Evaluating Greek Myths And Aristotle Philosophy Essay

This paper will first look at different types of myths and evaluating how they were explained during the ancient Greek era. This paper will then review the life of the ancient greek philosopher Aristotle. The life of Aristotle, his teachers, influences and teachings will be taken into consideration regarding his effect on scientific issues. Lastly, this paper will explain how Aristotle shifted the attention from mythological explanation of evens or object to a more scientific approach. Ultimately, this paper will discuss background information on the formation of myth and Aristotle while comparing how both have effect the philosophy of science over the centuries.

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Scientific discoveries and improvements have progressed over the last 2000 years. Science encourages new discoveries and increases our understanding of how the physical world operates. Before we were aware of most scientific explanations, humanity could only rely on mythology passed down from generations. These myths tried to explain why nature existed or events happen in the world. This thesis paper will evaluate religious and pagan myths and their influence on the search for true scientific knowledge. This paper will also evaluate the thoughts and ideas of Aristotle, who sought out the truth in science and through investigations, came to his conclusions. Lastly, this paper will examine how ancient scientific/philosophical questioning has affected the modern beliefs of science today and science to come.

Purpose of Research:

The purpose of this research is to inform the reader of the Greek origins in science. This paper will show how science evolved from myths into formulas and theories that changed the way humans viewed nature and things around them forever. The paper will look at Aristotle as one of the great founders and examine his contributions to science. This research will investigate the transformation of beliefs and myths to the modern ideas of science today by showing the process of scientific evolution. This research will also try to predict future scientific paths but evaluating past scientific processes.

The Research Question:

How has mythology affected the search for scientific truths? What were Aristotle contributions to science? Why where Aristotle’s contributions important to science as a whole? Have modern scientist fully answered the scientific questions that they were looking for in the past or will there always be some questions that will remain unanswered?

Significance of the Study:

Most Greek thinkers tried to answer the question, “what is the world really like?”

Because of their quest for knowledge, their discoveries have affected math and science as we know it today. It all started with questions regarding histories told in myth. Those in search for true knowledge began to seek solid answers to their questions. These men called themselves philosophers. For example, Democritus is most known for the atomic theory. He also studied numbers, zoology and astronomy. He rejected the myth of the sun God Helios and suggested that the sun and other stars had planets of their own. Democritus also believed that there might be life on other planets. According to Aristotle the myth is a structure or skeleton. As stated in Poetic, the flesh over the skeleton is the motivation and the result of an individual’s intelligence. Over all, Aristotle view is that mythology was the beginning of acquiring the true knowledge of how nature and the world function. This research will investigate the developmental process of science and explore how the ancient thoughts of past scientists like Aristotle have affected modern science. This paper is significant because it will attempt to uncover the questions most individuals wonder, will the knowledge of man ever be satisfied? Will the mythologies of the past continue to influence the thought process and investigations by scientists of today?



In ancient Greece, a man is at sea fishing for his family. There is overcast and a storm begins to form. For ancient Greeks, the cause and effect of this type of event always has a story connected with it. Ancient Greeks did not distinguish between the concepts of nature and experience. Any experience in nature has been seen as one event that is special and momentous. This experience can consist of a man, in a boat, on the sea, experiencing a thunder-storm or a whole town experiencing an eclipse. These phenomena’s create emotional connections with each individual’s experiences. Each Greek believed these experiences were living, breathing and connected to a higher power. Greek’s believed that these experiences could not occur on their own. There had to be someone or something behind each experience. Steffensen states that individuals of Greece did not believe in things happening without a cause (1966). The living powers that brought the experiences were called gods.

