I've heard that things like "ethics" and "politics" are not actual books written by Aristotle, but are instead manuscripts of notes of lectures he gave. Is this true for all, some, or none of his works? Were any destroyed and lost permanently? Do we know he was a real person?

  • 2
    You can see Aristotle’s Life and The Aristotelian Corpus for basic informations. – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Dec 6 '15 at 10:34
  • 1
    One of the weirder features about Aristotle's text that should be included is that another writer in antiquity after Aristotle wrote that Aristotle is a beautiful writer whereas what we have is not all that beautiful (in terms of the writing). (I'm not finding the reference right now for who). – virmaior Dec 7 '15 at 1:08

According to Jonathan Barnes, in his book Aristotle, one of Aristotle's ancient biographers remarks that "he wrote a large number of books which I have thought it appropriate to list because of his excellence in every field": there follows a list of 150 books. Curiously, the list does not include all of Aristotle's works. Indeed, it does not include his two most highly regarded works - Metaphysics and Nicomachean Ethics. Of all of the listed works, barely one-fifth (approx. 30) have survived.

Again, according to Barnes, most of the surviving works were peharps not intended to be read; it seems likely that the works that survive are made up of Aristotle's own lecture notes and not intended for public dissemination. The two works cited above, Metaphysics and Nicomachean Ethics, appear to be put together by later editors. According to Barnes, Nicomachean Ethics is evidently not a unitary work, and Metaphysics is "plainly" a set of essays rather than a continuous work.

Barnes supports his claims by noting that Aristotle's works are, for the most part, terse. "His arguments are consise. There are abrupt transitions, inelegant repetitions, and obscure allusions. Paragraphs of continuous exposition are set amongst staccato jottings. The language is spare and sinewy." These features strongly suggest the lecture notes interpretation.

  • 1
    Barnes also wrote in his Companion to Aristotle pp. 10-11: "What did Andronicus [of Rhodes, 1st cen. B.C. editor of Aristotle's MSS,] do? How did his edition – how does our edition – differ from what Aristotle actually wrote? The answer, roughly put, is probably this: Andronicus himself composed the works which we now read." – Geremia Dec 6 '15 at 21:53

First, Aristotle was a historical person. He lived 384-322 BCE in Greece. He is from Macedonia and went to Athens to start studying with Plato. Aristotle later founded his own school in Athens, the Peripatos. We have enough information about Aristotle to write a biography.

Secondly, Aristotle published two kind of works: Scripts for his students and for his lectures on one hand. On the other hand, dialogues and writings for the public, i.e. for intellectuals who were not formal members of his school. Most part of the former writings are conserved, but nothing of the latter type of his writings.

  • Perhaps I should ask this as a question, but do you happen to know why, in contrast to Plato, his lecture notes survived, but not his dialogues? The latter would arguably be more plentiful and dispersed. Was it simply archival chance... or have any reasons been proposed? – Nelson Alexander Dec 6 '15 at 17:36
  • 1
    @Nelson Alexander Curiously the fate of Plato's writings is just opposite: Plato's writings for his students (the esoteric writings) are lost. In both cases, we do not know why one part of the writings survived and the other not. - The writings of Aristotle were collected, selected and edited by Andronikos at about 40 BCE. Andronikos was at this time head of the Peripatos. The title Metaphysics is also due to Andronikos. The title simply indicates that Andronikos arranged these writings "behind" the books on physics. – Jo Wehler Dec 6 '15 at 18:17
  • Ref: Protrepticus. a reconstruction of Aristotle's lost dialogue by D. S. Hutchinson and Monte Ransome Johnson (2015), protrepticus.info – sand1 Dec 6 '15 at 18:52

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.