. 1
( 12)


Aristotle™s Ethics as First Philosophy

In Aristotle™s Ethics as First Philosophy, Claudia Baracchi demonstrates
the indissoluble links between practical and theoretical wisdom in
Aristotle™s thinking. Referring to a broad range of texts from the Aris-
totelian corpus, Baracchi shows how the theoretical is always informed
by a set of practices and, speci¬cally, how one™s encounter with phe-
nomena, the world, or nature in the broadest sense is always a matter
of ethos. Such a “modern” intimation is shown to be found at the heart
of Greek thought. Baracchi™s book opens the way for a comprehen-
sively recon¬gured approach to classical Greek philosophy.

Claudia Baracchi is associate professor of philosophy at the New
School for Social Research, New York. The author of Of Myth, Life, and
War in Plato™s Republic, she is the co-founder of the Ancient Philoso-
phy Society.
Aristotle™s Ethics as First Philosophy

New School for Social Research
Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, São Paulo

Cambridge University Press
The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 8RU, UK
Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York
Information on this title: www.cambridge.org/9780521866583

© Claudia Baracchi 2008

This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provision of
relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place
without the written permission of Cambridge University Press.
First published in print format 2007

eBook (NetLibrary)
ISBN-13 978-0-511-36756-4
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ISBN-13 978-0-521-86658-3
ISBN-10 0-521-86658-8

Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of urls
for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this publication, and does not
guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.
Le vicende trovano la soluzione
le ipotesi tagliano il traguardo
le strategie rilanciano la luce
i meccanismi conservano le ali
i secoli sono vivi
“Roberto Alperoli

page ix

Introduction 1
1. On Ethics as First Philosophy
2. On Interpreting Aristotle: Epist¯ m¯ as First Philosophy?
Prelude: Before Ethics. Metaphysics A and
Posterior Analytics B.19 16
1. Metaphysics A: On “Metaphysics” and Desire
2. Posterior Analytics: On Nous and Aisth¯ sise
3. Architecture as First Philosophy
Main Section. Ethik¯n Nikomakhei¯n Alpha to Eta
2 o o 53
1. Human Initiative and Its Orientation to the Good
2. On Happiness
3. On the Soul
4. On Justice
5. The Virtues of the Intellect
Interlude. Metaphysics Gamma
3 220
1. Aporiai of the Science of “Being qua Being”
2. The Principle “By Nature”
3. Reiterations
4. Teleology, Inde¬nable and Indubitable
5. The Phenomenon of Truth and the Action of Thinking
Concluding Section. Ethik¯n Nikomakhei¯n Theta to Kappa
4 o o 260
1. Friendship and Justice: Inceptive Remarks
2. Perfection of Friendship
3. Again on Friendship and Justice


4. On Happiness or the Good
5. Again on Logos and Praxis
5 308

Selected Bibliography 311
Index of Passages 331
Index of Subjects and Names 337

I began writing this work during the academic year 2003/4. The project
was generously supported by an American Council of the Learned
Societies/Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship.
I wish to thank wholeheartedly my colleagues and students at the
New School for Social Research for their trust, enthusiastic support, and
tireless inspiration. In particular, I am grateful to Ben Grazzini, Fanny
S¨ derb¨ ck, and Chris Roberts for their careful assistance at various stages
o a
of the elaboration of the manuscript.
My gratitude goes also to Beatrice Rehl, at Cambridge University Press,
for believing in this work from the start, and to Stephanie Sakson for her
editorial contribution.
Dulcis in fundo, thanks to Michael Schober, for his fantastic friendship.

Castelvetro (Modena, Italy)
January 2007


1. on ethics as ¬rst philosophy
By reference to the ethical treatises and the Politics, but also to other texts
of the Aristotelian corpus (most notably, the Metaphysics and the treatises of
the Organon), the present study undertakes to demonstrate the indissol-
uble intertwinement of practical and theoretical wisdom (phron¯sis and e
sophia as well as, concomitantly, praxis and the¯ria) in Aristotle™s think-
ing. In this manner, I propose that sophia, theoretical wisdom, far from
an autonomous and separate pursuit, should be acknowledged as inte-
grally involved in becoming, sensibility, experience, and, hence, action.
Of course, this line of inquiry cannot but address critically the established
view of the separation, indeed the opposition of the two modes of reason.
Such a dichotomous logic is retained even by those who, like Arendt and
Gadamer, variously emphasize the practical over against the theoretical
and do so by merely inverting the order of the hierarchy. However, the
point is not to respond to the traditional privilege of theoretical wisdom by
privileging practice or “rehabilitating” practical thinking instead. Rather,
the aim here is to understand these modes of human endeavor in their
irreducibility, to be sure, and yet, simultaneously, in their inseparability.
More precisely, the investigation should cast light on the way in which
practical considerations decisively mark the beginning or condition of
all contemplation as well as discursive investigation.
Ultimately, it is a matter of showing how the theoretical is always
informed by a set of practices, by the modality of comportment toward
phenomena “ of showing, that is, how encountering phenomena, the
world, or nature in the broadest sense is always a matter of ¯thos. As will


be expounded in the present work, this apparently “modern” intimation is
to be found at the heart of Greek thought.
Implicated in an investigation thus oriented is the demonstration that
Aristotle thinks ethics as ¬rst philosophy, that is, sees the philosophi-
cal articulation of scienti¬c-theoretical knowledge, even of ontology, as
resting on living-in-action, that is, as phenomenologically, experientially,
sensibly grounded. Indeed, if it is the case that all manner of theoret-
ical investigation comes to be through the primordial involvement in
sensibility and action, then ethics, the structural study of such ineludi-
ble conditions, is the discipline crucially (if not exclusively) disclosing
the origins, principles, and assumptions of knowledge, even of wisdom.1
Ethics as ¬rst philosophy means that ¬rst philosophy is that re¬‚ection
informed by ¯thos (that re¬‚ection constituted in the experience of being
traversed by life and living in a certain way) and aware of this ground that
it cannot possess but only acknowledge.
Of course “ethics as ¬rst philosophy” here cannot mean a norma-
tive or prescriptive compilation. Nor can it signify a self-founding, all-
encompassing, and rationally self-contained discourse. Understood as
ethics, ¬rst philosophy may not retain such privileges, which would be
the privileges of rational autonomy. Rather, the phrase “ethics as ¬rst
philosophy” indicates that ethics is characterized by a certain compre-
hensiveness vis-` -vis all manner of human endeavor. At the same time,
precisely qua ethics, the discourse coming ¬rst exhibits the conscious-
ness of its own openness vis-` -vis that which exceeds it, that is, vis-` -vis
a a
that which is not discursive and in which all discourse as such belongs.
This logos cannot fully account for its “differing and wandering” subject
matter, nor can it itself bring about that which it strives to clarify, namely,
the good or happiness. In other words, the logos of ethics is manifestly
aware of its own incapacity for self-enclosure and remains open to that
which can neither be discursively exhausted nor simply formalized. Such
a logos understands itself in its openness to the in¬nite. Once again, cen-
tral to this investigation will be tracing the limits of reason “ or, more
precisely, acknowledging how Aristotle draws such a delimitation.
Thus, despite the obvious Levinasian reference, “¬rst philosophy”
should be understood in an altogether Aristotelian sense, as the structural

1 As al-Farabi puts it, the “science” and “inquiry” of ethics “investigates these intellectual
principles [which are in the human being] and the acts and states of character with which
man labors toward this perfection” (Alfarabi™s Philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, trans. Muhsin
Mahdi [New York: Free Press of Glencoe, 1962], 23).
On Interpreting Aristotle: Epist¯ m¯ as First Philosophy?
ee 3

study of conditions and of the principles arising from them.2 After all,
the phrase philosophia pr¯t¯ is exquisitely Aristotelian in its use and elab-
oration. Granted, in the treatises gathered under the title of Metaphysics
Aristotle often calls ¬rst philosophy epist¯m¯. However, the point will be to
see what epist¯m¯ could possibly mean and be like, if understood as “sci-
ence of principles.” For principles, on Aristotle™s own terms, are not the
subject matter of science, but rather constitute science™s very premises
and presuppositions.

