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13 - Saving Aristotle's appearances

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 October 2009

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Summary

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

T. S. Eliot, ‘Little Gidding’

That with which people most continuously associate – the discourse that orders their whole lives – with this they are at variance; and what they encounter every day seems strange to them.

Heraclitus, Fragment B72

At the beginning of Book VII of the Nicomachean Ethics, just before his discussion of akrasia, Aristotle pauses to make some observations about his philosophical method:

Here, as in all other cases, we must set down the appearances (phainomena) and, first working through the puzzles (diaporēsantes), in this way go on to show, if possible, the truth of all the beliefs we hold (ta endoxa) about these experiences; and, if this is not possible, the truth of the greatest number and the most authoritative. For if the difficulties are resolved and the beliefs (endoxa) are left in place, we will have done enough showing (1145b1 ff.).

Aristotle tells us that his method, ‘here as in all other cases’, is to set down what he calls phainomena, and what we shall translate as ‘the appearances’. Proper philosophical method is committed to and limited by these. If we work through the difficulties with which the phainomena confront us and leave the greatest number and the most basic intact, we will have gone as far as philosophy can, or should, go.

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Language and Logos
Studies in Ancient Greek Philosophy Presented to G. E. L. Owen
, pp. 267 - 294
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 1982

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