The most important among Plato's disciples is Aristotle of Stagira (384-322 BCE), who shares with his master the title of the greatest philosopher of antiquity.
But whereas Plato had sought to elucidate and explain things from the supra-sensual standpoint of the forms, his pupil preferred to start from the facts given us by experience.
Philosophy to him meant science, and its aim was the recognition of the purpose in all things.
Hence he establishes the ultimate grounds of things inductively - that is to say, by a posteriori conclusions from a number of facts to a universal.
In the series of works collected under the name of Organon, Aristotle sets forth the laws by which the human understanding effects conclusions from the particular to the knowledge of the universal.
Like Plato, he recognizes the true being of things in their concepts, but denies any separate existence of the concept apart from the particular objects of sense. They are inseparable as matter and form.
In matter and form, Aristotle sees the fundamental principles of being. Matter is the basis of all that exists; it comprises the potentiality of everything, but of itself is not actually anything.
A determinate thing only comes into being when the potentiality in matter is converted into actuality.
This is effected by form, inherent in the unified object and the completion of the potentiality latent in the matter.
Although it has no existence apart form the particulars, yet, in rank and estimation, form stands first; it is of its own nature the most knowable, the only true object of knowledge.
For matter without any form cannot exist, but the essential definitions of a common form, in which are included the particular objects may be separated from matter.
Form and matter are relative terms, and the lower form constitutes the matter of a higher (e.g. body, soul, reason). This series culminates in pure, immaterial form, the Deity, the origin of all motion, and therefore of the generation of actual form out of potential matter.
All motion takes place in space and time; for space is the potentiality, time the measure of the motion.
Living beings are those which have in them a moving principle, or soul. In plants the function of soul is nutrition (including reproduction); in animals, nutrition and sensation; in humans, nutrition, sensation, and intellectual activity.
The perfect form of the human soul is reason separated from all connection with the body, hence fulfilling its activity without the help of any corporeal organ, and so imperishable.
By reason the apprehensions, which are formed in the soul by external sense-impressions, and may be true or false, are converted into knowledge. For reason alone can attain to truth either in cognition or action.
Impulse towards the good is a part of human nature, and on this is founded virtue; for Aristotle does not, with Plato, regard virtue as knowledge pure and simple, but as founded on nature, habit, and reason.
Of the particular virtues (of which there are as many as there are contingencies in life), each is the apprehension, by means of reason, of the proper mean between two extremes which are not virtues - e.g. courage is the mean between cowardice and foolhardiness.
The end of human activity, or the highest good, is happiness, or perfect and reasonable activity in a perfect life. To this, however, external goods are more of less necessary conditions.
The followers of Aristotle, known as Peripatetics (Theophrastus of Lesbos, Eudemus of Rhodes, Strato of Lampsacus, etc.), to a great extent abandoned metaphysical speculation, some in favor of natural science, others of a more popular treatment of ethics, introducing many changes into the Aristotelian doctrine in a naturalistic direction.
A return to the views of the founder first appears among the later Peripatetics, who did good service as expositors of Aristotle's works, such as Avicenna and Averroes.
The Peripatetic School tended to make philosophy the exclusive property of the learned class, thereby depriving it of its power to benefit a wider circle.
This soon produced a negative reaction, and philosophers returned to the practical standpoint of Socratic ethics. The speculations of the learned were only admitted in philosophy where serviceable for ethics.
The chief consideration was how to popularize doctrines, and to provide the individual, in a time of general confusion and dissolution, with a fixed moral basis for practical life.
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