Isocrates, Aristotle, and Diogenes
Mentioned by Plato for treating the body as a whole,
the traditional founder of scientific medicine, Hippocrates, was born about 460 BC on the
island of Cos and died about 377 BC at Larissa. His teacher Herodicas emphasized
gymnastics even for cases of fever, but Hippocrates used a gentler approach without harsh
measures or drastic drugs. His writings show that he was extremely observant, and he
recommended prudence, kindness to all, fairness, and good moral character. He advised
physicians not to begin by discussing fees, believing it was better to have to reproach a
saved patient for not paying than to extort money from those at death's door. He
recommended sometimes giving one's services for nothing to those in need, for where there
is the love of humanity there is also love of the art. He found that many patients
recovered simply because they were happy with the goodness of the physician. It is good to
make the sick well, care for the healthy so as to keep them well, and to take care of
oneself so as to do what is right. Hippocrates believed that the physician is only
Nature's assistant in the healing process. He paid attention to diet, fresh air, and
The writings attributed to Hippocrates apparently were collected at Cos from early
scientific observations by Hippocrates and other physicians of his era. The Hippocratic
Oath has had a tremendous influence on the ethics of medical practice from that day to
this. Although Hippocrates criticized traditional beliefs that the gods cause illnesses,
the oath begins by swearing to the gods of health. In the Hippocratic oath physicians
promise to benefit patients and abstain from whatever is harmful, to give no deadly
medicine nor give a woman a pessary to induce an abortion. In entering homes to benefit
the sick they must abstain from any voluntary mischief including seduction.
Hippocrates recommended that physicians study nature and the whole subject of medicine
that shows what people are in relation to food and drink and other occupations with the
effects of each. He noted that large quantities of undiluted wine make one feeble,
although he occasionally prescribed some wine. General rules often have exceptions.
Cheese, for example, is not equally injurious to everyone. The physician should know the
effects of fasting or eating various amounts or drinking soups, and so on. His most famous
aphorism is the very first one:
Life is short, and art long;
the crisis fleeting; experience perilous, and decision difficult.
The physician must not only be prepared
to do what is right oneself,
but also to make the patient,
the attendants, and externals cooperate.1
Hippocrates also wrote that the noble art of medicine was behind the other arts. To
gain a competent knowledge of medicine Hippocrates believed one needs natural ability,
instruction, favorable circumstances for study, early learning, love of labor, and
Isocrates was born in 436 BC before the Peloponnesian
War and did not die until after the Greek allies lost their independence to Macedonia
at Chaeronea in 338 BC. His father manufactured flutes and was wealthy enough to give his
son an outstanding education. Isocrates studied with the famous rhetorician Gorgias in
Thessaly. After the Peloponnesian War during which he
lost all the money his father gave him, for ten years or so Isocrates wrote speeches for
use in the law courts. About 392 BC he began teaching as a sophist, and in spite of his
higher fees he claimed he had more students than all the other sophists combined, though
he spent most of his wealth on public services to Athens. His students included the
Athenian general Timotheus; the orators Isaeus, Lycurgus, and Hypereides; the historians
Ephorus and Theopompus; the philosopher Speusippus; and Nicocles who ruled Salamis on
His lawyer speeches were quite persuasive, but he later considered them unworthy of
him. His speech for Nicias against Euthynus argued that Euthynus returned only two talents
out of the three Nicias had deposited with him. This speech was written shortly after the
fall of the oligarchy of Thirty, which is described as a time when it was more dangerous
to be wealthy than to engage in wrong-doing, because the oppressive government was seizing
their property. In a speech against Callimachus in 402 BC Isocrates argued that the
amnesty of the previous year be upheld. In a speech against Lochites for assault and
battery Isocrates mentioned that 1500 citizens were put to death without a trial by the
Thirty. Isocrates also wrote a speech for the son of the famous Alcibiades, who was being
sued because his father had allegedly stolen a team of race-horses probably for the
Olympics of 416 BC when Alcibiades entered seven teams and won first, second, and fourth;
the extant part of the speech justifies and praises the political career of the
A speech on banking argues for the son of a wealthy man from the Bosporus, from where
Athens got much of its grain. The Athenian banker Pasion is a freed slave, and the case
depends on his not allowing his slave to be tortured when questioned, which was the
standard practice for slaves' testimony. Refusal to let one's slaves be so interrogated
was considered an admission of guilt. In another moving speech the adopted son of
Thrasylochus claims his inheritance authorized in the will is valid not only because of
the written document but because of his services to the man in undergoing dangers and
caring for him when sick, while the illegitimate daughter claiming she should have the
inheritance did not care for her father at all.
When Isocrates began to teach professionally, he wrote a short tract against the
sophists to differentiate his approach to education from that of other sophists, whose
reputation was bad because of their false promises, which led some to prefer indolence to
serious study. He wrote they claim to search for the truth but begin by telling lies. They
offer the greatest value of virtue, but they only charge three or four minae; yet they do
not even trust their students to pay but make them deposit the funds with a third party.
They are vigilant about contradictions in words but blind to their own inconsistencies in
action. They claim to have knowledge about the future but cannot even say anything
insightful about the present. Others profess to teach political discourse but have no
interest in the truth. They promise to make their students clever speakers even if they
have no natural ability as though it were as simple as learning letters, whereas good
speech-making requires knowledge of the subject, style, creativity, and imagination.
Isocrates believed such teachers ought to pay out money for lessons.
Isocrates held that formal training can help those with natural aptitude who have
practical experience, but to those without ability it can do little more than offer them
some self-improvement and more knowledge of the subject. An able student can learn the
different kinds of discourse from a teacher, who can expound the principles and set an
example of oratory; but those who exhort others to study discourse while neglecting the
values of what study affords are merely meddlesome and greedy professors. Those who follow
true precepts may move more toward honesty of character than facility in oratory, though
Isocrates did not claim to teach right living nor to be able to implant prudence and
justice in the depraved, although he believed that the study of political discourse could
help stimulate one to form good character.
Isocrates displayed his talent in a piece on the legendary Egyptian leader Busiris in
which he criticized Polycrates for making Busiris look bad in his defense of him while
making Socrates look good in his accusation against him.
Polycrates mentioned how Busiris sacrificed humans, which Isocrates considered atrocious;
but his criticizing Socrates for having taught Alcibiades
was denied by Isocrates, and if true he would consider it praiseworthy.
In 380 BC Isocrates published his Panegyricus in which he praised the culture of
Athens and Greece, suggesting that they stop fighting among themselves and unite in a war
against the barbarian Persians. Also in 373 BC he wrote a speech on behalf of the
Plataeans asking for Athenian military aid against the Thebans.
The oration to Demonicus by Isocrates is an exhortation to virtue filled with moral
precepts. Virtue is better than riches and more useful than noble birth. As the body is
developed by physical exercise, the soul may grow by practicing the moral precepts
Isocrates recommended. Isocrates applied the golden rule to parents, saying to treat them
as one would want to be treated by one's children. The body should be trained by exercises
that lead to health rather than strength. One should be thoughtful without violent
laughter or presumptuous speech. Everyone agrees on the virtues of modesty, justice, and
moderation. One should fear the gods, honor parents, respect friends, and obey the laws.
Loving knowledge can lead to mastering knowledge, and wisdom is the most imperishable
Isocrates suggested being pleasant to everyone, but cultivating the best. Practice
self-control in everything that is shameful. Using money well is more important than
possessing it. Be content with present circumstances, but seek to improve them. Be affable
and not proud; avoid drinking parties, or leave them before becoming intoxicated.
Isocrates valued culture and recommended gleaning the best from the poets and other
writers as a bee visits flowers. The greatest incentive to deliberation is observing the
misfortunes that result from lacking it. It is better to retire from a public trust not
more wealthy but more esteemed. Honest poverty is better than unjust wealth, because
justice outlasts all riches even beyond death. Work hard with one's body and love wisdom
with the soul so as to have the strength to carry out resolves seen as good by
Isocrates wrote three orations related to the rulers of Salamis on Cyprus. The first
one to Nicocles suggested how the new king may rule best. Isocrates advised him to use
education to improve his nature, send for the wisest people, and study the best poets and
sages. He should not allow the people to do or suffer any outrage, but honor the best and
protect everyone's rights. Bad laws and institutions should be changed. He should not show
favoritism but be consistent in judging. Isocrates recommended being prepared for war yet
peaceful in avoiding unjust aggression. Once again he applied the golden rule to weaker
states. Rather than emulating those with the widest dominion, it is better to make use of
the power one already has to enjoy happiness with moderate achievements. The king should
grant freedom of speech to those with good judgment so that his friends can help him
decide, his friends being not those who praise all he does but those who criticize his
mistakes. Nicocles should govern himself no less than his subjects by not being a slave to
any pleasure or desire so that his moderation will be an example to all. It is more
important to pass on a good name to his children than riches, for wealth can never buy a
good name. In finding the happy mean it is better to fall short than to go to excess.
The second oration concerning Nicocles was written for the king to his subjects.
