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Departmental Colloquium, 2019/2020

Colloquia take place from 4.15pm to 6:00pm in OC1.07 (Oculus Building) unless otherwise indicated. For further information, please contact Naomi Eilan ( or Barnaby Walker ( Details of previous years’ colloquia can be found here.

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Philosophy Department Colloquium - Joachim Aufderheide (KCL)

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Location: S0.19


All of Aristotle’s ethical writings allocate a central place to theoretical philosophical thinking (theōria). Noting the differences both in detail and in spirit, scholars have speculated about the treatises’ relative composition and Aristotle’s philosophical development more generally. However, any kind of judgement about the relationship between these texts requires an account of the place and role of theōria in each text taken on its own.

Setting aside the well-known account of the Nicomachean Ethics, I provide such an account for the Protrepticus, the Eudemian Ethics, and the Magna Moralia by considering two questions: 1) What is theōria? And 2) What role does theōria play in the ethical theory of each of these treatises? I argue that the treatises agree broadly on what theōria is. It belongs to theoretical philosophy and has to do with knowledge of causes, nature, and truth. The EE and the MM do not say much about the nature of theōria; the Protrepticus proves to be more informative because it aims at putting the contemplative way of life on the map — in contrast to a more practical approach, associated with Isocrates.

Of the three texts, the Protrepticus has most to say about the nature of theōria. It presents theōria as the contemplation of nature and truth, understood as knowledge of causes. I shall argue that this knowledge is purely theoretical, despite the argument in ch. 10 that theōria provides the greatest benefit for human beings. The other two treatises, operating with a similar conception of theōria, also maintain a firm distinction between practical and theoretical knowledge. However, both argue, in different ways, that we cannot fully understand practical virtue without considering theōria because the former is for the sake of the latter. In the course of explaining how each of the treatises subordinates practical to theoretical wisdom, I shall argue that the EE widens the remit of theoretical thinking to include some aspects of politics, whereas the MM operates with a less developed account that does not stress the importance of knowledge of causes.

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