. 7
( 12)


virtue (and “intellectual” has here come to denote a quite broad, het-
erogeneous range of dispositions) would ¬t into this scheme. Indeed,
what virtue would belong in what sub¬eld of the either three-fold or two-
fold subdivision of the rational domain? Or might it be the case that the
attempt at properly placing each virtue in the con¬guration(s) provided
would reveal such schematism of the rational as unlikely and untenable?

5.3. The Aporetic Order of the “Intellectual Virtues”
In marking a fresh start for the inquiry (arxamenoi oun an¯then . . . palin),
Aristotle lists ¬ve “intellectual” virtues thanks to which the soul “attains
the truth” (ˆlhqe…ei) “when it af¬rms or denies.” These are tekhn¯ (craft,
art, artful production), epist¯m¯ (science), phron¯sis (prudence), sophia
ee e
(wisdom), and nous (intuition or intellect) (1139b14“17). Following Aris-
totle™s elucidation of them, we shall elaborate further on the questions
broached above and encounter new ones. We should also notice that, in
enumerating the virtues of the intellect, Aristotle decisively declares that,
from this point onward, we will leave aside hupol¯psis and doxa “ or so it
seems (1139b18).
The Virtues of the Intellect 181

5.3.1. Tekhn¯ e
Aristotle™s discussion of “art” in this context is strangely truncated and,
like any discourse marked by elision, invites close inspection as well as
supplemental reference to other texts. Art is de¬ned as “a habit bringing
forth with true reason” (™xiv met‡ l»gou ˆlhqo“v poihtikŸ) (1140a11).36
Art is, therefore, a kind of poi¯sis, production, or bringing forth. As such,
just like that which pertains to action, that which pertains to bringing
forth is concerned with “those that admit of being otherwise” (1140a1).
The only other speci¬cations that Aristotle offers here are (1) the distinc-
tion between the practical and productive spheres, (2) the differentiation
between natural bringing forth and artful (i.e., human) production, and
(3) the connection between art and luck. Regarding (1), Aristotle is curi-
ously emphatic. In a few lines, he states that “bringing forth [po©hsiv] is
different from action [prŽxiv] . . . and so practical habit [™xiv praktikŸ]
with reason is different from habit bringing forth [poihtik¦v ™xewv] with
reason” (1140a2“6); that, “therefore, the two exclude each other, for no
action is a bringing forth and no bringing forth is an action” (1140a6“
7); and that, “since bringing forth and action are different, art must be
concerned with bringing forth and not with action” (1140a17“19). This
distinction appears somewhat overstated, especially in light of the above
quoted statement that it is “thought” (dianoia) understood as “practical”
and “for the sake of something” that “rules productive [thought] also”
(1139a36“b2). Aristotle is here underscoring the difference between end
in itself and end as an external, separate outcome. Yet action, however
much its own end and performed for its own sake, may still indicate a
¬nality beyond itself, may still be for the sake of a more comprehensive
outcome, just as a work of art or product may point to and be for the sake
of a further end, for example, living well.
Aristotle™s insistence on the mutual exclusivity of praxis and poi¯sis is
all the more suspect in light of the pervasiveness of the language of tekhn¯e
in the ethical discourse, as noticed above. In a decisive sense, ethics is a

36 In the Metaphysics, art is de¬ned by reference to power or faculty, dunamis. More speci¬-
cally, it is said to be a power accompanied by reason: “all the arts or productive sciences
[poihtikaª –pist¦mai] are powers [dun†meiv]; for they are principles which can cause a
change in another thing or [in the artist himself or herself] qua other. And every power
with reason [met‡ l»gou] [may bring about] both contraries, but every non-rational power
only one; for example, heat [can cause] only heating, but the medical art sickness as well
as health” (1046b2“7). Reason, logos as well as epist¯m¯ (1046b7“8), discloses something
and its contrary indifferently, in one and the same gesture. The discourse of ethics aims
precisely at aligning the power of logos with the broader orientation to the good.
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Alpha to Eta
o o

kind of making. What in Book Zeta is given a cursory and almost dismis-
sive elaboration appears to be in fact crucially at work in the discussion
of ethics, indeed, of the “architectonic” discipline. We previously pointed
out the incidence of the language of tekhn¯ in the exposition of apparently
remote themes, such as political constitution, law-making, and statesman-
ship in general (e.g., 1099b30“3, 1102a8“10, 1129b18“19, 1141b23). In
this connection, we also suggested that a much more complex under-
standing of tekhn¯ emerges, according to which bringing forth would not
be merely a matter of eidetic contemplation applied to matter. Aristotle
himself intimates that bringing forth may not so much be a matter of forg-
ing matter according to the directives of an eidetic model autonomously
known. First, rather than being simply founded on knowledge, bringing
forth at once brings forth knowledge and is, in this further sense, forma-
tive. This is why the arts can transform and evolve. Second, if knowledge
does indeed somehow guide bringing forth, at stake seems to be less a
self-subsisting and prior knowledge than the knowledge yielded by expe-
rience and practice, indeed, by use.37 Aristotle cautiously suggests these
issues in the Politics, where he says that there are “certain cases” in which
“the artist would be neither the only nor the best judge [Šn kr©neien] . . . for
example, knowledge [gn¤nai] of a house is not limited to the one who
makes it, for the user [crÛmenov] is even a better judge [krine±] of it
(for it is the household manager who uses [cr¦tai] it), and, similarly,
the pilot is a better judge of the rudder than the carpenter [t”ktonov],
and the guest is a better judge of the dinner than the cook” (1282a18“
23). But an even more incisive statement to this effect is offered in the

there are two arts [t”cnai] which rule over matter and have the knowledge
[gnwr©zousai] of it “ the art which is concerned with use [crwm”nh] of it and
the master-art of bringing forth [t¦v poihtik¦v ¡ ˆrcitektonikž]. Thus the art
concerned with use is also in a sense a master-art, but as a master-art it differs
from the other insofar as it knows the form [to“ e­douv gnwristikž], while the
art that brings forth knows the matter; for the steersman knows what kind of
form the rudder should have and orders [its production], but the other knows
from what [kind of] wood [it should be produced] and how it should move.”

In this context, then, the knowledge of form must be understood not so
much in autonomous and separate terms but, rather, as nested within the
practical, most notably within use. Again, besides decisively broadening

37 The suggestion is, of course, Platonic (Republic X).
The Virtues of the Intellect 183

the semantics of tekhn¯, passages of this tenor draw out the complexities
of the knowledge involved in bringing forth and, thus, complicate the
analysis of the exercise of art.
Aristotle also acknowledges the essential function of the arts for both
the life of the polis and the being of the anthr¯pos. In the Politics he observes
that without the arts, tekhnai, it would be “impossible to inhabit the city”
(1291a2“3). Indeed, among the tekhnai, “some must necessarily belong
[in the polis], others contribute to luxury or to living beautifully [kal¤v
z¦n]” (1291a3“4).
But let us return to the succinct discussion of tekhn¯ in the Ethics,
speci¬cally to the remark on (2) the differentiation between natural and
human bringing forth:
Every art is about coming into being [g”nesin], and to pursue an art [tecn†zein] is
to contemplate [qewre±n] how to generate [g”nhtai] that which admits of being
and not being, and whose principle is in the one who brings forth and not in that
which is brought forth; for art is not concerned with things that are or come to
be by necessity, nor with things according to nature, for these have the principle
in themselves. (1140a12“17)

The bringing forth occurring through and as tekhn¯, then, is only one
modality of bringing forth. Poi¯sis per se exceeds the domain of human
artful production. Indeed, in the broadest sense poi¯sis comes to coin-
cide with the comprehensive realm of coming into being and passing
away, of becoming, genesis. In other words, poi¯sis demands to be thought
in its irreducibility to tekhn¯, most notably to the technical or theoretical
mastery involved in the skilled generation of the various crafts. Thus, the
issue is understanding the “practice” of tekhn¯ in its relation and contrast
to the bringing forth of phusis. While tekhn¯ names the bringing forth of
beings that may or may not be and come to be according to the prin-
ciple in the artist, phusis names the generation of beings according to
the principle in themselves, that is, according to (their) necessity. The
limits of tekhn¯ as human bringing forth are thereby marked: tekhn¯ is
e e
the generation of beings that are not alive, not animated or ensouled “
that do not live and grow, do not live in the sense of grow. For to live
and grow means having the principle of becoming within itself. In the
spectrum of human experience, we should notice the difference between
tekhn¯ and, for example, the poi¯sis that brings forth children “ a making
e e
in which humans are involved, but not in the mode of laying down a

