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Go to the Index of 120 Philosophers Squared

Aristotle (384 – 322 BC) was the Greek philosopher who created a comprehensive system of Western philosophy, encompassing ethics, aesthetics, logic, science, politics, and metaphysics. The least deviation from truth will be multiplied later.

Aristotle

Aristotle, the premiere natural philosopher of the Western World for two millennia.


Sources for Aristotle quotations: GoodReads,



Aristotle quotes

Excellence is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, and intelligent execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives – choice, not chance, determines your destiny.

There is an ideal of excellence for any particular craft or occupation; similarly there must be an excellent that we can achieve as human beings. That is, we can live our lives as a whole in such a way that they can be judged not just as excellent in this respect or in that occupation, but as excellent, period. Only when we develop our truly human capacities sufficiently to achieve this human excellent will we have lives blessed with happiness.

Since the branch of philosophy on which we are at present engaged differs from the others in not being a subject of merely intellectual interest — I mean we are not concerned to know what goodness essentially is, but how we are to become good men, for this alone gives the study its practical value — we must apply our minds to the solution of the problems of conduct.

Not in depraved things, but in those well oriented according to nature, are we to consider what is natural. Nature does nothing in vain. Therefore, it is imperative for persons to act in accordance with their nature and develop their latent talents, in order to be content and complete.

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.

It is impossible, or not easy, to alter by argument what has long been absorbed by habit

For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.

Courage is the mother of all virtues because without it, you cannot consistently perform the others.

Men acquire a particular quality by constantly acting a particular way… you become just by performing just actions, temperate by performing temperate actions, brave by performing brave actions.

Excellence is an art won by training and habit. We do not act rightly because we have virtue and excellence, but rather, we have virtue and excellence because we act rightly.

Character may be called the most effective means of persuasion.

Great men are always of a nature originally melancholy.

Your talents and the needs of the world cross; there lies your vocation.

Man is a goal-seeking animal. His life only has meaning if he is reaching out and striving for his goals.

For what is the best choice, for each individual is the highest it is possible for him to achieve.

Every skill and every inquiry, and similarly every action and rational choice, is thought to aim at some good; and so the good had been aptly described as that at which everything aims.

It is well to be up before daybreak, for such habits contribute to health, wealth, and wisdom.

We must be neither cowardly nor rash but courageous.

Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.

The educated differ from the uneducated as much as the living differ from the dead.

Those who educate children well are more to be honored than they who produce them; for these only gave them life, those the art of living well.

All who have meditated on the art of governing mankind have been convinced that the fate of empires depends on the education of youth.

The legislator should direct his attention above all to the education of youth; for the neglect of education does harm to the constitution. The citizen should be molded to suit the form of government under which he lives. For each government has a peculiar character which originally formed and which continues to preserve it. The character of democracy creates democracy, and the character of oligarchy creates oligarchy.

In making a speech one must study three points: first, the means of producing persuasion; second, the language; third the proper arrangement of the various parts of the speech.

To write well, express yourself like the common people, but think like a wise man.

Wise men speak when they have something to say, fools speak because they have to say something.

It is absurd to hold that a man should be ashamed of an inability to defend himself with his limbs, but not ashamed of an inability to defend himself with speech and reason; for the use of rational speech is more distinctive of a human being than the use of his limbs.

The wise man does not expose himself needlessly to danger, since there are few things for which he cares sufficiently; but he is willing, in great crises, to give even his life–knowing that under certain conditions it is not worth while to live. He is of a disposition to do men service, though he is ashamed to have a service done to him. To confer a kindness is a mark of superiority; to receive one is a mark of subordination… He does not take part in public displays… He is open in his dislikes and preferences; he talks and acts frankly, because of his contempt for men and things… He is never fired with admiration, since there is nothing great in his eyes. He cannot live in complaisance with others, except it be a friend; complaisance is the characteristic of a slave… He never feels malice, and always forgets and passes over injuries… He is not fond of talking… It is no concern of his that he should be praised, or that others should be blamed. He does not speak evil of others, even of his enemies, unless it be to themselves. His carriage is sedate, his voice deep, his speech measured; he is not given to hurry, for he is concerned about only a few things; he is not prone to vehemence, for he thinks nothing very important. A shrill voice and hasty steps come to a man through care… He bears the accidents of life with dignity and grace, making the best of his circumstances, like a skillful general who marshals his limited forces with the strategy of war… He is his own best friend, and takes delight in privacy whereas the man of no virtue or ability is his own worst enemy, and is afraid of solitude.

It is not once nor twice but times without number that the same ideas make their appearance in the world.

Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.

The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.

Those who know, do. Those that understand, teach.

All men by nature desire to know.

Some men are just as sure of the truth of their opinions as are others of what they know.

