"Two Roles for Empeiria in Aristotle"Keith E. McPartland (Williams College)
Abstract: In both Posterior Analytics II.19 and Metaphysics I.1, Aristotle gives an account of the origins of the arts and sciences from perception. In the Posterior Analytics, we are told that sense perception gives rise to memory. Repeated memories give rise to experience (empeiria) and to the establishment of the universal in the soul. While this looks like a theory of concept acquisition, Aristotle also takes it to be an account of how the principles (archai) of arts and science come to be known. Two features of this story are particularly striking. First, it is extremely individualistic. The individual subject, beginning with her own perceptions, comes to have universal knowledge. Second, universal knowledge seems to arise only through the prior
possession of empeiria. The account of the genesis of knowledge in the Metaphysics closely resembles that in the Posterior Analytics. In the Metaphysics, however, Aristotle recognizes the
possibility of a person who possesses universal knowledge without experience. Such a person must have a universal concept of some kind but not one grounded in her own perceptions,
memories and experience. A purely individualistic story of concept acquisition does not seem capable of accounting for this sort of case. What Aristotle seems to need is an account that
allows some form of universal knowledge through deference to others. Aristotle notes that the theoretician without experience will be inferior to the person with experience when it comes to
practical activity. The genuine expertise of the master craftsperson requires a grasp of the universal that is grounded in her own perception, memory and empeiria. My aim in this paper is
to examine the issues raised here more carefully in light of Aristotle’s psychology, semantic theory and epistemology. I suggest that empeiria has two crucial roles in Aristotle’s
epistemology: it aids in the initial acquisition of concepts and principles of the arts and sciences and it is needed to establish the proper relation to universals in those people who initially possess knowledge by testimony.
At the meeting, Keith will give a short introduction to his paper and then we will turn to discussion.
The discussion will presuppose that participants have read Keith's paper in advance of the session. The paper and Zoom link will be distributed to participants via email a week or two before the meeting. To allow yourself time to complete the readings, please register at least 48 hours in advance.
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August 23, 2022, 9:00am EST
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