Aristotle on Episteme and Nous: the Posterior Analytics

Southern Journal of Philosophy 36 (1):15-46 (1998)
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According to the standard and largely traditional interpretation, Aristotle’s conception of nous, at least as it occurs in the Posterior Analytics, is geared against a certain set of skeptical worries about the possibility of scientific knowledge, and ultimately of the knowledge of Aristotelian first principles. On this view, Aristotle introduces nous as an intuitive faculty that grasps the first principles once and for all as true in such a way that it does not leave any room for the skeptic to press his skeptical point any further. Thus the tradi- tional interpretation views Aristotelian nous as having an internalist justificatory role in Aristotelian epistemology. In contrast, a minority (empiricist) view that has emerged recently holds the same internalist justificatory view of nous but rejects its internally certifiable infallibility by stressing the connection between nous and Aristotelian induction. I argue that both approaches are flawed in that Aristotle’s project in the Posterior Analytics is not to answer the skeptic on internalist justificatory grounds, but rather lay out a largely externalist explication of scientific knowledge, i.e. what scientific knowledge consists in, without worrying as to whether we can ever show the skeptic to his satisfaction that we do ever possess knowledge so defined.
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