2. on interpreting aristotle: epist¯ m¯
as ¬rst philosophy?
It is almost universally agreed on that ¬rst philosophy, the intellectual
pursuit in its highest and grounding (ground-laying) function, is iden-
ti¬ed by Aristotle with epist¯m¯, science, knowledge, or scienti¬c knowl-
edge. I say “almost universally” because such “universal agreement” does
in fact pertain to a rather exiguous region of the world and to its deter-
mined, however self-con¬dently hegemonic, cultural formation(s) “ a
region and cultural lineage that we usually qualify as “Western.” Within
the philosophical “debates” taking place in the Western district, however,
general consensus has made this understanding of Aristotle axiomatic.
Indeed, with very few exceptions since Patristic-Scholastic (con)versions
of the Aristotelian corpus, Aristotle™s thought has been expounded par-
ticularly in its logico-systematic and “proto-scienti¬c” vocation.3 In this
context, the concern with cognition remains the genuine ground back
to which all other re¬‚ective modes are referred “ the principal task of
philosophy, the task revealing philosophy as ¬rst philosophy. Even when
a certain emphasis on praxis is acknowledged in Aristotle (as is the case,

2 While the concern with the in¬nitely, indeterminately pre-originary (pre-logical and pre-
discursive) may be common to both Aristotle and Levinas, the Levinasian interpretation
of in¬nite priority in terms of injunction is clearly remote from Aristotle™s horizon.
3 On the mode of inheritance and transmission of the Aristotelian discourse in the exem-
plary case of St. Thomas, see the excellent text by Mark D. Jordan, The Alleged Aristotelianism
of Thomas Aquinas (Toronto: Ponti¬cal Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1992). See also, to
mention but a few titles, Charles B. Schmitt, The Aristotelian Tradition and Renaissance Uni-
versities (London: Variorum Reprints, 1984); F. van Steenberghen, Aristote en Occident. Les
origines de l™aristot´lisme parisien (Louvain: Editions de l™Institut Sup´ rieur de Philosophie,
1946); P. O. Kristeller, The Classics and Renaissance Thought (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard
UP, 1955); Lorenzo Minio-Paluello, Opuscula: The Latin Aristotle (Amsterdam: Hakkert,
1972); F. Bottin, La scienza degli occamisti. La scienza tardo-medievale dalle origini del paradigma
nominalista alla rivoluzione scienti¬ca (Rimini: Maggioli, 1982); and H. Blumenthal and
H. Robinson, eds., Aristotle and the Later Tradition (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1991).

inevitably, with the ethical treatises and the Politics), the all-encompassing
primordiality of praxis is not. The discourses of the practical as well as the
study of the physical-phenomenal (such discourses and study share a
common destiny) are understood in stark distinction from, and at once
in subordination to, the scienti¬c or “theoretical” endeavor.
Thus, approaches illuminating the centrality of the “practical” over
against the “theoretical,” of phron¯sis over against sophia, of vita activa over
against vita contemplativa, end up merely inverting the hierarchical order
while preserving intact the separation of the “purely contemplative” from
worldly engagement. Even when allegedly eclipsed, epist¯m¯ (discursive
and demonstrative knowledge, i.e., the exercise of logos) is in effect still
sanctioned as philosophia pr¯t¯ “ the operation of “reason” detached from
the movements of desire as well as embodiment. Attributed to Aristotle,
such an understanding of reason already inaugurates or promises a cer-
tain emancipation from the involvement with what-is “ an emancipation
from the commitment to phenomena in their glow and guiding truth,
the “commitment to being” that modern “formal” logic will have assumed
¬nally and with pro¬t to have left behind. (Parenthetically, here one sees
adumbrated the convergence and deep unity of Christian-theological and
modern scienti¬c discourses.) Such would be the axiom of Aristotelian
exegesis in the “universe” of the West, certainly in its universities.4

2.1. Dif¬culties of Knowledge
Yet, as the Aristotelian re¬‚ection itself reminds us, axioms and princi-
ples (the beginning and ultimate foundation of demonstrable and hence
demonstrated knowledge) are not themselves demonstrable, that is to say,
are not themselves objects of knowledge. First principles neither pertain
to nor result from the operation of knowledge, which ¬nds in them its
inception. They present themselves in and as perceptions exhibiting a
cogency, a self-evidence that persuades and compels assent. Such is the
character and extent of their force. These statements will receive further

4 One ¬nds, no doubt, exceptions and countermovements to this prevalent trend. Among
them, it is necessary at least to mention R´ mi Brague™s Aristote et la question du monde.
Essay sur le contexte cosmologique et anthropologique de l™ontologie (Paris: Presses Universitaires
de France, 1988), which undertakes to recover the Aristotelian meditation as a whole
in its unfolding out of the phenomenological datum of the world. Two indispensable
works by Pierre Aubenque should also be recalled, namely, La prudence chez Aristote (Paris:
Presses Universitaires de France, 1963) and Le probl`me de l™ˆtre chez Aristote (Paris: Presses
e e
Universitaires de France, 1962).
On Interpreting Aristotle: Epist¯ m¯ as First Philosophy?
ee 5

argumentation in the study that is to follow, mostly focusing on Aris-
totle™s ethical discourses. They are, however, corroborated by numerous
Aristotelian observations on the complexity of the question of knowledge
(its genesis and foundation), most notably in the “logical” treatises. Let us
merely recall here the opening of the Posterior Analytics, in which it is said
that “[a]ll teaching and learning through discourse [dianohtikŸ] pro-
ceed [g©gnetai] from previous knowledge [–k proÐparco…shv gnÛsewv]”
(71a1“2).5 It is gn¯sis (or progign¯skein) that provides the conditions for
o o
the discursive procedures of demonstrated knowledge. But gn¯sis, this o
knowledge that is prior or precedent in the sense that it rules by lying
under, as an underlying governing principle, is a rather inclusive desig-
nation. It ranges from belief or conviction to the comprehension of what
is necessarily true, from understanding in the sense of eidenai as well as
xunienai to perception through sensation (aisth¯sis).6
However, the indemonstrability of principles is not the only dif¬culty.
As the “experimental” sciences make especially clear, axioms and prin-
ciples may not be immutable. An entire axiomatic con¬guration can be
overturned and overcome by the results of the demonstrative procedures
it grounds (and hence, at once, un-grounds). This is the case, for instance,
whenever hypotheses axiomatically assumed are either not con¬rmed or
explicitly negated by the end of the trial, whether such a trial be epistemic-
syllogistical or empirical “ and one must wonder whether these different
dimensions of demonstration can ever simply be dissociated. The compet-
ing conjectures of the pre-Socratics concerning the elemental composi-
tion of the cosmos, or the very broaching of the question of the cosmos in
elemental terms, or, even more broadly, the Aristotelian understanding
of the cosmos in terms of regions uniquely characterized, as distinct from
the Galilean mathematical model, from the Cartesian notion of space as

5 Here and throughout this study, I have fruitfully consulted, whenever available, Hip-
pocrates G. Apostle™s translations of the Aristotelian texts “ even though my own rendi-
tion often diverges from his. The following translations by Apostle were published by the
Peripatetic Press (Grinnell, Iowa) in the year indicated in parenthesis: Metaphysics (1979),
Physics (1969), Nicomachean Ethics (1975), Categories and Propositions (1980), Posterior Ana-
lytics (1981), On the Soul (1982), Politics (with Lloyd P. Gerson, 1986). I have translated the
passages from further treatises by Aristotle here cited. All other translations of ancient
Greek texts quoted in the course of the present work are likewise my own. As regards
the Aristotelian corpus, I have utilized W. Jaeger™s edition of the Metaphysics (Oxford:
Oxford UP, 1957) and all the dual editions in the Loeb Classical Series (Cambridge,
Mass.: Harvard UP, various years).
6 Of interest in this regard is also the passage at Topics 100a18ff. (esp. 101a30“31), where
Aristotle speaks of ¬rst principles as compelling belief and agreement, while being estab-
lished on the basis of commonly held views.

homogeneous extension along rectilinear coordinates, from the curved
space of relativity or of non-Euclidean geometries “ the juxtaposition of
these axiomatic pronouncements concerning the same (the “universe”)
bespeaks the elusiveness and fragility of that which is articulated in and
through them. It calls attention to the role of the interpretation of “the
same,” that is, to the role of interpretation in the constitution of what is
spoken of as “the same.” What will have been called a “paradigm shift”
fundamentally gives itself as a shift in axiomatics or axiomatic recon¬gu-
It could perhaps be objected that, for Aristotle, (1) premises or princi-
ples that are held to be true (de¬nitions, theses, experimental hypotheses)
do not have the same status as premises that are both true and necessary
(axioms in the strict sense); (2) experiential or experimental evidence
is not strictly but only derivatively apodictic; (3) subsequently, investiga-
tions resting on such “demonstrations” do not qualify as epist¯m¯ stricto
sensu, that is, necessary and unquali¬ed knowledge. But the question
is exceptionally intricate, and, while Aristotle consistently distinguishes
between quali¬ed and unquali¬ed (hence immutable) knowledge, the
instability of this distinction is also often intimated in the course of his
re¬‚ections. A passage may be recalled from the Posterior Analytics, which
is indicative of the problems involved in the de¬nition of unquali¬ed
knowledge and its proper realm. It is said here that unquali¬ed knowl-
edge is restricted to the domains of the single disciplines and that, in
demonstrating in an unquali¬ed way, one cannot “prove something in
one genus by passing over from another genus” (75a38“b21). Unquali-
¬ed knowledge would seem to be granted by the restriction of its scope: it
appears to be unquali¬ed precisely because it is not formal, not abstractly
comprehensive, in fact uniquely adhering to the matter at stake in each
kind of investigation. Yet, Aristotle adds, because unquali¬ed demonstra-
tion (if indeed its conclusion is to be universal and eternal) necessitates
universal premises, “there can be no unquali¬ed demonstration and no
unquali¬ed knowledge of destructible things, but there may be as if in an
accidental way, namely, not universally but at a certain time or in a quali-
¬ed manner” (75b24“27). But if there cannot be unquali¬ed knowledge
of what is destructible, of what is mortal, one wonders of what unquali¬ed
knowledge would be, to what it would properly pertain, and how such a
scienti¬c knowledge (if it were in fact to come to be) of the indestructible
and immortal could constitute just a discipline among others.
Largely devoted as it is to the analysis of logico-apodictic procedures,
Aristotle™s meditation nevertheless appears to be crucially attuned to
On Interpreting Aristotle: Epist¯ m¯ as First Philosophy?
ee 7

