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Aristotle ( Greek Ἀριστοτέλης Aristotélēs , emphasis Latin and German: Aristóteles; * 384 BC in Stageira ; † 322 BC in Chalkis on Evia ) was a Greek polymath . He is one of the most famous and influential philosophers and naturalists in history. His teacher was Plato , but Aristotle either founded or significantly influenced numerous disciplines, including philosophy of science , natural philosophy , logic , biology , physics , ethics , state theory and poetry . Aristotelianism developed from his ideas .

Aristotle bust, Roman copy after a sculpture by the sculptor Lysippus . Rome, Palazzo Altemps 8575
Portrait of Aristotle, Roman copy after the original by Lysippus. Paris, Louvre Ma 80bis



Aristotle, who came from a family of doctors, came to Athens when he was seventeen . In 367 BC He entered Plato's academy . There he participated in research and teaching. After Plato's death he left Athens in 347. In 343/342 he became the teacher of Alexander the Great , heir to the throne in the Kingdom of Macedonia . In 335/334 he returned to Athens. He no longer belonged to the academy, but taught and researched independently with his students at the Lykeion . 323/322 he had to leave Athens again because of political tension and went to Chalkis, where he died soon afterwards.


Aristotle's writings in dialogue form , aimed at the general public, are lost. Most of the textbooks that have survived were only intended for internal use in the classroom and were continuously edited. Subject areas are:

Logic, philosophy of science, rhetoric: In the logical writings, Aristotle works out a theory of argument (dialectic) based on discussion practices in the academy and establishes formal logic with the syllogistics . On the basis of his syllogistics, he develops a theory of science and, among other things, makes significant contributions to definition theory and meaning theory . He describes rhetoric as the art of proving statements to be plausible, thus bringing them close to logic.

Doctrine of Nature: Aristotle's philosophy of nature deals with the fundamentals of every view of nature: the types and principles of change. The then topical question of how arising and disappearing is possible, he addresses with the help of his well-known distinction between form and matter : The same matter can take on different forms. In his scientific works he also examines the parts and behavior of animals as well as humans and their functions. In his theory of the soul - in which "to be animated" means "to be alive" - ​​he argues that the soul, which makes up the various vital functions of living beings, belongs to the body as its form. But he also conducts empirical research and makes significant contributions to zoological biology.

Metaphysics: In his Metaphysics Aristotle argues (against Plato's assumption of abstract entities) first of all that the concrete individual things (like Socrates) the substances, i.e. H. are the fundamentals of all reality. He supplements this with his later doctrine, according to which the substance of concrete individual things is their form.

Ethics and political theory: The goal of human life, according to Aristotle in his ethics , is the good life, happiness. For a happy life, one has to develop intellectual virtues and (through education and habituation) character virtues, including dealing with desires and emotions accordingly . His political philosophy is linked to ethics. Accordingly, the state as a form of community is a prerequisite for human happiness. Aristotle asks about the conditions of happiness and for this purpose compares different constitutions. The theory of the forms of government that he developed enjoyed undisputed authority for many centuries.

Theory of poetry: In his theory of poetry, Aristotle deals in particular with tragedy , whose function, in his view, is to arouse fear and compassion in order to purify the viewer from these emotions (catharsis).


The scientific research program of Aristotle was continued after his death by his colleague Theophrastus , who also founded the Aristotelian school, the Peripatos , in the legal sense. The Aristotle commentary did not begin until the 1st century BC. A and was operated in particular by Platonists. Through the mediation of Porphyrios and Boethius , Aristotelian logic became groundbreaking for the Latin-speaking Middle Ages. Since 12./13. In the 19th century, all of Aristotle's basic works were available in Latin translation. They were decisive for scholastic science up until the early modern period . The examination of the Aristotelian theory of nature shaped the natural science of the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance. In the Arabic-speaking world, Aristotle was the most intensely received ancient author in the Middle Ages. His work has shaped intellectual history in many ways; important distinctions and terms such as “substance”, “accident”, “matter”, “form”, “energy”, “potency”, “category”, “theory” and “practice” go back to Aristotle.


Aristotle was born in 384 BC. In Stageira , then an independent Ionian town on the east coast of the Chalkidike . Therefore he is sometimes called "the stagirit". His father Nicomachus was the personal physician of King Amyntas III. from Macedonia , his mother Phaestis came from a family of doctors from Chalkis on Euboia. Nicomachus died before Aristotle came of age. Proxenus from Atarneus was appointed guardian.

First stay in Athens

367 BC Aristotle came to Athens at the age of seventeen and entered Plato's academy . There he initially dealt with the mathematical and dialectical topics that formed the beginning of the studies in the academy. He began to write works early on, including dialogues modeled on those of Plato. He also dealt with contemporary rhetoric , in particular with the lessons of the speaker Isocrates . Against the pedagogical concept of Isocrates aimed at direct benefit, he defended the Platonic educational ideal of the philosophical training of thought. He took up a teaching position at the academy. In this context, the oldest of his traditional textbooks emerged as lecture manuscripts, including the logical writings, which were later summarized under the name Organon ("tool"). A few passages indicate that the lecture hall was decorated with paintings depicting scenes from the life of Plato's teacher Socrates .

Travel years

After Plato's death, Aristotle left in 347 BC. BC Athens. Perhaps he did not agree that Plato's nephew Speusippus should take over the management of the academy; besides, he had got into political trouble. In 348 BC King Philip II of Macedonia had conquered Chalkidike, destroyed Olynthos and also took Aristotle's hometown Stageira. This campaign was recognized by the anti-Macedonian party in Athens as a serious threat to the independence of Athens. Because of the traditional ties between the Aristotle family and the Macedonian court, the anti-Macedonian mood was also directed against him. Since he was not an Athenian citizen, but only a meticulist of dubious loyalty, his position in the city was relatively weak.

He accepted an invitation from Hermias , who ruled the cities of Assos and Atarneus on the coast of Asia Minor opposite the island of Lesbos . To secure his sphere of influence against the Persians, Hermias was allied with Macedonia. Other philosophers also found refuge in Assos. The very controversial Hermias is described by his friendly tradition as a wise and heroic philosopher, but by the opposing tradition as a tyrant. Aristotle, who was friends with Hermias, initially stayed in Assos; 345/344 BC He moved to Mytilene on Lesbos. There he worked with his student Theophrastus from Lesbos, who shared his interest in biology. Later both went to Stageira.

343/342 BC At the invitation of Philip II, Aristotle went to Mieza to teach his then thirteen-year-old son Alexander (later called "the great"). The instruction ended no later than 340/339 BC. When Alexander took over the reign for his absent father. Aristotle had a copy of the Iliad made for Alexander , which the king, as an admirer of Achilles, later carried with him on his campaigns of conquest. The relationship between teacher and student has not been passed down in detail; it has given rise to legends and all kinds of speculations. What is certain is that their political convictions were fundamentally different; an influence of Aristotle on Alexander is in any case not recognizable. Aristotle is said to have achieved the reconstruction of his destroyed hometown Stageira at the Macedonian court; however, the credibility of this message is doubtful.

The execution of Hermias by the Persians in 341/340 touched Aristotle deeply, as a poem dedicated to the memory of his friend shows.

When after the death of Speusippos in 339/338 BC When the post of Scholarchen (headmaster) became vacant in the academy , Aristotle could not take part in the election of the successor only because of his absence; but he was still considered an academician. Later he went to Delphi with his great-nephew, the historian Kallisthenes , to draw up a list of winners for the Pythian Games on behalf of the local Amphictyons .

Second stay in Athens

With the destruction of the rebellious city of Thebes in 335 BC The open resistance against the Macedonians in Greece collapsed, and Athens also came to terms with the balance of power. Therefore Aristotle could 335/334 BC Returned to Athens and began to research and teach there again, but was no longer active at the academy, but in a public high school, the Lykeion . Here he created his own school, which Theophrastus took over after his death. New excavations may have made it possible to identify the building complex. In the legal sense, Theophrastus founded the school and acquired the property - the later common names Peripatos and Peripatetic specifically for this school have not yet been attested for the time of Theophrastus. The abundance of material that Aristotle collected (about the 158 constitutions of the Greek city-states) suggests that he had numerous collaborators who also researched outside of Athens. He was wealthy and owned a large library. His relationship with the Macedonian governor Antipater was friendly.

Withdrawal from Athens, death and descendants

After the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC At first anti-Macedonian forces prevailed in Athens and other Greek cities. Delphi revoked a decree of honor bestowed on Aristotle. In Athens there was hostility that made it impossible for him to continue working quietly. Therefore he left 323/322 BC. BC Athens. He allegedly said on the occasion that he did not want the Athenians to attack philosophy a second time (after they had already sentenced Socrates to death). He retired to his mother's house in Chalkis on Euboia . There he died in October 322 BC. Chr.

Aristotle was married to Pythias , a relative of his friend Hermias. He had a daughter of her, who was also called Pythias. After the death of his wife, Herpyllis , who was of low origin, became his partner; she may have been the mother of his son Nicomachus. In his will, the execution of which he entrusted to Antipater, Aristotle regulated, among other things, the future marriage of his daughter, who was still underage, and made provisions for the material security of Herpyllis.


Note: Evidence from works by Aristotle is given as follows: title (abbreviations are resolved in the first place in the chapter via link) and, if applicable, book and chapter information as well as the Bekker number . The Bekker number indicates an exact place in the corpus . It is noted in good modern editions.

Due to breaks and inconsistencies in Aristotle's work, research has deviated from the previously widespread notion that the traditional work forms a closed, well-composed system. These breaks are probably due to developments, changes in perspective and different accentuations in different contexts. Since a certain chronological order of his writings cannot be determined, statements about Aristotle's actual development remain conjectures. Although his work does not in fact constitute a finished system, his philosophy has properties of a potential system.

Tradition and character of the scriptures

Various ancient registers attribute almost 200 titles to Aristotle. If the statement by Diogenes Laertios is correct, Aristotle left a life's work of over 445,270 lines (although this number probably does not take into account two of the most extensive works - Metaphysics and Nicomachean Ethics ). Only about a quarter of it has survived.

In research, two groups are distinguished: exoteric writings (which have been published for a wider audience) and esoteric (which were used for internal school use). All exoteric writings are not available or only in fragments, most of the esoteric texts have been handed down. The writing The Constitution of Athens was considered lost and was only found in papyrus form at the end of the 19th century .

Exoteric and esoteric writings

The exoteric writings mainly consisted of dialogues in the tradition of Plato, e.g. B. the Protreptikos - a promotional pamphlet for philosophy -, studies such as Über die Ideen, but also propaedeutic collections. Cicero praises her "golden flow of speech". The esoteric writings, also known as pragmaties , have often been referred to as lecture manuscripts; this is not certain and for some scriptures or sections also improbable. It is widely believed that they grew out of teaching. Large parts of the pragmatics show a peculiar style full of omissions, hints, leaps of thought and duplicates. In addition, however, there are also stylistically refined passages which (besides the duplicates) make it clear that Aristotle repeatedly worked on his texts and suggest the possibility that he was thinking of publishing at least some of the pragmaties. Aristotle assumes that his addressees have a great deal of previous knowledge of foreign texts and theories. References to the exoteric scriptures show that knowledge of them is also assumed.

The manuscripts of Aristotle

After the death of Aristotle, his manuscripts initially remained in the possession of his students. When his pupil and successor Theophrastus died, his pupil Neleus is said to have received the library of Aristotle and with it - out of anger at not having been elected successor - left Athens with some supporters towards skepticism near Troy in Asia Minor. The ancient reports mention an adventurous and dubious story, according to which the heirs of Neleus buried the manuscripts in the cellar to protect them from unauthorized access, but where they were then lost. It is largely certain that in the first century BC Chr. Apellicon of Teos has acquired the damaged manuscripts and brought to Athens and that after the conquest of Athens by Sulla v in 86th Came to Rome. His son commissioned Tyrannion in the middle of the century to sift through the manuscripts and to add further material.

Other ways of transmission

Even if his manuscripts along with the library of Aristotle were lost for centuries, it is undisputed that his teaching was at least partially known in Hellenism, above all through the exoteric writings and, indirectly, probably also through Theophrastus' work. In addition, some pragmatics must have been known, of which there may have been copies in the library of Peripatos.

Andronikos of Rhodes. The first edition

On the basis of the work of Tyranny, his pupil Andronikos of Rhodes got hold of in the second half of the first century BC. The first edition of the Aristotelian Pragmatia, which was probably only partly based on the manuscripts of Aristotle. The writings in this edition form the Corpus Aristotelicum . Presumably some compilations of previously disordered books as well as some titles go back to this edition. Andronikos may have made changes to the text - such as cross-references. In the case of the numerous duplicates, he may have arranged different texts on the same topic one after the other. The current arrangement of the fonts largely corresponds to this edition. Andronikos did not take into account the exoteric writings still available at his time. They were subsequently lost.

Manuscripts and printed editions

Today's editions are based on copies that go back to the Andronikos edition. With over 1000 manuscripts, Aristotle is the most widely distributed among the non-Christian Greek-speaking authors. The oldest manuscripts date from the 9th century. Because of its size, the Corpus Aristotelicum is never completely contained in a single codex . After the invention of the printing press, the first printed edition by Aldus Manutius appeared in 1495–1498 . The complete edition of the Berlin Academy obtained by Immanuel Bekker in 1831 is the basis of modern Aristotle research. It is based on collations of the best manuscripts available at the time. According to her page, column and line counting ( Bekker counting ), Aristotle is still quoted everywhere today. For a few works it still provides the authoritative text; however, most of them are now available in new individual editions.

Classification of the sciences and fundamentals

Classification of science by Aristotle
in the 4th century BC Chr. (After Ottfried Höffe)
Rhetoric (also
under poietic)
Rhetoric (also
under practical)
Nature research
pure arithmetic
u. geometry
astronomy ,
harmony , etc.
Thought principles
( logic )
1.  zoology ,
2.  botany

Aristotle's work covers much of the knowledge available at the time. He divides it into three areas:

  • theoretical science
  • practical science
  • poietic science

Theoretical knowledge is sought for its own sake. Practical and poietic knowledge has another purpose, the (good) action or a (beautiful or useful) work. Theoretical knowledge is further subdivided according to the nature of the objects: (i) The First Philosophy ("metaphysics") treats (with substance theory, principle theory and theology) the independent and unchangeable, (ii) the natural science independent and changeable and (iii ) Mathematics deals with the dependent and unchangeable ( Met. VI 1). The writings that do not appear in this classification seem to have a special position, which were only compiled in the so-called Organon after the death of Aristotle .

