views updated May 14 2018


The effect of the philosophical and scientific teachings of aristotle upon subsequent intellectual history through the transmission of his writings, terminology, ideas and influence. To trace the history of Aristotelianism is to unravel one of the major strands in the evolution of Western and Near Eastern civilization. In the ancient and medieval periods especially, its history has been intimately bound up with that of platonism, neoplatonism and stoicism and with the theological development of the three monotheistic religions Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

Greek Aristotelianism

Beginning with the death of Aristotle (322 b.c.), this section discusses the Aristotelianism of the early Peripatetic, the Hellenistic and the Byzantine periods.


After Aristotle's death, his disciple Theophrastus of Eresos (d. c. 288 b.c.) became scholarch or head of his school, called the Peripatos or the Lyceum. The older representatives of this school were of varying fidelity to the balanced synthesis of the empirical and the ideal that had been achieved by their founder; most tended toward more empirical researches in the natural sciences, popular considerations in psychology, ethics and politics, philosophical doxography, studies in the history of literature and institutions stemming from Aristotle's Rhetoric, Poetics and Politics and constitutional researches. Theophrastus was exceptional in that, besides researches in biology and characterology (the latter of relevance to rhetoric), he wrote a small treatise of Metaphysica that seems to be an introduction to a more complete work (ed. W. D. Ross and F. H. Fobes, Oxford 1929). His most significant contribution to theoretical thought, his logic, has been reconstructed from fragments by I. M. BocheŃski. Developing modal argument and propositional logic, it shows an effort at a higher synthesis of Megaric and peripatetic logic. His Opinions of the Philosophers of Nature was the source for much of the doxography concerning the first centuries of Greek thought. For the most part the writings of the early Peripatos survive only in fragments.

Dicaearchus of Sicilian Messene (b. before 341) and Aristoxenus of Tarentum, immediate followers of Aristotle, were associated in their theory of the soul as a mortal harmony of the elements but as sharing in the divine. Dicaearchus is typical of this early school. He held the eternity of the human species (a dubious point in Aristotle; confer, Pol. 1269a 5) and a cyclical theory of history that he attempted to reconcile with a doctrine of cultural development. Besides a treatise On the Soul, he wrote on prophecy, on the cultural history of Greece, on geography, and on Homeric literary problems. Aristoxenus, who wrote a life of Plato, made lasting contributions to the theory of music.

Eudemus of Rhodes seems to have edited Aristotle's Physics. He devoted attention to the history of mathematics and astronomy and worked with Theophrastus in logic. Substantial parts of his history of geometry were transmitted by Proclus in his commentary on Euclid. Demetrius of Phaleron was engaged mainly in the study of politics. He brought the Aristotelian spirit of empirical research to Alexandria. Strato of Lampsacus (d. 269), who followed Theophrastus as scholarch, was interested chiefly in the philosophy of nature; his views are quite materialist. The De coloribus and De lineis insecabilibus, included in the Corpus Aristotelicum, can be ascribed to him or to Theophrastus; the De audibilibus is Strato's; and the Mechanica comes from him or his school. In the Mechanica and On Motion he discussed the acceleration of falling bodies, the law of the lever, inertia and the parallelogram of velocities and controverted Aristotle's theory of projectile motion. His mathematical formulations are accurate but his ultimate explanations are more qualitative, that is, physical. One of his students was the astronomer Aristarchus of Samos (fl. 280), who anticipated the Copernican system. Strato's brother Lyco (d. 225) succeeded him in the Lyceum and made contributions to pedagogy and paideia (general education; confer, Part, animal. 639a 115). Other early members of the school are of importance mainly for their doxographical or biographical contributions, largely fragmentary, for example, Hieronymus of Rhodes, Aristo of Ceos, and Hermippus.


Philosophical polemics with the Skeptics and with other doctrinal schools (c. 100 b.c.a.d. 100) resulted in the widespread use of Aristotelian dialectic and logic in the clarification of their positions and their absorption of Aristotelian natural philosophy and psychology, for example, Carneades' mastery of the Topics and the Stoic discussions on the internal senses. By the same process, the materialistic tendency of the Peripatetics was reinforced by Middle Stoicism, though in a strangely theological way. The Middle Stoic school centering on RhodesPanaetius, Posidonius and especially the Stoic-Platonist Antiochus of Ascalonseems to have reinforced the immanentist factor present in Aristotle's dialogue On Philosophy, where stars and souls both are said to be of ether and in parts of the De caelo (for example, 279a 30b 3), where the God seems to be the immanent form of the outermost heaven. The apocryphal De mundo, included in the Corpus Aristotelicum, bespeaks this tendency. In reaction to the polemics of the other schools, this group and Antiochus in particular, began the harmonization of Aristotle with Stoicism and especially with Platonism. (Only the Epicurean tradition remained obdurately anti-Aristotelian.) Through Cicero it is known that Antiochus considered the difference between Plato and Aristotle to be one merely of vocabulary.

The peripatetic historico-philological interest continued with Diodorus of Tyre and eventually effected its own cure with the edition of Aristotle's works by Andronicus of Rhodes (fl. 5040 b.c.) and his collaborator Boethus of Sidon. This invited the first extensive philosophical commentary, the paraphrases On The Philosophy of Aristotle in five books by Nicolaus of Damascus, fragments of which survived among the Arabians along with his De Plantis, falsely ascribed to Aristotle and included in the Corpus Aristotelicum. Though Boethus insisted on the Aristotelian methodic dictum that one must proceed from the more familiar toward the more intelligible in itself, which would indicate starting with natural philosophy, Andronicus seems to have organized the philosophical works of his edition in a descending order: God, the world, the celestial phenomena; the soul, nature and the natural phenomena (I. Düring). He probably coined the term metaphysics, which first appears in Nicolaus and certainly assigned the term Organon to Aristotle's collected logical treatises. He prefaced the whole with a critical essay On Aristotle's Writings, parts of which were cited by later commentators, particularly Simplicius.

2d to 4th Centuries. There is a gap until the 2d century a.d. and Aspasius, who commented on the Ethics and is said to have taught Galen's teacher. Both ptolemy (fl. 150) and Galen (129c. 199) must be loosely accounted, by their education and participation in the peripatetic logical and scientific interest, as Aristotelian. Ptolemy attempted a brilliant mediation between Eudoxus and Aristotle, but the element of the Academy dominates that of the Lyceum in his work. His astronomy thus stood somewhat in opposition to the physicotheological astronomy of Aristotle and was a remote prototype of mathematical physics. Galen wrote an important Introduction to Logic that combined Aristotelian and Stoic elements.

Herminus (c. 130190), a highly independent commentator on the Prior Analytics, taught Alexander of Aphrodisias (c. 160220), the first commentator whose stature is evident, since many of his works survive. He directed the Peripatos at Athens and was called by later generations the Exegete, or Commentator and the Second Aristotle. He had a sharp awareness of the distinction between the form and the matter of the logical art and appears to have been the first to comment extensively on the Posterior Analytics, an indication of his intention to proceed throughout his expositions in accordance with the scientific canons of Aristotle. He commented on nearly all of Aristotle's major works and in addition wrote important Questions on problems arising from his philosophy. (As a literary form this is a remote ancestor of the scholastic quaestiones. ) There are Platonic elements in his interpretation, but he does not intentionally attempt harmonization of Aristotle with Plato. On the contrary, he is materialistic in his psychology, reducing the individual human intellect to little more than an especially gifted animal imagination (νους [symbol omitted]λικός, the scholastic intellectus materialis, or intellectus passivus ) and exalting the separate agent intellect by identifying it as the First Cause. Aristotle had expressed his noetic theory, both human and divine, somewhat indeterminately (Anim. 424b 20435b 26; Meta. 1074b 151075a 11), but its problems as focused by Alexander's commentary were to remain central to Aristotelian interpretation down through the Renaissance. Alexander's work is essential for understanding the original texts and also contains precious fragments taken from Aristotle's youthful exoteric writings. His treatise On Fate was used in Muhammadan debates on determinism and free will.

In this late Hellenistic period the attempt to systematize the Aristotelian corpus was paralleled by the efforts of Plotinus and Porphyry to give a unified exegesis of the Platonic writings. plotinus opposed as two extremes the current gnosticism and the naturalism of the Aristotelian materialists and advanced his combination of rationalism and his own private mysticism. He severely attacked the Aristotelian categories, yet he incorporated Aristotle's act and potency and the separate intellect. He freed act and potency from confinement within the physical principles of matter and form and developed the doctrine of the limitation of act by potency, harmonizing it with Platonic participation theory; and he attempted a unified metaphysics of knowledge by locating the Platonic Ideas in the Aristotelian separate Intellect. He was able to take these steps by drawing upon that element in Aristotle himself that had always remained Platonist, the ultimate primacy of final causality.

porphyry moved closer to Aristotle with a commentary on the Ethics and his important harmonization, On the Unity of the Doctrine (αρεσιν) of Plato and Aristotle, works known through Arabic channels but lost in the original. He developed the theme that their apparent disharmony stems from the fact that Aristotle began with sense knowledge and physics, whereas Plato started higher, with the mind of man and went further in divine matters. In weakened form this harmonization became a commonplace of the tradition of philosophia perennis, for example, the prologues of Aquinas and Albert the Great to their commentaries In de divinis nominibus (and recently, J. Wild's defenses of classical philosophy against K. Popper). Porphyry regarded the Aristotelian categories more favorably than had Plotinus. His chief legacy to the Aristotelian tradition was his treatise On the Five Predicables, or the Isagoge. It was later used as an integral part of the Organon, though some avowed Aristotelian logical purists, notably William of Ockham, have claimed that it obscures the realistic beginnings in the matter of Aristotelian logic by substituting as initial the Neoplatonic dialectical formthat is, the context of logical relations, the predicables, which are second intentionsfor the original starting point in first intentions, the categories of being.

In the 4th century, iamblichus preserved most of Aristotle's early introduction to philosophy, the Protrepticus, by quoting almost all of it, in his own work of the same name. Themistius (fl. c. 387), who wrote incisive paraphrases of most of Aristotle's chief theoretical works, enkindled Aristotelian studies in Constantinople. His commentary on the De anima was of great value to Thomas Aquinas in arguing against its Averroist interpretation.

5th and 6th Centuries. Members of the 5th-century Neoplatonic school at Athens stemming from Porphyry and Iamblichus were proclus and Syrianus (fl. c. 430); Syrianus is often cited by Boethius. Among them Platonic convictions replaced Aristotle's critical suspension of judgment on certain transcendental matters, for example, life after death, prophecy and divine inspiration. In contrast the more economical Alexandrian school of the late 5th and 6th centuries advocated rationalism in natural theology and regarded the various religious revelations as symbolic manifestations of the one transcendent truth evidentially accessible only through the rigors of philosophical discipline. This notion of levels of communication was articulated by considerable reflection upon the so-called Aristotelian modes of discourse: demonstrative, dialectical, rhetorical and poetic. The Rhetoric and Poetics were relocated as extensions of the Topics and Sophistical Refutations and therefore as parts of the Organon. Simplicius explained them Neoplatonically as degrees of participation in the maximal type, absolute demonstration. This Alexandrian idea of an expanded Organon, passing westward via the Arabs, became another commonplace of perennial philosophy (see Thomas Aquinas, In 1 perih. 1, In 1 anal. post. 1). This development of a theory of symbolic forms was an important work of the Alexandrian philosophers. Alfarabi continued this line of inquiry among the Arabs.

The moving spirit of this late Alexandrian school was the Aristotelian commentator Ammonius Hermeae (fl. 485), who is said to have studied under Proclus in the Athenian Academy. Upon returning to Alexandria, he taught John Philoponus, Simplicius (fl. c. 533), and Olympiodorus (fl. c. 535). Simplicius, in his prologues and his commentaries on the Physics and the De caelo, shows himself the master doxographer of this school. He followed courses in the Academy of Athens and taught there until it was closed in 529 by decree of the Emperor Justinian. Then he and the scholarch Damascius sought refuge at the court of the Persian Emperor Chosroes, bringing with them the teachings of the Alexandrian school.

Some of Ammonius's disciples had become Christian, notably john philoponus, who holds a central place in the long history of the interpenetration of Christianity and Aristotelianism. Upon his conversion, Philoponus took independent positions against the Aristotelian doctrine of the eternity of the world and Alexander's doctrine of a separate agent intellect and he taught the creation of matter and the immortality of the personal soul. His commentary on the Physics advanced, in dynamics, the theory of impetus, which was destined to play an important role among the Latins of the 14th century. Remotely preparing the way for both the Muslim dialectical theologians and the Latin scholastics, John entered the Christological dispute. Though his solution tended to monophysitism, theological controversy was henceforth inseparable from the technical equipment of Aristotelian logic and metaphysics.


The Latin Church Fathers generally distrusted Aristotle, of whom they knew little more than the Categories. Typically, Jerome said that it is characteristic of heretics to quote Aristotle. Laymen such as marius victorinus and Boethius were exceptions. But in the East the theologians were forced by the learned climate of controversy to use Aristotle more and more. This tendency is already present in nemesius (fl. 400), Bishop of Emesa, whose treatment of the soul and human acts shows study of the De anima and Ethics. But it was the full theology of St. john damascene that became a channel for the importation of Aristotelian ideas and terms into Latin theology, counterbalancing the earlier importation of theological Neoplatonism via pseudo-dionysius. In the Byzantine Church the tradition of a sort of Aristotelian scholasticism, side by side with a stronger Platonism continued, following the authority of the Damascene and the educational reform of the patriarchal academy by photius, through Michael Psellus and his pupil Michael of Ephesus (fl. 1090), down to the controversies at the Council of Florence and during the Renaissance. During these centuries the defensive military position of the Byzantines against the Muslim advance did not dispose them to be receptive to developments in Islamic Aristotelianism; the openness of the West explains in large part the superior growth of Latin scholasticism. (see greek philosophy; platonism; neoplatonism.)

Semitic Aristotelianism

This section discusses the influence of the ideas of Aristotle on Syrian, Arabian and Hebrew philosophies.


The relatively small but formative Roman absorption of Greek philosophical literature and thought, particularly Stoic, in the late Republic and the Augustan empire was far exceeded by the Syriac, which took place from the 5th to the 8th century. It divided itself along religious and linguistic lines into the East Syriac and Armenian absorption by the Nestorian academic centers of Mesopotamia and northward, chief among them Edessa and Jundi-Shapur (Gandisapora); and the West Syriac and Coptic absorption by the Jacobite and smaller Orthodox or Catholic centers in the great cities of the Levant and Egypt. When Simplicius and Damascius were at the court of the Emperor Chosroes, c. 529, the Persians and the Syrians within their empire had shown considerable interest in Greek philosophy and their school at Jundi-Shapur was already in existence. The Nestorian Probus (fl. 480) and the Monophysite physician Sergei of Reshaina (fl. 530) had done early translations and commentaries on Aristotle in Syriac. Sergei, along with many other early Syrian scholars, had studied in Alexandria. Paul of Persia (fl. 570) dedicated to the same Emperor Chosroes, a still extant treatise on the Organon. Thus the entire Syriac tradition bears the impress of Ammonius and his Alexandrian disciples at the end of the pagan period.

But with the fall of this whole area to Islam, the Arab reception of Greek philosophy took place on a scale dwarfing both of the earlier cultural absorptions and remains unsurpassed, at least in range and quantity, even by the Latin West of the 12th and 13th centuries. The beginnings of the reception of Greek philosophy can be traced back as early as 150 years after the hijra (622); it took place full scale between 800 and 1000. It bears three features: (1) a motivation that is strongly theoretical and scientific, but even more strongly political and religious; (2) a powerful Neoplatonic impetus toward the Onetoward seeing Aristotle as the thoroughly methodic teacher of a nearly complete system, which yet is open at the top and in doctrinal continuity with the transcendental philosophy of Plato and Plotinus; (3) the order in which the books of Aristotle came into Arabic: (a ) what the Latins were to call the logica vetus, namely, the Categories, On Interpretation, and schematic digests of the beginning of the Prior Analytics, appeared first; (b ) next was the logica nova, the full Prior Analytics and the books on the degrees of proof as grouped together by the Alexandrians, namely, Posterior Analytics through Poetics; (c ) the translation of the rest of Aristotle did not begin until the founding of the Beit al-Hikma, or House of Wisdom, in 830 under the Caliph of Baghdad, al-Mamun. Here certain scientific and theoretical works seem to precede the practical.


