Aristotle Biography (384 B.C.-322 B.C.)
- philosopher, biologist
While he is highly regarded as a philosopher and father of logic and reasoning, Aristotle is also known for accomplishments in and contributions to othersciences. Throughout his life, he wrote several biological works which laid the foundations for comparative anatomy, taxonomy (classification), andembryology.
Aristotle was born in the northern Greek village of Stagira. His father was the court physician to the king of Macedonia, and it was at the Macedonian court where Aristotle spent much of his early boyhood. His father died before Aristotle was ten years old and the boy was raised by friends of the family.
At age seventeen, Aristotle was sent to the Academy of Plato in Athens wherehe plunged wholeheartedly into Plato's pursuit of truth and goodness, and soon became Plato's best pupil, earning the nickname "intelligence of the school." In the year 347 BC, twenty years after Aristotle's arrival, Plato died; Aristotle then left the Academy to travel. His journeys led him through the Greek empire and he eventually moved to Assos, a city in Asia Minor where his friend Hermias was the ruler. There, he married Pythias, Hermias' niece and adopted daughter, and began his research into natural history and biology.
In 342 b.c., Philip II invited Aristotle to return to the Macedonian court at Pella and teach his son, Alexander. Aristotle's student laterbecame known in history as Alexander the Great.
After the death of Philip and Alexander's rise to the throne, Aristotle leftthe court for a brief visit to his hometown; he soon returned to Athens to resume his scientific studies. In 335 b.c., he founded a university called the Lyceum. He had renounced some of Plato's theories and began his own style of brilliant teaching at the newly-established school. Inthe mornings, he would stroll through the Lyceum gardens, discussing problemsand theories with his advanced students. Because he walked about while teaching, Athenians nicknamed his school the Peripatetic--the Greek term meaning "to walk about." Like their headmaster, Lyceum pupils performed research in nearly every existing field of knowledge. They dissected animals and studied the habits of insects, helping Aristotle to compile data for his classification system.
The school became the basic building block for the great library and museum in the area. Unfortunately, in the year 323 b.c., the ruling emperor Alexander died, forcing Aristotle to leave Athens due to anti-Macedonian sentiment and accusations of impiety. He went to his mother's homeland of Chalcis where he died a year later.
Aristotle contributed much to the field of biology, especially through his early work on classification. He realized that you had to observe an array of characteristics, not just one as a basis for grouping, and scientists considerhim to be the first person to group organisms in ways that made sense. He did not believe in evolution, but as a careful student of nature, he separatedliving things according to their complexity, the scala naturae ("scale of nature"). He assigned each increasingly complex form of life to a step on a ladder, and every step was taken. In the eighteenth century, Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778) developed binomial nomenclature, whereby all organisms were named according to genus and species. Linnaeus said, "God Creates, Linnaeus arranges." His system of classification remains in use today. Aristotle was a painstaking observer, believing nature never created anything without a reason. He was particularly fascinated by sea creatures, often dissecting them and studying their natural habitats. This approach to anatomy led him to look for correlations between structure and function and to a belief that each biological part has its own special uses. The Judeo-Christian culture was in agreement with Aristotle's view that species are fixed and unchanging, and that the Creator designed each species with a particular purpose. These beliefs remained undisputed until 1859 when Darwin published his theory of natural selection to explain evolution.
In his studies, Aristotle balanced empiricism or observation and formalism, rational deduction. When studying embryology, he observed the change from pupato adult in insects. Aristotle deducted that the immature stage is trying toexpress the perfect form of the adult insect. From his observations, he alsoconcluded that certain lower forms of life, such as worms and flies, come from rotting fruit or manure by a process of spontaneous generation. This concept was disproved by the experiments of Francisco Redi in the seventeenth century and Louis Pasteur in the nineteenth century.
Besides his work in the field of biology, Aristotle also was the first to define and classify the various branches of knowledge. He sorted them into physics, metaphysics, rhetoric, poetics, and logic. In doing so, he laid the foundation of most of the sciences.