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The Starting Points of Human Understanding

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Πρῶτον νοητόν and φυσικὴ ἔννοια in Alkinoos’ Didaskalikos

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AbstractThe present article discusses the notion of πρῶτον νοητόν in the Didaskalikos, where this notion indicates a cognitive primacy exclusively related to human understanding. It is argued that, due to the enrichment of Platonic doctrine with Stoic motives in this treatise, a dual starting point is ascribed here to human cognition. Both the πρῶτον νοητόν and the φυσικὴ ἔννοια function as such. The πρῶτον νοητόν is the primary object of a decarnate νόησις, the φυσικὴ ἔννοια our present reminiscence of this decarnate νόησις. The recognition of a genetic perspective in the Didaskalikos enables us to resolve the interpretative difficulties related to the restrictive expression οὐκ ἄνευ τοῦ ἐπιστηµονικοῦ λόγου, which characterizes the judgement of the πρῶτα νοητά by νόησις. Among the procedures employed to arrive at the starting points of human cognition are ‘analysis’ and ‘induction’. These specimina of an ‘investigation from below’ (κάτωθεν) contribute to the complex rhythm of the Didaskalikos. The tradition inaugurated by the treatise, i.e. the search for first known objects of human understanding in Greek, Arabic, and Latin philosophy, is accompanied by a tension between the empirical and the transcendental, which is used in the Didaskalikos to argue for the necessity of a Platonic frame, and consequently re-activated in all attempts to free the search for first known objects of human understanding from a Platonic ontology.

Affiliations: 1: Vrije Universiteit


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