A friend of mine believes that every major work attributed to Aristotle is thought by nearly all modern scholars to actually be the work of his students, who merely recorded the thoughts given in lectures by their teacher. I had thought that many of Aristotles works are still believed to have flowed from his own pen. The best evidence I’ve been able to find for my side is the following quote from the Columbia Encyclopedia.
But my friend doesn’t find this sufficiently conclusive to settle the bet. Does anyone here know of a source (or can themself act as an authoritative source) that will decide this issue?
That sounds pretty conclusive to me. Here’s more from my favorite New Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia:
"All aristotle’s writings for a larger audience, mainly dialogues, have been lost except for some fragments. What remains are treatises apparently meant for use within the school. These form the so called Corpus Aristotelicum. In addition,there survives a mutilated version of his Constitution of Athens, some letters of doubtful authenticity, and some poems, including an elegy on Plato.
The Corpus Aristotelicum can be traced back to the 2nd century AD. An earlier edition is said to have been prepared by Andronicus of Rhodes in the 1st century BC, but this is doubtful. In what form the Aristotle’s treatises were available before the 1st century BC is a matter of controversy. The texts of the treatises raise serious problems. Some of them so clearly contain later thought and language that they cannot possibly be by Aristotle; others are of doubtful authenticity. Even such clearly authentic writings such as the Metaphysics show the work of later editors. Many texts show signs of addition and revision, and it is difficult to determine which of these were made by Aristotle himself. Attempts have been made-without much sucess-to reconstruct the original form of a text, to distinguish the different levels of revision it has undergone, and to associate these levels with phases in Aristotle’s thought."
(Note the part about the Metaphysics.)
Anyway, while some writings are of doubtful authenticity, and a lot of subsequent editing added a lot, I think it would be way overbroad to say nearly all modern scholars believe all his writings to be the work of his students. Brian, if you’re lurking, jump in and help out here anytime-
It just occured to me: your friend must have meant Socrates. Socrates left no writings of his own. His works were reconstructed by students, like Plato’s reconstruction of his Apology.
That was my first suspicion when he made his claim, but subsequent questions left no doubt that he meant Aristotle. Your quote from Groliers makes it seem like he actually has a stronger case than I thought he had. I had thought that there were major works which had come down to us totally intact as originally composed by Aristotle. Not that I thought that the original works had survived in his own hand, or course, but rather that the only inaccuracies were copyist errors or interpolations which were known to not be in the originals. But your quote makes it seem like there is actually uncertainty about the origins of significant parts of the texts.
My philosophy prof from college way back when stated flatly that nothing from Aristotle had survived directly, and that what we had today were notes from his students.
I’d love to see what can be said more definitively these days.
Some authorities argue this writing or that writing is inauthentic.
But your friend says
in the case of Socrates, yes, no question. But Aristotle? Every single modern authority thinks every supposed work by Aristotle is thought to be the work of his students reconstructing lectures?
That he never wrote anything that survived to the modern era?
No, no no no.
It may not be in his handwriting, but at least some (a lot, actually) authorities argue some of his writings survived in some form, not student notes from lectures, writings. If his argument is to the contrary, he’s mistaken.
Hoo boy, that came out a little more pissy than intended. What I meant to say:
No, not all modern scholars agree that every major work of Aristotle is actually a transcription of a lecture by his students.
Socrates, yes. But Arsitotle may have written something that survived to the modern era in some form.