Isocrates again urged education and the ability to speak well as the surest sign of good
understanding. In this speech the king is communicating to his people so that they will
know what he expects of them. He criticized democracies and oligarchies whose rivalries
injure the commonwealth. These governments honor those skilled in swaying the crowd, but
the monarch claimed he honors those skilled in practice. In war situations monarchy was
considered more efficient. Isocrates noted that the gods live under a monarchy. Nicocles
claimed that he has ruled so mildly that no one has suffered exile, death, or confiscation
of their property during his reign. Isocrates pointed out that courage and cleverness are
not always good, but moderation and justice are. The king called on his subjects to be
diligent and just, and he asked them to deal with each other as they expect him to deal
with them. He warned against political societies and unions as dangerous to a monarchy.
The character of the citizens often affected the behavior of the rulers, as depravity has
compelled them to be more harsh than they wished. Nicocles concluded with the golden rule
again and exhorted them not to practice anything they condemn in words.
A third oration about Cyprus is an encomium to Euagoras, the father of Nicocles.
Isocrates praised Euagoras uncritically for taking the throne of Salamis by force and
ruling there as a tyrant for about forty years until he was assassinated in 374 BC, though
Isocrates did not mention how he died. He considered Euagoras even greater than Cyrus, who
had ruled over the Persian empire; Isocrates was the only Greek writer to mention that
Cyrus killed his mother's father Astyages. Euagoras gave the Athenian admiral Conon refuge
from 405 until 397 BC, enabling a remnant of the Athenian navy to come back after the
disastrous Peloponnesian War.
Attempting to surpass a work by his teacher Gorgias, Isocrates wrote an encomium on
Helen in which he praised the power of her beauty that caused the Greeks to unite in a
victorious war against the Trojans in Asia. He also praised the heroics and wise policies
of Theseus. In 368 BC Isocrates wrote to Dionysius I of Syracuse, praising him as the foremost
Greek with the greatest power, saying that Athens would surely ally itself with him in any
struggle he would make for the welfare of Greece. The lost letter that accompanied the
extant introductory letter likely urged Dionysius to
take up a Greek crusade against the barbarian Persians.
Two years later Isocrates wrote an oration for Archidamus, the prince of Sparta who had
fought well in the losing battle at Leuctra when Sparta lost its hegemony to Thebes. The
Thebans had razed Thespiae and Plataea and now proposed to settle their colonists in
Messene, which Isocrates considered a violation of the Peace of Antalcidas. What bothered
him most though was that this would not restore the true Messenians but the Helots, making
these slaves masters. Isocrates believed that justice is most important, which with the
grace of the gods secured the Spartan laws; but he did not seem to recognize the rights of
the Helots. Many more people were in exile from the Peloponnesian peninsula than ever
before, as the whole region was in distress. Isocrates had Archidamus recommend they send
their parents, wives, and children to Sicily, Cyrene, and Asia Minor so that the men could
fight and plunder their enemies by land and sea. For if they let the Helots settle on
their borders and permitted Messene to flourish undisturbed the derision at the hands of
their foes would be worse than suffering annihilation. In this speech by Isocrates
Archidamus told the Spartans to take up the war, for it is disgraceful to tolerate freedom
of speech to slaves when before they did not even grant equal speech to free men.
Ten years later Isocrates wrote a letter to Archidamus, now king of Sparta, urging him
to reconcile the Greeks, stopping their wars with each other so that they could end the
insolence of the Persians.
At the end of the terrible Social War in 355 BC when peace was being negotiated,
Isocrates, over 80 years old, wrote an oration addressed to the Athenian assembly entitled
On the Peace and called On the Confederacy by Aristotle. The important
question of war and peace was to be decided. Isocrates criticized the flatterers who had
brought ruin to their public affairs; yet they had blindly followed them into war
expecting to recover their lost power, while counselors of peace advised being content
with what they had rather than crave possessions contrary to justice. Many who possess
great fortunes madly risk what they have grasping for more. Apparently the Athenian
assembly had not been willing to listen to anyone who disagreed with their desires, and so
Isocrates wrote this speech for the reading public, asking that both sides be given an
unbiased hearing. Those favoring peace have never caused misfortune, while those espousing
war plunged them into many disasters. Only the most reckless orators were given freedom of
speech in the assembly.
Isocrates recommended making peace not only with Chians, Rhodians, Byzantines, and
Coans, but with all humanity in the agreement (Peace of Antalcidas) made thirty years
before with the king of Persia and the Lacedaemonians
that recognized independence of the Greeks and removed foreign garrisons. Isocrates
acknowledged that this appeared to give Thebans the advantage of keeping Thespiae and
Plataea, but he promised to persuade them that injustice is not an advantage but results
in disasters. He suggested that the blessings of security, abundance, and the esteem of
others are better than the loss of these in war which makes them poor and gives them a bad
name. In peace they will be freed from war-taxes and other burdens and be able to
cultivate their fields and sail the seas safely. The city's revenues will double; commerce
will thrive; and they will have all humanity as allies. Others will withdraw from Athenian
territory because of the advantages of supporting the power of Athens to secure their own
realms. They must realize that peace is better than meddling, justice better than
injustice, and attending to one's own business better than coveting the possessions of
Wars had cost them great expense and reaped hatreds from interfering; but when they had
been just and aided those who were oppressed without coveting their possessions, they were
willingly given hegemony. Nothing contributes more to material gain and a good reputation
than virtue. Those who unjustly seize what belongs to others are like animals lured by
bait who find themselves in a desperate situation. Isocrates accused the warmongers of
accepting bribes and the assembly of appointing generals who were guilty of this capital
crime. As a physician treats ills, an unpopular speech that reproaches sins is needed to
cure ignorant souls. Foreigners would think the Athenians mad if they were to come and see
them claiming to follow their ancestors, who fought the barbarians to free Greeks, when
they are now bringing Asians to fight Greeks in their homes. Now Athens seemed to be
waging war against the whole world, paying lawless and violent mercenaries to attack their
Isocrates blamed the empire of the sea for plunging them into disorders that overthrew
the democratic government. He argued that empire is neither just nor capable of being
maintained nor advantageous. When the Lacedaemonians held hegemony,
the Athenians denounced it as wrong and waged war against them until they got their
independence back. Thus it is not just for the stronger to rule the weaker. Even ten
thousand talents could not help Athens maintain her empire. How could they possibly
acquire one now in their current poverty? They ought to commend those who admonish them
and reveal their evil policies with their consequent disasters.
The Peloponnesian War that resulted from Athenian
imperialism would have ended in their slavery if the Lacedaemonians had not been more
friendly than their former allies. Yet Athens, while not even in control of its own
territory, had tried to extend its power to Italy, Sicily, and Carthage. In the Decelean
war in Attica they lost 10,000 hoplite soldiers, in Sicily 40,000 men and 240 ships, and
in the Hellespont 200 ships. The great Athenian houses that had survived the tyrannies of
the sixth century BC and the Persian Invasions were
wiped out under the coveted empire, because they desired not just to rule but to dominate
in order to provide pleasures for themselves from the labors of others. Those who seek
such despotic power must suffer the disasters that result from that, and Athens suffered
the distress of a siege.
Imperialism ruined Athens, and then it quickly ruined previously virtuous Sparta too.
As soon as they gained the power, the Lacedaemonians plotted against Thebes and the king
of Persia, drove the Chians into exile, and set up
despotic regimes throughout the Greek world. Their arrogance soon led to the end of their
supremacy by land and sea. The meddling of Athens in her empire had caused cities to
become partisans of Sparta; then Spartan hegemony made
them side with Athens again. Does not such power cause a state to make war on all their
citizens, suspect their friends, hate those who have not wronged them, and hire
Now they believe the Thebans are in a bad way because they oppress their neighbors, but
does not Athens do the same? Rich Thessaly has been reduced to poverty, but stony Megara
continues to thrive even though it is surrounded by warlike cities. Isocrates concluded
that arrogance caused misfortunes, but moderation is the source of blessings. States, like
individuals, should shun vice and practice virtue even more, because there is no escape
from their consequences in death. Peace and justice will make all Greeks happy and
prosperous, and no one will dare oppress them. Everyone will seek their friendship and
alliance when they are just and powerful, not taking from others but willing and able to
help. In the midst of injustice and madness let Athens be the first to adopt a sane policy
and champion the freedom of Greeks as their saviors, not their destroyers. They must cease
from wars and abhor all despotic rule and imperial power, when they reflect on the
disasters that result from them. Isocrates concluded by urging those younger to speak and
write to turn states that would oppress others into the paths of virtue and justice so
that the conditions of learning and culture may improve.
In the same year as the peace concluding the Social War Isocrates also wrote an oration
called Areopagiticus in which he discussed the public safety and social issues. He
noted that riches and power often lead to folly, whereas poverty tends to encourage
prudence and moderation. Once again Athens by paying mercenaries has gained the hatred of
Greeks and the enmity of the Persian king that previously
led to disaster. Isocrates believed their democracy has been corrupted, and he advised
going back to the institutions founded by Solon and reformed by Cleisthenes after the
Peisistratid tyranny. They governed by electing the best to be officials rather than
relying upon a more democratic random lottery. The people should be the masters of the
state and punish those who rule badly. Isocrates exalted the oversight of the conservative
Areopagus, whose powers were greatly weakened by Ephialtes a century before. Isocrates
condemned oligarchies and special privileges while commending equal rights and democracy.
