Last & Least
Dr Binoy Barman
I dreamed of naming my children 'Aris' after the great Greek philosopher Aristotle. But my dream went awry as both of my children were female. It remains as a pain in my mind. I revere Aristotle as the wisest man of the world -- past and present. He is a great inspiration for knowledge -- a mortal god made up with knowledge from top to bottom. Though I could not attach him to the names of my children, I took a roundabout. I picked up the theme 'knowledge' and chose two Bangla words for them -- 'Progya' and 'Swogya'. Progya means 'wisdom' which comes through the enlightening of intellect and Swogya means 'intuition' the type of divine knowledge revealed through soul. Now I see the sacred shadow of Aristotle reflected in my daughters' names.
I consider Aristotle (384 BC - 322 BC) as the totality of knowledge. He is knowledge incarnate, to my mind. No other human in ancient and modern world devoted himself or herself to the pursuit of knowledge in a fashion he did, attaining the highest order possible. His soul was always burnt was the flame of knowledge and he kept the flame burning throughout his life. He was born in knowledge and died in knowledge. As the son of Nicomachus, a physician of King Amyntas of Macedon, he got his first lesson from his family. He later went to Athens and became a disciple of Plate, with whom he stayed for long twenty years. Throughout his life he learnt and taught, without stop for a moment. He built a tower of knowledge on the surface of earth which kept rising towards the sky till he breathed his last.
There is no area of knowledge which Aristotle did not venture into. He took interest in and contributed to all disciplines available during his time -- physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, politics, government, ethics, biology, zoology, chemistry, geology, meteorology, astronomy, optics, geography, mathematics, aesthetics, economics, psychology, theology, education and foreign customs. Aristotle was the first to classify areas of human knowledge into distinct disciplines, subsumed in science. He says, all science is either practical, poetical or theoretical. By practical science, he means ethics and politics; by poetical science, he means the study of poetry and the other fine arts; by theoretical science, he means physics, mathematics and metaphysics.
Aristotle was a versatile genius who utilised his wits to good purposes -- to break new grounds in intellectual exercise, to present humans the best writings of all times. He wrote a large number of books which were later preserved in the famous Library of Alexandria, though today most of his works are lost. His writings had amazing power and Cicero compared them with 'a river of gold'. Aristotle is said to have written about 200 scholarly treatises, which created the tradition of serious academic discussion. His most important treatises include Physics, Metaphysics, Nicomachean Ethics, Politics, De Anima and Poetics.
Aristotle's contribution to philosophy is immeasurable. Nobody in the western world is as original as Aristotle in philosophical thoughts. Only his guru Plato could be compared with him in philosophical accomplishments. But Aristotle's contentions sounded more cogent than Plato's. The former challenged the latter's view on the nature of knowledge and world. Plato argued that all things have a universal form, detached from existing things. But according to Aristotle, there are no universals unattached to existing things; rather all universals are instantiated through particulars. Plato initiated the rationalist tradition in
philosophy while Aristotle initiated the empirical tradition, which fosters modern science and technology. Aristotle's writings built up, first ever in history, a comprehensive system of Western philosophy. He influenced all the subsequent philosophical thoughts stretching up to present time. His metaphysics specially influenced medieval Muslim and Christian theology. The scholasticism in the Middle Ages was deeply inspired by the Aristotelian logic. Aristotelianism is still strong in the present world academia. Aristotle was the first to study formal logic and apply it to reasoning. He is called the father of deductive logic. His logic of syllogism is still a set rule for scientific method.
Aristotle was more complete than Plato in the acquisition and possession of knowledge. Plato was no doubt a great man of letters but he never took serious interest in science. He limited himself to the abstract. On the contrary, Aristotle took genuine interest in science. He explored both the abstract and the concrete. In this respect Plato was superseded by Aristotle. Plato's glory was overshadowed by Aristotle, who was more scientifically oriented, and more complete as a scholar. Aristotle was a great scientist who introduced the observational method in science, which the Western civilisation inherits and still follows as the most reliable one. His observational method was applied to the development of biology and physics in particular.
Based on his observation, Aristotle presented a cosmological theory, placing earth at its centre, lying in eternity and changelessness, which, endorsed by Ptolemy, reigned for about two thousand years. His theory of geocentric universe was only challenged by post-Renaissance scientists, who presented a dynamic picture of the universe keeping sun at the centre. Aristotle cannot be blamed for his 'wrong' theory as it was based on observation. He observed with his bare eyes while the post-Renaissance scientists observed with powerful telescope, a technological advantage. In the world of science there is no orthodoxy. The old theory is always replaced by the new one, deemed more consistent with observational data. For example, Newton's gravitational theory has been replaced by Einstein's relativity theory; the fixed-size universe model has been replaced by the expanding universe model thanks to the observations of Edwin Hubble. Aristotle took the first step in scientific observation and others followed him. Credit of advancing science goes to the initiator as well as those who overwhelmed him.
In biological science, his contributions enriched anatomy, embryology and zoology. He first classified the living things, which still carries value. He believed that creatures were arranged in a graded scale of perfection rising from plants up to man, known as 'the scala naturae' or the Great Chain of Being, in which we may find the seed of evolution theory. He wrote History of Animals, Generation of Animals, and Parts of Animals, which contain his observations and interpretations. He performed original research in the natural sciences. For example, he studied the animals and plants in the island of Lesbos. He dissected animals to find out internal structure. In an experiment he broke open fertilised chicken eggs at intervals to observe when visible organs developed.
Aristotle was enviably intelligent as a student as well as a teacher. In the fashion of Plato's Academy he established his own institution Lyceum, which gave rise to the famous Peripatetic School. He tutored Alexander the Great. And see, Aristotle conquered the world with knowledge and his student Alexander conquered it with political power. Aristotle encouraged Alexander toward eastern conquest and counselled him to be a leader to the Greeks. Aristotle's teaching worked and the world witnessed what happened. Only a great philosopher could produce such a great hero.
Aristotle's endeavours encompassed virtually all facets of intellectual inquiry. He was the compendium of human knowledge while his combined works constitute a virtual encyclopedia of Greek wisdom. Aristotle was probably the first and last person on earth to know everything there was to be known for a human being. Not all ideas of Aristotle eventually survived but what he said and did as a single person was simply astonishing despite all their limitations. He created a scientific tradition and that was his real triumph. Today's science and technology-driven world stands and extends on Aristotelian foundation. I hope my offspring will realise the truth.
(The writer is Assistant Professor and Head, Department of English, Daffodil International University.)