different in principle from that "desire to see" which marks the starting point or ἀρχή of Aristotle's investigation into speculative knowledge. But is this in fact the case?

For Aristotle, πρᾶξις is the highest and most distinctive possibility of human existence.14 Unfolding in the midst of the temporal and the contingent, such existence can in no sense transcend the intrinsic finitude of its situation so as to attain directly an outside perspective on itself. Such a perspective would be possible only if one were to commit the ὕβρις of identifying the human condition with that of the divine. Aristotle's account of the πρᾶξις of human life emphasizes the worldly character of human involvements and the inevitable unpredictabilities to which such an existence is exposed. Nevertheless, it remains striking that Aristotle will ascribe the fullest disclosure of human existence as such not to the kind of vision that remains attentive to and most fully apprehends such contingencies the vision of φρόνησις or practical wisdom—but to the "theoretical" vision belonging to the σοφία of the philosopher. The philosophical vision sees most transparently what human existence is as such. And yet, the relation between theoretical knowledge and πρᾶξις is not a simple opposition for Aristotle. As a kind of knowing, θεωρία may indeed be contrasted with φρόνησις, but, as we shall appreciate more fully later, this contrast is not an opposition. Aristotle not only identifies the activity of θεωρεῖν as itself a πρᾶξις; he regards it as the highest πρᾶξις. Yet it is not as though θεωρία were merely one possibility or form of human πρᾶξις among others; rather, as we shall try to show, θεωρία is that kind of vision which first sees and thereby knows what πρᾶξις itself most truly is. Θεωρία as a πρᾶξις is so far from being severed from πρᾶξις and φρόνησις that it proves, on Aristotle's account, to be the most originary self-disclosure of πρᾶξις as such.

14 There are of course a number of different usages of the term πρᾶξις in Aristotle. At least three can be initially discerned: (1) Πρᾶξις is sometimes used to characterize the nature of "biological" life and its associated activities, as found in both humans and animals. (See, for example, De partibus animalium, 645 b15ff.; also Historia animalium, 589 a3.) Here, the πρᾶξις of life has the sense of an activity that maintains itself as such despite its dependence on environment and on other beings generally. Life in this organic sense is an end in itself. Thus, Aristotle also extends the term πρᾶξις to cover those subordinate activities which serve the overall activity of life, including generation, feeding, growth, copulation, waking, sleep, and locomotion. (2) Πρᾶξις is also used to refer to specifically human actions or activities, although still in a quite broad sense that includes making (ποίησις) and contemplating (θεωρία) as well as ethical and political activity. (3) Πρᾶξις is used in a more restricted meaning to refer primarily to ethical and political life, to "deeds and words" as the truly human activities. Factual freedom from the necessities of life, including freedom from enslavement, is a precondition of human pratis in this sense.

Of these three different registers, we shall be concerned only with the second and third in the present chapter. As will become clear, these two senses cannot always be clearly distinguished from one another, and this for fundamental reasons.