to areas of Europe that once had been under Muslim rule and still had substantial Arabic-speaking populations. From central Spain, which had come under Christian rule in the eleventh century, scholars produced many of the Latin translations of the 12th century. The most productive of these translators was Gerard of Cremona,, who translated 87 books, which included many of the works of Aristotle such as his Posterior Analytics, Physics, On the Heavens, On Generation and Corruption, and Meteorology. Michael Scot (c. 1175–1232) translated Averroes’ commentaries on the scientific works of Aristotle.

Aristotle’s physical writings began to be discussed openly, and at a time when Aristotle’s method was permeating all theology, these treatises were sufficient to cause his prohibition for heterodoxy in the Condemnations of 1210–1277. In the 1st of these, in Paris in 1210, it was stated that “neither the books of Aristotle on natural philosophy or their commentaries are to be read at Paris in public or secret, and this we forbid under penalty of excommunication.” However, despite further attempts to restrict the teaching of Aristotle, by 1270 the ban on Aristotle’s natural philosophy was ineffective.

After retreating under criticism from modern natural philosophers, the distinctively Aristotelian idea of teleology was transmitted through Wolff and Kant to Hegel, who applied it to history as a totality. Although this project was criticized by Trendelenburg and Brentano as un-Aristotelian, Hegel’s influence is now often said to be responsible for an important Aristotelian influence upon Marx. Postmodernists, in contrast, reject Aristotelianism’s claim to reveal important theoretical truths. In this, they follow Heidegger’s critique of Aristotle as the greatest source of the entire tradition of Western philosophy.

Aristotelianism is understood by its proponents as critically developing Plato’s theories. Recent Aristotelian ethical and ‘practical’ philosophy, such as that of Gadamer and McDowell, is often premised upon a rejection of Aristotelianism’s traditional metaphysical or theoretical philosophy. From this viewpoint, the early modern tradition of political republicanism, which views the res publica, public sphere or state as constituted by its citizens’ virtuous activity, can appear thoroughly Aristotelian.

The contemporary Aristotelian philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre is specially famous for helping to revive virtue ethics in his book After Virtue. MacIntyre revises Aristotelianism with the argument that the highest temporal goods, which are internal to human beings, are actualized through participation in social practices. He opposes Aristotelianism to the managerial institutions of capitalism and its state, and to rival traditions—including the philosophies of Hume, Kant, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche—that reject its idea of essentially human goods and virtues and instead legitimize capitalism. Therefore, on MacIntyre’s account, Aristotelianism isn’t identical with Western philosophy as a whole; rather, it is “the best theory so far, [including] the best theory so far about what makes a particular theory the best one.” Politically and socially, it has been characterized as a newly ‘revolutionary Aristotelianism‘. This may be contrasted with the more conventional, apolitical and effectively conservative uses of Aristotle by, for example, Gadamer and McDowell. Other important contemporary Aristotelian theorists include Fred D. Miller, Jr. in politics and Rosalind Hursthouse in ethics.

In metaphysics, an Aristotelian realism about universals is defended by such philosophers as David Malet Armstrong and Stephen Mumford, and is applied to the philosophy of mathematics by James Franklin.

I conclude that the Aristotelian doctrines with which we have been concerned in this chapter are wholly false, with the exception of the formal theory of the syllogism, which is unimportant. Any person in the present day who wishes to learn logic will be wasting his time if he reads Aristotle or any of his disciples. None the less, Aristotle’s logical writings show great ability, and would have been useful to mankind if they had appeared at a time when intellectual originality was still active. Unfortunately, they appeared at the very end of the creative period of Greek thought, and therefore came to be accepted as authoritative. By the time that logical originality revived, a reign of two thousand years had made Aristotle very difficult to dethrone. Throughout modern times, practically every advance in science, in logic, or in philosophy has had to be made in the teeth of the opposition from Aristotle’s disciples.

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