ARISTOTLE, commonly called the Prince of Philosophers, or the Philosopher, by way of excellence, was the founder of a sect which surpassed, and at length even swallowed up all the rest. Not but that it has had reverse of fortune in its turn; especially in the seventeenth century, in which it has been violently shaken, though the Catholic divines on the one side, and the Protestant on the other, have run (as to the quenching of fire) to its relief, and fortified themselves so strongly, by the secular arm, against the New Philosophy, that it is not like to lose its dominion. Mr. Moreri met with so many good materials in a work of father Rapin, that he has given a very large article of Aristotle, enough to dispense with any assistance. Accordingly, I design not to enlarge upon it as far as the subject might allow, but shall content myself with observing some of the errors which I have collected concerning this philosopher. It is not certain that Aristotle practised pharmacy in Athens while he was a disciple of Plato, nor is it more certain that he did not. Very little credit ought to be given to a current tradition that he learnt several things of a Jew, and much less to a story of his pretended conversion to Judaism. They who pretend that he was born a Jew, are much more grossly mistaken: the wrong pointing of a certain passage occasioned this mistake. They are deceived who say that he was a disciple of Socrates for three years, for Socrates died 15 years before Aristotle was born. Aristotle's behaviour towards his master Plato is variously related: some will have it that, through prodigious vanity and ingratitude, he set up altar against altar: that is, he erected a school in Athens during Plato's life, and in opposition to him: others say that he did not set up for a professor till after his master's death. We are
told some things concerning his amours which are not altogether to his advantage. It was pretended that his conjugal affection was idolatrous, and that, if he had not retired from Athens, the process for irreligion, which the priests had commenced against him, would have been attended with the same consequences as that against Socrates. Though he deserved very, great praise, yet it is certain that most of the errors concerning him are to be found in the extravagant commendations which have been heaped upon him: as, for example, is it not a downright falsehood to say, that if Aristotle spoke in his natural philosophy like a man, he spoke in his moral philosophy like a God; and that it is a question in his moral philosophy whether he partakes more of the lawyer than of the priest; more of the priest than the prophet; more of the prophet than of the God? Cardinal Pallavinci scrupled not in some measure to affirm that, if it had not been for Aristotle, the church would have wanted some of its articles of faith. The Christians are not the only people who have authorized his philosophy; the Mahometans are little less prejudiced in its favour; and we are told, that to this day, notwithstanding the ignorance which reigns among them, they have schools for this sect. It will be an everlasting subject of wonder, to persons who know what philosophy is, to find that Aristotle's authority was so much respected in the schools, for several ages, that when a disputant quoted a passage from this philosopher, he who maintained the thesis durst nor say transeat, but must either deny the passage, or explain it in his own way. It is in this manner we treat the Holy Scriptures in the divinity schools. The parliaments which have proscribed all other philosophy but that of Aristotle, are more excusable than the doctors: for whether the members of parliament were really persuaded that this philosophy was the best of any, or was not, the public good might induce them to prohibit new opinions, lest the academical divisions should extend their malignant influence to the disturbance of the tranquillity of the state. What is most astonishing to wise men is, that the professors should be so strongly prejudiced in favour of Aristotle's philosophy. Had this prepossession been confined to his poetry and rhetoric, it had been less wonderful: but they were fond of the weakest
