17 February 2006

Aristotle and the Desire to Understand

"Human beings naturally strive for understanding."

Pa/ntej a)/nqrwpoi tou= ei)de/nai o)re/gontai fu/sei.

A question. Of course something like this idea is found, for instance, in Plato's account of eros. But is there a specific Platonic antecedent--some form of words in Plato upon which it might, with some plausibility, be said that Aristotle is building or drawing? I have only Ross' commentary on the Metaphysics to hand, and he refers simply to Jaeger's tracing the view to the Protrepticus.

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I'll place suggestions here, since the Greek text may suitably be added.

Thomas Johansen has drawn attention to Timaeus 88a8-b2:

dittw=n e)piqumiw=n ou)sw=n fu/sei kat' a)nqrw/pouj, dia\ sw=ma me\n trofh=j, dia\ de\ to\ qeio/taton tw=n e)n h(mi=n fronh/sewj

"... since there are two desires natural to human beings, one for nourishment, attributable to the body, the other for wisdom, attributable the most divine element in us ..."
I would note Philebus 58d4:

... a)ll' ei)/ tij pe/fuke th=j yuxh=j h(mw=n du/namij e)ra=n te tou= a)lhqou=j kai\ pa/nta e(/neka tou/tou pra/ttein....

"... but if some faculty of the soul naturally desires the truth and does everything for the sake of this..."
But it is the context of this remark that I find strikingly similar to Met. 1.1. Beginning by drawing a comparison with sight, Socrates argues that that there is a kind of knowledge which, although not useful, surpasses all the others in the clarity, accuracy, and truthfulness of its object (the superlative, a)lhqe/staton, is recurrent in the passage): thus, even a small portion of this is more valuable than any amount of useful knowledge. The passage, I think, quite mirrors the argument at the opening of the Metaphysics. But Socrates calls this knowledge phronesis; Aristotle, sophia.

1 comments:

Thomas Johansen said...

Timaeus 88a8-b2 bears some similarity.