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Death and Legacy

When Alexander died in 323 B.C., Aristotle wisely retreated to the pro- Macedonian base of Chalcis. He was reportedly trying to save the Athenians from sinning twice against philosophy (the first sin being the execution of Socrates). He died there in 322 of a disease of the digestive organs. Following Socrates and Plato, Aristotle had a great wealth of knowledge and wisdom to build upon, but he left no successor who could surpass him. His work changed the direction of Western learning and continues to play a very real part in modern studies. His work in the sciences would inevitably become obsolete, particular in natural philosophy. But his contributions to biology would remain unsurpassed for centuries. On the other hand, his work in the humanities and social sciences continues to provide the basis for debate and guide academic learning. Moreover, he essentially created the field of logic and devised the syllogism. The one major subject that he did not seem to have a large impact on was mathematics, on which the Academy generally led the way.

Aristotle's talents showed both depth and variety. As a scientist he was endlessly scrupulous, always grounding his work in observation to a much greater extent than Plato had. Plato's idealism culminated in his Theory of Forms, which Aristotle flatly rejected as empty language, for he preferred to deal with the material world. Beyond the skill of observation, he was also armed with keen insight, able to detect patterns and draw conclusions with discernment.

What drove Aristotle was a desire for wisdom, knowledge for its own sake. He sought what philosophers and scientists are still seeking today: the fundamental principles that govern humanity and its universe. The pursuit has changed in many ways, particularly with specialization. No one today could have the all- encompassing jurisdiction that Aristotle did, but even for his time, his success was remarkable. More than any single figure in Western history, Aristotle was the embodiment of knowledge and learning. His works continue to provoke, inspire, and inform.