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The Best 15 Books by Aristotle [PDF]

Aristotle was born around 384 BC in Stagira, a small town on the northern coast of Greece that was a seaport.

Aristotle’s father, Nicomachus, was the court physician to the Macedonian King Amyntas II. Although Nicomachus died when Aristotle was only a child, Aristotle remained closely affiliated with and influenced by the Macedonian court for the rest of his life. Little is known of his mother, Phaestis; it is believed that she also died when Aristotle was young.

After the death of Aristotle’s father, Proxenus of Atarneus, who was married to Aristotle’s older sister Arimneste, became Aristotle’s guardian until he came of age. When Aristotle turned 17, Proxenus sent him to Athens for higher education.

Aristotle enrolled in Plato’s Academy, the leading Greek institution of learning, and proved to be an exemplary scholar. He maintained a relationship with the Greek philosopher Plato -a student of Socrates– and his academy for two decades.

After Plato’s death, Aristotle’s friend Hermias, king of Atarneus and Assos in Mysia, invited him to court. During his three-year stay in Mysia, Aristotle met and married his first wife, Pythias, niece of King Hermias. The couple had a daughter, Pythias, who was named after her mother.

In 335 BC, Pythias died. Shortly thereafter, Aristotle began an affair with a woman named Herpyllis, a native of his hometown of Stagira. Herpyllis is known to have had children with Aristotle, including a son named Nicomachus, after Aristotle’s father.

In 338 BC, Aristotle returned to Macedonia to begin tutoring King Philip II’s son, Alexander the Great, who was then 13 years old. Philip and Alexander held Aristotle in high esteem and made sure that the Macedonian court compensated him handsomely for his work.

In 335 BC, after Alexander succeeded his father as king and conquered Athens, Aristotle returned to the city. With Alexander’s permission, he founded his own school in Athens, called the Lyceum. There he spent most of the rest of his life working as a teacher, researcher and writer until the death of his former pupil Alexander the Great.

The members of the Lyceum did research on almost every subject. They recorded their discoveries in manuscripts and thereby built up the school’s enormous collection of written materials, which according to ancient accounts was credited as one of the first great libraries.

When Alexander the Great died suddenly in 323 BC, the pro-Macedonian government was overthrown and, in the face of anti-Macedonian sentiment, Aristotle was charged with impiety for his association with his former pupil and the Macedonian court. To avoid prosecution and execution, he left Athens and fled to Chalcis, on the island of Euboea, where he would remain until his death a year later.

In 322 B.C. Aristotle contracted a disease of the digestive organs and died.

1) Rhetoric

Aristotle’s Rhetoric is an ancient Greek treatise on the art of persuasion, dating from the 4th century BC. The title in English varies: it is usually titled Rhetoric, the Art of Rhetoric, On Rhetoric, or a Treatise on Rhetoric.

Aristotle is generally credited with developing the foundations of the system of rhetoric that «thereafter served as a touchstone», influencing the development of rhetorical theory from antiquity to modern times. Most rhetoricians consider the Rhetoric to be «the most important work on persuasion ever written».

2) The Categories

The Categories is a text from Aristotle’s Organon that lists all the possible kinds of things that can be the subject or predicate of a proposition. They are «perhaps the single most heavily discussed of all Aristotelian notions».

The work is brief enough to be divided, not into books, as is usual in Aristotle’s works, but into fifteen chapters.

The Categories places each object of human apprehension in one of the ten categories (known to medieval writers by the Latin term praedicamenta). Aristotle intended them to enumerate everything that can be expressed without composition or structure, that is, everything that can be the subject or predicate of a proposition.

3) The Poetics

It is a work of dramatic theory, as well as being the first extant philosophical treatise focused on literary theory. The text was lost to the Western world for a long time, only to be restored in the Middle Ages and early Renaissance through a Latin translation of an Arabic version.

The Poetics deals with the poetic art where Aristotle divides the art of poetry into verse drama (which includes comedy, tragedy, and satyr play), lyric poetry, and epic. It is mainly concerned with drama and the analysis of tragedy as the core of the discussion.

Aristotle also distinguishes between the tragic mode of poetry and history. For him, history deals with things that happened in the past, while tragedy deals with what could happen, or could be imagined to happen. Thus, he concludes, poetry is more philosophical than history insofar as it approaches a knowledge of universals.

4) On Interpretation Aristotle

On Interpretation is the second text of Aristotle’s Organon. It deals with the relationship between language and logic in a complete, explicit and formal way. It consists of 14 chapters in which it discusses the following topics:

Analyzes simple categorical propositions, draws a series of basic conclusions about the definition and classification of elements such as: nouns and verbs, negation, the relationship between affirmative, negative, universal and particular propositions.

It also discusses spoken and written symbols and their respective mental experiences (which are the same for all), verbs and the notion of time (a verb without tense indicates the present while the tenses of a verb indicate times outside the present), the universality or individuality of terms, among other topics.

5) Nicomachean Ethics

The Nicomachean Ethics is the name usually given to Aristotle’s best known work on «Ethics». The work, which plays a preeminent role in defining Aristotelian ethics, consists of ten books, originally separate scrolls, and is understood to be based on the notes of his lectures at the Lyceum.

It is often assumed that the title refers to his son Nicomachus, to whom the work was dedicated or who may have edited it (although his young age makes this less likely). Another possibility is that the work was dedicated to his father, who was also named Nicomachus.