the obscure, dif¬cult origin of knowledge “ to the unfolding of the dis-
courses (logoi) of knowledge out of an agreement that, precisely because
axiomatic, is less a matter of “epistemic certainty,” let alone of “objectiv-
ity” (all anachronistic terms in the Aristotelian context) than of shared
belief or conviction. The Organon itself exemplarily displays the scope
of his re¬‚ection, ranging from the painstaking interrogation and for-
malization of scienti¬c method in the two Analytics to the emphasis on
the dialectical, ultimately doxico-political ground of knowledge in the
Topics.7 Indeed, the doxic and dialectical dimension of the beginning of
epist¯m¯ is explored in the “analytical” treatises as well, as the following
statement from the Posterior Analytics shows:

All sciences share together [–pikoinwno“si] some common [axioms, principles]
[kat‡ t‡ koin†] (I call “common” those which the sciences use [as axioms,
principles] from which they demonstrate conclusions; and those [axioms,
principles] are not that about which they prove something, nor that which they
prove [as belonging to something]); dialectics too is common to all sciences; and
so is any other discipline which tries to prove universally the common [axioms,
principles], e.g., that everything must be either af¬rmed or denied. . . . But dialec-
tics is not concerned with anything de¬nite or with any one genus, for it would
not be asking questions; for the one who demonstrates would not ask questions
because he cannot prove the same conclusion from opposite things.(77a27“34)

The exploration of both sides of a contradiction pertains to dialectics (see
also Prior Analytics 24a21“b12). Aristotle later on will repeatedly under-
line how dif¬cult it is to distinguish clearly the work of those who demon-
strate, and therefore posit premises as true (i.e., begin with that part of
the contradiction given as immediately true), from the procedure of the
dialectician, who cannot start from a given premise and must therefore
ask for assent (i.e., mediate) in order to grant the truth of his or her
beginning (see, e.g., 77a36“40).

2.2. Other Readers
It is perhaps in virtue of this posture, of this alertness to the problem-
atic origin of scienti¬c knowledge, that in other cultural districts, most
notably in the circles of the mediaeval Judeo-Islamic commentators, the
reception of Aristotle (and, for that matter, of Plato as well) has taken a

7 On the possibility of reading an Ur-Ethik in the Topics, see Hans von Arnim, “Das Ethische
in Aristoteles Topik,” Sitzungsberichte der Akademie der Wissenschaften in Wien, 205, no. 4
(Vienna, 1927).

direction signi¬cantly divergent from the Western privileging of epist¯m¯ ee
as the primary, purest philosophical mode. In the Persian-Arabic context
the noetic, psychological, and “metaphysical” strands of the Aristotelian
inquiry have been understood not so much, or not exclusively, in terms
of the priority of cognitive concerns, but rather in their ethical and polit-
ical relevance “ in light of a certain ethical primacy. In this connection it
becomes evident that logos rests on dia-logos “ that dialogue (the logos open
to in¬nity, taking place as communing and communication) grounds the
quest for knowledge and, most signi¬cantly, constitutes the condition for
the possibility of being human.
The bare fact that the “same” texts can be (and have been) heard in
such considerably different, if not irreconcilable ways corroborates Aris-
totle™s insight into the doxic provenance and labile, even paradoxical
status of knowledge “ that is, of logical, discursive articulations, of “argu-
ment,” or, which is the same, of reason (logos).9 For the agreement out
of which knowledge becomes and on which it rests is achieved thanks
to less than essential reasons, and remains exposed to rather impon-
derable, ¬‚eeting, in fact, dialectical circumstances. Such an agreement
is not inevitable, not automatically compelled by necessity, but critically
obtained thanks to the plausibility and power of rhetorical presentation “
thanks to logos less in the sense of logical articulation than in that of con-
versation. Because of this, knowledge (in general, and in a most perspic-
uous fashion the knowledge explicitly articulated through interpretive
practices) comes to be revealed in its ethico-political valence, indeed, as
a basically ethical issue always involving questions of discursive, dia-logical,

8 To mention only a few fundamental contributions on this theme: Philip Merlan, “Aristote-
les, Averroes, und die beiden Eckharts,” in Kleine Philosophische Schriften (Hildescheim-New
York: Olms, 1976); A. Badawi, La transmission de la philosophie grecque au monde arabe (Paris:
J. Vrin, 1968); F. E. Peters, Aristoteles Arabus: The Oriental Translations and Commentaries on
the Aristotelian Corpus (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1968); F. E. Peters, Aristotle and the Arabs: The
Aristotelian Tradition in Islam (New York: NYU Press, 1968); P. Merlan, Monopsychism, Mys-
ticism, Metaconsciousness: Problems of the Soul in the Neoaristotelian and Neoplatonic Tradition
(The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1963); and R. Sorabji, ed., Aristotle Transformed. The Ancient
Commentators and Their In¬‚uence (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell UP, 1990). See also the especially
noteworthy text by E. Booth, Aristotelian Aporetic Ontology in Islamic and Christian Thinkers
(Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1983).
9 Let this be underlined again: logos means, simultaneously, word, language, saying, dis-
course, story, argument, speech, reason, rationality (ratio), and logical structure (in the
sense of informing law). Its relation with the verb legein illuminates its further, perhaps
most embracing meaning as “gathering.” As in the case of other essentially untranslat-
able terms, such as nous, the various semantic facets and nuances of logos, in particular its
discursive and rational dimensions, should be held in play simultaneously.
On Interpreting Aristotle: Epist¯ m¯ as First Philosophy?
ee 9

argumentative comportment, and the ensuing responsibilities and com-
munal con¬gurations. After all, as Aristotle observes in Metaphysics Alpha
Elatton, “[t]he way we receive a lecture depends on our custom [kat‡
t‡ ›qh]; for we expect [a lecturer to use] the language [l”gesqai] we
are accustomed to, and any other [language] appears not agreeable
[‚moia] but rather unknown and strange because we are not accustomed
to it [ˆsunžqeian ˆgnwst»tera kaª xenikÛtera]; for the customary is more
known [s…nhqev gnÛrimon]” (994b32“995a3). Rigorously following from
this remark is the intimation that all inquiry, including the genuinely sci-
enti¬c one, presupposes a range of rhetorical conditions, a certain “how”
of logos. Such conditions constitute the axiomatic structure of the inquiry,
its “way or turn,” tropos: “Therefore, one should already be trained in how
to accept statements, for it is absurd to be seeking science and at the same
time [Œma] the way [tr»pon] of [acquiring] science; and neither of them
can be acquired easily” (995a12“14).
It is because of such problems that one ¬nds in the Jewish and Persian-
Arabic approaches to Aristotle a pervasive preoccupation with language,
an awareness of the rhetorical dimension of “metaphysical” discussions, of
the simultaneously obscuring and illuminating operations of logos and,
consequently, of its limits.10 Finally, what is thus intimated is a certain
impossibility of metaphysics understood as emancipation from phusis and,
mutatis mutandis, of the¯ria understood as transcendence of praxis. Meta-
physics as such would indeed be the study of what is beyond nature “ but
in the wake of a semantic stipulation leaving nothing unturned. For that
which is “beyond nature” would not be construed as that which without
further quali¬cation transcends nature, but rather as that which, though

