Strip away the rhythm and meter, and you have plain prose directed at the mob. It's a kind of public speaking, that's all a6-c The rhetorician is a maker of beliefs in the souls of his auditors a3—4. And without that skill—here Gorgias begins to wax at length and eloquently—other arts such as medicine cannot do their work effectively b ff. Rhetoric is a comprehensive art. But Gorgias offers a crucial qualification that turns out to contribute to his downfall: rhetoric should not be used against any and everybody, any more than skill in boxing should be.
Although the rhetorician teaches others to use the skill justly, it is always possible for the student to misuse it. This is followed by another damaging admission: the rhetorician knows what justice, injustice, and other moral qualities are, and teaches them to the student if the student is ignorant of them a. It would follow that, in Socrates' language, the true rhetorician is a philosopher; and in fact that is a position Socrates takes in the Phaedrus. But Gorgias is not a philosopher and does not in fact know—cannot give an account of—the moral qualities in question.
So his art is all about appearing, in the eyes of the ignorant, to know about these topics, and then persuading them as is expedient cf. But this is not something Gorgias wishes to admit; indeed, he allows himself to agree that since the rhetorician knows what justice is, he must be a just man and therefore acts justly b-c. He is caught in a contradiction: he claimed that a student who had acquired the art of rhetoric could use it unjustly, but now claims that the rhetorician could not commit injustice.
All this is just too much for Gorgias' student Polus, whose angry intervention marks the second and much more bitter stage of the dialogue b3. A new point emerges that is consistent with the claim that rhetoricians do not know or convey knowledge, viz. Socrates adds that its object is to produce gratification. To develop the point, Socrates produces a striking schema distinguishing between care of the body and care of the soul.
Medicine and gymnastics truly care for the body, cookery and cosmetics pretend to but do not. Politics is the art that cares for the soul; justice and legislation are its branches, and the imitations of each are rhetoric and sophistry. As medicine stands to cookery, so justice to rhetoric; as gymnastics to cosmetics, so legislation to sophistry. The true forms of caring are arts technai aiming at the good; the false, knacks aiming at pleasure bd.
Let us note that sophistry and rhetoric are very closely allied here; Socrates notes that they are distinct but closely related and therefore often confused by people c. What exactly their distinction consists in is not clear, either in Plato's discussions of the matter, or historically. Socrates's polemic here is intended to apply to them both, as both are alleged to amount to a knack for persuasion of the ignorant by the ignorant with a view to producing pleasure in the audience and the pleasures of power for the speaker.
Socrates' ensuing argument with Polus is complicated and long. The nub of the matter concerns the relation between power and justice. For Polus, the person who has power and wields it successfully is happy.
The Carmina Burana of Carl Orff
For Socrates, a person is happy only if he or she is morally good, and an unjust or evil person is wretched—all the more so, indeed, if they escape punishment for their misdeeds. In sum: Plato's suggestion is that rhetoric and sophistry are tied to substantive theses about the irrelevance of moral truth to the happy life; about the conventionality or relativity of morals; and about the irrelevance of the sort of inquiry into the truth of the matter as distinguished from opinions or the results of polls upon which Socrates keeps insisting.
And if these hold, what use is there in rhetoric? For someone who wishes to avoid doing himself and others harm, Socrates concludes, rhetoric is altogether useless. Tied into logical knots, Polus succumbs. All this is just too much for yet another interlocutor in the dialogue, Callicles. The rhetoric of the Gorgias reaches its most bitter stage. Callicles presents himself as a no-holds-barred, bare-knuckled, clear-headed advocate of Realpolitik , as we would now call it. Conventional talk of justice, fairness, not taking more than is your share, not pursuing your individual best interest—these are simply ways by which the weak seek to enslave the strong.
The art of rhetoric is all about empowering those who are strong by nature to master the weak by nature. Callicles' famous diatribe includes an indictment of philosophy as a childish occupation that, if pursued past youth, interferes with the manly pursuit of power, fosters contemptible ignorance of how the real political world works, and renders its possessor effeminate and defenseless.
His example is none other than Socrates; philosophy will he says prophetically render Socrates helpless should he be indicted. Helplessness in the face of the stupidity of the hoi polloi is disgraceful and pathetic a-c. By contrast, what would it mean to have power? Callicles is quite explicit: power is the ability to fulfill whatever desire you have. Power is freedom, freedom is license a-c. The capacity to do what one wants is fulfillment in the sense of the realization of pleasure.
Rhetoric is a means to that end. The quarrel between rhetoric and philosophy, thus understood, ultimately addresses a range of fundamental issues. Its quarrel with philosophy is comprehensive, and bears on the nature of nature; the existence of objective moral norms; the connection if any between happiness and virtue; the nature and limits of reason; the value of reason understood as the rational pursuit of objective purpose in a human life; the nature of the soul or self; and the question as to whether there is a difference between true and false pleasure, i.
Socrates too starts to speak at length, sounds rhetorical at times, and ends the discussion with a myth. Callicles advances a substantive position grounded in a version of the distinction between nature and convention and defends it. These transgressions of rhetorical genres to one side, from Socrates' standpoint the ultimate philosophical question at stake concerns how one should live one's life c.
Readers of the dialogue will differ as to whether or not the arguments there offered decide the matter. The nub of the debate is as current today, both in academic and non-academic contexts, as it was in Plato's day.
Is all of rhetoric bad? Are we to avoid—indeed, can we avoid—rhetoric altogether? Even in the Gorgias , as we have seen, there is a distinction between rhetoric that instills belief, and rhetoric that instills knowledge, and later in the dialogue a form of noble rhetoric is mentioned, though no examples of its practitioners can be found a-b.
The Phaedrus offers a more detailed explanation of this distinction. Readers of the Phaedrus have often wondered how the dialogue hangs together. A slightly closer look reveals that any such simple characterization is misleading, because the first half is also about rhetoric, in several different ways.
