Aristotle's strong scientific approach—which may have been rooted in the fact that his father was a physician—is what most sets him apart from Plato and other influential philosophers who preceded him. This can be seen in the fact that when he set up his school in Athens in 335 BCE, the Lyceum, it focused heavily on the study of biology and natural history. Another indication of Aristotle’s background and his scientific focus is how he approaches the subjects that are less based on objective facts than subjects like biology and natural history.

In Poetics, Aristotle attempts to establish a guideline for tragedy, and to do so he didn't simply theorize on his own predilections. Rather, he studied a significant number of Greek plays and focused on their most successful examples. Only after gathering these observations did Aristotle begin to generalize, as he would have done in any other science. The result is a very specific and concrete definition of tragedy. For example, he divides it into six elements–plot, character, diction, thought, song, and spectacle–and proceeds to break them down and analyze them systematically.

The objective manner in which Aristotle attempts to analyze a subject like creative writing might seem surprising to us. A topic that is creative in nature cannot be fully understood within such confining bounds. In what way, then, is Aristotle's work still relevant to literary criticism? We certainly don't use Aristotle's Poetics as a guidebook, and it is unlikely that he ever intended it as such. Rather, this kind of critical work provides some structure and helps make clearer distinctions within the genre of tragedy. In Aristotle's system, we find in his guiding principles rather than absolute dictates.