10 Maimonides™ case is exemplary in this respect. On this subject, see Idit Dobbs-Weinstein,
Maimonides and St. Thomas on the Limits of Reason (Albany: SUNY Press, 1995). For an
approach to Aristotle™s Metaphysics focusing on the “many ways” in which being can
be said and the relation between language and metaphysical or theological inquiries,
see al-Farabi, Book of Letters, ed. M. Mahdi (Beirut: Dar el-Mashreq, 1969), and the
following related studies: Shukri B. Abed, Aristotelian Logic and the Arabic Language in
Alfarabi (Albany: SUNY Press, 1991); Fuad Said Haddad, Alfarabi™s Theory of Communi-
cation (Beirut: American University of Beirut, 1989); and Joep Lameer, Al-Farabi and
Aristotelian Syllogistics: Greek Theory and Islamic Practice (Leiden: Brill, 1994), esp. chap.
9, 259“89. Consider also the systematization of the disciplines in Avicenna, according
to which rhetoric, in its psychological stratum, is a part of logic. See, e.g. (particularly
concerning the relation of Avicenna™s brief text “Character Traits and Passions of the
Soul” to the Logic of the Hikma), L. Massignon, D. Remondon, and G. Vajda, Miscel-
lanea (Caire: Institut Fran¸ ais D™Arch´ ologie Orientale, 1954), 19ff. See also the Logic
c e
of the Danesh-Name Alai (Avicenna™s Treatise on Logic, ed. and trans. Farhang Zabeeh [The
Hague: Nijhoff, 1971]), esp. 40ff.

belonging in nature, is not by nature and cannot be accounted for by ref-
erence to nature. It is in this peculiar, highly quali¬ed sense that one
can here speak of transcendence.11 Such is the character of ethical and
political matters, in fact, of human undertakings as a whole “ and, thus
understood, this would be the properly metaphysical concern.12 The per-
ception of the unity of action and contemplation calls for a semantic shift
according to which transcendence can only mean that which eludes and
surpasses the scienti¬c grasp; separation comes to indicate that which is
shared in common and impossible, unthinkable aside from community
(Averroes); metaphysics comes to mean ethics (politics); and ethics sig-
ni¬es ¬rst philosophy, in which science belongs and properly positions

2.3. Phenomenal Wisdom
Not only, thus, is knowledge (the articulation of reason) shown in its
dependence on phusis and praxis, hence as belonging in the domain of
ethical considerations, but metaphysics itself turns out to be irreducible
to the discourse of epist¯m¯, to reason tout court. In Aristotle this is most
explicitly the case in those moments of the investigation broaching the
inevitable problem of the theos, of the ultimate source of all that is, lives,
and moves. In engaging the ultimate question of the divine (i.e., nous),
the metaphysical discourse exceeds the bounds of knowledge (reason)
and exposes itself in its wondering thrust toward the unmoved, that of
which there is or can be no science.13 Whether focusing on ¬rst principles

11 The simultaneity of belonging and excess with respect to nature makes it clear that at
stake is neither a kind of na¨ve naturalism nor the logic of the transcendental in its
rational-practical implications.
12 See, e.g., al-Farabi, The Philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, esp. the programmatic concluding
remarks (130). See also how Avicenna™s Metaphysics of the Shifa™ (Healing), after culmi-
nating with a discourse on god (Books 8“10), is brought to its proper end by political
considerations ranging from cultic forms to civic institutions and law-making (Avicenna,
La m´taphysique du Shifa™, trans. G. Anawati [Paris: Vrin, 1978], 2 vols.).
13 One will recall the mythical turn in Metaphysics Lambda, which represents a most unusual
development in Aristotle. At this crucial stage, immediately after declaring that “there
is only one heaven” and before examining the question of nous, Aristotle puts forth a
remarkable re¬‚ection that deserves to be quoted in full. “The ancients of very early times
[par‡ t¤n ˆrca©wn kaª pampala©wn],” he says, “bequeathed to posterity in the form of
a myth [–n m…qou scžmati] a tradition that the heavenly bodies are gods and that the
divinity encompasses the whole of nature [peri”cei t¼ qe±on tŸn ‚lhn j…sin]. The rest of
the tradition has been added later as a means of persuading the masses and as something
useful for the laws and for matters of expediency; for they say that these gods are like
On Interpreting Aristotle: Epist¯ m¯ as First Philosophy?
ee 11

or on the ultimate non-objecti¬able object of contemplation (a mover
as unknown as it may be unmoved), in its intuitive, non-discursive, non-
logical (a-logon) trait philosophy is revealed as, ¬rst of all, philosophical
conduct “ ¯thos without the unquali¬ed and absolutely necessitating guid-
ance of reason, without fully rational (or, for that matter, doctrinal) pre-
The theoretical, thus, emerges as essentially implicated in phenom-
enality and always informed by one™s comportment to phenomena. As
becomes apparent in the Nicomachean Ethics, theoretical wisdom does
indeed extend beyond the domain of human concerns “ but not in the
sense that human concerns are left behind, let alone that the realm of sen-
sibility, of phenomenality and practice, is transcended. As it contemplates
that which exceeds the human, theoretical wisdom remains grounded in
the human. Indeed, it originally discloses the situatedness of humans in
what is not human and, thus, broaches the question of human ¬nitude,
of the proper place and function of humans in the cosmos. Says Aristotle:

And if one were to say that the human being is the best of the animals, this too
would make no difference; for there are also other things much more divine in
their nature than the human being, like the most visible objects of which the
universe is composed. (Nicomachean Ethics 1141a35“b2)

On the basis of similar statements, it would not be inappropriate to say
that, through the analysis of sophia, theoretical wisdom, Aristotle is out-
lining a kind of critique of anthropocentrism. To be sure, theoretical
wisdom entails the realization that human good is not the good without

humans in form and like some of the other animals, and also other things which follow
from or are similar to those stated. But if one were to separate from the later additions
the ¬rst point and attend to this alone (namely, that they thought the ¬rst substances to
be gods), one might realize that this was divinely spoken and that, while probably every
art and every philosophy has often reached a stage of development as far as it could and
then again has perished, these opinions [d»xav] about the gods were saved like relics up
to the present day. Anyway, the opinion of our forefathers and of the earliest thinkers
is evident to us only to this extent” (1074b1“14). With this re¬‚ection on knowledge
disappearing (the problem of the evanescent lighting up of knowledge was addressed
by Diotima in the Symposium and will return to haunt Maimonides), Aristotle effects a
discursive shift decisively preparing and orienting the discussion of nous. Notice how,
in this passage, the motif of myth is intertwined with the dialectical strand of Aristotle™s
argumentation and with his alertness to hermeneutic-archeological dif¬culties.
14 In The Therapy of Desire: Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics (Princeton: Princeton
UP, 1994), Martha Nussbaum underlines the pragmatic or “medical” character of the
ethical discourse (22). However, she adds, “[e]ven Aristotelian truth in science may not
be . . . altogether independent of human theories and conceptions,” let alone desires

quali¬cation “ that what is good for humans is not necessarily the good.
Sophia would, then, have to do with the good as such. And yet, it is of the
utmost importance to emphasize that, far from entailing what will have
been called a “purely theoretical” posture, in stretching out beyond mat-
ters of human utility sophia remains bound to phenomena and orients
re¬‚ection toward the glowing sky, the non-human in which the human
belongs “ as a reminder of the irreducibility of the cosmos to the order
of the human. Sophia, then, names a reorientation of the gaze, from the
horizontal order of human togetherness to the encompassing connection
with what exceeds the human “ a reorientation transcending the human
(indeed, showing the human precisely as such a movement stretching
out beyond itself) but not phenomenality and sensibility themselves.

2.4. Hodos
But these interpretive hypotheses, which are relatively extravagant in our
milieu, need to be con¬rmed by a closer textual analysis. On the basis of
Aristotle™s suggestions and of the resonance they have received in certain
interpretive traditions, in what follows I undertake to show how ethics
in the Aristotelian texts (particularly in the Nicomachean Ethics) is dis-
closed as philosophia pr¯t¯ “ ethics, in its “praxical,” intuitive, indetermi-
nately a-logical or pre-logical features, as ¬rst philosophy, out of which
(meta)physical, epistemological, and psychological re¬‚ections unfold in
intimate connection with each other. It will be necessary to proceed with
great caution, moving through the Nicomachean Ethics preeminently in the
mode of commentary and without neglecting the ¬rst Books, in which
the mode and structure of the ethical investigation are laid down. In
this systematic traversal of our main text, there will be numerous occa-
sions calling for references to related discussions, especially in the ethico-
political treatises. The investigation culminates with the discussion of the
intellectual virtues (Book Zeta), undertaking to set nous into relief in its
essential character, as both sensible-intuitive and non-rational (literally,
not related to logos). These are clearly the most noteworthy features of
the aret¯ that constitutes the basis of knowledge (of reason) and, even
more importantly, of wisdom. This “excellence” pertains to intellectual
seizing as well as sensuous perception, to what is ¬rst as well as what is
ultimate or particular, and hence indicates at once the bond with the
“divine” and the “natural.” Exhibiting the nature of reason (logos), thus,
should be understood according to the double (subjective and objec-
tive) genitive. It simultaneously means displaying reason in its nature (viz.,
On Interpreting Aristotle: Epist¯ m¯ as First Philosophy?
ee 13

