Aristotle and a Synoptic Philosophy

By Jonathan Dolhenty, Ph.D.

The word “synoptic” comes to us from the Greek “sunoprikos,” which means “seeing the whole together” or “taking a comprehensive view.” It is an attempt to achieve an all-inclusive overview of one’s subject matter and to see all its parts in relationship to one another.

Synoptic philosophy sets out to see everything and see it as a whole. It is an attempt to view everything in the largest possible way. Synoptic philosophers, therefore, have a very wide range of interests and concerns and are intrigued by all areas of human knowledge. They want an overview of life, a worldview, and, it might be said, a universal view of each and all.

Aristotle was the first great synoptic philosopher. He was interested in and studied every known realm of human knowledge available to him at the time. He produced a brilliant panarama of creative writing in virtually every field of intellectual endeavor. He wrote extensively on such subjects as physics, astronomy, meteorology, biology, physiology, psychology, politics, and ethics. He also wrote much, of course, of what is today considered mostly philosophical material – such as logic and epistemology, esthetics, and metaphysics.

He was always trying to weave these vast areas of knowledge into a coherent philosophical system that would serve as a framework for man’s thinking about himself and the world (universe). He is probably the only human mind that has ever grasped completely at first hand and assimilated the whole body of existing knowledge on all subjects and brought it within a single focus. This focus still stands today as one of the supreme achievements of the mind of man.

The most important goal of a synoptic philosophy is the development of an empirically sound and rationally coherent philosophy to serve as an operational model for the interpretation and valuation of all our experience, thereby providing an intelligent framework within which philosophical principles and ideas can be applied to human affairs.

Aristotle was born in 384 B.C.E. at Stagira (and he is sometimes referred to as “The Stagirite”) in ancient Chalcis. For twenty years he was a pupil of Plato, conducting in the meantime his own private researches in philosophy and physical science. He had a particular interest in biology and he may have done some dissecting under the direction of his father, Nichomachus, who was the court physician to the king of Macedon.

Aristotle spent some time in travel and eventually become a tutor to the young Alexander who, of course, would go down in history as Alexander the Great. He became a teacher in Athens and as he lectured he and his pupils would walk slowly up and down the shaded walks of the Lyceum (school) of Apollo. Because of his style of teaching (lecturing while walking), his school came to be known as the “peripatetic school.” This name is derived from the Greek “peripatein” which means to “walk about.”

After a dozen years of teaching, Aristotle incurred the displeasure of the Athenian politicians. This seems to have come about because Aristotle had acquired too much influence over the young men of Athens. Aristotle was considered “unsafe.” (Does this sound awfully familiar?)

Since he was in disfavor in Athens, Aristotle quietly slipped away to Euboea, where he died a perfectly natural death in 322 B.C.E. He was sixty-two years of age.

Some of Aristotle’s major works are:

  • The Organon (Logic)
  • Physics
  • Concerning the Heavens
  • Concerning Birth and Corruption
  • Meteorology
  • On the Soul
  • Metaphysics
  • Nicomachean Ethics
  • Politics
  • Rhetoric
  • Poetics

I would like to express my appreciation to Professor James L. Christian, author of Philosophy: An Introduction to The Art of Wondering for some of the ideas presented in the above essay. I used his textbook back in the 1970s as a reference for an introductory philosophy course I taught. It is a very comprehensive introduction to philosophy and I can recommend it especially to adults who are interested in learning what philosophy is all about.

The late Dr. Jonathan Dolhenty was the Founder and President of The Center for Applied Philosophy and the Radical Academy, and is Honorary Philosophy Editor at The Moral Liberal. The Moral Liberal has adopted these projects beginning with a republishing and preserving of all of Dr. Dolhenty’s work.