The other two are rhetorical as well, and presented as efforts to persuade a young beloved. All three are justly viewed as rhetorical masterstrokes by Plato, but for different reasons. The first is a brilliantly executed parody of the style of Lysias an orator and speech writer of significant repute. It is mostly an allegory cast in the form of a myth, and tells the story of true love and of the soul's journeys in the cosmos human and divine.
The themes of poetry and rhetoric, then, are intertwined in the Phaedrus. It looks initially as though both rhetoric and poetry have gained significant stature, at least relative to their status in the Ion , Republic , and Gorgias. I will begin by focusing primarily on rhetoric, and then turn to the question of poetry, even though the two themes are closely connected in this dialogue. The answer to this crucial question constitutes one of the most famous contributions to the topic.
In essence, Socrates argues that someone who is going to speak well and nobly must know the truth about the subject he is going to discuss. The sort of theory Polus and Callicles maintained in the Gorgias is false see Phaedrus e4—a4. How to show that it is an art after all? Quite a number of claimants to rhetoric are named and reviewed, and readers who have an interest in the history of Greek rhetoric rightly find these passages invaluable.
Many rhetoricians have artfully and effectively misled their audiences, and Socrates argues—somewhat implausibly perhaps—that in order to mislead one cannot oneself be misled. It will not only be coherent, but structured in a way that mirrors the way the subject itself is naturally organized. This will not be truly accomplished if it only looks that way; to be that way, a discourse's unity should reflect the unity of its subject.
At this point we might want to ask about the audience ; after all, the rhetorician is trying to persuade someone of something. Might not the speaker know the truth of the matter, and know how to embody it artfully in a composition, but fail to persuade anyone of it? Would not a failure to persuade indicate that the speaker lacks the complete art of rhetoric? Just as an expert physician must understand both the human body and the body of medical knowledge—these being inseparable—so too the expert speaker must understand both the human soul and what is known about the soul.
The reader will immediately recall that the great speech the palinode in the first half of the Phaedrus was about the soul in its cosmic context—the soul's nature, its journeys divine and human, its longings, the objects of its longings, its failures and their consequences, were all part of the same story. The consequence of this approach to rhetoric has now become clear: to possess that art, one must be a philosopher.
True rhetoric is philosophical discourse. But what happened to the question about the audience? This last demand is a matter of practice and of the ability to size up the audience on the spot, as it were. The reader will find them summarized at b5-c6. If the audience is philosophical, or includes philosophers, how would the true, artful, philosophical dialectician address it?
This question is not faced head-on in the Phaedrus , but we are given a number of clues. According to reflections inaugurated by the Theuth and Thamus myth, the written word is not the most suitable vehicle for communicating truth, because it cannot answer questions put to it; it simply repeats itself when queried; it tends to substitute the authority of the author for the reader's open minded inquiry into the truth; and it circulates everywhere indiscriminately, falling into the hands of people who cannot understand it.
Dialectical speech is accompanied by knowledge, can defend itself when questioned, and is productive of knowledge in its audience e4—a4. Of course, all this raises the question as to the status of Plato's dialogues, since they are themselves writings; we will return to it briefly below. Popular rhetoric is not an art, but a knack for persuasion. Artful rhetoric requires philosophy; but does philosophy require rhetoric? The Phaedrus points to the interesting thought that all discourse is rhetorical, even when the speaker is simply trying to communicate the truth—indeed, true rhetoric is the art of communicating the truth notice the broad sweep of the discussion of discourse at e5—b4.
Rhetoric is present wherever and whenever people speak de4 and context. Even when one is not sure what the truth is, and even when one is thinking through something by oneself—carrying on an inner dialogue, as it were—discourse and persuasion are present. The bottom line is that there is no escaping from persuasion, and so none from rhetoric—including of course from the very problem of distinguishing between warranted and unwarranted persuasion. Self-deception is an ever-present possibility as Socrates implies here, and notes at Cratylus d.
That is a problem about which the philosopher above all worries about. The Gorgias' notion that the struggle between popular rhetoric and philosophy—or as we might say, unphilosophical and philosophical rhetoric—is one between comprehensive outlooks is clear from the Phaedrus as well. The speech is quite explicitly a retraction of an outlook that does not espouse these views; ordinary rhetoric moves in a very different moral, metaphysical, psychological, and epistemic world. It is an interesting fact that Plato deploys certain elements of poetry such as myth, allegory, simile, image in drawing the contrast between these outlooks.
That poetry is itself a kind of persuasive discourse or rhetoric has already been mentioned. This echoes the Ion 's charge that the rhapsodes do not know what they are talking about. But what about the rationale that the poets and rhapsodes are inspired? Inspiration comes up numerous times in the Phaedrus.
It and the related notions of Bacchic frenzy, madness, and possession are invoked repeatedly almost from the start of the dialogue b , in connection with Phaedrus' allegedly inspiring recitation of Lysias' text d1—6 , and as inspiring Socrates's two speeches a7—b1, d2—6, d1—3. These references are uniformly playful, even at times joking. More serious is the distinction between ordinary madness and divine madness, and the defense of the superiority of divine madness, which Socrates' second speech sets out to defend.
The case is first made by noting that three species of madness are already accepted: that of the prophets, that of certain purifying or cathartic religious rites, and the third that inspiration granted by the Muses that moves its possessor to poetry ba. As noted, it begins to look as though a certain kind of poetry the inspired is being rehabilitated. And yet when Socrates comes to classify kinds of lives a bit further on, the poets along with those who have anything to do with mimesis rank a low sixth out of nine, after the likes of household managers, financiers, doctors, and prophets e1—2!
The poet is just ahead of the manual laborer, sophist, and tyrant. The philosopher comes in first, as the criterion for the ranking concerns the level of knowledge of truth about the Ideas or Forms of which the soul in question is capable. This hierarchy of lives could scarcely be said to rehabilitate the poet. The Phaedrus quietly sustains the critique of poetry, as well as much less quietly of rhetoric.
