Aristotle was one of the greatest thinkers of all time. He even wrote works–Politics, Poetics and Metaphysics–that are still taught today. He wrote on a wide variety of sciences, including cosmology, physics, biology and chemistry. He developed the concept of empirical reality, in which theories are tested based on the evidence of our senses. He also collected information on thousands of species of plants and animals.
But he wasn’t perfect, and he was a product of a very different time and culture. Some of the things he believed formed the foundations for studies and disciplines thousands of years in the future. Other things, well, not quite so much. Here’s a look at some of the things that we, thankfully, have decided not to take Aristotle’s word for.
1. Women are deficient and monstrous.
The ancient Greeks were not exactly known for their feminism, and barely considered women to be people, much less equal to men. Aristotle somehow came to the conclusion that men have hotter blood, more teeth and are generally more perfect than women, who he liked to describe as “immature,” “deficient,” “malformed” and, yes, even “monstrous.” He even considered men to have a larger role in reproduction.
2. Some people just deserve to be slaves.
Slavery was a huge part of life in ancient Athens. While Aristotle argued that this was not a fair fate for prisoners of war (he thought they were just unlucky), he did think that some people were just suited to be slaves, following orders because they simply weren’t smart to think for themselves.
3. Eels generate spontaneously.
When he dissected an eel, Aristotle was unable to find the gonads (sperm or eggs) that he was able to find in other fish. So he decided that eels just didn’t have them and instead of reproducing the old-fashioned way, they simply sprang up out of the mud. It was kind of his best bet, as he didn’t know that European eels only develop gonads after they leave areas like Greece for the Atlantic in a complicated spawning cycle. He also applied his spontaneous generation theory to flies, shellfish and lice.
4. The world never began.
Despite his work with plants and animals, the concept of evolution was lost on Aristotle. His teacher, Plato, was a creationist in the Greek tradition, and there were some thinkers of his day who were forming proto-evolutionary theories. But Aristotle wasn’t having any of that. He didn’t think the world ever began at all. Instead, he thought that the world as it was, with all the plants and animals, had simply always existed.
5. Celestial bodies are alive.
I guess it depends on what you consider “life” to be, but Aristotle thought that the sun, moon and planets were actually alive, and considered them to be perfect beings, almost gods. He was also a geocentrist, a theory that would be disproven by Copernicus, Gallileo and Kepler later. He had a sort of astrotheology that stated that the primary deity was an eternal, immaterial being who existed outside of the motions of the visible cosmos.
6. How bees reproduce.
No, no spontaneous generation here. Bees stumped Aristotle, and, to his credit, he was pretty open about that. He gathered a lot of data on them from observation, but still couldn’t make heads or tails of it and tried his best to develop a theory. It’s a good theory, based on the information he had, but it’s wrong. What actually comes out of his bee problem is a much larger statement about the dynamic nature of science. He states his theory, and then basically says that if someone proves it wrong in the future, then the theory will have to be revised.
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