The richest 1200 Athenians paid heavy taxes and were often required to fit out a
trireme for war. A person assigned this task could challenge another citizen he thought
had more wealth to take over this duty or exchange property with him. Isocrates lost such
a challenge in the only trial of his long life. In response to this experience Isocrates
wrote his Antidosis, defending himself as though he were on trial for his life like
Socrates. Although this trial was a fiction, he declared
that he wrote the truth. Once more he applied the golden rule to judges, who ought to
judge others as they would expect others to judge them. Isocrates wrote that he has
endeavored not to offend others nor to seek revenge in court but to settle disputes by
conferring as friends. His discourses were not about private conflicts but concerned
affairs of state and all Greece, suitable for Pan-Hellenic conferences. He presented the
evidence of his previous writings. He defended at length the behavior of the famous
general Timotheus who had been one of his students, praising him for respecting the rights
of those he conquered in war. Isocrates having a weak voice did not speak in public, hold
office, or serve on juries, allowing those more needy to receive that dole.
Isocrates noted the importance of education to the fortune of the state, and he warned
against letting the sycophants control it. He recommended the study of discourse as well
as gymnastics. He believed that everyone acts for the sake of pleasure, gain, or honor,
and he found that the study of philosophy, by which he meant the liberal arts in general,
was the best way to achieve these ends.
In 346 BC when he was 90 years old, Isocrates wrote a discourse to Philip, king of Macedonia, who had just concluded a
ten-year war with Athens over control of Amphipolis. Isocrates opposed the war as bad for
both sides, arguing that it was to the advantage of Macedonia for Athens to possess
Amphipolis but not for Athens to acquire it. He tried to persuade Philip that friendship with Athens was worth more than
the revenues of Amphipolis, while he hoped that Athens would learn not to plant colonies
in areas of conflict. By surrendering this territory Philip
would still hold the power in the region while gaining the good will of Athens with
hostages to guarantee their friendship. The peace was concluded before Isocrates finished
his discourse, and he approved it.
Once again Isocrates urged all the Greeks to make peace with each other and launch a
campaign against the barbarians in Asia. Isocrates believed that Philip, having the highest position and power in Greece,
was the one to lead this effort. If he could reconcile Argos, Lacedaemon, Thebes, and
Athens to take a sane view, all the other Greeks would follow. He hoped that friendly acts
would help them forget past wrongs. Isocrates criticized those who were jealous of Philip and who found peace a state of war against their
selfish interests. King Agesilaus of Sparta had tried to invade the Persian empire after the Peloponnesian
War but failed because he had not first settled the quarrels among Greeks, and many
resented the oligarchies Sparta set up at that time. Even if Philip did not conquer all of Persia, at least he could
liberate the Greeks on the coast of Asia. Knowing Philip
already had power and wealth, Isocrates appealed to his desire for honor and lasting fame.
Four years later in a letter Isocrates again asked Philip
to lead a Greek expedition against Persia, and finally
after the battle of Chaeronea when he was 98, Isocrates wrote his last letter urging
Philip to bring all the Greeks into concord and take up the conquest his son Alexander would soon accomplish. Isocrates had also
written a short letter to young Alexander in 342 BC
warning him against disputation and encouraging his study of rhetoric; this was probably
about the time that Aristotle began to tutor the Macedonian prince.
In his last oration started when he was 94 and delayed by three years of illness before
he finished it at 97 Isocrates praised Athens and criticized the aggressive ways of
Sparta. In one long sentence Isocrates summed up much of his life's endeavor.
Yet all know that most orators harangue not on behalf of the state
but for what they themselves expect to gain,
while I and mine not only abstain
more than others from public funds
but also expend more than we can afford
from our private means on the needs of the state;
still they know these are either wrangling among themselves
in the assemblies over deposits of money
or insulting the allies
or falsely charging any of the rest who chances,
while I have led the way in discourses
exhorting the Greeks to agree with each other
and to strategize against the barbarians,
urging us all to unite in colonizing a country
so vast and vulnerable that those who have heard about it agree,
if we are sensible and stop the manias against each other
that we could quickly occupy it without effort and risk,
and that this territory will easily accommodate
all those among us in need of the necessities of life.2
Isocrates described as educated those who manage well their daily circumstances with
accurate judgment that is expedient; who are decent and honorable with all they meet,
tolerating what is unpleasant or offensive while being as agreeable and reasonable as
possible; who are not overcome by misfortunes but bear them bravely; and finally who are
not spoiled by successes and do not desert their true selves or become arrogant, but hold
steadfastly to their intelligence. Isocrates did justify Athens doing injustice as
sensible when faced with the alternative of suffering injustice from Sparta. Isocrates
recommended listening to what people say and watching what they do. When they do wrong,
one should censure them and guard against their ways; for things are only good or bad
because of how they are used.
In Stagira, a Greek colony near the Macedonian border, in 384 BC was born Aristotle.
His father Nicomachus was court physician to Amyntas III, king of Macedonia and father of Philip II. Thus Aristotle was probably educated by his
father as advised in the Hippocratic oath until his father died. When he was 17, Aristotle
began studying in Plato's Academy and remained there for twenty years until Plato died. Plato called
Aristotle the "mind of the school." When Plato
read aloud the Phaedo, Aristotle was the only one to stay
to hear the whole dialog. Unfortunately the popular dialogs Aristotle wrote on the
immortality of the soul and spiritual subjects did not survive. Aristotle wrote an
inscription for an altar to Plato that called him "a
man whom it is not right for the bad even to praise."
When Plato's nephew Speusippus became head of the Academy in 347 BC, Aristotle and
Xenocrates started a philosophical school at Assus where Hermeias, a former slave and
banker, was ruling the Troad. Aristotle married the niece of Hermeias, and after her death
he had a son Nicomachus by Herpyllis. Hermeias fell under the control of the Persians, and
after refusing to betray his friends under torture, he was killed. In his grief Aristotle
wrote an elegy about his friend, who had died for the beauty of goodness. In 345 BC
Aristotle went with his friend Theophrastus to Mytilene on Lesbos, where his interest
shifted from politics to biology.
Three years later Aristotle returned to the Macedonian court at Pella to tutor Philip's
son Alexander, who was 13 then. In 340 BC when Philip went to war against Byzantium, Alexander ruled as regent, giving Aristotle more time for
his own studies at Stagira, now restored for him after Philip had destroyed it in the
Olynthian war. Aristotle introduced his nephew Callisthenes to Alexander but warned him to be careful of what he said.
Though Alexander later took Callisthenes to Asia where he collected research materials,
Callisthenes was eventually suspected by Alexander of
plotting against him with Hermolaus; he was confined to an iron cage in which he became
infested with vermin before being thrown to a lion.
When Philip died in 336 BC, Aristotle returned to
Athens, where Xenocrates was now in charge of the
Academy. In the garden of the Lyceum Aristotle established his Peripatetic (so named
because Aristotle lectured while "walking around") school with maps and a large
library. According to Diogenes Laertius all of Aristotle's writings came to 445,270 lines,
but the surviving ones seem to be mostly his lectures. When Alexander died in 323 BC and
Athens led the revolt, Aristotle's friendship with Macedonian viceroy Antipater caused him
to be charged with impiety for the elegy that had called Hermeias divine. Aristotle fled
to his mother's property in Chalcis, saying he would not let Athenians offend twice
against philosophy. Alone there he wrote Antipater that he had become fonder of myths; he
died the next year of a stomach illness. In his will Aristotle made provisions for his
family, Herpyllis, and his slaves, some of whom he freed. Aristotle's close friend
Theophrastus took over his school at the Lyceum.
The biography of Aristotle by Diogenes Laertius recorded some of his remarks. When
asked what people gained by lying, Aristotle commented that when they speak the truth they
are not believed. Reproached for giving charity to a bad man, Aristotle said that he
pitied the man, not his character. The three things he found indispensable to education
were natural endowment, study, and constant practice. He believed the difference between
being educated and uneducated is as much as between the living and the dead. He said
education is an ornament in prosperity, a refuge in adversity, and the best provision for
old age. Aristotle believed that teachers who educate children deserve more honor than
their parents, for parents give them life but teachers a good life. Asked what a friend
is, Aristotle replied, "A single soul dwelling in two bodies."3 When asked how
we should behave toward friends, he answered with the golden rule: as we wish them to
behave toward us. He believed that philosophy enabled him to do without being ordered what
some are constrained to do by fear of the law. Aristotle found that the end of love is not
merely intercourse but also philosophy.
Aristotle's analysis of human knowledge is an amazing and comprehensive accomplishment,
and the influence of his ideas on western civilization has been immense. He first divided
it into theoretical, practical, and productive knowledge. The theoretical includes
philosophy, physics, and mathematics; the practical ethics and politics; and the
productive the arts and rhetoric. Propositions he divided into ethical, physical, and
logical. Preliminary to the study of all subjects is the analytical study of thought and
language now called logic, which he called an instrument of philosophy. Aristotle analyzed
simple expressions into the ten categories of substance, quantity, quality, relation,
place, time, position, state, action, and affection. Aristotle made a detailed analysis of
syllogisms and logical fallacies. He analyzed deductive reasoning in the Prior
Analytics and inductive reasoning or scientific thought in the Posterior Analytics.
