Peripatetic school

Last updated
Aristotle's School, a painting from the 1880s by Gustav Adolph Spangenberg Spangenberg - Schule des Aristoteles.jpg
Aristotle's School, a painting from the 1880s by Gustav Adolph Spangenberg

The Peripatetic school was a school of philosophy in Ancient Greece. Its teachings derived from its founder, Aristotle (384–322 BC), and peripatetic is an adjective ascribed to his followers.


The school dates from around 335 BC when Aristotle began teaching in the Lyceum. It was an informal institution whose members conducted philosophical and scientific inquiries. After the middle of the 3rd century BC, the school fell into a decline, and it was not until the Roman era that there was a revival. Later members of the school concentrated on preserving and commenting on Aristotle's works rather than extending them; it died out in the 3rd century.

The study of Aristotle's works continued by scholars who were called Peripatetics through Late Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the works of the Peripatetic school were lost to the Latin West, but they were preserved in Byzantium and also incorporated into early Islamic philosophy. Western Europe recovered Aristotelianism from Byzantium and from Islamic sources in the Middle Ages.


The term "Peripatetic" is a transliteration of the ancient Greek word περιπατητικός (peripatētikós), which means "of walking" or "given to walking about". [1] The Peripatetic school, founded by Aristotle, [2] was actually known simply as the Peripatos. [3] Aristotle's school came to be so named because of the peripatoi ("walkways", some covered or with colonnades) of the Lyceum where the members met. [4] The legend that the name came from Aristotle's alleged habit of walking while lecturing may have started with Hermippus of Smyrna. [5]

Unlike Plato (428/7–348/7 BC), Aristotle (384–322 BC) [2] was not a citizen of Athens and so could not own property; he and his colleagues therefore used the grounds of the Lyceum as a gathering place, just as it had been used by earlier philosophers such as Socrates. [6] Aristotle and his colleagues first began to use the Lyceum in this way about 335 BC, [7] after which Aristotle left Plato's Academy and Athens, and then returned to Athens from his travels about a dozen years later. [8] Because of the school's association with the gymnasium, the school also came to be referred to simply as the Lyceum. [6] Some modern scholars argue that the school did not become formally institutionalized until Theophrastus took it over, at which time there was private property associated with the school. [9]

Originally at least, the Peripatetic gatherings were probably conducted less formally than the term "school" suggests: there was likely no set curriculum or requirements for students, or even fees for membership. [10] Aristotle did teach and lecture there, but there was also philosophical and scientific research done in partnership with other members of the school. [11] It seems likely that many of the writings that have come down to us in Aristotle's name were based on lectures he gave at the school. [12]

Among the members of the school in Aristotle's time were Theophrastus, Phanias of Eresus, Eudemus of Rhodes, Clytus of Miletus, Aristoxenus, and Dicaearchus. Much like Plato's Academy, there were in Aristotle's school junior and senior members, the junior members generally serving as pupils or assistants to the senior members who directed research and lectured. The aim of the school, at least in Aristotle's time, was not to further a specific doctrine, but rather to explore philosophical and scientific theories; those who ran the school worked as equal partners. [13]


The doctrines of the Peripatetic school were those laid down by Aristotle, and henceforth maintained by his followers.

Whereas Plato had sought to explain things with his theory of forms, Aristotle preferred to start from the facts given by experience. Philosophy to him meant science, and its aim was the recognition of the "why" in all things. Hence he endeavoured to attain to the ultimate grounds of things by induction; that is to say, by a posteriori conclusions from a number of facts toward a universal. [14] Logic either deals with appearances, and is then called dialectics ; or of truth, and is then called analytics . [15]

All change or motion takes place in regard to substance, quantity, quality, and place. There are three kinds of substances – those alternately in motion and at rest, as the animals; those perpetually in motion, as the sky; and those eternally stationary. The last, in themselves immovable and imperishable, are the source and origin of all motion. Among them there must be one first being, unchangeable, which acts without the intervention of any other being. All that is proceeds from it; it is the most perfect intelligence – God. The immediate action of this prime mover – happy in the contemplation of itself – extends only to the heavens; the other inferior spheres are moved by other incorporeal and eternal substances, which the popular belief adores as gods. The heavens are of a more perfect and divine nature than other bodies. In the centre of the universe is the Earth, round and stationary. The stars, like the sky, beings of a higher nature, but of grosser matter, move by the impulse of the prime mover. [15]

For Aristotle, matter is the basis of all that exists; it comprises the potentiality of everything, but of itself is not actually anything. A determinate thing only comes into being when the potentiality in matter is converted into actuality . This is achieved by form, the idea existent not as one outside the many, but as one in the many, the completion of the potentiality latent in the matter. [14]