The medical, astrological and transcendental interests of the first major Muslim philosopher, al-kindi, ibn-Ishāq, court philosopher of the Baghdad caliphate, are shown by the works made available to him in Arabic: the main zoological writings, On the Heavens, Meteorology, Metaphysics, and the so-called Theology of Aristotle; the last two works expressly translated for his use. The last is one of two mistaken ascriptions that bedeviled the medieval philosophical interpretation of Aristotle in both Islam and Christendom. The Arabs generally so take for granted the Neoplatonic harmonization of the Stagirite with Plato that they credit him with Neoplatonic works. The Theology of Aristotle is a reedited selection from Proclus's Elements of Theology. (The other false ascription, a paraphrase of Plotinus's Enneads, is the liber de causis, whose authority was not questioned until St. Thomas Aquinas.)

The work of translating became highly organized under the Nestorian Hunayn ibn-Ishāq (the scholastic Johannitius) and his son Ishaq ibn-Hunayn. They showed a scholarly prudence by their care to establish critical Greek and Syriac texts before translating into Arabic.

alfarabi began his studies with Nestorians in Khorasan, then continued in Baghdad with teachers in filiation from the Alexandrian academy. He taught in Baghdad and Aleppo. His propaedeutic works, the Introduction to the Philosophy of Plato and Aristotle and the Enumeration of the Sciences, were the highroads to philosophy for generations in Islam. He was a master of the liberal arts in the broad sense, ranging from Arabic grammar to the mode of communication of divine law, all seen in the light of the Aristotelian modes of discourse. He was accomplished even in the quadrivial arts, having written a major commentary on the Almagest of Ptolemy. He was more Aristotelian than Platonic, except in the domain of political philosophy. His scholastic associates, Abu Bishr Matta ibn-Yunus (c. 870940) and the Jacobite Yahya ibn-Adi, also are interesting. The former did treatises on the Prior Analytics and on conditional syllogisms. The latter proposed a rationalistic Aristotelian "trinity" as the philosophical way of stating what Christians express symbolically as the Triune God.

In regard to his sources in practical philosophy, Alfarabi is typical of the Islamic philosophers. Though there are occasional references and even quotations from the Politics, no Arab ever wrote a commentary on it. In the late 12th century, averroËs sought in vain for a copy. All this points to the likelihood that the Arabs had only a digest of its chief sentences. In this respect Islam was in just the reverse position to that of Latin Christendom, which possessed the Politics but lacked the Republic and the Laws until the Renaissance. The Arab world lacked also the Eudemian Ethics, the Magna Moralia and the dialogues, except for fragments cited mainly by Alexander, Iamblichus and Simplicius.

The two greatest Islamic philosophers, who became most thoroughly known to the Latin West, were the Persian Avicenna and the Spanish Moor Averroës. The logic of avicenna is like that of Al-kindi, that is, it shows the Stoic preference for the hypothetical syllogism. Avicenna attempted a systematic harmonization of Aristotle, Neo-platonism and Muslim belief. He made substantial contributions to psychology and wrote a Metaphysics that is both Neoplatonic and Aristotelian in inspiration but is not a commentary on Aristotle's Metaphysics. He accepted the Aristotelian definition of the soul as first act and form of the body but maintained also that the individual human soul is an incorporeal substance and hence, as the Qurān teaches, immortal. He anticipated Descartes with his mental experiment of the "flying man," that is, thinking away one's body until one is simply thinking that one is thinking. He elaborated a theory of the internal senses that was in large part taken over by St. Albert the Great and Aquinas and that culminated in his theory of imagination as elevated by prophetic inspiration.

In metaphysics Avicenna is more the Platonist and Averroës the Aristotelian, although Averroës rejected Avicenna's distinction between the forma partis and forma totius, thus making it necessary to affirm that the soul of man and the species man are one and the same (see quiddity). Moreover, Avicenna tried to balance necessary and contingent aspects of the natural world, preparing the way for the Thomistic real distinction between essence and existence; whereas Averroës is more immanentist and necessitarian in his view of the relationship between God and the world. Their metaphysical influence increased with the Renaissance, when they were frequently reprinted.

With respect to the agent intellect, Avicenna maintained a separate agent intellect less than God and identifiable more with the demiurge of the Timaeus and a personal possible intellect proper to each individual man; Averroës maintained a separate agent intellect that is, in a sense, a separate possible intellect as well. This is the human species, identified as the intelligence of the lunar sphere. Such a doctrine seems to leave individual men with nothing more than acutely receptive animal imaginations. It appeared again in the late Latin averroism of Italy. Avicenna favored a hypothetico-mathematical astronomy in the tradition of Eudoxus, the Timaeus and Ptolemy, which Averroës rejected for a physical astronomy that is a celestial physics and a star theology, similar to that of the De caelo. Echoes of this controversy were heard in the opposition between Adelard of Bath and the Mertonians at Oxford, on the one hand, and the Parisian Aristotelians, on the other; and later in the Galileo-Bellarmine controversy.

In logic Averroës emphasized the Posterior Analytics and, accordingly, attacked Avicenna's preference for the hypothetical syllogism. This was a renewal of Alfarabi's criticism of al-Kindi and the Stoic logic of the Kalam: unlike Aristotelian demonstration the hypothetical syllogism lacks terminal resolution since it fails to display through an explicitly defined middle term the causal force of the nature under discussion.

Like Alexander and Alfarabi, Averroës was also known as the Commentator and became a model for the scholastic art of commenting. He brought to perfection three types of exposition that reflect forms of teaching current in the late Hellenistic Empire. The short commentary, or epitome, seeks to give the student guidance to an intelligent first reading of the text. The middle commentary is a paraphrase, a close second reading and reexpression of the text, accompanied by fresh and effective examples. The long commentary is a thorough reading of the text, which has been broken down into small passages, each of which is thoroughly analyzed and related structurally to the whole of the work. Other texts of the author are correlated with it; controversies over special passages are examined and solutions proposed. This last is the genre in which Thomas Aquinas wrote his commentaries on Aristotle.

Other notable Arabian thinkers of Aristotelian inspiration were the sociological philosophers al-Baruni, who analyzed Indian religion and culture and Ibn Khaldun, who analyzed world culture. algazel objectively summarized philosophical views, particularly those of Alfarabi and Avicenna, in On the Intentions of the Philosophers. As doxography this had wide circulation among the Latins; however, they lacked his sequel of refutation, the Destruction of the Philosophers. Averroës's Spanish predecessors, avempace and Ibn Tufail, are also significant. (see arabian philosophy.)


Medieval Hebrew philosophy benefited from both Islamic and Christian speculation, but it benefited Christian philosophy even more by serving as the conveyor of texts and ideas. crescas was a strong critic of Aristotelian physics; of more significance to the West was avicebron, whose Fons Vitae, translated at Toledo by dominic gundisalvi with either Abraham ibn Daoud or john of spain or both, was influential especially among the 13th-century Franciscans. It is important for its anti-Aristotelian doctrines of spiritual matter and plurality of forms and for the scriptural inspiration of its assigning a powerful role of efficient causality to these forms and their divine author. Most important was maimonides, whose Guide for the Perplexed influenced Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas. (see jewish philosophy; forms, unicity and plurality of.)

Latin Aristotelianism

The absorption of the Aristotelian corpus by the Latins extended over a much longer period than that of the Arabs, that is, from the 4th to the 13th century.


The Romans of the first centuries b.c. and a.d., for example, cicero, Varro and seneca, read Aristotle in the original, mainly his exoteric writings; their understanding of him was colored by the syncretism of the Middle Stoa. Cicero is significant for his enrichment of Latin philosophical language through his invention of Latin parallels to Greek technical terms and for his Topics, destined to play a central role in the long and confusing history of rhetoric and dialectic in the Latin West.

With the decline of Greek cultural dominance at the extremities of the Roman Empire a period of translation into Latin set in, from the 4th to the 6th century. marius victorinus, who had become a Christian c. 355, translated the Categories (lost) and Porphyry's Isagoge (partly preserved). Adaptations into Latin of Themistius's paraphrases of the Analytics (also lost) were made by Agorius Praetextatus at Rome. augustine mentions having studied the Categories ; and a paraphrase of it, also made about this time, was later incorrectly ascribed to him. Toward the close of the 4th century, Martianus Capella digested the Categories and On Interpretation in book 4 of his De nuptiis philologiae et mercurii. A hundred years later boethius set himself the task of rendering all of Plato and Aristotle into Latin, of interpreting them, and in the spirit of Porphyry, of showing their continuity with each other.

Of these four early translators, the two Christians, Victorinus and Boethius, were Aristotelianizing Neoplatonists in the more intellectual tradition of Porphyry and Proclus, rather than in the mystical tradition of Iamblichus. Boethius's ambitious project, far from finished at his death, was well begun with the Isagoge and Categories, each with a commentary, On Interpretation with two large commentaries, Prior Analytics, Posterior Analytics, Topics, and Sophistical Refutations. All this he completed with a highly significant personal treatment of argument in three works: De categoricis syllogismis, De hypotheticis syllogismis, and De differentiis topicis. In them the Aristotelian syllogistic laws are reformulated in Stoic rules; the treatment of the hypothetical syllogism shows the influence of Theophrastus and the Stoics; and the Topics shows study of both Cicero's and Aristotle's Topics. His posing of the problem of universals in his commentary on Porphyry's Isagoge is the locus classicus for the many-sided medieval debate on their ontological status.

Though laymen, Victorinus and Boethius each wrote a De Trinitate against the Arian heresy. In Boethius's treatise, his combination of Aristotelian and Neoplatonic terminology and definitions became a source within Latin Christian theology for Aristotelian theorizing. Noteworthy in this regard are his definitions of eternity and person, his definitions and divisions of nature and his briefly sketched division and methodology of the sciences commented on by Thomas Aquinas (In Boeth. de Trin. 5, 6) and later scholastics. On the whole, however, Boethius's influence in theology was that of a dialectical theologian, one who seeks to clarify and show the implications of theological positions but does not demonstrate.


The fulfillment of the Latin aspiration toward scientific theology became possible with the translation of the Posterior Analytics by James of Venice. The Physics, De anima, Metaphysics 14, and the Parva Naturalia first came to the Latins through his hands. His translations, though revised in the next century by William of Moerbeke, remained the received texts until the Renaissance.

Besides translating into Latin two of the three Platonic dialogues known to the scholastics, the Meno and the Phaedo (the Timaeus had been done by Calcidius c. 300 and revived at Chartres), henricus Aristippus translated book 4 of the Meteorologica and possibly the De generatione et corruptione. About this time anonymous renditions were made from Greek of the De generatione et corruptione, De sensu et sensato, and the Nicomachean Ethics ; the Posterior Analytics and Physics were retranslated.

Translation of Aristotle from Arabic began slightly later, in Spain and in England. gerard of cremona at Toledo rendered into Latin the Physics, De caelo, De Generatione et Corruptione, Meteorologica, Metaphysics 13, and the Posterior Analytics accompanied by Themistius's paraphrase. alfred of sareshel commented on the Meteorologica that he translated from Arabic and commented on the De plantis of Nicolaus of Damascus, believed then to be by Aristotle. Associated with Alfred was adelard of bath, the translator of Euclid, first among the scholastics to make current the Arabian commonplace that Aristotle represents science while Plato represents wisdom. At this time the works of the Arabian philosophers, largely commentaries on Aristotle, began to come into Europe through the Spanish translation centers.


The frequent retranslation of the Posterior Analytics testifies to the intellectual effort being made during the course of the 12th century to capture the spirit of Aristotelian scientific explanation. At the beginning of the 13th century this key work received its first major Latin commentary from the hand of robert grosseteste; his was a somewhat Neoplatonizing interpretation influential throughout the Middle Ages, which continued to be reprinted even in the Renaissance. He gathered and translated from Greek the erroneously ascribed De mundo and the De caelo and Nicomachean Ethics. Chronologically, the scholastics distinguished among the Greco-Latin translations between an Ethica vetus, comprising books 2 and 3 and the first complete Ethics, that of Grosseteste. Likewise they spoke of a Metaphysica vetustissima, comprising books 1 to 4, the work of James of Venice; a Metaphysica media, comprising all but book 11; and finally the complete Metaphysics, done at Thomas Aquinas's request by William of Moerbeke.

An event of major importance for the subsequent evolution of philosophical thought was the introduction of Averroës into the Latin West in the second quarter of the 13th century. william of auvergne and philip the Chancellor were the first to quote the Arabian Commentator. Albert the Great used him about equally with Avicenna, being more Averroist in logic and natural philosophy but more Avicennian on the deeper problems of human psychology and metaphysics. St. Thomas was exposed to Averroës at the University of Naples. The principal translator of Averroës was Michael Scot at the court of Frederick II in Sicily between 1228 and 1235. Averroës's infiltration into the Western world was virtually complete by 1240, and the extent of his challenge to Christian faith had become evident. The chief points of conflict were three: (1) his doctrine of the eternity and necessity of the world opposed the Christian doctrine of creation; (2) the unity of the separate intellect, both agent and possible, conflicted with the immortality of the personal soul; and (3) his Latin interpreters' understanding that he taught a theory of double truth and the primacy of the philosophical over the theological mode of knowledge ran counter to the primacy accorded revelation by Christianity.

The vigor and originality of the scholastic intellectual response was in proportion to the profundity of the Averroist challenge. Members of the arts faculty at Paris, such as siger of brabant and boethius of sweden, favored the Commentator's interpretations, whereas champions of theology, chiefly albert the great and thomas aquinas, advanced their own resolutions of the problems. The challenge forced them to acquire more accurate translations of Aristotle, which were provided by their confrere william of moerbeke. He translated in their entirety and for the first time the Poetics, Rhetoric, and zoölogical books, though the first two works were almost totally neglected by scholastics. He also translated books 3 and 4 of the De caelo; books 1 to 3 of the Meteorologica, and retranslated book 4; books 3 to 8 of the Politics; and the theretofore missing book 11 of the Metaphysics. He also translated once again the Categories and On Interpretation and thoroughly revised the existing Greco-Latin translations, chiefly those of James of Venice.

During the 13th century, Aristotelianism was the object of several prohibitions by ecclesiastical authorities. But in 1255 a statute was enacted by the University of Paris legalizing the study of all the known works of Aristotle. Then in 1270 E. tempier, Bishop of Paris, condemned the chief doctrines of Averroist Aristotelianism; on March 7, 1277, he summed up in a brutal, haphazard, pell-mell fashion (F. van Steenberghen) under 219 headings the doctrines to be rejected. Similar but less rash prohibitions were imposed on the philosophy of Aristotle at Oxford by robert kilwardby and john peckham. With the more mature study of Thomas Aquinas's writings, the difficult but successful defense of Thomas by the early Thomistic school, notably by john (quidort) of paris, and the canonization of St. Thomas (1323), the cause of Christian Aristotelianism was assured. Then the pendulous weight of authority swung the other way. The inceptor in arts at Paris was sworn during the 14th century to teach nothing inconsistent with Aristotle, and as late as 1624 the French Parlement threatened with death all who taught anything contrary to his doctrines. This was renewed by the University of Paris in 1687. Among the colleges of the New World there were some restrictions against Copernican astronomy and in support of the traditions of Aristotle and ptolemy. The surviving Dominican oath to teach according to the mind of St. Thomas is in this paradoxically voluntaristic tradition.

Thomas Aquinas distinguished between theology and philosophy, according to both the dignity of science; and in analogous fashion he distinguished between Church and State, according to each the dignity of being a perfect society. His commentaries on the Ethics and Politics won a lasting place for them in civil and ecclesiastical governmental theory. John of Paris, in De potestate regia et papali, championed the Aristotelian and Thomistic principles of natural law and the integrity and natural character of the State against the theory of absolute papal monarchy in temporal matters propounded by giles of rome. The relevance of the Ethics and Politics to civil life was sufficiently appreciated by the middle of the 14th century for nicholas oresme, Bishop of Lisieux, to translate them into the vernacular. On the opposite side from Giles of Rome there soon appeared the De Monarchia of dante, who insisted on a world-state centering in the independent and supreme power of the emperor against the claims of the pope, and capable of achieving human happiness on earth. The imperial unity and world-state theme seems to owe something to the Arabian interpretations of Aristotle regarding the common agent and possible intellect.