The most important scriptures can be roughly divided as follows:

Important writings
'Organon' Theoretical Science Practical science Poietic Science
Categories (Cat.) Metaphysics (met.) Nicomachean Ethics (EN) Rhetoric ( rhetoric )
De interpretatione (Int.) Physics (phys.) Eudemian Ethics (EE) Poetics (poet.)
Analytica priora (An. Pr.) De anima (An.) Politics (pol.)
Analytica posteriora (An. Post.) Historia animalium (HA)
Topic (Top.) De generatione et corruptione (Gen. corr.)
Sophistic refutations (Soph. El.) De generatione animalium (GA)
De partibus animalium (PA)

For Aristotle, this division of the sciences is accompanied by the insight that every science has its own principles due to its peculiar objects. So in practical science - the realm of action - there cannot be the same precision as in the realm of theoretical sciences. A science of ethics is possible, but its propositions are only valid as a rule. Nor can this science dictate the correct course of action for all possible situations. Rather, ethics can only provide imprecise knowledge in outline, which, moreover, does not in itself enable a successful life, but has to be linked to experience and existing attitudes ( EN I 1 1094b12-23).

Aristotle was convinced that “people are naturally gifted enough for the truth” ( Rhet. I 1, 1355a15-17). Therefore, he typically first goes through (generally or with predecessors) recognized opinions (endoxa) and discusses their most important problems (aporiai) in order to analyze a possible true core of these opinions (EN VII 2). What is noticeable is his preference to lay the foundation for the argument in an universal statement at the beginning of a writing and to define the specific subject.

Language, logic and knowledge

The organon

The subject area of ​​language, logic and knowledge is mainly dealt with in the writings that are traditionally compiled under the title Organon (Greek for tool, method). This compilation and its title are not from Aristotle and the order is not chronological. The text Rhetoric does not belong to the Organon , but is very close to it in terms of content because of the way it deals with the subject. A justification for the compilation consists in the common methodological- propaedeutic character.

Meaning theory

In the following section - which is considered to be the most influential text in the history of semantics - Aristotle distinguishes four elements that have two different relationships to one another, a mapping relationship and a symbolic relationship:

“Now [i] the (linguistic) utterances of our voice are symbols for [ii] what happens to our soul (while speaking), and [iii] our written utterances are in turn symbols for the (linguistic) utterances of our voice. And just as not all people write with the same letters, they also do not speak the same language. The spiritual experiences, however, for which this (spoken and written) is a sign in the first place, are the same for all people; and, moreover, [iv] the things of which these (spiritual experiences) are images are the same for all. "

- Int. 1, 16a3-8

Spoken and written words are accordingly different in people; written words symbolize spoken words. Mental experiences and things are the same with all people; mental experiences depict things. Accordingly, the relation of speech and writing to things is determined by agreement, whereas the relation of mental impressions to things is natural.

Truth and falsehood only come through the connection and separation of several ideas. The individual words do not establish a connection either and therefore cannot be either true or false on their own. True or false until the entire statement can therefore set (logos apophantikos) be.

Predicates and properties

Some linguistic and logical statements are fundamental to Aristotle's philosophy and also play an important role outside of the (in the broader sense) logical writings. This is particularly about the relationship between predicates and (essential) properties.


Aristotle does not understand a definition primarily as a nominal definition (which he also knows; see An. Post. II, 8-10), but rather a real definition. A nominal definition only indicates opinions that are associated with a name. What underlies these opinions in the world is given by the real definition: a definition of X indicates necessary properties of X and what it means to be an X: the essence. A possible object of a definition is (only) what a (universal) being has, in particular species such as humans. A species is defined by specifying a (logical) genus and the species-forming difference. In this way, humans can be defined as rational (difference) living beings (species). Individuals cannot be captured by definition, but only assigned to their respective species.

Categories as statement classes

Aristotle teaches that there are ten irreversible modes of expressions that answer the questions What is X? What is X ? , Where is X? etc. answer (→ the complete list ). The categories have both a linguistic-logical and an ontological function, because predicates are predicates of an underlying subject ( hypokeimenon ) (e.g. Socrates) on the one hand , and properties are assigned to it on the other (e.g. white, human ). Correspondingly, the categories represent the most general classes of predicates as well as of beings. Aristotle distinguishes the category of substance , which contains essential predicates necessarily, from the others, which contain accidental predicates.

If one of Socrates man predicted (says), so it is a significant statement that defines the subject (Socrates), what it is, so the substance names. This obviously differs from a statement about how Socrates is in the marketplace, with which one indicates something accidental, namely where Socrates is (i.e. names the place).

Deduction and Induction: Types of Arguments and Means of Knowledge

Aristotle differentiates between two types of arguments or means of knowledge: deduction (syllogismos) and induction (epagôgê). The agreement with the modern terms deduction and induction is broad, but not complete. Deductions and inductions play central roles in the various areas of Aristotelian argumentation theory and logic. Both originate from dialectics.


According to Aristotle, a deduction consists of premises (assumptions) and one of these different conclusions . The conclusion necessarily follows from the premises. It cannot be wrong if the premises are true.

"A deduction (syllogismos) is an argument (logos) in which, if certain things are presupposed, something different from the presupposed necessarily results from the fact that this is the case."

- On. Pr. I 1, 24b18-20; Similar to top. I 1, 100a25-27; Soph. el. 1, 165a1 f.

The definition of deduction (syllogismos) is thus wider than that of deduction ( treated below ) - traditionally called syllogism - which consists of two premises and three terms. Aristotle distinguishes between dialectical , eristic , rhetorical and demonstrative deductions. These forms differ mainly in the nature of their premises.


Aristotle explicitly contrasts deduction with induction; its purpose and function, however, is not as clear as that of deduction. He calls her

“The ascent from the individual to the general. For example, if the helmsman who knows his way around is the best (helmsman) and so is the case with the charioteer, then the one who knows his way around is the best in every area. "

- Great. I 12, 105a13 f.

It is clear to Aristotle that such a transition from singular to general sentences is not logically valid without further conditions ( An. Post. II 5, 91b34 f.). Corresponding conditions are fulfilled, for example, in the original context of the logic of argumentation of dialectics, since the opponent has to accept a general clause introduced by induction if he cannot give a counterexample.

Above all, however, induction has the function of making the general clear in other, non-inferring contexts by citing individual cases - be it as a didactic, or as a heuristic procedure. Such induction provides plausible reasons for believing a general proposition to be true. But nowhere does Aristotle inductively justify the truth of such a proposition without further conditions.

Dialectic: theory of reasoning

The dialectic dealt with in the Topik is a form of argumentation which (according to its genuine basic form) takes place in a dialogical disputation. It probably goes back to practices in Plato's academy . The aim of the dialectic is:

"The essay intends to find a method by which we will be able to deduce from accepted opinions (endoxa) about any problem presented , and if we make an argument ourselves, not to say anything contradicting."

- Great. I 1, 100a18-21

The dialectic therefore has no specific subject area, but can be applied universally. Aristotle determines the dialectic through the nature of the premises of this deduction. Their premises are recognized opinions (endoxa), that is

"Those deemed correct by either (a) all or (b) most or (c) the experts and either (ci) all or (cii) most or (ciii) the best known and most recognized."

- Great. I 1, 100b21-23;

For dialectical premises it is irrelevant whether they are true or not. But why recognized opinions? In its basic form, dialectic takes place in an argumentative competition between two opponents with precisely assigned roles. On a submitted problem of the form 'Is SP or not?' the respondent must commit himself to one of the two possibilities as a thesis. The dialectical conversation consists in the fact that a questioner presents statements to the respondent, which the respondent must either affirm or deny. The questions answered apply as premises. The aim of the questioner is to use the affirmative or negative statements to form a deduction so that the conclusion refutes the initial thesis or something absurd or a contradiction follows from the premises. The method of dialectic has two components:

  1. find out which premises result in an argument for the sought conclusion.
  2. find out which premises the respondent accepts.

For 2. the different types (a) - (ciii) of recognized opinions offer the questioner clues as to which questions the respective respondent will answer in the affirmative, that is, which premises he can use. Aristotle calls for lists of such recognized opinions to be drawn up (Item I 14). Presumably he means separate lists after groups (a) - (ciii); these are in turn sorted according to criteria.

For 1. the instrument of the Topen helps the dialectician to build up his argument. A topos is a construction guide for dialectical arguments, that is, to find suitable premises for a given conclusion. Aristotle lists in the Topik to about 300 of these Topen. The dialectician knows these Topen by heart, which can be arranged based on their properties. The basis of this order is the system of predicables .

According to Aristotle, dialectic is useful for three things: (1) as an exercise, (2) for meeting the crowd, and (3) for philosophy. In addition to (1) the basic form of argumentative competition (in which there is a jury and rules and which probably goes back to practices in the academy) there are also applications with (2) that are dialogical but not designed as a rule-based competition, and with (3) those that are not dialogical, but in which the dialectician in the thought experiment (a) goes through difficulties in both directions (diaporêsai) or also (b) investigates principles (Top. I 4). For him, however, dialectics is not the method of philosophy or a fundamental science, as it was with Plato .

Rhetoric: Theory of Belief

Aristotle defines rhetoric as "the ability to look at what is possibly convincing (pithanon) in every thing " ( Rhetoric I 2, 1355b26 f.). He calls it a counterpart (antistrophos) to the dialectic. Because, like dialectic, rhetoric is without a delimited subject area, and it uses the same elements (such as tops, recognized opinions, and especially deductions), and dialectical reasoning corresponds to conviction based on rhetorical deductions.

Rhetoric was of paramount importance in fourth-century democratic Athens , especially in the popular assembly and the courts, which were occupied by lay judges determined by lot. There were numerous rhetoric teachers and rhetoric manuals emerged.

Aristotle's dialectical rhetoric is a reaction to the rhetoric theory of his time, which - as he criticizes - provides mere set pieces for speech situations and instructions on how one can cloud the judgment of the judges through slander and the arousal of emotions. In contrast, his dialectical rhetoric is based on the view that we are most convinced when we believe that something has been proven (Rhet. I 1, 1355a5 f.). He also expresses in the weighting of the three means of persuasion that the rhetoric is fact-oriented and must discover and exploit the persuasive potential inherent in the matter. These are:

  • the speaker's character ( ethos )
  • the emotional state of the listener ( pathos )
  • the argument ( logos )

He considers the argument to be the most important means.

Among the arguments, Aristotle distinguishes the example - a form of induction - and the enthymeme - a rhetorical deduction (again the enthymeme is more important than the example). Entyhmeme is a kind of dialectical deduction. Its distinctive feature due to the rhetorical situation is that its premises are only the accepted opinions that are believed to be true by all or most . (The widespread, curious view that the enthymeme is a syllogism in which one of the two premises is missing is not represented by Aristotle ; it is based on a misunderstanding of 1357a7 ff., Which has already been documented in the ancient commentary.) The speaker therefore convinces the audience by saying derives an assertion (as a conclusion) from the beliefs (as premises) of the listener. The construction instructions for these enthymemes provide rhetorical topics, e.g. B .:

“Another (topos arises) from the more and less, such as: 'If the gods don't know everything, then probably hardly the people.' Because that means: If something does not belong to the person to whom it could be more appropriate, then it is obvious that it does not belong to the person to whom it could not be so appropriate. "

- Rhet. II 23, 1397b12-15.

Aristotle criticizes contemporary rhetoric teachers for neglecting the argument and aiming exclusively at arousal of emotions, for example through behavior such as whining or bringing the family to the court hearing, which prevents the judges from making an objective judgment. According to Aristotle's theory, all emotions can be defined by taking three factors into account. One asks: (1) about what, (2) to whom and (3) in which state does someone feel the respective emotion? Here's the definition of anger:

"So anger [3] is supposed to be a pain-related pursuit of an alleged retribution [1] for an alleged disparagement of oneself or one of his own [2] by those who are not entitled to disparagement."

- Rhet. II 2, 1378a31-34.

If the speaker can use this definition knowledge to make it clear to the audience that the relevant facts are present and that they are in the appropriate state, then they will experience the corresponding emotion. If the speaker uses this method to highlight existing facts of a case, he does not distract from the matter - as was the case with the criticized predecessors - but only promotes emotions appropriate to the case and thus prevents inappropriate ones. After all, the speaker's character should appear credible to the audience based on his speech , that is, virtuous, intelligent and benevolent (Rhet. I 2, 1356a5–11; II 1, 1378a6–16)

The linguistic form also serves an argumentative-factual rhetoric. Aristotle defines the optimal form (aretê) in that it is primarily clear, but neither banal nor too sublime (Rhet. III 2, 1404b1–4). With such a balance, it stimulates interest, attention and understanding and is pleasant. Among the stylistic devices, the metaphor in particular fulfills these conditions.

Syllogistic logic

If Aristotle's dialectical logic consists in a method of consistent reasoning, then his syllogistic consists in a theory of proving itself. In the syllogistics he establishes, Aristotle shows which conclusions are valid. For this he uses a form that is simply called syllogism (the Latin translation of syllogismos ) in tradition because of the meaning of this logic . Every syllogism is a (special form of) deduction (syllogismos) , but not every deduction is a syllogism (because Aristotle's very general definition of deduction describes many possible types of arguments). Aristotle himself does not use a term of his own to distinguish the syllogism from other deductions.

A syllogism is a special deduction that consists of exactly two premises and one conclusion. Premises and conclusions together have exactly three different terms, terms (represented in the table by A, B, C). The premises have exactly one term in common (in Table B) that does not appear in the conclusion. Aristotle distinguishes the following syllogistic figures through the position of the common term, the middle term (here always B):

Syllogistic figures in Aristotle
No. 1st figure: middle term is in (1) subject, in (2) predicate 2nd figure: mean term is in (1) and in (2) predicate. 3rd figure: middle term is subject in (1) and in (2).
(1) AxB BxA AxB
(2) BxC BxC CxB
Conclusion AxC AxC AxC

A predicate (P) (e.g. 'mortal') can either be assigned or denied to a subject (S) (e.g. 'Greek'). This can take place in particular or in general form. Thus there are four forms in which S and P can be connected with each other, as the following table shows (according to De interpretatione 7; the vowels have been used for the respective statement type and also in syllogistics since the Middle Ages).

