Aristotle (384–322 BC)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-A022-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved October 17, 2018, from

30. Influence

Some aspects of Aristotle’s philosophy have become so familiar that we do not even attribute them to him. When we say that an event was a mere ‘coincidence’, or that an ignorant person is ‘ill-informed’, or that someone’s behaviour is forming good or bad ‘habits’, our vocabulary expresses Aristotelian assumptions, transmitted through Latin translations and interpretations.

The explicit influence of Aristotle’s philosophical works and theories has been variable. In Hellenistic philosophy, he is not prominently cited or discussed (see Hellenistic philosophy); some have even doubted whether the major Stoics knew his works. From the first century bc, however, the study of Aristotle revived. This revival produced philosophers defending an Aristotelian position, often incorporating Stoic or Platonist elements, but sometimes sharpening contrasts between Aristotle and the Hellenistic schools (see Alexander of Aphrodisias; Peripatetics). These Aristotelians began a long series of Greek commentaries (lasting until the sixth century ad). Many of the later commentators were Neoplatonists; some of whom tried to reconcile Aristotelian with Platonic doctrines (see Aristotle Commentators; Platonism, Early and Middle §§8–9; Neoplatonism §1; Porphyry §2).

Between the sixth and the thirteenth centuries, most of Aristotle’s works were unavailable in western Europe, although he was still studied in the Byzantine empire and the Islamic world (see Aristotelianism in Islamic philosophy). Two leading figures in the revival of Aristotelian studies and of Aristotelian philosophy in medieval Europe were the translator William of Moerbeke and Thomas Aquinas (see Aristotelianism, medieval). Aquinas’ attempt to combine Aristotelian philosophy with orthodox Christian theology was at first rejected by ecclesiastical authority, but then came to be accepted (see Aquinas, T.).

The ‘scholastic’ philosophy of Aquinas and his successors is often opposed, but often presupposed, by Descartes, Locke, Hobbes and many of their successors, who often do not distinguish it from Aristotle’s own philosophy. The reader who compares their representation of the scholastic position with Aristotle’s own works (or with Aquinas) will often be surprised by the sharp differences between Aristotle’s (and Aquinas’) own positions and the positions that are attributed to him by the seventeenth-century philosophers who reject his authority (see Aristotelianism in the 17th century).

Modern historical study of Aristotle begins in the early nineteenth century. It has led to philosophical reassessment, and his works have once again become a source of philosophical insight and argument. Many of the themes of Aristotelian philosophy – the nature of substance, the relation of form to matter, the relation of mind to body, the nature of human action, the role of virtues and actions in morality – have reappeared as issues in philosophical debates, and Aristotle’s contributions to these debates have influenced the course of philosophical discussion.

In some ways, Aristotle has suffered from his success. At different times he has been regarded as the indisputable authority in astronomy, biology, logic and ethics; hence he has represented the traditional position against which reformers have revolted. If he is regarded neither as the indisputable authority nor as a repository of antiquated and discarded doctrines, his permanent philosophical value can be more justly appreciated.

Citing this article:
Irwin, T.H.. Influence. Aristotle (384–322 BC), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-A022-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2018 Routledge.

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