Chapter 1. The Influence of Rhetorical Education on Aristotelian Ethics: Knowledge, Training, and Performance

The Nicomachean Ethics gives an account of a virtuous agent’s formation and practice. To appreciate this text fully, it is natural to want to know as much as possible about all the theoretical and technical discourses and ideas that informed Aristotle’s seminal work. This project of contextualization, while it will always be held back by our profound ignorance of almost everything similar and relevant that had been said before Aristotle, nonetheless still offers the possibility of new insights into Aristotelian thought. This chapter considers the hypothesis that several of Aristotle’s familiar and characteristic ways of thinking about ethics are indebted to a multidisciplinary [1] tradition that confronted the peculiar problems involved in establishing and defending an art (tekhnē) creative, responsible, and flexible enough to answer to the uncertainties of lived practice. In particular, we are only beginning to understand the resonance Aristotelian ethical theory would have had for that portion of the ancient audience steeped in the methods and ambitions, the intellectual inheritance and preoccupations, of a contemporary rhetorical school such as that of Isocrates.
Isocrates’ school was flourishing in Athens during the twenty years (ca. 367–347 BC) that Aristotle spent as a student in that other, more famous, school of philosophia, Plato’s Academy. Isocrates’ philosophia, squarely focused on the best and most practical preparations for public life, is so much more pedestrian than Plato’s philosophy, and so difficult to fit within our own genre of philosophy, that few modern readers have hesitated to exclude Isocrates’ ideas from comparison with any really philosophical doctrines. The definition of his philosophia as rhetoric (which it certainly is inter alia) has set the limits of inquiry. Yet Isocrates is reflective about his role as an educator, and about the process through which his students have progressed, to the point that he has a theory of education and practice (the formation of a person towards the best ends), albeit one we have to reconstruct from unsystematic texts whose many aims do not include theoretical exposition. [2]
One single statement of Isocrates’ has been more influential than any other on modern opinion: his profession that his students, having received their training from him, cannot hope to handle the situations in which they must perform through systematic knowledge (epistēmē) but must rely instead on beliefs or appearances (doxai). [3] In the wake of Plato, what is less “philosophical” than substituting doxa for epistēmē? But a fair picture of Isocrates’ ideas is more complex. He does assign a definite value and role to epistēmē, but he denies that its prescriptions can ever be adequate preparation for meeting the contingencies and complexities of a life of action. In actuality, these practical concerns are closely related to Aristotle’s practical philosophy and even—as we will consider in the next chapter—to a strand in Plato’s thinking.
In Isocrates’ very parsing of science’s limits, and of the less exact means that must be adopted toward the end of the best actions, his concerns are nearer to those of Aristotelian ethics than to any other point of comparison. His notion of a thoroughly cultivated orator whose readiness and proficiency are displayed in a crucial moment’s unscripted performance may be compared to Aristotle’s discussion of virtue as a habitually strengthened state of character, in which an agent is ready to perform good acts.
I will consider the relation of several overlapping basic notions that occur in both Isocrates and Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. While the questions of influence that such an investigation raises are not easy to decide, we can immediately discern how unjustly we have neglected Isocrates’ Against the Sophists and Antidosis as necessary and fruitful points of reference against which to understand Aristotelian ethics.
If significant parts of Aristotle’s orientation and terminology are appropriately understood in connection with such a milieu, and the connection shows signs of lying fairly near the surface for Aristotle’s contemporaries, the immediate result will be not necessarily a revision in our reading of Aristotle on any single matter of doctrine, but a new perspective on Aristotle’s audience, on the lines of affiliation and difference between him and others, and on the import his own positions may have held among the other entrants in a wider scientific (or even political) arena, [4] and, from this added vantage point, a possible avenue towards grasping certain of Aristotle’s nuances or resolving some of the myriad confusions, contradictions, and difficulties that his interpreters face. The most important result, however, will be an awareness of another context, besides the history of philosophy narrowly construed, in which we can make a legitimate claim for the significance of Aristotle’s intervention, and of another discourse to which the cast of his ethical thinking also belongs.

