How did Aristotle influence the development of the West?

What a great question.

I might be overstating this…since I am a big fan of Aristotle…but I would say that Aristotle’s impact on Western civilization is probably only equalled by one other historical figure: Jesus of Nazareth. Although others - such as Aristotle’s teacher Plato - laid much of the groundwork for what became the philosophical tradition in the West, it was Aristotle who, more than any single influence, framed the trajectory of empirical observation, civic obligation and ethics, metaphysics, and analytic/reflective analysis that would lead to formal Christian theology, the scientific revolution, and the Enlightenment. Now I realize this may seem like an outrageous statement on the surface, but we can actually follow Aristotle’s profound influence on nearly all subsequent developments over the centuries - across innumerable hard and soft disciplines and specialities, including:

Civics and Democracy

Virtue Ethics


Christian Theology






Keep in mind, however, that I am not saying Aristotle’s conclusions were always correct or upheld by later thinkers and research. In fact you could say that Aristotle became important precisely because so many historically influential writers and researchers attempted to refute his assertions (sometimes succeeding, and sometimes not). In other words, Aristotle’s positions show up in nearly all of the later dialectics within areas of study to which he contributed (or invented)…all the way up into modern times. It’s incredible, really. As just one less-well-known example, most people in the West are familiar with Freud’s assertions about the pleasure principle, libido, id and ego in human motivation and ideation, and consider him to be the father of modern psychology. Except…well…it was Aristotle who first elaborated on those very same observations, though he named them differently. We could say with some confidence that Aristotle is the patron saint of the intellectual academic tradition itself. Aristotle has been so influential, in fact, that some less scrupulous authors have used his name to bolster their own positions. One of the more notable figures who did this was Ayn Rand, who very clearly misunderstood Aristotle on a fundamental level, but nevertheless claimed to derive many of her ideas from his writing.

So a modern citizen of the West can effectively thank Aristotle for living in democracies with institutions of higher learning, technologies and medicine that resulted from empirical science, a strong cultural tradition of analytical analysis and problem-solving, a much greater awareness of the human condition and the workings of the psyche, and the lingering (albeit waning and/or commodified) legacy of neoplatonic mysticism. What we can’t thank Aristotle for is capitalism, which we know from his writings he would have found repulsive, unethical and debasing.

Lastly, we should also not forget that Aristotle was also revered in Eastern cultures that came in contact with his teachings.

My 2 cents.

From Quora post:

Why do liberal democracy and capitalism go hand in hand?

Because they arose in their quasi-modern forms around the same time, and were both promoted (to varying degrees) by the same group of European intellectuals (Hobbes, Locke, Smith, Rousseau, etc.) during the Age of Enlightenment. Both the American and French revolutions were an outgrowth of these ideas, aiming to free the average person from oppression by monarchies, the Church, class distinctions, lack of knowledge and education, feudalistic labor relations and so forth. It was really an incredible time and an understandable outgrowth of the preceding scientific revolution. The prevailing assumption was that a society empowered with individual autonomy and agency, acting collectively in both capitalistic markets and self-governance, would result in the greatest freedoms for all. The flaws in this reasoning were that representative democracy could and would be usurped by a de facto elite class and/or concentrations of wealth - anticipation of this outcome was actually debated a fair amount. In other words, that social privilege and plutocratic/monopolistic influence would mimic the feudalistic/monarchistic relations of the systems being rejected. And this did eventually happen - to differing extents in different systems - with ever-increasing efforts by both the electorate-working poor and the wealthy-elite to wrench power away from the other side; we’re still struggling with these same issues today. But the point is that before the Enlightenment, democracy and market capitalism had not come to full fruition - they effectively did not exist on a large scale.

From Quora post:

Can a society progress too quickly (for its own good)? And if so, what are some historical or theoretical examples of this?

With very few exceptions - mostly very small tribes in resource-abundant regions of the world - wherever human beings have settled aspects of their society have progressed too quickly. And by “too quickly” I mean that the progress has resulted in some sort of enduring damage. They might exhaust local natural resources, for example. Or they might build dense, weakly constructed towns where one earthquake or major fire kills a majority of inhabitants because they were living packed together in unsafe conditions. Or they might pollute the rivers and soil in a given area so badly that nothing grows there anymore and the water in undrinkable. Or they might hunt local wildlife to extinction. The examples of this kind of self-destructive behavior are endless, but mostly apply to other areas of “progress,” and not to what would be considered ethically or civically progressive.

