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Impact of Aristotle on Education

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Published: Tue, 09 Jan 2018

Aristotle Education and Plato

Through the life of Aristotle, one would wonder how a mere thought of philosophy could impact the way education is practiced today as we know it. Aristotle’s way of life reflected the way he thought and what he wrote for people to view and educate upon today. He has many philosophies that are brought right into the classroom today without anyone knowing they are. His philosophies are truly remarkable. When a person creates something or teaches something, the philosophies brought in the classroom become so innate that people who use it don’t even know it exists.

Realism is an educational philosophy, which stresses knowledge that develops from one’s own senses. Under this philosophy the idea exists that there is a real world not constructed by human minds, that can be known by one’s own mind. It is through experiencing the world around everyone in which one learns the guiding principles and social conduct of life. Reality is what one experiences in the physical world. Therefore, everything one can learn and know comes from experiencing the world around us.

Aristotle is considered by most to be one of the greatest pagan philosophers. He was born in a Grecian colony at Stagira, 384 B.C.E. At birth he was born into a set life. His father, Nicomachus, had a position under the King Amyntas of Macedonia as court physician. Therefore, this could relate to how his education started off. It was thought that his ancestors held the same position under the King because this way the area of court physician could become hereditary.

As physician, Aristotle was taught in the area of medicines and was also trained for the position of court physician. It was here that he was clearly educated with a developing mind to entertain the many questions that arose in his head and the direction he would take to answer them. It is also clear that with each time Aristotle traveled from one place to another, it had some sort of impact on him: his thinking, his writings, and the way that philosophy is viewed today. With each place he traveled to, he was able to gain, share, teach, and experience the knowledge of philosophy.

It was from when he was eighteen till he was about thirty-seven that he studied under the guidance of Plato as his pupil in Athens. He was held as a distinguished student among the group that studied with him in the Grove of Academus. The only problem that seemed to arise in his years of study was his relation with his teacher. Now these instances are not clear but it is known that both Aristotle and Plato had each their own ideas about certain views and philosophies.

Therefore, it is only nature for them to bump heads a little in arguments over whether either side was justifiable with their ideas, beliefs, and/or views. There was still no reason to believe that the two did not have any form a friendship, since they both had such high views toward life. Legend reflected poorly and unfavorably upon Aristotle but legend has not been viewed that way as it is today. But it was shown even after Plato’s death in 347 B.C.E. that Aristotle still held Plato in high respects. He never gave any lack of cordial appreciation to him, when all people expected him to do once he died. The death of someone important in his life probably also affected the way he thought about certain ideas.

After his teacher’s death, Aristotle went to Atarneus in Asia Minor where he met with the ruler, Hermias. There he would be married to Hermias’ adopted daughter Pythias. This may not seem relevant to how it influenced realism in education, but if one were to think about it, how can marriage not change the way someone thinks in some sort of way? A few years passed, Hermias was murdered due to rebellion and King Philip II of Macedon called upon Aristotle to return to Stagira. It was here that he would become the tutor of Alexander the Great, who was only thirteen years old. This had a great impact on history, as people know it. Aristotle taught him the knowledge of ethics and politics, as well as many secrets of philosophy in which many people probably would have trouble comprehending.

Alexander the Great profited from the knowledge passed on from Aristotle along with Aristotle influencing the mind of the young prince to his benefit, and that is how history was affected by this contact between these two people. Once Alexander took the throne, Aristotle returned to Athens and there opened a school of philosophy. Later he followed in the footsteps of his teacher, Plato. He formed a school, Lyceum, in a gymnasium, where he gave regular instruction in philosophy. It was here that for thirteen years (335-322B.C.E.) as a teacher at the Lyceum, he came up with the greater number of his writings. He came up with “dialogues”, which were writings that Aristotle frequently wrote that are still read today and were then by his pupils. When teaching at the Lyceum, Aristotle had a habit of walking about as he taught.

It was in connection with this that his followers became known in later years as the peripatetics, meaning, “to walk about.” Besides, he composed the several treatises on physics, metaphysics, and so forth, in which the exposition is a language more technical than in the “dialogues”. These writings show how much of a great influence they have, such as the way they impacted Alexander whom later became known as Alexander the Great. They show in particular how he succeeded in bringing together the works of his predecessors in Greek philosophy, and how he spared neither pains nor expense in pursuing, either personally or through others, his investigations in the realm of natural Phenomena.