Plato's critique of writing on the grounds that it is a poor form of rhetoric is itself written. Does the critique apply to the dialogues themselves? Scholars dispute the answers to these well-known questions. There is general agreement that Plato perfected—perhaps even invented—a new form of discourse.
The Platonic dialogue is a innovative type of rhetoric, and it is hard to believe that it does not at all reflect—whether successfully or not is another matter—Plato's response to the criticisms of writing which he puts into the mouth of his Socrates. Plato's remarkable philosophical rhetoric incorporates elements of poetry. Most obviously, his dialogues are dramas with several formal features in common with much tragedy and comedy for example, the use of authorial irony, the importance of plot, setting, the role of individual character and the interplay between dramatis personae.
His works also narrate a number of myths, and sparkle with imagery, simile, allegory, and snatches of meter and rhyme. Indeed, as he sets out the city in speech in the Republic , Socrates calls himself a myth teller d9—10, e4—5. In a number of ways, the dialogues may be said to be works of fiction; none of them took place exactly as presented by Plato, several could not have taken place, some contain characters who never existed. These are imaginary conversations, imitations of certain kinds of philosophical conversations.
The reader is undoubtedly invited to see him or herself reflected in various characters, and to that extent identify with them, even while also focusing on the arguments, exchanges, and speeches. Exactly what to make of his appropriation of elements of poetry is once again a matter of long discussion and controversy. Suffice it to say that Plato's last word on the critique of poetry and rhetoric is not spoken in his dialogues, but is embodied in the dialogue form of writing he brought to perfection. Plato: aesthetics Plato: ethics. I would also like to thank David Roochnik for his help with various revisions along the way.
Introduction 2. Ion 3. Gorgias 5. Phaedrus 5. Introduction A good poem helps to change the shape and significance of the universe, helps to extend everyone's knowledge of himself and the world around him —Dylan Thomas [ 1 ] When we think of a philosophical analysis of poetry, something like a treatise on aesthetics comes to mind. So Ion, and by extension Homer, are faced with a series of unpalatable alternatives: They could continue to defend the claim that they really do know the subjects about which they discourse—in the sense of possess the techne kai episteme of them, i.
Yet if they do defend that claim they will be liable to examination by relevant experts. They could admit that they do not know what they are talking about. This admission could be understood in several ways: b. Gorgias The Gorgias is one of Plato's most bitter dialogues in that the exchanges are at times full of anger, of uncompromising disagreement, plenty of misunderstanding, and cutting rhetoric.
Phaedrus Readers of the Phaedrus have often wondered how the dialogue hangs together. Plato's Dialogues as Rhetoric and Poetry Plato's critique of writing on the grounds that it is a poor form of rhetoric is itself written. Bibliography Adams, J. Annas, J. Rowe eds. Asmis, E. Kraut ed. Auerbach, E. Trask, Princeton: Princeton University Press. Ausland, H. Baracchi, C. Becker, A. Belfiore, E. Benardete, S. Benitez, E. Blondell, R.
Bloom, A. Booth, W. Brogan, T. Preminger and T. Brogan eds. Brownstein, O. Burger, R. Burnet, J. Burnyeat, M. Calvert, B. Calvo, T. Rossetti ed. Capra, A. Clay, D. Cole, T. Cooper, J. Cleary ed. Hutchinson eds. Corbett, E. It is far otherwise. It is an acknowledgement of the beauty of the universe, an acknowledgement the more sincere, because not formal, but indirect; it is a task light and easy to him who looks at the world in the spirit of love: further, it is a homage paid to the native and naked dignity of man, to the grand elementary principle of pleasure, by which he knows, and feels, and lives, and moves.
We have no sympathy but what is propagated by pleasure: I would not be misunderstood; but wherever we sympathize with pain, it will be found that the sympathy is produced and carried on by subtle combinations with pleasure. We have no knowledge, that is, no general principles drawn from the contemplation of particular facts, but what has been built up by pleasure, and exists in us by pleasure alone.
The Man of science, the Chemist and Mathematician, whatever difficulties and disgusts they may have had to struggle with, know and feel this. What then does the Poet? He considers man and the objects that surround him as acting and re-acting upon each other, so as to produce an infinite complexity of pain and pleasure; he considers man in his own nature and in his ordinary life as contemplating this with a certain quantity of immediate knowledge, with certain convictions, intuitions, and deductions, which from habit acquire the quality of intuitions; he considers him as looking upon this complex scene of ideas and sensations, and finding everywhere objects that immediately excite in him sympathies which, from the necessities of his nature, are accompanied by an overbalance of enjoyment.
To this knowledge which all men carry about with them, and to these sympathies in which, without any other discipline than that of our daily life, we are fitted to take delight, the Poet principally directs his attention. He considers man and nature as essentially adapted to each other, and the mind of man as naturally the mirror of the fairest and most interesting properties of nature. The knowledge both of the Poet and the Man of science is pleasure; but the knowledge of the one cleaves to us as a necessary part of our existence, our natural and unalienable inheritance; the other is a personal and individual acquisition, slow to come to us, and by no habitual and direct sympathy connecting us with our fellow-beings.
The Man of science seeks truth as a remote and unknown benefactor; he cherishes and loves it in his solitude: the Poet, singing a song in which all human beings join with him, rejoices in the presence of truth as our visible friend and hourly companion. Poetry is the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge; it is the impassioned expression which is in the countenance of all Science.
In spite of difference of soil and climate, of language and manners, of laws and customs: in spite of things silently gone out of mind, and things violently destroyed; the Poet binds together by passion and knowledge the vast empire of human society, as it is spread over the whole earth, and over all time. If the labours of Men of science should ever create any material revolution, direct or indirect, in our condition, and in the impressions which we habitually receive, the Poet will sleep then no more than at present; he will be ready to follow the steps of the Man of science, not only in those general indirect effects, but he will be at his side, carrying sensation into the midst of the objects of the science itself.