38 In the Metaphysics, Aristotle speci¬es that “[a]ll productions [poižseiv] are from art [t”c-
nhv], or from a power [dun†mewv], or from thought [diano©av]” (1032a27“8).
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Alpha to Eta
o o

project, not as authors, masters of a skill, carrying out a calculated plan
based on the contemplation of the end.
In the Physics, the nature of the relation between art and nature is
addressed by reference to imitation: “art imitates nature,” Aristotle sur-
mises at 194a22. The issue, however, is more complex than it seems, and
certainly does not lend itself to any straightforward, formulaic under-
standing. While it may not be opportune to deepen this set of consider-
ations here, let us simply signal a twofold complication of the imitative
model. In the ¬rst place, art is consciously acknowledged as providing an
access into nature, determining the way in which nature is analyzed and,
hence, disclosed. For instance, just as the artist must possess the knowl-
edge of both the eidetic and material dimensions involved in his or her
art, so, Aristotle says, “physics must know [gnwr©zein] both natures [i.e.,
eidos and hul¯ ]” (194a22“7). It is, therefore, the human involvement in
bringing forth that opens up certain paths of inquiry and molds the inves-
tigative posture. To the extent that what is apprehended of phusis is the
fruit of investigations structurally informed by the “technical” exercise,
far from viewing art as imitating nature, we might rather say that “nature
imitates art.” Second, besides being a matter of imitation, art emerges
also, as it were, as a supplement to nature. Aristotle notes:

In general, in some cases art completes [–pitele±] what nature cannot carry out to
an end, in others it imitates nature. Thus, if things done according to art are for
the sake of something, clearly also those according to nature [are done for the
sake of something]; for the later stages are similarly related to the earlier stages
in those according to art and those according to nature. (199a15“21)

Thus, the exercise of tekhn¯ not only shapes the manner in which human
beings perceive the workings of phusis, but, moreover, completes these
workings. As is evident in the exemplary case of the work of healing, art
effects what nature cannot fully bring about. While clearly irreducible
to one another, the poi¯sis of tekhn¯ and that of phusis cannot simply be
e e
understood as starkly separate. Rather, tekhn¯ should be understood as
ultimately belonging in phusis, completing phusis there where phusis
seems to allow for an unregulated margin of indeterminacy, or there
where its directives are not legible. After all, it is according to phusis that
human beings display the “creative” aptitude.
The above signaled “technical” shaping of the human investigative
posture (e.g., in physics) resonates with motifs introduced in our Pre-
lude. Already in that context we insisted on the non-autonomy of the
sciences strictly understood, on their resting on essentially non-scienti¬c
The Virtues of the Intellect 185

grounds. As we pointed out, the opening lines of the Posterior Analytics
clearly indicate this: “All teaching and learning through discourse or
thinking proceed from previous knowledge. This is evident if we exam-
ine all [the kinds of such teaching and learning]. For such is the way
through which the mathematical sciences are acquired and each of the
other arts. And it is likewise with reasonings [l»gouv], whether these be
through a syllogism or induction” (71a1“6). Science and art alike rest
on a ground not simply their own. The same point is emphasized at
the end of the treatise, when the principles from experience are said
to underlie the sciences as well as art: “Again, from experience or from
every universal which is now stabilized in the soul [produced in us by
induction or sensation, 100b6“7] . . . [there arises] a principle of art or
of science, of art if it is a principle about generation, but of science if
it is a principle about being” (100a6“9). We already noted how the lan-
guage and scrutiny of art is prominent at the beginning of Metaphysics,
even though the aim of this exposition is establishing scienti¬c or theo-
retical knowledge in its hierarchical primacy (980b27“982a3). Indeed,
in this genetic account of the emergence and differentiation of human
faculties, the founding and formative role of art receives conspicuous
ampli¬cation. Thus, not only does the thinking of poi¯sis inform the
re¬‚ection on ethics and politics, but it constellates the discourses of sci-
ence, ¬rst philosophy, and even, as we shall see, the analysis of the noetic
In conjunction with the foregoing observations, we should once again
emphasize that, despite the genuinely “scienti¬c” knowing involved in
tekhn¯ (e.g., Physics 194a23), theoretical mastery is limited or highly qual-
i¬ed in the exercise of art. To put it in other words, the the¯rein of art
may not be simply a matter of scienti¬c or theoretical contemplation.
Indeed, tekhn¯ makes the distinctions implicit in the language of the¯rein
e o
and epist¯m¯ quite blurred, because both science and contemplation must
here be understood in relation to becoming, bringing forth, and that
which admits of being otherwise. Above all, they must be understood in
relation to luck, tukh¯ “ and we thus come to (3) the connection between
art and chance announced above. Aristotle broaches this issue in the
conclusion of his brief review of tekhn¯, when pointing out that chance
or luck is not accidentally associated with artful bringing forth: “in a
certain sense, both luck and art are concerned with the same things; as
Agathon says, ˜art is fond of luck, and luck of art™” (1140a19“20). This
is what crucially distinguishes art from the bringing forth carried out by
phusis itself, which brings itself forth from out of itself and according to
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Alpha to Eta
o o

necessity (according to itself as necessity).39 The thoughtful bringing
forth carried out by humans is pervaded, indeed, even promoted by the
intervention of uncontrollable factors and chance discoveries. The inter-
play with what is unknown (for this is what tukh¯ names) is essential to
the “inventive” comportment. It is also because of this that Aristotle men-
tions “erring willingly [—kÜn]” as an integral dimension of tekhn¯ exercised
excellently (1140b23). Of course, considerations of this tenor make it
arduous to see how tekhn¯ would, strictly and without any further quali¬-
cation, belong in the domain of the soul that “has” reason.
In light of what we observed so far, we might discern, within the range of
human poiein, a manner of bringing forth that can be assimilated neither
to instrumental, technical production nor to physiological reproduction:
a kind of “spiritual” fertility distinctive of what we could call the “vision-
ary animal,” the animal that plays with possibility and wrests fragments
of the possible out of latency.40 At stake in this creativity is the ability to
envision, to entertain a certain inner vision and give phenomenal birth
to it: the ability to give body, to draw out into the light. In this way, the
human being intervenes in the fabric of worldly things (in the structures
and conditions of human living) and affects or transforms it. To be sure,
in the context of the Greek experience production is understood more
in terms of transmission, of learned skill, than in terms of individual

39 This problematizes the re¬‚ection on tekhn¯ in Metaphysics Zeta, 1032a25ff. As if accord-
ing to a kind of semantic inversion, in the latter context chance and luck (automaton,
tukh¯ ) are associated not with art but with the “generations from nature [ˆp¼ f…sewv]”
(1032a28“30). In keeping with this inversion, generation by art is more schemati-
cally treated as entailing the dichotomy of eidetic knowledge and material production.
Indeed, Aristotle states that “things generated by art are those whose form [e²dov] is in
the soul (by ˜form™ I mean the what-it-was-to-be [t¼ t© §n e²nai] of each thing and the ¬rst
substance [prÛthn oÉs©an])” (1032a32“b2). He then elaborates on the terminology: “in
a sense health is generated from health and a house from a house, that is, the house that
has matter from the house without matter, for the medical art and the building art are
the form [e²dov], respectively, of health and of the house; by ˜substance without matter™
I mean the what-it-was-to-be” (1032b11“14). The “form in the soul,” thus, would be the
knowledge of something in its essence. Aristotle continues by sharpening the contrast
between the “theoretical” moment and production: “Of the generations and motions
just considered, one of them is called ˜thinking™ [n»hsiv] and the other ˜bringing forth™
[po©hsiv]; thinking occurs from the principle or the form, bringing forth from the end
of thinking and thereafter” (1032b15“17). Needless to say, if, e.g., in the case of the art
of building, the “form in the soul” must be that of the house, we have to wonder how
such form could possibly be contemplated aside from and prior to the experience of
building, and, even before that, of seeking a shelter, of exposure to disruptive events,
40 I owe the expression “visionary animal” to Ramano M` dera, L™animale visionario (Milan:
Il Saggiatore, 1998).
The Virtues of the Intellect 187

imaginativeness and “creativity.” It does retain the character of “original-
ity” in the sense that it “originates,” conceives, incubates, and brings to
light, or uncovers something in an originary way. But here “originality”
is the function of a “choral,” collective generativity. Creativity emerges as
an anthropological datum, rather than as the exclusive prerogative of a
few individuals. To be sure, there may be departures from the traditional
transmitted patterns, and there is a margin for experimentation. The
artist may “err willingly,” and this is preferable to erring by ignorance
(1140b23); “erring willingly” means deliberately setting out to allow for
change, to explore different practices and manners of engagement with
materiality (from stone to sound) and its secrets. Here, then, resides one
of the distinctive features of the “visionary animal”: in the capacity for this
open-ended engagement with the world, an engagement that cannot be
self-contained because always having its ful¬llment outside of itself, in
what is brought forth, and because always disclosing heretofore unfath-
omed possibilities, like gaping openings calling for further exploration.
Perhaps it is out of profound insightfulness that common parlance, as
Aristotle notes, attributes wisdom, sophia, to those who excel in the exer-
cise of their art, as in the case of “Phidias the sculptor” and “Polyclitus
the statue-maker” (1141a9“12).