When Alexander’s death became known at Athens, and the outbreak occurred which led to the Lamian war; Aristotle was obliged to share in the general unpopularity of the Macedonians. The charge of impiety, which had been brought against Anaxagoras and Socrates, was now, with even less reason, brought against him. He left the city, saying (according to many ancient authorities) that he would not give the Athenians a chance to sin a third time against Philosophy. He took up his residence at his country house, at Chalcis, in Euboea, and there he died the following year, 322B.C.E. His death was due to a disease from which he had long suffered. The story that his death was due to hemlock poisoning, as well as the legend, saying they he threw himself into the sea are absolutely without historical foundation.

There are numerous ways that the theories, philosophies, ethics, writings, and styles of teaching of Aristotle have influenced education today and most likely will continue to in the future. Aristotle believed strongly in the importance of an education that studies the real world and then draws conclusions and gains knowledge through analytical exercises. With practically everything that is done today and taught today, there is some relevant relation to that of Aristotle and his beliefs.

Through some of Aristotle’s books of Politics, one is able to see how education could be influenced and affected by what Aristotle says in his writings. Aristotle’s ethical theory is expressed through many aspects. Aristotle tends to express his feeling towards virtue in a way where it can go two ways. He talks of how virtue is divided into moral and intellectual virtue. Excellence of character deals with the “good life” and happiness. People are concerned with their character and getting the golden mean, which is true happiness, in life. One whom educates would be affected by this golden mean because they must learn to stray away from this aspect. They have to learn to educate for the sole purpose of those who are being taught to thrive as to what they are being taught.

In a way, all these are interrelated with each other. Aristotle also explains the relation between ethics and politics, which leads to the implication for nature of morality and well living. Virtue, to Aristotle, is interpreted as the excellence of an object and that the object will perform it’s function effectively. This goes for people as well. For example a “virtuous” educator will successfully teach their students information they need to comprehend in order to go forward with their education. Aristotle divides human virtue into two types. One is moral virtue and the other is intellectual virtue. Although, it is hard to give an exact definition of each type, one would hope that an educator of today would lean toward the more moral virtuous side. Virtue is also a state of character that is concerned with choice with the golden mean. This leads to discussing the mean according to Aristotle. People who are morally virtuous are always making their decisions according to the golden mean. Of course not everyone is the same, different people have different means.

This brings about the point that the good life is a life of happiness. Aristotle says such a life can be achieved by excellence in the two areas of virtue, but people are all aiming at some type of good in life. Some just may have higher expectations in their goal. People with virtual excellence want to have the good life that, according to them, is the excellence of character. The good life is referred to as being happy with life. Happiness must have two concepts included to fit Aristotle’s definition. Someone must exercise his or her thought of reason. He calls this “activity of soul.” Happiness also must have quality in the performance of the virtue, and it is the chief goal that everyone wishes to accomplish. Aristotle argued that the goal of human beings is happiness, and that we achieve happiness when we fulfill our function, or purpose of life. Therefore, it is necessary to determine what our function is.

The function of a thing is what it can alone do, or what it can do best. This here is a key point in which an educator must understand. This key point of understanding is one of the most influential things Aristotle elaborates upon in my opinion. When he implies that the function is what one can do best, he implies that if someone is best at teaching, than they are to teach as their purpose in life. As a result of this function, they would than achieve happiness, but only if they were to do it in a virtuous way would they achieve happiness. Happiness is something that must be aligned with perfect virtue. This also goes along with the excellence of character. If someone is to have excellence of character he or she want or try to be happy and have the good life. If they achieve this then they will have the excellence of character. Some of these aspects are interrelated with each other. For instance, happiness is an activity of the soul that is along side of perfect virtue. Aristotle also says that virtue must be a state of character because of a person’s desire to act in a way that would ensure that golden mean.

Virtue, excellence, the mean, the good life, happiness, and character are all interrelated within each other to be happy with life and achieve the golden mean. With all of this intertwined, the influence placed upon education, as a whole, is how an educator actually teaches. One may not realize it, but just think about what Aristotle shows through his views. Don’t people go to school to learn morals, virtues, build character, find what they wish to do with their life, what they find to be enjoyable in life, etc. Every single thing an educator does to a student, as a whole, is based upon Aristotle ethics and politics with happiness.

