Aristotle is considered to be one of the most important figures in Western thought. He was one of the first of the great thinkers to systematize philosophy and science. His thinking on physics and science had such a profound impact that it continued to influence even medieval thought, which lasted until the Renaissance. Even more astonishing is that the accuracy of some of his biological observations was only confirmed in the last century. His workings of logic contain the earliest formal study of logic that is recorded and was not superseded until the late nineteenth century. During the Middle Ages, Aristotelian metaphysics had a profound influence on philosophical and theological thinking in the Islamic, Jewish and Christian traditions, where its legacy is still felt in Christian theology. Examples of this are seen in Orthodox theology, and especially within the Catholic tradition shaped by scholasticism. All of the aspects of Aristotle’s philosophy continue to be the object of active academic study today.
Though Aristotle wrote many and varied treatises and dialogues it is thought that the majority of his writings are now lost. They have been lost and rediscovered several times. Aristotle was a prolific writer and it is believed that about one fifth of the original works have survived.
It is believed that Aristotle not only studied almost every subject possible at the time, but made significant contributions to most of them. Aristotle studied anatomy, astronomy, economics, embryology, geography, geology, meteorology, physics and zoology, in the area of physical sciences. He also wrote on aesthetics, ethics, government, metaphysics, politics, psychology, rhetoric and theology. He extensively studied education, foreign customs, literature and poetry. His combined works are thought to constitute a virtual encyclopedia of Greek knowledge. It has been suggested by many experts that Aristotle was likely the last person to know everything there was to be known in his own time.
One of the highlights of Aristotle’s work is that he included fields that would be regarded today as physics, biology and other natural sciences within his philosophy studies. Today the scope of philosophy has become limited to more generic or abstract inquiries, such as ethics and metaphysics, in which the defining of logic plays a major role. Today’s study of philosophy tends to exclude empirical study of the natural world by means of the scientific method. In contrast, Aristotle’s philosophical studies encompassed virtually all the facets of intellectual inquiry.
Aristotle worked to make philosophy coexist with reasoning, which he also would describe as “science”. For Aristotle all science was practical, poetical or theoretical. By practical science, he meant ethics and politics; by poetical science, he meant the study of poetry and the other fine arts; by theoretical science, he meant physics, mathematics and metaphysics.
In the time period between his two stays in Athens, which was his times at the Academy and the Lyceum, Aristotle conducted most of the scientific thinking and research for which he is renowned today. In fact, most of Aristotle’s life was devoted to the study of the objects of natural science. His contributions were far reaching such as the fact that Aristotle’s metaphysics contain observations on the nature of numbers but he made no original contributions to mathematics. He did, however, perform original research in the natural sciences, such as botany, zoology, physics, astronomy, chemistry, meteorology and several other sciences.
Aristotle’s writing was largely based on quantitative knowledge of his time. While scientists have used his work as a starting point in many sciences they have fallen short in some ways due to the fact that Aristotle had not considered concepts like mass, velocity, force and temperature. He had a conception of speed and temperature but no way of truly understanding them which was partly due to the absence of basic experimental devices, like clocks and thermometers. Yet despite these significant drawbacks Aristotle opened a significant door on science that to this day would not have been possible without him.