1. "men" (980a): The word Aristotle uses is 'anthropoi', better translated in this context as 'humans'; had Aristotle wished to discuss only male people he would have written 'andres'.
2. "understanding" (980a): 'eidenai', knowing, understanding.
3. "sensation" (980a): 'aisthesis', perception or apprehension by the five senses
4. "prudent" (980b): 'phronimos', prudent, capable of acting (and varying one's behavior) for one's own good or one's own preservation. This is a matter of degree: bees would be said to be somewhat prudent, since they seek food, build shelters, and flee or attack things that seem to threaten them. Worms do none of these things, and so would not be called prudent. Other animals might be said to be more prudent than bees, in that bees will attack so vigorously that they lose their stingers and die, or may attack things they cannot overcome (clouds of insecticide, trucks) whereas other animals may stop attacking when they are injured or when they realize that their opponent is stronger. Of course, to call an animal prudent is to treat its behavior as analogous to a human behavior that looks similar in some way; and that conception of the animal's behavior may or may not be appropriate. However, the appearance of prudence does seem to be one of the things an animal needs to have in order for it to be able to be taught, as Aristotle says; see notes on Chapter 1 below.
5. "experience" (980b): 'empeiria', experience (as in "being experienced at something"), practice; acquaintance with something, especially with a specific recurring phenomenon; pattern recognition. Probably "pattern recognition" comes closest to what Aristotle is referring to; see below.
6. "art" (980b): 'techne', skill, craft, artisanry. (In Greek this term does NOT refer specifically or mainly to what we would call "fine art" or something requiring "artistic talent".) To "have an art" is to know one's craft; to understand what to do and why in a particular field or enterprise; to know how to produce (and to be able to apply that know-how) a desired result in one's field effectively and efficiently and consistently under a variety of conditions.
'Artist' at 981a and elsewhere is 'technites', which might better be translated 'skilled artisan', 'skilled craftsperson'.
7. "judgment" (980b): 'logismos', reasoning, reckoning, calculation. The root of this word is 'logos', which means 'word', 'account', or 'reason' (among other things). Note that reasoning, reckoning, and calculation tend to involve, and at high levels of complexity to require, some sort of system of words or other symbols. Humans certainly have these systems, and use them for reasoning and calculation; Aristotle had no knowledge that any other kind of animal had developed such a system or used it for reasoning. (There is still controversy over whether other primates use, or would use, symbols if they had not been taught them by humans; and there is controversy over whether any non-primates - e.g. whales, dolphins, elephants - use symbols, or at least systems of symbols. We also do not know whether any other animal uses symbols for reasoning, and I am not sure how we would find out.)
8. "cause", "the why" (981a): 'aitia', cause, reason why something happens or is the way it is; that which is responsible for something.
9. "principle" (982a): 'arche', source, origin, basis. We still see the word 'principle' used in this way in statements such as "A car works by the principle of internal combustion" - meaning that a source of the car's movement is internal combustion.
10. "science" (982a): 'episteme'. Originally, this word
seems to have meant 'skill at something', e.g. skill at archery;
by Aristotle's time, it had come to mean 'secure or well-founded
knowledge'. In Book VI of the Nicomachean Ethics,
Aristotle says that episteme is among other things the
capacity to demonstrate. The ability to demonstrate would seem to
involve some awareness of something about why the thing one
demonstrates is so. Thus episteme for Aristotle refers to
demonstrable knowledge. Sometimes your text uses the expression "a
science." In that case it might be more illuminating to translate
the expression as 'a body of demonstrable knowledge.' -- What is a
"body" of knowledge? -- Think of a "body of water": an ocean, a
river, etc. A body of water is a large connected mass of water,
even a water system. Similarly, a body of demonstrable knowledge
is a collection of connected demonstrable knowledge.
Physics, for example, would be a body of demonstrable knowledge,
if it is a collection of connected true principles, with the more
complex principles demonstrable from the basic ones.
