…notes on aristotle


1) What is the relationship between epistēmē [ἐπιστήμη] (“knowledge,” or “scientific knowledge”) and logos [λόγος] (“reason,” or “argument,” or “discourse”), on Aristotle’s view? How do they differ from one another, and how do they relate to one another? Explain.

By way of answering the above question I will briefly define each term, ἐπιστήμη and λόγος, to show how the two are similar and how they diverge. First, to define knowledge for Aristotle, knowledge, specifically scientific knowledge is about inquiring into the causes of things. Aristotle likens a certain type of knowledge to wisdom itself in the Metaphysics when he speaks of getting to know principles and causes.[2] The “certain principles and causes” he speaks of are (among other things) knowledge of first principles and theoretical knowledge. Theoretical knowledge is knowledge of the ‘why’ of things, asking ‘why is this thing the way it is?’ is to ask about the cause.[3] This kind of knowledge is to be distinguished from mere experience.[4] Experiential knowledge is different from knowing the ‘why’ of something or from a theoretical understanding which can be taught to others.[5] One who has theoretical knowledge is not only wise, but he is also an artist—he doesn’t just know how to make something, he knows how to create.

Επιστήμη is the knowledge of causes, Aristotle’s famous iteration of the “four causes” looks at causes in four different ways.[6] The four causes ask ‘what for the sake of which’ a thing is what it is. They are four ways in which to get to the essence of what a thing is, in other words they are ontological questions. First, there is the question of a “material cause,” whereby we ask what is that out of which a thing comes to be, what is this thing made of? Secondly, there is a question of a “formal cause,” whereby we ask what kind of thing is it, what form does it take, what is its species? Thirdly, there is the “efficient cause,” whereby we ask what the agent that brought about this particular effect is? This is how we commonly think of causality. What caused this thing to come into being? Finally, there is the “final cause,” otherwise known as the telos [τέλος] of the thing. What is this thing’s purpose, what is its end? Επιστήμη is more primary than λόγος, this is a key difference between the two terms.[7] Logic is used to get into knowledge. Knowledge is not, strictly speaking, only about logic. Logic is a means to knowledge.

Now to the subject of Aristotle’s λόγος. Aristotle was philosophy’s first logician. The Organon (the instrument) is a collection of works that cover Aristotle’s work on λόγος.[8] In the six works of the Organon, λόγος is treated in a variety of ways. Λόγος does not vividly stand apart from ἐπιστήμη, since it is the formal structure by which we come to know things. This is a major similarity between ἐπιστήμη and λόγος, i.e. to get to scientific knowledge we must use the structure of logic. Επιστήμη and λόγος are symbiotic. Λόγος is the mechanism by which we explain things and to argue for things. Λόγος is how we come to know truth and knowledge. There are two fundamental ways think about λόγος as a mode of reasoning for Aristotle: the syllogism [συλλογισμός, syllogismos] and the dialectic [διαλεκτικός, dialectikos].

Before I discuss these two central modes of λόγος, briefly, there are other ways to think about λόγος, such as with the Categories, whereby any particular thing is categorized, for Aristotle, along a ten-fold list having to do with predication—i.e. what can be said about a subject.[9] Then there is the semantical λόγος, found in On Interpretation, whereby words, sounds and their arrangements are considered as the fundamental building blocks of a proposition. A proposition either affirms of denies an assertion by particular or universal means.[10]

The syllogism is introduced in Aristotle’s Prior Analytics.[11] The syllogism occupies the center of Aristotle’s logical system. A syllogism contains more than one premise asserted to arrive at either a negative of positive conclusion that is universal. A conclusion that is universal is the opposite of particular or contingent and it is reaching for first principles, and necessity. Essentially syllogisms have to do with valid inference. Validity is not inferred by the truth of the premises in order to demonstrate a particular conclusion. Instead, it has to do with the form of the inference. The classic example of a formal syllogism is worded like so:

1. All men are mortal

2. Socrates is a man

3. ∴ Socrates is mortal.

