A History of Ancient Philosophy: From the Beginnings to Augustine

By Karsten Friis Johansen | Go to book overview

22

METAPHYSICS AND THEOLOGY

'By nature all men desire to know' (Met. 980 a 21). With this famous dictum Aristotle begins his Metaphysics. The apparently simple sentence is loaded with Aristotelian terminology. It claims that knowledge is the final cause of human desire (orexis), and that this desire is inherent in human nature. It is an essential determination of man that refers to a praxis-an activity that has its purpose and meaning in itself-and this purpose is realized by the free, reputable man who is his own master (982 b 26).

Knowledge or wisdom (sophia-981 a 25) combines intuitive reason with epistēmē, the demonstrative science of the necessary truths, and it is distinguished from rationally founded skills and from practical insight (technē and phronēsis), as Aristotle goes on to state (981 b 25; cf. Eth. Nic. 1139 b 14 ff.). Theoretical knowledge or sophia is elevated above all practical undertakings and is the highest knowledge, for it is directed at the highest object, the first principles of nature, which are necessary and therefore must become the object of the most exact knowledge (Met. 982 a 25). Knowledge of the highest object is knowledge of the divine. But is it not hubris for man to concern himself with the divine (b 28)? No, for the godhead is without jealousy, and insight into the divine is the most honourable for man-as we are told in two concealed quotations from Plato (from the Timaeus and the Theaetetus, see p. 239 and p. 221). Behind this lies Aristotle's own anthropology: man achieves the highest when he transcends his humanity.

The exercise of theōria, theoretical knowledge or knowledge for its own sake (Met. 982 a 15), is a praxis; but the contents of theōria on the other hand-the question what the highest knowledge is knowledge of-is not. The goal of theoretical science is truth; the goal of practical knowledge is action (cf, 993 b 20).

The Analytica posteriora ended by asking how one attains insight into the first principles. The Metaphysics begins by asking the same question; metaphysics begins where logic ends. The connection is established by means of the schematic account of the path of knowledge from sensation to memory, from memory to experience, from experience to theoretical knowledge, and the 'art' that is based on general knowledge (980 a 27 ff.; cf. Anal. post. 99 b 15 ff.). But in the beginning of the Metaphysics not much is said about the role of intuitive reason-nous-for this is the main subject throughout the rest of the work. On the other hand, more is said about experience,

-343-

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A History of Ancient Philosophy: From the Beginnings to Augustine
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface xi
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I - Presocratic Philosophy 9
  • 1 - Myth, Poetry and Philosophy 11
  • 2 - Ionian Natural Philosophy 20
  • 3 - Heraclitus 29
  • 4 - The Pythagoreans 36
  • 5 - The Eleatics 45
  • 6 - Post-Parmenidean Natural Philosophy 59
  • 7 - Medical Science 79
  • Part II - The Great Century of Athens 83
  • 8 - Pericles' Athens 85
  • 9 - Tragedy and View of History 88
  • 10 - The Sophists 99
  • 11 - Socrates 118
  • Part III - Plato 137
  • 12 - Life, Works and Position 139
  • 13 - What is Virtue? Can Virtue Be Taught? 160
  • 14 - Idea and Man 173
  • 15 - The Good Constitution of State and Man 198
  • 16 - The Late Dialogues: Knowledge and Being 213
  • 17 - The Late Dialogues: Nature, Man and Society 236
  • 18 - Plato and the Early Academy 254
  • Part IV - Aristotle 267
  • 19 - Life, Works and Position 269
  • 20 - Logic and Theory of Science 293
  • 21 - Natural Philosophy and Psychology 316
  • 22 - Metaphysics and Theology 343
  • 23 - Ethics and Politics 366
  • 24 - Rhetoric and Poetics 392
  • 25 - The Early Peripatetics 400
  • Part V - Hellenistic Philosophy 405
  • 26 - Science and Philosophy 407
  • 27 - Epicurus 423
  • 28 - Early Stoicism 442
  • 29 - Scepticism 471
  • 30 - Greece and Rome 484
  • Part VI - Late Antiquity 499
  • 31 - Imperial Rome 501
  • 32 - Plotinus 532
  • 33 - Late Neoplatonism 556
  • 34 - Early Christian Thought 569
  • 35 - Augustine 588
  • Abbreviations General 625
  • Bibliography 639
  • Index 663
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