5.3.2. Epist¯ m¯
The exploration of epist¯m¯ begins with a peremptory prescription. To clar-
ify “what knowledge is,” Aristotle calls for precision in speech and avoid-
ance of “similitudes.” Curiously enough, however, he goes on to expound
a belief, a shared opinion: “We believe [Ëpolamb†nomen] that the thing
which we know cannot be other than it is” (1139b19“20). The distinction
between science and what it is not mirrors the distinction between the
scienti¬c and the estimative (deliberative, doxastic) components: unlike
what is opined, what can be known does not admit of being otherwise. Yet
one should not disregard the dialectical, belief-based character of what is
said about science “ in spite of the fact that Aristotle explicitly purported
to leave belief and opinion outside this discussion. Indeed, it seems that
they may be left out as themes, but not as modes of discourse and inquiry,
as the ¯thos of this inquiry.
Epist¯m¯ is said to be “a habit pertaining to demonstration” (™xiv
ˆpodeiktikž) (1139b32). In this context, Aristotle also insists on the in-
demonstrable character of scienti¬c principles. Science is demonstrative,
but proceeds from indemonstrables. Syllogism (demonstration), whose
conclusion is demonstrated, unassailable knowledge, rests on induction
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Alpha to Eta
o o

(epag¯g¯, which leads from particulars to universals), that is, begins from
the universal inductively given. In other words, the ground for universal-
apodictic procedures is the particular, which requires sensation and expe-
rience (1139b26ff.).41 Such is the arkh¯ of epist¯m¯. Aristotle underscores
e ee
the primary importance of the conviction and trust (pisteuein) thanks to
which universals may be induced. Indeed, “it is when one is both con-
vinced [piste…hƒ] and is familiar [gnÛrimoi] with the principles in a cer-
tain manner that he has knowledge, since he will have knowledge only
by accident if he is not convinced [of the principles] more than of the
conclusion” (1139b34“5). This claim is repeatedly echoed in the Posterior
Analytics. Near the beginning of the treatise, Aristotle meditates on the
beginnings of demonstrative knowledge:

since this syllogism proceeds from certain [principles] which are, it is necessary
not only to know [progignÛskein] the ¬rst [principles], whether all or some,
prior [to the fact or conclusion], but also to know them to a higher degree [than
the fact or conclusion]; for that [i.e., the cause] because of which something is
always is to a higher degree than that thing, e.g., that because of which we love
a thing is loved more than the thing. So if indeed we know [­smen] and also have
conviction [piste…omen] [of a fact or conclusion] through the ¬rst [principles],
then we know and are convinced of these to a higher degree [than the fact or
conclusion], since it is through these that we also [know and are convinced of]
what follows. (72a27“33)

First principles are those starting points that, aside from and prior to all
demonstration, compel our assent. It is such an experience of trust that
makes possible and sustains the subsequent operations of reason yield-
ing knowledge. The “fact” (prŽgma, 72a26) that is subjected to analysis,
the fact the scienti¬c knowledge of which constitutes the conclusion of
the deductive process, is, to begin with, known as such, af¬rmed in its
most basic constitution in virtue of a certain being disposed (diake©menov,
72a35), in virtue of the posture of trust. Aristotle must ¬nd this inceptive
intuition startling, for he immediately restates his point:

41 Let us recall, once again, a crucial statement from the Posterior Analytics: “It is also evi-
dent that if a faculty of sensation [a­sqhsiv] is absent from the start, some corresponding
science [–pistžmhn] must be lacking, seeing that a science cannot be acquired if indeed
we learn either by induction or by demonstration. Now a demonstration proceeds from
universals, whereas induction proceeds from particulars. But universals cannot be investi-
gated except through induction . . . and it is impossible to learn by induction without hav-
ing the power of sensation. For of individuals there can be sensation, and no knowledge
of them can be acquired; and neither can we demonstrate conclusions from universals
without induction, nor can we acquire universals through induction without sensation”
The Virtues of the Intellect 189

it is necessary for one to be convinced [piste…ein] more of the principles [ˆrca±v],
whether of all or some of them, than of the conclusion. And if one is to have knowl-
edge [–pistžmhn] through demonstration, not only should one know [gnwr©zein]
and be convinced of the principles more than of what is proved, but, relative
to the statements opposed to these principles, from which statements there can
be a syllogism of a contrary mistake, there should be nothing other than these
principles of which one is more convinced and knows to a higher degree, if a
knower without quali¬cation [–pist†menon ‰pl¤v], as such a knower, is to be
unchangeable in his conviction [ˆmet†peiston]. (72a37“b4)

In its unshakable character, conviction transcends itself and its own epis-
temic insubstantiality, gives itself as a knowing (however ineffable) of prin-
ciples, as the inceptive knowing (gn¯rizein) with respect to which demon-
strated knowing (epist¯m¯ ) seems somehow secondary (in fact, derived as
well as derivative). Thus understood, conviction constitutes the ground
of living and acting in its most primordial liminal manifestation. The
beginning emerges as or is constituted through an af¬rming, a con¬ding
in one™s circumstances, before having analyzed and known them. Indeed,
all subsequent analysis and knowing will have rested on such con¬dent
constitution. Compared with the force of such a fundamental trust, it is
the logic of epist¯m¯ that is exposed in its fragility or insubstantiality.
The same set of problems is acknowledged in the Metaphysics as well,
and it is important to emphasize these reiterations. It is as though the
same concern would recursively return to haunt investigations appar-
ently remote from each other in character. In the Prelude we variously
highlighted the preoccupations, pervasive in this text, surrounding the
non-scienti¬c ground of science and the need to re-inscribe the scienti¬c
enterprise within the context of sensibility, intuitive-inductive evidence,
and, broadly speaking, the experiential and practical domain. At this
juncture, let us brie¬‚y consider yet another moment in this work, anal-
ogously suggesting the excess of ¬rst philosophy vis-` -vis science and the
dif¬culties harbored in the apparent separability of demonstrative dis-
courses from the con¬dence or trust (pistis) in their ground, constituting
their ground as such. We are at the beginning of Book Eta, in which
Aristotle restates the task of ¬rst philosophy, namely, seeking “the prin-
ciples and causes of beings, but clearly qua beings” (1025b3“4). The
statement of purpose is variously reformulated in the course of the Meta-
physics, however, what is at stake in such an endeavor remains gaining
an insight into the “end” or “good,” that is, into “¬rst causes,” ¬nally
into “beingness” or “substance” (oÉs©av) (996b12“14). Such a task would
seem properly to belong to the sciences, because “every science which
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Alpha to Eta
o o

proceeds by thinking [dianohtikŸ] or participates in thought [diano©av]
to some extent is concerned with causes and principles” (1025b6“7).
However, Aristotle immediately proceeds to offer the following diagnosis
of scienti¬c inquiry:
But all these sciences, marking off some being or some genus, conduct their
investigations into this [part of being], although not into unquali¬ed being nor
[into their part of being] qua being, and they do not bring forth [poio“ntai] any
discourse [l»gon] concerning the what-it-is [to“ t© –stin]; but starting from the
what-it-is [of their subject], which what-it-is in some sciences is made clear by sen-
sation but in others is laid down by hypothesis, they thus proceed to demonstrate
more or less rigorously the essential attributes of their genus. (1025b7“13)

The consequences are clear: it rests upon ¬rst philosophy to address the
primary question (the question regarding the primary) left unaddressed
by and within the various sciences. Nevertheless, ¬rst philosophy is not
Consequently, it is evident by such induction from these sciences that there is no
demonstration of beingness [oÉs©av] or of the what-it-is, but that there is some
other way for the clari¬cation [dhlÛsewv] [of these]. Similarly, they say nothing
as to the being or non-being of the genus they investigate, and this is because
it belongs to the same thought [diano©av] to make clear [d¦lon poie±n] both the
what-it-is and the being [of a genus]. (1025b14“18)

The af¬rmation of being as such, as well as the elaboration of what it is,
are less a matter of knowledge, especially of scienti¬c knowledge, than
of a certain illumination, of a making perspicuous, manifest (d¯lon). At
stake in the question of principles or beginnings is the issue of primordial
Yet the “object of knowledge” (i.e., the apodictic conclusion), Aristotle
asserts in the discussion of scienti¬c knowledge in the Ethics, “exists of
necessity” and is “eternal,” “ungenerable and indestructible.”42 But this is
so as long as and wherever the premises or principles hold. As long as this
is the case, the conclusion is indeed necessary, unavoidable in its deduc-
tion. In this sense alone is it eternal and immutable. However, principles
do not necessarily have these qualities “ they may not be unquali¬edly
eternal, ungenerable, and so on. This is evident from a moment in the
Posterior Analytics in which the eternity of scienti¬c conclusions is at once
claimed and quali¬ed:

42 It may be worth specifying that the things that are eternal are not separate, but only are
always (e.g., numbers, objects of mathematics). As we shall consider shortly, active and
passive intellect is not two, let alone two separate entities.
The Virtues of the Intellect 191