Here, on the most basic level, the two combined premises ‘all men are mortal’ and ‘Socrates is a man’ are used to bring about the conclusion that ‘Socrates is mortal.’ It is important to note that the two terms must bear some connection to each other, and in this case their resemblance is that Socrates is both a man and a mortal, and the word man binds the two premises to the conclusion. This common binding element is what is referred to as the “middle term.”[12] This middle term need not be factual for the inference to be valid. Valid inferences can be valid with fictional premises. Syllogisms demonstrate scientific knowledge. The logic of the syllogism demonstrates scientific knowledge by way of a valid inference brought about by the conclusion of more than one premises. Demonstration illustrates another way by which ἐπιστήμη and λόγος connect.[13] Logic is a formal language. Λόγος is not the end of ἐπιστήμη, this is how they diverge.

As for the dialectic, Aristotle differentiated it from the syllogism. A main difference is that the syllogism starts with reasoning where the premises are true, whereas the dialectic, on the other hand, reasons from opinions (ἔνδοξα).[14] The dialectic is also a means to knowledge, yet it is less formal than the syllogism because it works with opinion rather than bare necessity and first principles. It is a way to get to know useful things, countering the opinions of others in conversation, and it is used as a way to solve problems that are tough to agree upon.[15]

As mentioned, ἐπιστήμη and λόγος are inextricably linked, we can’t have knowledge with the means of logic. Logic is the formal means by which knowledge comes about. The two differ in that knowledge is more primary than logic, and that τέλος of knowledge is not logic. The τέλος of knowledge is about reasonable thinking, the understanding original causes and the seeking of first principles.[16]
3) Choose a passage for Aristotle’s Protrepticus to amplify and explicate by way passages in other texts from Aristotle. How do these other texts clarify on your reading, the argument of the Protrepticus? Explain.

Aristotle’s Protrepticus dialogue was written while Aristotle was still under Plato’s tutelage at the Academy, sometime in the 350s BC.[17] It was a response to the Antidosis of Isocrates (which was also written around the same time in the 4th century BC). The Protrepticus is known as an ‘exhortation,’ in effect it was urging students to do philosophy. It is an encouragement to lead a life of philosophical inquiry, dissuading potential students from the kind of philosophy, alternately known as rhetorical education, of the kind advocated by Isocrates.[18]

To get things going, I will start by briefly explaining the general discussion of the Protrepticus, this will better allow me to position a key passage from the Protrepticus delivered by the character of Aristotle, so as to compare it with similar ideas found in his later work, namely in the Metaphysics and De Anima. A few of Aristotle’s incipient ideas found in the Protrepticus follow through in fundamental ways, the importance of understanding in and of itself, and that reason is the expression of a human soul.

The Protrepticus is set up between Aristotle, Heraclides, and Isocrates. Like Aristotle, Heraclides is also from the Academy, so he, more or less, represents Aristotle’s position—contra Isocrates. In the dialogue, much discussion is given to the benefits drawn from the mathematical practice of Pythagorean philosophy which was significant for Plato and the Academy.[19] Aristotle agrees with Herclides, because the study of mathematics sets the mind in the direction of intellectual discipline.[20] Both the Aristotle and Herclides agree that the study of mathematics leads one closer to the theoretical thinking of philosophy, the study of which, should be valued in own right.[21],[22] Yet, even mathematics is not as “senior” as the discipline of philosophy which reasons from first principles, original causes, logical demonstration &c.[23] The character of Isocrates does not agree with Aristotle and Heraclides on the grounds that the theoretical sciences (he mentions math, music, and philosophy) are too far removed from the practical sciences.[24] Although Isocrates is not given the room to talk as Aristotle and Heraclides do, we know that he was a staunch advocate for the practical value of rhetoric, of speaking well.[25] He held that Aristotle’s type of philosophy was just not as practical as teaching young folks to speak well.

