Aristotle’s Empiricism

By Marc Gasser-Wingate

Author: GASSER-WINGATE, Marc (Assistant Professor, Boston University)

Reference: Aristotle’s Empiricism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021, 272pp. ISBN 978019756745.

Aristotle is famous for thinking that all our knowledge comes from perception. But it’s not immediately clear what this view is meant to entail. It’s not clear, for instance, what perception is supposed to contribute to the more advanced forms of knowledge that derive from it. Nor is it clear how we should understand the nature of its contribution—what it might mean to say that these more advanced forms of knowledge are “derived from” or “based on” what we perceive. Aristotle is often thought to have disappointingly little to say on these matters. In this book, I argue that this thought is mistaken: a coherent and philosophically attractive view of perceptual knowledge can be found in the various texts in which Aristotle discusses perception’s role in animal life, the cognitive resources on which it does and does not depend, and the relation it bears to practical and theoretical modes of understanding. What emerges from these discussions is a moderate and defensible form of empiricism—an empiricism that has important implications for Aristotle’s views on practical wisdom and the cognitive life of nonrational animals, as well as his broader account of our learning.