An Art of Practice

Aristotle’s serious engagement with the “craft analogy” in the Nicomachean Ethics is widely appreciated, although perhaps an unfamiliarity with the range of evidence for ancient discussions of the various arts’ natures and methodologies sometimes tempts us to regard the insights derived from this analogy more as testimony to Aristotle’s homespun good sense [5] than as an indication of his self-positioning in relation to other intellectuals. When we look at the kind of tekhnē that interests Aristotle and Isocrates and earns their esteem, we find substantial similarities. In the brief text Against the Sophists, Isocrates rejects the handbook-writers’ regimentation of tekhnē: he complains it cannot possibly do justice to the art of oratory, a “creative affair,” [6] in which a truly skilled speaker (tekhnikōtatos, 12) produces logoi that “partake of the circumstances of the moment” (kairoi). Aristotle, too, when he discusses the methodology of ethics, appeals to an art such as medicine to illustrate how there is “nothing fixed” (hestēkos) in such matters, and precision (takribes) is not attained. [7] In ethics, it is only “in outline” (tupōi) that we can determine knowledge of the highest good, give an account of the actions that must be performed, or describe the individual virtues as means. [8] From this imprecise feature of “the general account,” Aristotle turns immediately to the fact that in particular cases (ta kath’ hekasta) even less exactness is possible: particulars “do not fall under any tekhnē or precept, and the agents themselves must consider the things that relate to the kairos, as in the arts of medicine and helmsmanship” (1104a6–10). [9] In any case, even if the product produced is the same, a real craftsman (analogously to the virtuous person) produces not by following another person’s instructions but in accordance with the tekhnē within himself (II 4, 1105a21–26). Finding and keeping to the mean, a defining part of Aristotle’s ethical theory, is also paralleled in the arts and crafts. “Good craftsmen [tekhnitai] look to the intermediate when they produce” (II 6, 1106b13f.). The trainer (aleiptēs, 1106b1f.)—who is also a particularly important analogue for Isocrates (Antidosis 180–185 [10] )—exemplifies how this is not a matter of mere arithmetic. And medicine, too, illustrates how orthos logos prescribes the intermediate (Nicomachean Ethics VI 1, 1138b26–29), not only in virtue, but “in all other pursuits which are objects of knowledge” (peri hosas estin epistēmē). [11] So while Aristotle insists that virtue is not a tekhnē (Nicomachean Ethics VI 5), he has nevertheless openly modeled many of its important features on the tekhnai.
While for Aristotle practical life is not governed by a productive tekhnē, neither is it a “science” in his strictest usage of the word epistēmē. Yet we will be concerned to see how both Aristotle and Isocrates make some approach to a knowable “science of practical life,” and in Aristotle the term epistēmē can be used loosely enough to embrace this at times, not carefully distinguished from tekhnē and applied, for example, to medicine. The many connections between the discourses of the tekhnai and the terms of Aristotle’s ethical theory involve all of these polyvalent terms. There was significant discussion in many disciplines about the grounds of knowledge, the limits of knowledge, and what could be accomplished in theory and in practice despite these limits; if the ancient writers who defended experience (empeiria) as a reliable foundation for skill and performance [12] are not building up the kind of demonstrative science described in the Posterior Analytics, their aspirations and habits of thought are no further removed from what we would recognize as “science” than those of their rationalist rivals. For example, the more empiricist author of On Ancient Medicine is every bit as interested in setting the knowledge of human physiology on a solid epistemological foundation as the more rationalist and deductive Hippocratic writers; it is, in fact, scientific honesty that leads him to probe more attentively the weaknesses of that foundation. Indeed, even in Aristotle’s treatises on nature, there is little of the pure deduction he describes in the Posterior Analytics, not to mention in the ethical writings with which we are concerned—so this scientific ideal of theoretical knowledge, though it arises in philosophical polemics, is also not a real obstacle to comparative study of Isocratean and Aristotelian “practical philosophy.”
Aristotle’s insistence on the differences between tekhnē and phronēsis (the intellectual virtue operative in virtuous action) demands more careful consideration. Does it definitively separate the Aristotelian and Isocratean approaches? After all, Isocrates lacks any urge to declare a distinction between his concerns and tekhnē. He retains the general framework of tekhnē, despite all his ambitions to raise the art of oratory to the more sophisticated level of preparation for creative improvisation in response to the world’s fluid circumstances. Aristotle, as we have seen, credits the tekhnitēs with many practical abilities (e.g. acting in the kairos when precept fails; a disposition to choose the mean) that correspond closely to the most impressive aspects of the state maintained by the agent habituated to virtuous action. In fact, Aristotle explicitly compares the acquisition of tekhnai and aretai through habituation (Nicomachean Ethics II 1, 1103a31–b2, b6ff.). [13] Thus when Aristotle grounds his doctrine that virtue is not a tekhnē in a strict distinction between production (poiēsis) and praxis (VI 4–5), we must admit that even Isocrates’ lofty “creative affair” (poiētikon pragma) of Against the Sophists 12 can be fully contained within the Aristotelian notion of craft production; the need to produce something better for a worthy end is reason enough to move decisively beyond the rote knowledge of the cookbook blunderer.