Regarding other forms of social progress that might be considered ethics-related - such as civil liberties, or social safety nets, or reductions in violent crime, or women’s rights, etc. - I think most of the advances of the last two centuries or so simply haven’t been in play long enough for anyone to know. In other words, we haven’t seen the long-term fruit yet. And since much of this progress is being rolled back by right-leaning populist movements around the globe, it may be that we won’t be able to see them bear fruit at all. That said, two things come to mind with respect to your question. The first is the idea of multiculturalism, which seems to have failed to account for self-isolating or tribalistic groups that refuse to integrate with mainstream society. So multiculturalism must, I think, be replaced with practices like interculturalism, where more engagement, dialog and expectation of integration are priorities. The second is the level of depression and antidepressant use in Nordic countries, cultures that have mastered a very peaceful, calm, compassionate, productive and mutually supportive existence. I don’t know if this high level of depression and antidepressant use has any correlation with all the progressive factors that should instead (theoretically) contribute to happiness, but it does beg the question: does a lack of conflict induce ennui? Perhaps it takes cultures time - multiple generations - to adapt to a peaceful, thriving existence? Just a thought.

My 2 cents.

From Quora post:

What is the origin of New Age beliefs?

Thanks for the A2A Pete.

Here is my somewhat formulaic take on this phenomenon…not scholarly, just subjective….

1. Take a fairly well-educated white person from a middle class background who is dissatisfied with just about every aspect of the status quo - politics, religion, medicine, cultural institutions, industrialization, technology, etc. - and who furthermore either lacks any strong sense of cultural identity and tradition, or who fundamentally questions the identity and traditions within which they were raised. Let’s call this person “the maleable rebel.”

2. Now introduce a populist-energized movement of social unrest, revolutionary spirit, counterculture and “anti-establishmentarianism” that seeks not only to reject the status quo, but replace its social mores, institutions, traditions and values with radically revised, socially liberal, egalitarian and much more “personally liberated” ones. This movement appeals directly to “the maleable rebel” and provides a unifying - albeit temporary - sense of purpose and shared community within an essentially individualistic frame. The movement has reactive cohesion - enough for artistic expression, political rallies, a shared narrative, etc. - but lacks a unified vision to manifest as sustained outcomes.

3. Then, as an outgrowth of conditions 1 and 2, offer “the maleable rebel” a spiritual-philosophical-transformational basis for a more enduring post-revolutionary vision. Begin with a foundation of anti-traditionalism, add some superficial elements of Eastern mysticism and a pinch of Western esotericism, sprinkle in alternative medicine and some psychoactive plants, add some spiritualism, then mix these with a liberal handful of Earth-friendly habits…and you’ve got most of the essential ingredients. However - and this is what leaves a bitter taste in the minds of Neopagans, Traditionalists or Perrenialists observing the New Age movement - retain as the final ingredient a large portion of the very same individualistic materialism against which “the maleable rebel” initially revolted (in its classist forms).

4. Now begin to systematize this new vision by establishing authorities, celebrities, orthodox practices, value hierarchies, communities, literature, geographic locations, language, semantics, lifestyles and so on that create both a map of what the New Age community is supposed to look like, and a recipe book for adherence and identity.

In this way the New Age helped well-educated, middle-class white folks in the U.S. and U.K. reform their identity, spiritual practices and sense of purpose. It reframed what it meant to be “enlightened,” with an emphasis on personal freedom, growth and potential. And, in truth, many of the practices and ideals that grew out of the New Age movement do have value IMHO. The challenge, as with so many “institutionalized” belief systems that came before it, is that the New Age firmly held on to the very destructive cultural meme that inspired its birth: individualistic materialism. Although quite often drawing upon an authentic spirit, the New Age all too soon became a commercialized imitation of itself, an elaborate and jingoistic “demand and supply” distortion of its original intent. Such is the corrosive power of capitalist culture that it subsumes all nuance and truth in a frenzy of consumerism, oversimplifying anything subtle or complex into a sales-pitch commodity.

My 2 cents.

After further discussion on Facebook, here are some additional resources on the details of how the New Age movement migrated from Germany, as perhaps inspired by a much older movement:

(Thanks Eric Pierce, Mark Niblack & Jennifer Grove!)