If the time should ever come when what is now called science, thus familiarized to men, shall be ready to put on, as it were, a form of flesh and blood, the Poet will lend his divine spirit to aid the transfiguration, and will welcome the Being thus produced, as a dear and genuine inmate of the household of man. It is not, then, in the dramatic parts of composition that we look for this distinction of language; but still it may be proper and necessary where the Poet speaks to us in his own person and character.
Among the qualities there enumerated as principally conducing to form a Poet, is implied nothing differing in kind from other men, but only in degree. The sum of what was said is, that the Poet is chiefly distinguished from other men by a greater promptness to think and feel without immediate external excitement, and a greater power in expressing such thoughts and feelings as are produced in him in that manner. But these passions and thoughts and feelings are the general passions and thoughts and feelings of men.
Undoubtedly with our moral sentiments and animal sensations, and with the causes which excite these; with the operations of the elements, and the appearances of the visible universe; with storm and sunshine, with the revolutions of the seasons, with cold and heat, with loss of friends and kindred, with injuries and resentments, gratitude and hope, with fear and sorrow. These, and the like, are the sensations and objects which the Poet describes, as they are the sensations of other men, and the objects which interest them.
The Poet thinks and feels in the spirit of human passions. How, then, can his language differ in any material degree from that of all other men who feel vividly and see clearly? It might be proved that it is impossible. But supposing that this were not the case, the Poet might then be allowed to use a peculiar language when expressing his feelings for his own gratification, or that of men like himself. But Poets do not write for Poets alone, but for men. Unless therefore we are advocates for that admiration which subsists upon ignorance, and that pleasure which arises from hearing what we do not understand, the Poet must descend from this supposed height; and, in order to excite rational sympathy, he must express himself as other men express themselves.
Our feelings are the same with respect to metre; for, as it may be proper to remind the Reader, the distinction of metre is regular and uniform, and not, like that which is produced by what is usually called POETIC DICTION, arbitrary, and subject to infinite caprices upon which no calculation whatever can be made. In the one case, the Reader is utterly at the mercy of the Poet, respecting what imagery or diction he may choose to connect with the passion; whereas, in the other, the metre obeys certain laws, to which the Poet and Reader both willingly submit because they are certain, and because no interference is made by them with the passion, but such as the concurring testimony of ages has shown to heighten and improve the pleasure which co-exists with it.
It will now be proper to answer an obvious question, namely, Why, professing these opinions, have I written in verse? Now, supposing for a moment that whatever is interesting in these objects may be as vividly described in prose, why should I be condemned for attempting to superadd to such description the charm which, by the consent of all nations, is acknowledged to exist in metrical language? In answer to those who still contend for the necessity of accompanying metre with certain appropriate colours of style in order to the accomplishment of its appropriate end, and who also, in my opinion, greatly underrate the power of metre in itself, it might, perhaps, as far as relates to these Volumes, have been almost sufficient to observe, that poems are extant, written upon more humble subjects, and in a still more naked and simple style, which have continued to give pleasure from generation to generation.
Now, if nakedness and simplicity be a defect, the fact here mentioned affords a strong presumption that poems somewhat less naked and simple are capable of affording pleasure at the present day; and, what I wish chiefly to attempt, at present, was to justify myself for having written under the impression of this belief. But various causes might be pointed out why, when the style is manly, and the subject of some importance, words metrically arranged will long continue to impart such a pleasure to mankind as he who proves the extent of that pleasure will be desirous to impart.
The end of Poetry is to produce excitement in co-existence with an overbalance of pleasure; but, by the supposition, excitement is an unusual and irregular state of the mind; ideas and feelings do not, in that state, succeed each other in accustomed order. If the words, however, by which this excitement is produced be in themselves powerful, or the images and feelings have an undue proportion of pain connected with them, there is some danger that the excitement may be carried beyond its proper bounds.
Now the co-presence of something regular, something to which the mind has been accustomed in various moods and in a less excited state, cannot but have great efficacy in tempering and restraining the passion by an intertexture of ordinary feeling, and of feeling not strictly and necessarily connected with the passion. This is unquestionably true; and hence, though the opinion will at first appear paradoxical, from the tendency of metre to divest language, in a certain degree, of its reality, and thus to throw a sort of half-consciousness of unsubstantial existence over the whole composition, there can be little doubt but that more pathetic situations and sentiments, that is, those which have a greater proportion of pain connected with them, may be endured in metrical composition, especially in rhyme, than in prose.
The metre of the old ballads is very artless; yet they contain many passages which would illustrate this opinion; and, I hope, if the following Poems be attentively perused, similar instances will be found in them. Among the chief of these causes is to be reckoned a principle which must be well known to those who have made any of the Arts the object of accurate reflection; namely, the pleasure which the mind derives from the perception of similitude in dissimilitude. This principle is the great spring of the activity of our minds, and their chief feeder.
From this principle the direction of the sexual appetite, and all the passions connected with it, take their origin: it is the life of our ordinary conversation; and upon the accuracy with which similitude in dissimilitude, and dissimilitude in similitude are perceived, depend our taste and our moral feelings. It would not be a useless employment to apply this principle to the consideration of metre, and to show that metre is hence enabled to afford much pleasure, and to point out in what manner that pleasure is produced.
But my limits will not permit me to enter upon this subject, and I must content myself with a general summary. I have said that poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity: the emotion is contemplated till, by a species of reaction, the tranquillity gradually disappears, and an emotion, kindred to that which was before the subject of contemplation, is gradually produced, and does itself actually exist in the mind.
In this mood successful composition generally begins, and in a mood similar to this it is carried on; but the emotion, of whatever kind, and in whatever degree, from various causes, is qualified by various pleasures, so that in describing any passions whatsoever, which are voluntarily described, the mind will, upon the whole, be in a state of enjoyment. This effect is always produced in pathetic and impassioned poetry; while, in lighter compositions, the ease and gracefulness with which the Poet manages his numbers are themselves confessedly a principal source of the gratification of the Reader.