The ancient Greeks told stories of their experiences and made up myths to explain the logic behind the occurrences. Rouse gives us the story of how myths began. He states that the myths of the Earth began with Chaos, until the world slowly took form. Chaos gave birth to his children Eros (Love), Erebos, Night, Day, Heaven and Mother Earth. Heaven and Earth gave birth to the Titians; six male gods and six female goddesses. The youngest Titian, Cronos, was the most horrible descendant of them all. Cronos overthrew his father and became the new King. He then put his siblings in a dark place below the Earth. Cronos saved his sister Rheia and made her his wife. Cronos and Rheia had six children together. Fearful of being overthrown as he did his father, Cronos ate the first five children Rheia gave birth to. Rheia hid the last child, Zeus, in a cave and fed Cronos a stone in his place. Once Zeus matured and was aware of his father’s actions he wanted revenge. Zeus and his mother created a potion that made Cronos sick. The potion made Cronos vomit out his previously eaten children, starting with the pseudo-child (stone) Rheia gave him. Surprisingly, Cronos ejected full grown, mature children from his stomach. The children were Hestia (both the oldest and youngest of Cronos), Demeter, Hera, Hades and Poseidon. Once free from the bowels of Cronos, they joined Zeus in this quest to overthrow Cronos. They waged war against Cronos and defeated him, sending him in the dark place below the Earth with the rest of his siblings. Zeus and his siblings then set up their kingdom on Mt. Olympus (Rouse, 1957). At this very place is where the religions of the gods began.

The gods became the individuals behind each experience, and quickly became a part of most Greek households. Alioto states that each story of the gods included mythical symbols, descriptions of objects and emotional feelings that humans were then allowed to experience in nature (1993). The emotions felt during these experiences allowed the Greeks to categorize their gods in connection to different emotions or events. They gave each god a specific characteristic or trait and each god had a story to describe why they where categorized in this fashion. For example, Rouse states while Cronos was trying over throw his father (Heaven), he cut his father genitals off and threw them into the sea. From the foam of the sea came Aphrodite and she came to land riding in a huge seashell. The goddess Aphrodite was called the goddess of sex, love and beauty because she sprung from Heaven’s genital (1957). Because of this type of birth, Aphrodite was so beautiful that Zeus made her marry just so the male gods would not fight over her. She was very unhappy in her marriage and was later unfaithful to her husband with Ares (Rouse, 1957).

Another example is Ares (son of Zeus and Hera), the god of war. Rouse states that Ares learned his bloodthirsty conduct from living among the barbarous and warlike Thracian people (1957). Hades (Brother of Zeus) was given a kingdom in the underworld and was known as the god of the dead. Athena was known as goddess of wisdom and courage because she was born from the head of Zeus. Some gods had multiple characteristic, such as Apollo who was the god for prophecy, medicine, and art. Other gods had one specific purpose such as Helios the sun god whose only duty was to drive the sun across the earth and back (Rouse, 1957). If one felt love they were touched by the goddess Aphrodite; when individuals were in contention with one another it was said Eris the goddess of strife was in their midst, when there were many wars it was said that Ares was present.

When Greek children were haunted with many things they did not understand these stories would be able to explain it all. Steffensen states, “The sun had been known to disappear from the sky at midday” (1966). This event would be known to the modern individual as an eclipse. When children questioned this eclipse they were told that Helios had taken a break, not fully understanding the nature of an eclipse (Steffensen, 1966). If a child was to ask why the rooster crows they were told the story of Ares and his infidelity with Aphrodite. Ares put Alectryon by his door to warn them of Helios’ arrival because Helios was known to tell Aphrodite’s husband of her adultery. Alectryon was caught my Ares sleeping. Ares in rage turned Alectryon into a rooster who was forced to announce the arrival of the sun each morning (Rouse, 1957). While men were at sea, horrible storms would arise creating harsh winds, loud noises and bolts of light all while smashing their ships. The men would use the stories they read and heard to explain the storm saying that Zeus was angry and the storm outwardly showed his anger. This would make sense to the person who did not understand the event since Zeus was called the god of power and wisdom, the storm god; cloud and lightening gatherer (Alioto, 1993). He received his thunder and lightning as a gift from releasing ancient gods that were imprisoned. Zeus’ brother, Poseidon was a god that loved to create horses. Later in myth histories he would hold famous horse-races. Greeks believed that the seas were filled with Poseidon’s horses. The horses could be observed as they leaped out of the water during a storm displaying their white manes (Rouse, 1957). Everything, every event, every emotion became personified; love, wisdom, the sky, the sea, the earth, etc. Alioto states that people believed there were gods in control of almost everything (1993). Most of those gods sat at Mount Olympus.

