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History of Philosophy II

Plato and Aristotle


Michal Zvarík

The coursebook presents Plato and Aristotle as the two most significant and groundbreaking thinkers of European thought from the era of classical Greek philosophy. The author provides prefatory orientation in the labyrinth of their complex thought and sketches their metaphysics, problems of knowledge and ethics. He departs from the fact that both thinkers are similar in striving to overcome problems of their period by localizing the human being into a hierarchical order of beings, which obliges in questions of the possibility of knowledge as well as of the right conduct.
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3. Organon and the Theory of Cognition


We begin our approach to Aristotle’s theory with a brief introduction as to how we acquire knowledge. This reflects his empiricism. According to Aristotle, human beings have a natural craving for knowledge as demonstrated by the predilection for sensual perception, in particular sight. We want to learn for the sake of knowledge itself, not for any other reason (Met. 982b20). We come to this world without any previous knowledge; we are born as blank slates (tabula rasa) that start to fill up after encountering particular, individual things. Although we do not possess an inborn knowledge, thanks to our senses, memory, and mind, we have a natural disposition to acquire it. Through the senses, we receive perceptions, which are saved in memory. Since it stores more than one perception, it can find similarities and create experiences. According to Aristotle, the way of acquiring ← 77 | 78 → knowledge is inductive, i.e. generalising from particular cases.

Experience is not actual knowledge, or more precisely, it is not a science. That is because a specific skill or art (techné) and knowledge (epistémé) are the recognition of the causes of the phenomenon. Science answers the question “why.“ Experience itself does not provide us answers; at most, it tells us “what” things are, not “why” they exist. Based on experience we know that a fire is hot, but we do not know the cause (energy released by an object that burns). An expert is expected to know the cause, and not to have just...

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