In Chapter 1 of Book A Aristotle states that all people by nature desire to know, or desire understanding. He then discusses a number of different kinds of thing that we might seek in order to satisfy this desire. He is particularly concerned with finding out what "wisdom" (sophia, that which philosophers are said to seek) involves or is said to involve. Note that Aristotle does not say that everyone who desires understanding will seek "wisdom".
Aristotle concludes at the end of Chapter 1 that "wisdom" is a
"science" (see glossary) of some sort of principles and causes (archai
and aitiai; see glossary). What kinds of principles and
causes these might be, and whether anyone has or can have a
thorough understanding of them, will be discussed in Chapter 2.
Consider Aristotle's first sentence. If all humans by nature
desire to know or understand, then we all always at some level
desire understanding. Perhaps the desire for knowledge or
understanding is not always (or ever) a person's foremost concern,
but if we do have this desire, we must always to some extent feel
that we lack some understanding. If we had perfectly thorough
knowledge or understanding, or if we thought we did, we would not
desire (long for) knowledge or understanding; we would have no
more curiosity. If a person knew everything else but the fact that
he/she knew everything else, he/she would still lack knowledge,
and still have something to be curious about. This desire to
understand cannot be forced on people; that is what Aristotle
means by saying that we have it "by nature" - babies, for example,
show it spontaneously, without having to be taught it (in fact,
the desire for understanding enables babies to learn in the first
place) and without compulsion. But Aristotle does not simply
assume that all people by nature desire understanding; the first
two chapters provide support for this idea.
In the second sentence, Aristotle points out that we like, and seek, even sensations that we don't need for any particular project or purpose. A modern example of this occurs when drivers slow their cars on the highway to look at an accident that is not blocking the road and in which they cannot provide any help to the victims. Another example is when children ask to see and touch things like radios and toasters "to see how they work", when in fact looking at or touching the items will not reveal how they work. Sight, says Aristotle, is the sensation that (if we have it) gives us more knowledge or awareness than the others, and makes many distinctions clear. (Note that Aristotle does not say that sight makes us know in the highest degree possible in life; he says only that among the 5 senses, sight is the one that makes us know in the highest degree - that is, in a higher degree than touch, taste, hearing, or smell.) This does not imply that sight gives us all of the knowledge that we might seek (see 981b10), nor does it imply that the distinctions that sight makes clear are not made by us, or that these distinctions reflect the way things really are independent of our thinking.
Possibly the reason why Aristotle thinks that seeing gives (or is
thought to give) more knowledge or information(1)than
other senses is this: Sight appears to show us source of
our sensations. For example, if you say, "I hear someone walking
in the hall," and you can't see the hall at the time, what you
mean is "I hear what sounds like footsteps in the hall." If
someone were to ask you whether you knew, from the sound alone,
that there was really a person walking in the hall, chances are
you'd say no - after all, perhaps what you heard was an echo from
somewhere beyond the hall, or a tape recording, or pieces of
plaster falling, or something like that. You don't have any
information from your senses about what is making the
sound. In contrast, if you can see the hall, it's usual to say, "I
see someone walking in the hall." We don't generally say, "I see
the image of someone walking in the hall," if we can see the hall.
We tend to take for granted, that is, that sight shows us what is
producing our sensations - in this case, a person walking in the
hall. But in fact, sight isn't telling us the whole story, and it
may be misleading: for what we don't see or otherwise sense is how
the sensations are being produced, whether the person we claim to
see is really there or only seems to be because of mirrors or
hallucinations, why the person is (or isn't) in the hall, why they
don't float instead of touching the ground, and so on.
In the second paragraph Aristotle discusses how some species of animals(2)get information over and above sensations alone. Not all animals have memory, as far as we can tell(3), but some do, or appear to: an animal that seems to recognize members of its family after having been separated from them for hours or days; an animal that has a specific nest or living space that it always returns to; and so on. If an animal has memory, it can use previously gathered information in order to act prudently (see glossary), that is, to act to preserve itself and possibly its fellows. For example, an ant or a bee, insects that seem to be able to remember the scent of their own nest or colony, will be able to find its way back to the colony and even get food there if it finds none elsewhere. These insects also repair damage that occurs to their homes. A worm, on the other hand, can starve if it gets too far from food or water; a worm that has moved away from a food or water source may not go back; it does not seem to recall that it has come from a place that would sustain it, and must turn around in order to survive.
