Friday, November 2, 2012

In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle interprets perception of moral and divine particulars as, roughly, a natural power that develops over time through experience. Thus he maintains that in our pursuit of the sources of actions and of being, we ought not to rely exclusively on our own perceptions but to listen to the reports of the aged and experienced, even if they are quite naïve in their understanding of their own experience:
So one ought to pay attention to the undemonstrated statements and opinions of people who are experienced or old, or of people with practical judgment, no less than to the things they demonstrate, for by having an eye sharpened by experience, they see rightly. 1 (emphasis added)
 It is as important to keep the reports of our elders and moral exemplars in mind as it is to go in "whatever direction the argument blows us." 2 To extend the naval metaphor, the wind won't be able to blow us anywhere if we abandon the ship in order to follow it.

We need not assume, however, that the reports we receive have been properly interpreted, with regard to the sources (since knowledge, not intellectual perception grasps the sources), or to the implications.

1 translated by Joe Sachs, 1143b10.
2 Republic, translated by G.M.A. Grube, revised by C.D.C. Reeve, 394d.