its ¬nitude, dependence) and to recognize reason as of nature, encom-
passed by nature, taking place within nature, and having to position itself
there (however irreducible to nature, in fact supplementary with respect
to it).
Though I will focus on the ethical treatises, it is important again to
underline that Aristotle™s “ethical” and “metaphysical” writings should be
regarded not as separate and somewhat autonomous regions of the cor-
pus, but as dynamically related and forming an organic whole. For the
corpus is not simply the compilation of scattered texts plausibly by the
same author, but rather what remains (the traces) of the living, embod-
ied engagement in inquiry, in the manifold of re¬‚ection. While, indeed,
one ¬nds in Nicomachus cogent remarks supporting the hypotheses here
put forth, it is crucial minimally to delineate a development of the same
position drawing on the Metaphysics and “logical” treatises. In fact, even in
the treatises gathered under the title Metaphysics, so paradigmatically dis-
cussing ¬rst philosophy in terms of science, one ¬nds numerous provisos “
most remarkably, the emphasis on dialectic as the ground legitimizing
knowledge. It is precisely in the course of his “metaphysical” medita-
tions, after all, that Aristotle repeatedly calls attention to philosophy as a
communal enterprise “ as a matter simultaneously of politics and history,
of community seen both as the present political organism and as lineage,
entailing transmission as well as loss.15
At the end of this work, it will be appropriate to draw a few conse-
quences out of the analyses carried out, which might assist us as we attempt
to think through urgent issues such as the function of dialogue (the logos
in¬nitely split open) in furthering skillful manners of co-existence, the
meaning of politics in a global perspective, the place of the human in
the non-human cosmos, and our relation to the “other,” whether human

15 Among Aristotle™s striking remarks in this text, let us recall the following: “The contem-
plation [qewr©a] of truth is in one sense dif¬cult, in another easy. A sign of this is the fact
that neither can one attain it adequately, nor do all fail, but each says something about
the nature [of things]; and while each of us contributes nothing or little to the truth,
a considerable amount of it results from all our contributions” (993a30“b4). Aristotle
continues with the statement that the predecessors should be honored, however irrele-
vant their contribution may have been “ for they handed down the “habit” of thinking
(thinking is thus indicated as a political-temporal formation, and not as unquali¬ed pre-
rogative of humans). And again: “some of them handed down to us certain doctrines, but
there were others before who caused them to be what they were” (993b18“19, emphasis
added). The passage previously quoted, at the pivotal juncture in Book Lambda, also
adumbrates the boundless dif¬culties inherent in dia-logos “ especially in “diachronic
dialogue,” that is, in the relation to the past and the status of inheritance.

or otherwise (and, hence, to the environment, animality, and, broadly
speaking, nature and the divine).
Particularly suggestive in this regard is Aristotle™s emphasis on dialec-
tical negotiation, that is, on the dialogical stipulations necessary in order
to arrive at a consensus regarding principles or beginnings whose evi-
dence is neither immediate nor uncontroversial. For essential reasons,
Aristotle does not speak of dialogue in “universalistic” terms, that is, of a
“universality” of values and consensus. Indeed, dialectic as he conceives
of it is a matter of ongoing engagement, of the continuing effort and
arduous work of mediation taking place within a given polis, community,
or cultural context. Yet, precisely because the ethico-political labor of
dialectic is sensibly or phenomenologically informed, we must wonder
about the possibility of extending such a thought beyond “locality.” That
is to say, we must wonder about the possibility of envisioning something
like a “planetary,” indeed “cosmic” dialogue on Aristotelian grounds, long
before the conception of the kosmopolis in the Epicurean and Stoic devel-
opments.16 At stake here are the issues of dialogue as structuring the
togetherness of the different (of the diverging, even) and of the ethical
as well as physical framework embracing all human enterprises, whether
theoretical or more genuinely political. In other words, at issue is the
possibility of understanding politics beyond the polis as well as beyond
humanism or anthropocentrism. Indeed, a certain strand of Aristotelian
thinking seems to intimate a concern with the belonging together of dif-
fering forms of living within the fabric of the cosmos “ with a bond among
humans and beyond the human, gathering the human to its beyond, to
the other than human in the direction both of nature and of the divine.

The work is structured as follows:
r Introduction
r Prelude: On Metaphysics and Posterior Analytics (in which I situate the
reading of the ethico-political treatises in the broader context of the

16 Of “political science,” al-Farabi states: “It consists of knowing the things by which the cit-
izens of cities attain happiness through political association in the measure that innate
disposition equips each of them for it. It will become evident to him that political associ-
ation and the totality that results from the association of citizens in cities correspond to
the association of the bodies that constitute the totality of the world. He will come to see
in what are included in the totality constituted by the city and the nation the likenesses
of what are included in the total world.” It is in such a seeing that human perfection
would be attained: “This, then, is theoretical perfection” (Alfarabi™s Philosophy of Plato and
Aristotle, 24“5).
On Interpreting Aristotle: Epist¯ m¯ as First Philosophy?
ee 15

Aristotelian corpus and show the essential cohesiveness of Aristotle™s
r Main Section (on the Nicomachean Ethics and related treatises): Com-
mentary on Nicomachean Ethics Alpha to Eta (in which, through a close
reading of the text in its diverse articulations, I draw out the empha-
sis on the intuitive, experiential, and therefore practical conditions
of the theoretical stance; such an emphasis pervades the preparatory
methodological considerations as well as the analysis of justice and,
most notably, of the intellectual virtues)
r Interlude: On Metaphysics Gamma (in which I consider Aristotle™s thor-
oughly practical argumentation regarding noetic axioms such as the
“law of non-contradiction”)
r Concluding Section (on the Nicomachean Ethics and related treatises):
Commentary on Nicomachean Ethics Theta to Kappa, on friendship and
the good (in which, focusing on the question of community, human
and beyond, I analyze Aristotle™s vision of the bond among humans
and of the human bond with nature and the divine).
The work that is to follow develops out of a close exegetic engagement
with a broad range of Aristotelian texts. References to so-called secondary
literature are rigorously limited to footnotes and, even there, kept to the
barest indications. The texts providing the background of the present
study are listed in the Selected Bibliography. While the relevant literature
is virtually limitless and any claim to exhaustiveness seems to be out of the
question, the Bibliography includes diverse works I have encountered in
different contexts and traditions.

Prelude: Before Ethics
Metaphysics A and Posterior Analytics B.19

Aristotle opens Metaphysics A with a re¬‚ection that points to the emer-
gence of ethics, as an explicit discursive articulation, after a long trajec-
tory of human endeavors and inquiries “ in fact, as the culmination of
the unfolding of human seeking. In the order of knowing, the discourse
of ethics will have come onto the scene after those other discussions,
including the so-called metaphysical treatises: that which is closest to us,
indeed most immediately crucial in and for us, reveals itself last, can be
glimpsed at only toward the end of an exploration variously oriented
outward, taking us far from ourselves, away from the beginning that we
provide and are. The trajectory of such an exploration, thus, in the end
leads one back to the previously unquestioned beginning, in order to
unravel, to make explicit what was implicit, implied, and implicated in
the beginning. In this trajectory the exploration ends up turning upon
itself, catching a glimpse of its source and informing principles. It ends
up somehow re¬‚ecting upon itself.1
Thus, out of the “logical,” “physical,” and “metaphysical” texts would
emerge the questions of cognition, of the manifold forms of life, of the

1 The arrangement of the corpus aristotelicum as we know it today, beginning from the
“logical” treatises and culminating with the ethico-political ones and the discussions on
rhetoric and poetry, can ultimately be ascribed to Andronicus Rhodius (1st Century b.c.),
who proceeded to organize the “esoteric” writings systematically, in a precise design based
on their thematic focus and on the hypothetical order in which they should have been
read. It is usually accepted that Andronicus formulated his “editorial plan” on the ground
of didactic schemes attributable to the early Peripatos or even to Aristotle himself. See
Paul Moraux, Les listes anciennes des ouvrages d™Aristote (Louvain: Editions Universitaires,

Metaphysics A: On “Metaphysics” and Desire 17

relation between knowledge and comportment, eventually of the distinc-
tively human. But of course, albeit in an implicit, unthematized fashion,
the human would have been in play since the beginning of such investiga-
tions, as their very possibility “ as the condition silently underlying their
discourses. The question of the human, encompassing and grounding all
research and undertaking, is liminally illuminated at the inception of the
Metaphysics, but even here remains essentially unaddressed. It presents
itself at this threshold, begins to become thinkable on the margins of
the main discussion, but will not receive its formulation and sustained
elaboration in this context. Only within the meditation on ethics will the
heretofore undisclosed ground of human endeavor come to be devel-
oped. It may be opportune brie¬‚y to recall the prodromes of Aristotle™s
thematization of the human, particularly in the Metaphysics. Here we wit-
ness a discourse on the verge of wondering about itself, of interrogating
itself concerning its own conditions and presuppositions “ a discourse
inceptively opening onto that self-re¬‚ective exercise that will have been
the ethical investigation proper.