If an animal is prudent, and has memory, and can hear, Aristotle thinks, it can be taught. (Note that Aristotle is not saying that animals only learn when they are taught; he is well aware that an individual animal can learn things on its own. He is only talking here about the kind of learning that is the result of teaching.) Most likely, he is thinking of the way in which the Greeks taught horses and dogs, namely by sounds such as whistles and simple verbal commands. or perhaps he has in mind the primary way in which Greek children were taught, namely by means of words. There was no language of hand-signs in ancient Greece. But if you consider other ways of teaching and conditioning animals, including humans, you'll note that all of these ways have the following in common: they involve a symbol system - a system of words, pictures, whistles, hand signs, gestures, animal calls, objects associated with good or bad consequences, and so on.
The point, then is that knowledge or awareness of anything beyond
what is immediately given by sensation requires the use of a symbol
system, a way of referring to that which is not now present (or
not now clear) to sensation. It is through symbols (such as
the words 'how' and 'why', which are not the names of any
sensations) that we inquire, and come to find out things about
what we call the universe, things that are not immediately
apparent. At the same time, the symbols are not the things they
are supposed to be symbols of (the word 'car' is not a car; the
word 'word' is a word, it's true, but it is not all
words). The connection between the symbols and what they are
symbols of may be arbitrary. In any case, the connection would
seem not to be able to be explained by means of the symbols
system, because that explanation would have to use what it was
trying to explain. For these reasons, some things may be forever
unknown to us. That is, we don't know whether our symbol systems
allow us to reflect or express the way things really are (if there
really are things). This could be a reason why we always think
something is unknown to us, why we always desire to
In the third through fifth paragraphs Aristotle discusses the other cognitive capacities that humans have. We share with some other animals the capacity for empeiria (translated in your text as 'experience'), but as far as Aristotle knows, humans are the only animals who also use techne (translated in your text as 'art'; also translatable as 'craft' or 'skill'), episteme (translated in your text as 'science'; also translatable as 'demonstrable knowledge'), and logismos (translated in your text as 'judgment'; also translatable as 'reasoning' or 'calculation'). (See the glossary on p.1 for a discussion of these terms.)
The mention of a word meaning 'judgment' or 'reasoning' may
provide a clue as to what Aristotle wants to emphasize in these
paragraphs. That is, if you don't reason about what happens, you
won't learn why it happens, how to get it to happen (or
not happen) again if possible, and so on. You won't be a good
judge of what has really happened if you don't use
reasoning, for things are not always the way they appear to be,
the way you want them to be, the way someone else tells you they
are, etc. Note too that the word that is translated in your text
as 'judgment' is 'logismos', whose root is 'logos';
'logos' primarily means 'word'. We do tend to use words,
numbers, and other symbols to get from claims about what
happened to explanations of why it happened.
Aristotle now goes on to discuss the differences between empeiria
and techne, "experience" and "art" respectively. (It
might help in reading his discussion to keep in mind that empeiria
is not simply what we today would call "having an experience" but
rather "learning from experience": recognizing patterns that you
observe occurring in a group of similar or related situations.)