It is also evident [faner¼n] that, if the premises from which syllogism proceeds
are universal, also the conclusion of such a demonstration and, we may add, of an
unquali¬ed demonstration is of necessity eternal [ˆ¹dion]. Hence there can be no
unquali¬ed demonstration and no unquali¬ed knowledge of destructible things,
but there may be [a syllogism regarding them] as if in an accidental manner,
namely, not universally, but at a certain time and in a certain way. And when-
ever there is [such a syllogism], the other [minor] premise must be destructible
and not universal; it must be destructible in view of the fact that it is by being
destructible that also the conclusion will be destructible, and it must not be uni-
versal since it will be [true] of whatever is said under certain circumstances but
not under others, and so the syllogism is not carried out universally but only
regarding something being at this or that moment. (75b22“30)

Scienti¬c conclusions are, indeed, eternal, but only as long as the prin-
ciples or premises are genuinely universal, that is, incorruptible and not
subject to any change. That is why, Aristotle concludes, scienti¬c knowl-
edge has the status of eternity and immutability only regarding matters
analogously eternal and immutable. Of all the rest (less than eternal and
incorruptible matters), scienti¬c knowledge is as necessary and stable as
its principles (i.e., the acceptance thereof) are.
Yet, even with regard to the “universal principles,” we should note that
their universality means nothing more than their being “according to the
whole”: they are gathered in accordance to the whole of singular occur-
rences and, while here we are employing the language of particularity and
that of singularity somewhat interchangeably, on the ground of our con-
siderations thus far we should keep in mind that the relation between
universal and particular cannot in any way be understood in terms of
the concept and its temporal/historical instantiation. In this context,
rather, the “universal” arises out of the whole of singularities. In turn, the
particulars or singulars impose themselves as other than derivative and
indifferently equivalent representations of the same and self-subsisting “
as irreducible to posteriority and predictability vis-` -vis the universal. Of
course, already such an understanding of particulars in terms of singu-
larity announces the dif¬culties pertaining to the status of the whole and
the possibility of grasping it as such. Indeed, only the assumption of the
priority of the universal may grant a viable sense of the whole “ of the
whole to begin with and of the “as such” itself.
Thus, what should be underlined is, in principle, the relative instabil-
ity of principles “ induced as they are from sensibility, from singularity,
and the object of trust or conviction. It is true that, qua principles (i.e.,
achieved universals, i.e., universals inductively achieved), they differ from
particulars and cannot be reduced to them. However, their genealogy or
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Alpha to Eta
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provenance prevents us from thinking that universals and particulars are
separable, separate, or even opposed. It also prevents us from consider-
ing (super¬cially, no doubt) the particular as explainable by reference to
the universal, and from thinking that there is a logical, and that means
essential, priority of the principle or universal over against the particular.
In an important sense, the principle is not a beginning, but is, rather,
an outcome: that vision “according to the whole” the apprehension of
which involves sensibility. As such, it displays a certain paradoxical secon-
At any rate, the eternity and immutability of scienti¬c knowledge must
be clearly quali¬ed, situated in the broad, comprehensive context of the
mobility or changing of principles and in nature. Concerning all beings
belonging in this domain, the axiomatic ground is bound to be shifting.
Even the knowledge regarding geometrical objects may not be unques-
tionably stable: even geometry may not in an unquali¬ed way proceed
from strictly eternal and immovable principles, since the acceptance of
its postulates is indeed subject to negotiation (consider, for instance,
the most controversial assumption of Euclidean geometry, namely, that
regarding parallelism). Of course, the science of numbers does present
itself as a model of universality and immutability; and yet, here we should
keep in mind the pervasive reservations that Aristotle advances, con-
cerning its abstractness and formality, its proceeding by ignoring the
being(s) in which numbers inhere. In its security, arithmetic entails an
alienation from content, that is, from being, which Aristotle does not
cease to ¬nd perplexing to say the least. In other words, the security or
universality of arithmetic is but the counterpart of its partiality or one-
sidedness. We are, thus, bound rigorously to conclude, with Aristotle, that
only concerning the eternal and divine, that is, the cosmos, the spheres,
their circular motion, the ¬rst mover(s), can there be science strictly
Yet again these are, strictly speaking, principles. They are what is stud-
ied in and by the “science of wisdom” or ¬rst philosophy, which, being
the study of principles, is hardly a properly demonstrative discourse. The
knowledge that subtends all the sciences, that is, perception of those
principles that are common qua eternal and immutable, is not itself sci-
ence. It is neither a science among sciences nor the science of sciences.
Hence, surmising, as Aristotle does in the passage from Posterior Analytics
just quoted, that demonstrative knowledge apl¯s, without quali¬cation,
is only of indestructible, eternal things (75b24“7), entails an inherent
tension or even impossibility. For it is precisely of indestructible, eternal
The Virtues of the Intellect 193

matters that there strictly is no demonstration, because such matters are
principles. This is also made magni¬cently conspicuous in the Metaphysics:
precisely when the question of the eternal and divine (the unmoved, nous)
is broached, demonstrative knowledge is shown in its limits, giving way to
mythical elocution. It is at this juncture, in Lambda, that Aristotle, with a
move as uncharacteristic as it is spectacular, turns to the evidence of myth,
or myth as evidence (1074b1“14). “Eternal things” in which, alone, would
inhere appropriately enduring and universal principles, seem not to yield
to knowledge “ neither to give themselves according to the logic of knowl-
edge nor plainly to disclose to knowledge the requisite premises for its
beginning. Thus, there seems to be no science, no deductive discourse,
adequately presenting the scienti¬c requirements of ¬xity and necessity.
Or else, these concepts must be reframed: science and necessity may be
taken to indicate neither formulaic abstraction nor unquali¬ed stability.
(Of course, there remains to examine the immutability and immovability
of those principles that constitute not the premises of demonstration but
the structure and articulation of demonstration, the how of the apodictic
discourse. This is the crucial issue of the axioms informing derivation, at
work in any demonstrating, if you wish, the “logical” rules. On the nature
and apprehension of the laws of discourse, ultimately seen as the laws of
being, Metaphysics Gamma is of course central. We will shortly examine it
in detail.)
In light of the foregoing considerations, the question arises concern-
ing where to situate knowledge, epist¯m¯, in the context of the partitions of
the rational domain of the soul. It would seem that knowledge rather pre-
cisely corresponds to the scienti¬c (theoretical?) part. So far, this “part”
appeared to be apart from involvement with desires, embodiment, and
sensibility “ the only enclave, in the rational region, possibly untouched
by the praxical. But the preceding remarks on the sensible foundation
of epist¯m¯ hardly allow for such view of the scienti¬c-theoretical en-

5.3.3. Nous
The inquiry concerning nous is introduced as follows: “Since scienti¬c
knowledge is belief [Ëp»lhyiv] of universal and necessary things, and
since there are principles of whatever is demonstrable and of all scien-
ti¬c knowledge . . . , a principle of what is scienti¬cally known cannot be

43 On the possibility of considering epist¯m¯ as a differentia of trust or conviction (pistis), see
Topics 128a30“8.
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Alpha to Eta
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scienti¬c knowledge. . . . [W]e are left with intuition [as the disposition]
of those principles” (1140b31“1141 a 9; emphasis added). It is signi¬-
cant that, consistent with William of Moerbeke™s institution of the Aris-
totelian Latin terminology, nous should be rendered as either “intellect”
or “intuition,” depending on the context. Nous undecidably oscillates in
the semantic range disclosed by both terms, while being exhausted by
neither. It names the virtue (the “excellent disposition”) allowing one
to grasp ¬rst principles. The intersection of nous and aisthetic percep-
tion provides the beginning and end (the principle and ful¬llment) of
induction. That is to say, nous presides over the “inductive synthesis” orig-
inally connecting particulars and universals, drawing the latter from the
If aisth¯sis provides the ground of induction, nous names the intelli-
gent pervasiveness, the movement seeing through the perceived, thanks
to which the perceptual object can be traversed, laid bare, and intimately
understood. It yields the perceived in its nakedness and transparency,
not as an object that has been cognitively mastered, but rather as that
which announces itself onto the threshold of awareness in its sudden evi-
dence, disclosing itself in an inarticulateness indeterminately prior to the
discursive articulations and mastering mediations. As the sudden, imme-
diate intuition of the universal inherent in the particular, nous bespeaks
the grasping of axioms and de¬nitions “ hence its role in granting prin-
ciples and, subsequently, in the grounding of science. Across science
and sensation, interspersed in both, nous lights up the range from sensa-
tion to perception of the universal or de¬nition. Nous is the element of
Most remarkably, then, nous is said to be non-discursive, non-linear,
that is, to entail a certain immediacy.45 As Aristotle repeatedly puts it, it
does not involve logos, “[f]or nous is of de¬nitions [‚rwn], for which there
is no logos” (1142a26“7). This is shortly afterward reiterated in a pas-
sage remarkable in particular for its association of nous with judgment,