Art to speak arrange
general Every S is P: a Every S is not P = No S is P: e
particular Any S is P: i Some S is not P = Not every S is P: o

The syllogism uses exactly these four types of statements in the following form:

Inverse position! common notation Normal word order meaning
A belongs to all B. AaB All B are A
A does not belong to any B. AeB No B is A
A belongs to some B. AiB Some B are A.
A does not apply to all B. AoB Some B are not A.

Aristotle examines the following question: Which of the 192 possible combinations are logically valid deductions? For which syllogisms is it impossible that if the premises are true, the conclusion is false? He distinguishes perfect syllogisms, which are immediately apparent, from imperfect ones. He traces the imperfect syllogisms back to the perfect ones by means of conversion rules (he calls this process analysis ) or proves them indirectly. A perfect syllogism is Barbara - so called since the Middle Ages :

No. Aristotelian, inverse position common notation Normal position
(1) A belongs to all B. AaB All people are mortal.
(2) B applies to all C. BaC All Greeks are human.
Conclusion So: A applies to all C. AaC So: all Greeks are mortal.

More valid syllogisms and their proofs can be found in the article Syllogism .

Aristotle uses the syllogistics elaborated in the Analytica Priora in his philosophy of science , the Analytica Posteriora .

Aristotle also develops a modal syllogistic that includes the terms possible and necessary . This modal syllogistic is much more difficult to interpret than the simple syllogistic. Whether a consistent interpretation of this modal syllogistic is even possible is still controversial today. Aristotle's definition of possible is problematic in terms of interpretation, but also significant . He differentiates between the so-called one-sided and the two-sided option:

  1. One-sided: p is possible if non-p is not necessary .
  2. Two-sided: p is possible if p is not necessary and not-p is not necessary, i.e. p is contingent .

Thus the indeterminism advocated by Aristotle can be characterized as the state that is contingent.

Canonical sentences

In Aristotelian logic, a distinction is made between the following contradicting and contradicting sentence types - F and G stand for subject and predicate:

designation formulation
A sentences "All F are G."
E-phrases "All F are not G." (= No F is G.)
I-sentences "There is (at least) one F that is a G."
O-sentences "There is (at least) one F that is not a G."

These "canonical sentences" belong to the foundation of traditional logic and are used, among other things, for simple or limited conversion .

Knowledge and science

Levels of knowledge

Aristotle differentiates between different levels of knowledge , which can be represented as follows ( Met. I 1; An. Post. II 19):

Epistemic level What living beings
Knowledge human
Experience some animals in a restricted sense; human
memory most living things
perception all creatures

With this graduation Aristotle also describes how knowledge is created: From perception creates memory and from memory by pooling memory content experience . Experience consists in the knowledge of a large number of specific individual cases and only indicates that , is mere factual knowledge. Knowledge (or science; epistêmê includes both) differs from experience in that it

  1. is general;
  2. not only the that of a fact, but also the why, the reason or the explanatory cause .

In this cognitive process, according to Aristotle, we advance from what is known to us and closer to sensory perception, to what is known in itself or by nature , to the principles and causes of things. The fact that knowledge comes first and is superior does not mean, however, that in a specific case it contains the other levels in the sense that it replaces them. In action, moreover, experience as knowledge of the individual is sometimes superior to the forms of knowledge that are general (Met. 981a12-25).

Causes and Demonstrations

As a rule, Aristotle does not understand a cause ( aitia ) to be an event A that is different from a caused event B. The investigation of causes does not serve to predict effects, but to explain facts. An Aristotelian cause gives a reason in response to certain why questions. (Aristotle differentiates between four types of causes, which are dealt with in more detail here in the section on natural philosophy .)

According to Aristotle, knowledge of causes takes the form of a certain deduction : the demonstration (apodeixis) of a syllogism with true premises that give the causes for the facts expressed in the conclusion. An example:

No. Inverse position Formally Normal word order
1st premise To be made of bronze belongs to all statues. BaC All statues are made of bronze.
2nd premise Bronze is supposed to be difficult. AaC Bronze is difficult.
Conclusion All statues have to be heavy. AaB All statues are heavy.

Aristotle speaks of the fact that the premises of some demonstrations are principles ( archē; literally beginning, origin), first true propositions that cannot themselves be demonstrated demonstratively.

Non-provable sentences

In addition to the principles, the existence and the properties of the treated objects of a science as well as certain axioms common to all sciences according to Aristotle cannot be proven by demonstrations, such as the theorem of contradiction . Aristotle shows that the principle of contradiction cannot be denied. It reads: X cannot and cannot belong to Y in the same respect (Met. IV 3, 1005b19 f.). Aristotle argues that whoever denies this must say something and thus something specific. If he z. B. says 'human', it means humans and not non-humans. With this commitment to something specific, however, he presupposes the principle of contradiction. This even applies to actions insofar as a person walks around a well and does not fall into it.

The fact that these propositions and also principles cannot be demonstrated is due to Aristotle's solution to a justification problem : If knowledge contains justification, then in a concrete case of knowledge this leads either to (a) recourse, (b) a circle or (c) to fundamental propositions that cannot be justified. Principles in an Aristotelian demonstrative science are those sentences that are not demonstrated but are known in another way ( An. Post. I 3).

The relationship between definition, cause and demonstration

Aristotle also speaks of the fact that if the premises are principles, they can also represent definitions . The following example illustrates how demonstration, cause and definition relate to one another: The moon has an eclipse at time t, because (i) whenever something is in the sun's shadow, it has an eclipse and (ii) the moon at the time t lies in the sun's shadow of the earth.

No. Inverse position Formally
1st premise Darkness occurs in all cases in which the earth obscures the sun. AaB
2nd premise The moon is obscured by the earth at time t. BIC
Conclusion Eclipse comes to the moon at time t. AiC

Middle term : obscuring the sun by the earth.
Cause: The moon is obscured by the earth at time t.

The definition here would be something like: lunar eclipse is the case in which the earth covers the sun. It does not explain the word 'lunar eclipse'. Rather, it indicates what a lunar eclipse is. By giving the cause, one progresses from a fact to its reason. The process of analysis consists of looking for the next cause from the bottom up to a known issue until a final cause is reached.

Status of the principles and function of the demonstration

The Aristotelian model of science was understood as a top-down evidence method in modern times and up into the 20th century . The unprovable principles are necessarily true and are obtained through induction and intuition (nous) . All the propositions of a science would follow - in an axiomatic structure - from its principles. Science is based on two steps: First, the principles are grasped intuitively, then knowledge is demonstrated from them top-down.

Opponents of this top-down interpretation primarily question that for Aristotle

  1. the principles are always true;
  2. the principles are obtained through intuition ;
  3. The function of the demonstration is to develop knowledge from the highest principles.

One direction of interpretation claims that the demonstration has a didactic function. Since Aristotle does not follow his philosophy of science in the scientific writings, it does not explain how research is carried out, but how it should be presented didactically .

Another interpretation also rejects the didactic interpretation, since applications of the epistemological model can very well be found in scientific writings. Above all, however, she criticizes the first reading to the effect that it does not distinguish between ideal knowledge and knowledge culture ; for Aristotle considers principles to be fallible and the function of demonstration to be heuristic . She reads the demonstration bottom-up : For known facts , the causes would be sought with the help of the demonstration. Scientific research is based on empirical (mostly universal) propositions that are better known to us . For such a conclusion, premises are sought that indicate the causes for the relevant facts.

The scientific research process now consists in analyzing, for example, the link between gravity and statue or moon and darkness in such a way that one looks for mean terms that link them together as causes. In the simplest case there is only one mean term, in others there are several. The knowledge from the explanatory premises to the declared universal empirical propositions is then presented top-down. The premises indicate the reason for the facts described in the conclusion. The aim of every discipline is such a demonstrative presentation of knowledge in which the non-demonstrable principles of this science are premises.

Grasp the principles

How the principles of Aristotle are captured remains unclear and is controversial. Presumably they are formed by general terms that arise through an inductive process , an ascent within the knowledge levels described above: Perception becomes memory, repeated perception condenses into experience, and from experience we form general terms. With this perception-based conception of the formation of general concepts, Aristotle rejects both conceptions that derive general concepts from a higher level of knowledge and those that claim that general concepts are innate. The principles and definitions are probably formed on the basis of these general terms. The dialectic, the questions in the form 'Does P apply to S or not?' is probably a means of testing principles. The assets that captures these basic general concepts and definitions, is the spirit, the insight ( nous ).

Natural philosophy

Schematic representation of the Aristotelian four-element theory


In Aristotle Naturphilosophie means Nature ( physis ) two things: firstly, the primary subject area from the naturally existing objects (people, animals, plants, the elements ), the from artifacts differ. On the other hand, movement (kínēsis) and rest (stasis) form the origin, or the basic principle ( archē ) of all nature (Phys. II 1, 192b14). Movement in turn means change (metabolē) (Phys. II 1,193a30). For example, locomotion is a form of change. Likewise, the “proper movements” of the body when it grows or decreases (for example through food intake) represent a change. The two terms, kínēsis and metabolē, are consequently inseparable for Aristotle. Together they form the basic principle and the beginning of all natural things. With artifacts, the principle of every change comes from outside ( Phys. II 1, 192b8-22). The science of nature therefore depends on the types of change.

Definition, principles and modes of change

A process of change in X is given when X, which (i) in reality has property F and (ii) in possibility of G, realizes property G. In the case of bronze (X), which in reality is a lump (F) and possibly a statue (G), there is a change when the bronze in reality becomes the shape of a statue (G) ; the process is complete when the bronze is in this shape . Or when the uneducated Socrates is formed, a state is realized which, if possible, was already there. The change process is characterized by its transitional status and presupposes that something that is possible can be realized (Phys. III 1, 201a10–201b5).

For all change processes, Aristotle (in accordance with his natural-philosophical predecessors) considers opposites to be fundamental. He also advocates the thesis that in a process of change these opposites (like formed-uneducated ) always appear on a substrate or underlying (hypokeimenon) , so that his model has the following three principles:

  1. Substrate of change (X);
  2. Initial state of change (F);
  3. Target state of change (G).

If the uneducated Socrates is formed, he is Socrates at every point of change. Accordingly, the bronze remains bronze. The substrate of the change on which it takes place remains identical with itself. Aristotle sees the initial state of change as a state that lacks the corresponding property of the target state ( Privation ; Phys. I 7).

Aristotle distinguishes four types of change:

  1. Qualitative change
  2. Quantitative change
  3. Locomotion
  4. Arising / passing away.

With every change - according to Aristotle - there is an underlying, numerically identical substrate (Physik I 7, 191a13–15). In the case of qualitative, quantitative and local change, this is a concrete individual thing that changes its properties, its size or its position. How does this behave when specific individual things arise / disappear? The Eleatics had advocated the influential thesis that arising was not possible, since they considered it contradicting if beings emerged from non-being (they saw a similar problem with arising from beings). The solution of the atomists that origin is a process in which by mixing and separating immortal and unchangeable atoms from old new individual things emerge, leads, according to Aristotle's view, illegitimate creation back to qualitative change ( Gen. Corr. 317a20 ff.).

Form and matter when arising / disappearing

Aristotle's analysis of arising / passing away is based on the innovative distinction between form and matter ( hylemorphism ). He accepts that no concrete individual thing arises from non-being, but analyzes the case of arising as follows. A concrete individual thing of type F does not arise from a non-existent F, but from an underlying substrate that does not have the form F: matter.

A thing arises when matter takes on a new form. This is how a bronze statue is created by a bronze mass assuming a corresponding shape. The finished statue is made of bronze, the bronze is the base of the statue as material. The answer to the Eleates is that a statue that does not exist is equivalent to bronze as matter, which becomes a statue through the addition of a form. The development process is characterized by different degrees of being. The actual, actual, shaped statue arises from something that is potentially a statue, namely bronze as matter (Phys. I 8, 191b10–34).

Matter and form are aspects of a concrete individual thing and do not appear independently. Matter is always the substance of a certain thing that already has a form. It is a relative concept of abstraction to form. By structuring such matter in a new way, a new individual thing arises. A house is made up of form (the blueprint) and material (wood and brick). As the material of the house, bricks are clay shaped and configured in a certain way by a certain process. Aristotle understands form to mean the external shape (this only applies to artifacts), usually the internal structure or nature, that which is captured by a definition. The shape of an object of a certain type describes the requirements, which matter is suitable for it and which is not.


According to Aristotle, movements take place either naturally or contrary to nature (violent). Only living beings move of their own accord, everything else is either moved by something or it strives as straight as possible towards its natural place and comes to a standstill there.

The natural location of a body depends on the type of matter prevailing in it. When water or earth predominates, the body moves to the center of the earth, the center of the world; when fire or air dominates, it strives upwards. Earth is only heavy, fire is absolutely light, water is relatively heavy, and air is relatively light. The natural place of fire is above the air and below the lunar sphere. Lightness and weight are properties of bodies that have nothing to do with their density. With the introduction of the idea of ​​absolute heaviness and absolute lightness (weightlessness of fire), Aristotle rejects the conception of Plato and the atomists, who considered all objects to be heavy and understood weight as a relative quantity.

The fifth element, the ether of heaven, is massless and moves eternally in uniform circular motion around the center of the world. The ether fills the space above the lunar sphere; it is not subject to any change other than local movement. The assumption that different laws apply on earth and in the sky is necessary for Aristotle because the movement of the planets and fixed stars does not come to rest.

Aristotle assumes that any movement of space requires a medium that either acts as a moving force or offers resistance to movement; a continuous movement in a vacuum is in principle impossible. Aristotle even rules out the existence of a vacuum.

The kinetics of Aristotle was to develop a new inertia term by Galileo and Newton influential.


