A Philosopher’s Life – Aristotle

Aristotle is one the ancient Greek philosophers whose philosophy and writings have influenced Western philosophy and Islamic philosophy. To many philosophers, he is just known as “The Philosopher.” Dante titled him with the “master of those who know.” Darwin testified to his huge contribution of thought by saying “Linnaeus and Cuvier have been my two gods, but they were mere schoolboys to old Aristotle.”

Aristotle was born in Macedonia 384 B.C in a small town called Stagira. What survived from Aristotle’s work to us accounts for 1,o00,000 (one million) word on many subjects such as metaphysics, biology, zoology, ethics, physics, psychology, logic. This massive amount of survived work of Aristotle accounts only to one third of what he actually produced; denoting how active and how productive thinker he was. Aristotle’s father, Nichomachus, was a physician and was the private one to the king of Macedonia that time. His father’s profession seems to influence the interest of Aristotle, which appears in his massive works for biology and natural science; however, he didn’t show specific interest in being a doctor or study medicine like his father. There is no record to us about Aristotle’s early childhood, however, his path in life can be determining. Being a son of a doctor to the royal family, Aristotle was educated as an aristocratic member. This was reflected in the way he used to dress and how he was well dressing his hair. He was the student of Plato, and thus in the philosophy chain, he is the grandson of Socrates. At the age of seventeen, he was sent to Athens to study in Plato’s Academy, where he remained there for 20 years. When Plato died, Speusippus, Plato’s nephew, became the head of the academy and Aristotle left the academy and Athens to Asia Minor, where he remained there for about 3 years and continued his researches and work he used to do in Plato’s academy. He then moved from Asia Minor to Lesbos after the death of his host and remained there for another 2 years.

While in Lesbos, Aristotle had his first marriage, to Pythias, and from her, he had a daughter, also named Pythias. He was then invited back by the King of Macedonia to return back and serve as the private tutor to his son. Aristotle accepted the invitation and went back to his hometown after all these years… to be the teacher of Alexander the Great, 13 years old by then. The period Aristotle stayed in his hometown as the teacher of the king’s son remains unknown yet around 5 years he returned back to Athens again and established his own academy, the Lyceum. During this period, his wife died and later he developed a relationship with Herpyllis, a native Stagira woman like him. His exact relation to her is disputable, some historians anticipate that she was his servant, some says she was a private relationship, and some says she was later his second wife… The exact is non-confirmed. However, he had a son from her, Nichomachus, named after Aristotle’s father, which was a tradition for ancient Greek.

Aristotle, though an eminent student of Plato and though the long years of their attachment, he differed a lot from him; their relationship was something different from Plato’s relation to his teacher Socrates. Aristotle maintained his respect to Plato yet his disagreement to some of his thoughts was clear. Little is known about the specifics of their relationship, but Aristotle’s dissent from Plato’s school of thought was evident in his writings and teaching. Aristotle himself would once comment “Plato is dear to me only after knowledge being in the first place. I would favor knowledge and truth above all.” The pupil preserves the gratitude for that of teacher yet implicitly states that he would disagree with his teacher in so long that knowledge is always favored over people. While in Athens, Alexander the great died and the democratic Athens grew uncomfortable with Macedonians, seeing them as invaders. Aristotle’s fearing that he would face the same fate of Socrates, who was executed in the same town, he chose to abandon Athens saying that he won’t allow Athenians to commit “a second sin against Philosophy.” He retired to Chalcis, where he remained there until he died.

Aristotle feeling that death is coming onto him, he left a Will, which survived till now. His Will carried some provisions to family members and friends. Aristotle’s will shows some of his social dynamics. He willed for his daughter to be taken care of until he marries to a person he named. He also designated someone to take care of them until his son arrives at a suitable age (I omitted names of those people as irrelevant). He also willed that his first wife’s bones be transferred and buried beside him in the grave, which is a wish his wife wanted and he fulfilled it for her.

From the life of Aristotle, it can be seen that his entire life was invested in knowledge and philosophy more than anything else. Since his early age of 17, he was dedicated to knowledge and production during his lengthy stay with Plato. After that, he spent his entire effort to his academy and continued work. His academy conducted massive researched and had the largest collection of antiquity writings, to be the first one to contain one. Some situations in his life projected him as someone committed to his line of thought and courageous to go on with what he believed aligned with truth. They also showed how respectable he was. He stayed with Plato for 20 years yet we still see the striking differences between both. He was a faithful and compassionate to others, where after all the years, he did not forget his wife’s wish to be buried beside him. He was a caring father who accounted for their proper living after him and arranged everything for their life. He also accounted for his second woman and willed for her a good living in the town where he died and if she wanted to return back to Stagira, her origin, he willed that she can have his father’s home and willed that the executor of his will to furnish the house with the proper furniture. His will also entailed accounts for his servants and slaves. He was a systematic and highly analytical person, and that’s clear from his writings. Though had an aristocratic background, he was nurtured in knowledge and spent the entire life after it. Aristotle died at the age of 63, relatively young age at that time in history.

The Lost Life

If I came to ask you, what would be the elements that increase the probability of failure in something? You will pause and think a bit; then, answer me it’s 1, 2, 3, …etc. Now that you listed them, can I ask you how to avoid each element in order to avoid failure? You will pause and think a little while; then, answer me, for 1, we can do such and such; for 2, we can do such and such. Now you started to put solutions to avoid failure. The exercise is now finished.

Now, let me ask you, would it have been possible for you to avoid failure without first answering the first question by listing the elements that cause failure? Obviously, NO! Here is the essence, if you are not aware of the thing, you would be leaving the thing for chances. It could go successfully; and it could go wrong.

The same thing is with your life. If you live it without Self-Awareness, your life is left for chances. You may come after the time has passed to discovered that you wasted it; and you may to discover that your life was lost in vain at your death bed. Bottom line, the Lost Life is the life lived without Self-Awareness. This is very dangerous. Life is very captivating and it’s stronger than the human, who is weak, prone to mistakes, and easily distracted. Only the human with solid self-awareness overpowers life…Life takes him away sometimes, but his continuous self-awareness becomes the guardian that brings him back to track every time he goes astray.

Want to see this in action, as an exercise for you, while you are in the crowd, look around you; see the people around… You will easily see some humans living strangely enough for you to wonder how come they are living this way. The direct answer is that they are just living…without self-awareness. Now don’t be that absent in life. Self-awareness is  not something granted, it’s a bless. It’s not something genetic, it’s acquired. It requires continuous practice + honesty. Be warned, the self is a powerful beast lurking inside you…At first, it will attempt to fool you. It will throw to you initial responses that make you think that it’s responding; it will give you false answers aligned with your mental and psychological comfort zone. That’s why honesty is essential for self-awareness to be true. Without honesty, self-awareness can lead you to the same end as without self-awareness, an absent state, or even more worse because without honesty, self-awareness will make you live in a world other than the reality; which is again being absent from the reality of your life. But when you possess self-awareness and you are honest about it, it will tell you the reality of how you are living and the reality of life around. Only then, you can adjust yourself and adjust the way you are living.

Remember, a lost life, is a life lived without self-awareness that is honest and continuously in action.