In contrast to Isocrates, Aristotle felt that the study of philosophy and intelligence should serve as their own end,

Surely the soul is posterior to the body, and intelligence and intelligence is the final stage of the soul, for we see that it is the last thing to come to be by nature in humans, and that is why old age lays claim to this alone of good things; therefore, some form of intelligence is by nature our end, and being intelligent is the ultimate thing for the sake of which we have come to be.[26]

This short passage is delivered by the character of Aristotle in the Protrepticus where he is discussing the end result of things, or better said, he implicitly affirms that the τέλος of human beings is intelligence. In the opening lines of the Metaphysics Aristotle proclaims the one attribute unique to humans, “all men by nature desire to know” (980a 1). It is this simple universal point that opens up, and begins to clarify, the fundamental nature of human knowing for Aristotle. It is what differentiates us from the animals apart from what we share with them, in this case, sensation and memory.[27] Leading up to this passage from the Protrepticus, Aristotle makes plenty of points having to do with the importance of getting to know “what is for the sake of something”[28] which is basically the pursuit of knowledge, and more properly speaking, the pursuit of philosophy. The desire to know becomes the desire to know why something the way it is.[29] Later in the Metaphysics, Aristotle continues to elucidate what he means by knowledge, “it is also right that philosophy should be called knowledge of the truth” (993b 19). This is compared to practical knowledge, which is not to be mistaken for philosophy, since those who work with practical matters do not look into what is eternal.[30] This emphasis on the philosophical pursuit of original causes is made evident again, especially as it relates to the limitations of practical knowledge (to repeat a central theme of the Protrepticus).

Continuing to trace the thread of the soul’s τέλος, Aristotle reinstates and elaborates more on the position made in the above cited passage from the Protrepticus in his De Anima.[31] It is in De Anima where we find Aristotle inquiring about the nature of the soul.[32] Since, as philosophers, we are urged to seek for the original causes of things, inquiring about the soul reveals that which animates and moves things. Throughout De Anima Aristotle works on describing the hierarchy of the soul as it relates to the nutritive and reproductive soul of plants.[33] Then there are the animals, that not only possess the nutritive and reproductive, but most also have sensation or perception and locomotion.[34] All of the preceding characteristics of the soul are contained with what it is to be human in addition to imagination and of course, thinking.[35] This progression of the soul sets up a key point iterated in the passage quoted above from the Protrepticus, whereby “intelligence is the final stage of the soul.”[36] De Anima, then is also following through on critical points made implicit in the Protrepiticus, i.e. human knowledge and thinking itself, are ends in and of themselves. In De Anima, Aristotle keeps repeating that “actual knowledge is identical with its object.”[37] If thinking is identical to its object, then thought of the object cannot happen without thinking. Mind itself is immortal and eternal in this respect it is an original cause. Finding such original causes is a philosophical pursuit. It is on this point where the value of philosophy is to found in contrast to the rhetorical arts of Isocrates. Essentially, when we seek for original causes and first principles we find much more than practical rhetoric, we find ourselves thinking about the universal and the necessary, and we thank Aristotle for taking us there.

__aurelio madrid


Aristotle. The Basic Works of Aristotle. Edited by Richard McKeon. New York, NY: The Modern Library, 2001.

——. Protrepticus or Exhortation to Philosophy (Citations, Fragments, Paraphrases, and Other Evidence). Edited and translated by D.S. Hutchinson, Monte Ransome Johnson. Online pre-publication at: www.protrepticus.info

Isocrates, Antidosis, Persius Digital Library. http://data.perseus.org/citations/urn:cts:greekLit:tlg0010.tlg019.perseus-eng1:255

Lear, Jonathan. Aristotle: The Desire to Understand. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

Lloyd, G.E.R. Aristotle: The Growth & Structure of His Thought. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1968.

Mordak, Deborah K.W. Aristotle’s Theory of Language and Meaning. New York, NY: Cabridge University Press, 2001.

Peters, F.E. Greek Philosophical Terms: A Historical Lexicon. New York, NY: New York University Press, 1967.

[1] Word count for answer #1: 1,049 (main body, without footnotes).

[2] “Clearly then wisdom is about certain principles and causes” Aristotle, Metaphysics, (982a 1).

[3] “Knowledge is the object of our inquiry, and men do not think they know a thing till they have grasped the ‘why’ of it (which is to grasp its primary cause)” Aristotle, Physics (II.3 194b 19).

