Aristotle: Ancient Wisdom

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Aristotle was the polymath of the Ancient world he wrote on: ethics, politics, mathematics, logic, natural philosophy, anatomy, biology, cosmology, poetry, drama, rhetoric. The enduring nature of his profound thought and fundamental insights into ethics, politic and the arts makes his philosophy as relevant now as it has been throughout Western history. We will do an in-depth study of all of his major works and apply many of his ideas to contemporary life. Also in the course I will compare and contrast Aristotle’s Ancient wisdom to two other Ancient philosophies: The social humanism of Confucius and the dualistic ontology of Persian Manichaeism. Like Aristotle Confucius also takes the harmony of social order as the foundation of a good society. Manichaeism like Aristotle’s metaphysics is based on a rational order of the cosmos; we will compare and contrast these systems.


  • Introduction, Life and Times – We will cover his early life in Macedonia; his move to Athens; the founding of the Lyceum; his relationship with Alexander the Great and more. We will also assess Aristotle’s criticisms of Plato’s philosophy.
  • Truth, Logic, Language – One of Aristotle’s earliest works Categories, introduces his interest in attempting to understand the basic ‘substance’ which constitutes being. This work also contains his speculations on the role of language and his treatises on logic. For Aristotle Logic is possible for humans because of the mind’s capacity to understand and reject contradictions; this principle famously became known as the ‘law of non-contradiction’.
  • Foundation for Biology – Aristotle writes the first comprehensive work outlining a methodology for the natural sciences. This methodology encompasses four questions: 1 What is it made of. 2 What is its Form. 3 How did it come into being. 4 What is its purpose. It was the recovery of Aristotle’s science which grounds the recovery of science in the Renaissance.
  • Eudaimonia – Aristotle’s Eudaimonia becomes the foundation for subsequent Western ethics. Eudaimonia is an activity; it is the performance of one’s life. It entails the enjoyment of one’s capacities, and striving after the ‘arete’ of those capacities.
  • Virtue Ethics – Virtue ethics begins by asking “What is a good person”. Aristotle, with a keen eye for detail, outlines the particular virtues one should develop to live a well. He also considers compulsion and ignorance, and asks: “What kind of actions are to be called voluntary and which involuntary; which actions are humans responsible for; which issuing from whom we are”.
  • Education and Political Theory – How to organize the polis for the good of all? For Aristotle the basis of a good society is the rational education of its citizens, but he also thinks that training in good habits are important to the way in which we ‘inhabit’ our place in the polis.
  • Theory of Drama, Poetics and Rhetoric – Aristotle’s Poetics and Rhetoric present his ideas on the structure of drama; the nature of dramatic tragedy; character and universal types; dramatic catharsis; art and emotion.
  • Confucius: Social Humanism – Like Aristotle Confucius also takes the harmony of social order as the foundation of a good society. We will make a comparison between their ideas on ethics, politics and society.
  • Confucius and Aristotle – Continuing our comparison between the two systems we will turn to the difference between their views.
  • Manichaeism and Aristotle – The Persian Philosophy of Manichaeism like Aristotle’s theory is based on a rational order of the cosmos; we will compare and contrast these systems.

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  1. Discuss the main events of Aristotle’s life and times.
  2. Understand the important concepts in his philosophy.
  3. Relate his theory to person ethical decisions.
  4. Relate his theory to contemporary politics.
  5. Discuss Aristotle’s theory of drama and relate it to contemporary plays and film.