Both the 13th and the 14th centuries saw advances in the empirical scientific side of Aristotelianism made principally at Merton College, Oxford, in the tradition of Robert Grosseteste; in France by john buridan, Oresme and others; and by the German Dominicans, for example, theodoric of freiberg, in the tradition of St. Albert. (see thomism, 1; scholasticism, 1.)

The Renaissance, Reformation and Enlightenment

The 14th to the 18th century was a period characterized by four developments respecting the authority of Aristotle: (1) the humanist movement; (2) psychological and methodological controversies; (3) naturalistic and scientific movements; and (4) development of political theory. The first and third are understood to be largely revolts against the Aristotle of scholasticism, the second is, by intention at least, in part pro-Aristotelian, and the third and fourth have both aspects. They began or centered in Italy.


The humanist revolt was a vengeance taken on the demonstrative logic and dialectic of the late scholastics by the practitioners of the so-called lesser modes of discourse, rhetoric and poetics, for scholasticism's neglect since the 12th century of these modes of communication in favor of what appeared to be the sterility of Aristotelian logic and methods. Though a late expression, Stefano Guazzo's La Civil Conversazione (Venice 1586) sums up this reaction. Already in the 14th century the humanist followers of the medieval ars dictaminis had begun to unearth unsuspected treasures of classical Roman history and literature, and the mid-15th century saw Greek letters come alive again in Italy. That the humanists were not unfriendly to Aristotle as such is shown by their continued interest in the ethical writings and the Politics, and by their studies and editions of the long neglected Rhetoric and Poetics, which the famous Aldine press in Venice first published in 1498 in the Rhetores Graeci, edited by Giorgio Valla. The influence of the Poetics, rightly or wrongly understood, is a whole chapter in early modern literature, culminating in the French classical theater.

Closely associated with humanism was the Platonic revival. A Christian Platonism flourished in the Platonic Academy at Florence. Its founder, Marsilio ficino, was particularly concerned about defending the immortality of the soul against the Averroist Aristotelians. The humanists underestimated the degree to which Aquinas was able to master Aristotle while remaining, in a profound sense, a good Augustinian theologian. On substantive matters such as defense of the natural freedom of man, which had been attacked by luther, erasmus quickly fell back upon the moral theology of St. Thomas and its philosophical base in the Aristotelian Ethics.

The humanist movement took place to a large extent outside the university framework. The revived Averroist tradition that began early in the 14th century was scholastic in the broad sense of the term. It arose within and came to dominate, the Italian universities, chiefly Bologna in the early period and Padua later. Remote inspiration came from the natural philosopher john of jandun and the political theorist marsilius of padua at the court of Ludwig of Bavaria. At Bologna were Gentile da Cingoli, his pupil Angelo of Arezzo and Thaddeus of Parma, who worked in the allied fields, for an Averroist, of astronomy and psychology. At Padua, Peter of Abano was more of a Galenian medical methodologist than an Averroist. In the 15th century the distinguished logician Paolo veneto, an Averroist, taught at Padua. Sharing the scholarship of the Paduan school and well acquainted with its Averroism, was the celebrated Thomist philosopher and theologian Tommaso de Vio cajetan, who also commented on Aristotle.

The humanist appetite for belles-lettres and the university study of Aristotle were the primary and secondary conditions preparing the ground for the reception of Byzantine learning. The 15th-century Greek contribution to Aristotelian scholarship was a substantial and permanent acquisition for all subsequent ages. The Council of Florence and the fall of Constantinople (1453) brought to Italy many learned Greeks, among them George of Trebizond, who, in a comparative study of Plato and Aristotle, opts for the latter; Theodore of Gaza; John argyropoulos, Bishop of Florence, who commented on the Ethics and translated Aquinas's De ente et essentia into Greek; and Cardinal bessarion, who translated the Metaphysics into Latin, moderated Gemistos Plethon's criticisms of Aristotle and attempted anew the conciliation of Aristotle with Plato. Philosophical Greek was taught, new translations were made and many theretofore unknown Greek commentaries were printed and translated; finally in 1495 the Aldine press produced the Editio princeps of most of the Aristotelian works. Textual criticism, developed first by Lorenzo valla on historical documents, began to be applied to Aristotle and his commentators. In 1549 Robertellus produced the important second edition of the Poetics with Latin translation and commentary, and Fasolo translated Simplicius's commentary on the De anima.


All this sharpened the quest for an authentic interpretation of Aristotle and led to controversy in two chief areas: (1) psychology, centering on De anima 3, Metaphysics 12, and De caelo; and (2) methodology, centering on the opening chapters of the natural works and the prologue literature of the Greek and Arabian commentators.

The first controversy involved rival supporters of the interpretations of Alexander of Aphrodisias and Averroës, who differed over whether the separate agent intellect discussed in the De anima is in any sense human. According to the Averroists an impersonal but human immortality is attached to the separate intelligence of the species man, a sort of immortal overmind, or "noosphere"; the Alexandrists denied human immortality, holding that the only overmind, or separate intellect, was God. Some historians regard the Averroists as attempting to de-Christianize the Aristotle of Thomistic interpretation, and the Alexandrists as attempting to demetaphysicize Aristotle in himself.

In 1516 Pietro pomponazzi, drawing support from Alexander, wrote a treatise against the immortality of the soul. The more important of the Averroists were Nicoletto Vernia, who taught at Padua from 1471 to 1499, Agostino nifo, Leonicus Thomaeus, Alexander Achillini and Marco Antonio zimara. J. zabarella, who had studied Greek with Robertellus, developed Pomponazzi's position in psychology but in other parts of philosophy was much influenced by Averroës, as well as by Themistius and Simplicius. He made his chief contribution in methodology where, as a logician and natural philosopher, he opposed the moralist and metaphysician Francesco Piccolomini (15201604). His works and commentaries and those of his student Julius Pacius continue to influence modern scholarship on Aristotle. Pacius (15501635) edited and translated Aristotle's Organon and Physics (Frankfurt 1592, 1596) and edited the whole Corpus Aristotelicum (Lyons 1597). His Institutiones logicae (Sedan 1595) marks him as an extreme methodological pluralist, a humanist inclined to see the differences in texts, whereas Zabarella, a logician, had seen their structural similarities.

In the Protestant north, particularly in Calvinist circles, the anti-Aristotelian logic and methodology of the Huguenot martyr Peter ramus had great vogue. In his Dialecticae institutiones and Aristotelicae animadversiones (Paris 1543) and his two books on the Posterior Analytics (1553) he fused logic and rhetoric and reduced all methods to one. Historical Aristotelianism had begun in France with J. Lefèvre d'Étaples and was carried on after Ramus's attacks by Pacius. Ramus was opposed by J. Carpentarius (or Charpentier, 152474), a student of Greek mathematics who wrote a Comparison of Plato and Aristotle (Paris 1573) in the ancient tradition of their harmonization.

The controversy between Aristotelians and Ramists was continued in England and Germany. Oxford tended to be more Aristotelian, Cambridge more Ramist and later, Platonist. At Oxford the study of Aristotle remained an integral part of the university curriculum until the middle of the 17th century; particular attention was given to the reading and explication of the logical, ethical, and political works. Thomas hobbes wrote a digest of the Rhetoric and was a keen student of its theory of the passions. Of varying strength among the representatives of declining Aristotelianism in this period were John Sanderson, John Case (d. 1600), whose Roman Catholic leanings forced him to teach privately, Richard Crackenthorpe, Thomas Wilson, Ralph Lever, Jacobus Martinus Scotus and the extraordinary Everard digby. In 1620 Francis bacon published his Novum Organum, a work stressing induction and intended to replace the Organon of Aristotle. Nonetheless, an impressive strand of Aristotelian and Thomistic learning, tempered with humanism, continued in the clergy of the Anglican Church, particulary in matters of logic, ethics and politics. It flowered in Richard hooker (15541600), author of Ecclesiastical Polity; in the 18th century, in the ethics and natural theology of Joseph butler (16921752) and the Bishop of Durham; as late as the 19th century in the logic of H. L. Mansel (182071); and in the 20th-century metaphysics of E. L. Mascall (190593). Especially worthy of mention is a member of the dissenting ministry, Thomas Taylor (17581835), who single handedly translated nearly the whole Aristotelian corpus between the years 1801 (Metaphysics ) and 1818 (Nicomachean Ethics ). To these he added Copious Elucidations from the Best of his Greek Commentators. He was devoted to a Neoplatonism that, in the Alexandrian fashion, he regarded as capable of taking into its higher synthesis of wisdom all that is scientifically positive in Aristotle.

In Germany, despite Luther's opposition, the scholarly conciliator P. melanchthon worked to ensure the continuance of Aristotelian learning, particularly the logic, where his authority prevailed over that of Ramus. However, the Aristotelianism he had in mind contained Stoic elements. A branch of early Lutheran theology, following Melanchthon, has been called Lutheran scholasticism. Jacob Schegk (151187), professor of logic and medicine at Tübingen, was an able Greek scholar and student of the Analytics who refuted Ramus. Others undergoing Aristotelian influence were J. Jungius, his student G. W. leibniz, who corrected the excessive attacks of the Italian Renaissance rhetorician M. Nizolio (14981576) on Aristotelian logic and theoretical philosophy and the systematizer Christian wolff. The decisive critic of Ramus was the progressive Aristotelian Bartholomew Keckermann (c. 15721609), whose work gained wide circulation on the Continent and in England. With the Germans must be mentioned the Dutch professor of theology at Utrecht, G. Voëtius, who, though Calvinist, was far from being a Ramist. He based himself on Aristotle in order to attack the new methodical monist R. descartes. In the 16th and 17th centuries the German universities began the double tradition of metaphysical and philological penetration of Aristotle that was to flower in the 19th-century work of the Berlin Academy.


This movement began mainly in Italy with the Dominican resurgence prior to and during the Council of Trent. The expositors of Aquinas commented also on Aristotle, for example, dominic of flanders wrote on the Metaphysics ; ferrariensis on the Posterior Analytics, Physics, and De anima; G. C. javelli on Aristotle's chief works (he also refuted Pomponazzi); and Cajetan on the Categories, Posterior Analytics, De anima and on Porphyry's Praedicabilia.

Soon the center of the second scholasticism became Spain and Portugal. At Salamanca F. de vitoria revived and developed the Aristotelian-Stoic heritage of natural law and Domingo de soto commented on the Organon, Physics and De anima. The complutenses, Carmelite professors at Alcalá, and the Conimbricenses, the Jesuits of Coimbra, did collective works on Aristotle's logic and physical philosophy. F. de toledo, who had studied under Soto at Salamanca, taught there and in Rome and commented on Aristotle. In 1585, Benedict Pereira wrote a vast and free commentary on the Physics, showing study of contemporary Italian humanist and naturalist work as well as a slight Scotist influence. The chief scholarly contributions to Aristotelian studies were made on the Metaphysics by P. da fonseca and F. suÁrez. Fonseca's work is considered the first erudite edition of the Metaphysics in the modern age by reason of its vast critical apparatus: collation of codices, discussion of the authenticity of texts, evaluation of variants and comparison of translations. Suárez' Disputationes metaphysicae (1597), not a commentary as such, develops according to his own outline but is doxographically helpful for all prior, particularly scholastic, views on Aristotelian metaphysics. To these should be added the useful paraphrases of Sylvester maurus on the chief works of Aristotle (1668). As a whole, however, the second scholasticism has been judged to have been too drawn in upon itself, too exclusively clerical and to have lacked the dialectical engagement with contemporary thought and science and the appreciation for empirical research that characterized the historical Aristotle and marks vital philosophizing in any age (F. Copleston).


In Italy there arose a kind of natural philosophy, which conceived of nature as a more or less self-sufficient system, either independent of God once it had been created (see deism), or tending to be identified with God (see immanentism; pantheism). To the Aristotelian hylomorphism it opposed atomism and hylozoism; to the Aristotelian intentionality of cognition, a mechanical theory of perception and even of intellection; to the Aristotelian view of the universe as finite, its extensive infinity. From the Aristotle of Averroës and Alexander it took a necessitarian view of the existence of the universe. Chief among these natural philosophers were G. Fracastoro (14781553), G. Cardano, B. telesio, G. bruno and T. campanella. Using Aristotelian terms to oppose Aristotle, Bruno revived David of Dinant's identification of pure matter with pure act. G. C. Vanini (15841619), much influenced by Pomponazzi, also used Aristotelian language to maintain that Nature, which he divinized, is the prime mover and needs no prime moving principle outside itself. Two thinkers loosely associated with the Italian natural philosophy who explicitly attacked Aristotle were F. patrizi, in Discussionum Peripateticarum Libri XV (1571), and P. gassendi, in Exercitationes Paradoxicae adversus Aristoteleos (1624).

The influence of these philosophers on the development of modern science was overshadowed by that of the Aristotelian methodologists of Padua. However, it was chiefly the revival of pure Greek mathematics, mathematical physics and the tradition of hypotheticomathematical astronomy, which in the Alexandrian and Arabic worlds had constantly rivaled Aristotle's De caelo, that set the stage for classical modern physics and astronomy. This revival began the refutation of Aristotle on falling bodies, the movement of the planets, the aether, or so-called crystalline quintessence, the speed of light, etc. Among its chief figures were copernicus, G. galilei and S. Stevin.

Modern and Contemporary Aristotelianism

Aristotelian scholarship declined in the 18th century, was revived in the 19th century under the influence of the Berlin Academy, and flourished with the third scholasticism of the 20th century.


The victory of classical modern physics had been interpreted to be so crushing that there was little activity in Aristotelian studies during this period. In epistemology some idea of the Aristotelian-scholastic theory of intentionality managed to survive the Enlightenment and the rise of idealism, through B. Bolzano. Only logic and to a greater degree, political philosophy received much attention.

No part of Aristotle's writings has a more extensive history of study than the Politics. From Aquinas and Moerbeke there is a continuous line through John of Paris, Cajetan, Bellarmine, Suárez, the founders of international law, Vitoria and grotius, to the English common and natural law traditions of Blackstone (172380) and to others in the 20th century. The idea of division of powers found in montesquieu (16891755) is traceable to Aristotle and it appeared also in Thomas Jefferson (17431826). The direct influence of Aristotle and Aquinas on R. hooker, of Aristotle and Hooker on J. locke and of all these on E. burke, J. acton and J. Bryce (18381922) is certain. The discovery of Aristotle's Constitution of Athens in 1890 intensified interest in his philosophy of the state.


During the 19th century in France, Italy and especially Germany, the philosophical climate of nationalism and idealism and the consequent interest in philology and the history of ideas and institutions combined with the continuity, maintained chiefly in England, of Aristotelian philosophical studies and a more traditional humanistic philology to bring about a revival of Aristotelian scholarship, with emphasis on the literary style of the treatises, their chronological order, the youthful fragments and the evolution of Aristotle's thought. The Berlin Academy sponsored a definitive edition of the Corpus Aristotelicum (1831) under the supervision of J. Bekker, who edited Aristotle's treatises (v.1, 2) and the Latin versions of the Renaissance (v.3); C. A. Brandis and H. Usener edited the scholia (v.4); and H. Bonitz edited the Index Aristotelicus (v.5, 1870). V. Rose's edition of the fragments in the Corpus was superseded by his third edition, Aristotelis qui ferebantur librorum fragmenta (Teubner 1886). Theodor Waitz edited the Organon with commentary in 184446. The Berlin Academy also sponsored the Commentaria in Aristotelem Graeca, completed in 1909 and a Supplementum Aristotelicum (18821903).

A. Trendelenburg along with his students C. Heider, F. Brentano and R. Eucken placed Aristotle at the base of their philosophical teaching as a result of their researches showing his formative role through Roman and scholastic translators in the whole history of Western philosophical vocabulary. Trained in scholasticism and by Trendelenburg, brentano maintained that the true method of philosophizing is continuous with that of the science of nature, meaning by the latter to include both the Aristotelian organic and the modern positive approaches to nature. He tried to demonstrate this in the field of psychology, to which he introduced the Aristotelian and scholastic notion of intentionality. This was continued in various ways by his followers in phenomenology, C. Ehrenfels, A. Meinong, E. husserl, M. scheler and their existentialist successors. Other Germans who have studied the thought of Aristotle are H. driesch, E. Zeller and H. Maier.