All that it is necessary to say, however, upon this subject, may be effected by affirming, what few persons will deny, that, of two descriptions, either of passions, manners, or characters, each of them equally well executed, the one in prose and the other in verse, the verse will be read a hundred times where the prose is read once.
Having thus explained a few of my reasons for writing in verse, and why I have chosen subjects from common life, and endeavoured to bring my language near to the real language of men, if I have been too minute in pleading my own cause, I have at the same time been treating a subject of general interest; and for this reason a few words shall be added with reference solely to these particular poems, and to some defects which will probably be found in them. I am sensible that my associations must have sometimes been particular instead of general, and that, consequently, giving to things a false importance, I may have sometimes written upon unworthy subjects; but I am less apprehensive on this account, than that my language may frequently have suffered from those arbitrary connexions of feelings and ideas with particular words and phrases, from which no man can altogether protect himself.
Hence I have no doubt, that, in some instances, feelings, even of the ludicrous, may be given to my Readers by expressions which appeared to me tender and pathetic. Such faulty expressions, were I convinced they were faulty at present, and that they must necessarily continue to be so, I would willingly take all reasonable pains to correct. Aristotle recognizes these kinds of final causation, but also, and more problematically, envisages a much greater role for teleology in natural explanation: nature exhibits teleology without design.
He thinks, for instance, that living organisms not only have parts which require teleological explanation—that, for instance, kidneys are for purifying the blood and teeth are for tearing and chewing food—but that whole organisms, human beings and other animals, also have final causes. Crucially, Aristotle denies overtly that the causes operative in nature are intention-dependent. He thinks, that is, that organisms have final causes, but that they did not come to have them by dint of the designing activities of some intentional agent or other.
Although he has been persistently criticized for his commitment to such natural ends, Aristotle is not susceptible to a fair number of the objections standardly made to his view. Indeed, it is evident that whatever the merits of the most penetrating of such criticisms, much of the contumely directed at Aristotle is stunningly illiterate. To anyone who has actually read Aristotle, it is unsurprising that this ascription comes without an accompanying textual citation.
For Aristotle, as Skinner would portray him, rocks are conscious beings having end states which they so delight in procuring that they accelerate themselves in exaltation as they grow ever closer to attaining them. In fact, Aristotle offers two sorts of defenses of non-intentional teleology in nature, the first of which is replete with difficulty. He claims in Physics ii The argument here, which has been variously formulated by scholars, [ 21 ] seems doubly problematic. In this argument Aristotle seems to introduce as a phainomenon that nature exhibits regularity, so that the parts of nature come about in patterned and regular ways.
Thus, for instance, humans tend to have teeth arranged in a predictable sort of way, with incisors in the front and molars in the back. Hence, he concludes, whatever happens always or for the most part must happen for the sake of something, and so must admit of a teleological cause. Thus, teeth show up always or for the most part with incisors in the front and molars in the back; since this is a regular and predictable occurrence, it cannot be due to chance.
Given that whatever is not due to chance has a final cause, teeth have a final cause. The argument is problematic in the first instance because it assumes an exhaustive and exclusive disjunction between what is by chance and what is for the sake of something.
But there are obviously other possibilities.
Hearts beat not in order to make noise, but they do so always and not by chance. Second, and this is perplexing if we have represented him correctly, Aristotle is himself aware of one sort of counterexample to this view and is indeed keen to point it out himself: although, he insists, bile is regularly and predictably yellow, its being yellow is neither due simply to chance nor for the sake of anything.
Aristotle in fact mentions many such counterexamples Part. It seems to follow, then, short of ascribing a straight contradiction to him, either that he is not correctly represented as we have interpreted this argument or that he simply changed his mind about the grounds of teleology. Taking up the first alternative, one possibility is that Aristotle is not really trying to argue for teleology from the ground up in Physics ii 8, but is taking it as already established that there are teleological causes, and restricting himself to observing that many natural phenomena, namely those which occur always or for the most part, are good candidates for admitting of teleological explanation.
That would leave open the possibility of a broader sort of motivation for teleology, perhaps of the sort Aristotle offers elsewhere in the Physics , when speaking about the impulse to find non-intention-dependent teleological causes at work in nature:. As Aristotle quite rightly observes in this passage, we find ourselves regularly and easily speaking in teleological terms when characterizing non-human animals and plants. It is consistent with our so speaking, of course, that all of our easy language in these contexts is lax and careless, because unwarrantedly anthropocentric.
We might yet demand that all such language be assiduously reduced to some non-teleological idiom when we are being scientifically strict and empirically serious, though we would first need to survey the explanatory costs and benefits of our attempting to do so. Aristotle considers and rejects some views hostile to teleology in Physics ii 8 and Generation and Corruption i. Once Aristotle has his four-causal explanatory schema fully on the scene, he relies upon it in virtually all of his most advanced philosophical investigation.
As he deploys it in various frameworks, we find him augmenting and refining the schema even as he applies it, sometimes with surprising results. One important question concerns how his hylomorphism intersects with the theory of substance advanced in the context of his theory of categories. As we have seen, Aristotle insists upon the primacy of primary substance in his Categories. According to that work, however, star instances of primary substance are familiar living beings like Socrates or an individual horse Cat. Yet with the advent of hylomorphism, these primary substances are revealed to be metaphysical complexes: Socrates is a compound of matter and form.
So, now we have not one but three potential candidates for primary substance: form, matter, and the compound of matter and form. The question thus arises: which among them is the primary substance? Is it the matter, the form, or the compound? The compound corresponds to a basic object of experience and seems to be a basic subject of predication: we say that Socrates lives in Athens, not that his matter lives in Athens. Still, matter underlies the compound and in this way seems a more basic subject than the compound, at least in the sense that it can exist before and after it does. On the other hand, the matter is nothing definite at all until enformed; so, perhaps form, as determining what the compound is, has the best claim on substantiality.
