Aristotle on Paideia of Principles

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Aristotle on Paideia of Principles

ABSTRACT: Aristotle maintains that paideia enables one to judge the method used by a given speaker without judging the conclusions drawn as well (I.1 De Partibus Animalium). He contends that this "paideia of principles" requires three things: seeing that principles are not derived from one another; seeing that there is nothing before them within reason; and, seeing that they are the source of much knowledge. In order to grasp these principles, one must respectively learn to recognize what distinguishes the subject matters studied in different disciplines, see first principles as coming from experience and acquire the habit of seeking them in one’s experience and, finally, see first principles as being the source of conclusions. While the second and third points might at first seem to pertain to "nous" and science, respectively, rather than to paideia, the case can be made that paideia involves more of a firm grasp of principles than "nous" and a less perfect way of relating conclusion to principles than science.

Aristotle speaks explicitly of paideia of method, the most noteworthy passage being Bk. 1, c. 1 of The Parts of Animals. He also explicitly identifies certain thinkers as lacking paideia this sort of paideia. Paideia of method allows a person to judge the way a speaker is proceeding without for so much being able to judge his conclusions (639a15).

What is less obvious is that Aristotle holds that there is paideia of principles. However, there is one passage which makes this fairly clear (NE 1098b5, cited below). In addition, careful examination of passages where Aristotle calls attention to judgments or misjudgments pertaining to paideia reveals that there is not one but many reasons for calling a method either good or bad, some of which reasons have to do with principles. This can be seen by contrasting the following two cases: Aristotle is critical of ethicists who insist on proceeding solely by demonstration because such rigor is inappropriate to ethical matters (NE 1094b20-28). However, the reason he criticizes Pythagoras for explaining moral virtue in terms of mathematical principles,(1) is that Pythagoras is starting from principles which are inadequate to explaining this matter. Of the two mistakes, that as to the starting point is plainly more serious. Every error as to starting point entails error as to one's subsequent proceeding, but not vice versa.

A principle is always a principle of something, and every method or orderly proceeding has a principle or starting point.
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