Aristotle's reception in France was less sympathetic. F. Ravaisson-Mollien (18131900) found that the Aristotelian characterization of being as act complemented his dynamic spiritualism. He influenced a whole generation of French philosophers, such as L. brunschvicg, O. Hamelin (18561907) and L. Robin (18661947), but their idealist and rationalist positions caused them to regard Aristotle merely as a rather prosaic follower of Plato. However, the appreciative work of the great French historians of science, P. Tannery (18431904) and especially P. Duhem, is indispensable for an understanding of the scientific role of Aristotle and his successors. A Platonic and idealistic judgment of Aristotle is present also in the work of the Englishmen J. Burnet, A. E. Taylor and A. N. whitehead, though less sharply than in that of their French counterparts.


The neoscholastic movement, or preferably, the third scholasticism, was already underway at the time of Leo XIII's encyclical aeterni patris (1879), formally directed to revitalizing the teaching of Thomas Aquinas. But, by its admonition to return to the sources of Aquinas's teaching, the encyclical did much to direct the attention of scholars to Aristotle and to the problems of Aristotelian transmission, especially in the Latin, Arabic and Syriac periods. Especially noteworthy in this regard is the ambitious project of editing and publishing, with studies, the whole corpus of extant Latin translations of Aristotle made during the Middle AgesAristoteles Latinus.

The dominant problem of 20th-century Aristotelian studies, however, is not the place of Aristotle in the grand scale of development of human thought, but the personal evolution of his doctrines. W. Jaeger, in his monumental Aristotle: Fundamentals of the History of His Development (1923, Eng. tr. 1934), offered a creative solution and formulated problems for subsequent students. He concluded that Aristotle's development was a sort of fall from grace: from a wholly transcendental young Platonist, an extreme realist committed to the existence of the Forms and the immortality of the soul, through a stage of abandonment of the Forms and divinization of the visible heavens, to an old naturalist, empiricist and nominalist who regarded astral theology and metaphysics as "conjecture" (τò φαινόμενον [symbol omitted]μ[symbol omitted]ν, Part. animal. 645a 5). The developmental hypotheses of the Jaeger school were received cordially but critically, by the more conservative Oxford scholars, such as W. D. Ross, G. R. Mure, E. Barker and in general the group that under the general editorship of Ross and J. A. Smith, has succeeded in translating the whole of the Corpus Aristotelicum into English. The difference between the Jaeger and the Oxford schools is not unlike that in English literature between the historical critics and the new or Aristotelian critics of the Chicago school.

The work of I. Düring has indicated that after an early and brief adherence to Plato's doctrine of Forms, Aristotle opposed his master with the thesis that ο[symbol omitted]σία (substance, entity) is concrete; then, through the biological, psychological, and astronomical researches of his middle period, he found his way to a philosophical position much nearer to Plato's metaphysical doctrine, but on his own terms and out of, rather than in place of, his own sense of concretion and immanent final causality. The later works of the Metaphysics, particularly books 7 to 9, belong to this last period.

A recent characteristic of 20th-century textual study of Aristotle has been teamwork. The central organ of this is the Symposium Aristotelicum. One was held at Oxford in August 1957, and its papers were published by the University of Göteborg, Aristotle and Plato in the Mid-Fourth Century, ed. I. Düring and G. E. L. Owen (1960); the work of the second symposium, held at Louvain in August 1960, was published there in 1961, Aristotle et les problèmes de méthode, ed. S. Mansion.

See Also: platonism; neoplatonism; scholasticism, 1, 2, 3; thomism, 1; neoscholasticism and neothomism

Bibliography: General. l. minio-paluello, A Catholic Dictionary of Theology, 1 (1962) 142145. r. walzer, Encyclopedia of Islam, ed. b. lewis et al. (2d ed. Leiden 1954) 1:630633. g. di napoli, Enciclopedia filosofica, 4 v. (Venice-Rome 1957) 1:369375. g. patzig, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 7 v. (3d ed. Tübingen 195765) 1:602606. e. gilson, History of Christian Philosophy. f. c. copleston, History of Philosophy (Westminster, Md 1946) v.3. k. o. brink, Paulys Realenzyklopädie der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft, ed. g. wissowa et al., Suppl. 7 (1940). Special. e. zeller, Aristotle and the Earlier Peripatetics, tr. b. f. c. costelloe and j. h. muirhead, 2 v. (New York 1897). f. r. wehrli, ed. Die Schule des Aristoteles, 10 v. (Basel 194459), texts and notes. p. moraux, Alexandre d'Aphrodise: Exégète de la noétique d'Aristote (Paris 1942). e. f. cranz, Alexander of Aphrodisias: Genuine and Spurious Works and Their Translations, History, Description, Bibliography, v.1 of Catalogus translationum et commentariorum: Mediaeval and Renaissance Latin Translations and Commentaries: Annotated Lists and Guides, ed. p. o. kristeller et al. (Washington 1960). r. walzer, Greek into Arabic: Essays on Islamic Philosophy (Oriental Studies 1; Cambridge, Mass. 1962). m. grabmann, Methoden und Hilfsmittel des Aristotelesstudiums im Mittelalter (Munich 1939). g. lacombe and m. dulong, Aristoteles Latinus, cod. 1 (Rome 1939). Aristoteles Latinus, ed. l. minio-paluello, codex 2(Cambridge, Eng. 1953). f. van steenberghen, Aristotle in the West (Louvain 1955); Siger dans l'histoire de l'aristotelisme (Louvain 1942). r. p. mckeon, Aristotelianism in Western Christianity (Chicago 1939). s. d. wingate, The Mediaeval Latin Versions of the Aristotelian Scientific Corpus (London 1931). d. a. callus, "Introduction of Aristotelian Learning to Oxford," Proceedings of the British Academy, 29 (1943). p. moraux et al., Aristote et Saint Thomas d'Aquin (Paris 1957). Medieval Political Philosophy: A Sourcebook, eds. r. lerner and m. mahdi (New York 1963). n. w. gilbert, Renaissance Concepts of Method (New York 1960). j. h. randall, The School of Padua and the Emergence of Modern Science (Padua 1961), repr., with original texts added, of "The Development of Scientific Method in the School of Padua," Journal of the History of Ideas, 1 (1940) 177206. p. petersen, Geschichte der aristotelischen Philosophie im protestantischen Deutschland (Leipzig 1921). i. dÜring, Aristotle in the Ancient Biographical Tradition (Göteborg 1957); "Von Aristoteles bis Leibniz," Antike und Abendland, 4 (1954) 118154.

[j. j. glanville]


views updated May 18 2018


ARISTOTELIANISM is a school and style of philosophy that flourished throughout the Middle Ages in four languages and over three continents and that persists even now. Aristotle's school, the Lyceum, continued after his death under the leadership of his students, most notably Theophrastus (c. 371c. 286 bce). The vigor and brilliance of the Aristotelian legacy diminished after Theophrastus and were revived only after several centuries, but the editing of Aristotle's writings under the supervision of Andronicus of Rhodes was accomplished around 30 bce in Rome. The work of Andronicus laid the literary foundations of the philosophical tradition of Aristotelianism. The philosophical, as distinct from the philological, study and development of Aristotelian philosophy owes much to Alexander of Aphrodisias (fl. 200 ce). His commentaries on Aristotle's Metaphysics and On the Soul became classics and were studied carefully by later Muslim and Jewish philosophers. Another important ancient commentator was Themistius (fl. fourth century ce) in Constantinople, whose paraphrase of book 12 of Aristotle's Metaphysics became a classic treatise in natural theology and was translated into Arabic, Hebrew, and Latin. Beginning in the fifth century, extremely valuable and influential commentaries on Aristotle's works were written by a group of scholar-philosophers who were more influenced by Plato and Plotinus than by Aristotle himself. Although most of these commentators were non-Christian, for instance, Simplicius (fl. sixth century), some were Christian, notably John Philoponus (fl. sixth century).

The transmission of the Aristotelian legacy to the Semitic world was begun by Syriac-speaking Christian thinkers who, living in or near the Byzantine empire, knew Greek and translated Aristotle's works either into Syriac first and then into Arabic or into Arabic directly. To some extent Aristotelian ideas had already filtered into the work of the Greek Church Fathers before becoming "semiticized" later on. In several Greek Christian theological texts we find some use of such Aristotelian terms as ousia (substance)which in turn entered into Latin theological literature as substantia. Yet the Aristotelian philosophical influence on patristic literature was not so great as the Platonic and was generally confined to some of his logical writings, which were incorporated into the early medieval Greek and Latin educational program. Most of Aristotle's writings, especially the scientific, were either unknown or ignored in the West until they were translated from Arabic several centuries later.

By the ninth century a distinctive intellectual tradition had emerged in the Muslim world. Its practitioners, the falāsifah ("philosophers"), were set off from and opposed to the mutakallimūn ("theologians"). These Muslim philosophers, the first of whom was probably al-Kindī (803873), attempted to assimilate the Greek philosophical tradition as they knew it and to formulate a conception of Islam as a religion in philosophical terms. The most notable of these philosophers were al-Fārābī (870950), Ibn Sīnā (9801037; known in the Latin-speaking world as Avicenna), and Ibn Rushd (11261198; Averroës). Each represented a further development and refinement of Aristotle's philosophy, with increasing liberation from the Plotinian supplements and interpretations that had accumulated along the way. This incorporation of Aristotle into the "house of Islam" did not pass unchallenged, and at times the Islamic opposition to Aristotelian philosophy was quite strong.

Once Arabicized, Aristotle's writings began to spread into other languages. Since the majority of medieval Jewry was living in the Muslim world and speaking and writing Arabic, the Arabic translations of Aristotle eventually became part of the Jewish philosophical tradition, which, although small, comprised a continuous series of notable thinkers throughout the Middle Ages. By the middle of the twelfth century, Aristotle had so thoroughly captivated the Jewish philosophical world that the earlier Neoplatonic writers were not only eclipsed but almost obliterated. From Maimonides (1135/81204) on, Jewish philosophical and theological literature was dominated by Aristotle. As in Islam, Jewish thinkers in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, such as Yitsaq Albalag and Mosheh Narboni, absorbed Aristotle's ideas. Critical response was sometimes moderate and sometimes severe and thoroughgoing. Nevertheless, Aristotle's influence was still prominent in Jewish thought throughout the Renaissance, diminishing only in the seventeenth century.

The Latinizing of Aristotle occurred both early and late. In the sixth century the Roman writer and civil servant Boethius translated some of Aristotle's logical treatises into Latin; but these first fruits were to be the only works of Aristotle available in the Latin world until the late twelfth century. Because of this lack the Latin philosophical world of the Middle Ages was for several centuries relatively "dark," while the Arabic-Hebrew world was "enlightened." This cultural gap was, however, to vanish. Initially Aristotle's works were rendered into Latin from Arabic or Hebrew along with the commentaries of Ibn Sīnā and Ibn Rushd; later Latin translations were made directly from the Greek, although these were less common until the fifteenth century. By the middle of the thirteenth century, Thomas Aquinas (12251274) had virtually the entire Aristotelian corpus at his disposal and was thus able to do for the Christian world what Maimonides and Ibn Rushd had tried to do for their coreligionists: establish a philosophical interpretation of the religious beliefs of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam within the general conceptual framework of Aristotle's philosophy.

Subsequent Christian theologians and philosophers continued Thomas's work by writing commentaries upon Aristotle's treatises and composing philosophical books in which Aristotle's ideas were either expanded or criticized. By the thirteenth century Aristotle was referred to in Arabic, Hebrew, and Latin as "the Philosopher." His writings constituted almost the entire philosophical library and curriculum of the medieval world until the fifteenth century, when signs of a Platonic revival begin to surface in Renaissance Italy. But even in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, such thinkers as Giordano Bruno (15481600) and Galileo (15641642) suffered because of the power of the Aristotelian professors and theologians at Italian universities.

Influence of Aristotelianism

Perhaps the most attractive feature of Aristotle's philosophy is its comprehensiveness. It is not just that Aristotle wrote on every topic from astronomy to zoology but more that what he did write added up to an integrated system of thought that made good sense out of ordinary human experience. Aristotle's philosophy begins with logic, and the first translations of Aristotle were the Latin versions of several of his logical treatises. Logic was to be a steady interest of medieval philosophers, who, in Latin, Arabic, and Hebrew, continued to develop, refine, and supplement Aristotelian logic as a topic-neutral discipline.

In most medieval curricula the subject studied after logic was natural science, an area of pervasive interest to Aristotle, who wrote treatises in both the physical and the biological sciences. In addition to his separate studies in the special sciences, Aristotle developed his scientific views into a general theory of nature, a "philosophy of nature." The medievals took Aristotle's general cosmological scheme for granted and usually adopted its main principles. The Aristotelian cosmos is a well-ordered physical system in which natural processes follow regular patterns and determinate goals. Aristotle's doctrine of natural teleology was a medieval commonplace. The same is true with respect to his doctrine of finitism. The medievals shared his general prejudice against the infinite and believed with him that the world is a "closed" system: finite in size and in the number of individuals contained within it.

Aristotle's philosophy of nature was also attractive to the medieval mind because it allowed for theology. His theory of celestial motion provides the premises for a proof for the existence of a deity; indeed, Aristotle himself gives such a proof, one that was developed by medieval philosophers and theologians through the thirteenth century. Eventually, Aristotle's own natural theology, sketched out in Metaphysics 12, became the philosophical paradigm according to which many medieval thinkers developed their own theories of divine attributes. Further, Aristotle's theory of celestial motion allowed for a plurality of "unmoved movers" of the heavenly spheres, although one of themGodwas regarded as primary. Medieval philosophers took this doctrine even further and, under the influence of Plotinian themes, developed a cosmology within which various levels and kinds of cosmic intellects, or powers, devoid of matter, function within the universe. Aristotle's cosmos became to the medieval mind a richly diversified scale of being, some of whose rungs were occupied by intellectual forces that were inferior to the supreme mind, God, but superior to all embodied souls or animate beings, such as humans, dogs, and roses. At this point a marriage between Aristotle and Plotinus had been arranged, one that the biblical doctrine of angels either motivated or could easily be fitted into. The biblical angels were indeed identified by al-Fārābī and Maimonides as Aristotle's separate, unmoved movers. In this context we have really a marriage among three partners: Aristotle, Plotinus, and scripture.

One Aristotelian idea that proved to be troublesome, however, was the thesis of the eternity of the world. After all, what could be more clear or explicit than Genesis 1:1: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth"? Throughout the Middle Ages, Muslim, Jewish, and Christian thinkers wrestled with what appeared to be an irreconcilable conflict between Aristotle and scripture on this fundamental cosmological doctrine. Various solutions were proposed, some veering toward Aristotle, others toward scripture. Of the former variety was the view of the Muslim philosophers who developed a doctrine of eternal creation, whereby the universe eternally emanates from God, its first and ultimate cause. Others, like Levi ben Gershom, or Gersonides (12881344), a French-Jewish philosopher and astronomer, criticized and rejected the Aristotelian eternity thesis altogether and defended the biblical doctrine of creation. But at this point the creationist camp split: some advocated the idea, an "absurdity" to the Greeks, that God created the world ex nihilo; others, a small minority including Gersonides, adopted the Platonic suggestion of a divine sculptor crafting the world out of formless, uncreated matter (see Gersonides' The Wars of the Lord 6.1.17). Some thinkers, however, believed that this question was not philosophically decidable and that one had to appeal to revelation for the correct answer. This cosmological agnosticism was advocated by Thomas Aquinas and was accepted by many Christian theologians thereafter (Summa theologiae 1.46.2).

The question of creation proved to have more than just cosmological implications. Inseparably bound up with it was the issue of miracles and divine omnipotence. Maimonides welded the link between these questions quite tightly: the affirmation of the world's eternity implied strict determinism, which rules out, he claimed, the possibility of miracles (see his The Guide of the Perplexed 2.25). In turn, the denial of miracles implies a serious restriction on God's omnipotence. By the end of the thirteenth century some of the more "irreconcilable" philosophical and scientific theses of Aristotle and the Muslim philosophers were condemned as heretical and false by Stephen Tempier, bishop of Paris. Aristotle's doctrine of the eternity of the universe was equated with a curtailment of God's infinite power.

