Questions on Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, Book VI, the "intellectual virtues."

The term translated into English as "virtue" is the Greek word arete, which basically means excellence (though when applied to ethics it has a broader meaning). To have virtue is to be able to do something excellently. Since Aristotle finds that people do two kinds of things—we act and we think—Aristotle divides human virtues into two types: ethical or moral virtues, which are excellent ways of behaving and acting, and intellectual virtues, which are excellent ways of thinking and knowing. Book Two and other parts of the Nicomachean Ethics discuss moral virtues; Book Six and Book Ten discuss the intellectual virtues. Since epistemology is the study of how we know things and what we can know, we are interested in Aristotle's account of the mental capacities we have to know things.

  1. What two kinds of thinking ("kinds of intellect and of truth") does Aristotle identify? (ch. 2)
  2. What is necessary for one's choice to be a good choice? (ch. 2)
  3. What is "science," according to Aristotle? (ch. 3) (This is the Greek episteme, also the root of "epistemology.") Is this our contemporary understanding of science and scientific knowledge?
  4. What is "art"? (ch. 4) (This is the Greek techne, the root of "technique" and "technology.")
  5. What is "prudence" or "practical wisdom"? (ch. 5) (This is the Greek phronesis.) Compare this to Hobbes's account of prudence in chapter three of Leviathan.
  6. What is "intelligence"? (ch. 6) (This is the Greek noesis, which is the fourth and highest level of knowing in Plato's divided line schema. It is sometimes translated as "intellection," "understanding," or "intuition.") Is this mental ability or capacity recognized—can it be recognized—by the other epistemological traditions?
  7. What is "theoretical wisdom" or "wisdom"? (ch. 7) (This is the Greek sophia, a term used by the Gnostics as well.)
  8. What is "political wisdom" or "political science"? (ch. 8) (This is the Greek politike, "politics," which happens to be the name of the political science program at Marymount.)

A revealing contrast between the Classical and Epicurean traditions can be found by comparing Aristotle's discussion of the intellectual virtues and Hobbes's discussion in chapter eight of Leviathan. What is the key difference? What is present in Aristotle's account that is missing from Hobbes's account? What does this show about the human capacity for knowledge? What can be known according to one tradition that is not accounted for in the other tradition?

Depending on the edition that you read, the text may be punctuated in the margins with Bekker numbers, such as Nicomachean Ethics (or simply, Nic. Eth.), 1140a5. You may also cite passages from Aristotle's works using these numbers, if they are available in your text.