The soul is the principle of life in the organic body, and is inseparable from the body. As faculties of the soul, Aristotle enumerates the faculty of reproduction and nutrition; of sensation, memory and recollection; the faculty of reason, or understanding; and the faculty of desiring, which is divided into appetition and volition. [15] By the use of reason conceptions, which are formed in the soul by external sense-impressions, and may be true or false, are converted into knowledge. For reason alone can attain to truth either in understanding or action. [14]

The best and highest goal is the happiness which originates from virtuous actions. [15] Aristotle did not, with Plato, regard virtue as knowledge pure and simple, but as founded on nature, habit, and reason. [14] Virtue consists in acting according to nature: that is, keeping the mean between the two extremes of the too much and the too little. Thus valor, in his view the first of virtues, is a mean between cowardice and recklessness; temperance is the mean in respect to sensual enjoyments and the total avoidance of them. [15]

History of the school

Aristotle and his disciples - Alexander, Demetrius, Theophrastus, and Strato, in an 1888 fresco in the portico of the National University of Athens Aristotle and his disciples Lebiedzki Rahl.jpg
Aristotle and his disciples – Alexander, Demetrius, Theophrastus, and Strato, in an 1888 fresco in the portico of the National University of Athens

The names of the first seven or eight scholarchs (leaders) of the Peripatetic school are known with varying levels of certainty. A list of names with the approximate dates they headed the school is as follows (all dates BC): [16]

There are some uncertainties in this list. It is not certain whether Aristo of Ceos was the head of the school, but since he was a close pupil of Lyco and the most important Peripatetic philosopher in the time when he lived, it is generally assumed that he was. It is not known if Critolaus directly succeeded Aristo, or if there were any leaders between them. Erymneus is known only from a passing reference by Athenaeus. [17] Other important Peripatetic philosophers who lived during these centuries include Eudemus of Rhodes, Aristoxenus, Dicaearchus, and Clearchus of Soli.

Sometime shortly after the death of Alexander the Great in June 323 BC, Aristotle left Athens to avoid persecution by anti-Macedonian factions in Athens, due to his ties to Macedonia. [18] After Aristotle's death in 322 BC, his colleague Theophrastus succeeded him as head of the school. The most prominent member of the school after Theophrastus was Strato of Lampsacus, who increased the naturalistic elements of Aristotle's philosophy and embraced a form of atheism.

After the time of Strato, the Peripatetic school fell into a decline. Lyco was famous more for his oratory than his philosophical skills, and Aristo is perhaps best known for his biographical studies; [19] although Critolaus was more philosophically active, none of the Peripatetic philosophers in this period seem to have contributed anything original to philosophy. [20] The reasons for the decline of the Peripatetic school are unclear. Undoubtedly, Stoicism and Epicureanism provided many answers for those people looking for dogmatic and comprehensive philosophical systems, and the scepticism of the Middle Academy may have seemed preferable to anyone who rejected dogmatism. [21] Later tradition linked the school's decline to Neleus of Scepsis and his descendants hiding the works of Aristotle and Theophrastus in a cellar until their rediscovery in the 1st century BC, and even though this story may be doubted, it is possible that Aristotle's works were not widely read. [22]

In 86 BC, Athens was sacked by the Roman general Lucius Cornelius Sulla; all the schools of philosophy in Athens were badly disrupted, and the Lyceum ceased to exist as a functioning institution. Ironically, this event seems to have brought new life to the Peripatetic school. Sulla brought the writings of Aristotle and Theophrastus back to Rome, where they became the basis of a new collection of Aristotle's writings compiled by Andronicus of Rhodes which forms the basis of the Corpus Aristotelicum which exists today. [20] Later Neoplatonist writers describe Andronicus, who lived around 50 BC, as the eleventh scholarch of the Peripatetic school, [23] which would imply that he had two unnamed predecessors. There is considerable uncertainty over the issue, and Andronicus' pupil Boethus of Sidon is also described as the eleventh scholarch. [24] It is quite possible that Andronicus set up a new school where he taught Boethus.

Whereas the earlier Peripatetics had sought to extend and develop Aristotle's works, from the time of Andronicus the school concentrated on preserving and defending his work. [25] The most important figure in the Roman era is Alexander of Aphrodisias (c. 200 AD) who wrote commentaries on Aristotle's writings. With the rise of Neoplatonism (and Christianity) in the 3rd century, Peripateticism as an independent philosophy came to an end, but the Neoplatonists sought to incorporate Aristotle's philosophy within their own system, and produced many commentaries on Aristotle's works. In the 5th century, Olympiodorus the Elder is sometimes described as a Peripatetic.


