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Aristotle and the Limits of Reason

Thursday Lecture Series

dateOctober 24, 2013 timeThursday, 12:15pm EDT location The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room, Columbia University
Painting of person looking at candle

What makes humans so special? McCready-Flora's talk looked at how Aristotle answers that question. Animals, for Aristotle, divide into two groups. There are humans, with a range of distinct cognitive capabilities, and then there are all the others. Aristotle formulates this human specialness in several ways: only humans share in logos, only humans have nous, only humans engage in logismos. Terminology aside, what does this specialness amount to?

The talk offered a novel interpretation of what it is, on Aristotle's view, to be a rational animal. To be rational is to be capable of truth-directed, evidence responsive cognition. Rational thought therefore has an evaluative component lacking in even the most sophisticated animal cognition. Some animals Aristotle calls "wise" (phronimos), but their sort of wisdom is due entirely to built-up memory and experience, which lets them act effectively in the world.