Aristotle Atomic Theory Model Explained


The Aristotle atomic theory model is an idea that doesn’t really exist. He didn’t believe that the world and universe were composed of atoms. He taught that there were four elements that composed all materials that could be found on Earth.

Those four elements were Earth, Water, Air, and Fire. Aristotle believed that these elements could be observed on their own, but all substances would also be made up of varying levels of all four elements to take on their unique composition.

Although Aristotle’s atomic theory has been disproven, his observations about the universe helped to send future scientists on a journey that would lead them closer to the truth.

How Aristotle Developed His Theory

Aristotle believed that it was possible to determine which substances contained more or less of each element based on its structure, design, and composition. He taught that there were four different category descriptions that would indicate the presence of one element more than another.

These category descriptions were hot, dry, cold, and wet.

If a substance happened to be wet and cold, then it was more likely to contain more of the water and earth elements than fire and air elements. If something was dry and cold, then it was more likely to contain more fire and earth elements.

The reason for his solution to how substances were created was ultimately simplistic: Aristotle believed that the Earth was the center of the universe in his teachings. Because of this, it made more sense to him that all things would be composed of items that were observable to the human eye without giving a thought to there being something smaller that required assistance to see.

Yet, Aristotle could not deny the fact that there was evidence in the observable world that something unseen was acting upon nature. That’s when he decided to add a fifth element to his theory of the universe: aether.

What Is Aether and Why Does It Matter?

Aether, or quintessence, is the materials that fill the universe outside of what exists on a planetary level. Aristotle used aether as an element because it helped to fill-in the gaps that he saw in his scientific studies for concepts like the movement of sound or light, along with gravity. The idea of aether persisted until the 19th century because it was believed that light could not travel in a vacuum, so the universe had to be made of something else.

Even then, however, the concepts of aether did not really fit in with the models of the universe that Aristotle was teaching. This element was not capable of any motion, either of quality or quantity. It was only able to perform local motion. It moved in circles and had no unnatural motions. To explain these inconsistencies, Aristotle decided that aether formed into crystalline spheres, which could hold the heavenly bodies in place.

Although this led Aristotle away from the idea of atoms, it did lead him toward the movement of heavenly bodies. He would eventually offer an explanation of the orbits of stars and planets because of the concept of aether, albeit from a geocentric standpoint, since he believed the Earth was the center of all things.

Aristotle and His Influence on Philosophy

Aristotle was more of a philosopher than a scientist, so his approach came from a theoretical and spiritual beginning. Because of his observations, the ideas of having core elements as part of creation has become a foundation of numerous religions and spiritual practices. Instead of viewing the elements as substances, they are placed into categories that involve sensory experiences instead.

The observations of Aristotle have also led to the concept of cyclical balance, or how life can overcome destruction through phase cycles of the elements. Fire creates earth, which bears metal, which collects water, which creates life.

Aristotle’s theory was also adapted to include sharp, subtle, and mobile qualities that can work with the original hot, cold, wet, and dry qualities that were offered. Fire and Earth are at the two extremes, while air and water help to complement the rest of creation.

Aristotle may not have believed in the atomic theory, but he did believe what his eyes could see. Some may say that his refusal to accept atoms as a scientific reality set the field of science back for centuries, but in reality, there were always scientists pursuing the idea of the atom. Their ideas were never generally accepted by society during their day, but their work would eventually set the stage, along with Aristotle’s atomic theory model, to allow us to see the universe as we currently do.