Aristotle: Systems Thinking and Psychology

Aristotle (384–322 B.C.), "master of those who knew," as later philosophers would call him, single-handedly laid the foundations for modern systems thinking—the practice of analyzing the world in terms of object assemblages united by an interaction of parts. He also invented the discipline of psychology, and continued the lifelong learning mission of Socrates and Plato.

Systems Design: Aristotle and the Art of Chunking

First, divide the sciences into the theoretical and the applied. Then see if you can find a joint or parting in each of these subclasses, and so on.

—Plato, Statesman, 400 B.C.

True to his fascination with systems and classifying, Aristotle's life and works were a constant quest to collect, categorize, and catalogue knowledge. Characteristically, he owned the first private library (of scrolls), and he turned systems thinking into a fine art. (For a description of his ideas of decomposition, chunking, and hierarchical classification, see the section "Content Design: Chunking and Sequencing.")

Psychology: The Three Domains

"The psyche," Aristotle writes, "is characterized by three basic functions:

  • Knowing

  • Feeling

  • Will-to-Action"

Astonishingly, this triadic structure of consciousness would hold sway right down to the present day, a period of more than 2,300 years. In the 1950s, behaviorists such as Benjamin Bloom would take this tripartite structure of consciousness and transform it into a taxonomy of training, with its three domains of knowing, feeling, and doing. From Plato to Aristotle, the structure looks like this:



Knowledge (learning)


Feeling (emotions)


Desires (physical)

Will-to-Do (physical)

From Aristotle to Bloom, it looks like this:



Knowledge (head)

Knowledge (cognitive realm, thinking)

Feeling (heart)

Attitude (emotional realm, feeling)

Will-to-Do (hands)

Skills (physical realm, doing)

Aristotle on Lifelong Learning

Aristotle, apart from inventing systems thinking and psychology, was also a firm believer in lifelong learning. Like Socrates and Plato before him, he insists that "the activity of learning occupies a lifetime," for "all men by nature desire to know."


350 B.C.

Aristotle: On Psychology ("On the Soul") and On Memory.


Thomas Davidson: Aristotle and Ancient Educational Ideals.


Robert Ulich: History of Educational Thought.


Wade Baskin (ed.): Classics in Education.

The 30-Second Encyclopedia of Learning and Performance. A Trainer's Guide to Theory, Terminology, and Practice
The 30-Second Encyclopedia of Learning and Performance: A Trainers Guide to Theory, Terminology, and Practice
ISBN: 0814471781
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2002
Pages: 110
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