ND   JMC : History of Medieval Philosophy / by Maurice De Wulf

33. General Characteristics of Aristotle's Philosophy. -- He allows its full value to speculative science, and does not subordinate it, as Socrates and Plato do, to the practical needs of life. All men, he says on the first page of his Metaphysics, have not only a natural but a disinterested desire for knowledge, -- for its own sake.

The poetic imagery and diffuseness of Plato's style gives place to a diction that is concise and solid, -- so condensed, indeed, as to be at times obscure and difficult.

Aristotle respects the opinions of others, and makes it a duty to study them carefully. In fact, he may well be called the first historian of philosophy; for the first book of his Metaphysics gives an exposition of all the philosophical doctrines which were taught from Thales to Plato. If he did not fully develop the historical method, it was because of the conception he had of the object of such history: the history of Philosophy should not be cultivated for its own sake, he held, but only in so far as it contributes to the discovery of the truth.

He elaborates a full and complete system of philosophy, based upon the two-fold method of analysis and synthesis. The employment of observation as a method of procedure in philosophy, first introduced by Socrates and applied but timidly by Plato, is here established on a scientific basis. Aristotle is above all an observer of nature. He has all that reverence for fact of which modern science boasts. Astronomy, meteorology, botany, zoology, biology, physiology, politics and political history, literary history and archaeology, philology, grammar, rhetoric, poetry: he shows a profound practical knowledge of all these particular sciences, -- profound for his time; and more than one of them owes to his intellect either its first constitution or even its final organization. He aims at possessing all the elements of knowledge, because he wishes to explain nature in its entirety.

And, in fact, after having collected those mighty stores of materials, which make him the first scholar of antiquity, Aristotle constructed a vast general synthesis which justifies us in regarding him as the prince of ancient philosophy. Everything that is, is the object of philosophy, or of science in the higher sense which he gives this word (35); and, accordingly, his encyclopedic researches are all systematized under a higher threefold unifying principle which will serve as a basis for the division of speculative philosophy.

Aristotle is a scientist and a philosopher of the highest order. In him we find united the two temperaments whose combination means genius. With the exception of certain weak points, we may say that everything is of a piece in his vast synthesis. While Plato is full of contradictions, rigorous order and logical unity dominate the work of Aristotle. He not only surpasses his master by all that distance which separates a solid philosophy of reality from a dreamy philosophy of abstraction; he even takes his place above and beyond all classifications of age or race, in the ranks of those great thinkers who are the glory of humanity. And, besides, the whole course of subsequent history has borne witness to his genius, for no one has exercised an influence equal to his on the progress of human thought.

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