44 On the connection between sensation and perception of universals, see Alexander of
Aphrodisia™s commentary on De anima (83, 2“13), in which it is said: “This compre-
hension, peril¯psis, and the grasping of the universal by means of the similarity among
particular objects of sensation, is thinking, no¯sis ; for the synthesis of similar things is
already a function of nous.”
45 The activity of nous, simple and indivisible intuition, is often referred to as thinganein.
Considerations of truth or falsity cannot pertain to such a non-composite touching or
reaching out (Metaphysics 1051b16“26 and 1072b21).
The Virtues of the Intellect 195

intelligence, and the practical-deliberative virtue of phron¯sis, let alone
for its rapprochement of the language of nature and that of virtue, habit-
uation, experience. Such considerations represent an outstanding devel-
opment in the treatment of nous and deserve to be quoted extensively:

Now all matters of praxis [t‡ prakt†] pertain to the order of particulars [t¤n kaq ¬
™kasta] and ultimates [t¤n –sc†twn]; for a prudent man should know them, and
also intelligence [s…nesiv] and judgment [gnÛmh] are concerned with matters of
praxis, which are ultimates. And nous, too, is of ultimates, and in both directions,
for of both primary terms [de¬nitions] and ultimates there is nous and no logos;
and nous according to demonstrations is of immovable [ˆkinžtwn] de¬nitions and
of that which is primary, whereas in practical [matters] it is of the ultimate and
variable objects and of the other [i.e., minor] premises, since these are principles
of ¬nal cause; for it is from particulars that we come to universals. Accordingly, we
should have sensation [a­sqhsin] of these particulars, and this is nous. (1143a33“b6;
emphasis added)

Nous pertains to the domain enclosed within the extremes of particu-
larity, on the one hand, and de¬nitions, on the other. Such extremes
bound and delimit the space of thinking. In this sense, both extremes
are ultimate: they mark that threshold beyond which noetic grasp no
longer occurs. In one direction, the ultimate names what is primary or
¬rst, that is, the synthetic grasp providing the premises or principles with
which demonstration begins and about which demonstration is. In the
other direction, the ultimate names what is last or particular, that is, con-
tingent “facts” (pragmata), minor premises expressing any variable. Nous
is of both, and the distinction between nous as perceiving de¬nitions and
nous as perceiving singularities is only perspectival: seen from the oper-
ation of demonstration, nous provides the principle, the universal; seen
from the operation of practical deliberation, nous provides the percep-
tion of the circumstances to be assessed. Here we come to appreciate
the twofold nature of nous, as intellectual stricto sensu and intuitive or, in
fact, sensible. In both cases, nous names a certain grounding. Of such
an intellectual-sensible grounding there is no discursive knowledge, no
logos. Indeed, it constitutes the ultimate limit of logos, that which remains
inassimilable to logos.
It is important to underline that Aristole here is not proposing a
dichotomy of “practical nous” and “theoretical nous,” as it were, so much
so that he emphasizes the fundamental role of particulars in the formula-
tion of universals, and, hence, the implication of sensation in intellectual
perception. Indeed, because of this he intimates the conjunction, if not
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Alpha to Eta
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the simple identity, of nous and aisth¯sis “ a conjunction that it will be
hard to write off as solely applying to some subdivision of nous that would
concern practical matters alone.46 After stating the concomitance of nous
and sensation, Aristotle continues:

In view of this, it is thought that these [powers] are natural [fusik‡] and that,
while no one is by nature wise, one [by nature] has judgment and intelligence
and nous. A sign of this is the fact that these [powers] are thought to follow certain
stages of our life, e.g., that such-and-such an age possesses nous or judgment, as if
nature were the cause of it. Hence intuition is both a beginning and an end; for
demonstrations come from these and are about these. Consequently, one should
pay attention to the undemonstrated assertions and opinions of experienced
[–mpe©rwn] and older and prudent human beings no less than to demonstrations;
for they observe rightly because they gained an eye from experience [–k t¦v
–mpeir©av Àmma ¾r¤sin ½rq¤v]. (1143b6“14; emphasis added)

That nous should be “both a beginning and an end” corroborates the unity
of nous as a matter of both intellectual and sensible perception. Indeed,
the beginning-and-end character of nous need not even be referred to
the practical-theoretical distinction, but can be appreciated by reference
to the deductive procedure alone. Nous is “both beginning and end”: this
is so, ¬rst of all, because demonstrations “come from” intellectually given
premises and “are about” variable issues that, through scienti¬c analysis,
come to be clari¬ed in the statement of the conclusion. Qua expressed
in the statement concluding demonstration, the variable particulars are
“last.” Second, however, the reverse is also the case: at a most basic level,
variables are in play in the formation of the universals, indeed, the latter
are “from particulars.” In this second sense, the particulars would be
“¬rst” and the universals “last.”
We should also highlight that the coincidence, if not the identity, of
aisth¯sis and nous is situated within the broader framework of a certain,
however quali¬ed, belonging of nous in the order of the “natural.”47
According to these suggestions, it would seem hardly possible even to
understand nous as a virtue in the strict sense of the term. The aporia of
nous begins to be manifest. On the one hand, nous comes to be disclosed as

46 Contra Heidegger™s claim, in his lectures on Plato™s Sophist (Martin Heidegger, Plato™s
Sophist, trans. Richard Rojcewicz and Andr´ Schuwer [Bloomington: Indiana UP,
47 In the Physics, an interchangeability of nous and phusis seems at times to be signaled by
certain terminological oscillations: for instance, in the passage 198a6“13 the conjunction
of nous and phusis occurs three times, intimating their equivalence as “¬rst or prior cause”
of “the all” (to“ pant»v).
The Virtues of the Intellect 197

somewhat discontinuous with the dimension of habituation and repeated
practice de¬ning the virtues. It is said to belong in the order of dunamis,
indeed, to be (like sensibility, or even as sensibility) a power actualized
by nature. In this sense, nous designates the unmediated intelligence at
work in and as sensation. Yet, on the other hand, the activation of noetic
insight, however “natural,” appears to be neither automatic nor simply
immediate. In fact, the insightful “eye” of nous becomes actual through
time, as though re¬ned and ful¬lled by experience. Aristotle insists on
this distinction between nous and what is simply by nature, “observing”
that those with “natural dispositions” but “lacking nous” are like a “mighty
body” that “mightily stumbles” because “lacking vision” (Šneu Àyewv, mŸ
›cein Àyin) and that only if one “acquires intellect [l†bhƒ no“n]” will one™s
disposition, “though similar to the corresponding natural disposition,”
be “a virtue in the main sense” (1144b9“14).48
Oddly enough, then, nous must be understood by reference both to
(1) the immediacy of its activation and operation and to (2) a process of
“acquisition” in virtue of which nous seems to be grasped, to ripen, as it
were. The statement that we should “pay attention to the undemonstrated
assertions and opinions of the experienced” once again suggests a certain
secondariness and non-self-suf¬ciency of the sciences, recognizing the
non-scienti¬c condition of scienti¬c-discursive articulations. Most impor-
tant, it implies that experience, age, prudence itself are involved in com-
ing to “have” nous, in a certain “correctness or conformity of the gaze” “
in the “seizing” or “apprehending” (lamban¯ ), as it were “at a glance,”
which noetic perception names. This is in line with another remark just
preceding the passage now considered, where Aristotle remarkably asso-
ciates wisdom with the investigation of nature (physics) and contrasts
them to mathematics, which can be practiced even by the inexperienced:

a young man is not experienced, for much time makes [poie±] experience. (And
if one were to inquire why it is possible for a boy to become a mathematician
but not wise or a physicist, the answer is this: the objects of mathematics are by
abstraction while the principles of philosophy and physics are from experience;
and the young have no conviction [piste…ousin] of their principles but [only]
speak [l”gousin], while the what-it-is [of the objects] of physics and of wisdom is
not unclear.) (1142a16“21)

48 Virtue “in the main sense,” here said to be acquired through nous, is shortly afterward
said to come to be thanks to phron¯sis (1144b15“17). Aristotle seems somehow to intimate
a convergence of the latter and nous. As we shall see below in further detail, phron¯sis
seems to exhibit an insightful, illuminative function analogous to that of nous. See also
Part. an. 686a28.
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Alpha to Eta
o o

Philosophy in its highest accomplishment manifests itself as the practice
of reason aware that its own principles exceed reason. It consciously pro-
ceeds from experience and recognizes experience as its beginning. This
realization constitutes the difference between wisdom and the merely sci-
enti¬c posture (here exempli¬ed by mathematics). In this perspective,
philosophy as the exercise of (directed to) wisdom is at one with physics,
the study of nature. Indeed, if the principles are a matter of experience,
in no way could the pursuit of wisdom be construed as “metaphysics.”
The latter enterprise would remain an issue, at most, for boys and those
who can develop their reasoning only in abstraction from its experien-
tial ground, that is, from content. In this case, logos becomes formal,
divorced from being, from the trust on which logos rests and of which logos
Nous must, then, be understood within the compass of phusis or, at any
rate, in continuity and coextension with natural-physical motifs. As for
the concomitance, if not the identity, of nous and aisth¯sis, let us mention,
in the margins of the present discussion, that this hypothesis is further
corroborated in the Physics. In arguing that the being of nature is a matter
of primordial self-evidence, Aristotle says:

