Aristotle vs. Copernicus


Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and scientist, who shared with Plato the
distinction of being the most famous of ancient philosophers. Aristotle was born
at Stagira, in Macedonia, the son of a physician to the royal court. At the age
of 17, he went to Athens to study at Plato\'s Academy. He remained there for
about 20 years, as a student and then as a teacher. When Plato died in 347 bc ,
Aristotle moved to Assos, a city in Asia Minor, where a friend of his, Hermias
(d. 345 bc ), was ruler. There he counseled Hermias and married his niece and
adopted daughter, Pythias. After Hermias was captured and executed by the
Persians, Aristotle went to Pella, the Macedonian capital, where he became the
tutor of the king\'s young son Alexander, later known as Alexander the Great. In
335, when Alexander became king, Aristotle returned to Athens and established
his own school, the Lyceum. Because much of the discussion in his school took
place while teachers and students were walking about the Lyceum grounds,
Aristotle\'s school came to be known as the Peripatetic ("walking" or
"strolling") school. Upon the death of Alexander in 323 bc , strong anti-
Macedonian feeling developed in Athens, and Aristotle retired to a family estate
in Euboea. He died there the following year.

His works on natural science include Physics, which gives a vast amount of
information on astronomy, meteorology, plants, and animals. His writings on the
nature, scope, and properties of being, which Aristotle called First Philosophy
( Prote philosophia ), were given the title Metaphysics in the first published
edition of his works (c. 60 bc ), because in that edition they followed Physics.
His treatment of the Prime Mover, or first cause, as pure intellect, perfect in
unity, immutable, and, as he said, "the thought of thought," is given in the
Metaphysics. To his son Nicomachus he dedicated his work on ethics, called the
Nicomachean Ethics. Other essential works include his Rhetoric, his Poetics
(which survives in incomplete form), and his Politics (also incomplete). Some of
the principal aspects of Aristotle\'s thought can be seen in the following
summary of his doctrines, or theories. Physics, or natural philosophy.

In astronomy, Aristotle proposed a finite, spherical universe, with the earth at
its center. The central region is made up of four elements: earth, air, fire,
and water. In Aristotle\'s physics, each of these four elements has a proper
place, determined by its relative heaviness, its "specific gravity." Each moves
naturally in a straight line-earth down, fire up-toward its proper place, where
it will be at rest. Thus, terrestrial motion is always linear and always comes
to a halt. The heavens, however, move naturally and endlessly in a complex
circular motion. The heavens, therefore, must be made of a fifth, and different
element, which he called aither. A superior element, aither is incapable of any
change other than change of place in a circular movement. Aristotle\'s theory
that linear motion always takes place through a resisting medium is in fact
valid for all observable terrestrial motions. Aristotle also held that heavier
bodies of a given material fall faster than lighter ones when their shapes are
the same; this mistaken view was accepted as fact until Galileo proved otherwise.


In his metaphysics, Aristotle argued for the existence of a divine being,
described as the Prime Mover, who is responsible for the unity and
purposefulness of nature. God is perfect and therefore the aspiration of all
things in the world, because all things desire to share perfection. Other movers
exist as well-the intelligent movers of the planets and stars (Aristotle
suggested that the number of these is "either 55 or 47"). The Prime Mover, or
God, described by Aristotle is not very suitable for religious purposes, as many
later philosophers and theologians have observed. Aristotle limited his
"theology," however, to what he believed science requires and can establish.

Many, many years after Aristotle died, a Polish astronomer named Nicolaus
Copernicus, formulated his own theories about best known for his astronomical
theory that the sun is at rest near the center of the universe, and that the
earth, spinning on its axis once daily, revolves annually around the sun. This
is called the heliocentric, or sun-centered, system. In 1500 Copernicus lectured
on astronomy in Rome. The following year he gained permission to study medicine
at Padua, the university where Galileo taught nearly a century later. It was not
unusual at the time to study a subject at one university and then to receive a
degree from another-often less expensive-institution. And so Copernicus, without
completing his medical studies,