In the middle books of his Metaphysics , which contain some of his most complex and engaging investigations into basic being, Aristotle settles on form Met. He expects a substance to be, as he says, some particular thing tode ti , but also to be something knowable, some essence or other. These criteria seem to pull in different directions, the first in favor of particular substances, as the primary substances of the Categories had been particulars, and the second in favor of universals as substances, because they alone are knowable. In the lively controversy surrounding these matters, many scholars have concluded that Aristotle adopts a third way forward: form is both knowable and particular.
This matter, however, remains very acutely disputed. Very briefly, and not engaging these controversies, it becomes clear that Aristotle prefers form in virtue of its role in generation and diachronic persistence. When a statue is generated, or when a new animal comes into being, something persists, namely the matter, which comes to realize the substantial form in question.
Even so, insists Aristotle, the matter does not by itself provide the identity conditions for the new substance. First, as we have seen, the matter is merely potentially some F until such time as it is made actually F by the presence of an F form. Further, the matter can be replenished, and is replenished in the case of all organisms, and so seems to be form-dependent for its own diachronic identity conditions. For these reasons, Aristotle thinks of the form as prior to the matter, and thus more fundamental than the matter. This sort of matter, the form-dependent matter, Aristotle regards as proximate matter Met.
Further, in Metaphysics vii 17 Aristotle offers a suggestive argument to the effect that matter alone cannot be substance. Let the various bits of matter belonging to Socrates be labeled as a , b , c , …, n. Consistent with the non-existence of Socrates is the existence of a , b , c , …, n , since these elements exist when they are spread from here to Alpha Centauri, but if that happens, of course, Socrates no longer exists. Heading in the other direction, Socrates can exist without just these elements, since he may exist when some one of a , b , c , …, n is replaced or goes out of existence.
So, in addition to his material elements, insists Aristotle, Socrates is also something else, something more heteron ti ; Met. Hence, concludes Aristotle, as the source of being and unity, form is substance. Even if this much is granted—and to repeat, much of what has just been said is unavoidably controversial—many questions remain.
For example, is form best understood as universal or particular? However that issue is to be resolved, what is the relation of form to the compound and to matter? If form is substance, then what is the fate of these other two candidates? Are they also substances, if to a lesser degree? It seems odd to conclude that they are nothing at all, or that the compound in particular is nothing in actuality; yet it is difficult to contend that they might belong to some category other than substance.
DA a13, a20—6; De Part. It is appropriate, then, to treat all ensouled bodies in hylomorphic terms:. Further, the soul, as the end of the compound organism, is also the final cause of the body. Minimally, this is to be understood as the view that any given body is the body that it is because it is organized around a function which serves to unify the entire organism.
Aristotle contends that his hylomorphism provides an attractive middle way between what he sees as the mirroring excesses of his predecessors. In one direction, he means to reject Presocratic kinds of materialism; in the other, he opposes Platonic dualism. He gives the Presocratics credit for identifying the material causes of life, but then faults them for failing to grasp its formal cause. By contrast, Plato earns praise for grasping the formal cause of life; unfortunately, he then proceeds to neglect the material cause, and comes to believe that the soul can exist without its material basis.
In his view, to account for living organisms, one must attend to both matter and form. Aristotle deploys hylomorphic analyses not only to the whole organism, but to the individual faculties of the soul as well. With each of these extensions, Aristotle both expands and taxes his basic hylomorphism, sometimes straining its basic framework almost beyond recognition.
He takes it as given that most people wish to lead good lives; the question then becomes what the best life for human beings consists in. Because he believes that the best life for a human being is not a matter of subjective preference, he also believes that people can and, sadly, often do choose to lead sub-optimal lives.
In order to avoid such unhappy eventualities, Aristotle recommends reflection on the criteria any successful candidate for the best life must satisfy. He proceeds to propose one kind of life as meeting those criteria uniquely and therefore promotes it as the superior form of human life.
This is a life lived in accordance with reason.
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When stating the general criteria for the final good for human beings, Aristotle invites his readers to review them EN a22— This is advisable, since much of the work of sorting through candidate lives is in fact accomplished during the higher-order task of determining the criteria appropriate to this task. Once these are set, it becomes relatively straightforward for Aristotle to dismiss some contenders, including for instance the life of pleasure. Plainly some candidates for the best life fall down in the face of these criteria. According to Aristotle, neither the life of pleasure nor the life of honour satisfies them all.
What does satisfy them all is happiness eudaimonia. Still, as Aristotle frankly acknowledges, people will consent without hesitation to the suggestion that happiness is our best good—even while differing materially about how they understand what happiness is. So, while seeming to agree, people in fact disagree about the human good.
Consequently, it is necessary to reflect on the nature of happiness eudaimonia :. In determining what eudaimonia consists in, Aristotle makes a crucial appeal to the human function ergon , and thus to his overarching teleological framework. He thinks that he can identify the human function in terms of reason, which then provides ample grounds for characterizing the happy life as involving centrally the exercise of reason, whether practical or theoretical.
Happiness turns out to be an activity of the rational soul, conducted in accordance with virtue or excellence, or, in what comes to the same thing, in rational activity executed excellently EN a— Strikingly, first, he insists that the good life is a life of activity; no state suffices, since we are commended and praised for living good lives, and we are rightly commended or praised only for things we do EN b20—a Further, given that we must not only act, but act excellently or virtuously, it falls to the ethical theorist to determine what virtue or excellence consists in with respect to the individual human virtues, including, for instance, courage and practical intelligence.
Aristotle concludes his discussion of human happiness in his Nicomachean Ethics by introducing political theory as a continuation and completion of ethical theory. Ethical theory characterizes the best form of human life; political theory characterizes the forms of social organization best suited to its realization EN b12— The basic political unit for Aristotle is the polis , which is both a state in the sense of being an authority-wielding monopoly and a civil society in the sense of being a series of organized communities with varying degrees of converging interest. Rather, he advances a form of political naturalism which treats human beings as by nature political animals, not only in the weak sense of being gregariously disposed, nor even in the sense of their merely benefiting from mutual commercial exchange, but in the strong sense of their flourishing as human beings at all only within the framework of an organized polis.
