Int. J. Dev. Biol. 66: 5 - 8 (2022)
doi: 10.1387/ijdb.220040nz
© UPV/EHU Press

Aristotle (384-322 BC): the beginnings of Embryology

Nikolas Zagris*

Division of Genetics and Cell and Developmental Biology, Department of Biology, University of Patras, Patras, Greece

ABSTRACT Aristotle made important contributions to many fields-biology, physics, metaphysics, logic, ethics, rhetoric, psychology, aesthetics, poetry- that are now cultivated by specialized experts, but he never lost sight of the aim of unifying knowledge, of understanding the world as an organized whole. Aristotle was the first to combine wet, field biology with daring cosmological thinking. He is the father of natural history and the first embryologist known to history. Aristotle’s classic treatises History of Animals/ΠΕΕί Ζῴων ἱΣτΟρίαι, and On the Generation of Animals/ ΠΕΕί Ζῴων ΓΕνέΣΕως “enjoyed for more than fifteen hundred years an authority altogether without parallel”. Over the last four decades, the introduction of molecular techniques has gradually overturned the entire structure of the biological sciences. Biology, initially a science of inventory and classification in the hands of the 19th-century comparative naturalists, has become a science of codes and regulatory circuits. Aristotle was the first to codify laws of pure logic, and so he founded what is today known as ‘proof theory’ in mathematics. Aristotle was an inveterate collector and a classifier, the master scientist of his time. His main concern was to classify “the ultimate furniture of the world”, under basic headings and categories, a powerful human strategy to organize knowledge for comprehension and action. This was part of Aristotle’s attempt to create a theory of reality, one strongly opposed to Plato’s otherworldly doctrine of the ideal ‘forms’. To many generations of thinkers in the great era of Scholastic philosophy, Aristotle was known simply as “The Philosopher”.


Aristotle, father of natural history, first embryologist known to history, founder of the science of taxonomy, first to codify laws of pure logic-founder of proof theory, teleology-intelligent design-purpose

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