In order to have knowledge of change processes and thus of nature, one must - according to Aristotle - know the corresponding causes ( aitiai ) (Phys. I 1, 184a10-14). Aristotle claims that there are exactly four types of causes, each of which answers the question why in different ways and that, as a rule, must all be stated in a complete explanation (Phys. II 3, 194b23-35):

designation traditional name Explanation Example: causes of a house
Material cause causa materialis that from which a thing arises and is thereby contained in it Wood and brick
Form cause causa formalis the structure; that which indicates what the being of a thing consists of Blueprint
Cause of action or movement causa efficiens that where the first cause of movement and rest or an effect comes from architect
Target or purpose cause causa finalis the goal or purpose for whose sake something happens Protection against bad weather

The Aristotelian concept of cause differs largely from the modern one. As a rule, different causes apply to the explanation of the same fact or object. The form cause often coincides with the movement cause and the final cause. The cause of a house are bricks and wood, the blueprint, the architect and the protection against storms. The latter three often coincide, for example insofar as the purpose of protection from storms determines the architect's blueprint (in the mind).

The final cause has been criticized from the standpoint of modern mechanistic physics. However , Aristotle differs largely from a nature that is generally teleologically oriented, as in Plato. For him, final causes occur in nature, especially in biology, namely in the functional structure of living beings and species reproduction .


Metaphysics as First Philosophy

Aristotle does not use the term " metaphysics ". Nevertheless, one of his most important works traditionally bears this title. The metaphysics is compiled by a later editor collection of individual studies that cover a more or less coherent range of topics, by inquiring about the principles and causes of existence and after the competent science. It is unclear whether the title ( ta meta ta physika: the <writings, things> according to physics) has a purely bibliographic or a factual background.

In metaphysics, Aristotle speaks of a science that takes precedence over all other sciences and which he calls first philosophy, wisdom (sophia) or theology. This first philosophy is characterized in this collection of individual studies in three ways:

  1. as a science of the most general principles that are central to Aristotle's philosophy of science (→ theorem of contradiction )
  2. as the science of beings as beings, the Aristotelian ontology
  3. as science of the divine, the Aristotelian theology (→ theology )

Whether or to what extent these three projects are related aspects of the same science or independent individual projects is controversial. Aristotle later deals with subjects named metaphysically in other writings as well.


In the Corpus Aristotelicum there are two works, the early categories and the late metaphysics, different theories of beings.

Substances in the categories

The categories that form the first script in the Organon are probably the most influential work of Aristotle and the history of philosophy in general.

The early ontology of categories deals with the questions 'What is actually being?' and 'How are beings ordered?' and is to be understood as a criticism of Plato's position. The presumed train of thought can be outlined as follows. A distinction is made between properties that belong to individual things (P comes to S). There are two possible interpretations for this: The real being, the substance ( ousia ) are

  1. abstract, independently existing archetypes as the cause and object of knowledge of properties.
  2. concrete individual things as carriers of properties.

Aristotle himself reports ( Met. I 6) that Plato taught that one must distinguish from the perceptible individual things separate, non-perceptible, unchangeable, eternal archetypes . Plato assumed that there could be no definitions (and thus from his point of view also knowledge) of the individual things that are constantly changing. The objects of definition and knowledge are for him the archetypes ( ideas ) as what is causal for the order structure of beings. This can be illustrated by an individual and numerically identical idea of ​​the human being, which is separate from all human beings and which is the cause of being human and which is the subject of knowledge for the question 'What is a human being?'.

Aristotle's division of beings into categories seems to be differentiated from Plato's position outlined above. He orients himself to the linguistic structure of simple sentences of the form 'S is P' and the linguistic practice, whereby he does not explicitly distinguish the linguistic and the ontological level.

Some expressions - like 'Socrates' - can only take the subject position S in this linguistic structure, everything else is predicted by them. The things which fall into this category of substance and which he calls First Substance are ontologically independent; they don't need any other thing in order to exist. Hence they are ontologically primary because everything else depends on them and nothing would exist without them.

These dependent properties require a single thing, a first substance as a carrier on which they occur. Such properties (e.g. white, sitting) may or may not apply to an individual thing (e.g. Socrates) and are therefore accidental properties. This affects everything outside of the substance category.

For some properties (e.g. 'man') it is now true that they can be predicated of an individual thing (e.g. Socrates) in such a way that their definition (reasonable living being) also applies to this individual thing. They therefore necessarily come to him . These are the species and the genus. Because of this close relationship, in which the species and the genus indicate what a first substance is in each case (e.g. in the answer to the question 'What is Socrates?': 'A person'), Aristotle calls it the second substance. A second substance also depends ontologically on a first substance.

  • A) Category of substance:
    • 1. Substance: characteristic of independence.
    • 2. Substance: characteristic of recognizability.
  • B) Non-Substantial Categories: Accidental.

So Aristotle advocates the following theses:

  1. Only individual things (first substances) are independent and therefore ontologically primary.
  2. All properties depend on the individual things. There are no independent, non-exemplified archetypes.
  3. In addition to contingent, accidental properties (such as 'white') there are necessary, essential properties (such as 'human') that indicate what an individual thing is.
The substance theory of metaphysics

For Plato, the consequence of his conception of ideas is the assumption that, in the proper, independent sense, only unchangeable ideas exist; the individual things exist only in dependence on the ideas. Aristotle criticizes this ontological consequence extensively in metaphysics. He considers it contradicting that the followers of the theory of ideas on the one hand delimit ideas from the sense objects by assigning them the characteristic of generality and thus undifferentiation, and on the other hand at the same time assume a separate existence for each individual idea; as a result, the ideas themselves would become individual things, which would be incompatible with their definition of universality (Met. XIII 9, 1086a32–34).

In metaphysics , Aristotle, as part of his plan to investigate beings as beings, takes the view that all beings are either a substance or are related to one ( Metaphysics IV 2). In the categories he formulated a criterion for substances and gave examples (Socrates) for them. In metaphysics , he once again addresses substance in order to look for the principles and causes of a substance, a concrete individual thing. Here he asks: What makes Socrates a substance? Substance is here a two-digit predicate (substance of X), so that the question can be formulated as follows: What is the substance-X of a substance? The distinction between form and matter , which is not present in the categories , plays a decisive role.

Aristotle seems to search for substance-X primarily with the help of two criteria , which in the theory of categories are divided between the first and the second substance:

  • (i) independent existence or subject for everything else, but not being a predicate itself (individual being = first substance);
  • (ii) To be the object of definition, to guarantee recognizability, i.e. to the question 'What is X?' to answer (general essence = second substance).

Criterion (ii) is met more precisely in that Aristotle defines the essence as substance-X. By essence he means what ontologically corresponds to a definition (Met. VII 4; 5, 1031a12; VIII 1, 1042a17). The essence describes the necessary properties without which an individual thing would cease to be one and the same thing. If one asks: What is the reason that this portion of matter is Socrates? Aristotle's answer is: The essence of Socrates, which is neither a further component besides the material components (then a further structural principle would be needed to explain how it is united with the material components) or something from material components (then one would have to explain how the being itself is composed).

Aristotle determines the form (eidos) of a single thing as its essence and thus as substance-X. With form he means less the external shape than the structure: the form

  • dwells in the single thing,
  • causes
    • in living beings the emergence of a specimen of the same species (Met. VII 8, 1033b30–2)
    • with artefacts (e.g. house) as a formal cause (blueprint) (Met. VII 9, 1034a24) in the spirit of the producer (Met. VII 7, 1032b23) (architect) the emergence of the individual thing.
  • precedes the emergence of a single thing composed of form and matter and arises and does not change and thus (in natural species) creates a continuity of forms that is eternal for Aristotle (Met.VII 8, 1033b18)
  • is the cause, explanation of the essential properties and abilities of an individual thing (for example, the form of a person is the soul (Met. VII 10, 1035b15), which is made up of abilities such as the ability to nourish, perceive, and think among others ( An. II 2, 413b11– 13)).

The fact that the form as substance X also has to meet the mentioned criterion (ii) of being independent, and that this is partly understood as a criterion for something individual, is one of many aspects in the following central interpretative controversy: Does Aristotle summarize the form (A. ) as something general or (B) as something (the respective individual thing) individual ? Formulated as a problem: How can the form, the eidos, be both the form of a single thing and the object of knowledge? In favor of (A), Aristotle assumes in several places that the substance-X and thus the form can be defined (Met.VII 13) and for him (as for Plato) this only applies to general information (VII 11, 1036a ; VII 15, 1039b31-1040a2). In favor of (B), on the other hand, is the fact that Aristotle seems categorically to take the unplatonic position: No general can be substance X (Met. VII 13). According to (B), Socrates and Callias have two qualitatively different forms. It should then be possible to define super-individual aspects of these two forms that are to be separated. Interpretation (A), on the other hand, solves the dilemma, for example, by interpreting and thus defusing the statement No general is substance-X as nothing generally predictable is substance-X . The form is not predicted in a conventional way (like the type of 'man' from 'Socrates' in the categories ) and is therefore not general in the problematic sense. Rather, the form is 'predicted' by indefinite matter in a way that constitutes an individual object.

Act and potency

The relationship between form and matter, which is important for ontology, is explained in more detail by another pair of terms: act (energeia, entelecheia) and potency (dynamis).

The later ontological meaning of potency or ability is important for the distinction between form and matter . Here potentiality is a state that is opposed to another state - actuality - in that an object is reality according to F or the ability, possibility according to F. So a boy is possibly a man, an uneducated person is possibly an educated person (Met. IX 6).

This relationship between actuality and potentiality (described here diachronically ) forms the basis for the relationship between form and matter (which can also be understood synchronously ), because form and matter are aspects of an individual thing, not its parts. They are linked to one another in the relationship between actuality and potentiality and thus (first) constitute the individual thing. The matter of an individual thing is therefore exactly that potential that the form of the individual thing and the individual thing itself are actual (Met. VIII 1, 1042a27 f .; VIII 6, 1045a23–33; b17–19). On the one hand (viewed diachronically) a certain portion of bronze is potentially a ball as well as a statue. On the other hand, however (synchronously as a constituent aspect) the bronze on a statue is potentially exactly what the statue and its shape actually are. The bronze of the statue is a constituent of the statue, but is not identical to it. And so flesh and bones are also potentially that which Socrates or his form (the configuration and capabilities of his material components typical for a person, → psychology ) are actual.

Just like form versus matter, for Aristotle, actuality is also primary versus potentiality (Met. IX 8, 1049b4-5). Among other things, it is known to be primary. One can only state a fortune if one refers to the reality to which it is a fortune. The ability to see, for example, can only be determined by referring to the activity of “seeing” (Met. IX 8, 1049b12–17). Furthermore, the actuality in the decisive sense is also earlier in time than the potentiality, because a person arises through a person who is actual person (Met. IX 8, 1049b17-27).


In the run-up to his theology, Aristotle differentiates between three possible substances: (i) perceptible perishable, (ii) eternal perceptible to the senses, and (iii) eternal and immutable that cannot be perceived by the senses (Met. XII 1, 1069a30-1069b2). (i) are the concrete individual things (of the sublunar sphere), (ii) the eternal, moving heavenly bodies , (iii) proves to be the self-immobile origin of all movement.

Aristotle argues for a divine mover, stating that if all substances were perishable, everything would have to be perishable, but time and change itself are necessarily imperishable (Phys. VIII 1, 251a8–252b6; Met. XII 6, 1071b6 -10). According to Aristotle, the only change that can exist forever is circular motion (Phys. VIII 8-10; Met. XII 6,1071b11). The corresponding observable circular movement of the fixed stars must therefore have an eternal and immaterial substance as its cause (Met. XII 8, 1073b17–32). If the essence of this substance contained potentiality, the movement could be interrupted. Therefore it must be pure topicality, activity (Met. XII, 1071b12–22). As a final principle, this mover itself must be motionless.

According to Aristotle, the motionless mover moves “like a loved one”, namely as a goal (Met. XII 7, 1072b3), because what is desired, what is thought and especially what is loved can move without being moved (Met. XII 7, 1072a26). His activity is the most pleasurable and beautiful. Since he is immaterial reason (nous) and his activity consists in thinking of the best object, he thinks himself: the "thinking of thinking" (noêsis noêseôs) (Met. XII 9, 1074b34 f.). Since only living things can think, it must also be alive. Aristotle identifies the motionless mover with God (Met. XII 7, 1072b23 ff.).

The motionless mover moves all of nature. The fixed star sphere moves because it imitates perfection with the circular movement. The other celestial bodies are moved through the sphere of fixed stars. Living beings have a share in eternity because they exist forever through reproduction ( GA II 1, 731b31–732a1).


Position of biology

Aristotle occupies an important place not only in the history of philosophy, but also in the history of the natural sciences. A large part of his surviving writings is natural science, of which by far the most important and extensive are the biological writings, which comprise almost a third of the surviving complete works. Probably in a division of labor, botany was worked on by his closest colleague Theophrastus , medicine by his pupil Menon.

Aristotle compares the study of imperishable substances ( God and heavenly bodies ) and perishable substances (living beings). Both research areas have their charm. It is true that the immortal substances, the highest objects of knowledge, give the greatest pleasure, but the knowledge of living beings is easier to attain because they are closer to us. He emphasizes the value of researching lower animals and points out that these also show something natural and beautiful, which is not exhausted in its dismantled components, but only emerges through the activities and the interaction of the parts ( PA I 5, 645a21– 645b1).

Aristotle as an empirical researcher

Aristotle himself carried out empirical research , but presumably did not carry out experiments in the sense of a methodical test arrangement , which was first introduced in modern natural science.

What is certain is that he carried out dissections himself. The closest thing to an experiment is the repeated examination of fertilized hen's eggs at fixed time intervals, with the aim of observing the order in which the organs arise (GA VI 3, 561a6-562a20). However, in its real domain - descriptive zoology - experiments are not the essential research tool. In addition to his own observations and a few text sources, he also relied on information from relevant professionals such as fishermen, beekeepers, hunters and shepherds. He had the content of his text sources checked empirically, but also accepted uncritically foreign errors. A lost work probably consisted largely of drawings and diagrams of animals.

Methodology of Biology: Separation of Facts and Causes

Due to the long prevailing interpretation model of the philosophy of science of Aristotle and the neglect of biological writings, it was previously assumed that he did not apply this theory to biology. In contrast, it is now accepted that his approach to biology was influenced by his philosophy of science , although the scope and degree are controversial.

