Aristotle (384–322 BC)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-A022-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved October 17, 2018, from

3. Appearances

The general aim of rational inquiry, according to Aristotle, is to advance from what is ‘better known to us’ to what is ‘better known by nature’ (see Physics I 1; Posterior Analytics 71b33; Metaphysics 1029b3). We achieve this aim if: (1) we replace propositions that we thought we knew with propositions that we really know because they are true and we understand them; (2) we find general principles that explain and justify the more specific truths that we began from; (3) we find those aspects of reality that explain the aspects that are more familiar to us.

The things better known to us in a particular area are the relevant ‘appearances’ (phainomena). Aristotle presents them through detailed collections of empirical data, reached as a result of ‘inquiry’ (historia; for example, Parts of Animals 646a8). Empirical inquiry proceeds from particular observations, by means of generalizations through induction (epagōgē) from these particular cases, until we reach experience (empeiria). Experience leads us to principles that are better known by nature (Prior Analytics 46a17); we also rely on it to test principles we have found (Generation of Animals 760b28).

Philosophical inquiry also relies on ‘appearances’. However, the appearances that concern it are not empirical observations, but common beliefs, assumptions widely shared by ‘the many and the wise’. The critical and constructive study of these common beliefs is ‘dialectic’. Aristotle’s method is basically Socratic. He raises puzzles in the common beliefs, looking for an account that will do them justice as a whole. Among common beliefs Aristotle considers the views of his predecessors (for example, Metaphysics I; On the Soul I; Politics II), because the puzzles raised by their views help us to find better solutions than they found.

Inquiry leads us to causes and to universals. Aristotle has a realist conception of inquiry and knowledge; beliefs and theories are true in so far as they grasp the reality that we inquire into (see Realism and antirealism §2). Universals and causes are ‘prior by nature’; they are not created by, or dependent on, any theory, but a true theory must fit them.

If we attended only to Aristotle’s remarks on what is better known to us and on the process of inquiry, we might regard his position as a form of empiricism (see Empiricism). But in his remarks on what is better known by nature, he insists on the reality of universals and on the importance of non-sensory forms of knowledge (see §15 on universals, §19 on thought).

Citing this article:
Irwin, T.H.. Appearances. Aristotle (384–322 BC), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-A022-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2018 Routledge.

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