Aristotle: Fundamentals of the History of His Development

Jaeger, Werner W. Aristotle: Fundamentals of the History of His Development. Trans. R. R. Robinson. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1934.


“Aristotle was the 1st thinker to set up along with his philosophy a conception of his own position in history, he thereby created a new kind of philosophical consciousness, more responsible and inwardly complex. He was the inventor of the notion of intellectual development in time,  and regards even his own achievements as the result of an evolution dependent solely on its own law. Every where in his exposition he makes his own ideas appear as the direct consequences of his criticism of his predecessors, especially Plato and his school. It was, therefore, both philosophical and Aristotelian when men followed him in this, and sought to understand him by means of the presuppositions out of which he had constructed his own theories.

Such attempts, however, have not given a vivid insight into the individual nature of his philosophy, and this cannot surprise the philologist, who is not accustomed to a writer’s own estimate  of himself as an objective document, or to take his standards from it. It’s was especially unprofitable to judge Aristotle, as was actually done, by his understanding of his predecessors, as if any philosopher could ever understand his predecessors in this sense. Surely there can be only one positive standard for Aristotle’s personal achievement, and  it is not how he criticizes Plato but how he himself Platonizes ( since that is what philosophizing means to him). Why he gave this particular direction to knowledge cannot be explained merely from previous history, but only from his philosophical developments, just as he himself does not simply derived Plato’s position in the history of Greek thought from his predecessor is, but explains it as the result of the meeting of those historical influences and Plato’s own creative originality. In the treatment of intellectual progress, if we are to give full weight to the creative and underwrite element in great individuals, we must supplement the general tendency of the times with the organic development of the personality concerned. Aristotle himself shows the close relation between development and form, the  fundamental conception of his philosophy is “embodied form that lives and develops” (Goethe).  The aim is, he holds, to know the form and the entelechy  by means of the stages of its growth. This is the only way in which the elements of law and an intellectual “structure” can be directly intuited. As he says at the beginning of his lecture on the preliminary stages of political life, “here and elsewhere we shall not obtain the best insight into things until we actually see them growing from the beginning.”

It is one of those almost incomprehensible paradoxes in which the history of human knowledge of bounds, that the principle of organic developments has never yet been applied to its originators were, if we exclude a few efforts which, though praiseworthy, have been quite partial and therefore without influence.”