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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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5. Ethics


Ethics deal with an area of human experience, and therefore it occupies a special place among the sciences. This is explained in the sixth book of Nicomachean Ethics (1139b15-1140b9), where Aristotle distinguishes between theoretical knowledge (epistémé), the art of creating things (techné), and practical wisdom (fronésis), which is crucial to ethics. It is possible to criticise this distinction, but it is sufficient for the understanding of the nature of experience. Knowledge is theoretical and its necessary subject is a being, such a being that cannot be otherwise. On the contrary, art as well as practical sanity deal with the accidental, contingent being, which is in one way, but it may be also otherwise. An example of theoretical knowledge is mathematics that deals with the natural relationships between numbers and geometric figures. For example, it is always true that the sum of the inte ← 95 | 96 → rior angles of a triangle is 180°; it will never be more or less. A contingent being is for example a sick person who cannot be healthy. Knowledge thus proceeds to the truths regarding the necessary being. This way it differs from art and understanding. The object of art is a creative activity that has an acting cause of its creator, but a purpose in the created subject. The subject of creative activity is thus, as opposed to theoretical knowledge, a contingent, random thing that indeed exists, but need not to exist. The subject of practical rationality is moral practice and action (praxis)...

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