On the one hand, Aristotle is held in high regard by modern philosophers. For example, in the PhilPapers survey, Aristotle comes second after Hume in the list of "Non-living philosophers most identified with". Or take that snippet from Classical Philosophy by Peter Adamson:

In 2005 the BBC conducted a poll in which people were invited to vote for the greatest philosopher of all time. About 30,000 people voted, and the eventual winner was Karl Marx. (Yeah, I know.) Anyway, while this was going on I mentioned it to a colleague of mine, who is also a historian of philosophy. He said, “What a strange idea!” I asked him why he thought it was strange and, after a moment’s consideration, he said, ‘Well, to begin with, the answer is so obviously Aristotle.’” I pointed out that the poll wasn’t to name the most influential philosopher of all time, but the greatest philosopher of all time. He said, “Oh, I see. But … still, the answer is so obviously Aristotle!”

On the other hand, modern philosophers (and scientists) abundantly use Aristotle's theories as examples of archaic and discredited ideas. Teleology, Aristotelian physics (e.g. the impossibility of the vacuum), Aristotelian cosmology (the concept of the "sublunary sphere"), essentialism, his political views (slavery as natural, women = "deformed males"), the concept of eudaimonia etc. are all viewed with various grades of contempt.

How can one explain this apparent paradox? I wouldn't be surprised if modern philosophers see Aristotle as influential yet for the negative - but he is seen as a great philosopher.

  • 2
    He is a "great" philospher : we have studied it for more than 2000 years! His logical treatises are still worth studying today and his metaphysics is already relevant for people interested in metaphisycs and ontology. His zoological treatises are a masterpiece of empirical observations... So, what's the issue ? We are still reading philosophers more "recent" like Marx or Heidegger... Dec 2, 2016 at 14:02
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    are all viewed with various grades of contempt -- citation needed and agent needed.
    – virmaior
    Dec 2, 2016 at 14:06
  • @virmaior: there are too many examples, but take Aristotle's account of nature has been contradicted by such heroes of modern science as Galileo, Newton and Darwin. His logic has been replaced. His metaphysics has been deconstructed. In sum, his theoretical philosophy is discredited. (Aristotelian Philosophy: Ethics and Politics from Aristotle to MacIntyre by Kelvin Knight)
    – viuser
    Dec 3, 2016 at 13:09
  • or this blog post from Steven Carroll.
    – viuser
    Dec 3, 2016 at 13:12
  • The quote in part demonstrates the problem. Yes, his account of nature is largely rejected, but that doesn't amount to the extensions about his logic and his metaphysics...
    – virmaior
    Dec 4, 2016 at 1:37

1 Answer 1


Part of the answer, I think, lies in distinguishing between Aristotle himself and later-day Aristotelians. During the philosophical and scientific revolution in the 17th century, many Aristotelian doctrines were criticized and refuted. The defenders of Aristotelian views were criticized and ridiculed. This was not so much against Aristotle himself, as against the apparent stagnant dogmatism of those who adhered religiously to the letter of Aristotle, two thousand years after his time, and became blind to every innovation and progress.

For example Descartes, in the Discourse on Method, pays respect to ancient philosophers, and to Aristotle in particular...

And I do not in the least wonder at the extravagances attributed to all the ancient philosophers whose writings we do not possess, nor do I judge from these that their thoughts were very unreasonable, considering that theirs were the best minds of the time they lived in, but only that they have been imperfectly represented to us. We see, too, that it hardly ever happens that any of their disciples surpassed them, and I am sure that those who most passionately follow Aristotle now-a-days would think themselves happy if they had as much knowledge of nature as he had, even if this were on the condition that they should never attain to any more.

...before ridiculing Aristotle's contemporary followers:

They are like the ivy that never tries to mount above the trees which give it support, and which often even descends again after it has reached their summit; for it appears to me that such men also sink again-that is to say, somehow render themselves more ignorant than they would have been had they abstained from study altogether. For, not content with knowing all that is intelligibly explained in their author, they wish in addition to find in him the solution of many difficulties of which he says nothing, and in regard to which he possibly had no thought at all. At the same time their mode of philosophizing is very convenient for those who have abilities of a very mediocre kind, for the obscurity of the distinctions and principles of which they make use, is the reason of their being able to talk of all things as boldly as though they really knew about them, and defend all that they say against the most subtle and acute, without any one having the means of convincing them to the contrary.

  • very interesting quote from Descartes. But it's not really what I meant by modern philosophers. I meant philosophy past 1900 or so.
    – viuser
    Dec 5, 2016 at 11:24
  • @wolf-revo-cats This distinction does not seem important to me. All the negative attitude against Aristotelian doctrines such as teleology, essentialism and such, is a heritage from the 17th century. So the answer will remain the same. Dec 5, 2016 at 17:55

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