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The Greek philosopher, Plato, and his student Aristotle held two seemingly contrasting ideas upon philosophy. Plato adopted a theory of forms asserting that immaterial forms, or ideas, was the far greater reality when compared to that of the physical world (Fine, 2003). Conversely, Aristotle focused on research of properties and the application of the resultant data to resolve theoretical questions. While he served as the head of the Peripatetic School, Aristotle relayed this ideology, which resulted in the early activity of the school being characterized by the collection and interpretation of empirical evidence in a plethora of various fields of study (Furley, 1999). Both Theophrastus and Strato of Lampsacus, the two heads of the Peripatetic School following Aristotle, remained consistent with the characteristic fascination with experimentation and analysis of the physical world. However, the induction of the fourth head of the Peripatetic school, Lyco of Troas, marked the drastic shift of the Peripatetic School from a school of empirically dynamic culture to one with a comparatively scholastic agenda ultimately leading to the school's decline.

The Peripatetic School, cofounded by Theophrastus and Aristotle, was named so from the Greek word, " peripatêtikos" meaning, "of walking about, especially while teaching or disputing" (Liddell, 1870). This is due to Aristotle taking, "...public walk[s] in the Lyceum where he would walk up and down discussing philosophy with his pupils" (Laërtius, 1925). It is also possible that the name is derived from when Alexander the Great, one of Aristotle's pupils, was recuperating from being ill and began taking daily walks as part of his recovery; upon these strolls, it is likely that Aristotle joined him and discussed certain manners with him while they walked. The Peripatetic School's name, alone, displays the importance of Aristotle and his teachings to the students and other heads in that the school is not only based off of Aristotle's lessons, but also named after him.

After Aristotle, Theophrastus became the leader of the Peripatetic School; Theophrastus then passed the torch to Strato of Lampsacus. Strato, upon his death, bequeathed the school to Lyco of Troas who marks the beginning of the shift of the school towards scholasticism. Diogenes Laërtius, a famed biographer of the Greek philosophers, wrote a series upon the Peripatetic heads, but curiously enough, Laërtius does not catalogue any heads of the school after Lyco. Furthermore, Lyco's entry in Laërtius's writings, when compared to that of the previous heads of the Peripatetic school is exceptionally brief. Following Lyco, the school had four other heads, with a time span of approximately 115 years (Furley, 1999); this omission from Laërtius' historical articles is remarkable, "But we cannot determine whether this lack of information is due to the fact that there was little information to be found or to the fact that [Lyco and his successor, Aristo of Ceos] did not attract much attention in later times" (Fortenbaugh, 2004). So either the publications of Lyco were few and insignificant, or just did not gain much populatity. Neither of these possible situations seems to speak very favorably of Lyco and his successors.

Since the Peripatetic School was founded upon Aristotle's teachings, we should first consider his doctrine when analyzing the school. To understand the context of how progressive and innovative Aristotle's beliefs were, let us first discuss Plato's theory of forms and Aristotle's stance upon it. Plato argued that the primary and most important substances are, "eternal, unchanging, nonsensible universals called forms" (Fine, 2003). Aristotle did not agree with this significance of forms. In considering the paradox of why a person will act in different ways when placed in the same situation, Aristotle writes that, "understanding differs from sense perception in one important way. By the sense of sight we are enabled to see, and nothing else; and by hearing, merely and solely to hear. We do not deliberate whether we should hear with our ears, or see. It is otherwise with our intelligence, which has the power of acting in different ways. It is here, when we come to make a purposive choice, that there is room for deliberation with ourselves. Error, then, arises in the choice of what is good" (Aristotle, 1935). Aristotle points out that the mind, a form in Plato's terms, is the source of variation and therefore, error in man. Aristotle clarifies in his example that, "no man... doubts that health is a good. It is when we come to choose our means that we err; for example, in deciding whether such and such a food is good for our health" (Aristotle, 1935). While the senses are straightforward and quantitative, the mind is unfathomably complex and such variations are the source of errors. Aristotle refutes Plato's theory of forms with his assertion that rather than Plato's forms being the primary substance, science and the concrete are the ideal good. Aristotle felt that the most important things could be perceived through the senses and thus, may be observed and measured in an empirical fashion. Things that lack any physical presence and cannot be sensed or measured, Aristotle argues, are not constructive since they do not help us further understand the world. The conclusion reached by Aristotle, in Magna Moralia, one of the first generation works of the Peripatetic School (Vogel, 1960), is that, "the virtues are useless; wherefore they cannot really be departments of science" (Aristotle, 1935). Such concepts glorifying the tangible is in stark juxtaposition with most of the philosophers of the time who for the most part preferred theoretical discussions rather than scientific exploration; these are the very concepts which Aristotle kept in mind when found the Peripatetic School.

