History Weblecture for Unit 11
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We moved forward during the last two units in order to finish our discussion of basic concepts of matter and force, studying first the advances leading from Aristotle to Ptolemy's astronomy and the Almagest, written around 160 ce, and then summarizing the mechanical sciences developed by the Hellenist scientists and the Romans during the same period. Now we go back to Aristotle and look at the other major area of early Greek science: the study of biology and medicine. For the next three units, we will concentrate on Aristotle and Theophrastus' theories of life. Our science units will look at modern classification systems and the basic characteristics of vertebrate, invertebrate and plant organisms as we view them today.
This time, we'll take a look at the experiences which helped shape Aristotle's world view, and in particular, his ideas about scientific methods such as classifcation and observation.
In order to accomplish this concentrated study, we need to pay much closer attention to the life of the scientists and to their actual works. To learn about Aristotle's life, read The Ten Minute Aristotle by Prof. Cohen at the University of Washington.
Aristotle had a lifelong interest in biology, which is evident from his many works that deal with animals. The classification of living things as a scientific discipline began with his investigations. Aristotle discusses the structure of over 540 different species, some in such detail that it is clear that Aristotle either performed or observed dissections. He also describes living habits which he could only have learned by direct observation.
Read about Aristotle's approach to the classification of animals parts 1-5 of his On the History of Animals, available at the MIT archives. [You may read as much as you like, but I'm only assigning parts 1-5 of book 1]. If you have your own English translation available, you can use that if you prefer.
As you read Aristotle's work on Animals, remember that this work was not polished and complete, ready for publication, but a set of notes that Aristotle used for his lectures. So they contain only the major points.
Consider these questions:
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