Skip navigation
Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item:
Title: Wisdom in Plato and Aristotle
Authors: Yau, Claudia
Advisors: Lorenz, Hendrik
Morison, Benjamin
Contributors: Philosophy Department
Keywords: Aristotle
Nicomachean Ethics
Subjects: Philosophy
Classical studies
Issue Date: 2021
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: This dissertation investigates the accounts of wisdom (sophia) developed by Plato and Aristotle in the Republic, Nicomachean Ethics, and Metaphysics. In endorsing particular conceptions of wisdom, Plato and Aristotle were engaging in a long-standing dispute, spanning the archaic and classical periods, over the title. ‘Sophia’ conferred significant power and prestige, so there were real stakes in the outcome of the contest. Wisdom also does significant explanatory work in their ethics, politics, and epistemology: it is the highest virtue of the rational soul and is required for the best human life and a flourishing political community. Despite wisdom’s importance, there has not been much systematic treatment of it for either philosopher. Plato and Aristotle are standardly thought to agree that wisdom is the ability to understand certain abstract, metaphysically basic entities: Plato thinks wisdom is knowledge of the Forms and Aristotle thinks wisdom is understanding about divine beings. The central aim of this dissertation is to show that they in fact endorse diametrically opposed conceptions of wisdom. According to Plato, wisdom makes use of and requires knowledge of Forms, but its purpose is to make good judgments about the perceptible realm. Aristotle, by contrast, explicitly denies that wisdom is aimed at action; wisdom proper deals with the abstract, fundamental metaphysical truths of reality. This dissertation contains four chapters. Chapter 1 argues that wisdom is not identical to knowledge of the Forms. Chapter 2 defends the following definition: wisdom is the ability to make good judgments, referencing the Forms as a standard, about the city or soul as a whole. Chapter 3 shows that in the NE, Aristotle offers a rigorous, though compressed, argument for his conception of wisdom as epistēmē and nous of the most honorable things. The argument relies on a commitment to a hierarchy of intellectual states and the identification of sophia as the state which ranks highest. Chapter 4 turns to the Metaphysics, where Aristotle appears to present two competing characterizations of wisdom. I argue that that these conceptions describe a single, unified state, and that this is the very state Aristotle identifies as wisdom in the NE.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Philosophy

Files in This Item:
This content is embargoed until 2023-09-30. For questions about theses and dissertations, please contact the Mudd Manuscript Library. For questions about research datasets, as well as other inquiries, please contact the DataSpace curators.

Items in Dataspace are protected by copyright, with all rights reserved, unless otherwise indicated.