Aristotle believed that all people by nature desire to know. A sign of one who knows is
that that person can teach, while the person of experience without knowledge cannot. He
defined wisdom as knowledge of principles and causes. In his Physics and Metaphysics
Aristotle discussed the material and formal causes Plato
used and also the efficient and final causes. The material cause explains what something
is made of (out of which), the formal cause how it is made (into which), the efficient
cause who made it (by which), and the final cause why it is made (for which purpose). For
Aristotle the final cause or purpose of anything analyzes the metaphysical cause which is
studied in teleology. Aristotle also perceived God in the beginning as well as the end as
the prime mover and in the present as completely actual in contrast to the concept of
potential. Aristotle also gave many lectures on the sciences of astronomy, meteorology,
and biology. Aristotle analyzed the faculties of the soul as nutritive, perceptive, and
intelligent, and he also discussed memory, sleep, dreams, and aging. At the Lyceum 158
Greek constitutions were gathered, and Aristotle's work On the Athenian
Constitution has been useful in understanding the history of Athenian politics.
Although Aristotle agreed with his teacher Plato that
poetry and drama are imitations, he disagreed in finding redeeming value for these arts
and did not wish to censor or ban them. In his Poetics he noted that tragedy tends
to portray those who are better and comedy those worse than people of the present day.
Humans are the most imitative animal, delight in imitating, and learn much this way.
Aristotle believed that learning is the greatest pleasure and is not just for philosophers
but for all humanity. Thus the imitative arts are not just entertaining but educational as
well. Aristotle found that tragedy aroused the emotions of pity and fear in order to
accomplish a purification of those feelings. The six elements of a play he analyzed are
the plot (story), character, theme (thought), language, spectacle, and music. The plot,
like a fable, conveys meaning; characters portray moral qualities, and thought enunciates
general truths. In a tragedy a good man must not be seen passing from happiness to misery
or a bad man from misery to happiness, because these are morally repugnant nor does the
falling of an extremely bad person from happiness to misery arouse pity or fear. In
tragedy a person of intermediate character suffers misfortune not from vice or depravity
but from an error of judgment. Aristotle held that moral goodness could be shown in any
personage, even in women and slaves.
Aristotle defined rhetoric as the art of persuasion. Rhetoric can arouse emotions which
may not be related to the essential facts; thus many courts forbid discussion of what is
not essential to the case, because it is not right to pervert the jury by moving them to
anger or envy or pity. To the argument that rhetoric can be used unjustly, Aristotle
answered that this is true of any art and of all good things except virtue. Aristotle
described the three modes of persuasion as the personal character of the speaker, the
frame of mind of the audience, and the argument of the speech. First, people of good
character are more readily believed than others. Second, when the audience is pleased,
their judgments are affected. Third, the speech may prove the truth by reasoning. Thus the
abilities needed to persuade are logical reasoning, understanding human character and
goodness, and understanding emotions. Statements can be persuasive because they are
self-evident or by using the inductive reasoning of examples or deductive syllogisms.
Aristotle divided oratory into three parts. Persuading members of the assembly about a
future action is political; convincing jurors about a past action is forensic; and winning
a speaking contest is ceremonial. Political speakers argue to do or not do something;
forensic speakers prosecute or defend someone; and ceremonial orators either praise or
censure. In political oratory the debate is whether the proposal is good or harmful; trial
lawyers argue over what is just or unjust; and display oratory deals with honor and shame.
Political speakers in arguing for what is expedient may ignore whether it is just or not.
Litigants may not deny that something has happened or that it has caused harm, but they
will not admit their client is guilty of injustice. Rhetorical propositions may be
complete proofs, probabilities, or signs.
Political oratory combines logic and the ethical branch of politics. Aristotle
described the five main subjects of political oratory as ways and means, war and peace,
national defense, trade, and legislation. Thus the speaker should know the following: the
state's sources of revenue and its expenditures; the military strength of the country and
its enemies; the means and installations of defense; the needs and sources of the food
supply and imports and exports, making sure his country does not offend strong states and
trading partners; the constitution and the laws of the state, internal developments, and
in knowing the customs of other states history is useful.
One must know the aim of life which is happiness defined as prosperity combined with
virtue, independence, security, pleasure, and the good condition of one's body and
property. Aristotle noted that half of life among the Lacedaemonians is spoiled, because
the state of the women is bad. Doing good means preserving life and the good things of
life, namely health, wealth, and friends. Good is what is chosen for itself or for the
sake of something else, such as the virtues of the soul: justice, courage, moderation,
magnanimity, etc. Faculties of speech and action as well as arts and sciences are also
productive of what is good. The political speaker will argue relatively that good will be
increased and harm decreased. Knowing the form of government, the political speaker will
appeal to the interests of the rulers. The end of democracy is freedom, of oligarchy
wealth, of aristocracy education and institutions, and of tyranny protection of the
In prosecution and defense Aristotle discussed the incentives to wrong-doing, the state
of mind of wrong-doers, and the kind of people and condition of those who do wrong.
Aristotle defined wrong-doing as injury voluntarily inflicted contrary to law. Law may be
specific written laws or universal laws based on unwritten principles. The causes of wrong
actions are vice and lack of self-control, and the wrong reflects a fault in one's
character. Such actions may be due to habits or desires. Rational desires are for some
wish; irrational desires come from appetites and anger. Aristotle differentiated revenge
from punishment: punishment is inflicted for the sake of the person punished, but revenge
is to satisfy the punisher's feelings. Irrational desires are for food, drink, or sex.
Rational desires are for pleasure, what one consciously believes is good, and may be for
revenge, winning, reputation, friends, change, learning, and so on.
The state of mind of wrong-doers is that they believe the thing can be done by them
either without being found out, or believing they could escape punishment if found out, or
that it would be worth the punishment. Wrong is also done to people who have what the
person wants, who are accessible or in a place safe from being caught or prosecuted, or
who are not likely to fight back or prosecute, or those who are vulnerable, or those
considered enemies or wrong themselves. Aristotle divided unjust actions into those that
affected the community and those affecting individuals. The victim must suffer actual harm
and against one's will. Criminal guilt depends on a deliberate purpose. Aristotle
recommended equity as follows:
Equity bids us be merciful to the weakness of human nature;
to think less about the laws
than about the person who framed them,
and less about what one said than about what one meant;
not to consider the actions of the accused
so much as the intentions,
nor this or that detail so much as the whole story;
to ask not what a person is now
but what one has always or usually been.
It bids us remember benefits rather than injuries,
and benefits received rather than benefits conferred;
to be patient when we are wronged;
to settle a dispute by negotiation and not by force;
to prefer arbitration to litigation---
for an arbitrator goes by the equity of a case,
a judge by the strict law,
and arbitration was invented with the express purpose
of securing full power for equity.4
Aristotle described the unskilled means of persuasion as laws, witnesses, contracts,
torture, and oaths. One may argue that the written law is unjust and must give way to a
higher principle. Aristotle considered testimony under torture as unreliable because tough
people can endure the pain, while cowards may speak falsely to avoid it.
Aristotle noted that the character of the speaker is particularly important in
political oratory, while the mood of the jury is more significant in lawsuits. The orator
may inspire confidence with good sense, good moral character, and goodwill. Aristotle
defined emotions as those feelings attended by pleasure or pain that change people so as
to affect their judgments. Anger is a pleasurable impulse accompanied by pain directed for
conspicuous revenge because of what concerns oneself or one's friends. Anger can be used
in slighting as in contempt, spite, and insolence. People vexed by others, sickness,
poverty, love, thirst or unsatisfied desires are easily aroused to anger against those who
slight their distress. An orator may manipulate the listeners into a frame of mind
disposed to anger toward the adversaries. The opposite of anger is becoming calm, which
may be caused by the object of anger admitting fault and being sorry. Aristotle discussed
friendship and differentiated hatred from anger, the latter being colder and more lasting.
Fear is defined as a pain due to a mental picture or expectation of some evil in the
Aristotle defined shame as pain or disturbance in regard to bad things which seem
likely to discredit one such as cowardice, licentiousness, greed, meanness, begging,
flattery, effeminacy, and boastfulness. People feel shame before those whose opinions
matter to them. Kindness is helpfulness toward someone in need for the sake of the person
helped, not for any advantage or a return. Pity is a feeling of pain caused by some evil
which befalls one who does not deserve it and which we believe might befall us or our
friends. We pity most those we know or who are close to us or like us. We feel indignation
at unmerited prosperity. The negative expressions of these are delight in others'
misfortunes and envy of any prosperity; such feelings can be used to neutralize an appeal
to pity. The positive expression of this is emulation, which takes steps to secure the
good which envy may try to stop someone from enjoying.