The polis is thus to be judged against the goal of promoting human happiness. A superior form of political organization enhances human life; an inferior form hampers and hinders it. Aristotle considers a fair number of differing forms of political organization, and sets most aside as inimical to the goal human happiness. For example, given his overarching framework, he has no difficulty rejecting contractarianism on the grounds that it treats as merely instrumental those forms of political activity which are in fact partially constitutive of human flourishing Pol.
In thinking about the possible kinds of political organization, Aristotle relies on the structural observations that rulers may be one, few, or many, and that their forms of rule may be legitimate or illegitimate, as measured against the goal of promoting human flourishing Pol. Taken together, these factors yield six possible forms of government, three correct and three deviant:. The correct are differentiated from the deviant by their relative abilities to realize the basic function of the polis : living well. Given that we prize human happiness, we should, insists Aristotle, prefer forms of political association best suited to this goal.
Necessary to the end of enhancing human flourishing, maintains Aristotle, is the maintenance of a suitable level of distributive justice. Accordingly, he arrives at his classification of better and worse governments partly by considerations of distributive justice.
He contends, in a manner directly analogous to his attitude towards eudaimonia , that everyone will find it easy to agree to the proposition that we should prefer a just state to an unjust state, and even to the formal proposal that the distribution of justice requires treating equal claims similarly and unequal claims dissimilarly. Still, here too people will differ about what constitutes an equal or an unequal claim or, more generally, an equal or an unequal person. A democrat will presume that all citizens are equal, whereas an aristocrat will maintain that the best citizens are, quite obviously, superior to the inferior.
Accordingly, the democrat will expect the formal constraint of justice to yield equal distribution to all, whereas the aristocrat will take for granted that the best citizens are entitled to more than the worst. When sorting through these claims, Aristotle relies upon his own account of distributive justice, as advanced in Nicomachean Ethics v 3. That account is deeply meritocratic. He accordingly disparages oligarchs, who suppose that justice requires preferential claims for the rich, but also democrats, who contend that the state must boost liberty across all citizens irrespective of merit.
The best polis has neither function: its goal is to enhance human flourishing, an end to which liberty is at best instrumental, and not something to be pursued for its own sake. Still, we should also proceed with a sober eye on what is in fact possible for human beings, given our deep and abiding acquisitional propensities. Given these tendencies, it turns out that although deviant, democracy may yet play a central role in the sort of mixed constitution which emerges as the best form of political organization available to us.
Inferior though it is to polity that is, rule by the many serving the goal of human flourishing , and especially to aristocracy government by the best humans, the aristoi , also dedicated to the goal of human flourishing , democracy, as the best amongst the deviant forms of government, may also be the most we can realistically hope to achieve. Aristotle regards rhetoric and the arts as belonging to the productive sciences.
As a family, these differ from the practical sciences of ethics and politics, which concern human conduct, and from the theoretical sciences, which aim at truth for its own sake. Because they are concerned with the creation of human products broadly conceived, the productive sciences include activities with obvious, artefactual products like ships and buildings, but also agriculture and medicine, and even, more nebulously, rhetoric, which aims at the production of persuasive speech Rhet. If we bear in mind that Aristotle approaches all these activities within the broader context of his teleological explanatory framework, then at least some of the highly polemicized interpretative difficulties which have grown up around his works in this area, particularly the Poetics , may be sharply delimited.
To some extent—but only to some extent—it may seem that he does. There are, at any rate, clearly prescriptive elements in both these texts.
Still, he does not arrive at these recommendations a priori. Rather, it is plain that Aristotle has collected the best works of forensic speech and tragedy available to him, and has studied them to discern their more and less successful features. In proceeding in this way, he aims to capture and codify what is best in both rhetorical practice and tragedy, in each case relative to its appropriate productive goal. The general goal of rhetoric is clear. Different contexts, however, require different techniques. Thus, suggests Aristotle, speakers will usually find themselves in one of three contexts where persuasion is paramount: deliberative Rhet.
In each of these contexts, speakers will have at their disposal three main avenues of persuasion: the character of the speaker, the emotional constitution of the audience, and the general argument logos of the speech itself Rhet. Rhetoric thus examines techniques of persuasion pursuant to each of these areas. When discussing these techniques, Aristotle draws heavily upon topics treated in his logical, ethical, and psychological writings. Accordingly, rhetoric, again like dialectic, begins with credible opinions endoxa , though mainly of the popular variety rather than those endorsed most readily by the wise Top.
Finally, rhetoric proceeds from such opinions to conclusions which the audience will understand to follow by cogent patterns of inference Rhet. For this reason, too, the rhetorician will do well understand the patterns of human reasoning. By highlighting and refining techniques for successful speech, the Rhetoric is plainly prescriptive—but only relative to the goal of persuasion. It does not, however, select its own goal or in any way dictate the end of persuasive speech: rather, the end of rhetoric is given by the nature of the craft itself.
The same holds true of the Poetics , but in this case the end is not easily or uncontroversially articulated. It is often assumed that the goal of tragedy is catharsis —the purification or purgation of the emotions aroused in a tragic performance.
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Despite its prevalence, as an interpretation of what Aristotle actually says in the Poetics this understanding is underdetermined at best. When defining tragedy in a general way, Aristotle claims:. Although he has been represented in countless works of scholarship as contending that tragedy is for the sake of catharsis , Aristotle is in fact far more circumspect.
Aristotle (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
While he does contend that tragedy will effect or accomplish catharsis, in so speaking he does not use language which clearly implies that catharsis is in itself the function of tragedy. Although a good blender will achieve a blade speed of 36, rotations per minute, this is not its function; rather, it achieves this speed in service of its function, namely blending. Similarly, then, on one approach, tragedy achieves catharsis, though not because it is its function to do so.
