Aristotle’s classification (384 BC – 322 BC) was a Greek philosopher, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. He wrote on many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, politics, government, ethics, biology and zoology. Together with Plato and Socrates (Plato’s teacher), Aristotle is one of the most important founding figures in Western philosophy.
He was the first to create a comprehensive system of Western philosophy, encompassing morality and aesthetics, logic and science, politics and metaphysics. Aristotle’s views on the physical sciences profoundly shaped medieval scholarship, and their influence extended well into the Renaissance, although they were ultimately replaced by Newtonian Physics.
In the biological sciences, some of his observations were confirmed to be accurate only in the nineteenth century. His works contain the earliest known formal study of logic, which was incorporated in the late nineteenth century into modern formal logic. In metaphysics, Aristotelianism had a .profound influence on philosophical and theological thinking in the Islamic and Jewish traditions in the middle Ages, and it continues to influence Christian theology, especially Eastern Orthodox theology, and the scholastic tradition of the Roman Catholic Church.
All aspects of Aristotle’s philosophy continue to be the object of active academic study today. Though Aristotle wrote many elegant treatises and dialogues (Cicero described his literary style as “a river of gold”), it is thought that the majority of his writings are now lost and only about one-third of the original works have survived. Aristotle’s classification of living things contains some elements which still existed in the nineteenth century.
What the modern zoologist would call vertebrates and invertebrates, Aristotle called ‘animals with blood’ and ‘animals without blood’ (he was not to know that complex invertebrates do make use of haemoglobin, but of a different kind from vertebrates). Animals with blood were divided into live- bearing (humans and mammals), and egg-bearing (birds and fish). Invertebrates (‘animals without blood’) are insects, crustacea (divided into non-shelled – cephalopods – and shelled) and testacea (mollusca).
In some respects, this incomplete classification is better than that of Linnaeus, who crowded the invertebrate together into two groups, Insect a and Vermes (worms). For Charles Singer, “Nothing is more remarkable than [Aristotle’s] efforts to [exhibit] the relationships of living things as a scala nature Aristotle’s History of Animals classified organisms in relation to a hierarchical “Ladder of Life” (scala naturae), placing them according to complexity of structure and function so that higher organisms showed greater vitality and ability to move.
Aristotle believed that intellectual purposes, i.e., formal causes, guided all natural processes. Such a teleological view gave Aristotle cause to justify his observed data as an expression of formal design. Noting that “no animal has, at the same time, both tusks and horns,” and “a single-hooved animal with two horns I have never seen,” Aristotle suggested that Nature, giving no animal both horns and tusks, was staving off vanity, and giving creatures faculties only to such a degree as they are necessary.
Noting that ruminants -had a multiple stomachs and weak teeth, he supposed the first was to compensate for the latter, with Nature trying to preserve a type of balance. In a similar fashion, Aristotle believed that creatures were arranged in a graded scale of perfection rising from plants on up to man, the scala naturae or Great Chain of Being.
His system had eleven grades, arranged according “to the degree to which they are infected with potentiality”, expressed in their form at birth. The highest animals laid warm and wet creatures alive, the lowest bore theirs cold, dry, and in thick eggs. Aristotle also held that the level of a creature’s perfection was reflected in its form, but not preordained by that form.
Ideas like this, and his ideas about souls, are not regarded as science at all in modern times. He placed emphasis on the types of soul an organism possessed, asserting that plants possess a vegetative soul, responsible for reproduction and growth, animals a vegetative and a sensitive soul, responsible for mobility and sensation, and humans a vegetative, a sensitive, and a rational soul, capable of thought and reflection. Aristotle, in contrast to earlier philosophers, but in accordance with the Egyptians, placed the rational soul in the heart, rather than the brain.
Notable is Aristotle’s division of sensation and thought, which generally went against previous philosophers, with the exception of Alcmaeon.
Extension of Aristotle’s Classification:
In sixteenth century, Bodin pushed Aristotle’s classification further. Although he was still primarily interested in identifying the best constitution, he insisted that the type of government depended on economic and geographical as well as political factors. He also emphasized the legal sovereignty, a concept which became the hallmark of political science. Another French philosopher Montesquieu in the eighteenth century produced one of the most favoured schemes of classifying governments: Republican, Monarchical and Despotic.
His classification was firmly in the classical mould since the type of government depended on the number of people holding power. In Montesquieu there was an important recognition of the relationship between the type of government and the type of society. He suggested that education, morals, patriotism, and the level of equality – all help to determine the type of government and the most important variant is the extent of the state’s territory.
Rousseau, a few years later, classified the forms of government into three – Autocratic, Aristocratic and Democratic – but lie held that there was only one form of state, namely, Republic. Kant saw three kinds of states corresponding to Rousseau’s three forms of government but only two forms of government – Republican and Despotic. In our own time, a modern German writer, Bluntschli attempted to extend.
Aristotle’s tripe division by adding to it a fourth type of state which he called Democracy or Theocracy in which the supreme ruler is conceived to be God or some superhuman spirit or idea. However, such classifications carry us no farther in our Endeavour to classify states according to real and existing likeness and differences. For this we must seek our answers somewhere else.