The high-minded man must care more for the truth than for what people think.

The least deviation from truth will be multiplied later.

For though we love both the truth and our friends, piety requires us to honor the truth first.

The investigation of the truth is in one way hard, in another easy. An indication of this is found in the fact that no one is able to attain the truth adequately, while, on the other hand, no one fails entirely, but everyone says something true about the nature of all things, and while individually they contribute little or nothing to the truth, by the union of all a considerable amount is amassed.

A goal of the wise is not to secure pleasure, but to avoid pain.

What is the Good for man? It must be the ultimate end or object of human life: something that is in itself completely satisfying. Happiness fits this description…we always choose it for itself, and never for any other reason.

Happiness does not consist in amusement. In fact, it would be strange if our end were amusement, and if we were to labor and suffer hardships all our life long merely to amuse ourselves…. The happy life is regarded as a life in conformity with virtue. It is a life which involves effort and is not spent in amusement.

Happiness is a quality of the soul…not a function of one’s material circumstances.

Happiness is a state of activity.

The cultivation of the intellect is man’s highest good and purest happiness.

Therefore the activity of God, which surpasses all others in blessedness, must be contemplative; and of human activities, therefore, that which is most akin to this must be most of the nature of happiness.

Happiness is the settling of the soul into its most appropriate spot.

Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.

Happiness belongs to the self-sufficient.

Happiness depends upon ourselves.

One swallow does not make a summer, neither does one fine day; similarly one day or brief time of happiness does not make a person entirely happy.

All human actions have one or more of these seven causes: chance, nature, compulsion, habit, reason, passion, and desire.

Plot is character revealed by action.

If things do not turn out as we wish, we should wish for them as they did turn out.

A tyrant must put on the appearance of uncommon devotion to religion. Subjects are less apprehensive of illegal treatment from a ruler whom they consider god-fearing and pious. On the other hand, they do less easily move against him, believing that he has the gods on his side.

The best friend is the man who in wishing me well wishes it for my sake.

Friends are an aid to the young, to guard them from error; to the elderly, to attend to their wants and to supplement their failing power of action; to those in the prime of life, to assist them to noble deeds.

What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies.

A friend is a second self, so that our consciousness of a friend’s existence…makes us more fully conscious of our own existence.

Wishing to be friends is quick work, but friendship is a slow ripening fruit.

The antidote for fifty enemies is one friend.

Without friends, no one would want to live, even if he had all other goods.

Misfortune shows those who are not really friends.

A friend is a second self.

He is his own best friend and takes delight in privacy whereas the man of no virtue or ability is his own worst enemy and is afraid of solitude.

In poverty and other misfortunes of life, true friends are a sure refuge. The young they keep out of mischief; to the old they are a comfort and aid in their weakness, and those in the prime of life they incite to noble deeds.

We should behave to our friends as we would wish our friends behave to us.

Distance does not break off the friendship absolutely, but only the activity of it.

Wishing to be friends is quick work, bit making friendship is a slow ripening fruit.

In poverty and other misfortunes of life, true friends are a sure refuge.

These virtues are formed in man by his doing the actions … The good of man is a working of the soul in the way of excellence in a complete life.

I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victor is over self.

He who has overcome his fears will truly be free.

Through discipline comes freedom.

The law is reason free from passion.

Democracy arises out of the notion that those who are equal in any respect are equal in all respects; because men are equally free, they claim to be absolutely equal.

To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.

The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.

Hope is a waking dream.

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Dignity does not consist in possessing honors, but in the consciousness that we deserve them.

It is during our darkest moments that we must look carefully to see the light.

All persons ought to endeavor to follow what is right, and not what is established.

In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.

He who cannot be a good follower cannot be a good leader.

Man is by nature a social animal; an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human. Society is something that precedes the individual. Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to, and therefore does not partake of society, is either a beast or a god.

Poetry is finer and more philosophical than history; for poetry expresses the universal, and history only the particular.

The only stable state is the one in which all men are equal before the law.

Courage is the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees the others.

The soul never thinks without a mental picture.

Time crumbles things; everything grows old under the power of Time and is forgotten through the passage of Time.

To lead an orchestra, you must turn your back on the crowd.

Men create gods after their own image, not only with regard to their form, but with regard to their mode of life.

Whatever lies within our power to do lies also within our power not to do.

It is of the nature of desire not to be satisfied, and most men live only for the gratification of it.

If you would understand anything, observe its beginning and its development.

Young people are in a condition like permanent intoxication, because life is sweet and they are growing.

It is not once nor twice but times without number that the same ideas make their appearance in the world.

We give up leisure in order that we may have leisure, just as we go to war in order that we may have peace.

The weak are always anxious for justice and equality. The strong pay no heed to either.

Man is by nature a political animal.