[4] “For men of experience know that the thing is so, but do not know the why, while the others know the ‘why’ and the cause” Aristotle, Metaphysics (I.1 981a 29).

[5] “And in general it is a sign of the man who knows and of the man who does knot know, that the former can teach, and therefore we think art more truly knowledge than experience is; for artists can teach, and men of experience cannot” Aristotle, Metaphysics (I.1 981b 8).

[6] In Aristotle’s Metaphysics (Bk. Δ 1013a 25-40), and the Physics (Bk. II.3 194b 24-40).

[7] “All instruction given or received by way of argument proceeds from pre-existent knowledge” Aristotle, Posterior Analytics, (71a 1).

[8] The title Organon came later, it is not known how, or if, Aristotle arranged the works in such a way. In the Organon the books are usually organized in the following sequence: Categories, On Interpretation, Prior Analytics, Posterior Analytics, Topics, and On Sophistical Refutations.

[9] The ten-fold list runs like this: “substance (man, horse); quantity (two cubits long, three cubits long); quality (white, grammatical); relation (double, half, greater); place (in the Lyceum, in the market); time (yesterday, last year); position (lies, sits); state (has shoes on, has armor on); action (cuts, burns); affection (is cut, is burnt).” This list is from G.E.R. Lloyd, Aristotle: the Growth & Structure of His Thought, New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1968, p. 113.

[10] “To return: of propositions one kind is simple, i.e. that which asserts or denies something of something, the other composite, i.e. that which is compounded of simple propositions.” & “An affirmation is a positive assertion of something about something, a denial a negative assertion.” Aristotle, On Interpretation, (17a 20-5)

[11] “We must first state the subject of our inquiry and the faculty to which it belongs: its subject is demonstration and the faculty that carries it out is demonstrative science. We must next define a premise, a term, and a syllogism…,” Aristotle, Prior Analytics, (24a 10-5).

[12] “I call that term middle which is itself contained in another and contains another in itself: in position also comes in the middle” Aristotle, Prior Analytics, (25b 35).

[13] “By demonstration I mean a syllogism productive of scientific knowledge, a syllogism, that is, the grasp of which is eo ipso [by itself] of such knowledge.” Aristotle, Posterior Analytics (71b 17).

[14] “Now reasoning is an argument in which, certain things being laid down, something other than these necessarily comes about through them (a) It is a ‘demonstration,’ when the premises from which the reasoning starts are primary and true: (b) reasoning on the other hand, is ‘dialectical,’ if it reasons from opinions that are generally accepted” Aristotle, Topics (100a 25-31).

[15] “Not every problem, nor every thesis, should be examined, but only one which might puzzle one of those who need argument, not punishment of perception” Topics (105a 4-5).

[16] “All men by nature desire to know” Aristotle, Metaphysics, (980a 1).

[17] Aristotle was in his mid-30s and would leave Athens and the Academy shortly after Plato’s death ca. 348 BC.

[18] It is not entirely off the mark to suggest that these writings of Isocrates’ and of Aristotle’s doubled as the ancient Greek equivalent of the ad campaign for their respective schools. Hutchinson and Johnson write: “Plato’s Academy was not the only school in Athens that offered training in philosophy, nor was the first one. Plat’s contemporary Isocrates also offered a form of higher education which he called philosophy, and which he insisted on distinguishing from the activities of other pedagogical experts, called ‘sophists’ or ‘professors.” D.S. Hutchinson and Monte Ransome Johnson, “The Antidosis of Isocrates and Aristotle’s Protrepticus,” 2010.

[19] Isocrates’, in his open remarks in the Protrepticus, states that, “but since when Pythagoras acquired mathematic from foreigners he added much of his own, we need to take account of these starting points as well and to include the distinctive stamp he placed on mathematics. He took a philosophical view of many of the truths of mathematics, and made them part and parcel of his own projects, even the ones handed down to him by others…” Aristotle, Protrepticus or Exortaiton to Philosophy (Citations, Fragments, Paraphrases, and Other Evidence), prepared by D.S. Hutchinson and Monte Ransome Johnson, online publication, 2014, www.protrepticus.info, 4.

