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Aristotle on the Akratic's Knowledge

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This paper is an analysis of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics 7.3. Aristotle's discussion in this chapter is motivated by the Socratic doctrine, elaborated in Plato's Protagoras, according to which it is impossible to know what is good and act against this knowledge. Aristotle wants to rebut this doctrine and show that there is a sense of "know" such that this is possible. I argue that this is all that he wants to do in EN 7.3, and that his discussion is not meant to provide an explanation of akrasia, as is usually supposed by commentators.

Since the akratic knows that the action she is performing is not good for her, and actions are particulars, the akratic's knowledge is about a particular. I argue that Aristotle's discussion in EN 7.3 adds strength to the idea that knowledge of a particular is explainable only in terms of knowledge of a universal. More determinately, knowledge of a particular is explainable in terms of the actualization or use of knowledge of a universal, and such an actualization is in turn explainable by means of the syllogistic form. Thus, I argue that syllogisms in 7.3 (esp. at 1146b35-1147a10) are not "practical syllogisms", but that their function is epistemological: they are meant to reveal the structure and content of the akratic's knowledge, not to explain her actions.

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/content/journals/10.1163/156852802321016532
2002-08-01
2016-12-05

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