Unfortunately, Aristotle is not completely forthcoming on the question of the function of tragedy. One clue towards his attitude comes from a passage in which he differentiates tragedy from historical writing:. In characterizing poetry as more philosophical, universal, and momentous than history, Aristotle praises poets for their ability to assay deep features of human character, to dissect the ways in which human fortune engages and tests character, and to display how human foibles may be amplified in uncommon circumstances.
We do not, however, reflect on character primarily for entertainment value. By varying just these three possibilities, scholars have produced a variety of interpretations—that it is the actors or even the plot of the tragedy which are the subjects of catharsis, that the purification is cognitive or structural rather than emotional, and that catharsis is purification rather than purgation. On this last contrast, just as we might purify blood by filtering it, rather than purging the body of blood by letting it, so we might refine our emotions, by cleansing them of their more unhealthy elements, rather than ridding ourselves of the emotions by purging them altogether.
The difference is considerable, since on one view the emotions are regarded as in themselves destructive and so to be purged, while on the other, the emotions may be perfectly healthy, even though, like other psychological states, they may be improved by refinement. The immediate context of the Poetics does not by itself settle these disputes conclusively.
We engage in imitation from an early age, already in language learning by aping competent speakers as we learn, and then also later, in the acquisition of character by treating others as role models. In both these ways, we imitate because we learn and grow by imitation, and for humans, learning is both natural and a delight Poet. This same tendency, in more sophisticated and complex ways, leads us into the practice of drama. After his death, his school, the Lyceum, carried on for some period of time, though precisely how long is unclear.
They eventually came to form the backbone of some seven centuries of philosophy, in the form of the commentary tradition , much of it original philosophy carried on in a broadly Aristotelian framework. They also played a very significant, if subordinate role, in the Neoplatonic philosophy of Plotinus and Porphyry. These commentaries in turn proved exceedingly influential in the earliest reception of the Aristotelian corpus into the Latin West in the twelfth century. Some Aristotelians disdain Aquinas as bastardizing Aristotle, while some Christians disown Aquinas as pandering to pagan philosophy.
Many others in both camps take a much more positive view, seeing Thomism as a brilliant synthesis of two towering traditions; arguably, the incisive commentaries written by Aquinas towards the end of his life aim not so much at synthesis as straightforward exegesis and exposition, and in these respects they have few equals in any period of philosophy. Partly due to the attention of Aquinas, but for many other reasons as well, Aristotelian philosophy set the framework for the Christian philosophy of the twelfth through the sixteenth centuries, though, of course, that rich period contains a broad range of philosophical activity, some more and some less in sympathy with Aristotelian themes.
Interest in Aristotle continued unabated throughout the renaissance in the form of Renaissance Aristotelianism. From the end of late Scholasticism, the study of Aristotle has undergone various periods of relative neglect and intense interest, but has been carried forward uninterrupted down to the present day.
Only Plato comes close. Additionally, I thank the twenty or so undergraduates in Cornell and Oxford Universities who provided instructive feedback on earlier drafts. Shields nd. Phainomena and the Endoxic Method 4. Logic, Science, and Dialectic 4.
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Essentialism and Homonymy 6. Category Theory 7. Hylomorphism 9. Aristotelian Teleology Substance Living Beings Happiness and Political Association Rhetoric and the Arts Translations B. Translations with Commentaries C. General Works D. Generation and Corruption Gen. Productive Science Rhetoric Rhet. Poetics Poet. When introducing this puzzle, Aristotle pauses to reflect upon a precept governing his approach to philosophy: As in other cases, we must set out the appearances phainomena and run through all the puzzles regarding them. In this way we must prove the credible opinions endoxa about these sorts of experiences—ideally, all the credible opinions, but if not all, then most of them, those which are the most important.
For if the objections are answered and the credible opinions remain, we shall have an adequate proof. EN b2—7 Scholars dispute concerning the degree to which Aristotle regards himself as beholden to the credible opinions endoxa he recounts and the basic appearances phainomena to which he appeals. Aristotle somewhat uncharacteristically draws attention to this fact at the end of a discussion of logic inference and fallacy: Once you have surveyed our work, if it seems to you that our system has developed adequately in comparison with other treatments arising from the tradition to date—bearing in mind how things were at the beginning of our inquiry—it falls to you, our students, to be indulgent with respect to any omissions in our system, and to feel a great debt of gratitude for the discoveries it contains.
This holds intuitively for the following structure: All A s are B s. Hence, all A s are C s. So, says Aristotle: We think we understand a thing without qualification, and not in the sophistic, accidental way, whenever we think we know the cause in virtue of which something is—that it is the cause of that very thing— and also know that this cannot be otherwise. After all, both those with knowledge and those without it suppose that this is so—although only those with knowledge are actually in this condition.
Hence, whatever is known without qualification cannot be otherwise. APo 71b9—16; cf. APo 71b33—72a5; Top. Aristotle contends: Some people think that since knowledge obtained via demonstration requires the knowledge of primary things, there is no knowledge. Others think that there is knowledge and that all knowledge is demonstrable. Neither of these views is either true or necessary. The first group, those supposing that there is no knowledge at all, contend that we are confronted with an infinite regress.
They contend that we cannot know posterior things because of prior things if none of the prior things is primary. Here what they contend is correct: it is indeed impossible to traverse an infinite series. Yet, they maintain, if the regress comes to a halt, and there are first principles, they will be unknowable, since surely there will be no demonstration of first principles—given, as they maintain, that only what is demonstrated can be known.
But if it is not possible to know the primary things, then neither can we know without qualification or in any proper way the things derived from them. Rather, we can know them instead only on the basis of a hypothesis, to wit, if the primary things obtain, then so too do the things derived from them.
The other group agrees that knowledge results only from demonstration, but believes that nothing stands in the way of demonstration, since they admit circular and reciprocal demonstration as possible.