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Research on Aristotle’s Works

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Aristotle is widely known as a philosopher, a researcher, a logician, and a founder of many sciences. In terms of philosophy, his views differed from Plato’s, his teacher’s. While Plato believed that ultimate reality, which could be understood through reason and reflection, existed in eternal forms or Ideas, his disciple was convinced that ultimate reality was to be understood through experience and existed in physical objects. Some of Aristotle’s significant contributions to zoology include the grouping of animals into genera and species, invertebrates and vertebrates, division of the latter into genera, etc. He also worked on natural and atmospheric phenomena and had his own anticipatory vision of Earth history (Aristotle). Besides, Aristotle’s educational thoughts should not be underestimated since his writings are imbued with pedagogical issues, which are relevant even nowadays.

The historical context of Aristotle’s life was politically dangerous and made him leave Athens several times. In 323 B.C., when Alexander the Great unexpectedly died in Babylon, Athens decided to “free Greek city-states from Macedonian rule.” That is why “the Athenian Assembly declared war on Antiipon, Alexander’s successor.” Like in 347, Aristotle was deemed “pro-Macedonian and therefore anti-Athenian, and he was charged with ‘impiety’.” To avoid Socrates’ faith, who was executed in 399 because of the same charge, Aristotle “went into voluntary exile to the city of Chalcis on the island of Euboea, where died in 322 B.C.” (Aristotle of Stagirus – Biography).

It is believed that Aristotle wrote 150 philosophical treatises. All his writings fall into two groups: the esoteric and the exoteric. The exoteric writings were meant to be published and distributed outside the Lyceum and the Academy, which implies that Aristotle himself carefully edited them. However, virtually all exoteric works were lost, so that it is hard to analyze them. The esoteric works were never meant to be published and are predominantly rough drafts or lecture notes, which were either written by Aristotle himself or recorded by his students at the Lyceum. These writings, which have survived till today, deal with physics, logic, biology, ethics, metaphysics, rhetoric, politics, and aesthetics , i.e. with courses “which he gave over more than thirty years.” Such works as Metaphysics, Politics, Nicomachean Ethics, Eudemain Ethics fit into this category and are, therefore, contradictory, disjointed, repetitive, and confusing (Johnston, 1999).

Considering Aristotle’s contribution to the science of education, one should bear in mind that he viewed education as an essential prerequisite for happiness, which can be achieved only if a person acquires virtues through education. Human complete self-realization cannot occur if a person is uneducated. Besides, Aristotle was the founder of the Lyceum, his own school, “which was a type of university where research was pursued as an extension of higher education” (Hummel, 1993, p. 2). Allowing every member of the teaching staff to run the lyceum for ten days in turn, he foreshadowed the democratization of education.

In The Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle the educator distinguishes between intellectual and moral virtues. “Intellectual virtue in the main owes both its birth and growth to teaching while moral virtue comes about as a result of habit” (Hummel, 1993, p. 2). Thus, he defines such educational categories, as education through habit and education through reason. His “education through habit” resembles modern active learning and implies three stages: imitation, memory, and experience. Aristotle claims that imitation is a distinctive human feature, which helps humans acquire their initial knowledge. The phenomenon of memory, which is the basis for the effect of habit, is described in the Parva Naturalia, where Aristotle underlines the imaginative power and nature of memory and the significance of repeated acts of recollection (Hummel, 1993, p. 8).

Education through reason implies mainly the teaching of sciences. It aims at explaining the causes and deals with the universal, which ranks higher than experience. Two methods are used in education through reason: “epagoge, i.e. learning by induction, and learning by demonstration.” Epagoge proceeds from definite experiences, which lead to knowledge, i.e. understanding of all causes. The method of demonstration stems not from examples but universal principles (Hummel, 1993, p. 8-9).

What made Aristotle’s educational ideas innovative was his belief that the state had to be responsible for education and schools had to be public. The idea of public education may indicate a certain degree of democratization of education, but it is noteworthy that this democratization referred exclusively to citizens’ children. However, Aristotle prescribed a vague form of education even for slaves and “some sort of vocational training for tradesmen” since the latter was vital for the Greek trade to flourish. Although Aristotle did not say clearly whether girls should be educated since they are inferior to men, he mentioned that “individuals and community should similarly endeavour to develop each of these qualities in boys and girls” (Hummel, 1993, p. 5-6).

As far as the issue of the content of education is concerned, Aristotle states that young people should study really necessary things. To “useful acquirements” he referred arithmetic, grammar, drawing, physical training, and music. Music was of immense

significance to education since it shapes and influences one’s moral character. Besides, it is vital for young people to learn to spend their leisure nobly. The idea of “education for leisure” is central to Aristotle’s educational philosophy and implies that a human must be able and know how to use his or her time freely. Further, the philosopher asserts that education should be continuing, i.e. last a lifetime. Children’s education starts from pre-school education. At the age of seven, children go to school. Schooling consists of “three periods of three years each.” Education should develop in accordance with human nature, which consists of the body, the soul, and the reason. That is why physical training goes first, then it is followed by music, and philosophy is the culmination of education (Hummel, 1993, p. 6-7).

Aristotle’s educational ideas gained popularity all over the world. The system of long-life education functions in many countries, as well as education is a matter of many governments. Public schools function together with private ones and, in many countries, students study only those subjects which they deem useful and relevant. Likewise, an individual subjective approach to learning prevails nowadays all over the world. Cambodia’s educational system has also much in common with Aristotle’s ideas.

First of all, Cambodia’s traditional education was a boys’ privilege, while girls had no right to study at the wat schools. This limited access explains the fact that today only 64.1% adult females are literate, while the same rate for males is 84.7% (Education in Cambodia).  Secondly, although there existed public education at primary and secondary schools, it was available exclusively to the elites. Thirdly, public education was completely controlled by the Ministry of Education, which would inspect schools, establish syllabi, and hire and pay teachers. Each province had an inspector who was in charge of primary education. Like Aristotle emphasized the role of language in learning, cultural committees appointed by the Ministry of Education also cared about enrichment of the Cambodian language. Last but not least, nowadays Cambodia has a system of life-long education, which includes vocational schools and various universities throughout the country (Cambodia’s Education).

All things considered, Aristotle can be reasonably named one of the greatest figures of ancient philosophy and science. Harsh historical realities of Aristotle’s life did not prevent him from enriching the human depository with ingenious anticipatory ideas. The practical nature of Aristotle’s anticipatory contributions can be proved by examining his educational thoughts, which do not lose their importance even in the modern world.   

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