The types of human character Aristotle discussed are the young, the old, those in their
prime, those of noble birth, the wealthy, and the powerful. The young have strong
passions, are hot-tempered, love victory, but don't yet love money, not yet having learned
what it is to be without it. The youthful trust others easily, because they have not yet
been cheated much; they are hopeful, confident, and seek what is noble. Their mistakes
tend to be from doing things excessively and vehemently. The elderly have the opposite
characteristics; tending to do too little, they can be cynical and small-minded, because
they have been humbled by life. They are less generous because life has taught them how
difficult it is to get money and how easy it is to lose it. They care more about what is
useful than what is noble, and their passions are weak and often concentrated on the love
of gain. Aristotle believed that those in their prime have the best qualities of the young
and old in moderation. Those of good birth are ambitious; the wealthy are arrogant,
luxurious, and ostentatious; the powerful are ambitious, dignified, and made serious by
Aristotle analyzed the inductive arguments using examples and the syllogistic reasoning
he called enthymeme, in which he included the use of maxims which display the moral
character of the speaker. He noted that the uneducated, arguing from common knowledge and
drawing obvious conclusions, often are more persuasive than the educated who argue from
general principles. Unlike dialectic, rhetorical arguments can be based on probabilities
as well as on certainties. Aristotle also described how arguments may be refuted by using
counter-syllogisms and objections. Speeches need an introduction, must state the case, and
prove it. Prejudices must be removed; interrogation can be used; and the conclusion tends
to end in short sentences.
Aristotle's main ethical work, Nicomachaen Ethics, was named after his son
Nicomachus, who probably edited it from the lecture course. Aristotle began with the
Socratic premise that every art and investigation, even every practical pursuit, seems to
aim at some good. All things aim for what is good, although not all activities are ends in
themselves, many being means to other ends. The ultimate end must not only be good but the
best. To secure the good for one person is an achievement; to secure the good of a state
or nation is nobler and divine. Political science aims at what is fine and just. To
criticize this subject one needs a comprehensive education and experience of life and
conduct which the young lack. The young are also more likely to be ruled by their feelings
rather than knowledge, but those who regulate their desires and actions by reason can
benefit from this study. Most people believe that the best thing they seek in all actions
is happiness, conceived as a good life or doing well.
Aristotle noted the view of Plato that there is a
universal good, which is the cause of all specific goods, though he dismissed it because
it is predicable in all categories, which seems to me to be more an argument that it is
universal. Aristotle noted that the ideal good does not seem to be practical in pursuing
specific goods, but in my view he did not take into account the value of praying for the
highest good or best. Aristotle also criticized Socrates
for saying that virtue is knowledge, though I believe Socrates
meant a form of wisdom that included action as well as thought. For Aristotle virtue is a
form of goodness and, as a pattern of right actions, is related to habit.
Many identify the good with pleasure and are content with a life of enjoyment. Beyond
this, Aristotle found those who value honor and virtue in the political life, but he
admitted that a miserable life with virtue is hardly happy. Aristotle also mentioned the
life of contemplation but postponed its discussion. He considered the life of money-making
constrained, because wealth is only good as a means. Aristotle found that human good is
the exercise of human faculties, especially reason, according to the best virtues which,
when done over a lifetime, results in happiness. Aristotle repeated the Platonic division
of goods between the soul, the body, and the property of the body, and he emphasized the
active exercise of the functions of the soul according to virtue for happiness. Aristotle
believed that virtuous actions are also pleasant or not painful, though he acknowledged
that happiness does seem to require external prosperity as well. However, he did not base
judgment on fortune, because it does not determine if we do well or not but is only an
accessory. The virtuous person is more likely to be happy permanently. Even with reverses
of fortune nobility can shine through such circumstances when a good person bears it with
grace and not out of insensitivity. Happiness is not merely a potential good but actual.
Aristotle defined virtue as the excellence of the soul, and happiness is the virtuous
activity of the soul. In the moderate, self-controlled and courageous, everything is in
harmony with the voice of reason. Aristotle differentiated intellectual virtues from
ethical virtues. Intellectual virtues are developed by teaching; ethical virtues are
formed by habit (ethos). Virtues are not implanted in us by nature nor are they
contrary to nature, for we are equipped by nature to receive them and can develop them by
habitual practice. Thus we become just by acting justly, self-controlled by controlling
ourselves, and courageous by acting bravely. Others may become undisciplined and
short-tempered by acting in those ways. Thus habits developed in childhood make a
considerable difference. Aristotle noted that the purpose of this study is not to know
what virtue is but to become good; thus we must act according to right reason.
Aristotle observed that ethical qualities are destroyed by defect and by excess. Just
as too much or too little food destroys health, the same applies to courage and
moderation. The one who fears everything becomes a coward, while the one who fears nothing
acts recklessly. Whoever revels in every pleasure is undisciplined, while those who avoid
every pleasure are insensitive. Virtuous behavior is reinforcing. Abstaining from
pleasures results in moderation, and the practice of moderation helps one to abstain from
pleasures. Enduring fear makes one courageous, and acting bravely makes one more able to
endure fear. These pleasures and pains test virtue, which can be developed or destroyed by
whether it is practiced or not. Yet avoiding pleasures and enduring pains must be of the
right kind done at the right time and place and in the right manner.
Choice is determined by what is noble, beneficial, and pleasurable and their opposites
of what is base, harmful, and painful. Ethical action requires knowledge of what one is
doing, choice to act that way and for its own sake, and the action must spring from one's
character; of these three factors Aristotle believed that knowledge was the least
important. He criticized those who do not act virtuously but take refuge in argument,
thinking that by philosophical discussion they will become good; he compared them to sick
people, who listen to their doctor but fail to do what is prescribed.
Virtues are related to emotions, but Aristotle noted that we are not blamed or praised
for our emotions, as we are for virtues and vices. Also emotions like anger and fear do
not involve choice, as the virtues do. We are "moved" by emotions but are
"disposed" by virtues and vices to act in certain ways. Virtues cause abilities
to function well in the right ways and circumstances. There are many ways to go wrong by
either extreme of lack or excess, but the mean is what the prudent person determines. Such
emotions as spite, shamelessness, and envy have no mean and are simply base, just as some
actions are bad such as adultery, theft, and murder. Such bad actions do not have a right
time or manner.
Aristotle found generosity to be a virtuous mean between extravagance and stinginess;
magnificence is a mean between gaudy vulgarity and niggardliness; high-mindedness is a
mean between vanity and small-mindedness; sincerity is a mean between boasting and
self-depreciation; wittiness is a mean between buffoonery and boorishness; gentleness is a
mean between being short-tempered and apathetic; friendliness is a mean between flattery
and quarrelsomeness; modesty is a mean between being abashed and shameless; and just
indignation is a mean between envy and spite. In a similar ethical work, Eudemian
Ethics, Aristotle also listed justice as a mean between profit and loss; liberality is
a mean between prodigality and meanness; dignity is a mean between subservience and
stubbornness; hardiness is a mean between luxury and endurance; and wisdom is a mean
between rascality and simpleness. Aristotle advised us to watch the errors we are most
attracted to personally, pleasure being the most difficult to judge without bias.
Voluntary actions are praised or blamed, while involuntary actions may be pardoned or
pitied. Actions done under constraint or because of ignorance are considered involuntary.
Actions done out of fear of a greater evil, such as threat from a tyrant or throwing away
cargo from a ship during a storm, are mixed in regard to voluntariness. Such actions are
voluntary, because the agent is choosing, though they are somewhat involuntary in that no
one would choose them for their own sake. Some call actions impelled by appetites and
passions involuntary, but Aristotle asked if it is right to consider base actions
involuntary while saying that virtuous actions are voluntary; that he felt would be
Choice is critical in ethics, and our character is determined by choosing good or evil.
We deliberate about things which are within our power and can be realized in action. The
ends are most important but usually obvious; so we tend to deliberate most about the means
to find what is easiest and best. Since the end is based on a wish and the means are
determined by deliberation and choice, the resulting actions are voluntary. We may wish
for an end such as health or wisdom, but to achieve them we must act in a practical way.
Thus virtue and vice depend on our own actions. Private individuals and public officials
chastise and punish evildoers unless they have acted under constraint or due to some
ignorance for which they are not responsible. If the individual is responsible for one's
ignorance, the penalty may be even greater, such as in laws regarding drunkenness.
Aristotle defined justice as what is lawful and fair in not taking more than one's
share. Justice is considered the highest virtue, because it relates to others as well as
oneself. Fairness in distribution is described as what each one deserves and is usually
based on equality, although for Aristotle unequals should not receive equal treatment. He
found that distribution depends on the philosophy of government: democrats value freedom,
oligarchs wealth and noble birth, and aristocrats excellence or virtue. Justice can also
be rectification in correcting what is unequal or wrong. To go for justice is to go to a
judge, who acts as mediator to help find the median or fair result. Pythagoreans believed
in reciprocity, which implied suffering that which one has done to another. Reciprocal
action holds the state together, though requiting evil with evil does not seem as good to
me as requiting good with good. Many Greek cities worshiped Graces (Charites),
because they believed in doing and returning favors. To balance goods by a single
standard, coins were invented as currency to facilitate equal exchanges.
Aristotle apparently did not see the injustice of slavery but considered slaves as
property and children as dependent until they are mature. No one wishes to be harmed or
suffer injustice voluntarily; but the uncontrolled may act against their own wishes for
what is ethically good, for the uncontrolled do what they believe they should not do.
Aristotle defined the equitable as a form of justice. The equitable may rectify the law
when the law falls short of universal justice.
Since right reason is what determines the virtuous mean to be practiced, Aristotle
analyzed intellectual virtue. He divided the intellectual faculty into the scientific part
that relates to unchanging truth and the calculative faculty that works with changing
circumstances. The three psychological elements that control truth and action are sense
perception, intelligence, and desire. He further divided the faculties into art or skill (techne),
science or knowledge (episteme), prudence or practical wisdom (phronesis),
wisdom or theoretical knowledge (sophia), and intelligence or intuition (nous).