6) History of Animals

This work, written in the fourth century B.C., is considered one of the main texts on biology, being a pioneer work of zoology. In addition to having exerted a powerful influence on researchers of this science for about two thousand years until the sixteenth century, since it was from this century when other detailed works on zoology began to be made.

History of Animals contains many eye-witness observations, especially of marine biology around the island of Lesbos. At the same time, it is an attempt to apply philosophy to a part of the natural world in which Aristotle is concerned to discuss the what (the existing facts about animals) before establishing the why (the causes of these characteristics).

Throughout the text, Aristotle tries to identify the differences, both between individuals and between groups, understanding by group that in which all members are observed to have the same set of distinctive features.

7) Metaphysics

Metaphysics is one of Aristotle’s major works and the first important work of the branch of philosophy with the same name. The main theme is «being qua being».

It examines what can be affirmed of any being insofar as it is and not because of the special qualities it has. Also discussed are the different types of causality, form and matter, the existence of mathematical objects, and a prime mover God.

8) On Generation and Corruptio

On Generation and Corruption, also known as «On Coming to Be and Passing Away» is a treatise by Aristotle. Like many of his texts, it is scientific, it is part of Aristotle’s biology, and it is philosophical. The philosophy is essentially empirical; as in all of Aristotle’s works, the deductions made about the inexperienced and the unobservable are based on actual observations and experiences.

The question posed at the beginning of the text is based on an idea from Aristotle’s earlier work, «The Physics». That is, whether things arise by causes, by some prime material, or whether everything is generated purely by «alteration».

9) On Sophistical Refutations

On Sophistical Refutations is a text from Aristotle’s Organon in which he identifies thirteen fallacies. According to Aristotle, it is the first work to deal with the subject of deductive reasoning. The fallacies that Aristotle identifies are as follows:

Fallacies in the language (in dictione).

● Equivocation ● Amphibology ● Composition ● Division ● Accent ● Figure of speech or form of expression.

Fallacies not in the language (extra dictionem)

● Accident ● Secundum quid ● Irrelevant conclusion ● Begging the question ● False cause ● Affirming the consequent ● Fallacy of many questions.

10) Posterior Analytics

It is a work from Aristotle’s Organon dealing with demonstration, definition and scientific knowledge. Among its contents the following topics stand out:

It expounds that all demonstrations must be based on already known principles that must be demonstrable by themselves or be part of the so-called first principles (which cannot and need not be demonstrated). Also, that conclusions cannot be supported by premises and vice versa, and he comments on the form of a syllogism, etc.

Finally, in Posterior Analytics Aristotle explains how the mind comes to know first principles, which, not being innate, can be ignored by people. As also that these cannot be deduced from any previous knowledge but are derived from sense-perception which implants the true universals in the mind.

11) On the heavens

On the heavens is Aristotle’s main cosmological treatise: written in 350 BC, it contains his astronomical theory and his ideas on the concrete workings of the terrestrial world. It should not be confused with the spurious work On the Universe (De mundo, also known as On the Cosmos).

According to Aristotle in «On the Heavens», the heavenly bodies are the most perfect realities (or «substances»), whose motions are governed by different principles from those of the bodies in the sublunary sphere. The latter are composed of one or all of the four classical elements (earth, water, air, fire) and are perishable; but the matter of which the heavens are made is an imperishable ether, so they are not subject to generation and corruption.

12) On the Soul

On the Soul is an important treatise written in 350 BC. Although its subject is the soul, it is not about spirituality, but a work of what might best be described as biopsychology, a description of the subject of psychology within a biological framework.

Its discussion focuses on the types of souls possessed by different types of living things, which are distinguished by their different operations. Thus, plants have the ability to nourishment and reproduction, the minimum that any type of living organism must possess. Lower animals have, in addition, the faculties of sense-perception and self-motion (action). Humans have all this in addition to the intellect.

13) Politics

Politics is a work of political philosophy.

At the end of the Nicomachean Ethics it is stated that the investigation of ethics necessarily follows that of politics, and the two works are often considered part of a larger treatise, or perhaps connected lectures, dealing with the «philosophy of human affairs». The title of the Politics literally means «the things concerning the polis».

Aristotle’s Politics is divided into eight books, each of which is divided into chapters. Citations from this work, like those from the rest of Aristotle’s works, usually refer to the Bekker section numbers. Politics covers Bekker sections 1252a to 1342b.

14) On Youth and Old Age, on Life and Death, on Breathing

It is one of the short treatises that make up Aristotle’s Parva Naturalia. Its title derives from the first words of the treatise: “We must now treat of youth and old age and life and death. We must probably also at the same time state the causes of respiration as well, since in some cases living and the reverse depend on this.”

On Youth and Old Age, on Life and Death, on Breathing deals with natural phenomena related to the body and soul. Modern editions divide it into 27 chapters.

At the beginning Aristotle raises the question of the seat of life in the body, since it is evident to him that the soul must exist in some part of the body and that it must surely be one of those which possess control over the members. Arriving at the answer that the heart is the primary organ of the soul.

15) Topics

It is one of Aristotle’s six works on logic, collectively known as the Organon. It consists of 9 books in total.

The treatise presents the art of dialectic: the invention and discovery of arguments in which propositions are supported by common opinions. Although he does not explicitly define the topic, Aristotle contemplates its use as places from which dialectical arguments can be derived.

Topics deals with such subjects as: the description of the definition and the numerous means that can be used to attack and defend a definition, compares the various difficulties involved in the formation of arguments, and, at the end, contains suggestions, tips and some tricks on techniques for organizing and exposing one or the other side of verbal argumentation.