Aristotle, by Francesco Hayez(Aristotle, by Francesco Hayez)

Aristotelianism is the name given to the doctrine derived from the works of Aristotle, from the Persian philosopher Avicenna and the Andalusian philosopher Averroes in particular, then gradually adopted in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries by scholasticism, thanks to the reconciliation of the philosophy of Aristotle and Christianity by St. Thomas Aquinas.

The term “Aristotelian” may be used in the sense of “commentator of the works of Aristotle” (whether Aristotelian as Alexander of Aphrodise or Averroes, or neoplatonic as Ammonios, son of Hermias, or Simplicius of Cilicia). The word “Aristotelianism” refers to Aristotle, while the word “peripatetism” refers, more broadly, to the Peripatetic school, which belongs to Aristotle and his disciples.


It would be historicist to speak of Aristotelianism for the philosophy of Aristotle in his day (4th century BC).

The term Aristotelianism is quite often used in connection with the Ptolemae-Copernican controversy of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, which began long before Galileo began to make observations with his telescope (circa 1609).

In his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems (1632), Galileo staged three characters, including a supporter of the representation of the world from Aristotle, Simplicio, which he ridiculed because he did not understand the new heliocentric representation. Indeed, certain elements contained in the works of Aristotle, grouped in his metaphysics, showed many limits compared to the astronomical discoveries that were going to be made in the sixteenth century and the seventeenth century. We thus found a representation in the sub-lunar and supra-lunar world which, derived from the means of observation of the fourth century BC, obviously seemed naive compared to the heliocentric model.

Descartes found out about the condemnation of Galileo in 1633, and renounced in 1634 to his Treatise on the Light, to embark on a philosophical project. The philosophical works of Descartes are a critique of Aristotelianism and scholasticism.

Thus, in the nineteenth century, the term Aristotelianism often had a very pejorative meaning.

It must be remembered, however, that the work of Aristotle is considerable, and does not include only metaphysics, physics, the treatise of heaven.

The division made in the thirteenth century was very schematically the following:

  • Ethics (Nicomachean Ethics);
  • Logic (Organon);
  • Policy (Politics);
  • Poetic (Poetics);
  • Physics (in the sense of the study of nature, phusika);
  • Metaphysics, etc.

Aristotelian thinkers

Aristotle’s thought, Aristotelianism, has aroused many thinkers and various schools, including these:

  • Lyceum, with Theophrastus (first scholar, rector, in -322), Straton of Lampsaque, etc., until Andronicos of Rhodes, tenth and last scholar of the Lyceum from 78 to 47 BC. There are two trends: the speculative tendency with Theophrastus, the naturalistic tendency with Straton. Immediate Disciples of Aristotle: Theophrastus, Heraclides Ponticus – very related to the Academy of Plato – Aristoxenos (who has affinities with Pythagorism), Eudema of Rhodes, Dicaearchus of Messana, Phanias, Clearchus of Soli, Callisthenes, Leon of Byzantium, Clytos of Miletus. Aristarchus of Samos, pupil of Straton and commentator of Aristotle, first, around -280, discovered both the rotation of the Earth on itself and the translation of the Earth around the Sun (heliocentrism);
  • Platonist Aristotelianism: Heraclides Ponticus, a fellow-student of Aristotle with Plato, is as much a Platonist as an Aristotelian; Middle Platonism favors concordism; the commentator Simplicios of Cilicia (about 533) refuses the divergence between Plato and Aristotle; later, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (From Being and the One, 1492) affirms his concordism Plato = Aristotle. “It was Ammonius of Alexandria [Ammonios Saccas], inspired by God, who first became enthusiastic about what is true in philosophy and rising above vulgar opinions which made philosophy an object of contempt, understood the doctrine of Plato and Aristotle, united them in one and the same spirit, and thus delivered philosophy in peace to his disciples Plotinus, Origen, and their successors “(Hierocles of Alexandria, quoted by Photios, Library, pp. 127, 461);
  • Pythagorean Aristotelianism, which wants to combine Aristotle and Pythagoras, from Dicaearchus of Messana (who broke for his adherence to the Pythagorean doctrine of the soul with his master Aristotle), with the pseudo-Archytas (On the categories, I BC);
  • Stoicist Aristotelianism, which wants to reconcile Aristotelianism and Stoicism: eg. Arius Didyme (1st century BC) with the Treatise on the World (1st century), long attributed to Aristotle himself, but pertaining to the medium-stoicism of Posidonius of Apamea;
  • Arab Aristotelianism, with Averroes (1126-1198);
  • Medieval Aristotelianism, with Michael of Ephesus (1070-1140), Abraham Ibn Daud (1110-1180), Alexander of Hales (1185-1245), Albert the Great (1193-1280), Thomas Aquinas (1224- 1274), Richard of Mediavilla (1249-1308), Cajetan (1469-1534), etc. “The great scholastics of the thirteenth century were all Aristotelian, but each in his own way” (Luca Bianchi);
  • Radical Aristotelianism, called “Latin Averroism”, with Siger of Brabant (1241-1284), Boethius of Dacia (1245-1284?) (But Benedict Patar denies his Averroism), Jean de Jandun;
  • Aristotelianism of Padua, with Cesare Cremonini (1550-1631), Pietro Pomponazzi (1462-1525), Zabarella; this school, unlike scholasticism, favors experience;
  • Contemporary neo-Aristotelianism, taken from certain ideas of Aristotle’s practical philosophy, including “practical reasoning” (Georg H. von Wright), communitarianism (Michael Sandel).

Commentators of Aristotle

The first commentator would be, in Alexandria, the great scientist Aristarchus of Samos, around -270, or Andronicos (in the 1st century BC). The last is Jacopo Zabarella, in the Renaissance, around 1580.

  • The Aristotelian commentators are Aspasios (early 2nd century), Alexander of Aphrodise, Themistios (active between 349 and 385), the pseudo-Alexander. The most important, by its scientific rigor, remains Alexander of Aphrodise (active between 198 and 209), strictly Aristotelian, anti-Platonist, who is called “the second Aristotle”. From the 1st century BC until the beginning of the 3rd century AD, the main school exercise is the text explanation. Plotin’s lectures consisted mainly in explaining the texts of Plato and Aristotle, studied with the help of the texts of earlier commentators: Aspasios, Alexander of Aphrodise, Adrastus for Aristotle.
  • The Neoplatonic commentators are Porphyry of Tire (who, after 300, Platonized Aristotle), Jamblicus and his disciple Dexippus (about 330), Ammonios, son of Hermias (neoplatonic, active around 475-515), Asclepius of Tralles (disciple of Ammonios, son of Hermias, about 515), Simplicios of Cilicia (around 535), John Philopon (who criticizes and Christianizes, around 530), Elias (around 540).
  • The Arab commentators are Avicebron (died in 1070), Avicenna (980-1037), Averroes (1126-1198). Avicenna combines Platonism, Aristotelianism, Islam. Averroes, called in the West “The Commentator”, insists, conversely, on the materialist and rationalist aspects of Aristotle, in his Great Commentary on De Anima.
  • The great Jewish commentator is Maimonides (1135-1204)
  • Byzantine commentators write in Greek. Eustrate of Nicaea (1050-1060 or 1120) is Platonist, Christian, opposed to the Arab readings of Aristotle. Michel of Ephesus (1040-1138) reproduces the comments of Alexander of Aphrodise.
  • The great commentators of the Christian Middle Ages are Albert the Great (1193-1280) and his disciple Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274). Aubenque showed that the concept of analogy of being used by Thomas Aquinas was a reconstruction that was not found in Aristotle.

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