Things which change include action and production. Production depends on art and skill
guided by reason. Scientific knowledge can be learned and taught. The prudent person has
the ability to deliberate. The task of intelligence is to apprehend fundamental principles
and demonstrate certain truths. Theoretical wisdom combines scientific knowledge and
Practical wisdom includes ethics and politics, which is divided into legislative and
judicial deliberations. Prudence requires understanding that results in good judgment.
Another quality (gnome) translated good sense involves sympathetic understanding
and forgiveness in knowing what is fair and equitable. Aristotle reminded us that prudent
actions are acquired more by habit than by knowledge.
Aristotle distinguished vice from being uncontrolled and from brutishness. The
opposites of these are virtue, self-control or more precisely inner control, and
superhuman virtue, which goes beyond the normal human range as brutishness falls below it.
Aristotle considered excessive folly, cowardice, indulgence, and ill-temper brutish or
morbid. If being self-controlled means having strong and base appetites, the moderate
person will not be self-controlled nor the self-controlled be moderate, for the moderate
person does not have to strain for control. The opposite of the moderate person, the
undisciplined, believe in pursuing pleasures of the moment and choose them, while the
uncontrolled do not think they should but pursue them nonetheless. The undisciplined feel
no regret since they are choosing the pleasures, but the uncontrolled always feel regret.
Aristotle considered inner control of great ethical value and being uncontrolled as bad.
Friendship (philia) for Aristotle involved all human relationships with any
affection including marriage and family and business associations. He believed friendship
is an indispensable good, because no one would want to live without any friends. The best
works are done for one's friends. Nature implants friendship in parents even of other
species. Concord is valuable in society, which does its best to expel faction, the enemy
of concord. Aristotle found that we love what is good, pleasant, and useful. Most people
don't really love what is truly good, but what appears to be good to them. In friendship
there is goodwill for each other. Older people tend to pursue the beneficial more than
pleasure, which is sought more by the young. The best friendship is between good people
who wish each other's good because they are good; this friendship tends to last longest.
Friendship does not occur quickly, though the wish to be friends can come quickly.
Friendships based on pleasure can last quite a while as long as they continue to be
pleasant, but those that are useful tend to dissolve when the advantage ceases.
Friendships of the good imply mutual trust and the assurance that neither will ever wrong
the other. Thus in this way Aristotle noted in the Eudemian Ethics that friendship
and justice are nearly the same.
Friendship is based on equality, and this is sometimes achieved by compensating for
different factors by proportionate affection. Most people wish to receive affection more
than give it, though friendship is giving affection more than receiving it. Friendships
based on opposites, such as the rich and poor, the learned and ignorant, are useful,
because they supply what their friend lacks. Friends share things in common, and this is
the basis of community. Aristotle held that there can be no friendship with a slave as a
slave, but there can be friendship with the human being who happens to be a slave. Parents
love their children, because they have produced them; thus the mother tends to feel more
affection than the father. A good friend will not complain about giving more than one
receives, but a friend concerned with usefulness will. Thus friendships based on character
last longer. One must love oneself as well as one's friend, as loving a friend is loving
another self. One must make effort to avoid vice and be good in order to be a good friend.
Goodwill alone tends to lack the intensity and desire of friendship; yet goodwill can
arise in the moment and be toward anyone and everyone.
Some believe that benefactors care more about their beneficiaries than the reverse the
way debtors avoid their creditors, but Aristotle argued that those who do good care more
about those they are helping because of the joy it brings. The base are selfish in doing
everything for their own sake; the good also love themselves best but differ in that they
love others as they love themselves. One cannot love others well without loving the best
part of oneself which is the sovereign element of intelligence. Thus the good will love
this part of themselves in order to be able to do noble actions and benefit others, while
the wicked do not really love themselves, because by following base emotions they harm
themselves. Some argue that the happiest, self-sufficient people do not need friends, but
Aristotle held that good people need friends to whom they can do good, especially in
misfortune. Humans are social beings and need to live with others.
Life is good and pleasant, because it is desired by all, especially the good and happy.
Aristotle foreshadowed the insights of Descartes and Berkeley when he wrote that in
thinking we perceive that we think, which means that we must exist, since existence is
perceiving or thinking. This perceiving that we are living is pleasant; for existence is
good, and perceiving this goodness is pleasant. The ethically good person has the same
attitude toward oneself as toward one's friend, since a friend is another self. Thus one's
friend's existence is desirable too, and so to be happy one needs good friends. Although
one may have many friends who are virtuous, it is practical to have only a few intimate
friends, nor can one really be in love with more than one person according to Aristotle.
Friends are most needed in bad fortune, but it is more noble to have friends in good
fortune. One wishes to pursue activities with one's friends, and so best friends live
Aristotle found that not all pleasures are desirable, though he observed that drawing
such distinctions is not a strong point for most people. Pleasure is valuable though in
making judgment more perceptive and execution more accurate, for those who enjoy a
particular activity tend to become good at it. A pleasurable activity can draw one's
attention from some other activity, and pain from an activity can also destroy it.
Pleasures from ethically good activities are good, while those from base activities are
bad. For Aristotle pleasures of the mind are superior to those of the senses. What is real
and true is determined best by the good person. Virtuous actions that perform noble and
good deeds are desirable for their own sake and are most happy. Pleasant amusements are
also sought for their own sake, but for Aristotle it is childish to exert serious efforts
The highest virtue relates to the highest part of ourselves, which is intelligence.
Intelligent activity can be performed more continuously and easily than any other kind of
action. The wise person requires the necessities of life but, unlike the just and
courageous persons, does not need anyone else to exercise the intellect in study, and the
wiser one is the more one can do it by oneself. As intelligence is the most divine
quality, the life guided by intelligence is more divine. This highest and best controlling
part of us is our true self and acts according to virtue. Thus for Aristotle contemplative
activity surpasses all others in bliss. One still needs external goods to live as a human,
but the wise will not possess them in excess. Those who cultivate intelligence best are
most beloved of the gods and presumably happiest.
Most people though are not guided by goodness and nobility, but they are swayed by fear
of punishment more than shame of disgrace. Influenced by emotions, they pursue pleasures
and avoid pains. Aristotle asked how could such people be transformed by argument. Some
argue that people are good by nature, others by habit, and others by teaching. Nature is
beyond our power. Teaching is not effective in all cases, because the listener must first
be conditioned by appropriate habits. To give the right training from the beginning, one
must be brought up under the right laws, which also can regulate the actions of adults.
Law has the power to compel; while people resent those who oppose their impulses, the law
is not as invidious. Thus anyone who wants to make people better ought to study
legislation, and so Aristotle turned next to politics and governmental constitutions.
Many of Aristotle's prejudices came out in his Politics. He believed that
barbarians and slaves are identical and that the Greeks ought to rule over both. He also
quoted Homer for the long-standing practice that men ought to have the power of law over
children and wives. Aristotle believed that humans are political animals and only a
sub-human like the war-mad man of Homer has no family, no morals, and no home. Wickedness
that is armed is the hardest to handle. Justice is the essential basis of political
association. Aristotle was aware that some people believed there is no difference in the
nature of slaves and that as a form of rule based on force it is wrong. Aristotle
considered property and tools essential to a minimum standard of wealth and the good life.
He included tamed animals and slaves as tools and the master's property. He believed that
some by nature should rule and others serve. When the mind rules over the body, a person
is in a good state; when the body rules over the mind, one is in a bad condition. He
believed that as the mind is to rule the emotions, so too men are to rule over women.
Aristotle said that where the discrepancy among people is the same as that between
people and animals, then the inferior ought to be slave to the superior. However, I don't
believe it is at all clear, as he said it is, that such a discrepancy among humans exists
in nature, although it may have seemed to exist within his society. Again Aristotle
mentioned those versed in law who protested legal slavery as contrary to law, which should
restrain such violence. They held there is no justification for overpowering others by
violence to make them property. Others believed that the stronger should rule; they said
enslavement by war is right, though often the war may have been unjust. Aristotle hoped
for mutual affection between masters and slaves, but he found this did not occur when the
slavery arose from the use of such force. The original means of getting slaves was by
raiding and hunting. Aristotle held that plants exist for the sake of animals, and animals
for the sake of humans. War, of which hunting was a part, was a way of acquiring property,
and he justified its use against men. Aristotle noted that rule over slaves is different
from the rule over free and equal persons which constitutes the government of a state.
Aristotle noted that money-making is one pursuit that can have no limit. He criticized
excessive commercial trade and was particularly against charging interest for the loan of
money as most contrary to nature. He observed that a monopoly was a way of making money,
and that it is used by governments as well as private interests. He reported how the
Sicilian tyrant Dionysius expelled a citizen for
monopolizing iron as detrimental to the country. Aristotle, mistakenly I believe, found no
deliberative faculty in slaves and observed that it was inoperative in women and
undeveloped in children. These observations were undoubtedly due to social conditions.
However, he did believe that these faculties should be developed by education in women and
children so that they could become good.
