Aristotle is one of the most important philosophers and thinkers in history. He was the first to investigate logic. He promoted systematic observation and thought in biology, physics, law, literature and ethics. He was the first to systematically think through and develop a philosophical system that explained everything that the people of his time knew. He was a scientist, an ethicist, a philosopher and literary critic. His science lasted for over 1,500 years without significant challenge. His philosophy, logic and understanding lasted just as long.
Today, most people do not know who Aristotle is or why he is important. We do not believe that everything is composed of earth, air, fire and water. We do not believe that the stars, planets and sun orbit the earth. We do not study Aristotle in school or study the works of his followers. All of this is true, but there is much we can still learn from Aristotle. There are three areas that are of importance. First, we can study the art of conversation or dialectic. This teaches us how to defend our opinions, discover true opinions and distinguish between the truth and falsehood in other people’s beliefs. Second, we can learn the timeless portions of Aristotle. This includes his understanding of human beings as partly material and partly immaterial, his understanding of causes in nature and his understanding of virtue. Third, we can learn from Aristotle’s method. He was willing to learn from anyone and criticize anyone. All that mattered to him was whether what someone said was true.
I want to suggest one more reason that Aristotle is important. Aristotle is important because he corrects many of the errors of the modern world. During the scientific revolution, Galileo rejected the philosophy of Aristotle. Galileo was wrong. This error led to a gap between philosophy and science that has continued ever since. Galileo, Descartes and others supported a mechanical understanding of nature that separated ethics and immaterial beings from the world. This division led, eventually to our current understanding of the world. Our current understanding of the world allows for and encourages us to do things that would be unthinkable for our ancestors. We riot in Vancouver over a lost game, shoot people at schools in the US because life is meaningless and deal with politicians that don’t seem to be able to do anything right. Perhaps it is time we returned to Aristotle.