It is precisely a consideration of the ends of action and production that leads Aristotle to insist on his distinction, which means that my attempt to show how naturally Aristotle’s theory of virtuous action fits the Isocratean model of training and performance will depend on challenging the correctness and the necessity of Aristotle’s claim that artful production, being for the sake of the product, must always be clearly distinguished from virtuous action, which according to Aristotle is for its own sake (Nicomachean Ethics VI 5, 1140b6f.).
In this passage Aristotle carefully distinguishes action (the realm of phronēsis) both from production and from the realm of more scientific theoretical knowledge. [14] In both Aristotle and Isocrates, practical intelligence, or phronēsis, is used not just to distinguish the sophisticated and deliberative stance that befits action in the world from the principles of lower, more rote, labors, but also to define a practical sphere outside the scope of epistēmē. [15] Where Aristotle draws his emphatic contrast between epistēmē and phronēsis, he cites diagnostically the deliberation over particulars (1141b8–23, 1142a20–27), a larger issue whose importance we will consider more closely below. For Isocrates, the phronēsis sought by his students (built upon well-formed doxai and immediately useful for action) is to be clearly distinguished from epistēmē (Antidosis 271). [16]
In Aristotelian terms, the more problematic of the two boundaries is the one between production (where craft operates) and action (where practical intelligence operates). While we have seen that some regard the entire craft analogy as somewhat extraneous and an ill fit for Aristotle’s ethical theory, it is significant that others have felt that the apparent exclusion of craft activity from the category of “action” performed with the end of “eupraxia itself” (1140b7) is awkward on purely internal grounds. For Sarah Broadie, it is problematic for Aristotle’s theory of rational choice that the self-contained end of such a choice is “devoid of empirical content,” and Aristotle over the course of the sixth book of the Nicomachean Ethics finds himself “straining to show how rational choice and decisions of craft are fundamentally different.” [17] Eugene Garver takes the opposite approach, claiming that Aristotelian tekhnai (and most notably the art of rhetoric as Aristotle himself describes it) have the very feature of Aristotelian praxis that troubles Broadie; in this reading, Aristotle does not deny internal ends to the arts but merely posits that they are subordinate to the external ends. [18] Terence Irwin has likewise commented that Aristotle “will face serious difficulties if he does not allow the same event to be both an action (in so far as it is done for its own sake) and a production (in so far as it is done for the sake of some end external to it),” [19] and he accordingly translates the ambiguous text of Nicomachean Ethics X 7, 1177b16–18, “Hence among actions expressing the virtues those in politics and war are pre-eminently fine and great; but they require trouble, aim at some [further] end, and are choiceworthy for something other than themselves.” [20]
Isocrates could accept all aspects of this last pronouncement. Political life, practiced through politikoi logoi, is more than an instrumental game. Isocrates charges the sophistical writers of tekhnai with teaching the worst kind of external ends (polupragmosunē, pleonexia) while neglecting the true benefits (agatha) of politikoi logoi (Against the Sophists 20). In contrast, Isocrates cautions those who pursue such empty ends that his philosophia (the word itself is a reminder that he had appropriated this term for his project from his rivals’ conception of what is pursued for its own sake [21] ) much sooner confers on its adherents the benefit of goodness (epieikeia) than its presumed technical objective, rhētoreia (21). [22] In Isocratean theory, the Aristotelian virtues of moderation (sōphrosunē) and justice (dikaiosunē) are present from birth according to an individual’s nature, [23] but the study of politikoi logoi provides those virtues with the greatest encouragement and exercise they can receive (ibid.). The secondariness (in sequence and in likeliness of achievement, at least) of narrowly professional and instrumental goals in Isocratean education [24] is reinforced by Isocrates’ insistence upon the benefits of “philosophical” study for those students who can never become orators (agōnistai), who despite their deficiency of natural talent can become “more intelligent” (phronimōteroi, echoing Aristotle’s term for practical wisdom). [25] At times, Isocrates promotes the ethical results of proper rhetorical training so ardently that they appear to be the most essential proof of education’s power; it can make human beings “braver, gentler, more intelligent” (to quote Antidosis 211, a passage in which Isocrates defies anyone who doubts the existence of a paideia for the human soul). [26]

Practical Deliberations

Deliberation is another element of Aristotle’s ethical theory that suggests parallels to the methods whereby the orator approaches performance, though when Aristotle connects deliberation with phronēsis, he takes pains to reiterate the exclusive boundary that separates phronēsis from tekhnē:
Regarding practical wisdom we shall get at the truth by considering who are the persons we credit with it. Now it is thought to be a mark of a man of practical wisdom to be able to deliberate well about what is good and expedient for himself, not in some particular respect, e.g. about what sorts of thing conduce to health or to strength, but about what sorts of thing conduce to the good life in general. This is shown by the fact that we credit men with practical wisdom in some particular respect when they have calculated well with a view to some good end which is one of those that are not the object of any art. Thus in general the man who is capable of deliberating has practical wisdom.
