Aristotle and the four-element theory

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Marble bust of Aristotle

Aristotle (384 BC in Stagira - 322 BC in Calchis) was a philosopher and scientist in ancient Greece. He was raised by his relatives because his parents died when he was young. When he became 17, he went to Athens to study at Plato 's Academy. He stayed at the academy as a student and as a teacher for 20 years. In 343 BC, King Philip of Macedonia invited Aristotle to be the teacher of his son, Alexander. Aristotle taught Alexander for 3 years until Alexander went away to conquer the world in 335 BC. Aristotle stayed in Macedonia after Alexander left and kept doing his study. At that time, he discovered his four-element theory.


Aristotle's four-element theory

Aristotle believed that matter is a mixture of four natural elements : earth, water, fire and air. And these four natural elements are made of four properties : clod, hot, wet and dry. At that time, many people thought that things were made of thoughts and gods. It was a creative idea at that time.

influence to Alchemy

Aristotle believed that if we change element's properties, it will change into different matter. This theory influenced to Alchemy in Middle Ages. Alchemy is the science of changing cheap metals such as iron and copper to gold. Alchemists failed to make gold, but their experiments developed scientific experimental instruments. It taught us possibility of challenging and trying some creative ideas. Alchemist developed chemistry while they were doing study about Alchemy.

delaying fast development of science

Aristotle's theory was believed until scientist Robert Boyle attack his theory. Boyle's theory was that elements are the smallest substance in the world which cannot be divided into smaller things. Even though it was a creative idea, it was wrong idea. People believed Aristotle's theory for more than one thousand years. One thousand years is not a short time. After Aristotle's theory, Demokritos made a theory which says that whole world is made of small elements. He believed that matters can be changed if we change structure and position of elements. This was the basic of Boyle's theory. However, Demokritos's theory was ignored by people because they strongly believed Aristotle's theory. It delayed the fast development of science.


Aristotle lived happily until Alexander died in 323 BC. Some Athenians always had anti-Macedonian feelings. They were angry at Macedonians who conquered them. When Macedonia was divided into small countries after Alexander died, people accused Aristotle who stayed in Macedonia for a long time and had many Macedonian friends. Aristotle didn't want to die by that reason. He decided to run away. He went to Calchis and few months later he died in age 62.

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