Besides the Olympians, the Greeks worshipped various gods of the countryside; Pan an ancient god who was half man half goat and in charge of pastures and mountains. There were Nymphs who where spirits of the river, and Dryads who were spirits that dwelt in trees. In addition, there were dark powers of the underworld called Furies who were know to following those who killed their relatives (Rouse, 1957). Today, God is viewed as a being that is all knowing, powerful and present everywhere. The ancient gods were not viewed as such. They were much like humans in the reality that they were not all knowing, they could become wounded if severely fought against and their immorality relied upon the constant feeding of nectar and ambrosia (Rouse, 1957). They were very emotional, like humans, and reacted as such.

One has to wonder how these stories of the gods were learned and transmitted throughout all of Greece. How did someone persuade a whole nation to actually believe these stories? In every Greek island there was a minstrel. Steffensen states that a minstrel was a man carrying a harp suspended around his back and a head saturated with these stories (1966). He traveled from island to island knocking on the gates of every palace or great house offering entertainment for the night. He was never refused. His entertainment consisted of stories of the past that should not be forgotten. These stories were a combination of half remembered history and made up stories of the gods (Steffensen, 1966). These stories were soon known as myths. The Greek root of the word myth is muthos. This word means “by word of mouth” or “a tale passed down from generation to generation (Christensen, 2008)”. Myths became widely known throughout Greece. They had a strange way of explaining events that were not understandable. These myths, that were told from generation to generation, were soon available in written form. A famous minstrel Homer was a Greek from Asia Minor. Steffensen states that around 750 B.C. Homer began to write down his stories (1966). These stories became the bible for the Greek world (Steffensen, 1966). These stories would later be used as teaching tools.

Cities thrived on the belief of the gods. Rouse states Greeks had temples built to the gods. Some cities honored one god over the others, calling them their chief god (1957). Lots of cities made revenue from items sold in the temples of the gods. These items consist of statues, offering and incense. When children went to school, the mythical stories were like their textbooks which taught them many characteristics and behaviors of Greek’s. These myths became more than stories, they became a part of every Greek’s life. The gods became their guides and their religion. Steffensen states as Greek children grew older the mythical stories provided guidance during problems (1966). These myths became a part of Greek lifestyle and no one, at that time, questioned whether these ideas were accurate or not. Their myths became their history, geography and their science. Christensen states, “Myth is history turned into a powerful archetypal dream about the ego tearing itself from a mother and facing a series of terrible ordeals to prove its courage, but also to devour the not-I that will expand its powers and command of the new world (2008). Overall, Christensen is saying that these myths are made to be believable, with small amounts of truth and fiction, and ultimately they have power over the minds of the believer because no one questions them.



As time progressed in the Greek society, faith in the gods was not the highest priority. Men began to question the myths that had once guided their lives. They began to ask questions regarding nature and as a result began to search for their own answers. These men became the first philosophers or in Greek, philosophia, which means lover of wisdom (Steffensen, 1966). Philosophers asked questions such as, “What is the universe?” or “Why does man exist?”. Steffensen states men who were scholars on these matters were called “Sophist” or wise men. Amongst the Sophist was Socrates; originally a stone carver by trade. Socrates was declared to be the wisest man in the world by the Oracle Delphi and went on to teach some of the most important men in philosophical history. He believed his purpose in life was to seek after knowledge. He soon had young men following him that hungered for those same truths (Steffensen, 1966). Since Socrates was so smart and impressionable, he was bound to have fame for his works and the desire for discipleship from other philosophers in training.

