In the history of philosophy, Aristotle’s theory of knowledge is one of the most relevant intellectual ingredients in the construction of Western culture. In fact, although we have never heard of this Greek sage (as difficult as it may be today) without realizing it, his philosophical works influence our way of thinking.
Below we will see what is Aristotle’s theory of knowledge, A way of understanding the way in which our intellectual activity is formed.
Aristotle’s theory of knowledge
These are the main elements that structure Aristotle’s theory of knowledge. However, it must be borne in mind that it has many explanatory gaps, in part because at the time of this thinker it was not customary to develop many philosophical systems.
1. The primacy of the senses
According to Aristotle’s theory of knowledge, the senses are the starting point for all forms of knowledge. This means that any information that can trigger intellectual activity is contained in the “raw” sensory data that enters our body through the eyes, ears, smell, etc.
In this sense, Aristotelian thought is clearly different from the ideas of Plato, for whom what surrounds us cannot be known nor generate significant intellectual activity, because the material is mutable and constantly changes.
2. The creation of concepts
As we have seen, the process of knowledge generation begins with sensory stimuli. However, up to this point, the process is the same as what this philosopher says occurs in the minds of other forms of animal life. This knowledge is of a sensitive type and is not exclusive to human beings.
The process of actual human cognition, according to Aristotle’s theory of knowledge, begins with how we process sensory data to reach more abstract conclusions than what we have seen, felt, touched, smelled or tasted. . To do this, first common sense unifies the properties of the object or entity that we perceive to create a “mental image” and this thanks to our imaginative capacity.
So even if it all starts with a perceptual impression, this information has to go through a number of mental mechanisms. How is it made?
3. To know is to identify
As Aristotle admits that reality is made up of changing elements, to know means to know how to identify what each thing is. This process of identification consists of recognizing the effective cause, the formal, the material and the final. These are all potentialities which for Aristotle reside in matter and which make it possible to understand everything and in what way it will be transformed.
Thus, the combination of imagination and memory not only makes us retain a picture of what we have experienced through the senses, but also gives us a first piece of what we can understand the potential of everything, How it goes and how it changes. For example, thanks to this, we know that a tree can grow from a seed, and also that part of the tree can be used to build houses and boats.
Therefore, from the impressions left by the senses, we have created abstractions. These abstractions are not the reflection of a reality composed of pure ideas, as Plato believed, but are representations of qualities contained in material elements that make up physical reality.
4. The creation of universals
Along with the creation of the image, we generate a universal of this idea, that is, the concept that we will apply not only to what we have seen, felt, touched and tasted, but also to others. hypothetical elements with which we have not come into direct contact, on the one hand, and others that we have not seen before, on the other hand.
For Aristotle, the process by which the universal is created from impressions is done by something he calls “understanding agent”, While the recognition of the universal in new forms of sensory stimuli is achieved by the “understanding of the patient”.
An intellectual heritage that still touches us today
Aristotle is and was one of the most famous Greek philosophers in history, And not without reason. The influences of his thought are still present today, more than two millennia after his birth.
The reason? Along with that of Plato, his work in epistemological philosophy laid the foundations for Western culture influenced by Christianity, which in the Middle Ages articulated its explanations of nature using the ideas of this thinker.
Today the influences of the Church are no longer so noticeable, but many elements that have served to shape her doctrine if they remain in force, and Aristotelian thought is one of them. Indeed, from the Renaissance, at the same time that we wondered about the fact that knowledge was revealed by God, the principles of Aristotle were also reinforced, to the point of making that one of the main currents of philosophy, such as empiricism, Was totally indebted to the works of the Greek.