1. metaphysics a: on “metaphysics” and desire
As is well known, the Metaphysics™2 inaugural statement immediately poses
the question of desire at the heart of the human quest for knowledge:
“All human beings by nature desire having seen [to“ e«d”nai ½r”gontai]”
(980a21). The motive force underlying human striving for understand-
ing is identi¬ed as desire, orexis. It is by nature that human beings pursue
knowledge. It has even been said that, in pursuing knowledge, human
beings in a way pursue themselves, their own nature, their own ful¬llment

2 Throughout this study, my approach to the Metaphysics is informed by the structural anal-
yses put forth by Giovanni Reale in his Il concetto di ¬loso¬a prima e l™unit` della Meta¬sica di
Aristotele (Milan: Societ` Editrice Vita e Pensiero, 1961). Contra the view of the fragmen-
tary and essentially heterogeneous character of the treatises gathered under the heading
of ta meta ta phusika, a view ¬rst articulated by Werner J¨ ger (Studien zur Entstehungs-
geschichte der Metaphysik des Aristoteles [Berlin: Weidmann, 1912], Aristoteles. Grundlegung
einer Geschichte seiner Entwicklung [Berlin: Weidmann, 1923]), Reale proposes an interpre-
tation of the Metaphysics in its unity and integrity. More broadly, he calls for a genuinely
philosophical approach to Aristotelian thought, irreducible to (if integrated by) philo-
logical research. In this connection, see Enrico Berti™s remarks in Aristotele nel Novecento
(Rome: Laterza, 1992), 260“3. See also Joseph Owens, The Doctrine of Being in the Aris-
totelian Metaphysics: A Study in the Greek Background of Medieval Thought (Toronto: Ponti¬cal
Institute of Medieval Studies, 1978), and Pierre Aubenque, “Sense et structure de la
m´ taphysique aristot´ licienne,” Bulletin de la Soci´t´ Francaise de Philosophie 57 (1964):
e e ee ¸
Metaphysics A and Posterior Analytics B.19

and perfection “ that in this way they become what they are to be and
realize the plenitude of their being.3 But what must be underlined here
is that human beings are drawn to such a realization, that their becoming
themselves occurs in the mode of desire and not, say, in the mode of self-
determination. The movement toward completion must be understood
as originating in an impulsion, in fact, as the stretching out of a lover
toward the beloved, toward that which imposes itself as eminently lov-
able or desirable. Thus, knowing and, broadly speaking, comprehending
come to pass in virtue of a certain pathos. For the human being will always
already have striven for having seen. In capturing with laconic precision
the human longing for having seen, this opening peremptorily reveals a
basic passivity at the heart of the manifold phenomenon of the human.
The feature of passivity, then, receives further magni¬cation through the
reference to another human passion, namely, the liking of aisth¯sis, the
affection for the undergoing and taking in of what gives itself perceptu-
ally. Aristotle proceeds to substantiate his inceptive statement as follows:

A sign of this is their liking of sensations; for even apart from the need of these
for other things, they are liked for their own sake, and of all sensations those
received by means of the eyes are liked most. For, not only for the sake of doing
something else, but even if we are not going to do anything else, we prefer, as
one might say, seeing to the other sensations. The cause of this is the fact that, of
all the sensations, seeing makes us know in the highest degree and makes clear
many differences. (980a21“27)

Both the desire for “having seen” as well as the draw toward “taking
in” point to the passion and passivity marking in a manifold fashion the
human condition. Human beings will have undergone the drive to pursue
insight. In turn, the pursuit of insight will have been taken up in virtue
of another undergoing of the soul, the undergoing that occurs in and
as perceptual apprehension. Understood in light of the fundamental
trace of passivity, the human being already emerges in its openness and
receptiveness vis-` -vis what it is not. In its hospitality toward what it is
not, in its being inhabited (if not invaded) by that which exceeds it, the
human being is inceptively manifest as a strange ontological structure
de¬ned through alterity, that structure whose de¬nition involves alterity
and, therefore, a certain in¬nity, a certain lack of determinacy and of

3 Alexander of Aphrodisias, In Aristotelis Metaphysica commentaria, ed. Michael Hayduck
(Berlin: G. Reimer, 1891), I, 4“10.
Metaphysics A: On “Metaphysics” and Desire 19

Two main issues need to be emphasized already, which will subse-
quently receive further resonance. In the ¬rst place, the originary char-
acter of desire vis-` -vis what will have been called “metaphysical inves-
tigation” cannot but radically qualify the whole enterprise of ¬rst phi-
losophy understood as epist¯m¯. Indeed, this inception seems to dictate
that the nature of the investigation will hardly have been metaphysical “
that, rather, the pursuit of science in the inquiry of ¬rst philosophy will
have been stirred up, animated, and sustained from a condition, that of
humans, essentially marked by a desirous motility. It is in light of such
an altogether “physical” dynamism, of this striving both embodied and
never quite beyond or past (meta) nature (phusis), that the actualization,
the coming to be of science should be understood. Already from these
¬rst lines it could be said not only that the language of “metaphysics” and
related terms is literally not available to Aristotle (this terminology arises
from the later Peripatetic systematization of the Aristotelian corpus), but
also, more importantly, that metaphysics as the beyond of phusis remains
essentially unthinkable for Aristotle and that the Aristotelian re¬‚ection
rather develops on the hither side of nature. Turning to Aristotle in such
a way as to illuminate the implications of this, notwithstanding a long
history of Aristotelian interpretation that has read Aristotle reductively
and anachronistically, according to an unproblematic notion of science
and a na¨vely dualistic construction of the relation between physics and
metaphysics, is precisely what imposes itself on us as a problem, maybe
even the problem. This is what we take up here as our task.
The second issue to be put into relief is the broad gesture by which
Aristotle draws together the desire for knowing as “having seen” and the
love of sensation, most notably of visual perception. This provides a most
synthetic anticipation of the indissoluble cluster of sensible perception
and perception of the universal, to which Aristotle will return time and
again. As a “having seen,” understanding, eidenai, comes to be in the repe-
tition of the experience of seeing. The pathos of vision, whose exemplarity
rests with its surpassing and intensifying the other perceptual modes, lets
beings light up in their differences and, therefore, in their distinctness
and unique perspicuity. However, in its recurrence, visual perception also
brings about a certain ordering of the teeming differences it takes in. Far
from being the bare exposure to a proliferation without either scansion
or structure, seeing (knowing as having seen) entails realizing the itera-
tive character of the articulation of what is: in experiencing beings I also
experience their return, their reappearance after an interval, whether
spatial or temporal. Indeed, (1) in virtue of what could be called “a
Metaphysics A and Posterior Analytics B.19

structured spaciousness of the gaze,” I seize the similarities compelling
me to gather certain beings together at a glance, to acknowledge their
belonging together, that is, in a sense, their being the same, and, (2) in
virtue of mnemonic retention, I seize the similarities that turn the percep-
tion of a being into the recognition of a being, that is, the recognition of
a being as the same, as a being that comes back after having been seen
already, however altered in its returning or self-reproduction. In return-
ing, reappearing, or being replicated, beings come somehow to abide.
Thus, the “many differences” that vision makes “clear” receive their vivid-
ness and de¬nition in virtue of the power to discern them as well as in vir-
tue of the sameness and constancy organizing them. It is in this sense that
vision, or more generally sensation (aisth¯sis), “makes” (poiei) me “know”

1.1. “Physiology” of Intellection
To elaborate on this, Aristotle proceeds right away to develop a genetic
account of the emergence of intellection, that is, the perception of uni-
versals. The formation and apprehension of universals is illuminated as a
simultaneously sensible and noetic matter: the universal arises from sensa-
tion, from the passivity that sensation bespeaks. Let this be foreshadowed:
it is this simultaneity and indissolubility, if not identity, of sensibility
(aisth¯sis) and intellectual perception (no¯sis) that will entail the most
e e
far-reaching consequences. For the moment, Aristotle lays out the geneal-
ogy of noetic perception and surfacing of universals in broad strokes. The
root of such a development lies deep within the most primordial folds of

By nature animals [t‡ z a] are born having sensation, and from sensation [–k d•
ta…thv] memory [mnžmh] comes into being in some of them but not in others.
Because of this, animals which can remember [dunam”nwn mnhmone…ein] are more