Another aspect in which Aristotle influenced education today is his views on realism. According to a realist’s point of view, the purpose of education would be to learn behavior in our society and guidelines to live our lives by. Throughout its long varied history, realism has had a common theme, which is called the principle or thesis of independence. This theme holds that reality, knowledge, and value exists independently of the human mind. This means that realism rejects the idealist view that only ideas are real. Matter exists even though there is no mind to perceive them, such as the classic question about the tree falling in the woods. To the realist, matter is certainly an independent reality, however, the realist also considers ideas to be part of the thesis.

The role of the educator would be more of a guide or advisor to the students rather than an actual teacher. The whole idea of a realist is to learn by experience, so the students need a guide than a teacher so they can encounter it for themselves. Doing this, the students can determine what kind of knowledge they are inquiring, and how they can apply it to their lives. Therefore, an educator’s responsibility would be to teach students to learn from the world around them, not just out of books and from history. While performing this role, the educator needs to present the subject in a exceedingly organized and precise manner.

While the educators are explaining how to learn from the real world, they might use many different kinds of methods from outside the classroom, such as field trips. This would let the students practice this knowledge themselves without have an adult stand up in front of a class and lecture about it. A realist would also present their material in a systematic and organized way and would also teach that these are clearly defined criteria for making judgments in art, economics, politics, etc. The children need to learn through trial and error, and experiencing joy and pain from naturally occurring experiences in their lives.

Realists also like to examine physical characteristics of an object. They like to know the base of the subject and debate over its physical characteristics, rather than debate whether it exists or not. Many realists do like structure in their view of education. A realist educator needs to use lectures, demonstrations, sensory experiences, and teaching machines during their class. They usually approve of competencies, performance based teaching, and accountability. With this idea of using field experience instead of classroom lectures brings many controversial issues.

A weakness in realism is that the curriculum for the class must be one that is rich in ideas for the conceptions to be tested. An educator must also be able to classify and categorize characteristics with similarities and differences. Others also say that the curriculum has to be organized in separate subjects in order to create an efficient and effective way of learning about our real world. Realism also fails to deal with social change quite frequently, being that no one knows what will be tomorrow, so therefore it is more of a teaching based upon the present and past.

Being more in the outside world than in the classroom would make a student more universally aware, and maybe have more common sense, but not as truer book smarts. This question raises another idea of which student would be more effective, one who spends all their time in the classroom, or one who is working out in the work field? Should we even be going to school, or should we all just study all that is around us to be more educated. This is a question, which may never be answered, but according to a realist, the answer lies in the real world. For in the real world you can learn anything, more than you ever could in a classroom.

In discussing Aristotle’s ethical theory, I found that he saw virtue as the excellence of an object and that the object will perform its function effectively. He also talked of the two types that people are classified into. Morally virtuous people base their life on finding the golden mean. Aristotle argues how the good life is a life of happiness and that everyone is aiming for that. Happiness, explained by Aristotle, is the chief good desirable to everyone. Excellence of character is achieved when someone has taken part in the good life and is truly happy. It was shown how all of these aspects are interrelated with each other in the sense that they all need each other to discuss a theory. Also, his realist point of view ties in to what the real world experience has to offer. Yes, ethics should be taught in class, but the outside world can not be ignored. Realism is a fundamental aspect to teaching and to a student’s life whether able to be noticed or not. Aristotle talked of many things that people have and will continue to discuss for years to come.

Work Cited

Aristotle (384-322 BCE): General Introduction. 2006. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. May 1st 2007 <http://www.iep.utm.edu/a/aristotl.htm>.

Aristotle 384 BC – 322 BC. February 1999. JOC/EFR. May 1st 2007 <http://www.groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/~history/Mathematicians/Aristotle.html>

Aristotle (384-322 B.C.E.). 1994-2007. Regents of the University of California. May 1st 2007 <http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/history/aristotle.html>

Ross, David. Aristotle. New York: Routledge, 1996.

Lear, Johnathan. Aristotle: the desire to understand. The Pitt Building, Trumpington Street, Cambrige, United Kingdom: The Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge, 1999.

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