Review: On the Parts of Animals

On the Parts of Animals
On the Parts of Animals by Aristotle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Aristotle starts this treatise with the following words:

Every systematic science, the humblest and the noblest alike, seems to admit of two distinct kinds of proficiency; one of which may be properly called scientific knowledge of the subject, while the other is a kind of educational acquaintance with it. For an educated man should be able to form a fair off-hand judgement as to the goodness or badness of the method used by a professor in his exposition. To be educated is in fact to be able to do this; and even the man of universal education we deem to be such in virtue of his having this ability.

This idea corresponds well to Confucius’s idea of an educated gentleman. It makes me think of the magnificent minds of the American Revolution, IE: Franklin, Adams, and Jefferson. It also embodies the spirit of a true liberal arts or classical education.

Aristotle wasn’t just giving lip service to this idea of an educated man, he was this type of man. I’ll not discuss his many other works here. Instead, I wish to hi-light a few of the ideas that I took from reading this particular work in which Aristotle tackled the weighty task of classifying animal life.

I borrow a summary (found at here) of Aristotle’s system of classification:

Aristotle’s classification of animals grouped together animals with similar characters into genera (used in a much broader sense than present-day biologists use the term) and then distinguished the species within the genera. He divided the animals into two types: those with blood, and those without blood (or at least without red blood). These distinctions correspond closely to our distinction between vertebrates and invertebrates. The blooded animals, corresponding to the vertebrates, included five genera: viviparous quadrupeds (mammals), birds, oviparous quadrupeds (reptiles and amphibians), fishes, and whales (which Aristotle did not realize were mammals). The bloodless animals were classified as cephalopods (such as the octopus); crustaceans; insects (which included the spiders, scorpions, and centipedes, in addition to what we now define as insects); shelled animals (such as most molluscs and echinoderms); and “zoophytes,” or “plant-animals,” which supposedly resembled plants in their form — such as most cnidarians.

I noticed the following rules in Aristotle’s method:

-Body structure, parts, organ location and function, an much more is determined by “nobility.” Lesser animals are given lesser faculties and tools. Upper parts are superior to lower, right to left, and front to back. One example is the heart – the most honorable organ of them all; therefore, it is place in a position of honor. This position is slightly higher and anterior to the center of the body.

-Nature makes no things superfluous or in vain.

-Nature gives tools to those best suited to use them.

-Nature makes organs for the function, not function for the organs.

-Nature adds lesser parts to greater beings rather than greater parts to lesser beings.

-In Book 4, part 10, we read, “For of all animals man alone stands erect, in accordance with his godlike nature and essence. For it is the function of the god-like to think and to be wise;” Man is the most noble of creatures, because he is created in God’s image. I think part of this is that man has a divine purpose.

My list is not exhaustive. I feel it inadequately explains things that I inadequately identified, but it is my starting point to wrap my head around the great mind of Aristotle. I highly recommend the link I posted earlier. It reviews more than just this work and sheds additional light on Aristotle’s methods and philosophy.

View all my reviews

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About Jonathan

I am a man whose life has been profoundly changed by a beautiful woman, 5 amazing kids, the gospel of Jesus Christ, and Leadership Education.
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