Aristotle compared several forms of government starting with those recommended by Plato. He believed that having wives and children in common
was unworkable. He found too much emphasis on unity in Plato's
Republic. It is easier for a family to have unity, but a state is based on
cooperative self-sufficiency, which requires more specialization and less unity. He
noticed a logical error in the concept of having all things in common, because in practice
everyone could not use all things; thus it was an impossible situation. In common
ownership there would be less respect for property, because people are more careful with
their own possessions. They only care for public property in so far as it affects them.
Similarly with children, no one would care much about any of them. He suggested
sarcastically that perhaps having children in common might be better for the farming
class, because with less affection between them they would be less likely to revolt.
Aristotle did believe in friendly feelings in cities as a safeguard against strife, but
he thought that by sharing wives and children the feelings of affection would be lukewarm
and watered down without any sense of what is one's own that one loves specially. Also he
predicted that the transfers from one class to another because of different natures would
not be conducive to brotherhood but would lead to problems and crime. He also criticized
Plato's communistic system for taking away the incentives of work by equalizing income; he
believed that private ownership worked much better, though he suggested the right use of
property can be communal if the lawgiver makes the citizens disposed to this. Ownership is
pleasurable and natural; selfishness is only condemned when it is excessive. Greed is bad,
but everyone likes to have their bit of property. There is also the pleasure of giving and
helping others. In the communal system there would be no self-restraint in sexual passion
and no liberality with money.
The complaints that people have about broken contracts and the undue influence of the
wealthy arise from the defects of character, and there are even more such disputes in
shared ownership. A state that becomes too unified could be much worse like a monotone
without variety and harmony. The plurality of a state can develop unity through education,
which is a much better method for training character than regulating property. Aristotle
suspected that Plato's farmers, who would have to pay rent, would be more troublesome than
the Helots and slaves they knew. He considered women doing the same work as men futile,
since men do not do housework, once again showing his social conditioning.
Aristotle also criticized Plato's Laws for
relying too much on virtue without being liberal. Both are needed, because virtue alone is
too hard, and liberality alone is too easy. He thought that leaving the number of births
unrestricted would lead to poverty, discontent, and crime. Equality of wealth would not
put an end to stealing, and the upper class, discontent with equality, would want more.
Aristotle's suggestion was that the upper class should not wish to get more (He did not
say how - presumably by education.), and the inferior should not be able to because they
are weaker though not downtrodden.
Aristotle agreed with the Spartan custom that citizens should be free of all menial
tasks, but he found that Spartan women indulged in every luxury and license. He criticized
Spartan inequality of property and noted that the number of full citizens had fallen below
one thousand. He seemed to like Cretan government better although it wasn't much
different, and he disliked the importance of money in Carthage. He credited Charondas as
being the first to make perjury an indictable offense.
The constitution for Aristotle is the way of organizing the people living in the state.
Citizens are those who participate in the legal, political, and administrative judgment
and authority of the state. Citizenship was usually based on birth and often on some
property standard. In democratic constitutions the people are supreme, in oligarchies the
few. Constitutions that aim at the common good are right and those aiming only at the good
of the rulers are deviations and wrong. The deviation of a monarchy is a tyranny, of an
aristocracy an oligarchy, and of what he called a polity a democracy. Democratic concepts
of justice are based on equality, oligarchic on superiority. Aristotle noted that people
generally are bad judges where their own interests are involved. The state is more than an
investment to provide a living but is to make life worth while; it is more than a
community living in the same place promoting the exchange of goods and services; it ought
to promote living well a full and satisfying life that includes culture, civic
associations, and religion.
The majority by taking and distributing the possessions of the few can destroy a state
just as much as can a tyrant, nor is it just for the wealthy few to rule by plunder.
Aristotle's fourth alternative is that the good should govern, and the fifth is rule by
the best person. He also observed that the many collectively may rule better than any
single person, as a feast in which many contribute is better than one given at one
person's expense. In addition to birth and property Aristotle considered the virtues of
justice and military prowess to be needed. Justice means equality and fairness for all,
but for Aristotle apparently that meant only all citizens, not all the people.
Aristotle delineated four kinds of constitutional kingship as (1) the old heroic
monarchy in which the king's duty was defined as judge, military commander, and religious
head; (2) the hereditary despotic monarchy of barbarians that was considered legal; (3) an
elected dictator; and (4) the Lacedaemonian dual kingship which was a hereditary
generalship for life. A fifth kind was unrestricted control of everything, though that is
not constitutional monarchy but tyranny. Aristotle asked whether rule by the best person
is better or by the best laws. Laws can only enunciate principles, while a human has
feelings and can give sounder counsel in individual cases; but laws must be laid down to
guard against personal whims. Many judges are less corruptible than one judge and less
likely to have a warped view. Based on his observation of history, Aristotle believed that
hereditary succession was harmful, although sometimes a good family can rule well.
Aristotle defined the constitution as the arrangement for distributing offices of power
and for determining the sovereignty and its ends. Laws prescribe the rules by which the
rulers rule and transgressors of the laws are restrained. He listed five classes: (1)
farmers who make up the bulk of the people; (2) urban workers; (3) commercial traders; (4)
hired laborers; and (5) defenders in war. Aristotle then added a class of well-to-do, who
serve with their possessions, and a class of government employees. Democracies can limit
citizenship by property and by birth; they can be ruled by law, or the people can be made
sovereign without law. When there are no laws, there is no constitution. Oligarchies can
restrict offices to those with property of differing amounts or can be ruled by hereditary
officers with or without laws. Aristotle noted that the majority principle may be used
among the oligarchies as well as in the democracies, as a majority of those participating
In looking for the virtuous mean Aristotle, hoping for an aristocratic polity,
recommended a combination of democracy and oligarchy, preferring oligarchic selection to
choosing officials by lot while favoring the democratic freedom from property
qualification. In framing laws he suggested giving the middle class the greatest
consideration, for he believed it would be unlikely for the rich and poor to make common
cause against them. In analyzing revolutions he found that those bent on equality may
revolt if they believe they have less, and those wanting superiority revolt if they are
not getting more. Other motives include profit and dignity, and the origins of disorders
are cruelty, fear, excessive power, contemptuous attitudes, disproportionate
aggrandizement, and the nonviolent methods of lobbying and intrigue.
Those bent on profiting themselves may be cruel and oppressive. Dignity is affected
when people see others honored and themselves degraded. Criminals fearing punishment may
revolt. A small power group may become excessive. The larger class may have contempt for
the oligarchs, or in democracies the upper classes may have contempt for the disorder and
inefficiency. In a democracy a disproportionate growth of the number of poor may become
unstable, or too much increase of wealth among the rich may lead to a strong power-group.
Lobbying can change the constitution without violence which may be done overtly, because
of lack of vigilance, or so gradually that it is not noticed. From history Aristotle also
found that the most potent cause of revolution in democracies was the unprincipled
character of popular leaders who often by malicious prosecutions against property-owners
caused them to join forces.
Governments are stabilized by loyalty to the established constitution, capacity for the
work, and the virtues of goodness and honesty. Tyrants tend to have a guard of foreign
mercenaries rather than a citizen guard, and they maintain their power by making sure the
people have no minds of their own, do not trust each other, and have no means of carrying
out anything. Aristotle gave several examples of tyrannical policies.
The foundation of democratic constitutions is liberty in which the poor have more
sovereign power than the propertied class, for being more numerous they are the prevailing
majority. Aristotle also described this society as under the "live as you like"
principle. The features of democracy include elections in which all citizens are eligible
for office, some offices filled by lot, little or no property qualification for office,
limited terms for office-holders, juries chosen from all the citizens, a sovereign
assembly or council, and pay for serving on juries, the assembly, council, and in offices.
Aristotle felt that an agricultural democracy was best, because farmers kept busy, rarely
attended the assembly, and did not lack necessities. Aristotle suggested that money from
fines go for sacred purposes so that people won't fine too much to gain funds for the
government. Guarding prisoners is unpleasant work, and they need to be well-paid so that
they can be accountable and not have a free hand to disregard the laws. Aristotle
summarized the services of government as "religion, defense, income and expenditure,
trade, the town and harbor, the countryside, legal administration, registration of
contracts, prisons and the execution of judgment, auditing and review of accounts,
examination of the holders of office, and finally discussion and decision on the affairs
of the nation."5
Aristotle found that those who value wealth wanted the city to be prosperous, those who
value power wanted it to rule over extensive dominions, and those who value virtue wanted
the city to excel in justice and goodness. He criticized Sparta and Crete for designing
their educational systems for war and military power as do the Scythians, Persians,
Thracians, and Celts. In Carthage, Macedonia, and Iberia soldiers were honored with some
distinction for having killed an enemy. Aristotle attributed the fall of Sparta to its
militaristic system, and he could not applaud lawgivers who train their people to acquire
power and rule over their neighbors. For Aristotle military training should be only for
defense against subjection, to win leadership in order to benefit others but not to
dominate, and in order to be master over the slaves. Military states, he found, generally
fight wars and survive; but once they have established an empire, they decline, because
they are not educated for peace.
He believed it was just to serve only someone who was superior in virtue and in the
ability to perform good actions. If happiness is doing well, then the active life is
better both for the individual and the whole community. Aristotle listed the necessities
as food, handicrafts and their tools, arms, wealth, religion, and most essential is a
method of arriving at decisions. For Aristotle slaves were necessary for the agricultural
work so that the citizens could handle the civic and military duties as well as religious
functions as they got older. This class distinction he traced back to the earliest
civilizations in Egypt and Crete.
