Aristotle

"For the things we have to learn before we can do, we learn by doing."[1]

Aristotle was a Greek philosopher born between 384-383 BC, in Stagira, a small seaport town. His mother, Phaistis, was born on the island of Euboea in the town of Chalcis. Throughout his life, Aristotle remained in contact with his mother’s family and he returned to the family’s estate one year before his death[2] , in 322 BC.[3] Aristotle’s father, Nicomachos, was born in Messenia and treated King Amyntas II of Macedon, as his Court Physician.[2]
There is evidence to support the notion that Aristotle was trained in dissection as a boy and may have even aided in several surgeries[4] , and that it was this early exposure to medicine that resulted in his interest in biology, medicine and his use of the empirical method. Both of Aristotle’s parents died while he was still in his youth, and as a result he was raised by one of his relatives, Proxenos.[2]

At the age of eighteen, Aristotle was sent to study at the Academy of Plato in Athens.[5] As a student of Plato, he was greatly influenced and eventually began to challenge even his mentor’s ideas. In 347 BC, upon Plato’s death, Aristotle left Athens, married Pythias and had a daughter with her, also named Pythias[4]. His wife died shortly after the birth of their daughter, at which point he shared a domestic relationship until his death, with Herpyllis, the mother of his son, Nicomachos. In 343 BC, King Philip of Macedon asked Aristotle to take charge of the education of his son, later named Alexander the Great. With the financial support of Alexander the Great, Aristotle later opened his own school, the Lyceum and it was during this period that he completed many of his most influential works [2].

An exceptional researcher and writer, Aristotle left a great body of works, perhaps numbering as many as two-hundred treatises, from which approximately thirty-one survive.[3] He wrote about various subjects, including physics, metaphysics, logic, rhetoric, poetics, politics, biology, psychology and zoology; but his thoughts on ethics are most relevant in the field of Public Relations. Aristotle completed several works on Virtue Ethics, the most notorious being the Nicomachean Ethics, which held that the nature of our knowledge has two main components. The first describes the nature of our knowledge of the ethics involved in justice, moderation and eudemonia. The second explains how we are able to use such knowledge in order to determine what justice requires of us in particular situations.[6]

Aristotle was one of the few moral philosophers to study ethics against various virtues and the art of living well. This study of ethical thinking emphasizes character, rather than looking at universal rules or consequences, as key elements in defining morality. His approach was rooted in the belief that acquiring virtues (e.g., courage, compassion, loyalty) is acquiring what matters to us, studying the virtues is studying what matters.[7] Furthermore, he advocated that those virtues could be developed only through consistent practice that would cause one’s virtues to become second nature.[8]

While many of Aristotle’s contemporaries have criticized his ideas as being fairly simplistic and incomplete[9] , there is no doubt that his teachings have laid the foundation for modern ethical theory. His approach represents the way most individuals consider questions of morality, while taking into account the emphasis placed on motivation, as well as the intricacies inherent to each unique dilemma.[6]


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  1. ^
    Book II, 1103.a33 : Cited in: Oxford Dictionary of Scientific Quotations// (2005), 21:9.
  2. ^
    Anagnostopoulos, G. (2013). A Companion to Aristotle. New York: Blackwell Publishing.
  3. ^
    Shields, C. (2007). Aristotle. New York: Routledge.
  4. ^
    Ross, W.D. (2004). Aristotle. London: Routledge.
  5. ^
    McKeon, R. (1947). Introduction to Aristotle. New York: Random House
  6. ^
    Reeve, C.D. (1995). Practices of Reason: Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. London: Oxford University Press
  7. ^
    Hutchinson, D.S. (1986). The Virtues of Aristotle. London: Routledge & Keegan Paul Inc.
  8. ^ Waluchow, W.J. (2003). The Dimensions of Ethics: An Introduction to Ethical Theory. Toronto: Broadview Press. Ltd.
  9. ^
    Peters, J. (2013). Aristotelian Ethics in Contemporary Perspective. New York: Routledge.