The difference, in fact, between "experience" and "art" is that
"experience" gives us a basis for saying that things have
happened in a certain way, or followed a certain pattern; "art"
gives us a basis for saying or believing something about why
things happened that way. For example, suppose you have memories
of several flu epidemics that occurred over a period of years. If
you think about your recollections and realize that certain things
happened each time, that certain patterns emerged, you will go
from "memory" to "experience" (empeiria). If you realize
that when Callias and Socrates got the flu they were given a
certain medicine and recovered, and you realize that when
Xanthippe got the flu she did not take the medicine and still
recovered, and you realize that when Coriscus got the flu he took
the medicine and died, these realizations would be classed as
None of these realizations, however, tell you why some people recovered and some did not. None of these realizations tell you how the medicine works or whether in fact the medicine had anything to do with people getting well (or failing to get well). These "why's," these explanations and prognoses, are functions of the medical "art" (techne): doctors look for what explains the patterns they observe, and then test their explanations. Many people might notice the same things about who recovers from the flu and under what circumstances that happens, but only the people who study the medical "arts" will have an idea of why these things happened, of what factors are involved, etc. When Aristotle mentions patients who are "phlegmatic" and patients who are "bilious," he is using terms that doctors used in his day to describe different kinds of bodily constitution. These are examples of what doctors in his time took into account in order to determine whether and why a patient is likely to respond to a certain treatment. That is, doctors believed that "bilious" people would all tend to have similar reactions to a given illness or a given treatment, and that the "bilious" people's reactions would generally be different from "phlegmatic" people's reactions to the same thing. Today we might say that all people with hypertension are likely to react one way to certain kinds of illness (all other factors being the same), and that this reaction is likely to be different from the reactions of people who do not have hypertension. In other words, as Aristotle says, the doctor has taken "many experiences," many examples of patterns he/she has observed, and then formed one "general/universal belief concerning similar facts" about why the patterns occurred. Of course, to be a doctor one has to do more than formulate a belief about why things happened; one also must test it to see whether it is successful in figuring out the right treatments.
The point that Aristotle is making is not that doctors or other skilled artisans are always correct in their explanations. Nor is he saying that doctors and other skilled artisans are the only ones who can produce a desired result: he even notes that people who are lucky and people who have been told what to do but don't understand why they should do it can also be successful at producing desired results.
Rather, he is saying that "art" (techne) and "science" (episteme) require a kind of thinking that experience (empeiria) does not require. This additional kind of thinking is examining, reasoning about, and testing in order to find an explanation. This additional kind of thinking then opens up many additional possibilities for learning. People who have "arts" are often considered "wiser" than others, Aristotle says, precisely in virtue of their being able to explain successfully why things happen.
It should be pointed out here that people who have "arts" are
sometimes wrong: sometimes what they identify as the "causes"
(reasons, "why's": aitiai) of something are not really
what causes the thing to be the way it is. (4)
Or, sometimes what they identify as the "causes" are only a small
part of what makes the thing be the way it is. People with "art"
only have to know what is useful for practicing or
teaching their craft. Even if their beliefs are correct, they only
need to know the "why" or explanation of things up to a certain
point. Their explanations are in some way incomplete.
For example, a farmer is a person who has the art of growing crops. If you asked a successful ancient Greek farmer why he planted his crops in the way he did, he might tell you that barley requires a certain sort of soil in order to grow well, and olives another. He might tell you what to look for in soil, or what to add to soil, if you wanted to grow the same crops. But in order to be a successful farmer, he would not need to know the molecular structure of different kinds of soil (which is part of why the soil is the way it is), he would not need to know why barley exists or what makes it edible for humans.
If a person really wanted to seek wisdom, he or she would investigate further. He or she would take any explanation, such as the farmer's, and if it seemed incorrect or incomplete, the seeker after wisdom would apply the same way of thinking as the people with "art" (asking why, reasoning, testing hypotheses). But the seeker after wisdom would go even further, and would go in more directions, looking for a complete and fundamental account that would settle all issues. That is discussed in Chapter 2.
In the final paragraph of Chapter 1, Aristotle concludes that
people are called "wise" in relation to how much they know (or
appear to know) of certain causes and principles (certain reasons
and sources for things; see Glossary). Specifically, he says, "what
is called 'wisdom' is concerned with first causes and
principles" - ultimate reasons and sources for things. He
will try to establish and support this point in Chapter 2.
The basic idea seems to be that the more fundamental the reasons and sources one knows, the more one is able to explain. And the more one is able to explain, the wiser one is said to be. Thus if a person could explain the ultimate reasons and sources for things, he or she would be said to have the ultimate in "wisdom."
