Pioneers of Education: Aristotle

Today we take a look at one of the greatest names of education from the distant past, the Greek philosopher Aristotle.

Declared by the Encyclopaedia Britannia as "The Worlds First Scientist" the shadow of Aristotle has loomed larger than life for millennia, influencing not just what entire civilizations have thought and believed, but how they came to think and believe it.  From philosophy to geology, physics to medicine there was not one field of academic knowledge that he did not know something about, so much so that he would later be said to have known more than any other man in history. 

Born as the son of a physician in 384 BCE, Aristotle was thought to have been introduced to the ruling nobility of his homeland of Macedonia by virtue of his father’s role as a healer in the court of the king Amyntas II.  At about 18 years of age, he travelled to the Greek city of Athens to attend the academy run by the renowned philosopher Plato whose teachings would form an initial basis for many of Aristotle’s later beliefs.  However he was not to be a blank slate, uncritically accepting all that his master had to teach and his disagreements with Plato ensured that, upon the death of the older scholar, Aristotle would not inherit his mantle as master of the academy and instead left.

Rather than fade into obscurity, Aristotle’s star and fame would only rise higher thanks, in no small part, to his role as tutor to one of the largest names in the ancient world, Alexander the Great.  As a teacher, the philosopher can be looked to as an example for that dearly held dream of educators that their pupils, filled with ideas and inspiration from their lessons, can go on to do great things; though perhaps they might stop short at raising an army and conquering everything from Athens to India.

With his fame and the patronage of his world conquering pupil, Aristotle was later to return to Athens where he would open a new school to compete with his old academy.  Called the Lyceum it would become one of the greatest libraries of knowledge in the world at the time, due to the sheer volume of works produced by the students, helped by the busy Aristotle himself.

Though he was to ultimately end his life in exile, his influence on ancient thought was profound and would dominate thinking and learning for thousands of years to come.  He was among the first to attempt a formal classification of animals into what we would regard as genera today and in the course of his life would write over two hundred works of varying sorts covering topics as diverse as geology, meteorlogy, psychology and marine biology. 

His works on philosophy in particular would resonate for centuries after his death, with works such as Nichomacean Ethics and Prior Analytics.  In particular his focus on establishing a systematic reasoning of logic would earn him the epitaph centuries later of being the first scientist. Though he would have had no concept of a scientist as we understand it today, his emphasis on reason and deduction in coming to a conclusion on a topic would later influence the scientific method.

Like his predecessor Plato, and Plato’s teacher Socrates, Aristotle’s life and work was to have an immense influence on the societies and civilizations that would follow from the Roman conquerors to Islamic scholars, the Byzantine Empire, the Renaissance and Enlightenment.

Many of Plato’s beliefs and theories have, in later years been proven false, for example, his belief in a geocentric universe or, one in which the sun rotates around the earth.  Still for over a thousand years after his death much of his work formed the basis and extent of human learning unchallenged and even today his works, thoughts, theories and beliefs are studied by countless students across the world.

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