Knowledge for Aristotle & Plato

It might be useful to look at how these two great (somehow contradicting sometimes) philosophers approached the concept of knowledge and knowing. Let’s start with the sooner – Aristotle.

Aristotle describes three approaches to knowledge. In Greek, the three are episteme, techné and phronesis. Roughly speaking, they translate to ‘scientific knowledge’ , skills and crafts, and wisdom, respectively. In more detail:

  • Episteme : Epistemology, the study of knowledge, is derived from episteme. Episteme was viewed by the Greeks as a partner to techné. Plato used episteme to denote ‘justified true belief”, in contrast to doxa, common belief or opinion.
  • Techne : is roughly craftsmanship or art. Aristotle viewed techné as an imperfect human representation of nature. Socrates and Plato also used the word, and distinguished craftsmanship (which they viewed in a positive light) from art (which they viewed in a negative light).
  • Phronesis : This is more of practical wisdom. It is practical wisdom, and deliberation about values with reference to praxis (contextual). Pragmatic, variable, context dependent. Oriented toward action. Based on practical value-rationality.

It is very interesting that phronesis (wisdom) is defined as a practical and actionable… as opposed to knowledge, true wisdom is knowing what to do.. !


Socrates and the Starting Point:

Note.  Aristotle, in Metaphysics, accredited induction to Socrates:   “… for two things may be fairly ascribed to Socrates – inductive arguments and universal definition, both of which are concerned with the starting-point of science.”


Plato & Aristotle:

Before Aristotle, Plato argued that what we sense is, at best, a pale reflection of a superordinate reality consisting of pure and perfect forms or ideas.  Whereas our sensory reality is reminiscent of this higher plane, it is a debased copy that flickers and changes across time and space. For Plato, a transcendental level of perfect forms allowed us to reconcile the presence of that which is immutable and a material world in constant flux.

Aristotle, however, questioned the explanatory value of a higher layer and saw this construct as potentially unnecessary.  Plato had suggested that pure forms were superordinate and therefore could not exist within material things.  Aristotle, however, wondered if this was so, then how can we gain any knowledge of pure forms?  That is, Plato’s definition of forms provided us with no method of connecting material objects to those forms they seemingly reflect. To Aristotle, forms — in this context — made no logical sense.


Plato and Aristotle appear as arch-exemplars of rationalist-objectivist philosophy; Plato with his preference for visionary theorizing (the turning toward a ‘distant heaven of Forms’), and Aristotle the ‘first scientist’, who spent much of his life analyzing the ‘substances’ of nature (the turning toward ‘earth’).


The Root Dimensions of Being:

LOGOS (Spirit)

  • God, Creator, the measure of all that are
  • Plato and Theistic philosophers
  • The Way of Heaven

NOMOS (Culture)

  • Man the measure of all things that are
  • Social philosophers (Protagoras)
  • The Way of Man

PHYSIS (Nature)

  • Nature the measure of all things that are
  • Naturalist philosophers (Aristotle)
  • The Way of Earth


Theories & Paradigms:

Foucault’s use of episteme has been asserted as being similar to Thomas Kuhn’s notion of a paradigm, as for example by Jean Piaget. However, there are decisive differences. Whereas Kuhn’s paradigm is an all-encompassing collection of beliefs and assumptions that result in the organization of scientific worldviews and practices, Foucault’s episteme is not merely confined to science but to a wider range of discourse (all of science itself would fall under the episteme of the epoch).


Aristotle's Episteme

Aristotle’s Episteme




Plato's Knowledge


Aristotle (384 - 322 BC)

Aristotle (384 – 322 BC)


Plato (428 - 348 BC)

Plato (428 – 348 BC)



Aristotle’s Three Types of Knowledge in The Nichomachean Ethics : “Techné, Episteme and Phronesis”.-

32. The Bayesian Belief: 6. The Episteme of Aristotle


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