4 The suggestion here is that, in the speci¬c human experience, sensation already may
present an inherently iterative and hence mnemonic constitution, i.e., that memory,
mn¯m¯, may not simply be a somehow subsequent addition to the bare fact of sensing.
This suggestion is to an extent obscured by the discussion in Alpha 1, which focuses on
a genealogy of intellection whose horizon is life, the animal domain at large, and not
the properly human experience. It is, however, corroborated by a remark in De anima.
Here, while surmising that each organ of sense receives the sensible being proper to it,
but without the matter, Aristotle adds a statement assimilating sensation to imagination
and pointing to a kind of “memory of the senses”: “It is in view of this that sensations
[a«sqžseiv] and imaginings [fantas©ai] [of the sensed beings] are in the sense organs
even when those [sensed beings] are gone” (425b24“5).
Metaphysics A: On “Metaphysics” and Desire 21

prudent [fronimÛtera] or more teachable [maqhtikÛtera] than animals which
cannot remember. Of the former, those which cannot hear sounds are prudent
but cannot be taught [Šneu to“ manq†nein], such as the bee or any other species of
animals like it, but those which can hear can also be taught [manq†nei]. (980a27“

The capacity for being taught, that is, for learning, at a most basic level
presupposes the power of sensing. For from sensation arises in certain
cases memory, and this development already in and of itself makes pos-
sible a degree of prudence (phron¯sis) and learning (manthanein). There
is no such thing as teaching and learning without the ability to retain
mnemonically. Yet, with respect to learning the power of recollection is
not simply a more proximate condition than sensation: indeed, the fact
that, as prerequisites, sensation and memory must be complemented by
the possession of the speci¬c sense of hearing shows that the power of
recollection is folded back into sensation so as to be determined in its
implications and outcome by the speci¬c con¬guration of sensibility. Two
further issues are also worth noting, at least in a preliminary fashion, con-
cerning the crucial Aristotelian term usually translated as “prudence.” In
the ¬rst place, it is remarkable that the term is employed in reference
to manners of life other than human. For reasons that will become clear
only later on in the course of our study of the ethical treatises, this can-
not be set aside as a mere episode of terminological looseness. Second,
“prudence” is here disclosed as somewhat independent from learning.
The discriminating sense of hearing sets the two apart in such a way as
to show that prudence would belong to living beings prior to and aside
from their being teachable. But even before the speci¬cation concerning
hearing, when “prudence” and “learning” are mentioned coextensively,
it is clear that prudence, in fact learning itself, cannot be explained by
reference to learning alone, that is, simply on their own terms. Rather,
they must be understood in their altogether physiological preconditions
and seen as arising from the dimly lit intertwinement of sensation and
Aristotle continues to unfold his “physiology” of noetic perception by
further associating the term “imagination” (phantasia) to the cluster of
sensation, memory, and prudence and by introducing the language of
“experience” (empeiria).5 Here he comes to unfold in more detail the
previous intimation of apprehension as linked to repetition:

5 Concerning the connection between imagination, phantasia, and memory, mn¯m¯, I recall
Aristotle™s de¬nition of memory as “the having or habit [™xiv] of a phantasm [f†ntasma]
Metaphysics A and Posterior Analytics B.19

All animals [except human beings] live with the aid of imaginations [fantas©aiv]
and memories [mnžmaiv], and they participate but little in experience; but the race
of human beings lives also by art [t”cnhƒ] and judgment [logismo±v]. In human
beings experience comes into being from memory; for many memories of the
same thing result in the capacity [d…namin] for one experience. And experience
seems to be almost similar to science and art, but science and art come to human
beings through experience [di‡ t¦v –mpeir©av], for, as Polus rightly says, “experi-
ence made art, but inexperience, luck.” (980b25“981a5)

Experience, then, ¬nds the condition for its possibility in memory, that is,
in the ability to recognize the recurrence of the same as such. Because of
this, we may say that experience somehow bespeaks knowledge as “hav-
ing seen,” the fruit of an iteration leading to a progressively sharper
de¬nition of what is perceived, such that the perceived is brought into
an outline, into a limit, and stabilized therein. It could then be said that
experience, empeiria, signi¬es the knowledge of limit, peras “ a knowledge
at once resting on the limit of the perceived and seizing the perceived
in its limit, and hence a knowledge that, far from “conceptual” abstrac-
tion (of which there is no sign here), adheres to the things themselves,
remains in their proximity and, thanks to this intimacy with them, delim-
its them, draws them out in their de¬niteness. Conversely, inexperience
(apeiria) would designate a lack and ignorance of limit, a certain indef-
initeness or indeterminacy. Such a lack would even seem to discon¬rm
the relevance of more formal knowledge (logos), because it would betray
the missing link between such a knowledge and the world of which it
would speak: “in fact,” says Aristotle, “we observe that human beings who
are experienced succeed more than those who, without experience, have
logos” (981a14“15). To be inexperienced, then, would signify to live in
a world without clear boundaries, to ¬nd oneself in underdetermined
circumstances, positioning oneself in the world, relating to the world in
confused ways.

1.2. Experiencing and Knowing
However, before considering this latter issue more closely, it is important
to examine further the connection between experience and knowledge.
Aristotle quali¬es and re¬nes their relationship so that, far from posit-
ing their identity, he illuminates the manifoldness of knowledge and the

regarded as a likeness [e«k»nov] of that of which it is a phantasm” (On Memory and Recol-
lection, 451a15).
Metaphysics A: On “Metaphysics” and Desire 23

irreducibility of certain modes of knowing to the peculiar kind of knowl-
edge that experience names. At the same time, experience is nevertheless
said to harbor a genuinely noetic content:

Now art comes into being when out of many notions [–nnohm†twn] from experi-
ence we form one universal [kaq»lou] belief [Ëp»lhyiv] concerning similar facts.
For, to have a belief that when Callias was having this disease this bene¬ted him,
and similarly with Socrates and many other individuals, is a matter of experience;
but to have a belief that this bene¬ted all persons of a certain kind who were
having this sickness, such as the phlegmatic or the bilious or those burning with
high fever, is a matter of art. (981a5“12)

The perception at the heart of experience, then, possesses an intel-
lectual character; it is indeed an enno¯ma. Yet the knowledge that is
enacted in and as “art” (t”cnh) seems to surpass experience in artic-
ulateness and degree of complexity: as “universal knowledge [gn¤siv
t¤n kaq»lou],” the knowledge that presides over production arises out
of numerous episodes of “knowledge of individuals [gn¤siv t¤n kaq¬
™kast»n]” (981a16), that is, out of various enno¯mata formed through
experience. Universal knowledge in the broadest and most proper sense,
thus, seems to come to be through the mediation of experience, indeed,
of a multiplicity of experiences having analogous content. In the example
given, through the various experiences of individual human beings suf-
fering from certain illnesses and reacting to certain cures, an intuition
may light up concerning the extendibility of such observations to all
cases presenting similar features. The immediacy of the moment of intu-
itive luminosity yielding the universal must be understood by reference
to the mediation of experiential, and therefore temporal, conditions.
Thus, while experience yields insight into a con¬guration of individu-
als stabilized in their concatenation (e.g., the patient, the symptoms of
the sickness, the cure), the insight into the universal captures what, in
each singular situation, holds “according to the whole,” that is, not only
according to the cases experienced but according to all possible such
What is remarkable here, in the ¬rst place, is that Aristotle should refer
to tekhn¯ as the paradigm for the knowledge of universals. That such a
knowledge, which is nothing less than the fundamental and primordial
knowledge sought in the inquiry of ¬rst philosophy, would be best (or
even only) illustrated by reference to the knowledge inhering in the
“technical,” poietic process, should put us on the alert already at this
stage “ especially if we consider Aristotle™s contrasting insistence on the
Metaphysics A and Posterior Analytics B.19

fact that ¬rst philosophy, “the science of wisdom,” will have exceeded in
worth and accomplishment the sciences devoted to production. We will
have more than one occasion to return to this crucial issue and consider
its farthest implications. For the moment we should emphasize, second,
that the perception of the universal is addressed as “belief” and, therefore,
has the same status as the apprehension from experience. Of course,
this will raise the question concerning the character and authority of
the “science” at stake in ¬rst philosophy. For not only is this science
concerned not with demonstration but with universals as principles of
demonstration, which are indemonstrable, but, furthermore, knowing
universals will have meant acquiring them through belief, however ¬rm.
Again, we will have numerous occasions to come back to this.

