Aristotle, Metaphysics A.1

In Metaphysics A.1, Aristotle begins from the observation that “all human beings by nature grasp at knowing” (980a1), cites as evidence our liking of the senses (and sight, most of all) (980a1-4), and ends with the conclusion that “it is clear that wisdom is knowledge concerned with certain principles (ἀρχὰς) and causes” (982a2-3). Along the way, however, Aristotle observes that “we see (ὁρῶμεν) the experienced having greater success” in practice “than those having an account without experience” (981a14-15). The cause (αἴτιον) of this, Aristotle clarifies, is that “experience is a cognition of particulars, while art of generals, and all actions and becomings are concerned with the particular” (981a15-17). Aristotle identifies a problem of ignorance in practice for those having an art or an account. That he cognizes this problem as a cause suggests that Aristotle, too, possesses a sort of wisdom. But that he does so by sight suggests that only at the price of missing Aristotle’s particular wisdom do “we suppose (οἰόμεθα) knowing and understanding are more with art than experience and take (ὑπολαμβάνομεν) the artful to be wiser than the experienced” (981a24-26). The reason we are inclined to these suppositions is, Aristotle remarks, the honor attached to the artful (τοὺς ἀρχιτέκτονας) (cf. 981a30-b1). From the perspective of practice, then, the honored wisdom concerned with the ἀρχαί, if not the causes, would seem to be a reductive approach to what we see and experience, and thus to that extent a sort of δοξοσοφία (cf. Rhetoric 1387b32-33). At the very least, it is not Aristotle’s wisdom. He seems inclined to what we learn from sight and experience without recourse to ἀρχαί, to what he refers to not as the why, but as “the what,” τὸ ὅτι (981a29).

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