Aristotle as the First Scientist

Aristotle repeatedly pointed out that his predecessors' work and conclusions were often marred by insufficient observation. He himself, after a remarkable analysis of the reproduction of bees, states that he cannot arrive at certain conclusions because "the facts have not yet been sufficiently ascertained. And if at any future time they are ascertained, then credence must be given to the direct evidence rather than to the theories; and to the theories also, provided that the results which they show agree with what is observed." This, indeed, is the principle upon which his work is based. It is also the definition of the scientific method, which was later broadened in scope, especially by Bacon, and by and large constitutes the basis of the scientific method we practice today. Note the subtle yet critical point: Aristotle does not say "the results prove the theory," but "the results agree with the observations." Today, we take this reasoning for granted, that science proceeds and progresses not by proving hypotheses, but by disproving them. If the observations do not agree with a hypothesis, we shelve it; if it does agree with a high enough level of certainty and consistent repetition of the results, we accept it, but we can never prove it. Up to the time of Aristotle, there had been no serious attempts at classification of animals. Thus, his classification was based almost entirely on his own observations. For animals not found in Greece, he referred to credible observations by others, e.g., Herodotos. In this area also, Aristotle made very important contributions by characterizing and differentiating among a number of systematic categories. In his own words, "Animals may be characterized according to their way of living, their actions, their habits, and their bodily parts." The most important criterion is certainly the parts of the animals, both external and internal: organs of movement, respiration, sense, blood circulation. By combining various qualities, he defined and characterized the groups. Aristotle's two major categories are blooded animals (he refers to red blood only) and bloodless animals.


Classification of animals, empirical observations... he got much wrong, but to call into question his achievements for this is like criticizing the invention of Calculus because Newton believed in magic.

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 The Philosophic Origins of Science and the Evolution of the Two Cultures
Periodicals>Journal Article:  Myrianthopoulos, Ntinos C. (February 2000), The Philosophic Origins of Science and the Evolution of the Two Cultures, CDC Emerging Infectious Diseases, Retrieved on 2013-07-30
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  • Folksonomies: history science philosophy