Peripatetic school

Peripatetic school

The Peripatetics were members of a school of philosophy in ancient Greece. Their teachings derived from their founder, the Greek philosopher Aristotle and Peripatetic (ιικός) is a name given to his followers.As an adjective, "peripatetic" is often used to mean itinerant, wandering, meandering, or walking about.


The term "Peripatetic" is a transliteration of the ancient Greek word "peripatêtikos", which means "of walking" or "given to walking about". [ [ The entry "peripatêtikos"] in Liddell, Henry and Robert Scott, "A Greek-English Lexicon".] The Peripatetic school was actually known simply as the "Peripatos". [p. 1141, D. Furley, "Peripatetic School", in the "Oxford Classical Dictionary", 3rd ed.; p. 311, J. Lynch, "Lyceum", in D. Zeyl (ed.), "Encyclopedia of Classical Philosophy", Greenwood Press 1997.] Aristotle's school came to be so named because of the "peripatoi" ("colonnades" or "covered walkways") of the Lyceum gymnasium where the members met. [p. 166, M. Nussbaum, "Aristotle", in the "Oxford Classical Dictionary", 3rd ed.; p. 1141, Furley, "Peripatetic School", in the "Oxford Classical Dictionary", 3rd ed.; p. 311, Lynch, "Lyceum".] The legend that the name came from Aristotle's alleged habit of walking while lecturing may have started with Hermippus of Smyrna. [p. 801, D. Furley, "Peripatetic School", in the "Oxford Classical Dictionary", 2nd ed., citing Diogenes Laertius, "Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers" 5.2. Some modern scholars discredit the legend altogether; see p. 229 & p. 229 n. 156, G. Hegel, "Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6: Greek Philosophy", vol. 2, R. Brown (trans.), Oxford University Press 2006.] Unlike Plato, Aristotle 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. [p. 1141, Furley, "Peripatetic School", in the "Oxford Classical Dictionary", 3rd ed.] Aristotle and his colleagues first began to use the Lyceum in this way in about 335 BC., [336 BC: Furley, "Peripatetic School", in the "Oxford Classical Dictionary", 3rd ed.; 335 BC: Lynch, "Lyceum"; 334 BC: T. Irwin, "Aristotle", E. Craig (Ed.), "Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy", Routledge 1998/2003, accessed 17 Sept 2008, from] after Aristotle left Plato's Academy and Athens and then returned to Athens from his travels about a dozen years later. [p. 14, J. Barnes, "Aristotle: A Very Short Introduction", Oxford University Press 2000.] Because of the school's association with the gymnasium, the school also came to be referred to simply as the Lyceum. [Furley, "Peripatetic School", in the "Oxford Classical Dictionary", 3rd ed.] 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. [p. 623, M. Ostwald & J. Lynch, "The Growth of Schools & the Advance of Knowledge", in J. Boardman (ed.), "Cambridge Ancient History", vol. 6, Cambridge University Press 1982, citing Diogenes Laertius 5.39 & 5.52.]

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. [p. 9, Barnes, "Aristotle: A Very Short Introduction".] Aristotle did teach and lecture there, but there was also philosophical and scientific research done in partnership with other members of the school. [pp. 7-9, Barnes, "Aristotle: A Very Short Introduction".] 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, or vice versa. [Irwin, "Aristotle".]

Among the members of the school in Aristotle's time were Theophrastus, Phanias of Eresus, Eudemus of Rhodes, Clytus of Miletus, Aristoxenus, and Dicaearchus. [p. 623, Ostwald & Lynch, "The Growth of Schools & the Advance of Knowledge".] 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. [pp. 623-624, Ostwald & Lynch, "The Growth of Schools & the Advance of Knowledge".] 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 rather as equal partners. [p. 624, Ostwald & Lynch, "The Growth of Schools & the Advance of Knowledge".]

Sometime shortly after Alexander's death in June 323 BC, Aristotle left Athens to avoid persecution by anti-Macedonian factions in Athens due to his ties to Macedonia. [p. 11, Barnes, "Aristotle: A Very Short Introduction".]

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.


The doctrines of the Peripatetic school are the doctrines 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 to a universal. Logic either deals with appearances, and is then called "dialectics"; or of truth, and is then called "analytics".

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".

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.

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 appetite and volition. 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.

The best and highest goal is the happiness which originates from virtuous actions. Aristotle did not, with Plato, regard virtue as knowledge pure and simple, but as founded on nature, habit, and reason. 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.

History of the school

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: [David Ross, (1995), "Aristotle", page 193. Routledge.]

*Aristotle (c. 334-322)
*Theophrastus (322-288)
*Strato of Lampsacus (288-c. 269)
*Lyco of Troas (c. 269-225)
*Aristo of Ceos (225-c. 190)
*Critolaus (c. 190-155)
*Diodorus of Tyre (c. 140)
*Erymneus (c. 110)

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. [Athenaeus, v, 211e] Other important Peripatetic philosophers who lived during these centuries include Eudemus of Rhodes, Aristoxenus, Dicaearchus, and Clearchus of Soli.

In 86 BCE, Athens was sacked by Roman general Lucius Cornelius Sulla, and all the schools of philosophy in Athens were badly disrupted. The Peripatetic school there may have come to an end, although later Neoplatonist writers describe Andronicus of Rhodes, who lived around 50 BCE, as the eleventh scholarch of the school, [Ammonius, "In de Int." 5.24] 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. [Ammonius, "In An. Pr." 31.11] It is quite possible that Andronicus set up a new school where he taught Boethus.

In the Roman era there are few notable Peripatetic philosophers; the most important figure is Alexander of Aphrodisias (c. 200 CE) who commentated 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. 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 "The Book of Healing" of Avicenna.



* Walter Kaufman, "History of Ancient Philosophy" Vol 1-2.

ee also

*Peripatetic axiom

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  • peripatetic — [ˌpɛrɪpə tɛtɪk] adjective 1》 travelling from place to place.     ↘working or based in a succession of places each for a short period.     ↘(of a teacher) working in more than one school or college. 2》 (Peripatetic) Aristotelian. [with ref. to… …   English new terms dictionary

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  • peripatetic — [16] Peripatetic means literally ‘walking round’. It comes via Old French peripatetique and Latin peripatēticus from Greek peripatētikós. This was a derivative of peripatein, a compound verb formed from the prefix perí ‘round’ and patein ‘walk’.… …   Word origins

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