Humor is the only test of gravity, and gravity of humor; for a subject which will not bear raillery is suspicious, and a jest which will not bear serious examination is false wit.

Nature abhors a vacuum.

Those who cannot bravely face danger are the slaves of their attackers.

Tolerance and apathy are the last virtues of a dying society.

We acquire a particular quality by acting in a particular way.

The guest will judge better of a feast than the cook

Melancholy men, of all others, are the most witty.

By myth I mean the arrangement of the incidents

Anything whose presence or absence makes no discernible difference is no essential part of the whole.

The greatest virtues are those which are most useful to other persons.

It is likely that unlikely things should happen.

A courageous person is one who faces fearful things as he ought and as reason directs for the sake of what is noble.

Wicked me obey from fear; good men,from love.

Therefore, even the lover of myth is a philosopher; for myth is composed of wonder.

The poet’s function is to describe, not the thing that has happened, but a kind of thing that might happen, i.e., what is possible as being probable or necessary…Hence poetry is something more philosophic and of graver import than history, since its statements are of the nature rather of universals, whereas those of history are singulars.

Suffering becomes beautiful when anyone bears great calamities with cheerfulness, not through insensibility but through greatness of mind.

It is also in the interests of the tyrant to make his subjects poor… the people are so occupied with their daily tasks that they have no time for plotting.

It is unbecoming for young men to utter maxims.

It is impossible, or not easy, to alter by argument what has long been absorbed by habit

Nobody will be afraid who believes nothing can happen to him.

The pleasures arising from thinking and learning will make us think and learn all the more

He is happy who lives in accordance with complete virtue and is sufficiently equipped with external goods, not for some chance period but throughout a complete life.

Nature does nothing without purpose or uselessly

All virtue is summed up in dealing justly.

Comedy has had no history, because it was not at first treated seriously.

Those who assert that the mathematical sciences say nothing of the beautiful or the good are in error. For these sciences say and prove a great deal about them; if they do not expressly mention them, but prove attributes which are their results or definitions, it is not true that they tell us nothing about them. The chief forms of beauty are order and symmetry and definiteness, which the mathematical sciences demonstrate in a special degree.

Wealth is evidently not the good we are seeking; for it is merely useful and for the sake of something else.

It is their character indeed that makes people who they are. But it is by reason of their actions that they are happy or the reverse.

Youth is easily deceived because it is quick to hope.

COMMENTS on Aristotle 

Aristotle’s writings were held in the highest esteem throughout the Medieval period, and it is strange that for a thousand years people clung to his words rather than his methods. He was proposing and urging that people think for themselves rather than memorizing what he said.

It is likely that unlikely things should happen. But what did happen was the unlikely formation of societies that revered Aristotle as the ultimate man of the physical world as much as they revered Jesus as the man of the heavenly one. What a tragedy that the leading intellectuals missed the message that both of their champions were pushing as the true goal for humans. Their message was for individuals to think for themselves, with the end goal of that process being to help other people to also achieve a higher standard of being, and a state of nobler character. Excellence is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, and intelligent execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives – choice, not chance, determines your destiny. That isn’t the ever narrowing of thought the church created and enforced, but the exact opposite, and the church’s methods, intended to get people into Heaven, created a continent of persecuted slaves.

The continent-wide slave society was created by a worldly fear of God and that singular ultimate deity’s choice to send them to Heaven or Hell.  Those who cannot bravely face danger are the slaves of their attackers. The church compounded natural dangers of normal living that free people should face with an infinity of speculative dangers, which people were forced to imbibe and kneel to.

We acquire a particular quality by acting in a particular way. That is an idea which William James made a successful philosophical career out of promoting two thousand years after Aristotle developed that idea. The application of it during the church’s reign of power was to train people into behaving like obedient slaves, by forcing them into patterned ritualistic behavior. It was all for their own good, because it gave them confidence to continue living their desperate lives, and be received into the promised Heaven.

Aristotle’s passing remark, The least deviation from truth will be multiplied later, seems most relevant to this line of thought, because by only slightly missing the point of freedom of self-exploration at the beginning of their negative-feedback,  constricting methods of thoughts the church created horrid living conditions for their followers. This form of mind control comes by the end of the Medieval period to astonishingly convoluted reasoning of the Scholastics. Our present worry comes with full fury, because we now have vastly greater freedoms than Aristotle would approve. However, with the new electronic mind control methods of near perfect understanding of what people will be thinking, a new possibility for mental entrapment becomes possible, even inevitable.

Whatever lies within our power to do lies also within our power not to do. Because of what Aristotle said, perhaps we moderns still have a chance to avoid slavery, but we must be willing to face our fears, He who has overcome his fears will truly be free.

Those who cannot bravely face danger are the slaves of their attackers.