MadSci Network: Science History

Re: How come Aristotle could be so influencial in so many subjects under millen

Date: Fri May 18 11:42:23 2001
Posted By: Kirt Van Overen, Secondary School Teacher, Science, Pinewood Middle School
Area of science: Science History
ID: 989686430.Sh

Aristotle could be so influential because of who he taught, and who he was taught by. He was taught by the "scientific" leaders of his time, and one of his most famous pupils was Alexander the Great. Alexander would bring back various animals from throughtout the world, just to show them to Aristotle. Aristotle also thought of ideas that no one else had approached. The technology was not there to disprove him either. That is why many consider Steven Hawking to be the "Aristotle" of our time.

Dan Berger adds:

Aristotle was one of the dozen or so greatest minds of the western world, along with such luminaries as Archimedes, Plato, Aquinas, Newton and Kant. He was a first-rate descriptive biologist and we still use a variant of his biological classification system (cladistics has now partly superseded it). He was one of the greatest polymaths in history, and there were NO subjects (except possibly mathematics, but not all Aristotle's works survive) known in his time on which he could not speak knowledgeably and to which he did not make significant contributions. The fact that much of his science has been superseded does not detract from his achievements, and it's not his fault that people found his intellect so overwhelming that they didn't bother to go beyond his work for centuries.

While we don't teach Aristotle's physics or biology any more except as historical curiosities, it's still imperative to have at least some familiarity with his thought in (for example) dramatic criticism, rhetoric, political science, ethics, and philosophy in general, especially logical reasoning which he was the first to codify. Aristotle's influence on subsequent thought is and will probably remain unsurpassed. Hawking is a poor analogy, as I'm sure Hawking would be the first to admit, because Hawking doesn't attempt to make significant contributions to anything like the number of areas in which Aristotle was important.

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