Is Aristotle’s Writings Difficult to Read?

To most scholars and students of philosophy, the name Aristotle elicits a mixture of reverence and awe. This is because this man is known to occupy a prominent position on the list of the greatest philosophers of all time. Moreover, compared to other scholars of his ilk on how influential they are in our world today, Plato is the only one that can compete with him. Aristotle’s thinking and ideologies have determined the course of philosophy from his era to this present century. And till today, his works are studied for leisure, in classes, reading groups, and literary gatherings.
Aristotle was a genius who was knowledgeable about almost everything. His research was not limited to a single field as they spanned diverse areas. His works covered a broad range of disciplines such as ethics, logic, metaphysics, political theory, rhetoric and aesthetics, and philosophy of mind. Not content with doing research in the liberal and social arts, Aristotle also made an impact in the sciences. His detailed records of the anatomy and details of plant and animal showed that he was also adept at the science of biology. Known for being a tireless writer and researcher, Aristotle left as much as 200 writings. Unfortunately, only 31 of those writings are still in existence.
Aristotle had the ability to excel in whatever field he fancied, and this trait has piqued the interest of people in finding out whom or what made him tick. Wherever Aristotle’s theories are mentioned, it has met with resistance, given illumination and even generated debate among scholars.
Sadly, most people never get to become familiar with the works of this great man due to how difficult they seem to be. Are you among those who find the writings of Aristotle beyond your understanding? Would you love to be given clues on how to approach his works? We’ve got all that and more in this article:
Why does Aristotle Writings Look Difficult?
Despite the wealth of information available in his works, most people find it not so easy to read or understand his writings. There are two reasons for this:

  • The range of work: The primary reason for why his writings seem difficult is the sheer volume of work he had. Aristotle worked on various areas which we listed earlier. And as you could see, those fields were not even related to each other. Therefore, since his works are mostly non-continuous, it might be difficult for a reader to follow what he’s trying to say.
  • Time: Another reason responsible for the difficulty in reading his works is time. There has been a huge gap in time between when Aristotle wrote down his ideologies and now. It took approximately two millennia for philosophers from different backgrounds, including secular and religious, to compile and interpret his writings into what we have now. Therefore, it stands to reason that in the course of this work, much of the meanings in his writings would have been eroded, lost or interpreted in a way that has made them controversial.

Organizations and Terminologies in Aristotle’s Writings
Most of Aristotle’s works appear in rough drafts, scribbling, and notes arranged in no particular order, which could be why they might seem puzzling to a first-time reader. However, in spite of how varied his works were, the underlying meaning or import of his work is evident to those who understand how Aristotle organized his writings. Some terms and organizations you should keep in mind when reading any Aristotle work are as follows:

  • Epistemai (science)

This term does not refer to the present meaning of research that is ongoing. Rather it means an aspect of learning that has already been investigated and completed. Epistemai is divided into three parts:

  • Practical sciences: This area studies action and conducts in individuals and societies. The application of it involves acquiring knowledge for self and community. It includes ethics and politics.
  • Theoretical sciences: This part is only concerned with gaining knowledge for its sake. This characteristic puts it in opposition with the practical sciences. It includes metaphysics, mathematics, physics, and natural philosophy.
  • Productive sciences: This area is studied with the intention of inventing objects that are both beautiful and useful. In other words, they are primarily crafts needed in producing artifacts. They include medicine, agriculture, music, theater, ship-building, and even dance. Rhetoric is also the part of productive science that deals with the principles of making speeches that are appropriate for different gatherings and settings including social and political assemblies.
  • Organon (tool)

This term is used to characterize the works of Aristotle that studied logic and the various forms of argumentation. According to Aristotle’s blueprint, logic does not belong to the science category. Instead, it creates the right argumentation principles that are appropriate for every area of inquiry. It highlights the principles that allow inference acceptable to the parties involved. It also reveals patterns of false reasoning that should be avoided by anyone interested in truth. The term Organon applies to its area just as long as you have it in mind that intellectual inquiry requires a wide variety of tools to function effectively.
Primary Divisions in Aristotle’s Writings
It is important that you as a reader understand the fundamental divisions that Aristotle employed in his writings to help you understand and also prevent you from losing interest quickly.

  • Categories
  • Topics
  • Prior Analytics
  • Posterior Analytics
  • De Interpretatione
  • Sophistical Refutations

Theoretical sciences

  • Metaphysics
  • Physics
  • De Caelo
  • Meteorology
  • History of Animals
  • Parts of Animals
  • Movement of Animals
  • Progression of Animals
  • Generation of Animals
  • On the Soul
  • Generation and Corruption
  • De Anima
  • Parva Naturalia

Productive science

  • Rhetoric
  • Poetics

Practical science

  • Nicomachean Ethics
  • Eudemian Ethics
  • Politics
  • Magna Moralia

In this article, we have given some detailed information on what Aristotle’s writings are about and why it can seem confusing to most readers. We also highlighted the type of organization and terminologies Aristotle used in his work, to give you a better understanding of his ideas and philosophy. Lastly, we grouped his writings into categories to aid you in easy identification and seamless transitions while reading. Thus, you can see that it is really no big deal reading the writings of Aristotle, just as long as you have an idea of what you are doing.
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