of his works; I mean his Logic, and Natural Philosophy 1. This justice, however, must be done to the blindest of his followers, that they have deserted him where he clashes with Christianity; and this he did in points of the greatest consequence, since he maintained the eternity of the world, and did not believe that providence extended itself to sublunary beings. As to the immortality of the soul, it is not certainly known whether he acknowledged it or not 2. In the year 1647, the famous capuchin, Valerian Magni, published a work concerning the Atheism of Aristotle. About one hundred and thirty years before, Marc Antony Venerius published a system of philosophy, in which he discovered several inconsistencies between Aristotle's doctrine, and the truths of religion. Campanella maintained the same in his book de Reductione ad Religionem, which was approved at Rome in the year 1630. It was not long since maintained in Holland, in the prefaces to some books, that the doctrine of this philosopher differed but little from Spinozism. In the mean time, if some Peripatetics may be believed, he was not ignorant of the mystery of the Trinity. He made a very good end, and enjoys eternal happiness. He composed a great number of books; a great part of which is come down to us. It is true some critics raise a thousand scruples about them. He was extremely honoured in his own city, and there were not wanting heretics who worshipped his image with that of Christ. There is extant some book which mentions, that, before the Reformation, there were churches in Germany in
which Aristotle's Ethics were read every Sunday morning to the people instead of the Gospel. There are but few instances of zeal for religion which have not been shewn for the Peripatetic philosophy. Paul de Foix, famous for his embassies and his learning, would not see Francis Patricius at Ferrara, because he was informed that that learned man taught a philosophy different from the Peripatetic. This was treating the enemies of Aristotle as zealots treat heretics. After all, it is no wonder that the Peripatetic philosophy, as it has been taught for several centuries, found so many protectors; or that the interests of it are believed to be inseparable from those of theology: for it accustoms the mind to acquiesce without evidence. This union of interests may be esteemed as a pledge to the Peripatetics of the immortality of their sect, and an argument to abate the hopes of the new philosophers.--Considering, withal, that there are some doctrines of Aristotle which the moderns have rejected, and which must, sooner or later, be adopted again. The Protestant divines have very much altered their conduct, if it is true, as we are told, that the first reformers clamoured so loud against the Peripatetic philosophy. The kind of death,. which in some respects does much honour to the memory of Aristotle, is, that which some have reported, viz. that his vexation at not being able to discover the cause of the flux and reflux of the Eurippus occasioned the distemper of which he died. Some say, that being retired into the island of Eubæa, to avoid a process against him for irreligion, he poisoned himself: but why should he quit Athens to free himself from persecution this way? HESYCHIUS affirms, not only that sentence of death was pronounced against him for an hymn which he made in honour of his father-in-law, but also that he swallowed aconite in execution of this sentence. If this were true, it would have been mentioned by more authors.
The number of ancient and modern writers who have exercised their pens on Aristotle, either in commenting on, or translating, him, is endless. A catalogue of them is to be met with in some of the editions of his works, but not a complete one. See a treatise of father Labbé, entitled Aristotelis & Platonis Græcorum Interpretum, typis hactenus editorum brevis conspectus; A short view of the Greek interpreters of Aristotle and Plato hitherto published;
printed at Paris in the year 1657, in 4to. Mr. Teissier names four authors who have composed the life of Aristotle; Ammonius, Guarini of Verona, John James Beurerus, and Leonard Aretin. He forgot Jerome Gemusæus, physician and professor of philosophy at Bazil, author of a book, De Vitæ Aristotelis, et eus Operum Censura.--The Life of Aristotle, and a Critique on his Works.
164:1 To be convinced of the weakness of these works, we need only read Gassendus in his Exercitationes Paradoxicæ adversos Aristoteleos. He says enough there against Aristotle's philosophy in general, to convince every unprejudiced reader that it is very defective; but he particularly ruins this philosopher's Logic. He was preparing, likewise, a criticism on his Natural Philosophy, his Metaphysics, and Ethics, in the same way; when, being alarmed at the formidable indignation of the peripatetic party against him, be chose rather to drop his work, than expose himself to their vexatious persecutions. In Aristotle's Logic and Natural Philosophy, there are many things which discover the elevation and profundity of his genius.
164:2 Pomponatius and Niphus had a great quarrel on this subject. The first maintained, that the immortality of the soul was inconsistent with Aristotle's principles: the latter undertook to defend the contrary. See the discourse of la Mothe le Vayer on the Immortality of the Soul, and Bodin, in page 15 of Pref. to Dæmonomania.