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Plato's Sophist [122-123]


a) What is thematic in σοφία. The ἀγαθόν as τέλος and
ultimate οὗ ἕνεκα; as αἴτιον and ἀρχή; as
object of pure θεωρεῖν.


τὸ δ᾽ εἰδέναι καὶ τὸ ἐπίστασθαι αὐτῶν ἕνεκα μάλισθ᾽ ὑπάρχει τῇ τοῦ μάλιστα ἐπιστητοῦ ἐπιστήμῃ (982a30ff.). "Seeing and knowing for their own sake reside most of all in that ἐπιστήμη whose theme is the μάλιστα ἐπιστητόν." This μάλιστα ἐπιστητόν, which most of all turns knowledge into something genuinely formative, is what is grasped when it is a matter of acquiring the ultimate orientations in beings and when it is a matter of seeing why such and such should happen. This ultimate why, i.e., this ultimate "for the sake of which," οὗ ἕνεκα, is, as τέλος, always an ἀγαθόν (Met. I, 3, 983a31 f.). The ἀγαθόν, however, is a matter of the ἀρχικωτάτη among the ἐπιστῆμαι flat and τέχναι, insofar as the ἀρχικωτάτη is the one that γνωρίζουσα τίνος ἕνεκέν ἐστι πρακτέον ἕκαστον (982b5f.), "provides insight about that for the sake of which each single thing is to be accomplished precisely in such and such a way." Accordingly, σοφία, insofar as it is the μάλιστα ἐπιστήμη, and as such provides insight about the μάλιστα ἀγαθόν, the ὅλως τὸ ἄριστον ἐν τῇ φύσει πάσῃ (cf. 982b7), is the ἀρχικωτάτη among all ἐπιστῆμαι and τέχναι in general. Hence it is the one that is no longer guided but instead is itself explicitly or inexplicitly the guide. Thus it is autonomous. Σοφία asks about the ἄριστον, the highest good, in relation to which every other τέχνη and ἐπιστήμη must be oriented. To that extent σοφία is ἀρχικωτάτη, guiding and autonomous.

With this characterization of σοφία as aiming at an ἀγαθόν, Aristotle comes in questionable proximity to another relation to beings: πρᾶξις. For πρᾶξις is oriented precisely toward the for the sake of which. Thus if σοφία aims at the ἀγαθόν, then it seems that it is ultimately a πρᾶξις, whereas the preceding has shown precisely that it is free of χρῆσις and is a pure θεωρεῖν. Thus the difficulty is that we have here a comportment of Dasein which, on the one hand, relates to something determined as ἀγαθόν, yet, on the other hand, it is not supposed to be πρᾶξις but θεωρεῖν.

The difficulty can be resolved by recalling what Aristotle emphasized: "The ἀγαθόν, too, is one of the causes." καὶ γὰρ τἀγαθὸν ἓν τῶν αἰτίων ἐστίν (cf. 982b10f.). Now the basic character of an αἴτιον consists in being the ἀρχή, the ultimate, out of which something is understood: μάλιστα δ᾽ ἐπιστητὰ τὰ πρῶτα καὶ τὰ αἴτια (982b2). Already ἐμπειρία and τέχνη asked about the αἴτιον. But what is most important is not simply that for Aristotle the ἀγαθόν is an αἴτιον but that he succeeded in showing for the first time that the ἀγαθόν is nothing else than an ontological character of beings: it applies to those beings which are determined by a τέλος. To the extent that a being reaches its τέλος and is complete, it is as it is meant to be, εὖ. The ἀγαθόν has at first no relation to πρᾶξις at all; instead, it is a determination of beings insofar as they are finished, com-plete.