Collections of facts

Aristotle has not given a description of his scientific approach. In addition to the general theory of science, only texts that represent an end product of scientific research have survived. The biological scriptures are arranged in a specific order that corresponds to the procedure.

The first script ( Historia animalium ) describes the different animal species and their specific differences . It offers the collection of factual material such as B. that all living things with lungs have trachea. It is not discussed whether something is necessary or impossible. In the collection of facts, Aristotle arranges living beings according to various classification features such as blood-bearing, viviparous, etc. Arranged according to features, he establishes general relationships between various aspects of the constitution. For example, he notes: All quadrupeds that are viviparous have lungs and trachea (HA II 15, 505b32 f.). It was not until the writings De generatione animalium (About the origin of animals) and De partibus animalium (About the parts of animals) that follow and build on this work deal with the causes that explain the facts.

Cause knowledge

The collection of facts is the prerequisite for achieving knowledge on the basis of knowledge of the causes. Central to biology are final causes that indicate the purpose of the components of the body. According to Aristotle, the reason for the existence of a trachea in all living things with a lungs is the way the lungs work. Unlike the stomach, the lungs cannot connect directly to the mouth, as they require a two-part channel so that inhalation and exhalation are optimally possible. Since this channel must have a certain length, all living things with lungs have a neck. Fish therefore do not have a neck because they do not need a trachea, as they breathe with gills (PA III 3, 664a14–34).

Final causes in biology

The use of final explanations in biology (and also other areas of Aristotle's research) has been criticized many times, especially in the early modern period and well into the 20th century. However, Aristotle does not usually understand final explanations or causes as overarching purposes that a particular species would have. Rather, it is about an internal determination of the function of the organisms and their parts.

Contents of zoology

Aristotle studied over 500 species . His writings systematically deal with the internal and external parts of each animal, components such as blood and bones, modes of reproduction, food, habitat and behavior. It describes the behavior of domestic animals, exotic predators such as the crocodile, birds, insects and marine animals. For this purpose he orders living beings.

Classification of species

Aristotle distinguishes two main groups of living beings: blood-bearing and bloodless animals. This corresponds to the division into vertebrates and invertebrates . He arranges these according to the largest genres:

Probably it was not Aristotle's intention to create a complete taxonomy . The system of a taxonomy is also not a main subject for him. The aim of his investigations was rather a morphology , a classification of living beings on the basis of characteristic features. He has not fixed terminological terms between the genera mentioned and sub-genera.

Example of a description. The octopus

“The octopus uses its tentacles as both feet and hands. He takes the food with the two that lie over his mouth, and the last of his tentacles, which is the only one whitish and forked at the tip, which tapers to a point (it rolls towards the rhachis - the rhachis is the smooth surface that which is opposite to occupy with suction cups), is used for reproduction. In front of the coat and tentacles, it has a hollow tube through which it releases the sea water that flows into the coat whenever it ingests something with its mouth. He moves this tube right and left and ejects ink through it. He swims in an oblique position in the direction of the so-called head, and stretches his feet out. And when he swims that way, he can see ahead and have his mouth behind. As long as the animal is alive, the head is hard and as if it were inflated. It grips and holds things with the underside of its tentacles, and the skin between its feet is taut. If it gets on sand, it can no longer hold on. "

- HA IV 1, 524a3-20

Aristotle and the Knowledge of Modern Biology

In many cases Aristotle was wrong as a biologist. Some of its errors seem quite curious, such as the description of the bison , which "defends itself by knocking out and expelling its excrement, which it can throw up to seven and a half meters from itself" (HA IX 45, 630b8 f.). Apparently his source of information about this exotic animal was not very reliable. Other well-known errors include the assertion that men have more teeth than women (HA II 3, 501b19), that the brain is a cooling organ and that thinking takes place in the heart region (PA II 7, 652b21-25; III 3, 514a16 –22) as well as the concept of telegonia , according to which a previous pregnancy can influence the phenotype of offspring from later pregnancies.

But Aristotle also gained insights on the basis of his observations that not only apply, but that have only been rediscovered or confirmed in modern times. For example, when describing the octopus, he mentions that mating occurs through a tentacle of the male that is forked - the so-called hectocotylization - and describes this reproductive process (HA V 5, 541b9-15; V 12, 544a12; GA V 15 , 720b33). This phenomenon was only known through Aristotle until the 19th century; the exact mode of reproduction was not fully verified until 1959.

Even more important is his hypothesis , according to which the parts of an organism are developed in a hierarchical order and not - as the preformation theory (already advocated by Anaxagoras ) assumes - are preformed (GA 734a28-35). This conception of embryonic development has become known in modern times under the name Epigenesis , which Aristotle had not yet used . For Aristotle, their empirical basis was his dissections. In modern times, however, the theory of preformations from the 17th to the 19th century was the generally accepted theory, and representatives of epigenesis such as William Harvey (1651) and Caspar Friedrich Wolff (1759) found with their embryological studies that clearly showed that the embryos develop from completely undifferentiated matter, little attention. This insight did not gain acceptance until the early 19th century and eventually supplanted preformist speculations. It was not until the 20th century that Hans Driesch and Hans Spemann finally confirmed in experimental biology that embryonic development is a chain of new formations, an epigenetic process. There is also an analogy between the Aristotelian purposeful epigenesis and genetics .

Soul Doctrine: Theory of Aliveness

initial situation

Living things differ from other natural and man-made objects in that they are alive. With Homer the soul (psychê) is that which leaves a corpse. During the 6th and 5th centuries BC BC the term is increasingly being expanded: to be animated (empsychos) means to be alive and the concept of soul now also has cognitive and emotional aspects. Aristotle takes up this usage. In his theory of the soul he is confronted with two positions: on the one hand with the materialism of pre-Socratic natural philosophers (especially Democritus and Empedocles), who claim that the soul consists of a special kind of matter, on the other hand with the dualistic position of Plato, for whom the soul is immortal , is immaterial and, by its nature, is more intelligent .

Regarding the controversy between materialism and dualism, whether body and soul are identical or not, Aristotle believes that the question is wrongly posed. He explains this with a comparison: The question Are body and soul identical? is just as nonsensical as the question Are wax and its shape identical? ( An. II 1, 412b6-9). States of the soul are always also states of the body, but Aristotle denies an identity of body and soul, as does the immortality of the soul.

Determination of the soul

What the soul is, Aristotle determines through his distinction between form and matter . The soul relates to the body as the form relates to matter, that is, like a statue form to bronze. The form and matter of an individual thing are not two different objects, not its parts, but aspects of this particular thing.

Aristotle defines the soul as the “first reality (entelecheia) of a natural organic body” (An. II 1, 412b5 f.). The soul is a reality or actuality because, as a form, it represents the aspect of life in potentially animate matter (namely organic). It is a first reality insofar as the living being is also alive when it only sleeps and does no other activities (which are also aspects of the soul). (An. II 1, 412a19-27).


Facility of the soul according to the Nicomachean ethics

The other mental aspects are the functions that are characteristic of a living being, its specific abilities or capabilities (dynamis). Above all, Aristotle distinguishes between the following abilities:

  • Nutritional and reproductive capacity (threptikon)
  • Perception (aisthêtikon)
  • Thinking (dianoêtikon)

Plants are also able to eat and reproduce - as a fundamental property of all living things - perception (and the ability to move) are only exhibited by animals (including humans). Man alone has thought.


Aristotle distinguishes the following five senses and claims that there can be no more:

  1. sense of touch
  2. Sense of taste
  3. Smell
  4. Listen
  5. See

Aristotle generally defines perception (aisthesis) as an suffering or a qualitative change (An. II 5, 416b33 f.). What the senses perceive is determined by a continuous pair of opposites: seeing through light and dark, hearing through high and deep, smell and taste through bitter and sweet; Keys have different pairs of opposites: hard and soft, hot and cold, damp and dry.

Aristotle claims that in the process of perception the respective organ becomes like what is perceived (An. 418a3–6). Furthermore, he says that the organ takes on the form “without matter”, just as “as the wax takes up the seal of the ring without iron and without gold” (An. II 12, 424a18 f.). This has been interpreted by some commentators, including Thomas Aquinas , in such a way that the organ experiences no natural change (mutatio naturalis), but a spiritual one (mutatio spiritualis) . Other interpreters believe that “without matter” simply means that although no particles get into the organ, it actually changes according to the object of perception.

All living beings that have perception have the sense of touch. The sense of touch is a sense of contact, i.e. there is no medium between the organ of perception and what is perceived (An. II 11, 423a13 f.). The sense of taste is a kind of sense of touch (An. II 10, 422a8 f.). The three senses of distance smelling, hearing and seeing, on the other hand, require a medium that transports the impression of what is perceived to the organ.


The reason or the mind (nous) is specific to the human being. Aristotle defines it as "that with which the soul thinks and makes assumptions" (An. III 4, 429a22 f.). Reason is incorporeal, since otherwise it would be restricted in its possible objects of thought, but this must not be the case (An. III 4, 429a17-22). However, it is bound to the body because it depends on ideas (phantasmata) . Ideas form the material of the acts of thought, they are preserved sensory perceptions. The corresponding imagination ( phantasia; neither interpretive nor productive in the sense of phantasy) is dependent on sensory impressions, although the sensory impression and imagination can sometimes differ significantly in quality, for example in the case of hallucinations . The ability to imagine is assigned to the ability to perceive (An. III 8, 428b10–18). Insofar as reason is bound to ideas in its activity, it is also bound to a body.


Happiness ( eudaimonia ) and virtue or best state ( aretê ) are the central concepts in Aristotle's ethics. Aristotle advocates the thesis that the goal of all deliberate actions is happiness realized in the “good life”. In his opinion, the development of virtues is essential to achieve this goal (→ virtue ethics ).

Happiness as the goal of the good life

Striving hierarchy of goods

In their (deliberate) actions, all people strive for something that appears good to them. Some of these sought- after goods are sought only as a means of attaining other goods; others are both a means and a good in themselves. Since striving cannot be infinite, there must be a supreme good and an ultimate aim. This is only striven for for its own sake. Apparently it is generally called “happiness” (eudaimonia) ( EN I 1).

Definition of happiness as the supreme good

In order to determine in outline what happiness as the highest good for man consists of, Aristotle asks: What is the specific function (telos) or task ( ergon ) of man? It consists in the faculty of reason (logos) which distinguishes it from other living beings. The part of the soul that is specific to man has this faculty of reason; the other part of the soul, which is made up of emotions and desires , is not itself sensible, but can be guided by reason. In order to attain happiness, the individual must use reason, not merely possess it, in the long run and in the best condition (aretê). Accordingly, "the good for man," happiness is one

“Activity of the soul according to goodness (kat 'aretên), and if there are several kinds of goodness, in the sense of which is the best and most of all a final goal (teleios) . We still have to add: 'in a lifetime'. Because a swallow doesn't make spring, not even a day. So even a day or a short time does not make one blissful (makarios) or happy (eudaimôn). "

- EN I 7, 1098a17-19.


In order to attain the state of excellence, one has to develop the two parts of the soul accordingly (a) virtues of reason and (b) virtues of character. For Aristotle, virtues are attitudes to which every person has the disposition, but which must first be developed through upbringing and getting used to.

Virtues of reason

Among the virtues of the mind, some relate to the knowledge of the unchangeable or the making of objects. Only prudence (phronêsis) is linked to action, as a virtue with the aim of a good life. In addition to character virtues, it is necessary in order to be able to act in concrete decision-making situations with regard to the good life. In the realm of human action, unlike in science, there is no evidence, and to be wise, experience is required . The function of prudence is to choose the middle (mesotês) .

Virtues of character

Character virtues are attitudes (hexeis) which are characterized by the fact that one can praise and blame them. They are developed through upbringing and habituation, although this is not to be understood as conditioning . Although a lot depends on habituation from childhood on (EN II 1, 1103b24), character virtues are only present when someone knowingly decides on the corresponding actions, not because of possible sanctions, but for the sake of the virtuous actions themselves, and if it does not falter either (EN II 3, 1105a26–33). The virtuous also differs from the self-controlled (who may perform the same actions, but has to force himself to do so) in that he feels pleasure in virtue (EN II 2, 1104b3 ff.).

The virtues of character are developed through habituation by avoiding excess and deficiency.

“Whoever flees and fears everything and cannot withstand anywhere becomes cowardly, but whoever fears nothing and attacks everything becomes foolhardy. Likewise, whoever enjoys all pleasure and does not abstain from any pleasure becomes excessive, but whoever avoids all pleasure like a rude farmer becomes insensitive. "

- EN II 2, 1104a20-24

The instrument of the middle determines the virtues of character more precisely. For example, the virtue of valor is a middle ground between the vices of recklessness and cowardice. The basis for the virtues are actions as well as emotions and desires. Not brave, but foolhardy is someone who is either completely fearless in a certain situation, although the situation is threatening, or who ignores his fear in a serious threatening situation. The middle consists - here as with the other character virtues - in having appropriate emotions and acting accordingly. This doctrine of the middle is probably not to be understood in concrete situations as a normative guiding principle, but only as an instrument to describe character virtues. It is also not an arithmetic center, but a center for us (pros hêmas) that takes into account the respective emotion, the person and the situation. This table shows some important character virtues (EN II 7):

Subject area defect Virtue of character Excess
Fear / courage cowardice bravery Recklessness
Pleasure / displeasure Licentiousness Prudence Numbness
anger weakness gentleness Hot temper
shame shamelessness Sensitivity shyness
honor Faintheartedness Generosity vanity

Aristotle accordingly defines the virtue of character as

"An attitude based on decisions , which exists in a center in relation to us and which is determined by deliberation, that is, as the prudent (phronimos) would determine it."

- EN II 6, 1106b36-1107a2

Life forms and lust

In the context of the analysis of the good life, Aristotle distinguishes three forms of life that pursue different goals:

  1. the pleasure life - with the goal of pleasure;
  2. political life - with the aim of honor;
  3. theoretical life - with the goal of knowledge (EN I 3).

The pleasure life in the sense of a mere satisfaction of desires Aristotle considers slavish and rejects it. He does not consider earning money and wealth as the goal to be a way of life, since money is always only a means to an end, but never an end in itself. He advocates theoretical life as the best way of life. The best activity that is sought in the definition of happiness is that of the theorist, who considers First Philosophy, Mathematics, etc., because it means leisure , serves no other purpose, uses the virtues of reason to do the best in man and has the best objects of knowledge ( EN X 7, 1177a18-35).