A number of modern scholars have maintained that although the 1277 condemnation by Stephen Tempier superficially looks like theological interference with philosophical inquiry, it really was not. Instead, these scholars claim, thinkers were thus liberated from their Aristotelian fetters and were free to pursue lines of thought, particularly scientific hypotheses, that previously had not been open to them and that were ultimately to replace Aristotelian physics. Whether or not the condemnation itself led to a more critical approach to Aristotelian natural philosophy is difficult to determine. What is undoubtedly true is that from the fourteenth century on there was a growing dissatisfaction with some of the more important ideas in Aristotle's cosmology and physics. That this critique took place in the Jewish philosophical orbit too suggests that it was not so much Stephen Tempier who stimulated the critical spirit as the continuous close study of Aristotle's ideas by independent-minded philosophers and theologians. Gersonides, living far from Paris, criticized Aristotle's major principle of mechanics, the theorem that every moving body is moved by an external mover. With the rejection of this physical principle, the argument for the existence of God as the first unmoved mover fails.

Perhaps the most thoroughgoing and profound premodern critique of Aristotelian natural philosophy was developed by the Spanish-Jewish theologian asdai Crescas (13401420). Wanting to undermine the whole medieval Aristotelian tradition in Jewish theology, Crescas correctly focused his efforts upon the basic physical theorems of Aristotle. One by one these cornerstones crumble under Crescas's acute criticisms. Why can't there be an actual infinite? Why can't there be a vacuum? Do the heavenly bodies need to be continuously moved by external, incorporeal unmoved movers? Why can't there be a successive series or even a simultaneous plurality of worlds? These and other questions eventually led Crescas to reject the whole Aristotelian physical system. In its place he suggested an actually infinite universe in which the heavenly bodies move according to their own inherent motion, without unmoved movers. Such a universe, Crescas insisted, manifests God's infinite power.

Another persisting perplexity that the medievals inherited from Aristotle had to do with his psychology. Aristotle's obscure, indeed mysterious remarks about "the intellect that makes all things" and "the intellect that becomes all things" (On the Soul 3.5) turned out to be one of the most commented-upon passages in his entire corpus. His somewhat parenthetical comment that the former intellect might be immortal and eternal aggravated the matter and opened up a can of philosophical and theological worms. What did Aristotle mean by an active mind and a passive mind? Where are these intellects? Are they immanent within the human mind or transcendent? How do these different intellectual functions work? Wherein lies the immortality of the intellect? These were only a few of the questions that were to vex Aristotle's commentators and medieval disciples.

Alexander of Aphrodisias made several important terminological and conceptual clarifications of this passage. Dubbing the active intellectual part the "agent intellect" (nous poiētikos ) and the passive part the "material intellect" (nous hulikos ), he went on to claim that the former is a unique, transcendent incorporeal power identical with God, whereas the latter is a corporeal disposition of the human body. The agent intellect is the active cause in human cognition; the material intellect is the receptive, or passive, capacity to acquire knowledge. Finally, the mature human intellect perfected by its accumulated cognitions is the "acquired intellect" (nous epiktētos ). It is this last member of this cognitive trio that Alexander suggests might be immortal. Jewish, Christian, and Muslim thinkers agreed that the agent intellect was not only the primary active cause in human intellection but also a major factor in prophecy. The prophet is a person whose intellect is so perfect that he is eligible to receive a special "overflow" from the agent intellect that makes him the recipient of divine information, which he conveys to other people. The ordinary religious believer refers to the agent intellect as an angel, since scripture, written in the language of ordinary people, depicts the agent intellect figuratively so as to give the reader some idea of how prophecy is given.

A number of Parisian philosophers, following Ibn Rushd's conclusion that agent intellect and material intellect are virtually and actually one, could not quite reconcile that view with their religious belief in individual immortality. Thus emerged the notorious doctrine of the double truth, according to which what is taught by divine revelation may not be compatible with what is taught by sound philosophy. Throughout the late thirteenth century the Latin philosophical-theological scene was obsessed with this issue, until the "Latin Averroists" were finally suppressed. In this battle to "protect the faith" Thomas Aquinas wrote a polemical essay against the Averroists. According to him, the agent intellect is not a unique transcendent power but is immanent in each human mind, which is as a whole a substance capable of independent existence. Individual immortality is thereby ensured (Summa theologiae 1.75, 76, 79, and On the Unicity of the Intellect: Against the Averroists ).

Despite the various criticisms made of these different aspects of Aristotle's doctrines, his influence remained strong throughout the Middle Ages and even in the Renaissance. Galileo's frequent sarcastic and mordant criticisms of the "simple-minded" Aristotelian professors, who prefer to look at the heavens in their books rather than through the telescope, testify to the still-living tradition of Aristotelian thought in the seventeenth century.

Aristotelianism was influential in the twentieth century in Roman Catholic theological circles and in university faculties. Recently, however, the Aristotelian imprint upon Christian theology has begun to seem either foreign or obsolete to theologians who look to modern philosophers for inspiration. Nevertheless, Aristotle's metaphysical ideas and vocabulary persist and are defended or at least employed by some contemporary Anglo-American philosophers, such as P. F. Strawson, who consider him to be one of the more suggestive thinkers in the classical tradition of Western philosophy.

See Also

Attributes of God; Falsafah; Humanism; Logic; Neoplatonism; Nominalism; Proofs for the Existence of God; Scholasticism; Science and Religion; Soul; Theology.


Copleston, Frederick C. A History of Philosophy, vols. 2 & 3, Medieval Philosophy. London, 1946. The most comprehensive survey of medieval philosophy in English.

Crombie, Alistair C. Medieval and Early Modern Science. 2d rev. ed. 2 vols. New York, 1959. Very good on the medieval reception and development of the Aristotelian scientific legacy.

Düring, Ingemar. Aristotle in the Ancient Biographical Tradition. Stockholm, 1957.

Guttman, Julius. Philosophies of Judaism. New York, 1964. Part 2 includes an excellent discussion of Jewish Aristotelianism.

Peters, F. E. Aristotle and the Arabs. New York, 1968. A most useful account of the transmission of Aristotle to the Arab-speaking world.

Randall, John Herman, Jr. Aristotle. New York, 1960. A suggestive monograph showing the relationship of Aristotle to Dewey and modern science.

Sorabji, Richard. Times, Creation, and the Continuum. Ithaca, N.Y., 1983. A fine philosophical and historical study of basic topics in Aristotle's philosophy.

New Sources

Badawi, Abdurrahman. La transmission de la philosophie grecque au monde arabe. Paris, 1968.

Barnes, Jonathan, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Aristotle. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1995. Blumenthal, Henry, and Howard Robinson, eds. Aristotle and the later tradition. Oxford, 1991.

D'Ancona Costa, Cristina. "Commenting on Aristotle: from late antiquity to the Arab Aristotelianism." In Der Kommentar in Antike und Mittelalter. Beiträge zu seiner Erforschung, edited by Wilhelm Geerlings and Christian Schluz, pp. 201251. Leiden-Boston-Köln, 2002.

Davidson, Herbert A. "Alfarabi and Avicenna on the active intellect." Viator 3 (1972): 109178.

Davidson, Herbert A. Alfarabi, Avicenna, and Averroes on Intellect: Their Cosmologies, Theories of the Active Intellect, and Theories of Human Intellect. New York, 1992.

Donini, Pier Luigi. Tre studi sull'aristotelismo nel secondo secolo d.c. Torino, 1974.

Donini, Pier Luigi. Le scuole, l'anima, l'impero. Torino, 1983.

Endress, Gerhard, Jan Aertsen, and Klaus Braun, eds. Averroes and the Aristotelian Tradition. Leiden-Boston, 1999.

Theophrastus of Eresus. Sources for His Life, Writings, Thought and Influence, edited and translated by W. W. Fortenbaugh, P. M. Huby, Robert W. Sharples and Dimitri Gutas, together with A. D. Barker, J. J. Keaney, D. C. Mirhady, David Sedley, and M. G. Sollenberger, Part One. Leiden-New York-Cologne, 1992.

Garfagnini Gian Carlo. Aristotelismo e Scolastica. Torino, 1979. Genequand, Charles. Ibn Rushd Metaphysics. Leiden, 1984.

Gutas, Dimitri. Avicenna and the Aristotelian Tradition. Leiden, 1988. Gutas, Dimitri. Greek Philosophers in the Arabic Tradition. Aldershot, 2001.

Gutas, Dimitri. Greek Thought, Arabic Culture: The Graeco-Arabic Translation Movement in Baghdad and Early ʿAbbāsid Society. London, 1998.

Hadot, Ilsetraut. Le problème du néoplatonisme alexandrin. Hiéroclès et Simplicius. Paris, 1978.

Irmscher, Joachim. "Die spätantiken Aristoteleskommentatoren in ihrer geschichtlichen Umwelt." In Romanitas-Christianitas. Untersuchungen zur Geschichte und Literatur der römischen Kaiserzeit. Johannes Straub zum 70. Geburtstag am 18. Oktober 1982 gewidmet, edited by Gerhard Wirth, pp. 411425. Berlin, 1982.

Lauth, Bernhard. Formallogische Untersuchungen zu Aristoteles und Thomas von Aquin. Munich, 1988.

Lee, Tae-Soo. Die griechische Tradition der aristotelischen Syllogistik in der Spätantike. Eine Untersuchung über die Kommentare zu den Analytica priora von Alexander Aphrodisiensis, Ammonius und Philoponus. Göttingen, 1984.

Luna, Concetta. Trois études sur la tradition des commentaires anciens à la Métaphysique d'Aristote. Leiden, 2001.

Lutz-Bachmann, Matthias, ed. Ontologie und Theologie: Beiträge zum Problem der Metaphysik bei Aristoteles und Thomas von Aquin. Frankfurt, 1988.

Mansion, Suzanne. Études aristotéliciennes. Recueil d'articles. Louvain-la-Neuve, 1984.

Menne, Albert, and Niels Offenberger. Zur modernen Deutung der aristotelischen Logik, vol. 1. Hildesheim, 1982.

Moraux, Paul. Der Aristotelismus bei den Griechen; von Andronikos bis Alexander von Aphrodisias, vol. 2. Berlin, 1984.

Moraux, Paul. Le commentaire d'Alexandre d'Aphrodise aux Seconds analytiques d'Aristote. Berlin, 1979.

Motte, André, and Joseph Denooz, eds. Aristotelica secunda: Mélanges offerts à Christian Rutten. Liège, 1995.

Petersen, Peter. Geschichte der aristotelischen Philosophie im protestantischen Deutschland. Leipzig, 1921 (reprinted Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt, 1964).

Piaia, Gregorio, ed. La presenza dell'aristotelismo padovano nella filosofia della prima modernità: Atti del Colloquio internazionale in memoria di Charles B. Schmitt, Padova, 46 settembre 2000. Rome, 2002.

Pines, Salomo. The Collected Works. Studies in Arabic Versions of Greek Texts and in Medieval Science. Leiden, 1986.

Pozzo, Riccardo, ed. The Impact of Aristotelianism on Modern Philosophy. Washington DC, 2004. Renaissance readings of the Corpus Aristotelicum. Proceedings of the conference held in Copenhagen 23 25 april 1998, ed. by Marianne Pade. Copenhagen, 2001.

Rohls, Jan. Wilhelm von Auvergne und der mittelalterliche Aristotelismus. Gottesbegriff und aristotelische Philosophie zwischen Augustin und Thomas von Aquin. Munich, 1980.

Schmitt, Charles. John Case and Aristotelianism in Renaissance England. Kingston, Ont., 1983.

Seidl, Horst. "Remarques sur la doctrine aristotélicienne de l'essence et son développement chez saint Thomas d'Aquin." Revue de Philosophie Ancienne 14 (1996): 3955.

Sharples, Robert W. "Alexander of Aphrodisias. Scholasticism and innovation." In Aufstieg und Niedergand der Römischen Welt 2.36.2, pp. 11761243. Berlin-New York, 1987.

Sharples, Robert W. "Aristotelian Tradition after Aristotle." In Traditions of Theolgy. Studies in Hellenistic theology. Its background and Aftermath, ed. by Dorothea Frede and André Laks, pp. 140. Leiden, 2002.

Sharples, Robert W., ed. Whose Aristotle? Whose Aristotelianism?, Aldershot, 2001.

Sharples, Robert W. Alexander of Aphrodisias on Fate. London, 1983.

Sorabji, Richard, ed. Aristotle and After. London, 1997.

Sorabji, Richard, ed. Aristotle Transformed: The Ancient Commentators and Their Influence. Ithaca, 1990.

Sorabji, Richard, ed. Philoponus and the Rejection of Aristotelian Science. Ithaca, 1987.

Sorabji, Richard. Necessity, Cause, and Blame. Perspectives on Aristotle's Theory. Ithaca, 1980.

Steel, Carlos. "Des commentaires d'Aristote par Thémistius." Revue Philosophique de Louvain 71 (1973): 669680.

Tommasi, Francesco V. "Franz Albert Aepinus, l'aristotelismo tedesco e Kant. Un contributo per la comprensione della filosofia critica tra metafisica ed epistemologia." Archivio di filosofia 71 (2003): 333358).

Verbeke, Gérard. D'Aristote à Thomas d'Aquin: antécédents de la pensée moderne. Leuven, 1990. Watt, John W. "From Themistius to al-Farabi." Rhetorica 13 (1995): 1741.

Weidmann, H. Metaphysik und Sprache. Eine sprachphilosophische Untersuchung zu Thomas von Aquin und Aristoteles. Freiburg, 1975.

Wiesner, Jürgen, ed. Aristoteles. Werk und Wirkung. Paul Moraux Gewidmet, Berlin, 1987.

Wisnovsky, Robert. Avicenna's Metaphysics in Context. Ithaca, 2003.

Zimmermann, Albert. Ontologie oder Metaphysik? Die Diskussion über den Gegenstand der Metaphysik im 13. und 14. Jahrhundert. Leiden, 1965.

Seymour Feldman (1987)

Revised Bibliography


views updated May 23 2018


Aristotelianism is the tradition that stressed the theoretical "sciences" rather than the practical disciplines in Aristotle's encyclopedia of the disciplines, and within the theoretical disciplines the systematic presentation of "true and certain" knowledge rather than the inductive search for its principles.

Greek Aristotelianism

The edition of Aristotle's works made by Andronicus of Rhodes (fl. c. 70c. 50 b.c.e.) established the knowledge of a comprehensive, structured body of demonstrated conclusions as Aristotle's ideal of science. The works of Alexander of Aphrodisias (fl. c. 200), the first great commentator on Aristotle, complemented this view of the philosopher's scientific corpus. The Neoplatonic movement attempted to harmonize the thought of Plato and Aristotle as the two great representatives of the Greek tradition. The tradition of commentary on Aristotle as an introduction to the higher wisdom of Plato was represented at Athens by two works that transformed Aristotle's encyclopedia into an idealistic system. The Elementatio theologica (Rudiments of theology) and the Elementatio physica (Rudiments of physics) of Proclus (410?485) exhibit all forms of substance as deriving from a single first principle, the Platonic One.

Alexandrian exegesis of Aristotle's text, following Ammonius Hermiae, a pagan (fl. c.550), was more independent. John Philoponus, a Christian (fl. c. 529), even contested various Aristotelian notions. His introduction of the Judeo-Christian idea of creation into philosophy rendered Proclus's entire system questionable. These Alexandrian developments determined, in large measure, the approach to Aristotle's philosophy in the Byzantine world. Plato and Aristotle were regarded as representatives of "Hellenic philosophy," as part of a pagan tradition, generally opposed to "our (Christian) philosophy." The interest of Christian theologians in Aristotle was mostly limited to the parts of his logic necessary in theology, although under the dynasty of the Komnenoi (11th12th century), Aristotle's practical philosophy enjoyed a rebirth with the commentary on the Ethics put together by Eustratius of Nicaea (1054c. 1117). After the fall of Constantinople to the Crusaders in 1204, the necessity of answering the challenge of an increasingly sophisticated Latin theology led to the composition of compendia of Aristotelian doctrine, although the debate regarding Aristotelian methods of proof continued.

