KineSophy Hall of Fame: Aristotle

KineSophy Hall of Fame: AristotleEarlier this year, I described what the virtues I have espoused in KineSophy look like in real life. In continuance of this mission, I plan to recognize real individuals who exemplify the ethics of human movement with the creation of a KineSophy Hall of Fame. This month features the first inductee into the KineSophy Hall of Fame: the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle.

Born in 384 BCE in Stagira, Greece, Aristotle enrolled in Plato’s Academy at the age of seventeen and quickly became the philosopher’s most famous student. However, because Aristotle disagreed with some of his teacher’s philosophical positions, he did not inherit the academy’s directorship following Plato’s death in 347 BCE, as many expected he would. Instead, in 338 BCE he accepted a position with King Philip II of Macedonia as the tutor for his son Alexander (later Alexander the Great). Three years later, he returned to Athens and founded his own school, The Lyceum, where he spent the next twelve years teaching, studying and writing. Following the death of Alexander in 323 BCE, the pro-Macedonian government in Athens was overthrown, and a charge of impiety was trumped up against Aristotle. He fled to Chalcis, where he died of a stomach illness in 322 BCE.

Aristotle wrote as many as 200 treatises, of which only thirty-one survive, and made contributions to agriculture, astronomy, biology, botany, cosmology, dance, ethics, history of philosophy, logic, mathematics, medicine, metaphysics, music, philosophy, physics, political history, political theory, psychology, rhetoric, theatre and theology. He is considered the father of logic because he was the first to develop a formalized system for reasoning. His influence on Western thought in the humanities and social sciences over the course of history is rivaled only by his teacher Plato and Plato’s teacher Socrates.

Of particular significance to KineSophy, Aristotle’s ethical theory recognizes physical virtues in addition to moral and intellectual virtues. Aristotle insisted that the good life is a life of activity, since we are rightly commended and praised for living good lives, and thus rightly commended or praised only for things we do, for actions we perform. He believed that previous philosophers, who discussed the soul in abstract without regard for the body, were mistaken in divorcing the two. Moreover, Aristotle lived in an era when sport was integrated with all other phases of life and was considered an essential part of life rather than the idealized philosophic abstraction that later scholars have wanted to ascribe to it. Aristotle compiled lists of the victors of the Pythian Games, which started in 586 BCE, and the Olympic Games, which began 776 BCE, an effort called a “contribution to the cultural history of Greece of the first importance,” (Thurmond). And most importantly, his writings specifically mention physical virtues such as speed and strength as deserving of cultivation and esteem.

Aristotle’s Lyceum was more than a school. It was also a space for physical exercise and military training. As he lectured at The Lyceum, Aristotle developed the habit of walking around the school grounds. Forced to trail after him in order to hear his lessons, his students were given the name of peripatetics, meaning “people who walk about.” Whether intentionally or unconsciously, this practice made Aristotle one of the first thinkers to recognize the connection between physical motion and cognitive function.

For his contributions to the foundations of the ethics of human movement and for his creation of peripatetic contemplation, Aristotle is the first inductee into the KineSophy Hall of Fame.