Although he considers theoretical life to be the best possible, he points out that viewing it as a form of life transcends humans as humans and is more something divine (EN X 7, 1177b26–31). The second best life is the political one. It consists in practicing the character virtues that determine how we deal with other people and with our emotions. Since the virtues of character and virtues of understanding are not mutually exclusive, Aristotle may mean that even the theorist, insofar as he is a social being endowed with emotions, must act in the sense of the second best life.

Aristotle sees the exercise of the virtues of reason (at least of prudence ) and virtues of character as essential elements of happiness. But he also considers external or physical goods and also pleasure to be conditions that are helpful or even necessary in order to become happy. We use goods like wealth , friends and power as means. If some goods are missing, happiness is tarnished, as in the case of physical disfigurement, loneliness or bad children (EN I 9, 1099a31–1099b6).

Aristotle thinks that a life of pleasure does not lead to happiness. He does not consider pleasure to be the highest good. In relation to positions hostile to pleasure, however, he asserts that the good life must include pleasure and describes pleasure as a good (EN VII 14). He also believes that a virtuous man who is “braided on a bike” cannot be called happy (EN VII 14, 1153b18–20).

Against Plato's view that lusts are processes (kinêsis) that remove a deficiency (like lust in quenching thirst), and thus the completion of the process is better than the latter itself, Aristotle argues that lusts are activities (energeia) that have no goal other than show themselves. Paradigmatic cases are perceiving and thinking .

With this pleasure concept, which defines pleasure as "unhindered activity" or "perfection of activity" (EN VII 13, 1153a14 f .; X 4, 1174b33), he asserts that the exercise of the virtues of reason and character can be pleasurable. Whether lusts are good or bad depends on whether the activities are good or bad. The latter is the case with physical lusts, for example, when they occur in excess or when they prevent good actions and are thus detrimental to happiness.

Political philosophy

The political philosophy of Aristotle concludes his ethics on. As a comprehensive form of all communities, the state ( polis ) exists for the sake of the highest good, happiness ( EN I 1, 1094a26 – b11; Pol. I 1, 1252a1–7). Political philosophy thus asks about the conditions of happiness with regard to life in the state. For this purpose, he analyzes the components of every human community and every state and examines which constitution (politeia) is the best and for which special conditions which constitution is the right one.

Origin, components and purpose of the state

From the point of view of Aristotle, the state exists by nature (Pol. I 2, 1253a1). If one looks at the parts of the state, there are two basic relationships: that between man and woman, whose purpose is procreation, and that of master and slave with the purpose of securing a livelihood. Both together make up the smallest community: the household.

Aristotle justifies slavery. He argues that there are slaves who by nature are not destined for anything other than slavery. He justifies this with the fact that such “slaves by nature” only have a small share in reason; therefore it is not only justified but even advantageous for them that they have to spend their lives as slaves (Pol. I 5, 1254b20-23; 1255a1 f.). However, his concept is unclear and contradictory, as he generally approves of the release of slaves and does not give any clear criteria for distinguishing between accidental slaves (e.g. through prisoners of war) and slaves by nature. His advice to promise slaves freedom as a reward (Pol. VII 10, 1330a20 f.), Contradicts the idea of ​​a "slave by nature".

Accordingly, he also argues for subordination of women (Pol. VII 10, 1330a20 f.). It is better for them to be ruled by a man, because their judgment is weaker than that of men (Pol. I 5, 1254b10–15; I 13, 1259a12).

Several households result in a village in which the division of labor enables better care, and several villages result in a state. This is self-sufficient in the sense that it can provide the conditions for a good life. Aristotle distinguishes the reason for the creation of the state from its purpose. The state emerges for the purpose of survival, of life itself, but its purpose is the good life: εὖ ζῆν = eu zēn = living well (Pol. I 2, 1252a25–1253a1).

According to Aristotle, it is part of human nature to live in community, because he is a " zôon politikon " , a living being in the polis community (Pol. I 2, 1253a3). Man can only achieve the good life in the state. Whoever does not need the state is "either an animal or a god" (Pol. I 2, 1253a29).

Citizen and constitution of a state

A polis (a state) consists of the free citizens . The purpose of the state is always the good life. Military or trade alliances, i.e. contracts, do not yet constitute a state. A defining characteristic of a certain state is its constitution.

The citizen

Citizens are those residents who have been granted civil rights and who actively participate in political events (judging and governing) (Pol. III 1, 1275a22). Aristotle does not determine the citizen primarily by origin or place of residence, but by participation in the political institutions of the state. According to the conditions in Athens at the time, Aristotle does not consider women, children, slaves and strangers as citizens. A citizen is also not allowed to have to work for a living. Wage workers and artisans can therefore not be citizens (Pol. III 5, 1278a11). The respective constitution of a state determines more precisely who is a citizen and who is not.

Theory of constitutions

In his distinction between the various constitutions, Aristotle asks two questions:

  1. Who rules
  2. For whose benefit is ruled?

For the first question, he differentiates between three possible answers: one, a few, many. On the second question, he differentiates between two possible conditions and beneficiaries: the constitution is just when it is governed for the benefit of all; it is unjust or wrong if it is governed solely for the benefit of the rulers (Pol. III 6, 1279a17-21). On this basis, he drafts a first doctrine of the forms of the state with six constitutions (Pol, III 6–8):

Ruler for the benefit of all for the benefit of the ruler
One monarchy Tyranny
Few aristocracy oligarchy
Lots Politics Democracy ( ochlocracy )

The different constitutions apply distributive justice in different ways (Pol. III 9, 1280a7-22). He defines distributive justice as the distribution proportional to achievement or dignity (EN V 6).

Scheme for the constitutional theory of Aristotle

Criticism of bad constitutions

Among the bad constitutions, which are not oriented towards the common good, he considers tyranny to be the worst, because in it the tyrant rules over the state in the sense of despotic sole rule like the master over the slaves (Pol. III 8, 1279b16).

He considers the oligarchy , which is characterized by the rule of the rich, to be somewhat less bad, and which, like tyranny, is very unstable (Pol. V 12). Aristotle holds the view that those who are unequal in one respect (property) are unequal in all respects as the fundamental error of the oligarchy . Accordingly, the fundamental error of democracy consists in the view that those who are the same in some respects are so in all (Pol. V 1, 1301a25-36).

The democracy holds Aristotle as bad as tyranny and oligarchy. In addition to equality, it is characterized by freedom. Freedom means to live the way you want, equality, that ruling and being ruled go around (1317b2-12). Aristotle regards the absolute freedom to live as one wants to be problematic insofar as it conflicts with the rule of the constitution (Pol. V 9, 1310a30-35). He criticizes equality when it is interpreted as total arithmetic , which leads to the rule of the inept expropriating the haves. Aristotle's so-called “ summation thesis” (Pol. III 11, 1281 a38-b9) and a differentiated study of the forms of popular rule within the framework of Aristotle also indicate that Aristotle did not flatly reject the participation of the “common people” in rulership second theory of forms of government .

Good constitutions

Among the good constitutions, the monarchy (under which Aristotle does not necessarily understand a kingship, but only an autocracy serving the common good) is the least good. Insofar as it is not bound by law, it is a mere form of rule, sometimes hardly a constitution, and problematic insofar as only the law can rule unaffected by emotions.

He understands an aristocracy to be the rule of the good, that is, of those who have the greatest share in virtue (aretê) , which does not necessarily mean the rule of a nobility by birth. Since the goal of the state, the good life, is achieved to the highest degree in an aristocracy, Aristotle considers it (along with a certain form of monarchy, namely royal rule) to be the best constitution (Pol. IV 2, 1289a30–32).

Aristotle does not discuss constitutional theory without reference to reality. In his opinion, it is often not possible to have the best constitution in a particular state. What is best for a specific state must always be determined relative to the circumstances (Pol. IV 1, 1288b21–33). Such considerations run through the whole constitutional theory. They are particularly evident in the model of politics , which Aristotle regards as the best possible for most contemporary states (Pol. IV 11, 1295a25). It is a mixed constitution that contains elements of democracy and oligarchy. In doing so, a balance is created for the striving for equality on the one hand and for wealth on the other. This compensation is achieved, among other things, by assigning offices according to class (Pol. V 8, 1308b26). In his view, this will increase stability and prevent social unrest (which was common in Greek states). A broad middle class gives the state particular stability (Pol. IV 11, 1295b25–38).


Theory of Poetry


The central concept of the Aristotelian theory of poetry , which he elaborated in his poetics (poiêtikê) , which was not published during his lifetime , is mimêsis , which means "imitation" or "representation". In addition to poetry in the narrower sense ( epic , tragedy , comedy and dithyramb poetry ), parts of music and dance also belong to the mimetic arts for Aristotle ( Poet. 1, 1447a). Aristotle does not deal with the imaging arts such as painting and sculpture , but only mentions that they also work according to the principle of imitation (Poet. 1, 1447a19 f.). What all mimetic arts have in common is temporal succession. In this respect, mimêsis can be understood as an aesthetic act.

In the pleasure of mimêsis , Aristotle sees an anthropological basic fact that is common to all people. Because people are born with joy in it and in its products, as they like to learn (Poet. 4, 1448b5-15). In contrast to the other mimetic arts, the use of language is specific to poetry . All poetry is also a representation of actions; however, not of what actually happened, but of what “could happen, that is, what is possible according to the rules of probability or necessity” (Poet. 9, 1451a37 f.). Actions are shown that say something about people in general, not about random and arbitrary relationships. The aim is not to imitate people; it is not a question of characters or characters, but of actions; The former are only means (Poet. 6, 1450a26-23).

Types of poetry

Aristotle classifies four forms of existing poetry according to two criteria: (i) the type of representation of action and (ii) the type of characters depicted.

presentation dramatic representation reporting representation
Representation of the better tragedy epos
Depiction of the worse comedy Mockery song

Dramatic representation is characterized by the fact that the respective character himself represents the action, the reporting by the fact that the action is reported. The characters and their actions are meant by “better” and “worse”. Better characters are a little better than ourselves, worse ones are worse; but neither is so far that we can no longer identify with them (Poet. 5, 1449a31–1449b13). Aristotle advocates the hypothesis that the tragedy emerged from the epic and the comedy from the song of derision (Poet. 4, 1449a2–7).

Aristotle announces an investigation into comedy. However, like one of the mocking songs, it has not been handed down. He treats the epic very briefly. His traditional theory of poetry is therefore primarily a theory of tragedy.


Aristotle defines tragedy as one

“Representation (mimêsis) [1] of a good and self-contained action of a certain size, [2] in attractively formed language […], (imitation) [3] by actors and not by report, [4a] the compassion (eleos ) and fear (phobos) , and [4b] thereby a cleansing ( catharsis ) of such emotions. "

- poet. 6, 1449b24-28

This short sentence is one of the most discussed passages in all of Aristotle's work. (3) names the dramatic-performing element. (1) names (in addition to the aspects already mentioned above) the (later so-called) unit of action. The unity of place and time was ascribed to Aristotelian tragedy theory during the Renaissance, but he himself did not advocate it. (2) refers to the fact that the language of tragedy has melody and rhythm. By far the most attention has received (4), especially (4b).

Emotional arousal and catharsis

In (4) Aristotle describes the function of tragedy, what it is supposed to achieve. Only (4a) is largely undisputed: the action depicted is intended to arouse the emotions of pity and fear in the audience. It is unclear, however, whether eleos and phobos can actually be represented with “pity” and “fear” or with “elementary effects”, “woe” and “shudder”. That the action itself and not the performance plays the decisive role in the arousal of emotions can be seen from the fact that Aristotle also sees the tragedy read in his theory. Pity is aroused when the protagonists suffer undeserved misfortune, fear when they are similar to the viewer (or reader).

(4b) is highly controversial because the functionality is not explained further. The word catharsis , which as a metaphor (like "cleaning" in German) has an excess of meaning, has given rise to a wide variety of interpretations, especially because it was used before Aristotle, namely in medicine (cleaning with emetics and laxatives) and in religious cults (purification of unclean persons through religious practices). The grammatical construction cleaning of emotions allows different interpretations of what the cleaning consists of. Presumably the emotions themselves are supposed to be purified (through an emotion excitation); but the statement was also understood as a purification from the emotions.

The normative-descriptive character of tragedy theory

Aristotle's theory of tragedy has two types of statements. On the one hand, he examines the fundamentals of poetry, distinguishes between different types of poetry and names parts of a tragedy and how they work. On the other hand, he also talks about what a good tragedy is and what the poet should do accordingly . For example, he expresses that in a good tragedy a protagonist does not get from luck into disaster because of his good or bad character, but because of a mistake ( hamartia ), for example like Oedipus because of ignorance. Only a bad tragedy would show how a good character goes from good luck to bad luck or a bad character moves from bad luck to good luck. The reason for this is the function of tragedy to bring about compassion and fear. In bad tragedies, pity and fear would not be aroused, in good tragedies this is the case due to the nature of the protagonist and the mistake as the cause of the misfortune (Poet. 13, 1452b28–1453a12).


A hymn to Aretê has also come down to us from Aristotle , which he wrote in memory of his friend Hermias .



Gustav Adolph Spangenberg, The School of Aristotle, fresco 1883–1888

The teaching of Aristotle had far less influence on his school, the Peripatus , after his death than Plato's teaching on his academy . Aristotle was given no veneration comparable to that of Plato among the Platonists . This meant, on the one hand, openness and flexibility, and, on the other, a lack of substantive cohesion. The Peripatetics devoted themselves primarily to empirical natural research and dealt with ethics , the theory of the soul and the theory of the state. Aristotle's pupil Theophrastus , his successor as head of the school, and his successor Straton came to partially different results than the school's founder. A period of decline began after Straton's death (270/268 BC).