Throughout Chapter 1, Aristotle has talked about how people regard those who have "art," about whom people admire, about what people say or believe, about what is called "wisdom," and so on. That is, he has been examining what people of his time and place say and think concerning the thing that philosophers are supposed to be seeking (wisdom). He has not committed himself to any assessment about whether what people say and believe is accurate, inaccurate, or even coherent. Instead, he is going to investigate these things that people say and believe, to see whether they make sense and whether they can be supported with evidence and valid reasoning. He has not even said yet whether he thinks that wisdom exists, or that anyone has it. When Aristotle uses the expression 'what is called "wisdom"' one might reasonably ask whether he means us to examine whether what is called 'wisdom' really should have that name.
Aristotle has concluded that people believe that what is called 'wisdom' is concerned with the first causes and principles, that is, that people believe that what is called 'wisdom' is concerned with the ultimate reasons and sources for things. However, that does not tell us much - for example, it does not tell us what those ultimate reasons and sources might be like. It does not tell us whether we can find those ultimate reasons and sources, or how to go about looking for them. It also does not tell us whether Aristotle thinks people are right to believe that what is called 'wisdom' is concerned with the ultimate reasons and sources for things. Relax (or, hold on tight) -- Aristotle is going to go into at least some of that in Chapter 2. (He won't finish there, of course; there are several more chapters of Book I, plus 13 more Books in the Metaphysics.)
Specifically, Aristotle had said, "wisdom" seems to be some sort
of episteme, some sort of demonstrable knowledge,
concerning the ultimate reasons (why's) and sources. Since he is
not saying that he himself has "wisdom," and is trying to figure
out what it was people said that the early philosophers were
seeking when they named them "philosophers" (lovers of wisdom),
Aristotle starts by analyzing what people in his time said and
believed about what they called "wisdom" and about those whom they
called "wise people." Aristotle is NOT accepting these opinions
people have at face value; he will analyze them to see what they
mean and whether they make sense. He does not say that he believes
everything that people say. He will examine what people say in
order to see what if anything these opinions imply about whether
anyone has such a body of knowledge as "wisdom" is supposed to be,
or whether and how one could tell whether it exists. Aristotle
does not come to an explicit conclusion about these things, so the
reader is left to ponder his points.
A. Characteristics that people (in Aristotle's time) believed concerning wisdom and the wise personPeople believed that the wise person:
People believed that of the "sciences," the bodies of demonstrable knowledge,
B. The basic ideas behind these things people say about wisdom and the wise person(It may be helpful to observe that Aristotle seems to be reporting what people say about those people whom they believe to be wise in a given field. He is then generalizing to consider the case of comprehensive wisdom, wisdom across all fields.)
C. It turns out that based on these opinions about wisdom and the wise person, each of the 6 characteristics mentioned in section A will belong fully only to the person who has demonstrable knowledge concerning first causes and principles. So common opinions lead in the same direction as the earlier argument. Further, only the demonstrable knowledge of first causes and principles, or the person who has it (if this knowledge or this person exists) will have all of the 6 characteristics. No "science" that we are familiar with will impart all 6.To see why, Aristotle examines each of the 6 characteristics:
Thus the "science" of first causes and principles fits in the strongest way all of the 6 reputed characteristics of wisdom and the wise person. And (if it exists) the "science" of first causes and principles is the only body of knowledge that fits all 6, as we will see below. Moreover, the "science" of first causes and principles is the only body of knowledge that fully fits even one of the 6 characteristics. In fact, we might ask whether any body of knowledge that is not knowledge of first causes and principles is fully able to answer any why-question.
D. According to Aristotle, none of the "sciences" we are familiar with fits all of the characteristics people say belong to wisdom or the wise person.
E. At 981b10 Aristotle goes over some things he says wisdom could not be: it could not be a science of making things, or a science that is specifically oriented toward making things. This of course fits with his earlier report that people think that wisdom is sought for its own sake or for the sake of understanding.As he notes, it has always been because of wonder that people have begun to seek wisdom as such. After all, people who must work constantly just to obtain the necessities of life will not have the time to spend seeking knowledge for its own sake or out of pure curiosity. They can only afford to seek the knowledge that will enable them to get what they need. (This is NOT to say that such people never gain deep or complex learning, or that they do not find anything that they do not need to know. It is only to say that they cannot afford to seek systematically those kinds of knowledge that they do not need.)
