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TitleAristotle Glossary
TagsMetaphysics Aristotle Psychology & Cognitive Science Truth Nous
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Total Pages7
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Substance: A key term in Aristotle, this means a thing that exists, in the fullest and most
independent sense. In the sentence “Socrates is snub-nosed and white,” the words “snub-nosed”
and “white” designate things that are dependent on Socrates. Hence they are not substances, but
Socrates is. Anything which has its existence only in relation to another thing (such as color, size,
location, disposition etc.) is not a substance. (See the 10 categories.)

Socrates is a substance, in the primary sense. In a secondary sense, “man” is a substance.
Likewise, the Black Stallion is a substance in the primary sense, while “horse” is a substance in
the secondary sense. Thus in general, individuals are primary substances, and species are
secondary substances. Primary substances tend to be designated by proper nouns, secondary
substances by common nouns. Substance, in this secondary sense, is the same as essence.

What Promotes the End is an overly literal translation of a phrase in Aristotle that means what
we now call a “means,” as in “means and ends.”

Without Qualification is like saying “period.” What’s good for me is one thing; what’s good,
period, is another. What’s good, period, is what Aristotle calls good “without qualification.”

Part II. Familiar terms used in unfamiliar ways. Aristotle uses many terms in specialized or
unfamiliar ways. Also, Irwin and Fine depart from traditional translations of the Greek. Some of
these departures are helpful, bringing out the distinctive meaning of Aristotle’s terminology.
Others are less helpful, such as translating phronesis as “intelligence” (see below). All can be
confusing in that the words are different from those used in familiar translations of Plato and other
authors (e.g., when Irwin and Fine translate techne as “craft” rather than “art”).

Account (logos) Traditionally translated “definition.” (Note: this is not the only translation of
the term logos! In other contexts, it can be translated “reason,” “speech,” “argument,” or “word.”
See Fine and Irwin’s glossary).

Character always means moral character. The phrase “virtues of character” is traditionally
translated “moral virtues.”

Continence is no longer a familiar term. Think “self-control.” Addictions and alcoholism are
forms of incontinence, loss of self-control.

Correct Reason (orthos logos) is traditionally translated “right reason,” which becomes a very
important term in medieval philosophy.

Correction means punishment. So when Aristotle says, “correction is a form of medical
treatment” in N. Ethics 2:3,1140b17, he means that all punishment is remedial, rather than
retributive or deterrent: its purpose is not vengeance or scaring people into good behavior, but
making the criminal a better person, healing the diseases of their soul. But in order to be healed,
you’ve got to take your medicine, which may be unpleasant.

Decision: The older translation, which I still prefer, is “choice.”


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Production (poiesis) Traditionally translated “making.” Aristotle often contrasts this with
“action” (praxis), in which case it is useful to re-translate the contrast using the terms “making”
and “doing.” Making, unlike doing, has an end which is a product outside the activity itself (think
of the difference between housebuilding and flute playing). Note also that despite their verbal
similarity, action is not the only kind of activity; production is also an activity. (I.e., doing and
making are both activities). See also “produce” in Part I.

Scientific Knowledge (episteme): Usually just translated “science” (the Latin translation is
scientia). Notice that unlike our notion of science, this is a virtue, i.e. a state of the soul. That’s
why the translation “scientific knowledge” is actually rather helpful.

State (hexis): It will often be more helpful to think of this important ethical term as “habit” or
“disposition” (the Latin term for it is habitus), or else specifically as state of character (see

Study (theoria): This is better translated by the traditional term, “contemplation.” It is not like
studying for an exam but like thinking about something you already know. The term means
literally, “looking at.” You contemplate a piece of knowledge in roughly the same way you
contemplate a painting or a piece of music. Aristotle often contrasts contemplation with action
(praxis). These are in fact the Greek words from which we get our terms “theoretical” and
“practical.” For Aristotle, the contemplative or theoretical life is characteristic of the philosopher
or scientist, whereas the active or practical life is characteristic of the ruler or politician.

Temperance is often translated “moderation.” It specifically means not over-indulging in pleasant
things of the senses, such as food or drink. Gluttony and drunkenness are forms of intemperance.

Understanding (nous) has been translated many ways. In Latin it is intellectus, and hence has
been translated into English as “intellect” or “intelligence.” These are good translations for the
power or faculty of nous. The act of nous, on the other hand, is often translated as “intuition”
(from the Latin word intuitus, meaning to behold or look at). An act is related to a power the
same way the act of seeing is related to the power of vision (a power you have even when you’re
not using it, like when you’re asleep). So the act of nous is what you are doing when you “see”
something with your intellect and understand it.


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