Aristotle (384-322 BC) was a philosopher in ancient Athens, Greece and is considered by many to be one of the greatest philosophers of all time. He is the last of the Greek thinkers we will study in this course. A student of Plato, Aristotle never knew Socrates as he was born after Socrates’ trial and death, but he did understand Socratic thought. He would have learned much about Socrates from Plato. Aristotle was not a blind follower, though. He developed his own ideas and theories on wide range of topics including—but certainly not limited to—religion, metaphysics, ethics, logic, life, and art.
Philosophy of Religion
Aristotle was the first to assert the argument from motion, or the theory of the unmoved mover, as a philosophical proof for the existence of a greater being (i.e. God). This theory is the first of several similar concepts which I call the contingency arguments as each one asserts that everything that exists is contingent upon the existence of something else.
“Aristotle’s fundamental principle is that everything that is in motion is moved by something else, and he offers a number of … arguments to this effect. He then argues that there cannot be an infinite series of moved movers” (Kenny). So, essentially, Aristotle is saying that since everything in existence is caused by something that precedes it, there must be a beginning. That beginning is an unmoved mover, and uncaused cause that put everything else into motion: the greatest conceivable being. Since infinite regress—and unlimited, ongoing series of movers—defies logic, the greatest conceivable being must exist. More on this if you take my Philosophy of Religion class.
Aristotle’s Argument from Motion was echoed centuries later by St. Thomas Aquinas who included it as one of his five proofs for the existence of God. Prior to Aquinas’ popular five proofs, Arabic philosopher Ibn Sina developed the similar Cosmological Argument (Reichenbach).
Here’s a video that explains Aristotle’s first contingency argument in detail:
“All men by nature desire to know.” This is the first line of Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Book One. He continues, “An indication of this is the delight we take in our senses; for even apart from their usefulness they are loved for themselves; and above all others the sense of sight. For not only with a view to action, but even when we are not going to do anything, we prefer seeing (one might say) to everything else. The reason is that this, most of all the senses, makes us know and brings to light many differences between things” (Part 1).
This is a profound observation that holds true these centuries later. Humankind is curious about everything. We desire to know more about science, religion, the mind, the self, all things known to us. Plus, we want to discover those things unknown or temporarily hidden from us. We seek understanding on all levels as Aristotle did.
While Socrates was the first to put ethics at the center of his philosophy, Aristotle examined the topic in depth. “All free males [all persons by today’s standards] are born with the potential to become ethically virtuous and practically wise, but to achieve these goals they must go through two stages: during their childhood, they must develop the proper habits; and then, when their reason is fully developed, they must acquire practical wisdom … Ethical virtue is fully developed only when it is combined with practical wisdom” (Kraut).
Aristotle believed that one can become virtuous by following the examples of virtuous people (Pollock 90).
Aristotle. “Metaphysics.” Trans. WD Ross. The Internet Classics Archive. classics.mit.edu. 350 BC.
Kenny, Anthony JP. “The Unmoved Mover.” Encyclopedia Britannica. britannica.com. N.D.
Kraut, Richard. “Aristotle’s Ethics.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. plato.stanford.edu. 2 July 2022.
Pollock, Joycelyn M. Ethical Dilemmas and Decisions in Criminal Justice, 9 ed. Cengage, 2017.
Reichenbach, Bruce. “Cosmological Argument.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. plato.stanford.edu. 30 June 2022.
Sonse, CC BY 2.0. via Wikimedia Commons. (image).