F. But humans are not completely independent and free. We can't spend all our time seeking and contemplating wisdom, for we have wants, needs, and duties we must take care of. The poet Simonides said that only a god can have wisdom. And poets often warned that gods could become jealous of humans who acquired something (such as wisdom) that the gods wanted to keep for themselves. For these reasons, Aristotle notes, a person might be inclined to conclude that humans should give up the search for wisdom, and seek only the knowledge or information we clearly can obtain.But Aristotle thinks we would be wrong to come to that conclusion. First of all, he points out, the gods could not be jealous. Presumably he is referring to the common belief that the gods are self-sufficient and do not lack anything. (Thus the poets ought to explain why they can contradict the beliefs they say they rely on!) One becomes jealous when one believes that another has taken something that belongs to one, or that should belong to one.
Thus there is no reason to think that a god would punish a person who sought wisdom. Plus, it is not even clear that we could ever get much in the way of wisdom. So, Aristotle seems to think it is entirely appropriate for a person to seek wisdom.
Perhaps what Aristotle is bringing to our attention is that if we seek wisdom as demonstrable knowledge of first causes and principles, the poets (or whoever in our society is involved in myth-making and the transmission of beliefs) will be jealous. For to search for a demonstrable knowledge of first causes and principles is to stop waiting for someone else's ideas, and to stop waiting for inspiration about certain things, and to go and seek for yourself. The authority of Greek poets and priests, and therefore the authority of those laws and customs that were established by poets and priests as divine in origin, is seriously challenged by the autonomous search for a science of first causes and principles - a science anyone can learn to search for.
(Note: Your text sometimes prints the expression 'God,' and as you know, the Greeks believed in many gods. What is happening is that Aristotle has written 'ho theos,' which means 'the god' or 'the divine being.' He may mean 'a god in general,' or 'that which is divine.' There is no reason to suppose that he has in mind the single divine being of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; though what he says would certainly fit that being.)
G. Why then would wisdom be called a "divine science"?A science would be divine, Aristotle says, if either
The science of wisdom, Aristotle says, should fulfill both criteria. For this reason, it should be considered the most precious or most worthy of honor - after all, the gods would have nothing but the best. Indeed, only or mainly a god would have this sort of knowledge, because the gods lack nothing. And, Aristotle says, people believe that a god is a cause and a kind of principle (a reason and a kind of source): in myths, gods are supposed to have made humans and natural phenomena, dictated laws and customs, changed the universe, and so on.
Aristotle now says two complex and somewhat subversive things.
2. When Aristotle uses the term 'animals' ('zoa'), he is referring to all kinds of animals, including humans. The idea that human beings are a kind of animal was common in ancient Greek thought.
3. It is not entirely clear how Aristotle arrives at his conclusions concerning which animals have memory, which have prudence, and so on. He seems to be determining this on the basis of similarities between human behaviors and reactions and the other animals' behaviors and reactions. We might raise questions today about whether similar behaviors really reflect similar thought processes or capacities, and some modern biologists think that Aristotle may have misinterpreted some of the things he observed. However, if we focus on the behavioral similarities, Aristotle's point is not completely undermined.
4. For example, doctors in Aristotle's time believed that "biliousness" caused or exacerbated many illnesses. They also believed that "biliousness" was due to an excess of bile (a fluid produced by the liver) throughout the body. In fact, they thought that everyone had bile throughout the body, and that "bilious" people just had too much of it. Doctors today have shown that bile is normally present only in the liver and intestines. If bile appears anywhere else in your body, you will not be "bilious"; you will be dead. Despite the fact that their theory was inaccurate, ancient Greek doctors were able to use it to heal patients; they discovered treatments that worked, but had what we would now think of as incorrect explanations of why the treatments worked. Perhaps 2500 years from now doctors will find some 21st-century medical theories to be inaccurate as well, and will say of us that we had a wrong understanding of why our treatments worked.