[20] The character of Aristotle states in the Protrepticus that, “and the soul it contributes to purity in cognition and subtlety of thoughts, as well as accuracy in its reasoning and contact with their own incorporeal substances, as well as to symmetry and good temper and conversion to reality; and in the human person it provides order in his life, as well as respite from the passions and beauty in character traits, as well as the discoveries of other things that are beneficial to human life.” Aristotle, Protrepticus, Hutchinson and Johnson, 5.

[21] The character of Aristotle, after he discusses the way Pythagorean mathematics leads one to philosophy, states, “…the ‘philosopher’ seems to have a drive for a certain science that is prized for itself, and not on account of anything else resulting from it.” Aristotle, Protrepticus, Hutchinson and Johnson, 6.

[22] Hutchinson and John note that. “‘Aristotle’ respects the contribution of mathematics to natural science and thus indirectly to philosophy, whereas ‘Heraclides’ respects the direct contribution of mathematical thinking to philosophical values and positions.” Aristotle, Protrepticus, Hutchinson and Johnson, 9.

[23] The character of Aristotle states that, “…since both in the speeches preceding this point and in the later remarks we will demonstrate that there are many different substances that are unchangeable and exist in the same state, not only the ones in mathematics, and those that are more senior and more honorable than these [i.e. philosophy, first causes, first principles, &c.].” Aristotle, Protrepticus, Hutchinson and Johnson, 18.

[24] The character Isocrates states, “The case is similar with music and the other sciences in which the cognitive aspect is divided off from the empirical. For those who determine the proofs and the arguments about harmony and other things like that are accustomed to enquiring, but take part in none of their practical functions, just like those who do philosophy.” Aristotle, Protrepticus, Hutchinson and Johnson, 10.

[25] Isocrates writes in his Antidosis, “through this we educate the ignorant and appraise the wise; for the power to speak well is taken as the surest index of a sound understanding, and discourse which is true and lawful and just is outward image of a good and faithful soul.” Isocrates, Antidosis, 255, Persius Digital Library. http://data.perseus.org/citations/urn:cts:greekLit:tlg0010.tlg019.perseus-eng1:255

[26] Aristotle, Protrepticus, Hutchinson and Johnson, 24.

[27] “The animals other than men live by appearances and memories, and have but little of connected experience; but the human race lives also by art and reasonings” Metaphysics, (980b 25).

[28] Aristotle, Protrepticus, Hutchinson and Johnson, 24.

[29] “For all men begin, as we said, by wondering that things are as they are, as they do about self-moving marionettes, or about the solstices or about the incommensurability of the diagonal of a square with its side; for it seems wonderful to all who have not seen the reason, that there is a thing which cannot be measured even by the smallest unit” Metaphysics, (983a 15-17).

[30] “For the end of theoretical knowledge is truth, while that of practical knowledge is action (for even if they consider how things are, practical men do not study the eternal, but what is relative and in the present)” Aristotle, Metaphysics, (993b 20-23).

[31] Aristotle’s De Anima traces the hierarchy of plant, animal and human souls, in a similar progression found in the parts of the Metaphysics I’ve been discussing.

[32] “To attain any assured knowledge about the soul is one of the most difficult things in the world.” Aristotle, De Anima, (402a 10).

[33] “It follows that first of all we must treat of nutrition and reproduction…” Aristotle, De Anima, (415a 23),

[34] “Having made these distinctions let us now speak of sensation in the widest sense” Aristotle, De Anima, (416b 33), and “certain kinds of nimals posses in addition the power of locomotion…” Aristotle, De Anima, (414b 18).

[35] “For imagination is different from either perceiving or discursive thinking, though it is not found without sensation, or judgment without it” Aristotle, De Anima, (427b 15).

[36] Aristotle, Protrepticus, Hutchinson and Johnson, 24.

[37] “Actual knowledge is identical with its object: in the individual, potential knowledge is in time prior to actual knowledge, but in the universe as a whole it is not prior even in time” Aristotle, De Anima, (430a 20).