Eventually Greeks began hating Socrates for making other philosophers look ignorant. Steffensen states he was charged to death for “failing to believe in the gods of the city and corrupting the youth of Athens” (1966). One could assume that Socrates was “belief tampering”. Socrates on the other hand believed he took philosophy to a level that one had seen before. He had a strong influence on a lot of young men. Socrates had never written down any of his teachings. He was forced to kill himself for poisoning the youth and had no physical evidence of his ideas or discussions. A student of his, named Plato, wrote down Socrates teachings after his death so his teachings would not be forgotten. Later on, Plato began adding his own philosophy to Socrates’ teachings. Like his teacher, Plato also believed in the gods. Plato believed that religion and science went hand in hand. Plato once said, “The world is god’s epistle written to mankindaˆ¦it was written in mathematical letter” (Hakim, 2004). This quote explains the depth in which Plato saw the connection between god and nature. He felt that all the information about nature could be explored and explained though some sort of scientific explanation. He felt that this was a blessing from the gods. Plato was mainly influenced by Pythagoras’ math. Pythagoras was a pre-Socrates philosopher and his math ideas focused on perfect shapes and harmony. ?? This intrigued Plato because he was very interested in ideal forms (Hakim, 2004). Ideal forms??? An example of Plato’s passion is a excerpt from Sophist, Plato states, “The metaphysical foundation for relativizing the not-being and for forming from it an idea of diversity that pervades the being and constitutes the logical bedrock for reflections about that what is” (Undusk, 2009). Over all, Plato is speaking of taking things that do not have a form and creating a logical explanation for them. Following in his teacher’s footsteps, Plato opened up his own university called the Academy (Steffensen, 1966).

In 367 B. C Aristotle, at the age of seventeen, became a student at Plato’s Academy. Schmidt explains that Plato and Aristotle tried to bring both hands on and abstract observations to a philosophy that was only full of definition and conclusions (2009, p.86).Although Aristotle was a student of Plato, he thought differently than Plato. Though most philosophers strayed away from the normal mythical explanations, they still had faith in the gods. Alioto states, “Plato made belief in gods a duty to the state” (1993). When Aristotle arrived on the philosophical scene the distinction from religion and science was almost nonexistent (Alioto, 1993). Steffensen states, “Plato wanted to see the universe all at once. Aristotle wanted to know the secrets of each of its parts (1966). Their approach to philosophy was not the same. Hakim states that “Plato also encouraged his students to study mathematics and the stars” (2004).

Aristotle also studied the works of both Thales and Pythagoras (Hakim, 2004). This helped Aristotle form his own ideas regarding philosophy, mathematics and astrology, but it was not his basis of philosophy as it was Plato’s.

Aristotle helped further the goal of philosophy by crating the ability to keep records of one’s teachings. As stated earlier, Socrates did not keep a written dialog on any of his discussions. Plato did not want his dialogues that were discussed to be written on paper. He felt that philosophical discussions were meant to be discussed in person with a live audience. Aristotle did not agree with this notion. He felt he was in a society that was moving towards depending on books. He had to desire to preserve his work in writing (Vassallo, 2004). After Plato died Aristotle opened his own school called the Lyceum.

Aristotle seemed have more of a systematic approach in teaching than Plato (Vasallo, 377). Aristotle tried to identify, evaluate, select and combine all research evidence relevant to the issues in questions. As he grew in knowledge and maturity, Aristotle began to doubt the teaching of his late teacher Plato concerning forms (Alioto, 1993). He did not deny the fact that our senses do not give us knowledge, but unlike Plato, Aristotle believed that science began with things in the earth and not with forms that could not be seen. For example, if a person burned their hand on fire, the senses would tell the individual that the fire is hot and burns but does not explain why. The “form” does not burn, it is the fire, and the fire does not explain why the individual has the burning feeling (Alioto, 1993).

In this instance the cause and experience did not give an explanation for its results. Aristotle came up with a doctrine of causation that is used to receive knowledge on a relevant cause of issues wanting to be evaluated. This doctrine consists of four causes: formal, efficient, material and final. The formal cause is the essence of a thing, the efficient cause is the matter or substrate of the thing, the material cause is the source of change and lastly, the final cause is the purpose of the change, the end to the process (Aristotle, 2001; Sunday, 2001). When trying to understand something in nature, going through these four causes will allow the evaluator to examine an object in depth. The four cause examines what material the object consist of, the form of the object, how the object is brought about and the end result or aim of the object. Aristotle’s introduction of the efficient cause, which evaluates how something is brought about, allowed science to differentiate itself from philosophy (Sunday, 2001). The efficient cause answers the question, how does this happen? This is a question that most Greeks tried to answer. Instead of focusing on the god’s to provide an answer to this question, Aristotle focused on one God.