The lectures Aristotle presented his students with were known to be of two varieties: exoteric and acroatic (Guthrie, 1981). The exoteric lessons were those of rhetoric, quick wit, etc. Meanwhile the acroatic lessons were concerned with the philosophy of the exact and physical. During the time where Aristotle served as the head of the Peripatetic school "the atmosphere of the school seem[ed] to be more scientific, in the modern sense, than philosophical..." (Guthrie, 1981). While previous philosophers such as Socrates and Plato, Aristotle's teacher, focused mainly on the hypothetical, Aristotle preferred actually testing theories in the physical world. Aristotle focused his teaching mainly on the tangible world in an extremely scientific manner which lead to the development of a dynamic system of learning. In the study of facts, it is possible to test theories, to verify or negate other's assertions, and to build on top of previous works to explore one's own hypotheses. This was the academic environment of the Peripatetic School initially established by Aristotle.

Aristotle's affection for the study of the concrete becomes evident when he states in his Metaphysics, "Every potency is at the same time a potency for the contradictories" (Aristotle, 1896). If I possess the potential to become a college graduate, I also possess the potential of becoming a homeless vagabond. Applying this to Plato's theory of forms, if one calculates a perfectly hypothetical argument, both that argument and the exact antithesis of it are possibly true. This is the reason for Aristotle inferring that, "a good actuality is better than the potentiality for it" (Aristotle, 1896). The study the material world seems far more substantial and likely to yield results rather than quibbling over abstract arguments which could easily be just as false as they are true. Aristotle not only focused on the material data and information that was available, but also engendered curiosity and a yearning for discovery in an entire generation of scholars attending the school. Aristotle, as head of the Peripatetic school, created a rich foundation for an extremely dynamic system where research and discovery were the predominant goal.

Following Aristotle, Theophrastus became the head of the Peripatetic school. Theophrastus not only continued to spread Aristotle's philosophy of studying the concrete, but also supplemented and corrected Aristotle's works by independent investigations as well (Zeller, 2000). Rather than simply accepting Aristotle's findings as the epitome of truth, Theophrastus investigated Aristotle's data and made changes according to what he found; through this research, Theophrastus, and the Peripatetic school, partook in the process now known as peer review. Not only did Theophrastus expand upon and adjust Aristotle's discoveries, but he also performed a wide variety of his own research. Most notable was Theophrastus' publications upon the subject of botany where, "[his] botanical writings, the Researches on Plants (Historia Plantarum) and Explanations of Plants (De causis Plantarum), are the earliest systematic botanical texts to survive" (Furley, 1999). Theophrastus, in his experimentation of the tangible, was able to make discoveries which proved useful enough to be used all through the Middle Ages (Zeller, 2000). Such studies and teachings offered by Theophrastus may be considered as an consistent with, and possibly an extension of, Aristotle's value of empiricism and materialism. Theophrastus, in the true definition of dynamic education systems, not only learned from Aristotle, but also expanded upon his works.

Theophrastus expanded the academic society while still applying the credo of Aristotle. Theophrastus wrote that, "the phenomenology of plants [taught] him that empirical fats should not be artificially forged into a theory" (Vogel, 1960). Theophrastus is seen here as arguing that perception is more reliable than theory, which reflects upon the hypothetical reasoning of the immaterial by those such as Plato. Peripatetic scholars, in matters of zoology, wrote as natural scientists (Furley, 1999); so we see that the teachings of the tangible were being fully transferred to the students of the Peripatetic School. Not only were the leaders of the Peripatetic School performing experiments, but the students too were acting as scientists in the exploration of the quantifiable truth. As a head of the Peripatetic School, Theophrastus peer edited the available literature and also added his own unique findings into the quickly growing accumulation of works produced by the teachers and students of the Peripatetic School. This obviously resulted with an extremely dynamic institution where all of the students were learning by experimenting and discovering for themselves rather than being spoon-fed facts to compliantly accept.

