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Arts, and possibly the Rhetoric to Alexander, in the preface to which the writer actually says to Alexander: “You wrote to me that nobody else should receive this book.” These few early works may have been published, and contrary to the wishes of Alexander, without affecting Aristotle’s later system. But even so, Alexander’s complaint would not justify writers three centuries later in taking Alexander to have referred to mature scientific writings, which were not addressed, and not much known, to him, the conqueror of Asia; although by the times of Andronicus and Aulus Gellius, Aristotle’s scientific writings were all called acroatic, or acroamatic, or sometimes esoteric, in distinction from exoteric—a distinction altogether unknown to Aristotle, and therefore to Alexander. In the absence of any contemporary evidence, we cannot believe that Aristotle in his lifetime published any, much less all, of his scientific books. The conclusion then is that Aristotle on the one hand to some extent published his early dialectical and rhetorical writings, because they were popular, though now they are lost, but on the other hand did not publish any of the extant historical and philosophical works which belong to his mature system, because they were best adapted to his philosophical pupils in the Peripatetic school. The object of the philosopher was not the applause of the public but the truth of things. Now this conclusion has an important bearing on the composition of Aristotle’s writings and on the difficulties which have been found in them. If he had like a modern author brought out each of his extant philosophical works on a definite day of publication, he would not have been able to change them without a second edition, which in the case of serious writings so little in demand would not be worth while. But as he did not publish them, but kept the unpublished manuscripts together in his library and used them in his school, he was able to do with them as he pleased down to the very end of his life, and so gradually to consolidate his many works into one system.

While Aristotle did not publish his philosophical works to the world, he freely communicated them to the Peripatetic school. They are not mere lectures; but he used them for lectures: he allowed his pupils to read them in his library, and probably to take copies from them. He also used diagrams, which are sometimes incorporated in his works, but sometimes are only mentioned, and were no doubt used for purposes of teaching. He also availed himself of his pupils’ co-operation, as we may judge from his description in the Ethics (x. 7) of the speculative philosopher who, though he is self-sufficing, is better having co-operators (συνεργοὺς ἔχων). From an early time he had a tendency to address his writings to his friends. For example, he addressed the Theodectea to his pupil Theodectes; and even in ancient times a doubt arose whether it was a work of the master or the pupil. It was certainly by Aristotle, because it contained the triple grammatical division of words into noun, verb and conjunction, which the history of grammar recognized as his discovery. But we may explain the share of Theodectes by supposing that he had a hand in the work (cf. Dionys. H. De Comp. Verb. 2; Quintilian i. 4. 18). Similarly in astronomy, Aristotle used the assistance of Eudoxus and Callippus. Indeed, throughout his writings he shows a constant wish to avail himself of what is true in the opinions of others, whether they are philosophers, or poets or ordinary people expressing their thoughts in sayings and proverbs. With one of his pupils in particular, Theophrastus, who was born about 370 and therefore was some fifteen years younger than himself, he had a long and intimate connexion; and the work of the pupil bears so close a resemblance to that of his master, that, even when he questions Aristotle’s opinions (as he often does), he seems to be writing in an Aristotelian atmosphere; while he shows the same acuteness in raising difficulties, and has caught something of the same encyclopaedic genius. Another pupil, Eudemus of Rhodes, wrote and thought so like his master as to induce Simplicius to call him the most genuine of Aristotle’s companions (ὁ γνησιώτατος τῶν Άριστοτέλους ἑταίρων). It is probable that this extraordinary resemblance is due to the pupils having actually assisted their master; and this supposition enables us to surmount a difficulty we feel in reading Aristotle’s works. How otherwise, we wonder, could one man writing alone and with so few predecessors compose the first systematic treatises on the psychology of the mental powers and on the logic of reasoning, the first natural history of animals, and the first civil history of one hundred and fifty-eight constitutions, in addition to authoritative treatises on metaphysics, biology, ethics, politics, rhetoric and poetry; in all penetrating to the very essence of the subject, and, what is most wonderful, describing more facts than any other man has ever done on so many subjects?

The Uncompleted Works.—Such then was the method of composition by which Aristotle began in early manhood to write his philosophical works, continued them gradually and simultaneously, combined shorter discourses into longer treatises, compared and connected them, kept them together in his library without publishing them, communicated them to his school, used the co-operation of his best pupils, and finally succeeded in combining many mature writings into one harmonious system. Nevertheless, being a man, he did not quite succeed. He left some unfinished; such as the Categories, in which the main part on categories is not finished, while the last part, afterwards called postpredicaments, is probably not his, the Politics and the Poetics. He left others imperfectly arranged, and some of the most important, the Metaphysics, the Politics and the logical writings. Of the imperfect arrangement of the Metaphysics we have already spoken; and we shall speak of that of his logical writings when we come to the order of his whole system. At present the Politics will supply us with a conspicuous example of the imperfect arrangement of some, as well as of the gradual composition of all, of Aristotle’s extant writings.

The Politics was begun as early as 357, yet not finished in 322. It betrays its origin from separate discourses. First comes a general theory of constitutions, right and wrong (Books Α, Β, Γ); and this part is afterwards referred to as “the first discourses” (ἐν τοῖς πρώτοις λόγοις). Then follows the treatment of oligarchy, democracy, commonwealth and tyranny, and of the various powers of government (Δ), and independent investigation of revolution, and of the means of preserving states (Ε), and a further treatment of democracy and oligarchy, and of the different offices of the state (Ζ), and finally a return to the discussion of the right form of constitution (Η, Θ). But Δ and Ζ are a group interrupted by Ε, and Η and Θ are another group unconnected with the previous group and with Ε, and are also distinguished in style by avoiding hiatus. Further, the group (Δ, Ζ) and the group (Η, Θ) are both unfinished. Finally the group (Δ, Ζ), the book (Ε) and the group (Η, Θ) though unconnected with one another, are all connected though imperfectly with “the first discourses” (Α, Β, Γ). This complicated arrangement may be represented in the following diagram:—

1911 Britannica - Aristotle.png

The simplest explanation is that Aristotle began by writing separate discourses, four at least, on political subjects; that he continued to write them and perhaps tried to combine them: but that in the end he failed and left the Politics unfinished and in disorder. But modern commentators, possessed by the fallacy that Aristotle like a modern author must from the first have comtemplated a whole treatise in a regular order for definite publication, lose themselves in vain disputes as to whether to go by the traditional order of books indicated by their letters and known to have existed as early as the abstract (given in Stobaeus, Ecl. ii. 7) ascribed to Didymus (1st century A.D.), or to put the group Η, Θ, as more connected with Α, Β, Γ, before the group Δ, Ζ, and this group before the book E. It is agreed, says Zeller, that the traditional order contradicts the original plan. But what right have we to say that Aristotle had an original plan?

The incomplete state in which Aristotle left the Metaphysics, the Politics and his logical works, brings us to the hard question how much he did, and how much his Peripatetic followers did