The last philosophers in classical antiquity to comment on Aristotle were Simplicius and Boethius in the 6th century AD.[ citation needed ] After this, although his works were mostly lost to the west, they were maintained in the east where they were incorporated into early Islamic philosophy. Some of the greatest Peripatetic philosophers in the Islamic philosophical tradition were Al-Kindi (Alkindus), Al-Farabi (Alpharabius), Avicenna (Ibn Sina) and Averroes (Ibn Rushd). By the 12th century, Aristotle's works began being translated into Latin during the Latin translations of the 12th century, and gradually arose Scholastic philosophy under such names as Thomas Aquinas, which took its tone and complexion from the writings of Aristotle, the commentaries of Averroes, and The Book of Healing of Avicenna. [26]

See also


  1. The entry peripatêtikos in Liddell, Henry and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon .
  2. 1 2 Grön, Arne; et al. (1988). Lübcke, Poul (ed.). Filosofilexikonet (in Swedish). Stockholm: Forum förlag.
  3. Furley 2003 , p. 1141; Lynch 1997 , p. 311
  4. Nussbaum 2003 , p. 166; Furley 2003 , p. 1141; Lynch 1997 , p. 311
  5. Furley 1970 , p. 801 citing Diogenes Laërtius, Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers 5.2. Some modern scholars discredit the legend altogether; see p. 229 & p. 229 n. 156, in Hegel 2006 , p. 229
  6. 1 2 Furley 2003 , p. 1141
  7. 336 BCE: Furley 2003 , p. 1141; 335 BCE: Lynch 1997 , p. 311; 334 BCE: Irwin 2003
  8. Barnes 2000 , p. 14
  9. Ostwald & Lynch 1982 , p. 623, citing Diogenes Laërtius, 5.39 & 5.52.
  10. Barnes 2000 , p. 9
  11. Barnes 2000 , pp. 7–9
  12. Irwin 2003
  13. Ostwald & Lynch 1982 , pp. 623–4
  14. 1 2 3 4 "Greek Philosophy" entry in Seyffert 1895 , p. 482
  15. 1 2 3 4 5 "Peripatetic philosophy" entry in Lieber, Wigglesworth & Bradford 1832 , p. 22
  16. Ross & Ackrill 1995 , p. 193
  17. Athenaeus, v. 211e
  18. Barnes 2000 , p. 11
  19. Sharples 2003 , p. 150
  20. 1 2 Drozdek 2007 , p. 205
  21. Sharples 2003 , p. 151
  22. Sharples 2003 , p. 152
  23. Ammonius, In de Int. 5.24
  24. Ammonius, In An. Pr. 31.11
  25. Sharples 2003 , p. 153
  26. Spade, Paul Vincent (2018). Edward N. Zalta (ed.). "Medieval Philosophy". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy . Center for the Study of Language and Information.

Related Research Articles

Aristotle Classical Greek philosopher and polymath (384 – 322 BC)

Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath during the Classical period in Ancient Greece. He was the founder of the Lyceum and the Peripatetic school of philosophy and Aristotelian tradition. Along with his teacher Plato, he has been called the "Father of Western Philosophy". His writings cover many subjects – including physics, biology, zoology, metaphysics, logic, ethics, esthetics, poetry, theatre, music, rhetoric, psychology, linguistics, economics, politics and government. Aristotle provided a complex synthesis of the various philosophies existing prior to him, and it was above all from his teachings that the West inherited its intellectual lexicon, as well as problems and methods of inquiry. As a result, his philosophy has exerted a unique influence on almost every form of knowledge in the West and it continues to be a subject of contemporary philosophical discussion.

Alexander of Aphrodisias Peripatetic philosopher

Alexander of Aphrodisias was a Peripatetic philosopher and the most celebrated of the Ancient Greek commentators on the writings of Aristotle. He was a native of Aphrodisias in Caria, and lived and taught in Athens at the beginning of the 3rd century, where he held a position as head of the Peripatetic school. He wrote many commentaries on the works of Aristotle, extant are those on the Prior Analytics, Topics, Meteorology, Sense and Sensibilia, and Metaphysics. Several original treatises also survive, and include a work On Fate, in which he argues against the Stoic doctrine of necessity; and one On the Soul. His commentaries on Aristotle were considered so useful that he was styled, by way of pre-eminence, "the commentator".

Andronicus of Rhodes was a Greek philosopher from Rhodes who was also the scholarch (head) of the Peripatetic school. He is most famous for publishing a new edition of the works of Aristotle that forms the basis of the texts that survive today.

Theophrastus Ancient greek philosopher

Theophrastus, a Greek native of Eresos in Lesbos, was the successor to Aristotle in the Peripatetic school. He came to Athens at a young age and initially studied in Plato's school. After Plato's death, he attached himself to Aristotle who took to Theophrastus in his writings. When Aristotle fled Athens, Theophrastus took over as head of the Lyceum. Theophrastus presided over the Peripatetic school for thirty-six years, during which time the school flourished greatly. He is often considered the father of botany for his works on plants. After his death, the Athenians honoured him with a public funeral. His successor as head of the school was Strato of Lampsacus.

