Aristotle (384–322 BC)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-A022-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved September 18, 2018, from

2. Order of Aristotle’s works

By the end of Aristotle’s life the Lyceum must have become a well-established school. It lasted after Aristotle’s death; his successor as head of the school was his pupil Theophrastus. Many of the works in the Aristotelian corpus appear to be closely related to Aristotle’s lectures in the Lyceum. The polished character of some passages suggests preparation for publication (for example, Parts of Animals I 5), but many passages contain incomplete sentences and compressed allusions, suggesting notes that a lecturer might expand (for example, Metaphysics VII 13). We cannot tell how many of his treatises Aristotle regarded as ‘finished’ (see §11 on the Metaphysics and §21 on the Ethics).

It may be wrong, therefore, to ask about the ‘date’ of a particular treatise. If Aristotle neither published nor intended to publish the treatises, a given treatise may easily contain contributions from different dates. For similar reasons, we cannot plausibly take cross-references from one work to another as evidence of the order of the works. External, biographical considerations are unhelpful, since we lack the evidence to support any detailed intellectual biography of Aristotle.

A few points, however, may suggest a partial chronology.

(1) Some of Aristotle’s frequent critical discussions of Plato and other Academics may have been written (in some version) during Aristotle’s years in the Academy. The Topics may reflect the character of dialectical debates in the Academy.

(2) It is easier to understand the relation of the doctrine of substance in the Categories and Physics I–II to the doctrine and argument of Metaphysics VII if we suppose that Metaphysics VII is later.

(3) The Organon (see §4) does not mention matter, peürhaps because (a) Aristotle had not yet thought of it, or because (b) he regarded it as irrelevant to the topics considered in the Organon. If (a) is correct, the Organon precedes the works on natural philosophy.

(4) Some of the observations used in Aristotle’s biological works probably came from the eastern Aegean. Hence, Aristotle probably pursued his biological research during his years away from Athens. We might trace his biological interests to the Academy (see Plato’s Timaeus); he may also have acquired them from his father Nicomachus, who was a doctor. Probably, then, at least some of the biological works (or versions of them) are not the latest works in the corpus.

(5) The Magna Moralia (if it is genuine) and the Eudemian Ethics probably precede the Nicomachean Ethics (see §21).

The order in which Aristotle’s works appear in the Greek manuscripts goes back to early editors and commentators (from the first century bc to the sixth century ad); it reflects their view not about the order in which the works were written, but about the order in which they should be studied. This entry generally follows the order of the corpus, except that it discusses On the Soul after the Metaphysics (see §17), not among the works on natural philosophy (where it appears in the manuscripts).

Citing this article:
Irwin, T.H.. Order of Aristotle’s works. 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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