As far as trying to prove that nature is, this would be ridiculous, for it is evident
[faner¼n] that there are many such beings; and to try to prove what is evident
[faner‡] through what is not evident [ˆfan¤n] is a mark of a man who cannot
judge what is known through itself from what is known not through itself. That this
can take place is not unclear [Šdhlon]; for a man born blind may make syllogisms
concerning colors, but such a logos must be about names without intellectual
perception [noe±n] [of what the names indicate]. (193a3“9)

The immediacy of the apparent imposes itself, its phenomenal evidence
compels assent. Such is the force of what is more known by nature, in
virtue of itself, of its being. One, Aristotle urges, must know when it is
appropriate to stop asking for demonstrations: demonstrations come to
an end at some point, coming to rest in that which cannot be demon-
strated, indeed, that which, if attended to, does not require any further
discursive effort (to such an extent is discourse, most notably philosoph-
ical discourse, pervaded by silence). If/when unable to recognize the
ground of evidence and rest in the ensuing trust, one produces uprooted
reasonings, alienated from what is. Just like the inexperienced young

49 See Republic 409b“e, in which it said that “the good judge must not be young but old, a
late learner of what injustice is.”
The Virtues of the Intellect 199

one considered above or the blind man making syllogisms about what he
cannot experience and, hence, cannot conceive (noein), in this case one
speaks without knowing what one is talking about.
After all, even in the Metaphysics we ¬nd indications to the effect that
noetic apprehension is still thoroughly involved in the sensible and phe-
nomenal. For the moment, let us limit ourselves to mentioning a couple
of statements. The ¬rst is near the beginning of Alpha Elatton, where
Aristotle observes that the attainment of truth may be dif¬cult, for, “as
the eyes of bats are to the light of day, so is the intellect of our soul to
the objects that in their nature are most evident [fanerÛtata] of all”
(993b9“11). The second is in Kappa, where it is said:

In general, it is absurd to form [poie±sqai] our judgment of the truth from the
fact that the things about us [de“ro] appear to change and never to stay the same.
For, in hunting [qhre…ein] the truth, we should start from things that always hold
themselves as the same and suffer no change. Such are the heavenly bodies [t‡
kat‡ t¼n k»smon], for these do not appear to be now of one kind and now of
another, but are always the same and share in no change. (1063a10“17)

What can be drawn from both moments is the irreducibly phenome-
nal character of evidence, and hence of the ground or beginning. Even
the intellection of that which is immutable entails a contemplation alto-
gether implicated in sensibility, namely, the contemplation of those (in
the plural) that are “most phenomenal,” “most apparent” “ those that
“most shine forth.” They, the celestial bodies, are eternal and unchange-
able, yet visible. They are unchangeable, and yet they move “ whether
returning every night in the same con¬guration (as the ¬xed stars do),
or wandering and changing their positions with respect to one another,
all the while exhibiting a certain regularity in their orbiting and always
returning back to the same point (as the planets do). Their eternity and
immutability are due not to absolute ¬xity but to a more tenuous manifes-
tation of self-sameness “ to the phenomenon of a celestial body coming
back to the same, repeating the same course in such a way as to remain
by itself, close to itself, endlessly reasserting the same course in proximity
of itself and through the same beginning point. The noetic perception,
then, seems to be not so much a matter of transcending phenomenality
in order to attain a contemplation of the purely intelligible but, rather, a
matter of a certain reorientation of the gaze from the things “here,”
“about us” (deuro) to the shining bodies in the sky “ a reorientation
not leaving the sensible behind, as it were, but thoroughly consistent
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Alpha to Eta
o o

with it. We shall return to this shortly, when considering the virtue of
The concurrence of nous and aisth¯sis, however succinctly addressed
here, raises problems analogous to those occasioned by De anima 430a11“
12 and 24“5, which gave rise to the Peripatetic and neo-Platonic contrast
between active (productive) and passive, or actual and potential intellect.
So far, despite the tension thus engendered, we have emphasized the coin-
cidence of nous and sensibility, while, at the same time, maintaining the
unity of nous (i.e., suspending the subdivision of nous into “practical” and
“theoretical”). This means understanding nous in its inseparability from
embodiment, experience, and practical considerations, in accordance
with a number of Aristotelian remarks analyzed. However, precisely by
turning to De anima and the dominant interpretive tradition, one might
object that Aristotle does acknowledge there the distinction between
agent and patient intellect as well as the separability (and immortality)
of the former. To this paradigmatic objection we must reply by proposing
an incipient problematization of the distinction and separation at stake
here. Of course, a close consideration of these passages would lead us
into the enormous complexities of Aristotelian psychology and theology,
which have engendered centuries of interpretive battles and a virtually
endless scholarly literature, not to mention trials and executions at the
stake.50 As a study of such matters clearly exceeds the scope of the present
work, we shall limit ourselves to delineating our reply in the barest, most
minimalistic terms.
The passages in question must be brought to our attention, not so
much in order to rely on their clarity, but rather so that their obscurity

50 It has frequently been noticed that the section of De anima under consideration (430a10“
25) constitutes the pinnacle of Aristotelian psychology and that no other segment from
an ancient philosophical text has given rise to such a range of disparate readings. During¨
has pointed out that, rather than clarifying Aristotle™s doctrine in this text, most commen-
tators have expounded their own thought on the subject. See Willy Theiler, De anima:
Uber die Seele (Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1959), and Ingemar During, Aristoteles: Darstellung
und Interpretation seines Denkens (Heidelberg: Winter, 1966). See also Franz Brentano,
Die Psychologie des Aristoteles, insbesondere seine Lehre vom nous poietikos (Mainz, 1867; rpt.,
Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1967). Exemplary of the recent debates,
see J. M. Rist, “Notes on De anima 3.5,” Classic Philology 61, no. 1 (1966); S. Broadie, “Nous
and Nature in Aristotle™s De anima III,” Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient
Philosophy 12 (1996); V. Caston, “Aristotle™s Two Intellects: A Modest Proposal,” Phronesis
44 (1999); J. Sisko, “On Separating the Intellect from the Body: Aristotle™s De anima iii.4,
429a10“b5,” Archiv f¨ r Geschichte der Philosophie 81 (1999); and A. Kosman, “What Does the
Maker Mind Make?” in Nussbaum and Rorty, eds., Essays on Aristotle™s De anima (Oxford:
Clarendon, 1992).
The Virtues of the Intellect 201

may be appreciated.51 Aristotle introduces the distinction between poten-
tiality and act, and, based on this, between passive and active or productive

Since in each genus of things there is something, e.g., matter, as in the whole
of nature (and matter is that which is potentially each of these things), and
also something else which, by bringing forth [poie±n] all [those things], is the
cause and that which brings forth [poihtik»n], as in the case of art [t”cnh] in
relation to matter, these differences must belong in the soul also. On the one
hand, the intellect becomes all things [p†nta g©nesqai] while, on the other, it
makes all things [p†nta poie±n], just like a certain [™xiv] habit, as with light; for
in a certain sense light, too, makes [poie±] potential [dun†mei] colors be actual
[–nerge©aƒ] colors. (430a10“17)

The role of tekhn¯ in the characterization of a certain aspect (“part”?)
of nous should deserve our attention, especially because, as we noted
above, within the framework of Aristotle™s re¬‚ection on the subject it
may be arduous to understand tekhn¯ in purely active terms. Indeed, as
we saw above, art may not necessarily, or not at all, proceed unaffected,
simply imposing on matter a certain eidetic pattern: creativity and recep-
tivity or responsiveness may demand to be thought together. Along these
lines, of course, the recognition of a “productive” mode of nous may
hardly amount to the isolation of a purely active intellect opposed to a
purely passive one. Also, in light of the discussion preceding the passage
just quoted, it is unclear whether the intellect would potentially be and
become all objects, both in their intelligibility and in their materiality, or
only in their intelligibility (429b30ff.). The former would seem problem-
atic, given that even sensation is said to be perception “without matter”
(425b24). Finally, the parallel between the bringing forth of nous and the
work of light reveals “production” in a highly quali¬ed sense. According
to this analogy, bringing forth appears to be less a matter of constitution
than of laying bare, shedding light on, unveiling in the sense of discover-
ing and uncovering. Such is the sense of the transition from potency to
act. In this sense, making is making actual. Aristotle continues:

And the latter intellect is separable [cwrist¼v] and is impassible [ˆpaqŸv] and
unmixed [ˆmigŸv], and in beingness [oÉs©a„] it is as an actuality [–nerge©a„]; for that
which brings forth [poio“n] is always more honorable than that which undergoes
[p†scontov], and the principle [ˆrcŸ] than matter. (430a18“19)

51 W. D. Ross comments on the relatively negligent writing of chapter III.5 (Aristotle, De
anima, edited with introduction and commentary by David Ross [Oxford: Clarendon
Press, 1961], 296).
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Alpha to Eta
o o