Strato of Lampsacus took charge of the school following Theophrastus. Laërtius describes Strato as, "a distinguished man who is generally known as 'The Physicist' because more than anyone else he devoted himself to the most careful study of nature" (Laërtius, 1925). Strato managed to build even further upon the empirical foundation set by Aristotle and Theophrastus in that he, "...not only found much to correct in details in the theories of Aristotle, but he was opposed entirely to his spiritual and dualistic view of the world. He placed the deity on the same level with the unconscious activity of nature, and instead of the Aristotelian teleology demanded a purely physical explanation of the phenomena" (Zeller, 2000). This is an extremely drastic paradigm shift for the culture; while most other Greeks were willing to write off certain phenomenon as the act and will of all powerful deities, Strato argued that if one can perceive something with one's senses, then it must be explainable purely through objective and measurable phenomena. As far as the spirit and soul of man, Strato ventured that, "all activities of the soul, thought as well as feeling, as motions of the same rational being which was seated in the head, in the region between the eyebrows and from thence... permeated the various parts of the body. Hence he controverted the immortality of the soul" (Zeller, 2000). Again, this is an extremely progressive stance placing even more significance upon the material world and decreasing emphasis upon the hypothetical ponderings upon things that cannot be tested.

As far as Strato's actual scientific studies and results, he was well known for having developed an experiment of pouring water from a spout and observing the stream as evidence of the concept that falling bodies are accelerated rather than moving at a continuous speed (Grant, 1974). Strato is seen invoking his senses to objectively test a hypothesis and come to a conclusion that opposed Aristotle's idea that falling objects progress at a constant velocity. Again, we see the dynamic state of the Peripatetic school in that it utilized physical experiments and basic forms of the scientific method to progress and fine tune humanity's knowledge. Rather than simply accepting Aristotle's ideas, Strato tested and developed his own hypothesis, which proved to be the more correct solution.

Upon Strato's death, the Peripatetic School was passed along to Lyco of Troas, who was notable for his, "oratory, social standing, and love of luxury rather than for science of philosophy" (Furley, 1999). In Strato's will, he wrote, "I leave the seminar to Lyco, since of the rest some are too old and others too busy. But it would be well if the others would cooperate with him" (Laërtius, 1925). This gives us a bit of insight into the amount of confidence which Strato had within Lyco to live up to the reputation of head of the Peripatetic School; Lyco's predecessors, the philosophical and scientific giants: Aristotle, Theophrastus, and Strato himself had set the standards astronomically high. Despite the fact that Lyco was head of the Peripatetic School for more than 44 years (Furley, 1999), Laërtius is extremely brief and laconic in his biography of Lyco. Thus, there is little information to go off of from Laërtius' historical writings.

The Peripatetic School, once the epitome of scientific exploration and dynamic discovery, now began its shift towards scholasticism. Even though we have very little information upon Lyco's literary output, "other Peripatetics of [Lyco's] and later generations continued to publish though they mainly were concerned with ethical, rhetorical, literary, and biographical matters" (Fortenbaugh, 2004). The Peripatetic School seems to regress, with Lyco at the forefront, back to the ideology espoused by previous Greek philosophers of the importance of the immaterial. The early Peripatetics had sought to study Aristotle's works, but for the purpose of continuing and refining it, while the pupils under Lyco and other following heads seemed to merely look back on Aristotle's work and comment on it (Furley, 1999). Rather than continuing the chain of peer review that had been put in place by the early Peripatetics, the characteristic of this Hellenistic period is, "not the study of Aristotle's own works, but the compilation and use of summaries" (Furley, 1999). At this point, the Peripatetic scholars are simply collecting and regurgitating previously supposed theories without verifying them personally or formulating independent hypotheses. This copy and paste scholasticism resulted in Aristotle's works, not being continued, but rather regarded as a "canonical authority to be interpreted" (Furley, 1999). While previous Peripatetics dared to question their founder and some of his ideas, the pupils under the head of Lyco began simply accepting Aristotle's doctrines without question.