Alexander von Aphrodisias with Aristotle in a relief representation of Andrea Briosco from the 16th century, today in the Berlin Bode-Museum

The study and commentary on the writings of Aristotle was apparently neglected at the Peripatos at that time, or at least pursued far less zealously than the study of Plato in the competing academy. Only in the first century BC Chr. Provided Andronicus of Rhodes for a compilation of the treatises ( Prague Matien ) of Aristotle, and even with their interpretation by the Peripatetic, there was an upswing. The “exoteric” writings intended for the public, especially the dialogues, were popular for a long time, but were lost during the Roman Empire. Cicero still knew her. The Peripatetics viewed the textbooks as specifically intended for their internal teaching use. In the Roman Empire, the most influential representative of Aristotelianism was Alexander of Aphrodisias , who defended the mortality of the soul against the Platonists.

Although Aristotle attached great importance to the refutation of core elements of Platonism, it was precisely the Neoplatonists who made a significant contribution to the preservation and dissemination of his legacy in late antiquity by adopting his logic, commenting on it and integrating it into their system. A particularly important role was played by Porphyrios in the 3rd century AD, Proclus in the 5th century , Ammonios Hermeiou (who founded the tradition of commenting on Aristotle in Alexandria) and Simplikios in the 6th century , who wrote important commentaries on Aristotle. In the 4th century, Themistios wrote paraphrases to works by Aristotle, which had a strong impact. He was the only Aristotelian (albeit influenced by Neo-Platonism) among the late antique commentators; the others dealt with Aristotelianism from a Neoplatonic perspective and aimed at a synthesis of Platonic and Aristotelian conceptions, whereby the predominance of the Platonic ones is often recognizable. At the beginning of the 7th century, the respected Christian philosopher Stephanos of Alexandria, who taught in Constantinople, commented on works by Aristotle.

Among the prominent ancient church fathers , Aristotle was little known and unpopular, some despised and mocked his dialectic . They resented him for considering the universe to be uncreated and immortal and for doubting the immortality of the soul (or, according to their understanding, denied it). On the other hand, some Christian Gnostics and other heretical Christians had a more positive relationship with Aristotle : Arians ( Aëtios , Eunomius ), Monophysites , Pelagians, and Nestorians - a fact that made the philosopher even more suspect for church authors. Syrians - Monophysite as well as Nestorian - translated the Organon into their language and dealt intensively with it. In the 6th century, Johannes Philoponos wrote Commentaries on Aristotle, but he was also harshly critical of Aristotelian cosmology and physics. With his impetus theory, he was a forerunner of late medieval and early modern criticism of the Aristotelian movement theory.

middle Ages

Aristotle at his desk. Illumination in the manuscript written in 1457 Vienna, Austrian National Library, Cod. Phil. gr. 64, fol. 8v

In the Byzantine Empire of the early Middle Ages, Aristotle received little attention. His influence was mainly felt indirectly, namely through the mostly Neo-Platonic-minded authors of late antiquity who had adopted parts of his teaching. Therefore, mixing with Neoplatonic ideas was given from the start. In the case of John of Damascus , the Aristotelian component emerges clearly. In the 11th and 12th centuries there was a revival of interest in Aristotelian philosophy: Michael Psellos , Johannes Italos and his pupil Eustratios von Nikaia (both convicted of heresy ) and the primarily philologically oriented Michael of Ephesus wrote comments. The imperial daughter Anna Komnena promoted these efforts.

In the Islamic world, the effects of Aristotle's works began early and were broader and deeper than in late antiquity and in the early and high Middle Ages in Europe. The Aristotelianism dominated qualitatively and quantitatively compared to the rest of the ancient tradition. As early as the 9th century, most of Aristotle's works, often mediated through previous translation into Syrian ( Sergios von Resaina was the first Syrian Aristotle commentator ), were available in Arabic , as were ancient commentaries. In addition, there was an abundance of inauthentic ( pseudo-Aristotelian ) literature, some with Neoplatonic content, including writings such as the theology of Aristotle and the Kalam fi mahd al-khair (Liber de causis). The Aristotelian ideas were mixed with Neoplatonic ideas from the beginning, and it was believed that the teachings of Plato and Aristotle were in agreement. In this sense al-Kindī (9th century) and al-Farabi (10th century) and the later tradition that followed them interpreted Aristotelianism; in ibn Sina ( Avicenna ) the Neoplatonic element came to the fore. A relatively pure Aristotelianism, however, represented in the 12th century ibn Rušd ( Averroes ), who wrote numerous commentaries and defended the Aristotelian philosophy against al-Ghazali .

In the Latin Middle Ages , only a small part of Aristotle's complete works was distributed until the 12th century, namely two of the logical writings ( Categories and De interpretatione ) that Boethius had translated and commented on in the early 6th century, together with the introduction by Porphyry to category theory . This literature, later called Logica vetus , formed the basis of logic lessons. This narrow limitation changed with the great translation movement of the 12th and 13th centuries. In the 12th century the previously missing logical writings ( Analytica priora and posteriora , Topik , Sophistic Refutations ) became available in Latin; they made the Logica nova off. Then almost all of the remaining works became accessible one after the other (some not until the 13th century). Most of the scriptures have been translated into Latin several times (either from Arabic or from Greek). Michael Scotus translated Averroes' commentaries on Aristotle from Arabic. They were eagerly used, which in the second half of the 13th century led to the emergence of Latin averroism , which was a relatively consistent Aristotelianism for the time.

In the course of the 13th century, Aristotle's writings became the standard textbooks for the basis of scholastic science at universities (in the Faculty of the Liberal Arts) ; In 1255 his logic, natural philosophy and ethics were prescribed as subjects in this faculty of the Paris University. The leading role came to the Paris and Oxford universities. The commentaries on Aristotle by Albertus Magnus were groundbreaking . Writing Aristotle's commentaries became one of the main occupations of the Masters, and many of them considered the commented textbooks to be error-free. In addition to the Aristotelian methodology, the theory of science was studied intensively in order to use it as the basis for a hierarchically ordered system of the sciences.

Aristotle holding his ethics . Detail from the fresco The School of Athens by Raphael (1510–1511)

However, resistance arose from the theological side against individual doctrines, especially against the theses of the eternity of the world and the absolute validity of the laws of nature (exclusion of miracles), as well as against averroism. Therefore, in 1210, 1215, 1231, 1245, 1270 and 1277 there were church condemnations of doctrines and Aristotle's prohibitions. However, they were only directed against the natural philosophical writings or against individual theses and could only temporarily inhibit the triumphant advance of Aristotelianism. These bans only affected France (especially Paris), they did not apply in Oxford. Aristotle became “the philosopher” par excellence: with Philosophus (without addition) only he was meant, with Commentator Averroes. Opposing positions (especially in epistemology and anthropology ) represented supporters of the Platonically influenced teachings of Augustine , especially Franciscans ("Franciscan School"). A prominent critic of Aristotelianism was the Franciscan Bonaventure . Another Franciscan, Petrus Johannis Olivi , stated disapprovingly around 1280: “You believe him (Aristotle) ​​for no reason - like a god of that time.” Finally, the Aristotelian system of teaching ( Thomism ), modified and further developed by the Dominican Thomas Aquinas, prevailed , first in his order and later throughout the Church.

However, Neoplatonic writings were still wrongly ascribed to Aristotle, which distorted the overall picture of his philosophy. In his Divine Comedy, Dante paid tribute to the importance and prestige of Aristotle by portraying him as a “master” who is admired and honored by the other ancient philosophers; however, Dante rejected some Aristotelian teachings.

The politics of Aristotle was not until around 1260 by William of Moerbeke translated into Latin and then commented by Thomas Aquinas and other scholastics and quotes. The justification of slavery and bondage in particular met with the interest and general approval of the scholars. The policy of political tracts to discussions on advantages and disadvantages of hereditary or elective monarchy as well as absolute or bound to the law domination inspired commentators and writers.

In the epoch of transition from the late Middle Ages to the early modern period , Nikolaus von Kues took a critical look at Aristotle. He imagined Aristotle as a fictional interlocutor who could be made to understand the justification of the Cusanian doctrine of the coincidentia oppositorum , although Aristotle should have rejected it according to his theorem of contradiction .

Modern times

Aristotle in front of the bust of Homer , painting by Rembrandt van Rijn
Aristotle painted by Francesco Hayez
Statue of Aristotle in the Aristotle Park of Stagira Halkidiki, Greece

During the Renaissance , humanists produced new, much easier-to-read Aristotle translations into Latin, so there was less need for commentaries. Significant are u. a. the translations of Nicomachean Ethics and Politics by Leonardo Bruni . But people also began to read the original Greek texts. There was a violent dispute between the Platonists and the Aristotelians, with the majority of the humanists involved tending towards Plato. In the Renaissance there were also important Aristotelians such as Pietro Pomponazzi (1462–1525) and Jacopo Zabarella (1533–1589), and at that time more Aristotle commentaries were written in the West than during the entire Middle Ages. As in the Middle Ages, there was a tendency among many Renaissance scholars to reconcile Platonic and Aristotelian viewpoints with one another and with Catholic theology and anthropology. But since the 15th century, thanks to better access to the sources, it has been possible to better understand the extent of the fundamental contradictions between Platonism , Aristotelianism and Catholicism. The Byzantine philosopher Georgios Gemistos Plethon played an important role in conveying this knowledge . Independently of this, the (new) scholastic Aristotelianism, which continued the medieval tradition, with its method and terminology in schools and universities still prevailed well into modern times, also in the Lutheran areas, although Martin Luther rejected Aristotelianism.

In the sixteenth century, Bernardino Telesio and Giordano Bruno launched frontal attacks on Aristotelianism, and Petrus Ramus advocated a non-Aristotelian logic ( Ramism ). Already in 1554 Giovanni Battista Benedetti (1530–1590) refuted in his work Demonstratio proportionum motuum localium contra Aristotilem et omnes philosophos in a simple thought experiment the Aristotelian assumption that bodies fall faster the heavier they are: two equal balls that are firmly connected by a (massless) rod, fall at the same speed as each of the two balls alone.

But it was not until the 17th century that a new understanding of science displaced the Aristotelian-scholastic tradition. Galileo Galilei initiated the turnaround in physics . In 1647, the hypothesis of a horror vacui put forward by Aristotle could be refuted by Blaise Pascal with the attempt Void in Void . Only in the published 1687 font Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica by Isaac Newton was with the principle of inertia , a foundation of the new classical mechanics built that replaced the Aristotelian assumptions.

In biology, Aristotelian views could hold up into the 18th century. They turned out to be partially fruitful. For example, when William Harvey discovered blood circulation, he started from Aristotle's principle that nature produces nothing unnecessary, and applied it to the nature of the blood vessels and chambers of the heart, of which Aristotle wrongly assumed three. In 1879 Charles Darwin described Aristotle as "one of the greatest observers (if not the greatest) who have ever lived".

The aftermath of Aristotle's poetics , especially his theory of tragedy (→ rule drama ), was very strong and lasting . It shaped the theory and practice of theater throughout the early modern period , with a few important exceptions, particularly in Spain and England (Shakespeare). The poetry was since 1278 before a Latin translation, 1498 and 1536 appeared humanistic translations. The poetics of Julius Caesar Scaliger (1561), the poetry theory of Martin Opitz (1624), the French theater theory of the 17th century (doctrine classique) and finally the art of rule required by Johann Christoph Gottsched ( Critische Dichtkunst, 1730) were based on it.

In the 19th century, particularly in Germany, the intensive philological examination of the work of Aristotle began. In 1831 the complete edition, commissioned by the Prussian Academy of Sciences and provided by Immanuel Bekker, was published . Hermann Bonitz wrote numerous translations and the Aristotelicus Index, which is still authoritative today . At the end of the 19th century, under the direction of Hermann Diels , the 15,000-page edition of the ancient Greek commentaries on Aristotle ( Commentaria in Aristotelem Graeca ) was published in the Berlin-based academy .

As a result of the intensive philological debate at the beginning of the 20th century, the long prevailing image that the Corpus Aristotelicum was a philosophical system composed as a whole was revised primarily by Werner Jaeger . The modern Aristotle research was determined in the first half of the 20th century, besides Jaeger, above all by WD Ross in Oxford; Numerous students ensured an increasing preoccupation with Aristotle not only in the philological, but also in the philosophical departments of Anglo-Saxon universities, which continues to this day.

Heidegger's analysis of the being of fundamental ontology took place in intensive discussion with Aristotle, which also applies to students like Hans Georg Gadamer . Aristotle had the greatest influence in the 20th century in ethics ( virtue ethics ) and political philosophy (in Germany especially in the school around Joachim Ritter , in the Anglo-Saxon area in communitarianism ). In the second half of the 20th century, the previously metaphysics- critical analytical philosophy explicitly took up Aristotle's substance theory ( e.g. David Wiggins : Sameness and Substance , the four-category ontology of Jonathan Lowe or the ontology of Barry Smith ) or implicitly on his essentialism (e.g. B. Kripke ).

The crater of the moon Aristotle is named after him. The same has been true for the asteroid (6123) Aristotle since 1995 and for the Aristotle Mountains in Grahamland on the Antarctic Peninsula since 2012 .