Nicomachean Ethics VI 5, 1140a24–31 (Revised Oxford Translation)
The laboriousness of the qualification “which is one of those…” testifies to the essential similarity of calculation (logismos) in production and action, [27] and we have perhaps already begun to suggest the problems that lie in determining the relationship between Isocrates’ tekhnē of politikoi logoi and “the good life.” It is possible to remain somewhat within the Aristotelian theory and to make such a difficult case more tractable by analyzing, again, the praxis and poiēsis dimensions of a rhetorical performance. A schematic account might be as follows. A craftsman qua craftsman works as an instrument to achieve an end external to himself qua craftsman. It is for the craftsman’s employer to deliberate about the praxis dimension of what the craftsman does: whether it should be done or left undone, and how it is to be done apart from productive considerations. But if the craftsman and his employer are not defined in the same way (“one in account”), they may well be one in number—and the true orator takes responsibility for both of these roles.
In this light we can turn to Isocrates’ own account of deliberation. In first introducing his philosophia as the discipline that makes the soul (psukhē) more intelligent (phronimos), Isocrates defines the function (ergon) of the soul as deliberation (Antidosis 180–182). The scope of this deliberation includes both public and private or personal matters (180). In a related passage (Nicocles 8 = Antidosis 256), [28] which extols logos and justifies Isocrates’ paramount emphasis on its cultivation, Isocrates offers an analogy between the rhētōr’s persuasive arguments (the poiēsis dimension, as it were) and the deliberations that take place in one’s own mind for our own purposes (pros hautous), which would seem to be part of Aristotle’s “good life.” [29]
Isocrates and Aristotle are both concerned to understand how an agent, performing amid all the contingencies of life, and equipped with imprecise knowledge but the strength of well-trained dispositions, chooses the best course of action. The analogy of tekhnē continues to exert a living influence on Aristotle’s ethical theory when it has ostensibly been left behind, and this is especially meaningful if we consider the art of oratory. Aristotle’s ultimate motivation for insisting that phronēsis lies apart from tekhnē, employs a special kind of calculation (“deliberation”), and devotes its operation to a different order of ends may be, in large part, to assert the privileged and prestigious position of the kind of human actions he wishes to designate as done for their own sake. (And Isocrates is clearly no less driven to stake such a claim.) It may be more economical to emphasize the non-productive dimensions of the actions performed under the guidance of a “tekhnē of practical life” such as Isocrates’, and to ask if Aristotle might well respond to Isocrates by saying, “What you claim to teach the orator is what I call practical wisdom, and if the style of political oratory and self-cultivation you call philosophia lives up to your promises, then it cannot be summed up with the part of my theory intended to explain a craft like shipbuilding or even medicine.” Now in actuality, we would not need to surprise Aristotle with Isocrates’ presumptuous aspirations, since in fact the account of “the good life” retailed in Isocrates’ school was prestigious and familiar, [30] so that some of the problems raised by philosophical readers of the Nicomachean Ethics may in fact betoken the external pressures exerted by the alternative model we find in Isocrates. In particular, Aristotle’s use of analogies of unclear scope, and of examples that don’t fully test and define his theory, may reflect how authoritatively the empiricist intellectual inheritance was being applied to the theory of training for practical life. Aristotle’s own Rhetoric states that “the duty of rhetoric is to deal with such matters as we deliberate upon without arts or systems [tekhnai] to guide us” [31] and has been rightly understood as describing a tekhnē without the narrowly productive focus based upon which the Nicomachean Ethics distinguishes craft from phronēsis. [32]
Yet in Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle insists that “the orator does not deliberate whether he shall persuade”; in other words, it is always ethics and not rhetoric when we are deliberating over the ends of life’s praxis, and the productive pursuit of the orator is but one of the many means (requiring their own deliberation) we apply towards those ends. Clearly Isocrates would not accept this and would insist that his domain is “ethical” by Aristotle’s definitions. Granted, he arrives at this insistence not only out of a desire to emulate a philosopher like Aristotle, but also through another set of distinctions he wants to establish between himself and other rhetorical practitioners. Below we will consider Isocrates’ rejection of an inflexible and “ordered art” (tetagmenē tekhnē) of rhetoric—a programmatic stance taken up in the rhetorical