1.3. Knowing Why
Aristotle now continues by surmising once more that, in contexts where
the focus is on action (praxis), there seems to be no discernible difference
between experience and art. However, he will conclude, if we consider
them for themselves, aside from practical involvements, we will have to
acknowledge the superiority of art. The ensuing contrast between man-
ual worker and master-artist (the one who not only executes but also
possesses the understanding of the reason why he is proceeding in that
way, i.e., the understanding of how to proceed in order to obtain what) is
meant to cast further light on the difference between knowledge of indi-
viduals and knowledge of universals. Again, it is quite outstanding that
the knowledge animating production should provide an explanatory ref-
erence for universal knowledge:

Experience does not seem to differ from art where something is to be done; in
fact, we observe that those who are experienced succeed more than those who
have the theory [l»gon –c»ntwn] but are inexperienced. The cause of this is that
experience is knowledge of individuals but art is universal knowledge, and all
actions and generations [pr†xeiv kaª a¬ gen”seiv] deal with individuals. The doctor
does not cure a human being [universally taken], except accidentally, but Callias
or Socrates or someone else to whom also it is said that “human being” happens to
belong. If, then, someone without experience has the theory [l»gon] and knows
the universal but is ignorant of the individual included under this universal, he
will often fail to cure; for it is rather the individual that is curable. Nevertheless
we regard understanding [e«d”nai] and comprehension [–pa¹ein] as belonging
to art more than to experience, and we believe that artists [toÆv tecn©tav] are
wiser than those who have experience; and this indicates that wisdom [sof©an]
Metaphysics A: On “Metaphysics” and Desire 25

is attributed to human beings according to their understanding [e«d”nai] rather
than their experience, inasmuch as those who have understanding know the
cause but those who have experience do not. For those who have experience
know the “that” [t¼ ‚ti] but not the why [di»ti]; but those who have the art
know the why of it or the cause. It is because of this that we regard also the
master-artists [toÆv ˆrcit”ktonav] of a given craft as more honorable, as possessing
understanding [e«d”nai] to a higher degree, and as wiser than the manual workers
[t¤n ceirotecn¤n], since the former know the causes of the things produced, but
the latter are like certain inanimate things [ˆy…cwn] which act but do so without
understanding that action, as in the case of ¬re that burns. (981a12“b3)

Two complementary aspects must be drawn out of this re¬‚ection. On
the one hand, Aristotle dwells on the fundamental role of experience.
While it may be the case that universal knowledge is irreducible to knowl-
edge of individuals, still the latter is acknowledged as the ground and
ineliminable condition of the former. This is so, not only because sci-
ence and art are said to come to humans “through experience,” but most
notably because, without experience, art or in general the knowledge of
universals remains empty and formal. It is experience that endows univer-
sal knowledge with meaning and relevance: without it, those possessing
abstract cognition alone (the logos) would be at a loss as to what they are
speaking of. As though their knowledge would lack content, they would
not know how it might relate to the worldly circumstances, indeed, they
would move in the world without being able to make connections between
their formal cognition and their surroundings: they would be unable to
recognize individuals in the world, to encounter them in their delimita-
tion and de¬niteness, as belonging together in a given universal. Logos,
the knowledge of universals, whose work is the discursive organization
of the universals in their con¬gurations, constitutes a potential factor of
alienation. If emancipated from its intuitive inception, severed from its
connection with the individual, logos says literally nothing. It abstracts the
one who knows or speaks in this fashion from action and, more broadly,
from life. Here we hear anticipated the prescription of the adherence
of logos to experience, on which Aristotle copiously insists in the ethical
treatises. But also, to remain within the compass of the Metaphysics, this
foreshadows the numerous remarks on the one-sidedness of mathemat-
ics as well as the analysis of the principle of non-contradiction in Book
Gamma, crucially based on the critique of contentious arguments that
are self-destructive to the extent that they go against the experience of
the speakers themselves.
Metaphysics A and Posterior Analytics B.19

On the other hand, however, by emphasizing the living ground of
experience Aristotle by no means ends up privileging blind practice, the
automatism of habit not illuminated by discrimination, by the awareness
of causes, of the why. Understanding (eidenai), and therefore wisdom
(sophia), are attributed to those who have art rather than to those who
have experience alone, and, among artists, to those who know the prin-
ciples according to which they operate rather than to those who merely
execute various kinds of manual labor without fully comprehending what
they are doing and why. In fact, the latter provide an extreme illustration
of the limits pertaining to those who lack understanding. For not only
do they not know the cause (the “why”), despite the fact that they act
as artists, but also they carry out their task without displaying the most
elementary signs of re¬‚ection or awareness, as though by nature. They
are like inanimate things, determined in their motions by their nature
and the insurmountable necessity it carries. Thus, not knowing the cause
bespeaks in a way acting outside life, having fallen off from life: being
inanimate, tool-like. The phenomenon of the alienation from life seems
to be characteristic of both logos without experience and exercise without
Finally, it should be observed that, however much said to be dissociated
from practical or productive endeavors, wisdom, sophia, is nevertheless
manifested through concrete actions, for example, the ability to teach.
There appears to be no other, non-practical access to or symptom of it:
“in general, a sign [shme±on] of someone who understands is the power
[t¼ d…nasqai] to teach, and because of this we regard art more than
experience to be science” (981b7“9). In the exercise of art I make the
experience my own in such a way that I no longer merely undergo what
presents itself and recurs: rather, I frequent the perceived, cultivate an
intimacy with it, comprehend it and am shaped by this apprehension, in
such a way that I can share this with others. I gain a degree of familiarity
with the matter at stake and am able to guide others in that proxim-
ity. Aside from these altogether concrete involvements, wisdom would
remain undetectable. Understanding wisdom ¬rst of all by reference to
skilled craftsmanship, as Aristotle himself does in the Nicomachean Ethics
(1141a10ff.), is not merely a matter of acknowledging the archaic usage.
Even as that which is pursued in ¬rst philosophy and hence transcends
every manner of insight pertaining to speci¬c ¬elds, wisdom makes itself
manifest as such in deed. It becomes recognizable through the way one is,
acts, and lives.
Metaphysics A: On “Metaphysics” and Desire 27

1.4. Practical Genealogy of Wisdom
Aristotle draws to the conclusion of the discussion in Alpha 1 by restat-
ing the notion of science sketched so far. Again he outlines the prac-
tical genealogy of the knowledge of universals, showing the awakening
of reason and noetic insight through and as art, production, creative
engagement within the world. Again, Aristotle surmises that the arts
transcending matters of usefulness, necessity, and the resolution into an
object brought forth, arts practiced more for their own sake and result-
ing in a kind of “activity” (diagwgŸn, 981b18), “were always believed to
be wiser . . . because their sciences were not oriented toward use [mŸ pr¼v
cr¦sin]” (981b18“20). It is in this self-overcoming of the arts as essentially
productive that the sciences proper “were discovered” (981b22), specif-
ically there where human beings could experience a certain leisure, and
therefore a freedom from the necessities of life. At this point, as if to
make more explicit the ethical conditions of the inquiry to be under-
taken here, Aristotle refers to the Ethics, where, he says, a more sustained
discussion is developed concerning art and science in their difference.
This reference is hardly casual, since in closing he points out again that
the inquiry called ¬rst philosophy, that is, the inquiry pursuing wisdom
and the intuition of ¬rst principles, must be framed in terms of belief and
appearances. Such is the ground of the determination of wisdom and of
the progression toward it:

[A]ll human beings believe [Ëpolamb†nousi] that what is called “wisdom” is con-
cerned with the ¬rst causes and principles; so that, as stated before, someone of
experience seems [doke±] to be wiser than someone who has any of the sensations,
someone who has art wiser than someone experienced, a master-artist wiser than
a manual worker, and theoretical inquiries [qewrhtikaª] to be wisdom to a higher
degree than the productive ones [poihtik¤n]. Clearly, then, wisdom is a science
of certain causes and principles. (981b28“982a2)

In the end, a certain ineffability or elusiveness of wisdom seems to emerge
from this consideration. Even the theoretical inquiries, those not moti-
vated by utility but oriented to contemplation, do not coincide with
wisdom. They approximate wisdom. They strive, desire to seize it, but
do so only “to a higher degree.” To conclude by anticipating analyses
that will be carried out later in the course of this work, we might add
that, qua “science of certain causes and principles,” and hence science
of the indemonstrable ground of demonstration, wisdom will prove to
be a strange science indeed. For wisdom will name an apprehension that
Metaphysics A and Posterior Analytics B.19

lies beside and beyond demonstration, an apprehension that is in fact
de¬ned by belief and is itself a matter of belief “ which again marks the
belonging of wisdom in the order of appearance and of the practical.
The “science of wisdom” is, thus, not quite and not simply a science. It
will be said in the Ethics that wisdom is science perfected, science accom-
panied by its leader, as it were: science, that is, demonstrated knowledge,
supplemented by the intuitive perception (nous) of its own ground and
principles. But science perfected by nous means science perfected non-
scienti¬cally, for nous presents itself as excessive with respect to the syllo-
gistic procedures that science designates, in fact, as excessive to the order
of discourse, of logos itself.

2. posterior analytics: on nous and aisth¯ sis
The above considerations are echoed and ampli¬ed in the Posterior Ana-
lytics, where, at various stages, we ¬nd the intimation of the indissoluble

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