Aristotle believed that there was a God in the form of an unmovable mover and this God was responsible for the realities in the world (Tighe, 2008). Aristotle believed that God was ultimately the final cause of everything (Sunday, 2001). God was the ultimate aim or purpose. This God, however, was not the god’s most ancient Greeks understood, but instead, according to Aristotle’s Metaphysics, God is one being that is present, that is structurally necessary for the earth to have movement and forward progression in reality. Overall, God must exist in order for reality to exist because specific issues in reality such as, generation or corruption cannot create themselves (Tighe, 2008). Aristotle’s view of God was distinctive different from the Greek idea of gods. To Aristotle, God is knowledge who points towards science and not a divine power. In Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Aritotle explains that God is “Intelligence” who is always thinking (lindsay, ). God points one to an ultimate purpose of an object or event that men will understand more about in the future. God is cold and distant, always thinking and immovable.

Yaffe states that “myth often enters where science fails” (72). As Aristotle began to teach more about causes and shared his belief about the unmovable mover science grew and myths diminished. Aristotle wanted his listeners to get away from the myths handed down and embrace that the divine God surrounds the whole of nature, a divine pure intelligence displayed through nature. Aristotle believed that God was the final cause of nature (Yaffe, 70-71). The Greeks did not plan to question the mythical science but they began to have questions that myths could not answer.

The bridge to Aristotle’s God was needed for ancient Greeks since his God was a pure actuality whose powers mimicked its nature from the human mind (Undusk, 2009). Myths attempted to explain the unexplainable but no one could ever prove them. Myths allowed a person’s mind to be expanded and had individuals thinking about the world around them. Science, on the other hand, gives individuals proof. Science begins with a question and then one searches for the answer (Hakim, 2004). Aristotle helped establish proof with his hands on attempt to examine things that existed around him. Aristotle dissected lots of specimens and then dictated everything he saw (Hakim, 2004). He gave his students the first ideas concerning biology. He sent his students to look at plants spiders and everything that they could get their hands on (Steffensen, 1966). Aristotle wanted to break nature into categories that would help individuals better understand there essence. Tighe states, “Aristotle can be read as a systematic philosopher (2008). Aristotle was first known for his classification system and his skill in asking questions. His philosophical though process began with asking questions that were designed to be answered according to person’s reflections of their everyday experiences. This reflections result in refining a person’s common sense (Adler, 1978). Aristotle believed that everything had a nature that was distinguished from all other things and this distinct difference allowed the ease of classification. Aristotle was a great logician. Aristotle taught his students about logic, laws for poetry, and laws for rhetoric. He founded the science of logic. Aristotle is connected with the law of contradiction and the theory of syllogism which are both laws of logic. The law of contradiction required a person to refrain from contradictory statements or thoughts (Adler, 1978). This same law can be used in science. Scientific generalizations are put to test buy using the law of contradiction. A claim that something is true can only be sustained if there is nothing to falsify the claim. During a more complex process of reasoning, two pairs of words are effective in immediate deduction. These two pairs of words are “if and then” and “since and therefore”. These words allow an individual to dissect a logically correct or incorrect statement. (Adler, 1978). The “if- then” statement is one that Aristotle contributed towards the scientific method. In the scientific method most people recognize the “if, then” statement as the hypothesis. The definition of hypothesis is an unanswered question. Usually the hypothesis is stated in regards to finding an answer to a question. The goal is to search for the answer to the question using mathematical and experimental proofs. If the hypothesis succeeds the test is becomes a theory (Hakim, 2004). Aristotle has made lots of contributions to science, some correct and some incorrect, but the “if, then” and its contribution to the scientific method was a huge accomplishment.



As the centuries have passed Aristotle has still touched the world of science. Natural philosophy was not considered science to most historians. Most of the sciences in the Middle Ages comprised of math, astronomy, optics, statics, natural science and physics. These sciences allowed scientist like Copernicus, Galileo and Kelper to transform what they learned from Aristotle into early modern science (2004, pg. 395). The use of adding imagination to Aristotle’s theories during the Middle Ages largely helped with the development of modern science. Imagination is creative power that allows one to transform ideas, or in Aristotle’s case, common theories into thing more useful and meaningful. Medieval natural philosophy literature was mostly based on Aristotle’s books, such as Physics, On the Heavens, On Generation and Corruption, Meteorology and On the Soul (Grant, 2004, p.396). In essence, Aristotle’s words directed philosopher’s way of thinking in regards to natural philosophy. Medieval scholars analyzed Aristotle’s books by discussing points in the books and asking questions to one another. Ultimately, the scholars began to expound on Aristotle’s rationalizations (Grant, 2004, p.397). Aristotle’s theories on natural philosophy formed Gallieo and Newton’s physics, Linnaeus’ biology, and Lavoisier’s chemistry (Grant, 2004, pg. 396).