It is curious and remarkable that the argument on the separability of the
nous that brings forth should be based on issues of worth and honorability.
Indeed, we could say that this is no argumentation at all “ that the sepa-
rable, unaffected, and homogeneous character of nous thus understood
is simply posited. Let us continue:

Actual knowledge [kat¬ –n”rgeian –pistžmh] is the same as the thing [pr†gmati]
[known]; potential [kat‡ d…namin] [knowledge], however, is prior in time in the
one [–n t —n©] [individual], but, as a whole [‚lwv], it is not [prior] in time.
But the [active intellect] is not at one time thinking [noe±] and at another not
thinking [oÉ noe±]. When separated [cwrisqeªv], it is as such only that, and only
this is immortal [ˆq†naton] and eternal [ˆ¹dion] (but we do not remember [oÉ
mnhmone…omen], for, although this is impassible, the passive intellect [paqhtik¼v
no“v] is destructible), and without this nothing thinks. (430a20“5)

Without even broaching the strictly textual dif¬culties in this section,
(e.g., [1] how to understand the temporal priority of potential knowl-
edge, whether or not what is at stake here is the contrast between the
experience of a single individual and knowledge experienced collectively,
“as a whole”; or [2] the nature of the “it” without which “nothing thinks”),
let us simply highlight the clause “but we do not remember.” Added as
a parenthetical remark, it is hardly marginal. In no uncertain terms, it
announces the impossibility, for human beings, of overcoming the stric-
tures of the “passive” or “destructible” intellect “ that is to say, the inability
simply to transcend the ¬nitude and impurity of human intellect, simply
to remember and maintain all intellectual activity in the fullness of its
exercise (ergon).52 “But we do not remember” means: whatever we may
speculate around an intellect that would never relapse into inactivity,
whose insight would never fall back into latency or oblivion, we know
nothing of it, at least nothing straightforward. We do not have any such
simple experience. We are such that, in virtue of what we essentially are,
we forget. And all we may venture to say regarding the simply creative,
active intellect, immortal and untouched by mortal conditions, is marked
precisely by that “ by our forgetfulness, by our inability fully to compre-
hend and ¬ll with meaning the phrase “active intellect.”53

52 In this connection, see also the earlier passage at 408b24“9.
53 Following the passages here brie¬‚y considered, we encounter even more severe prob-
lematizations of the possibility of separation understood in terms of disembodiment.
Indeed, while “practical” and “theoretical” nous may be discerned according to their dif-
ferent ends (433a14“17), yet Aristotle signals the persistence of the imagination, phan-
tasia, even in contemplation, the¯ria. Although the no¯mata are certainly not phantasmata,
o e
still, he says, the former cannot be without the latter (432a3“14). It appears, then, that
The Virtues of the Intellect 203

It is in the crevices of such problems that the battles are fought,
most notably between the broad fronts of Thomism, on one side, and
Averroism, on the other side (the latter inheriting certain unortho-
dox Peripatetic motifs, especially through Alexander of Aphrodisia and
Themistius). It is here that comprehensive contrapositions come to be
crystallized, for instance, that between (1) the view upholding the separa-
bility, and hence eternity and immortality, of the whole intellect (passive
and active), that is, of the “personal” or individual soul, and (2) the views
variously maintaining that what is separable and immortal is transcen-
dent in the special sense of common, shared, received “from outside,”
as it were, and hence in no way “personal” “ whether this is to be under-
stood as (a) the active intellect only (Alexander, Avicenna, possibly the
Averroes of the commentary on Metaphysics Lambda) or as (b) both the
active and passive intellect, where the latter is “in us” but belonging in the
intellect transcending us (Averroes). These latter positions, and partic-
ularly Averroes™ so-called monopsychism, hold noteworthy implications
regarding the question of separation and, more broadly, the focus of the
present work. Their elaboration of separation does not require dualistic
assumptions: the immortal, eternal, and separate is understood not in
terms of disembodiment but as non-individual, impersonal. It may be
separate in the sense that it is separate from me, from this particular being
that I am. It may be transcendent in the sense that it transcends me,
even as it is “in me” (“in the soul”). But then, separation or transcen-
dence comes to indicate commonality, sharing in common “ with vital
consequences concerning the basic approach to the political.54
But let us, to conclude, come back to our reading of Nicomachean Ethics
Zeta. In addition to the complex cluster of problems laid out above, the
further question arises concerning the proper location of nous within the

the phenomenon of phantasia may not be safely con¬ned to the “practical” intellect
(431a14“20). See also 431b13“19, regarding the relation between sensuous/categorial
intuition (the “snub-nosed”) and perception of geometrical/mathematical beings (“con-
cavity”). Here Aristotle leaves open the question whether or not the non-separate nous
can intuit that which is separate.
54 Despite many prejudices to the contrary, on Aristotelian terms not even the transcen-
dence of nous as the god of Metaphysics Lambda should be taken as absolutely unquali¬ed
and uncontroversial. On the one hand, Aristotle says that the ¬rst immovable mover (“the
¬rst what-it-was-to-be) “has no matter, for it is actuality” (1074a35“6). On the other, he
also states that this “beingness,” however “eternal,” “immovable,” and “separate from
sensible beings,” as well as “without parts and indivisible,” nevertheless “has in¬nite
potentiality,” for it causes motion for “an in¬nite time” (1073a3“8). In Mu, Aristotle also
says that “the good is always in action [–n pr†xei]” (1078a32).
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Alpha to Eta
o o

domain of logos. Situating nous in the context of reason now appears to
be both necessary and impossible: necessary because, as an intellectual
virtue, nous would pertain to the rational part of the soul, to the part
that “has” logos; and impossible because, as has become manifest, nous is
non-discursive and without logos. Strictly speaking neither communicative
nor communicable, yet the condition of communication, nous indicates a
non-logical operation in the region of logos “ a trace, divine indeed, having
in itself nothing to do with the various doings, with the commerce, negoti-
ations, and procedures of discourse, including demonstrative discourse
and practices.55 Thus, the situation or situatedness of nous within the
rational “part” is highly problematic, indeed, unrepresentable “ for nous
presents itself as radically discontinuous, even interruptive, with respect
to logos, even if such a disruptiveness need not entail the separation or
separability of nous. Thus, we are left with the task of thinking transcen-
dence as otherwise than separation, in fact, as the radical differing of that
which belongs together, as the breaking through of that which comes
from an outside in¬nitely unlocatable and placeless, “through the door”
(q…raqen, Gen. Anim. 736b28, 744b21).
Above all, what is disclosed in this way is the questionability of the map
of the rational domain, both in its internal divisions and in its general des-
ignation as “rational.” For it turns out that the part that “has” logos is not
(or not simply) thereby rational or logical. It turns out that the authority
of logos is not coextensive with the region it inhabits or that such a region
exceeds considerations pertaining to extension. Logos dwells “there” less
as an absolute ruler than as a guest. Nous, which is said to be “both begin-
ning and end, for demonstrations come from these and are about these”
(1143b10“11), remains somehow impervious to logos and lends itself to
discourse only in a highly quali¬ed way. Because of this, to whatever extent
it may develop in the direction of phusis, Aristotle™s discourse on nous can
hardly be seen as a kind of “philosophical naturalism” or, in general, as
a “naturalizing,” legitimizing move. Indeed, far from discursively appro-
priating the natural and setting it to work in the service of discursive
logic, Aristotle is here exploring the limits of such a logic, those borders
at which discourse meets silence and its own end (or origin), the way in
which speaking (in its very articulation) is traversed by the unspoken and

55 As pointed out above, nous is the condition for logos, its abode “ that through which, in
virtue of which (dia), logos as well as dianoia and all dianoetic exercise become possible.
56 An unspoken or unspeakable so radical, indeed, as to be irreducible to what would
“remain to be said,” to the projection of a future task.
The Virtues of the Intellect 205

5.3.4. Phron¯ sis
“Concerning phron¯sis,” Aristotle says, “we might arrive at it by looking at
[qewržsantev] those whom we call prudent” (1140a24“5). To the fore, in
this case as well, is the inductive-dialectical foundation of the discussion.
In what we could call an incipient phenomenology of prudence, Aristotle
stresses again the reference to the appearances of prudence in a human
A prudent man seems [doke±] to be one who is able to deliberate well concerning
what is good and conducive [sumf”ronta] for himself, not with respect to a part,
e.g., not the kinds of things which are good and useful for health or strength, but
the kinds of things which are good and conducive to living well on the whole [e”
z¦n ‚lwv]. (1140 a 25“8)