See also

Text editions and translations


Single issues

Wikisource: Aristotle  - Sources and full texts


The historical Aristotle


  • Carlo Natali: Aristotle. His Life and School. Princeton University Press, Princeton / Oxford 2013, ISBN 978-0-691-09653-7


  • John Lloyd Ackrill : Aristotle. An introduction to his philosophizing. De Gruyter, Berlin 1985, ISBN 3-11-008915-7 (brief introduction, especially to theoretical philosophy)
  • Jonathan Barnes : Aristotle. An introduction. Reclam, Stuttgart 1999 [1982], ISBN 3-15-008773-2 (brief introduction; biographical and natural sciences relatively detailed, little about practical philosophy)
  • Thomas Buchheim : Aristotle. Herder, Freiburg i. Br. 1999, ISBN 3-451-04764-0 (introduction with focus on the organon, natural philosophy and metaphysics; little practical philosophy, no reception; annotated bibliography)
  • Wolfgang Detel : Aristotle. Reclam, Leipzig 2005, ISBN 3-379-20301-7 (introduction with high systematic demands, especially on philosophy of science and metaphysics; chapter on neo-Aristotelianism of the 20th century)
  • Otfried Höffe : Aristotle. 3. Edition. Beck, Munich 2006, ISBN 3-406-54125-9 (detailed biographical, practical philosophy and reception; references to other epochs, especially modern times)
  • Christof Rapp : Aristotle for an introduction. 4th edition. Junius, Hamburg 2012, ISBN 978-3-88506-690-3 (singular representation of action theory, semantics, dialectics and rhetoric as well as ontology; nothing on the person; helpful, thematically structured bibliography)
  • Christopher Shields : Aristotle. Routledge, New York 2007, ISBN 978-0-415-28332-8 (extensive thematically structured introduction; review )
  • Wolfgang Welsch : The Philosopher: The Thought World of Aristotle. Fink (Wilhelm), Munich 2012, ISBN 978-3-7705-5382-2

Overall representations

  • Ingemar Düring : Aristotle. Presentation and interpretation of his thinking. Winter, Heidelberg 1966
  • Hellmut Flashar : Aristotle . In: Hellmut Flashar (ed.): Outline of the history of philosophy. The Philosophy of Antiquity , Volume 3: Older Academy, Aristotle, Peripatos. 2nd Edition. Schwabe, Basel 2004, ISBN 3-7965-1998-9 , pp. 167–492
  • Hellmut Flashar: Aristoteles: Lehrer des Abendlandes , Beck, Munich 2013, ISBN 978-3-406-64506-8
  • William KC Guthrie : A History of Greek Philosophy. Vol. 6: Aristotle. An encounter. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1981, ISBN 0-521-23573-1 (very legible, but nothing about logic)
  • John M. Rist : The Mind of Aristotle: A Study in Philosophical Growth . University of Toronto Press, Toronto 1989, ISBN 0-8020-2692-3 (covers the development of Aristotle's thought)
  • William David Ross : Aristotle. 1956; 6th edition. Routledge, London 1995, ISBN 0-415-32857-8 (solid and detailed presentation, especially valuable for natural philosophy and biology)




Overview and overall representations

Cross-epoch studies on individual topics

  • Christoph Horn, Ada Neschke-Hentschke (ed.): Political Aristotelianism. The Reception of Aristotelian Politics from Antiquity to the 19th Century . Metzler, Stuttgart 2008, ISBN 978-3-476-02078-9 .
  • Joachim Knape, Thomas Schirren (Ed.): Aristotelian Rhetoric Tradition . Franz Steiner, Stuttgart 2005, ISBN 3-515-08595-5 .
  • Cees Leijenhorst et al. (Ed.): The Dynamics of Aristotelian Natural Philosophy from Antiquity to the Seventeenth Century (= Medieval and Early Modern Science , Volume 5). Brill, Leiden 2002, ISBN 90-04-12240-0
  • Jürgen Wiesner (Ed.): Aristoteles. Work and effect. Volume 2: Commentary, Tradition, Afterlife . De Gruyter, Berlin 1987, ISBN 3-11-010976-X .


  • Andrea Falcon (Ed.): Brill's Companion to the Reception of Aristotle in Antiquity (= Brill's Companions to Classical Reception , Volume 7). Brill, Leiden 2016, ISBN 978-90-04-26647-6
  • Paul Moraux : Aristotelianism among the Greeks . 3 volumes, de Gruyter, Berlin 1973–2001.
  • Richard Sorabji (Ed.): Aristotle Transformed. The Ancient Commentators and Their Influence. 2nd, revised edition. Bloomsbury, London 2016, ISBN 978-1-47258-907-1

middle Ages

Modern times

Web links

Wiktionary: Aristotle  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

About Aristotle

Commons : Aristoteles  - album with pictures, videos and audio files

Texts by Aristotle

Wikisource: Aristotle  - Sources and full texts
Wikisource: Αριστοτέλης  - Sources and full texts (Greek)
Wikisource: Aristotle  - Sources and full texts (English)


  1. Düring p. 9.
  2. Trampedach pp. 66–79.
  3. Düring p. 12; Flashar p. 217; Trampedach p. 52, 54-55.
  4. Trampedach pp. 53–54.
  5. ^ Wolfram Hoepfner: Platon's Academy . In: Wolfram Hoepfner (Hrsg.): Ancient libraries. Zabern, Mainz 2002, pp. 56–62, here: p. 62.
  6. ^ Aelian : Varia Historia 3, 36.
  7. ^ Diogenes Laertios 5, 1, 11-16.
  8. ^ Cicero: Academica 2, 119.
  9. Whereby the rhetoric also shows sewing to the organon .
  10. "All people naturally strive for knowledge." (Met. I 1, 980a1 f.) "Every instruction and every sensible acquisition of knowledge arises from already existing knowledge." ( An. Post. I 1, 71a1 f.) " Every manufacturing knowledge and every scientific procedure, as well as every action and project, according to the widespread opinion, strives for a good. ”(EN I 1, 1094a1 f.)“ Every state association is, as we can see, a community of a special kind, and every community is formed in order to realize a good of a special kind - because all people perform all actions for the sake of one purpose, namely to achieve what appears to them to be good ”( Pol. I 1, 1252a1-3).
  11. ^ Hermann Weidemann : Aristotle. Peri Hermeneias. Berlin 2002, p. 134.
  12. For material objects Aristotle uses a further important type of definition, which is based on the (later treated) form-matter distinction and is ontological. Accordingly, a house, for example, is defined as an arrangement of wood and bricks structured in a certain way ( Met. VIII 3, 1043a31 f.).
  13. He says that one “carries out an induction by the fact that the individual things are clear - that everything is so because nothing is different” ( An. Post. II 5, 92a37 f.). Detel explains: "According to this remark, induction proves a universal proposition by going through all the individual instances and showing that there are no opposing instances among them." Detel 1993 I, p. 251.
  14. As an additional condition, an opinion of type (ciii) is only considered recognized if it does not contradict the opinion of the crowd.
  15. E.g. “Is 'two-legged living being moving on land' the definition of human or not?” Top. I 4, 101b28-31
  16. There are exceptions (e.g. if the question is ambiguous) for which there are rules, Top. VIII.
  17. Aristotle defines the enthymeme as a deduction; however, he says of a special case of enthymeme that it is not a deduction.
  18. Here, character dispositions (e.g. only those who have the appropriate self-respect can be angry; see 1387b13 f.) And physiological requirements are relevant. (Rapp (2002) II, 559-570, 582 f.)
  19. Aristotle himself uses the inverse sentence order: B belongs to all A etc.
  20. A third method, the so-called êkthesis, he rarely uses, and then only in the third figure.
  21. The names provide information about the form and, if applicable, how it can be proven. For example, B a rb a r a has only appropriate, general connections.
  22. Art (téchnē) (= productive knowledge): Art as producing knowledge differs from knowledge insofar as its objects can also behave differently.
  23. Other theorems that Aristotle cannot prove are specific foundations of individual sciences. He does not consider this to be problematic (for example, that the geometry presupposes the existence of points or the biology that of living beings with certain properties).
  24. The modern critics favored a type similar to that which they accepted and rejected in Aristotle.
  25. For an exception to a non-material form see Theology
  26. It is disputed whether Aristotle assumes a completely indefinite matter, the so-called prima materia. See William Charlton: Aristotle. Physics Books I and II. Oxford 1970, pp. 129-145.
  27. The word Ousia, participle to 'be', literally: 'Being' is mostly translated as 'substance'. 'Substance' may still be adequate for the theory of categories , this expression is misleading and problematic for metaphysics . "The decisive disadvantage of the common translation of 'substance' is that it is associated with a certain conception of ousia , namely that of the categories according to which the concrete individual thing as a carrier of changing properties is the actual substance." (Christof Rapp, in: Rapp (1996 ) P. 8). See also Vasilis Politis: Aristotle and the Metaphysics. New York 2004, p. 12; 192. The expression also appears in this meaning in Plato (Christoph Horn, Christof Rapp: ousia. In: dies .: Dictionary of ancient philosophy. Munich 2002, pp. 320–321). Aristotle believes that the thing to have the pre-Socratic question: "What is the one ousia '?" Is set.
  28. "What is called the Platonic 'Idea' in the history of philosophy, Plato [...] calls among other things idea, morphê, eidos [!] Or , depending on the context, also genos and even usia [!] And physis." Christian Schäfer: Idea / Form / Shape / essence. In: ders .: Platon-Lexikon. Darmstadt 2007, p. 157.
  29. ↑ For the sake of clarity, this somewhat technical notation: Substance-X = Substance-of something. Similar to Rapp 2001, p. 160. The corresponding distinction is also made in Metaphysik V 8, where Aristotle explains the term substance in his “dictionary of terms”.
  30. ↑ However, it is controversial whether the substance theory of metaphysics and that of the categories are compatible, and also whether the theory of metaphysics should rather supplement or replace that of the categories .
  31. ↑ The fact that Aristotle uses eidos to designate both the type and the form has led to numerous interpretative difficulties, in particular the relationship between the theory of categories (in which eidos (as type) is the second substance) and that of metaphysics (in which eidos (as Form) is substance-X and is called first substance).
  32. A good account of this controversy in Steinfath, 43.
  33. Marc Cohen provides a good overview of the problem: Aristotle's Metaphysics . In: Edward N. Zalta (Ed.): The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (Winter 2003 Edition), § 10: Substance and Universals. Christof Rapp presents the three main positions that are based on a consistent theory in the introduction to the volume Aristotle, which he edited . Metaphysics, The Substance Books (Ζ, Η, Θ), Berlin 1996, p. 22 ff.
  34. ↑ Wealth has different meanings for Aristotle. The basic meaning of wealth is change. Here there is (i) an active ability to do something and (ii) a passive ability to suffer something (Met. V 12, 1019b35 ff .; IX 1, 1046a4 f.). For example, the builder has the ability to arrange certain components in such a way that a house is created from them, and at the same time certain components have the ability to be arranged to form a house. (iii) Ontological potentiality, on the other hand, is the ability to be something .
  35. Quoted from Jonathan Barnes: Aristotle. Stuttgart 1992, pp. 19-20.
  36. Quoted from Jonathan Barnes: Aristotle. Stuttgart 1992, p. 21.
  37. Wolfgang Kullmann : Aristotle and modern science. Stuttgart 1998, p. 284.
  38. “Aristotle's views also agree with the decisive thesis of modern molecular biology that - formulated in Monod's language - the invariant reproduction of species based on teleonomic information proceeds according to strictly causal,“ technical ”, more precisely according to chemical principles. Through the discovery of the different functions of the nucleic acids, on the one hand, which guarantee genetic invariance, and , on the other hand, the proteins , which are responsible for teleonomic structures and services, it turns out that the essential core of the Aristotelian idea of ​​a programmed, targeted epigenesis is closer to reality comes as some other recent theory ”, Wolfgang Kullmann: Teleology in Aristotelian biology: Aristotle as a zoologist, embryologist and geneticist. Heidelberg 1979, p. 61.
  39. a b In a passage that is highly controversial in terms of its meaning, however, he speaks of an immortal reason “which effects everything” (An. III 5, 430a15).
  40. ↑ It is debatable whether Aristotle can be brought close to the functionalism of today's philosophy of mind . Myles Burnyeat, for example, doubts this, since Aristotle and our concept of matter are not compatible; Hilary Putnam and Martha C. Nussbaum argue for it. See Myles F. Burnyeat: Is an Aristotelean Philosophy of Mind Still Credible? A Draft and Martha C. Nussbaum, Hilary Putnam: Changing Aristotle's Mind, both in: Martha C. Nussbaum, Amélie Oksenberg Rorty : Essays on Aristotle's “De anima”, Oxford 1992. Putnam, however, has changed his position on the Aristotelian theory of the soul several times.
  41. See also Jan van der Meulen: Aristoteles. The center of his thinking. Meisenheim / Glan 1951.
  42. ^ Philipp Brüllmann, Katharina Fischer: mêson. In: Otfried Höffe (Ed.): Aristoteles-Lexikon. Stuttgart 2005, p. 346.
  43. This is a selection of the character virtues discussed by Aristotle. For a complete overview, see Wolf, pp. 79–80.
  44. The Nicomachean Ethics has two treatises on pleasure with two definitions in books VII and X.
  45. See Ottmann, pp. 179–183; CCW Taylor in: Barnes (1995), pp. 254-257.
  46. Wolfgang Schadewaldt: Fear and Compassion? On the interpretation of Aristotelian tragedy. In: Hermes. 83: 129-171 (1955).
  47. ^ William D. Furley , Jan Maarten Bremer : Greek Hymns II. Greek Texts and Commentary . Tübingen 2001, pp. 221-228.
  48. ^ Fritz W. Zimmermann: The Origins of the So-called Theology of Aristotle. In: Jill Kraye u. a. (Ed.): Pseudo-Aristotle in the Middle Ages: the Theology and Other Texts. London 1986, pp. 110-240.
  49. See Eckhard Keßler: Stages of the Origin of the Latin Aristotle .
  50. On the Franciscan Aristotle criticism see Kurt Flasch: Aristoteleskritik im Mittelalter. In: Arbogast Schmitt, Gyburg Radke-Uhlmann (Hrsg.): Philosophy in transition. Stuttgart 2009, pp. 65–77, here: 65–69.
  51. Dante Alighieri: The Divine Comedy. Inferno 4, 131-133.
  52. ^ Elisabeth von Roon-Bassermann: Dante and Aristoteles. Freiburg 1956, pp. 1–21, 27 ff.
  53. On the Aristotle reception of Cusanus see Flasch (2009) pp. 71–77.
  54. ^ Gotthard Strohmaier : Avicenna. Beck, Munich 1999, ISBN 3-406-41946-1 , p. 118 f.
  55. James G. Lennox: Aristotle's Philosophy of Biology. Cambridge 2001, p. 218 f.
  56. ^ Allan Gotthelf: From Aristotle to Darwin. In: Carlos Steel u. a. (Ed.): Aristotle's Animals in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Leuven 1999, p. 398.
  57. ^ "Incidentally, Aristotle has probably never been the subject of such diverse and worldwide work as it is now", Flashar (2004) p. 177.
  58. ^ EJ Lowe: The Four-Category Ontology: A Metaphysical Foundation for Natural Science, Oxford University Press 2007, and the review by Ryan Wasserman on this.
  59. Barry Smith: Aristoteles 2000. (PDF; 108 kB), In: Th. Buchheim , H. Flashar , RAH King (ed.): Can you still do something with Aristotle today? Meiner, Hamburg 2003, pp. 3–38.
This article was added to the list of excellent articles on December 12, 2007 in this version .