Though Aristotle did not directly help with new discoveries in early and modern science once can say he helped greatly indirectly though the guidance of his books and theories. Aristotle indirectly helped discover planets outside of Earth. Aristotle did not believe that other planets existed outside of his own world (Grant, 2004, p.398). This was probably a common theory in his day but he was one of the first to expound on it through his writings. Aristotle’s On the Heavens explains his opinions concerning other planets, he states, “It is therefore evident that there is also no place void or time outside the heaven” (Aristotle, 2001). This quote explains that Aristotle believed there was nothing outside of the sky that could be seen other than the sky. He did not even believe there was space, or voidness. It seems he believed the sky just went on infinitely. Aristotle also based his theory of “no other planets” by refuting the mathematical idea of infinite numbers as the explanation of everything in the world being infinite. Aristotle states in Physics that people only believe there are things outside of the world because math has infinite numbers, so there must be infinite things that exist (Aristotle, 2001). He was ultimately telling others to ignore this mathematical rule and stated that math does not relate to the issues of space outside of Earth.

In regards to other planets, many philosophers diverted from the mathematical explanation, passed the scientific explanation and went directly to the religious explanation. Philosophers felt if God wanted to create more than one world He had the capability of doing so (Grant, 2004, p.401). This probably would have increased the conversations about the possibility of other worlds outside of Earth. Aristotle believed that only one world could exist because only one center of the world is possible. Aristotle believed that earth, water, air and fire had natural placement if they were not obstructed. If there was nothing placement just like it in another world the worlds would want to rest together creating a pull of both worlds together (Grant, 2004, p.405). Aristotle assumed since there was no collision with another world or a pull or shift in his own that no other worlds existed. Nicole Oresme, philosopher in the Middle Ages, argued that Aristotle’s argument was not logical by redefining the “doctrine of natural place” (Grant, 2004, p.407). Oresme explained that Aristotle’s argument for the inexistence of other worlds was inconclusive and believed that no such consequence would follow (Grant, 2004, p.405). Aristotle influenced many philosophers to seek out the truth concerning other planets and many of them obliged by trying to redefine the theory of natural placement.

Aristotle’s most talked about influence on physic was the concept of change and local motion. One of his popular theories explained how a heavy body could be forced out of its natural placement only if the air behind it pushed and the air in front pulled; once the vacuum effect has disappeared the body should go to its natural placement (Grant, 2004, p.408). Many Greeks and Arabic scholars did not agree with this theory. Is a natural vacuum even possible? This discussion allowed many new discoveries for physics. This discussion triggered something in the minds of most scientist and philosophers. If a vacuum was possible, why not try to replicate one in real life instead of in theory? The beginning of modern science occurred once men began to stop talking about their thoughts and theories and began experimenting to see if their theories were correct.

Grant states that by testing the vacuum theory with weights of different sizes, Galileo was able to arrive at the understanding of velocity and speed (Grant, 2004, p.408). Natural philosophy was rejected by many scholars in the 17th century because they realized reason alone was inadequate to the task of describing the world’s operations. Grant states that reason had to be “supplemented by observation, experiments, and application of mathematics” (2004, p.421). The questioning and rejection of a lot of Aristotle’s works started the idea of having proof to support scientific theories. The study of nature turned from observation to relying more on experiments and machines to guide discoveries. Freudenthal states that machines are now seen as the law of nature; “Studying nature now meant studying machines…studying mechanics thus became identical to natural philosophy” (2005, p.173). The change in observation of nature is sure to be a disappointment to anyone Aristotelian, but seemed to be needed for the development and progression of science.

Aristotle improved more than one theory in the area of biology and physics. Schmidt s