Although all creatures live by nature and some by habit, Aristotle believed that only
humans use reason, which can enable one to do many things contrary to nature, and habit
when one is convinced it is a better course. People do not object to letting older people
rule more, because they hope to earn their chance to rule also.
Along with courage and steadfastness for work, Aristotle believed that we need
intellectual ability for cultivated leisure as well as honesty and restraint at all times,
especially in peace. Thus Aristotle turned to education and agreed with Plato on many things such as the importance of play for
children and having inspectors to choose children's stories and censoring unseemly talk;
but he disagreed in letting children cry so that they could exercise their lungs. He
recognized the need to control population and approved of abortion before the embryo has
acquired life and sensation. He did not approve of extra-marital sex with persons of
either sex. Aristotle did not believe that children should view comedies until they are
old enough to drink. He thought education for the citizens ought to be a national concern,
and he considered degrading occupations or work for money as deleterious to the body's
condition. In addition to reading and writing and gymnastics, Aristotle was also very
particular about the kind of music that ought to be taught. Children should not be allowed
to view art that is not truly ethical.
A work by Aristotle or his followers on economics or household management is about the
relationship between a man and a woman as the most natural of all relationships that in
humans can be based on mutual help, goodwill, and cooperation. Parents take care of their
children when they are young and weak, and later the children can care for the parents
when they become old and weak. Aristotle believed that women are better fitted for quiet
employments requiring patience, while men are more active and stronger. The mother
nurtures the children, and the father educates them. The man should not do wrong to the
woman, such as by associating with other women, while women should not importune their
husbands nor be restless during their absences. This book also discusses the proper
treatment of slaves. To develop trust one should not allow them to be insolent nor
mistreat them. Aristotle recommended setting the prize of freedom as an incentive for good
work with a definite time when it can be attained, and he also advised frequent
inspections of workers or stewards and developing good habits of management without
The second book of the Oeconomica cites numerous historical examples of how
devious rulers raised money to pay their soldiers. The third book only survived in Latin
translations of the 13th century and is about the relationship between husband and wife. A
good wife is responsible for administering the internal functions of the home, the husband
the external concerns, although the wife is expected to obey her husband. Virtue is
emphasized, and it is noted that only a great soul can handle troubles and wrongs without
committing a base act. Correctly reared children will grow up to be virtuous, but parents
who are not just will find them rebelling. Aristotle praised fidelity and warned the
husband against promiscuity as well as the wife, for it is a shame to have children
outside of marriage. The husband who learns how to master himself can then teach his wife
to follow his example. Aristotle saw no greater blessing on earth than a husband and wife
ruling their home in harmony of mind and will. After each other their duties extend to
their children, their friends, and their estate. By treating their entire household as a
common possession they can vie with each other to see who can contribute the most to the
common welfare and excel in virtue.
The line of Cynic philosophers goes back to a disciple of Socrates
named Antisthenes, who emulated his hardihood and disregard of feeling. Antisthenes, who
was about twenty years younger than Socrates and about
twenty years older than Plato, lived in the Peiraeus and
walked the five miles each day to hear Socrates. He
considered the most necessary part of learning getting rid of having anything to unlearn.
He said it was a royal privilege to do good and be called evil. He pointed to Heracles and
Cyrus to show that pain could be a good thing. Antisthenes said he would rather be mad
than feel pleasure. He had few students because he used a silver rod to eject them, and he
criticized them the way a physician treats a patient. He preferred crows who eat the dead
to flatterers who devour the living. He believed those who would be immortal ought to live
justly and piously, and states are doomed when they cannot distinguish the good from the
bad. Antisthenes criticized Plato for his pride. He
maintained that virtue had to do with actions not words. The wise are guided by virtue and
not by laws of the state. The good deserve to be loved, and virtue cannot be taken away
and is the same for men and women.
Diogenes lived to be over eighty and died about the same time as Alexander in 323 BC.
Diogenes was the son of a banker in Sinope, and both were banished for adulterating the
coinage, which Diogenes admitted later. In Athens Antisthenes tried to discourage
Diogenes, but Diogenes persisted by offering his head to the staff of Antisthenes saying,
"Strike, for you will find no wood hard enough to keep me away from you, so long as I
think you've something to say."6 Antisthenes then accepted him as a pupil, and
Diogenes began a simple life. Wandering and begging for his food, Diogenes used any place
he could find for eating, sleeping, conversing, or any other purpose. He found that the
Athenians had provided him with places to live in the portico of Zeus and the hall of the
processions. To inure himself to hardship he would roll in hot sand in the summer and
embrace snow-covered statues in the winter. Diogenes found that despising pleasure itself
could be most pleasurable once one was accustomed to it. When begging charity in his
poverty, Diogenes asked them to give to him if they have given to anyone else; or if they
had not, to begin with him. The love of money he called the mother-city of all evils.
Diogenes scorned the school of Euclides as cholic, Plato's lectures as a waste of time,
and Dionysian performances as peep-shows for fools. Demogogues he called lackeys of the
mob. When he observed philosophers and physicians, he called humans the most intelligent
animal; but seeing diviners puffed up by wealth, he thought no animal more silly. Once
Diogenes trampled on the carpets of Plato, saying he was
trampling on his pride; but Plato replied that Diogenes
had a different kind of pride. When Plato was applauded
for defining humans as featherless bipeds, Diogenes plucked a fowl and took it to Plato's
lecture room as "Plato's person." Diogenes mocked Plato's ideas of tablehood and
cuphood, and he considered himself a Socrates gone mad.
One day Diogenes lit a lamp and went around saying he was seeking a person, a story
that later became a search for an honest person. Diogenes wondered at the grammarians who
investigate the ills of Odysseus but are ignorant of their own, or the musicians who tune
their lyres but leave the dispositions of their souls discordant, or at orators who make a
fuss about justice in their speeches but never practice it, or the avaricious who
criticize money while being so fond of it. He got angry at those who sacrificed to the
gods for health and feasted to their own health's detriment. One day when a child drank
out of his hands, he threw away his cup, because a child had surpassed him in plainness of
living. He reasoned that all things belong to the gods; the wise are friends of the gods;
since friends have all things in common, all things belong to the wise. Diogenes opposed
fortune with courage, convention with nature, and passion with reason. When someone
complained that he was not adapted to the study of philosophy, Diogenes asked why he
lived, if he did not care to live well. Diogenes held that education is a controlling
grace to the young, consolation to the old, wealth to the poor, and an ornament to the
rich. Diogenes believed that the most beautiful thing in the world is freedom of speech.
When Athenians urged him to become initiated so that he would enjoy a special privilege
in the other world, Diogenes thought it ludicrous that this could cause those of no
account to live in the Isles of the Blessed. Observing a religious purification, he asked
the priest if he knew that he could no more get rid of errors of conduct by sprinkling
than he could so correct errors of grammar. He reproached people for praying for what they
thought was good instead of what is truly good. Diogenes often insisted that the gods had
given humans everything they need to live easily, but they wanted honeycakes and ointments
and other such things. When he saw temple officials leading away someone for stealing a
bowl that belonged to the treasurers, Diogenes commented that the great thieves were
leading away the little thief.
When strangers asked to see Demosthenes, Diogenes pointed him out with his middle
finger and called him the demagogue of Athens. He noted how much difference a finger could
make in human attitudes. After the battle of Charonea, Diogenes was taken and dragged off
to Philip, who asked him who he was. Diogenes replied that he was a spy on his insatiable
greed, for which he was admired and set free. Alexander
said that if he had not been Alexander he would have
liked to have been Diogenes. When Diogenes was sunning himself in the Craneum, Alexander came and stood over him saying that he could
have anything he wished. Diogenes simply asked Alexander
to move out of his sunlight. Alexander said that he
was Alexander the great king, and he said that he was
Diogenes the hound. Asked why he was called that, Diogenes replied that he fawned on those
who gave him anything, yelped at those who refused, and put his teeth into rascals. Asked
where he was from one time, Diogenes said that he was a citizen of the world, perhaps the
first use of the term "cosmopolitan." He believed that the only true
commonwealth is as wide as the universe, and he advocated the community of wives with no
marriage other than consenting union by persuasion. Children thus would also be held in
When Diogenes was captured and put up for sale as a slave and was asked what he could
do, he said he could govern people and told the crier to announce for someone who wanted
to purchase a master for himself. He told the Corinthian Xeniades who bought him that he
must obey him as though he were a physician, and he educated his children. Xeniades
entrusted his whole house to him and said that a good spirit had entered his house.
Finally Diogenes died either from eating raw octopus, being bitten by a dog, or from
holding his breath.
1. Hippocrates, Aphorisms, tr. Francis Adams, 1:1.
2. Isocrates, Panathenaicus, tr. George Norlin 12-14.
3. Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, tr. R. D. Hicks, 5:20.
4. Aristotle, Rhetoric, tr. W. R. Roberts, 1:13, 1373b.
5. Aristotle, Politics, tr. J. A. Sinclair, 6:8.
6. Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, tr. R. D. Hicks, 6:21.
Copyright ï¿½ 1998 by Sanderson Beck