Aristotle: The Mind of the Past and the Future
The Classical Period of Ancient Greece is considered to be the most dynamic era of Western history. From around 500 B.C. to 300 BCE, Athens underwent the most crucial political change of all the city-states. A Greek statesman named Cleisthenes implemented a series of reforms known today as democracy. This radical form of government thrived throughout the time period. Pericles, the Athenian statesman in 447 BCE, not only supported and built upon this democracy, but also glorified Athens in many other areas. With his help, Athens flourished with music, literature, and gave birth to many great thinkers, four of which—Socrates, Aristotle, Xenophon, and Plato—challenged the people and their government, molding a variety of new concepts and ideas. Their impact spread around the globe, contributing to modern philosophy. While it is unquestionable that each philosopher had a strong impact, Aristotle most clearly influenced the culture of Ancient Greece. Aristotle’s beliefs concerning education and political organization were widely followed and enforced in Ancient Greece.
Ancient Greece had many prominent philosophers who had unique beliefs and ideals. Among the four main theorists of the time, Socrates was thought to be the most noble and wisest Athenian to have ever lived. Socrates believed ignorance limited wisdom and was the only cause of wrongdoing, and that humans possessed certain virtues that lead them in search for the truth. In addition, he developed the dialectic method of inquiry, known as the Socratic Method, which is practiced by philosophers to this day. Socrates wrote nothing himself, therefore most of what historians know about him today can only be assumed by the works of Plato, his prime student. In contrast to Socrates who believed man knew nothing, Plato reasoned that mankind is born with knowledge, and that reality is known only through the mind. In one of his works, The Politics, Plato supports an oligarchy ruled by a philosopher-king along with the elite class. Aristotle, however, believed that the middle class should rule the government, for he reasoned that the rich were too ignorant and the poor were too needy. In The Politics, he discusses how unions, common interest, and government values held communities together. He encouraged societies to choose the government that best suited their people, yet he promoted democracy and oligarchies. Xenophon’s ideal society was one where men possessed the most knowledge over women, and is therefore meant to hold the most power. He believed that a woman’s job is to maintain the house, raise the children, and please the man. Together, these philosophers tackled various theories on politics and people, which shaped the course of thought in Ancient Greece.
Aristotle contributed numerous advantages to the educational structure of Ancient Greece. He was known for possessing the mind of a polymath, and applied his great knowledge across various fields, including biology and philosophy. Aristotle once wrote, “He who studies how things originated…will achieve the clearest view of them”(Aristotle). He advocated in-depth scientific research, for he felt it was the only way to truly understand something’s meaning. He rigorously applied this principal. His system changed the path of scientific thought later on, for he is said to be the father of today’s scientific method. Furthermore, in 355 B.C., Aristotle established a school in Athens called the Lyceum, where his ideas and concepts were taught to a large sum of Athenian youth. For example, he tutored Alexander the Great, who went on to become one of Greece’s most brilliant and admired leaders. Alexander is said to credit part of his impressive conquests to Aristotle, who trained his mind and filled it with knowledge. Aristotle’s great intellect was not only active in his literature, but was also applied to prominent leaders who carried out his thoughts.
Ancient Greece’s political structure most reflects the ideals of Aristotle. He believed citizens of all classes should participate in government, and he argued that the rich were too ignorant and the poor too needy to solely govern a country. Athens followed this democratic criteria; certain measures were taken to ensure the balance between classes. For instance, Athens began to pay citizens to participate in the Council of 500, and other forms of the judicial system, so even the poorest citizens could fulfill their civic duties. This method was so powerful that it spread across the West. Likewise, Aristotle’s belief that the old should rule the government was carried out in Ancient Greece. Aristotle recorded, “The elder and full-grown is superior to the younger and more immature” (Aristotle, The Politics). He is enforcing an age requirement, for he felt that the older were fitter in thought to rule than the young. For example, in most city-states, only men over the age of 18 could participate in the government. In fact, out of Attica’s estimated population of 300,000 people, no more than 30,000 were allowed to engage in governmental affairs. Today, American citizens must reach a similar age to participate in government. For instance, 35 years of age is one of the requirements for the presidency. The strong resemblance between Ancient Greece’s government, modern day American government, and Aristotle’s ideas show his impact on political reasoning in its many forms.
Aristotle’s beliefs concerning education and political organization were widely followed and enforced in Ancient Greece. His gifted mind strongly paved the way for scientific and philosophical discovery, which was carried out through his school, the Lyceum, and through his student, Alexander the Great. In addition, his beliefs on political reasoning and were evidently reflected in Athens and other parts of Ancient Greece. Many of his beliefs and methods are still carried out in modern education and democracy, and play an important role in today’s thought process. Aristotle changed the course of ancient history, and his beliefs are destined to change the course of the future.
"Politcs." The Internet Classics Archive. 18 Sept. 2008 <http://classics.mit.edu/index.html>.
Source: R. Levine and M. Fulton SHS Westport