Most secondary sources tell me yes, but can anyone provide me with primary evidence of this. A short quote would be sufficient, this is time sensitive (got an essay due tomorrow) so thank you in advance xx

  • Obviously, he was not an "empiricist" in the modern (XVII Centurt on) sense. But A's interest in empirical observations was paramount. See Aristotle’s Biology and Aristotle’s Psychology. Jan 12, 2020 at 10:39
  • See e.g. J.Barnes, Aristotle: A Very Short Introduction, Ch.13 Empiricism. Jan 12, 2020 at 10:41
  • SEP Aristotle’s Empiricism gives plenty of quotes with exact references, as well as explains what his "empiricism" means, "no one can learn anything at all in the absence of sense", "to gain light on things imperceptible we must use the evidence of perceptible things", "we should accept what is evident to the senses rather than [mere] reasoning", etc.
    – Conifold
    Jan 12, 2020 at 11:54

1 Answer 1


My advice is that it is better to read what Aristotle wrote than to fit what he wrote into a conceptual box such as 'empiricism', 'idealism' and so on. All such boxes - such conceptualisations - turn out on scholarly inspection to be vague and imprecise anyway. This is not a criticism. At all. Just a bit of guidance.

Now for your question. If we are going to consider Aristotle's 'empiricism' here's a lead into the issue:

Statement of methodology: Posterior Analytics II. 19

A classic question that has divided scholarship on Aristotle from the Greek commentators forward is whether, when it comes to scientific first principles, Aristotle is an empiricist or a rationalist ...At first blush, it would seem obvious that Aristotle is on the empiricist/ inductivist side of this issue. After all, the text that is often taken to state his definitive position on the question, Posterior Analytics II. 19, claims that there is a path that leads from perception to ‘the first universal in the soul’, and from there to first principles, a path described as ‘coming to know by induction’ (APo. II. 19 100a3–b4). And it appears this path is characterized in very similar terms in the first chapter of the Metaphysics. More generally, as we will see, there appear to be explicit proclamations of empiricist commitments in his works in natural science. (James G. Lennox, 'Aristotle on Norms of Inquiry', HOPOS: The Journal of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science , Vol. 1, No. 1 (Spring 2011), pp. 23-46: 23-4.)

Scientific practice

Aristotle advises the student of the natural world - more precisely the world (unlike that studied by astronomy) of beings that come to be and pass away and are subject to conditional change - to study the phenomena first, and then the causes. See PA I.1.(639b7–10).

The History of Animals gives a wide range of examples of such study. When, for example, he discusses the cephalopods (ta malakia, the 'softies' or soft-bodied animals) he analyses and classifies on a basis that can only be provided empirically - by observation. Here he is, studying the phenomena:

Among the animals called ‘soft-bodies’ these are the external parts: 1. the so-called feet; 2. the head, continuous with the feet; 3. the sac, containing the internal organs, which some mistakenly call the head; 4. the fin, which encircles the sac. In all of the soft-bodies the head turns out to be between the feet and the belly. Moreover, all have eight ‘feet’, and all have two rows of suckers, except for one kind of octopus.9 The cuttlefish, and the large and small calamary have a distinctive feature, two long tentacles, the ends of which are rough with two rows of suckers, by which they capture food and convey it to their mouth and fasten themselves to a rock when it storms, like an anchor. (523b21–33; cf. PA IV. 9 685a33–b2; Lennox: 34.)

On this basis one can theorise : identify natural kinds and the divisions between them.

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