The Forgotten Father-Aristotle


Aristotle, as we all know, was an ancient Greek philosopher and scientist. He has been one of the greatest intellectual figures in ancient history and his contributions extend to logic, criticism, rhetoric, physics, biology, psychology, mathematics, metaphysics, ethics, and politics.

Having spent almost two decades learning and teaching in Athens, Aristotle moved east across the Aegean Sea, married, and settled on an island Lesbos for three years. The island had pine-forested mountains, glades of chestnut trees, and valleys filled with blooming rhododendrons. During the spring and autumn, migrating birds flocked in thousands, as they traveled between Africa and Europe. It was this serene beauty that inspired Aristotle to study the natural world and turned him into not merely a biologist, but the first scientist who first combined theory with empirical investigation.

Interestingly, Aristotle was Alexander the Great’s teacher and appreciated access to the Greek army’s travels, thereby having them gather specimens for him.

He was one of the first collectors of things who worked on organizing and sorting life forms into something that we now refer to as genus, species, phylum, etc. His approach was a teleological one where he described the goal of each specimen. He became one of the first scientists to have classified organisms as the ones with blood, Enhaima (now known as vertebrates) and the ones without blood, Anhaima (invertebrates). This was one of the greatest contributions to the history of biology, to classify animals into groups according to their behavior, and most importantly, by the similarities and differences between their physiologies. About one-third of his writings discuss living things. His greatest work of all, The Generation of Animals, described the development of an egg in the womb to form an animal, thereby charting the theory of inheritance.

Although his biology is today forgotten, Aristotle was the giant who fashioned the philosophy to study living things. He went to the Lagoon’s shore, picked
up a snail, and asked a simple question “What’s inside?” that propelled a science so vast and beautiful. Later, Charles Darwin gave us the idea of evolution that eluded Aristotle, but the latter gave us the courage to seek and discover new worlds.

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