Aristotelianism Tradition in philosophy

Aristotelianism is a tradition of philosophy that takes its defining inspiration from the work of Aristotle. This school of thought, in the modern sense of philosophy, covers existence, ethics, mind and related subjects. In Aristotle's time, philosophy included natural philosophy, which preceded the advent of modern science during the Scientific Revolution. The works of Aristotle were initially defended by the members of the Peripatetic school and later on by the Neoplatonists, who produced many commentaries on Aristotle's writings. In the Islamic Golden Age, Avicenna and Averroes translated the works of Aristotle into Arabic and under them, along with philosophers such as Al-Kindi and Al-Farabi, Aristotelianism became a major part of early Islamic philosophy.

The Organon is the standard collection of Aristotle's six works on logic. The name Organon was given by Aristotle's followers, the Peripatetics. They are as follows:

Strato of Lampsacus ancient Greek philosopher

Strato of Lampsacus was a Peripatetic philosopher, and the third director (scholarch) of the Lyceum after the death of Theophrastus. He devoted himself especially to the study of natural science, and increased the naturalistic elements in Aristotle's thought to such an extent, that he denied the need for an active god to construct the universe, preferring to place the government of the universe in the unconscious force of nature alone.

Speusippus ancient greek philosopher

Speusippus was an ancient Greek philosopher. Speusippus was Plato's nephew by his sister Potone. After Plato's death, c.348 BC, Speusippus inherited the Academy, near age 60, and remained its head for the next eight years. However, following a stroke, he passed the chair to Xenocrates. Although the successor to Plato in the Academy, Speusippus frequently diverged from Plato's teachings. He rejected Plato's Theory of Forms, and whereas Plato had identified the Good with the ultimate principle, Speusippus maintained that the Good was merely secondary. He also argued that it is impossible to have satisfactory knowledge of any thing without knowing all the differences by which it is separated from everything else.

Corpus Aristotelicum book

The Corpus Aristotelicum is the collection of Aristotle's works that have survived from antiquity through medieval manuscript transmission. These texts, as opposed to Aristotle's works that were lost or intentionally destroyed, are technical philosophical treatises from within Aristotle's school. Reference to them is made according to the organization of Immanuel Bekker's nineteenth-century edition, which in turn is based on ancient classifications of these works.

Apellicon, a wealthy man from Teos, afterwards an Athenian citizen, was a famous book collector of the 1st century BC.

The Academy was founded by Plato in c. 387 BC in Athens. Aristotle studied there for twenty years before founding his own school, the Lyceum. The Academy persisted throughout the Hellenistic period as a skeptical school, until coming to an end after the death of Philo of Larissa in 83 BC. The Platonic Academy was destroyed by the Roman dictator Sulla in 86 BC.

Critolaus of Phaselis was a Greek philosopher of the Peripatetic school. He was one of three philosophers sent to Rome in 155 BC, where their doctrines fascinated the citizens, but scared the more conservative statesmen. None of his writings survive. He was interested in rhetoric and ethics, and considered pleasure to be an evil. He maintained the Aristotelian doctrine of the eternity of the world, and of the human race in general, directing his arguments against the Stoics.

Eudemus of Rhodes was an ancient Greek philosopher, considered the first historian of science, who lived from c. 370 BC until c. 300 BC. He was one of Aristotle's most important pupils, editing his teacher's work and making it more easily accessible. Eudemus' nephew, Pasicles, was also credited with editing Aristotle's works.

Hellenistic philosophy is the period of Western philosophy and Middle Eastern philosophy that was developed in the Hellenistic period following Aristotle and ending with the beginning of Neoplatonism.

This page is a list of topics in ancient philosophy.

Boethus of Sidon was a Peripatetic philosopher from Sidon, who lived towards the end of the 1st century BC.

Eudorus of Alexandria was an ancient Greek philosopher, and a representative of Middle Platonism. He attempted to reconstruct Plato's philosophy in terms of Pythagoreanism.

Lyceum (Classical) Public meeting place in Classical Athens

The Lyceum or Lycaeum was a temple dedicated to Apollo Lyceus.

Ancient higher-learning institutions

A variety of ancient higher-learning institutions were developed in many cultures to provide institutional frameworks for scholarly activities. These ancient centres were sponsored and overseen by courts; by religious institutions, which sponsored cathedral schools, monastic schools, and madrasas; by scientific institutions, such as museums, hospitals, and observatories; and by individual scholars. They are to be distinguished from the Western-style university, an autonomous organization of scholars that originated in medieval Europe and has been adopted in other regions in modern times.

Erymneus was a Peripatetic philosopher in Ancient Greece.