Arabic Aristotelianism

By the ninth century practically the entire corpus of Aristotle's works, together with those of his Greek commentators, had been made available in Islam. Aristotle's classification of the natural sciences supplied the structure for an encyclopedia in which classical authors like Hippocrates (c. 460c. 377 b.c.e.) and Galen (129c. 199), Euclid (fl. c. 300 b.c.e.) and Ptolemy (second century c.e.) also found a place. The understanding of science as a body of strictly demonstrated conclusions was decisive for Islamic Aristotelianism. In their commentaries on this enormous body of new doctrine, Arabic philosophers tended to comment on the logic, metaphysics, and natural philosophy as parts of a philosophical encyclopedia; few commentaries on the practical philosophy were written. Muslim thinkers opposed studies concerned with their own way of life, called the "Arabic or traditional sciences" (the Koran; traditions; kalam, or dialectical theology; and the like), to the "Greek or rational sciences," associated for the most part with Aristotle's name. Kalam's task was to supply the faithful with logical proofs for their belief, but its methods of proof forced the Aristotelian philosophers to refine their idea of scientific methodology.

In his Catalogue of the Sciences, the Persian philosopher, al-Farabi (c. 878c. 950) attempted to fit the "traditional sciences of the Arabs" into the Aristotelian division of the sciences. The doctrine of God is taken up under the theoretical science of metaphysics, whereas kalam is regarded as a part of politics, with the function of defending the articles of faith. Al-Farabi demanded that the theologians provide strict demonstrations in defense of Muslim doctrine. About a century later, another Persian philosopher, the famous physician Avicenna (9801037), undertook to reform kalam in accordance with the Aristotelian theory of demonstrative science and understood kalam not as a part of politics, but rather as metaphysics. Through the Persian theologian al-Ghazali (10581111), Avicenna's conception of logical proof was influential in Muslim theology. Averroës (11261198), writing in Muslim Spain, also confronted the theologians with Aristotle's idea of demonstrative science, stressing the truth and certainty of Aristotle's presentation of theoretical science.

Medieval Jewish Materialism

Medieval Judaism also needed Aristotelian science and the logic that went with it. Where conflicts between philosophy and the Jewish faith appeared, some thinkersof whom Moses Maimonides (11351204) was the most significantheld that philosophical speculation must proceed according to the theory of demonstrative science, without regard for theological doctrine. Only when the philosophical and theological doctrines have been clearly defined can one ask how the two realms are related. In spite of this view, an increasingly critical evaluation of Aristotle's doctrines in the light of the Jewish faith appeared in the fourteenth century.

Medieval Latin Aristotelianism

The works of Aristotle were made available in the Latin West in three clearly distinguishable stages. The first stage opened in the sixth century with Boethius's (c. 480c. 524) translations of Aristotle's treatises on logic, along with some notions transmitted by Cicero (10643 b.c.e.). Such works had but little effect upon the monastic life of the early Middle Ages. The second stage began in the twelfth century with the gradual translation of the entire corpus of Aristotle's works. Working in the tradition of the concordia discordantium (reconciliation of disagreements), Scholastic teachers made the epoch-making decision not to try to separateas the Byzantines and Muslims before them had donetheir own religious disciplines from the profane sciences inherited from the ancients. They attempted rather to situate theological teaching within the Aristotelian classification of the sciences. The masters were guided at first by Boethius and then by Euclid. In his De hebdomadibus (Concerning the weekly conferences), Boethius described the organization of scientific knowledge much as Aristotle had done, and early authors sought to develop a general theory of scientific method from it. Gilbert de La Porrée (10761154) maintained, for example, that first principles can be established for all the liberal arts and in the same way for theology itself. Nicholas of Amiens (fl. c. 1190) in his Ars fidei catholicae (Art of the Catholic faith) attempted to present theological doctrine in accordance with Euclid's geometrical model.

The condemnation in 1210 and 1215 of Aristotle's libri naturales (books of natural philosophy) at Paris was followed by an intense effort to axiomatize the quadrivial sciences. The attempt was most successful in the science of optics, a science subalternate to geometry. But the philosophers also turned their attention to Aristotle's theory of science. Robert Grosseteste (c. 11751253) commented on Aristotle's Posterior Analytics, explaining that "science" means true and certain knowledge derived by syllogistic demonstration from first principles. Accordingly, the theologians undertook to transform their discipline into an Aristotelian science. In his Summa aurea (Golden compendium), William of Auxerre (c. 11501231) proposed taking the articles of faith as the principles of theological demonstration, on the basis of which Catholic theology could be presented as a structured body of strictly demonstrated conclusions. This lead was followed in particular by the Dominican theologians of the early part of the century.

By about 1230 the Latins had at their disposal the complete body of Aristotelian teaching together with Averroës's commentaries. The Aristotelian paradigm for science was established institutionally in the year 1255, when Aristotle's works were prescribed for the lectures in the Paris arts faculty. Working within this paradigm, the Latins made, in the course of the next two centuries, enormous progress not only in mathematics and the physical sciences, but also in the Aristotelian practical philosophy, following new translations of the Ethics and Politics. Albert the Great (c. 12001280) was among the first to turn his attention to the complete Aristotelian encyclopedia. His paraphrases of all of the fundamental works in Aristotle's encyclopedia prepared the way for the vast commentatory literature through which the Middle Ages assimilated Aristotelian science.

The Aristotelian paradigm was also taken up by the theologians, most prominently by Thomas Aquinas (12251274). At this period the theologians were faced with the same problem as that which confronted the masters of artsthe systematic presentation of a body of traditional knowledge. In Thomas's view, theology should present the teaching of Scripture and the church fathers deductively, taking its departure from the indemonstrable, but to the Christian evident, articles of faith. Thomas sought to establish a concord between Aristotle's conclusions and revealed doctrine. While Christian doctrines could not be proved, their acceptance was thought to be able to be shown at least reasonable because congruent with basic philosophical conclusions that Aristotle was thought to have demonstrated.

Anomalies in this paradigm appeared even in the thirteenth century. About the year 1250, as Averroës's real position on the immortality of the human soul became known, the Latins came increasingly to distinguish between the teaching of Aristotle and that of Averroës. But in the year 1277 the bishop of Paris condemned 219 propositionsof which the majority represented Aristotelian positionsbecause they entailed consequences contrary to revealed doctrine. In the light of the condemnation, John Duns Scotus (1266?1308) proposed a new conception of the theoretical sciences. His claim that the first object of the intellect is not sensible reality, but, rather, being as such, made it possible to study corporeal reality in a metaphysical way in contradistinction to the corporeal reality studied by the Aristotelian physics. The fact that many of Aristotle's doctrines were in apparent conflict with Christian teaching helped the philosophers to adjust the metaphysical assumptions that lay behind many of his positions, especially in astronomy. Aided by the Aristotelian idea that the individual sciences are autonomous in their own realm, philosophers like John Buridan (c. 1295c. 1358) were able to develop theories in physics that were independent of Aristotle's treatment, while mathematicians like Nicole d'Oresme (c. 13251382) turned to areas that Aristotle had neglected.

Renaissance Aristotelianisms

During the third and final stage in the evolution of Latin Aristotelianism, the traditional conception of the Aristotelian encyclopedia of the sciences became increasingly untenable. This period began in the year 1438 with the arrival of the Greeks at the Council of Florence. The aged philosopher George Gemistus Plethon (c. 13551450 or 1455) charged the Latins not only with being unacquainted with Platonic philosophy, but also with misunderstanding Aristotle's teaching. These misunderstandings arose because the Latins had been misled by Averroës to believe that the philosopher's works contained a demonstrative summary of scientific truth. Nevertheless, the Renaissance witnessed a vast increase in the literature of commentary on Aristotle's works. But at the same time Aristotelianism became but one among many philosophies, with Platonism, Stoicism, and Epicureanism also claiming attention. And the hierarchically unified worldview offered by Scholastic Aristotelianism had by the sixteenth century broken down, so that we must speak, in this period, not of one, but of several Aristotelianisms.

Catholic Aristotelianism.

The encounter of the Christian Aristotelianism adumbrated by Thomas Aquinas with a secular Aristotelianism that had arisen in the Italian medical faculties resulted in the radical transformation of the Aristotelian speculative sciences in the sixteenth century. The Scholastic understanding of Aristotle's science of human nature was challenged in particular by Pietro Pomponazzi (14621525), who maintained that according to Aristotle the doctrine of the soul belongs to physics as a part of the doctrine dealing with corpus animatum (animated physical bodies). Because the soul is a material form, it is impossible to prove its immortality. The proponents of Christian Aristotelianism took up this challenge. They sought to retain Aristotle's deductive theory of science but were forced to modify radically Aristotle's ideas of the subject matter of natural philosophy. Their efforts were based on the search for metaphysical rather than physical proofs for the soul's immortality. Dominicans like Tommaso de Vio (Cajetan, 14691534) and Crisostomo Javelli (d. c. 1538) and Jesuits like Benito Perera (c. 15351610) and Francisco Suárez (15481617) constructed a new science of metaphysics based on the revealed idea of creation. The high point of this development was reached with the publication of Suárez's Disputationes metaphysicae (Metaphysical disputations) at Salamanca in 1597. Suárez retained the AristotelianScholastic understanding of science and used the Scotist distinction of reality into ens infinitum, ens creatum immateriale, and ens creatum materiale (infinite being, immaterial created being, and material created being) to render the growing crisis of the Aristotelian physics as the science of corpus mobile (changeable physical bodies) irrelevant to Scholastics.

Italian secular Aristotelianism.

Constrained by the immense amount of scientific material that the Renaissance had recovered, Aristotelian authors in Italy wrote increasingly during the sixteenth century about the teaching of this new body of doctrine and sought to situate Aristotle's theory of science within a broader context. Jacopo Zabarella (15331589), professor at Padua, was the author who brought these developments together most successfully in his tract De methodis (On method) of 1578. He distinguished scientific "method" from "orders" of presentation. There are two "methods" of discovery: (1) the compositive or synthetic method, which is the demonstrative method of "science," as Aristotle had conceived it; and (2) the resolutive or analytic method belonging to the operative disciplines or "arts," which begin with the end of an action and seek to discover the means and principles by which this end may be attained. "Orders" of presentation are simply ways of presenting the available material clearly. There are two "orders" corresponding to the two "methods" described above.

Lutheran Aristotelianism.

Despite Luther's rejection of Aristotle, the Aristotelian conception of science gained a central place in Protestant universities. Lutheran authors of the late sixteenth century tended to regard theology as a practical science and, following Zabarella, came to think that theological doctrine should be presented according to the analytic "order." In his Epitome theologiae (Epitome of theology) of 1619, Georg Calixt (15861656) first applied Zabarella's idea of the analytic method to theology. But the Formula concordiae (Formula of concord) of 1577 established a Lutheran orthodoxy, and philosophical textbooks, like the Exercitationes metaphysicae (16031604; Metaphysical exercises) of the Wittenberg professor Jacob Martini (15701649) and the Metaphysica commentatio (1605; A metaphysical commentary) of Cornelius Martini (15681621) of Helmstedt, turned to the metaphysics proposed by Suárez, which all those who admitted the idea of creation could accept. Their understanding of the relationship between philosophy and theology opened the way for the free development in Lutheranism of a natural theology as a theoretical science, presented in accordance with Zabarella's synthetic order. The first independent treatise on Theologia naturalis (Natural theology) was published by Christoph Scheibler (15891653) at Giessen in 1621.

Calvinist Aristotelianism.

Reformed theologians of the early seventeenth century regarded their science as essentially theoretical. In the works of authors like Bartholomew Keckermann (1571/731609) of Heidelberg and Danzig, Clemens Timpler (15671624) of Heidelberg and Steinfurt, and Johann Heinrich Alsted (15881638) of Herborn, the idea of a synthetic presentation of doctrine was maintained, but the encyclopedia of the disciplines was enlarged and transformed by a theory of the arts, a "technology." Reformed theologians began to use the term "system" for ordered compilations of Christian teaching. For the Marburg professor Rudolph Goclenius (15471628), who used the word for the first time in his Lexicon philosophicum (1613; A philosophical lexicon), "ontology" has the role of assigning to each of the scientific disciplines its proper place in this new encyclopedia of the practical, productive disciplines.


The last edition of the Latin text of Aristotle's works was published by the Jesuit Silvester Maurus (16191687) in the year 1668. After the Thirty Years' War, Protestant Aristotelianism generally disappeared. But Catholic Scholasticism continued to enjoy a shadowy existence in the seminaries decreed by the Council of Trent (15451563). A new literary form appeared, the cursus philosophicus, a summary of Scholastic teaching in philosophy, generally written in the form of disputations on the works of Aristotle. The purpose of the cursus was to provide the basic philosophical knowledge necessary for the study of Catholic theology, and it tended increasingly to return to the teaching of one of the great thirteenth-century doctors, like Thomas Aquinas (Thomism) and Duns Scotus (Scotism).

Modern Study of Aristotle

The Neo-Scholasticism of the nineteenth century thought of Aristotle's philosophy as a response to the Enlightenment's rejection of a worldview in which revelation appeared necessary and its acceptance reasonable. The cursus found the support of the Catholic Church in Pope Leo XIII's encyclical Aeterni Patris of 1879 and various pieces of legislation concerning the instruction in seminaries. The Dominican and Jesuit orders followed the doctrine of Thomas Aquinas, while the Franciscan order followed that of Duns Scotus, both emphasizing Aristotle's metaphysics, even for cosmological and psychological questions.

The publication by the Berlin Academy of the Aristotelis opera between 1831 and 1870 and of the Commentaria in Aristotelem graeca between 1882 and 1909 has supplied the basis for the modern study of Aristotle and the Greek tradition of his philosophy. The Aristoteles latinus, undertaken by the Union Académique Internationale in 1939 for the edition of the medieval Latin translations, two collections of the Latin translations of the Greek commentaries, as well as a series of English translations of them, have contributed to a new understanding of Aristotelianism in the twentieth century.

See also Greek Science ; Islamic Science ; Logic ; Metaphysics ; Natural History ; Natural Law ; Natural Theology ; Philosophy and Religion in Western Thought ; Platonism ; Scholasticism .


Gottschalk, Hans B. "Aristotelian Philosophy in the Roman World from the Time of Cicero to the End of the Second Century AD." In Aufstieg und Niedergang der rö mischen Welt, edited by W. Haase. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1987.

Lohr, Charles H. Latin Aristotle Commentaries: II. Renaissance Authors. Florence, Italy: Olschki, 1988.

. "Medieval Latin Aristotle Commentaries." Traditio 2330 (19671974).

. "Metaphysics." In The Cambridge History of Renaissance Philosophy, edited by C. B. Schmitt et al., 535638. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

, ed. Commentaria in Aristotelem graeca: Versiones latinae temporis resuscitatarum litterarum. 12 vols. Frankfurt, Germany: Minerva, and Stuttgart, Germany: Frommann-Holzboog, 1978.

Mikkeli, Heikki. An Aristotelian Response to Renaissance Humanism: Jacopo Zabarella on the Nature of Arts and Sciences. Helsinki: Finnish Historical Society, 1992.

Peters, F. E. Aristoteles arabus: The Oriental Translations and Commentaries on the Aristotelian Corpus. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 1968.

Schmitt, Charles B. Aristotle and the Renaissance. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1983.

Sorabji, Richard, ed. The Ancient Commentators on Aristotle: A Series of English Translations. London and Ithaca, N.Y.: Duckworth, 1987.

. Aristotle Transformed: The Ancient Commentators and Their Influence. London: Duckworth, 1990.

Verbeke, Gerard, et al., eds. Corpus latinum commentariorum in Aristotelem graecorum. 12 vols. Louvain, Belgium: University of Louvain, 1957; Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 19731981.

