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The theory of knowledge of Aristotle, in 4 keys

The theory of knowledge of Aristotle, in 4 keys

May 25, 2024

In the history of philosophy, Aristotle's theory of knowledge is one of the most important intellectual ingredients in the construction of Western culture. In fact, although we have never heard about this wise Greek (however difficult this may be today), without realizing his philosophical works are influencing the way we think.

We'll see now What does Aristotle's theory of knowledge consist of? , a way to understand the way in which our intellectual activity is formed.

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The theory of knowledge of Aristotle

These are the main elements that structure the theory of knowledge of Aristotle. However, we must bear in mind that there are many explanatory gaps in it, partly because in the time of this thinker it was not customary to develop much philosophical systems.


1. The primacy of the senses

According to Aristotle's theory of knowledge, the senses are the starting point of any form of knowledge. This means that any information capable of triggering intellectual activity is contained in the "raw" sensory data that enter our body through the eyes, ears, smell, etc.

In this sense, Aristotelian thought is clearly differentiated from the ideas of Plato, for whom what surrounds us can not be known nor can generate significant intellectual activity, given that the material is mutable and is constantly changing .

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2. The creation of concepts

As we have seen, the process of generating knowledge begins with sensory stimuli. However, until this phase, the process is equal to what according to this philosopher occurs in the mind of other forms of animal life. This knowledge is sensitive, and is not exclusive to the human being.


The process of properly human cognition, according to Aristotle's theory of knowledge, begins with the way in which we elaborate sensory data to arrive at more abstract conclusions than what we have seen, heard, touched, smelled or tasted. For this, in the first place common sense unifies the properties of the object or entity that we are perceiving to create a "mental image" of it thanks to our imaginative capacity.

So, although everything starts with the perceptual impression, it is necessary that this information passes through a series of mental mechanisms. How is it done?

3. To know is to identify

As Aristotle admits that reality is composed of changing elements, for him to know means to know what is each thing . This process of identification consists in recognizing the efficient cause, the formal, the material and the final. All these are potentialities that for Aristotle reside in matter and that allow us to understand everything and in what it will be transformed.


Thus, the combination of imagination and memory not only makes us retain an image of what we have experienced through the senses, but also gives us a first piece based on what we can understand what the potentialities of each thing are , in what way it is and how it is changing. For example, thanks to this we know that a tree can come from a seed, and also that a part of the tree can be used to build houses and boats.

So that, from the impressions left by the senses, we create abstractions . These abstractions are not reflections of a reality composed of pure ideas, as Plato believed, but are representations of qualities contained in material elements that make up physical reality.

4. The creation of universals

Parallel to the creation of the image we generate a universal of that idea, that is, the concept that we will apply not only to what we have seen, heard, touched and tasted, but also to other hypothetical elements with which we have not come into direct contact , on the one hand, and others that we had not seen before, on the other.

For Aristotle, the process by which from the impression the universal is created is made by something he calls "agent understanding" , while the recognition of the universal in the new forms of sensory stimuli is carried out by "patient understanding".

An intellectual legacy that still affects us today

Aristotle is and has been one of the most remembered Greek philosophers in history , and not without reason. The influences of his thought are still present today, more than two millennia after his birth.

The reason? Along with Plato, his work in epistemological philosophy has laid the foundation of Western culture influenced by Christianity, which in the Middle Ages articulated its explanations about nature using the ideas of this thinker.

Today the influences of the Church are no longer so notorious, but many elements that were used to shape their doctrine do still apply, and Aristotelian thought is one of them. In fact, since the Renaissance, while it was beginning to be questioned that knowledge was revealed by God, the principles of Aristotle were also reinforced, to the point of making one of the main streams of philosophy, such as empiricism , was totally indebted to the works of the Greek.


PHILOSOPHY - Epistemology: Introduction to Theory of Knowledge [HD] (May 2024).


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