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Aristotle (384-322 BC)

Alexander was educated by Aristotle. A short introduction.

If you would sit down on a chair aimlessly, with no plans or goals whatsoever, your eyes would still be registrating everything that is around you. Even if there is no use to it at all, your senses keep working and keep processing information onto your brain. This observation led Aristotle to his final conclusion about the essence of human life: apparently we are here on this earth to gather knowledge. Because this is an autonomous process that can not be stopped, even if we would want to, it must be the 'meaning of life' - as Aristotle figured. Our sensory abilities make life worthwile by definition.


Together with his predecessors Socrates and Plato (who was his tutor), Aristotle is considered one of the three major philosophers of ancient Greece. In 343 BC he was hired by Philip II to educate Alexander, who was aged thirteen at that time. Possibly until 340 BC Aristotle tought Alexander at the temple of the Nymphs at Mieza. Plutarch writes that in 100 AD the shady walks and the stone seats that Alexander and Aristotle had once used at Mieza were still shown to visitors. Aristotle - according to Plutarch - inspired in Alexander a lifelong interest in philosophy, the principles of ethics and politics, literature and the art of healing. Plutarch also says that Aristotle initiated Alexander in secret and esotheric wisdom that was never written down and as a rule was not shared with ordinary students.

Some alleged 'letters' from correspondences between Alexander and Aristotle have survived the ages, but most of them (e.g. in the Romances) are forgery. Plutarch too quotes a letter - which may be genuine. During his campaigns Alexander kept sending Aristotle collections of scientific material from Asia, but in those later years their relationship had cooled down to below freezing point. (Aristotle had begun to write his "secret and esotheric wisdom" down in manuscripts; Alexander, as one of the initiates, did not approve of that.) However, during the Mieza years Alexander is said to have been more attached to Aristotle than to his father Philip.


Aristotle focussed his philosophy on our surrounding world: those objects that we can observe with our senses. In this respect he might be considered as a forerunner of modern science. Aristotle believed that the ultimate wisdom was understanding the beginnings of things. For example: the discovery that all mammals have seven cervical vertebra, would have delighted Aristotle. The number of seven is a 'beginning' of the building plan for all mammals, whether it be a giraffe or a mouse, and so it represents genuine knowledge. Endless variaties of animals could be imagined once one knows that seven is the key.

The knowledge of 'beginnings' or causes is what Aristotle denoted as Sophia - wisdom. Aristotle reasons that though 'beginnings' come first in the creation of things, they come last in our awareness. To the naked eye beginnings and causes tend to be invisible.


In order to discover those beginnings Aristotle promoted the study of the meaning and origin of words. Aristotle viewed language as a natural system that already described our unconcious knowledge of the universe. For example: the essential difference between a clock and a watch - Aristotle might have said - is hidden in the fact that "a watch" resembles "to watch" and "watch out". So if a clock is there simply to show time, a watch is primarily meant as a warning system. One should watch it regularly in order to watch out that one does not fail to show up at obligations.

In Aristotle's vision studying words was as good as studying the object itself. Critics have argued that in this respect Aristotle delayed the progress of science, rather than stimulating it. Aristotle also established the rigid system of common logic. If A produces B, and if A is true, then B must be true. Questions that could not be examined in this way - like the enigma of God - were not considered worthy of study. Aristotle also stated that two opposites (A and not-A) could never both be true. (He might have had serious problems appreciating modern physics, where a particle can be matter and energy at the same time.)

Callisthenes, Alexander's court historian, was probably a great-nephew of Aristotle. After Callisthenes was executed by Alexander, Aristotle remarked that Callisthenes had "possessed great eloquence, but lacked common sense". There have always been insinuations that Aristotle was connected to the murder (poisoning) of Alexander. "According to some writers [...] it was entirely through his efforts that the poison was provided" (Plutarch, Alex. 77).