Charles H. Lohr


views updated May 29 2018


The question of what it means to be an Aristotelianwhether this requires adherence to a specific set of doctrines, a certain methodological approach, or the fulfilment of some other set of conditionsis a vexed one and has exercised the minds of self-professed Aristotelians and anti-Aristotelians alike over the course of twenty centuries. Like many problems of definition, it is best approached indirectly (as indeed Aristotle would likely have approached it). This historical overview starts from the broad assumption that one may consider Aristotelian all those thinkers who have either (a) considered Aristotle's texts a suitable point of departure for an enquiry into a given subject, or (b) thought themselves to be extending a peripatetic approach to a subject not covered by Aristotle himself. This assumption will have the consequence of making Aristotelians out of many whom modern reckoning would not readily count as philosophers. The result is not untoward because Aristotle's own enterprise extended far beyond philosophy thus narrowly defined.

The First Peripatos

Upon returning to Athens in 335 BCE, Aristotle founded a school in a grove consecrated to Apollo Lyceus. Hence the school was termed the Lyceum, yet it became forever known as the Peripatos for its covered colonnade. Indeed, in the annals references to "Peripatetics" greatly outnumber those made to "Aristotelians."

Aristotle's school was both a teaching and a research institution, with scholars pursuing interests ranging from musicology and the cataloguing of Greek forms of government to public lectures on popular subjects. The school survived Aristotle's departure from Athens and subsequent death in 322 BCE: Indeed, it flourished under Aristotle's successor and close collaborator, Theophrastus (372287 BCE), who is reported to have presided over some 2,000 students.

Theophrastus expanded upon Aristotle's philosophical and scientific program. Theophrastus's botanical studies are pioneering works; the ancients especially valued his contributions to the categorical and hypothetical syllogistic. Theophrastus adheres to an aporetic methodology in the philosophical treatises while amassing observations in the scientific; this commitment to a peripatetic approach even leads Theophrastus to criticize Aristotle's Metaphysics Lambda in his own work on first philosophy. Theophrastus questions the extent to which teleological language, central to Aristotle's explanation of living nature, is applicable in a cosmic context: In effect, Theophrastus questions whether Aristotle is Aristotelian enough.

The Lyceum's independent spirit is further manifested in how its third head, Strato of Lampsacus (d. 269), departed from Aristotle on several important points, notably in natural philosophy. The diffuse activities and conflicting viewpoints countenanced within the Peripatos may have worked to its detriment in an age of intensifying competition between the philosophical schools. Strato's stewardship coincided with a decline in the school's fortunes, and within two generations it had all but disappeared from view.

The Imperial Age

The nascent Hellenistic schools found elements to their liking in Aristotle's now-lost dialogues, praised for their style by Cicero and plundered for their edifying materials. Through criticism and creative appropriation, the Stoa in particular remained indebted to the peripatetics, who in the second century enjoyed a measure of resurgence under Critolaus. Still, self-professed peripatetics are hard to come by before Andronicus of Rhodes presented the ancient world with his authoritative collection of Aristotle's school works c. 50 BCE. Thereafter appear figures such as the Augustan intellectual Nicholas of Damascus, whose self-portrait is a model of Aristotelian virtue and who is credited with writing a compendium of Aristotelian philosophy, and Alexander of Aigai, teacher to Nero.

Andronicus's epoch-making edition is as important for the organization of its materials as for its contents, which quickly became canon. Immediately the impression is one of a full-fledged curriculum: The acquisition of methodological toolsthe Organon of reasoned argumentis followed by an account of natural principles and natural bodies. After this comes living nature, then first philosophy (now dubbed "metaphysics"), and then the practical and productive sciences. Aristotle's widely varied investigations take on the appearance of a system here and retained it thereafter.

In Andronicus's wake there are two signal developments. First, propounding Aristotelian doctrine comes to be viewed as involving the writing of commentaries, starting with the Categories and On Interpretation. Second, in the first century BCE the Academician Antiochus thinks to present Aristotle as belonging essentially to the Platonic tradition. This classification set the tone for much of the imperial period. The fundamental continuity of Plato's and Aristotle's projects was correctly ascertained by late ancient thinkers and seized upon with momentous consequences.

The most important late ancient philosopher of purely peripatetic persuasion was Alexander of Aphrodisias. Around 200 CE Alexander was appointed to Athens's imperial chair in Aristotelian philosophy: He expounded his master's teaching in a series of magisterial commentaries ad litteram. Alexander's commentaries remain unsurpassed for erudition and insight, taking on all comers in a spirited defence of the Aristotelian worldview. Alexander's sharp, down-to-earth observationsfor instance his unflinching admission that Aristotelian psychology makes no provisions for an immortal soulprovided a sobering reminder to later commentators who approached Aristotle's texts with loftier aspirations and syncretistic leanings. Though Alexander's Aristotle is undeniably a system-builderit is with Alexander that the Aristotelian program of "saving the appearances" becomes a desire to explain each Aristotelian sentence by reference to anotherhe occasionally advances different interpretations without feeling the need to come down on one side. Alexander also wrote new treatises where he felt a lacuna existed in the extant corpus; and from his circle derives the peripatetic genre of disputed questions.

A different approach to Aristotle's texts is offered by Themistius, a late-fourth-century senator and proconsul of Constantinople. Themistius wrote paraphrases rather than commentaries; aporias and scholarly disputes take a back seat to a clear exposition of the main points. Yet Themistius positions himself as a peripatetic: his works and Alexander's provided a touchstone for later scholars who sought a genuine understanding of Aristotle's meaning.

The Late Ancient Synthesis

Plotinus (d. 270) is credited with an impressive dismantling of Aristotle's criticisms of Plato, and with the subsequent triumph of (neo-)Platonism in antiquity. But in the process, Plotinus also consolidated the assimilation of central Aristotelian concepts into a Platonic framework: for example, the potentiality-actuality distinction and the notion of pure contemplation as self-reflective. Plotinus's pupil Porphyry (d. 309) went further, attempting to show how nothing in Aristotle's virulently anti-Platonic categorical scheme in fact speaks against the primacy of separate Forms. The Categories, in its own words, purports to detail how things are spoken of: its universals are those abstracted from sense-particulars. The suggestion, embedded in Porphyry's enormously influential introduction (Eisagôgê ) to Aristotle's Organon, is that Aristotelian science deals with substances prior to us, not with those prior by nature. This move made Aristotelian logic, and by extension natural philosophy, innocuous to ancient Platonists. It also set up the protracted Latin debate concerning the universals.

The Platonist appropriation of Aristotle was made complete in the fifth-century revival of the Athenian and Alexandrian schools. Aristotle was considered a largely reliable guide to the workings of the sensible cosmos: His works became positioned between those Platonic dialogues that were considered propaedeutic in character and those that disclosed the higher realities that Aristotle either failed to mention or knew nothing about. Though committed to the supremacy of the "divine" Plato over the "daemonic" Aristotle, late ancient Platonists were thus Aristotelians, too, in their fashion. The voluminous commentaries on Aristotle's logic and natural philosophy testify to the care and attention devoted to subtle points of argument and doctrine. In negotiating tensions between Aristotle's treatises and Plato's dialogues, notably the Timaeus (a prime target of Aristotle's but a treatise that the Platonists ranked high), both reconciliation and taking Plato's side could produce philosophically interesting work, as the examples of Simplicius (fl. in the 530s) and Proclus (d. 485) show. So could an unorthodox mindset coupled with a healthy self-image and a nascent Christian agenda, as witnessed by the groundbreaking work of John Philoponus (d. 574).

Opinion varied about how far harmony extended in the direction of Plato's supernal principles. Iamblichus (d. 325) came under fire for suggesting that Aristotle would have subscribed to Plato's Forms, while Ammonius's (d. 517/526) equally hyperbolic claim that Aristotle's Prime Mover was intended as a divine creative force was broadly accepted. Ammonius's project of harmonizing Aristotle with Plato thus made Aristotle more acceptable to monotheists both in the Arabic-speaking East and, eventually, the Latin Christian West.

As for the Eastern Roman Empire, after the decline of Alexandria, the next high point for Aristotelian studies came with the Aristotelian circle assembled by Princess Anna Comnena in early-twelfth-century Constantinople. This activity resulted in commentaries by Eustratius and Michael of Ephesus and helped secure the transmission of Aristotelian materials to the Latin world.

Aristoteles Arabus

Legend depicts Greek wisdom as passing from Alexandria to Baghdad: Although the chain of transmission is not as ironclad as Arabic-speaking Hellenophiles liked to pretend, the story contains a kernel of truth. The philosophy the Islamic world inherited, in particular, was Alexandrian and hence broadly Aristotelian. Aristotle's works were translated mostly through Syriac, by Christians. Many went through several recensions because the audience's growing scholarly acuity demanded progressively more exacting translations. By 950, all of Aristotle except for the Politics was available in Arabic (Plato's Republic replacing the latter), along with a host of commentaries. Creative reflection was underway among Muslims, Christians, and Jews alike, all of who wrote in Arabic.

A reliance on Alexandrian learning, which for the most part accepted the "lower" calling of explaining Aristotle, had the effect of making of Aristotle the preeminent sage of old. In the Arabic understanding, Aristotle had perfected, but also corrected, the views of other ancient thinkers, including his teacher Plato: The well-known adage of Aristotle considering "truth a truer friend" is traceable to al-Ghazālī (10581111), who can thus mockingly position himself as a peripatetic in spirit even when questioning the cogency of the Muslim falâsifah. But the Arabic Aristotle also manifested Platonic traits. This was due partly to the pseudonymous Theology of Aristotle and Epistle concerning the Pure Good (really Plotinus and Proclus in disguise), and mostly to a comfortable familiarity with the synthesis effected in late antiquity. The Peripateticism taught in the wake of al-Kindī (d. ca. 873) and al-Fārābī (d. 950) was both theist and emanationist.

The most powerful synthetic mind in Arabic philosophy, and the man responsible for tying the disparate threads of Aristotelianisms past into the service of a singular vision, was also the philosopher who eclipsed Aristotle in the East. Ibn Sīnā (the Latin Avicenna, 9801037) progressed from traditional commentary to comprehensive philosophical encyclopaedias "presented in the manner of the peripatetics" to free-form expositions of his own views. Too Platonizing to be considered purely peripatetic, altogether too Aristotelian to be mistaken for a Platonist, lifting materials from the Muslim dialectical theologians as needed, Ibn Sīnā's philosophy constitutes an original achievement, one whose success is measured by the fact that in the East his works supplanted Aristotle's as the basis for study and philosophical reflection. It is thanks to Ibn Sīnā that mainstream Islamic philosophy to this day retains a broadly peripatetic vocabulary and orientation. Yet his substantial revisions to Aristotelian metaphysics, psychology, and logic, among other areas, were presented in such an attractive package that later philosophers rarely paused to consider whether Ibn Sīnā's philosophy faithfully reflected that of Aristotle. More important was that it conveyed truth. The subsequent period is consequently more rightfully called Avicennian than Aristotelian.

From this perspective, Ibn Rushd (Averroes, 11261198) appears a man out of place. Following upon al-Ghazālī's criticisms of Ibn Sīnā, Ibn Rushd advocated a return to an undiluted Aristotle, undertaking a massive commentary project worthy of Alexander or Themistius, both of whom he used extensively. This Cordovan commentator regarded Aristotle as a model of human perfection (In De anima III, comm. 14). For him, this faith in Aristotle's exemplary rationality and consistency held the key to settling any outstanding scholarly dispute. Sidelined in Islamic philosophy, Ibn Rushd became fabulously influential among Jews and Christians, who viewed him as the Commentator (in antiquity, Alexander was similarly honoured).

Aristoteles Latinus

The story of the Latin Aristotle begins with Boethius's (d. 525) stated intention of translating all of Aristotle's works. The project only got so far as the logical treatises; until the mid-twelfth century, of these only the Categories and On Interpretation circulated, making of Aristotle primarily a logician, and a curious one at that. A slow dissemination of the "new logic" (the full Organon ) occurred in the twelfth century: acquaintance with Arabic philosophyabove all, Avicenna's De anima and Metaphysics helped raise interest in Aristotle's natural philosophy and metaphysics, which were then translated in short order, often concurrently from the Greek and the Arabic in a race to get to the heart of the matter.

The theologically suspect aspects of Aristotelian teaching, which the Arabic tradition helpfully pointed out, promptly resulted in the 1210 and 1215 bans in Paris, then the most prestigious of the rising universities. This did little to stem the tide. By mid-century, studying the entire range of Aristotle's worksoften coupled with Averroes's commentarieswas commonplace in the arts faculties. Aristotle himself was so ubiquitous that writers could refer to him simply as "the Philosopher."

Thereafter, Aristotle dominated philosophical teaching in the Christian West for three centuries. Hundreds upon hundreds of commentaries were produced at the height of scholasticism; the list of the major commentators was a roll call of the best and brightest of the schoolmen: Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, John Duns Scotus, William Ockham, Jean Buridan, and so onfor every major figure, there was a score more. As in ancient scholasticism, considerable philosophical ingenuity and innovation went on under a nominal exposition of the text (the quaestiones providing an even more congenial setting).

Especially going into the nominalist phase, the question arises: To what extent are some of these thinkers to be considered Aristotelian at all? Clearly, greater liberties were being taken; but this freedom would be expected following a period of assimilation. Moreover, adherence to a tradition need not stifle creative thought. The fallout from the famous condemnations of 12701277 spotlights the complex dynamic. For the most part, the condemnations were directed against the allegedly heterodox teachings of the so-called "Latin Averroists." But just because their radicalism was so resolutely Aristotelianupholding the world's eternity and the unity of the intellect, and so onthe condemnations could be interpreted as an invitation to read Aristotle more creatively. And could the resultant bold conceptual and scientific inquiry not be considered more authentically Aristotelian than a single-minded adherence to the master's letter? "Radical" Aristotelians and radical "Aristotelians" were similarly drawn to the spirit of Aristotle's texts, in equal parts confident and intellectually curious. They merely took their admiration of the master in different directions.

The Modern Age

The Renaissance humanists' newfound appreciation for the breadth of ancient culture put an end to Aristotle's supremacy. With the intellectual scene splintering into multiple incommensurable paradigms, Aristotle was effectively demoted to the headmastership of one school once more after long representing Greek wisdom in its entirety. As the quality of texts and translations came under scrutiny, the very state of Aristotle's preserved writings was found wanting. What to make of this was less evident. The Ciceronian Mario Nizilio could claim that wrinkles in expression signaled confusion in thought, whereas others blamed Andronicus's editorializing. Yet others took refuge in the ancient tradition, so that by the sixteenth century any configuration of Alexandrine, Themistian, Averroist, and even neo-Platonist tenets could be combined in an attempted rehabilitation of Aristotle, as exemplified by the works of philosophers such as Nicoletto Vernia (14421499) Agostino Nifo (d. 1538), and Pietro Pomponazzi (14621525). The textual drive had other unforeseen consequences. Elegant new translations of works such as the zoological and elemental treatises excited new scholarship, and Aristotle's Poetics at last found an appreciative audience among the literati.

With the Reformation, new complications emerged. Martin Luther's attitude towards Aristotle was ambivalent, but Melanchton enthusiastically endorsed the teaching of solid scholarly materials (excepting the Metaphysics ). The Counter-Reformation likewise gravitated towards neoscholasticism. The late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries thus saw a resurgence in the fortunes of Aristotle's works, which for a time were studied with equal intensity in the Protestant north and the Catholic south. Of particular note are the efforts of Francisco Suarez (15481617) and the Coimbra commentators.

By comparison, the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries represent a true dry spell for Aristotelian philosophy. One may ask why; a tentative answer, if necessarily incomplete and hesitant, may yet tell us something about Aristotelianism as a historical force. Part of Aristotle's attraction had been the promise of a comprehensive, largely unified worldview, with pressure points doubling as the main locus for scientific advancement (discrepancies calling for new solutions). With the new sciences wresting fields of inquiry from the philosophers' hands, discipline by discipline, what appeared to be left of Aristotle was the barest husk of a systemin effect its extremities, logic and moral education. And of these, the nineteenth century threatened to supplant Aristotle's logic, long regarded as his lasting achievement. Antiquarian interest, it seems, could not of itself make Aristotelianism thrive. It could, however, help keep it alive, at least for a time.