Phron¯sis57 names a certain power with which the living is endowed, the
capacity for a certain sight: the ability of the living to envision itself in its
possibilities and most comprehensive ¬nality. It orients the living toward
its highest achievement and self-realization (its own good). It has to do
with estimation (deliberation), that is, with the root of choice and, hence,
of praxis. Again, qua bridge between character and rational end, between
driving desire and reason, phron¯sis is not properly, strictly, or purely a part
of the rational part of the soul (if there were a clearly demarcated one, that
is). Rather, it constitutes a kind of interface between character (action)
and logos. It is here that we see, in its most multifaceted manifestation,
their interaction and intertwinement. As a matter of fact, in the context
of the relation of phron¯sis to the formations of character, phron¯sis is
e e
even addressed in terms of “belief,” hupol¯psis. It is from the habit named
phron¯sis, says Aristotle,
that temperance [swfros…nhn] derives its name, as indicating something which
saves or preserves [s zousan] phron¯sis. And temperance does preserve [s zei]
such a belief [Ëp»lhyin]; for it is not any kind of belief that the pleasant and the
painful destroy or pervert, like the belief that the triangle has or has not its angles
equal to two right angles, but only those concerned with that which pertains to
action. (1140b12“16)

As a certain manner of action, that is, of living, temperance preserves
phron¯sis, the belief relative to the good in human life. The relation
between phron¯sis and the virtues of character broadly understood is even
reinforced by this remark, for not only is a certain coextension of phron¯sis

57 I especially refer to the recent and comprehensive study on phron¯sis by Carlo Natali, The
Wisdom of Aristotle (Albany: SUNY Press, 2001). See also P. Aubenque, La prudence chez
Aristote (Paris: PUF, 1963), and P. Ricoeur, “A la gloire de la phron`sis,” in J.-Y. Chateau,
ed., La v´rit´ pratique: Aristote, Ethique a Nicomaque, Livre VI (Paris: Vrin, 1997).
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Alpha to Eta
o o

and the ethical virtues suggested (phron¯sis is a belief concerning practical
matters), but, moreover, such a coextension is not, as might be expected,
a matter of phron¯sis controlling and informing the other virtues. Nor is it
a matter of mere interdependence of phron¯sis and the virtues. Rather, it
is the exercise of the virtues of character, paradigmatically of temperance
(excellence in confronting issues of pleasure and pain), which “saves”
the belief that phron¯sis names. The vision yielded by phron¯sis is rooted
e e
in and preserved by excellent comportment.
These considerations lend themselves to further elaboration. Phron¯sis e
“gives orders, for its end is what should or should not be done” (1143a9).
However, more incisively, phronetic excellence entails a certain effective-
ness in pursuing the end. In other words, phron¯sis “makes us do those
things that bring about the end” (1145a6). With phron¯sis, reason assists
in the attainment of the telos, and, thus, the accord between deliberation
and ends is granted. Again, this minimally entails a kind of interdepen-
dence bringing together phron¯sis and the structures of character. Aristo-
tle asserts that a human being “cannot be good in the main sense without
prudence, nor can one be prudent without ethical virtues” (1144b31“
3). The same kind of co-implication is restated shortly afterward: “when
phron¯sis is, at the same time [Œma] all the others are also” (1145a2“3).
But more than this seems to be at stake. Indeed, it appears that phron¯sis e
is concerned with the attainment of that which is already brought into
view in virtue of the formations of character: “[a human being™s] work is
completed [ˆpotele±tai] by prudence as well as by ethical virtue; for while
virtue makes the end in view [skop¼n] right, prudence makes that which
promotes the end right” (1144a7“8). At stake, then, seems to be a certain
priority of the ethical virtues (thanks to which the appropriate end would
come to light) with respect to the intellectual virtue (whose function
would be controlling the conformity and correctness of the means). This
necessity of virtue before virtue, of virtue before purely intellectual virtue,
had already been anticipated and will be consistently reiterated.
For instance, in relation to the issue of our responsibility for our own
actions, we were reminded that “it is by being persons of a certain kind
that we posit the end as being of a certain kind” (1114b24“5; see also
1100b12“15 and 1114a29“b13). And following the mentioned remark
on the relation between phron¯sis and temperance, Aristotle had noted
that “the principles of action are that for the sake of which the action is.
But to one who is corrupted because of pleasure or pain the principle
does not appear [oÉ fa©netai], nor is it apparent that he should choose
and do everything for the sake of this and because of this principle;
The Virtues of the Intellect 207

for vice is destructive of the principle” (1140b17“20). Vice entails a cer-
tain blindness or inability to discern the proper beginning and end of
action. In other words, vice (lack of virtue) entails the disappearance
of the “principle or origin,” which is the moving and motivating force
prompting an action. In being “destructive of the beginning” and end,
vice makes phron¯sis, the rational pursuit of the end, irrelevant. In this
sense, phron¯sis cannot be “saved” but only perverted, turned into calcu-
lation in the service of vicious goals. Again, Aristotle will say that the end
(that is, “the best”) as such “does not appear [oÉ fa©netai] to the one
who is not good, for evil habit [mocqhr©a] perverts him and causes [poie±]
him to be mistaken about the principles of action. Hence it is evident
[faner¼n] that one cannot be prudent if one is not good” (1144a33“7).
The good is manifested as transcendent in the peculiar sense that it tran-
scends rational grasp. In one and the same gesture, ethical integrity is
posited as condition for the possibility of prudence, of correct intellec-
tual assessment. Allowing for the discernment of the end (of the good
qua end), the structures of character have always already determined the
teleological orientation of the human being as a whole. In fact, “some-
one prudent is disposed to [right] action (for he is concerned with the
ultimates [i.e., particulars]) and [already] possesses the other virtues”
(1146a8“10). This insight can be brought to such extreme consequences
that, in a rather clamorous gesture, it may even be stated that,

as there are in the soul two parts which have logos, prudence would be a virtue
in one of them, that which can form opinions [doxastiko“]; for both opinion
[d»xa] and phron¯sis are about things that admit of being otherwise [i.e., may or
may not be]. And yet, phron¯sis is not just a habit with logos; and a sign of this is
the fact that there may be forgetfulness [lžqh] of a habit with reason, but not of
phron¯sis. (1140b25“30)

Needless to say, this connection of phron¯sis, and hence of the logistikon
(estimative “part” of the rational “part”), with doxa, and hence charac-
ter, exacerbates the aporetic aspects of the psychological schematization.
Indeed, it problematizes the ethical discourse in its systematic delin-
eations. What emerges is the all-too-practical character of phron¯sis, its
inseparability vis-` -vis the domain of the soul addressed as character or
At any rate, the outlook of phron¯sis has a view to aligning the good of
the particular individual in particular circumstances with the ¬nality of
the species. It is because of this that phron¯sis is said to be “a habit with
true reason [™xin ˆlhq¦ met‡ l»gou] and ability for actions concerning
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Alpha to Eta
o o

what is good or bad for human beings” (1140b6“7). Such would be the
the¯r¯ma of phron¯sis, that which phron¯sis keeps in sight. The effectiveness
oe e e
of phron¯sis would be, in sum, an “effectiveness with a vision,” differing
in this from mere shrewdness or expediency just as virtue proper differs
from natural virtue. The “glance at the kairos” here indicated would not be
a matter of mere opportunity, but a vision oriented to, guided by, striving
for the good. Again, in noticing the difference and connection between
phron¯sis and shrewdness, deinot¯s, Aristotle observes: “Now prudence is
e e
not the power [of shrewdness], but neither can it be without this power.
And this habit [prudence] develops by means of this eye of the soul [t
Àmmati to…tw„ g©netai t¦v yuc¦v], but not without virtue” (1144a28“30).
It is while elaborating on this point that Aristotle makes explicit the
genuinely contemplative, indeed, “theoretical” dimension of phron¯sis.58 e
As he observes, it is because of what was said of phron¯sis so far “that we
consider Pericles and others like him to be prudent, for they are able
to contemplate [d…nantai qewre±n] what is good for themselves as well as
for others” (1140b8“10). Shortly thereafter, Aristotle mentions again the
“power of vision” characteristic of phron¯sis, when stating that “a prudent
being is one which contemplates well [e” qewro“n] matters which are for
its own good and they [who belong in the same species] would entrust
those matters to that being” (1141a26“7).
If, however, phron¯sis is crucially theoretical, where to situate it in the
schematism of reason? As readily appears, not only can it hardly be placed
in that schematic order, but it even seems to disrupt such order, for it
seems to be both theoretical and, as was demonstrated, all too practical.
To complicate the matter further, it should also be noticed that pru-
dence does not appear to be an exclusively human patrimony, as becomes
evident in the comparison of prudence to wisdom. After de¬ning wis-
dom as the knowledge and intuition of the highest objects, Aristotle adds

it would be absurd to regard politics or prudence as the best [dispositions], if the
human being is not the best of beings in the universe. If indeed what is healthy
or what is good is different for humans and for ¬shes, while what is white or what
is straight is always the same, everyone would say that what is wise is always the

58 Here and in the rest of the discussion, the terms related to the¯rein are employed according
to the primordial meaning of this verb: “to see,” “to contemplate,” “to witness.” Aristotle
himself utilizes this language in its everyday connotation. To be sure, in Nicomachean Ethics
Kappa the language of the¯rein is most emphatically not associated with phron¯sis “ but
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