It is noted that, "after Strato the [Peripatetic Shool] rapidly fell into decline" (Furley, 1999). This decline is attributed partially to the fact that many writings of Theophrastus and Aristotle were passed to those who had no interest in philosophy and hid the books in a cellar creating 'unpublished' works of Aristotle (Furley, 1999). More notably, this decline is also likely partially attributed to the fact that the sciences began appearing more prominently in other institutions than in the Peripatetic School (Furley, 1999). The idea of the Peripatetic School being weakened by no longer holding a monopoly upon scientific scholars is only bolstered by the fact that the Peripatetics of the time were no longer as interested in the material and now focused on conventional Greek studies of rhetoric and history. With other establishments offering the dynamic culture once espoused by the Peripatetic school and the school under the head of Lyco becoming steadily more scholastic, the Peripatetic school likely seemed less innovative and thus less appealing to prospective pupils. Therefore, the scholastic environment introduced by the induction of Lyco largely lead to the decline of the Peripatetic school.

When Aristotle founded the Peripatetic School, he deliberately gave it a basis in the sciences. Early pupils of the Peripatetic School experimented in science and explored the natural world, producing publications all along the way. Theophrastus and Strato, the two heads directly following Aristotle continued this ideology of research and discovery. Both of these philosophers added to and refined the publications of Aristotle, displaying the greatly dynamic system that was established in the Peripatetic School at the time. Pupils of the time were encouraged to question and discover for themselves rather than simply accepting the writings of their predecessors and such attitudes are represented in the abundant works of both Theophrastus and Strato. Upon the induction of Lyco as the head of the Peripatetic School, the creed of the school became less of discovering truth for oneself, but rather reading about the truth that others had already discovered. Rather than using their senses to measure and test, the later Peripatetic scholars simply focused on rehashing previous writings without question. This rampant rise of scholasticism coupled with the sciences gaining traction in other philosophical institutions lead to the ultimate decline of the Peripatetic School. The difference between widespread discovery and scholarly demise was the drastic transformation of the Peripatetic School from an extremely dynamic state under Aristotle, Theophrastus, and Strato to one characterized by almost complete scholastic stagnation. While the peripatetic school represents an introduction of empirical reasoning over the Socratic method and Plato's theory of forms, the history of the school can be seen in terms of an uneasy switch from dynamic materialism to a fascination with immaterial principles represented by a moribund educational system. Thus we may consider the difference between scholastic and dynamic systems to be that of great significance: for the Peripatetic School, this contrast was literally a matter of life and death.



Lyco of Troas: A Pathetic Peripatetic


Page Author: Kerry E. Olivier

Sunday, 4 March, 2012 17:49


Aristotle.  Magna Moralia. Trans. Hugh Tredennick. Great Britain: Harvard University Press, 1935. 459-461, 507. Print.

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Fine, Gail. Plato On Knowledge and Forms. New York: Oxford University Press Inc., 2003. 350. Print.

Fortenbaugh, William. Lyco of Troas and Hieronymus of Rhodes. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2004. 277, 284. Print.

Furley, David. Routledge History of Philosophy Volume II: From Aristotle to Augustine. II. New York: Routledge, 1999. 147-148, 150-153, 168. Print.

Grant, Edward. A Source Book in Medieval Science, Harvard University Press, 1974.

Guthrie, W.K.C. History of Greek Philosophy: Aristotle An Encounter. VI. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981. 40-41. Print.

Laërtius, Diogenes. Lives of Eminent Philosophers. Trans. R. D. Hicks. I. London: Harvard University Press, 1925. 445-447, 479, 511, 515. Print.

Liddell, Henry, and Robert Scott. A Greek-English Lexicon. New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1870. Print.

Vogel, C.J. DE. Greek Philosophy: Aristotle, The Early Peripatetic School, And The Early Academy. 2nd. II. The Netherlands: The Netherlands Organization for Pure Research, 1960. 134, 231. 

Zeller, Eduard; Nestle, Wilhelm; Palmer, Leonard (2000), Outlines of the history of Greek philosophy, Routledge


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