The New Aristotle

The post-Enlightenment rise in Classical scholarship eventually brought about a renewed interest in ancient philosophy. But the philological and historical orientation of the new generation meant that Aristotle (along with Plato) returned with a difference. Instead of unity, the new scholarship sought signs of discrepancy, editorial interference, and intellectual development. Werner Jaeger's (18881961) studies mark a watershed, representing the culmination of a century's worth of textual work but also providing the launching point for countless philosophical studies sharing the same problem-oriented, if not aporetic, approach to Aristotle's works. An alternative to the genetic method would be to treat individual treatises as essentially closed units, examined closely but in splendid isolation. Twentieth-century analytic philosophy produced many such Aristotelian essays, while thinkers such as Brentano, Husserl, and Heidegger took more general inspiration from the Stagirite's writings.

Within the Catholic Church's sphere of influence, the nineteenth century witnessed the ascendancy of neoscholasticism, culminating in Leo III's 1879 encyclical officially endorsing Aquinas. Pius X further singled out twenty-four Thomist tenets to be taught in all Catholic institutions. This development injected a more systematic impulse into Aristotelian studies because Aquinas's Aristotle was the undisputed "master of those who know." Still, questions about Aristotle's perennial wisdomas opposed to his historically conditioned contributionspersisted. The Thomist revival undoubtedly perpetuated a medieval understanding of Aristotle. But it also represented an important moment in the recovery of the medieval Aristotelian tradition as a whole.

Late-twentieth-century philosophers discovered in Aristotle new things again. As virtue ethics flourished, some proponents declared themselves neo-Aristotelians (Alasdair Macintyre, Martha Nussbaum), while others were so labeled. Philosophers of mind and biology found intriguing formulations in Aristotle's studies on living nature; even Aristotle's notoriously problematic modal syllogistic has garnered newfound respect as a philosophically sophisticated formalization of an essentialist metaphysics. In each case many have determined that Aristotle is best approached through an analytic engagement with his commentatorsitself an ancient strategy.

This interplay of historical and systematic concerns prompts one final observation. Aristotle's works have been said to present a system in potentia. One possible history of Aristotelianism would accordingly unfold as a series of attempts by different thinkers in different ages to map out and explore the conceptual possibilities and limitations embedded in the texts received as Aristotle's. Such a story would span the history of Western thought, because no other philosopher has enjoyed such sustained attention (admittedly, Plato comes close). A welcome corollary is that the contemporary student has at her disposal a kaleidoscope of "Aristotelianisms" to aid in further understanding and exploration.

See also Alexander of Aphrodisias; al-Fārābī; Aristotle; Averroes; Avicenna; Brentano, Franz; Buridan, Jean; Duns Scotus, John; Heidegger, Martin; Husserl, Edmund; Luther, Martin; Metaphysics; Philoponus, John; Plato; Plotinus; Pomponazzi, Pietro; Simplicius; Suàrez, Francisco; Substance and Attribute; Themistius; Theophrastus; Thomas Acquinas, St.; Universals, A Historical Survey; Virtue Ethics; William of Ockham.


Barnes, Jonathan, and Miriam Griffin, eds. Philosophia Togata II. Plato and Aristotle at Rome. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997.

Blackwell, C., and S. Kusukawa, eds. Philosophy in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries: Conversations with Aristotle. Aldershot: Ashgate, 1999.

Commentaria in Aristotelem Graeca. 23 vols. and 2 supplementary vols. Berlin: G. Reimer: 18821907.

Des Chene, Dennis. Physiologia. Natural Philosophy in Late Aristotelian and Cartesian Thought. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1996.

Düring, Ingemar. Aristotle in the Ancient Biographical Tradition. Gothenburg: Institute of Classical Studies, 1957.

Gutas, Dimitri. Avicenna and the Aristotelian Tradition. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1988.

Kessler, Eckhard, Charles H. Lohr, and Walter Sparn, eds. Aristotelismus und Renaissance. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1988.

Kraye, Jill, W. F. Ryan, and Charles B. Schmitt, eds. Pseudo-Aristotle in the Middle Ages: The Theology and other Texts. London: The Warburg Institute, 1986.

Kretzmann, Norman, Anthony Kenny, and Jan Pinborg, eds. The Cambridge History of Later Medieval Philosophy. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1982.

Lohr, Charles. Latin Aristotle Commentaries. 2 vols. Florence: L. S. Olschki, 1988.

Moraux, Paul. Der Aristotelismus bei den Griechen. 3 vols. Berlin: Walter De Gruyter, 19732001.

Olivieri, Luigi, ed. Aristotelismo veneto e scienza moderna. 2 vols. Padua: Editrice Antenore, 1983.

Pade, Marianne, ed. Renaissance Readings of the Corpus Aristotelicum. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, 2001.

Peters, Francis E. Aristoteles Arabus. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1968.

Sandbach, F. H. Aristotle and the Stoics. Cambridge, U.K.: Proceedings of the Cambridge Philological Society, Supplement 10, 1985.

Schmitt, Charles B. Aristotle and the Renaissance. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983.

Schmitt, Charles B. The Aristotelian Tradition and Renaissance Universities. London: Variorum Reprints, 1984.

Sharples, Robert W. "The Peripatetic School." Routledge History of Philosophy. Vol. II: From Aristotle to Augustine, edited by David Furley. London and New York: Routledge, 1999.

Sharples, Robert W., ed. Whose Aristotle? Which Aristotelianism? Aldershot: Ashgate, 2001.

Sorabji, Richard, ed. Aristotle Transformed: The Ancient Commentators and their Influence. London: Duckworth, 1990.

Wardy, Robert. Aristotle in China: Language, Categories, and Translation. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Wisnovsky, Robert. Avicenna's Metaphysics in Context. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003.

Taneli Kukkonen (2005)


views updated May 08 2018


ARISTOTELIANISM. Aristotelianism in the early modern period was the philosophy taught in the schools, typically in the collegiate years preparatory to a bachelor's degree. Thus Aristotelianism and Scholasticism were synonymous at the time, and one cannot talk about Aristotelianism without referring to the important changes in pedagogy that were initiated then. Many colleges and universities reorganized and standardized their curriculum; new teaching orders, such as the Oratory in France (founded 1564; established in France 1613) and the Doctrinaires in France and Italy (founded 1592), were instituted; and the Society of Jesus, which became a very powerful force in education, was established (in 1534), with the aim of using education to counter the effects of the Reformation.

Education during the first half of the seventeenth century became fairly uniform. Students took four or five years of humanities (French, Latin, and Greek language and literature) followed by a year of rhetoric and then the collegiate curriculum, that is, two years of philosophy. The latter was an Aristotelian-based program of logic, ethics, physics, and metaphysics; it was thought necessary as preparation for the higher faculties of medicine, law, and theology. Jesuits covered the same collegiate curriculum in three years with the addition of a course in mathematics. Oratorians followed that pattern and taught a broadly Aristotelian set of philosophy courses. Perhaps because of the propensity of their founder, Pierre de Bérulle, for Platonic thought, the Aristotelianism of the Oratory differed slightly from that of the Jesuits and Doctrinaires. The Jesuits officially leaned toward Thomism, the version of Aristotelian philosophy propounded by St. Thomas Aquinas (1224 or 12251274) and his followers, though in practice they mixed their Thomism with other kinds of Scholastic thought, while the Doctrinaires seem to have taught Thomism exclusively.

In the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus, Ignatius of Loyola (14911556), founder of the Society, recommended that Jesuits follow the doctrines of Saint Thomas in theology and those of Aristotle in logic, natural philosophy, ethics, and metaphysics. After Loyola, the official position of the Society was further specified; Jesuits were supposed to teach "Aristotle and the true philosophy," interpreted as Thomism. With the succession of Claudio Aquaviva as the fifth general of the Society (15811615), these issues took on a new vigor. The Society standardized its curriculum during this time. The Jesuits undertook extraordinary pedagogical discussions, ultimately leading to their ratio studiorum (uniform course of studies). The aim of this standardization was to enable Jesuits to propound a single philosophy that would maintain the Catholic faith; as Aquaviva said: "The primary goal in teaching should be to strengthen the faith and to develop piety. Therefore, no one shall teach anything not in conformity with the Church and received traditions, or that can diminish the vigor of the faith or the ardor of a solid piety."

Together with these pedagogical innovations there was an explosion of Scholastic manuals. Among the widely read textbook authors at the time were the Coimbrans and Francisco Toletus. The Coimbrans (the Conimbricenses) were professors at the Jesuit College at Coimbra (Portugal), who issued a series of encyclopedic commentaries on Aristotle's works. Chief among them was Pedro da Fonseca, who wrote his own commentary on Aristotle's Metaphysics. Toletus was a professor at the Jesuit Collegio Romano who also published commentaries on Aristotle's works. The Coimbrans wrote volumes by committee, presenting the works of Aristotle that were taught in the curriculum; they followed the model of the great medieval commentaries, each volume treating a specific text (Physics, On the Soul, On the Heavens, etc.), but with an elaborate (post-Renaissance) scholarly apparatus, giving both Aristotle's Greek text and its Latin translation, as well as Latin paraphrases and quaestiones, the resolution of questions relevant to the text under discussion. Other textbook writers generally followed this pattern, although textbooks like those of Toletus omitted the Greek versions of Aristotle. Ultimately, the Scholastic textbook even omitted Aristotle's text itself. Eustachius a Sancto Paulo, in his Summa Philosophiae Quadripartita (Sum of philosophy in four parts, 1609), simply arranged the quaestiones in the order in which the curriculum would have presented them, doing so for all the Aristotelian sciences within the frame of the whole philosophy curriculum in a single volume. As their names generally indicated, these works were usually divided into four parts: ethics and logic, physics and metaphysics. However, the Philosophy (1644) by the Protestant Pierre du Moulin (whose logic text was also translated into English), was a three-part textbook, metaphysics having been omitted, while the Philosophy (1642) of Léonard Marandé added a fifth part: theology.

While the form of Scholastic teaching was fairly stable, its content was not. Aristotle's philosophy dominated the schools in name, but the early modern era also witnessed a growing dissatisfaction with Aristotelian concepts. In fact, the differences among Aristotelians became so widespread that it is difficult to categorize thinkers as Aristotelians based on their doctrines alone. Scholars often regarded themselves as Aristotelians even when they departed from properly Aristotelian thought. One need only consider the case of Théophraste Bouju, whose 1614 textbook was subtitled: "All of it by demonstration and Aristotle's authority, with explanations of his doctrine by Aristotle himself." Despite the subtitle, Bouju denied in his textbook that there is a sphere of fire and an absolute division between the sublunary and superlunary world. These, most would agree, were essential Aristotelian doctrines; dispensing with them would require one to rework substantially the Aristotelian theory of the four elements, of natural and violent motion, and of the heterogeneity of the sublunary and superlunary world. Many other theses that became canonical with later Aristotelians, such as the doctrine of substantial forms, also found early modern Scholastic critics. There were even textbook writers who proclaimed the compatibility of Aristotelian philosophy and atomism. Certainly, late Scholasticism was not "monolithic," although such pejorative labels have been applied to it from the beginning.

Of course, not everyone thought that the differences among Aristotelians were significant. For example, René Descartes (15961650) asserted: "As for scholastic philosophy, I do not hold it as difficult to refute on account of the diversity of the scholastics' opinions, for one can easily upset all the foundations about which they are in agreement among themselves; and that accomplished, all their particular disputes would appear inept." For the Schoolmen, departures from properly Aristotelian doctrines were generally presented as elaborations of Aristotle's intentions; outside the Schools they were often cited as objections to them. The situation naturally lent itself to rhetorical excesses on both sides. By the middle of the seventeenth century, accusations of in-fighting and philosophical inconsistency among the Schoolmen were near routine. Coinciding with this rising criticism, rival systems, such as those of Descartes, Pierre Gassendi (15921655), and Thomas Hobbes (15881679), were consciously developed as alternatives to traditional interpretations of Aristotelian physics and metaphysics. As a result, there were also thinkers who set out to mitigate the differences between the rival systems and others who self-consciously resolved to be eclectic, that is, to pick out what is best from the new and old philosophies. Naturally, the new philosophies also remained indebted, in varying degrees, to the tradition from which they attempted to break.

See also Descartes, René ; Education ; Gassendi, Pierre ; Hobbes, Thomas ; Jesuits ; Philosophy ; Scholasticism.


Ariew, Roger. Descartes and the Last Scholastics. Ithaca, N.Y., 1999.

Brockliss, L. W. B. French Higher Education in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries: A Cultural History. Oxford and New York, 1987.

Dear, Peter. Mersenne and the Learning of the Schools. Ithaca, N.Y., 1988.

Des Chene, Dennis. Physiologia: Natural Philosophy in Late Aristotelian and Cartesian Thought. Ithaca, N.Y., 1996.

Feingold, Mordechai, ed. Jesuit Science and the Republic of Letters. Cambridge, Mass., 2003.

Roger Ariew


views updated Jun 08 2018


Aristotelianism is the philosophy inspired by the Greek philosopher Aristotle, who was born in Stagira, a town of the Chalcidice region of northern Greece, in 384 b.c. A student of Plato, he founded the Lyceum, a school modeled after Platos' Academy in Athens. At the Lyceum, Aristotle instructed students in science, rhetoric, and natural philosophy. His most famous pupil was Alexander of Macedon, who established Greek lyceums in the many cities of Asia, the Middle East, and Africa that he conquered or founded. Medieval scholars began studying Aristotle's system of thought in the twelfth century, when his works were translated into Latin. Modern translations and the newfound interest in classical authors made the Aristotelian system a major branch of scholarship during the Renaissance.

Most of the writings of Aristotle that survived into the Middle Ages, and to modern times, were composed of teaching notes. They were written on scrolls that survived centuries of war, political chaos, and neglect to be preserved in European monasteries, where they were then transcribed and collected into editions, including Nicomachean Ethics, Physics, Politics, and Poetics. Aristotle's teachings were also preserved and studied by Islamic scholars, including Ibn Sina (Avicenna) and Averroes, whose commentaries spurred a revival of Aristotelian studies in Europe.

Aristotle attempted to encompass the entire natural world and all phenomena in his philosophy known as Aristotelianism, which included the studies of logic, rhetoric, poetics, natural science, politics, mathematics, and ethics. He classified all knowledge into a threefold system of science (episteme ), conduct (praxis ), and created works (poesis ). Logic was the most important discipline as it provided a means of understanding science and the analytical processes through inductive reasoning.

Renaissance scholars throughout Europe presented Aristotle's theories as a foundation for studying the natural world and human conduct through the theoretical, practical, and productive sciences. Theoretical science (theoria ) combined natural philosophy, or things that can be seen and are made up of matter, with the study of theology, mathematics, astronomy, and thought processes. Practical sciences analyzed ethics, politics, and human conduct. The practical sciences attempted to advance the cause of moral virtues, such as courage and moderation, by instilling such virtues in the young through education and then carrying them out through a well-reasoned system of laws and justice. According to Aristotle's teachings, the proper conduct and exercise of virtues will bring true happiness to society as well as the individual. The productive sciences included poetics, rhetoric, architecture, and medicine.

Aristotelianism further spread after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, when Greek exiles began arriving in western Europe. For the first time, many of Aristotle's works were being studied in the original ancient Greek language that was slowly spreading with the revival of classical texts. In addition, translations were made into common languages such as Italian and French. New branches of Aristotelian studies were also forming, along with various schools of thought on how to organize Aristotle's texts and present his system of knowledge. Many of Europe's leading university lecturers devoted themselves exclusively to the study of Aristotle, with some strictly following the texts, and others applying the Aristotelian system to the ever-changing natural and social worlds they experienced. For example, Leonardo Bruni, an important translator of Aristotle's works, replaced the word-for-word translations of the medieval era with a freer translation more fit for study in Latin. Galileo Galilei and Philipp Melanchthon also incorporated Aristotelianism into their works. While some writers were content to simply annotate Aristotle's works, others probed deeper, posing questions and problems in an attempt to extract deeper universal meaning to their new systems of natural philosophy.

As the organizer of philosophical and scientific thought, Aristotle was the most important figure of the classical world for all Renaissance scholars, and his works provided the basic framework of all university studies. Aristotle's works were read in lecture halls in the three stages of lectio (lecture), repetio (repetition), and disputatio (disputation, or argument). The invention of printing in the mid-fifteenth century allowed Aristotle's works to be widely distributed to a literate public. Lavish print editions, with commentaries, indexes, and summaries along with questions for argument and examination, were the precursors to the modern school textbook.

See Also: Bruni, Leonardo; classical literature