and not the philosophical arena—to discover where it leaves Isocrates in relation to Aristotle. Yet Isocrates also owes his claim that orators can and should be educated to show flexibility—and his attempt to develop a sophisticated way of defending it as rooted in sound knowledge but not limited by procrustean formulas—to the need to place himself above not only those who promised results from the cookbook-tekhnai (equally scorned by Aristotle), but also those like Alcidamas, whose polemic against confining persuasion to the fixed written word sought to undermine the very literary authority Isocrates (and the philosophers) might use to theorize the agent’s free and responsive well-trained actions. [33] However sterile it may seem in the pages of Alcidamas, the oralist’s challenge and extemporizing ideal reflect a debate whose philosophical productivity is evident in Plato’s Phaedrus, and which must be given significant credit for spurring Isocrates (and by extension Aristotle) into taking up the challenging paradoxes of practical “philosophy.” In the following chapter, we will consider more fully how Plato inherits the terms of this debate, joining Isocrates in dismissing a mere “written tekhnē” (e.g. Phaedrus 275c5), while being forced to come up with a more complex response to the greater sophistication and philosophical authority of the practical–arts methodology and debate that ran from the Hippocratics to Isocrates (and whose heir Aristotle made himself in many respects, wielding its empiricism against the authority of Platonic idealism).
In the final section of this chapter, we will more fully consider Isocrates’ theoretical and protreptic insistence that his education is founded on ethical self-cultivation and rejects any valuation based on possessions and other externals. In this light, it should be all the clearer how he presented his methods as completely satisfying the kind of criteria laid down by Aristotle as distinguishing the realm of virtuous action from the world of tekhnē—that acts are done for their own sake, and “proceed from a firm and unchangeable character.” [34] Rather than resisting this basic commonality, we may more profitably ask whether these kinds of professions on Isocrates’ part are the authentic starting point of his educational philosophy and conception of politikoi logoi, or whether they are rather defensive counterblasts against rivals who painted him as a maker of technicians more than a maker of men. The first is probably closer to the truth. The idea of public speech unguided by the good is thoroughly foreign to Isocrates’ approach. The terminology of intelligence, “philosophy,” and care of the soul are woven everywhere into his works. Yes, he saw and spoke of the heights of lofty human aspirations in decidedly political-rhetorical terms, but his claims for the nobility, wisdom, and disinterested goodness possible within this arena are a pure and sincere statement of the highest human good, one he hoped would prevail against others that did not draw equally from conventional and intellectualist values (this explains Isocrates’ powerful impression as an example to Cicero). The language of philosophical protreptic he took up existed before him and carried him in its stream. It may seem to us that Isocrates was out of the mainstream, but this impression would not have been so likely for his contemporaries, as it was not in antiquity for Cicero or for the Neoplatonist schools that thought his works could serve as a valuable ethical introduction to philosophical study, [35] the first step of a gradus ad Parnassum, but with all the importance of the first step, turning away from the false path of the world’s vulgar scheme of values.
We may, then, best seek commonalities between Isocrates and Aristotle in the realm of those affairs that are not susceptible to the direct application of systematic knowledge, but which require a more practical and deliberative approach, sensitive to the particularities of changing circumstances. As we have already begun to see and will see more fully, both thinkers have set out to explore just this realm. Both define it against matters in which epistēmē is authoritative and adequate, even using a common example (grammata) to make this contrast. Aristotle observes that the science of grammata admits no room for doubt, decision, or deliberation (καὶ περὶ μὲν τὰς ἀκριβεῖς καὶ αὐτάρκεις τῶν ἐπιστημῶν οὐκ ἔστι βουλή, οἷον περὶ γραμμάτων, 1112a34–b2). Isocrates defines the difference between logoi and grammata in the latter’s complete non-involvement in the moments that call for fitting action (kairoi, Against the Sophists 12f.), and we have seen the connection between Isocrates’ and Aristotle’s language of deliberation when speaking of the production of actions.
Indeed, this connection is natural enough, as no Classical Athenian would have disputed the necessary connection between deliberation (bouleu-) and action (prag-). Yet the multiple connections between the two theories of practice on this point are underscored by the fact that Isocrates, despite his overriding focus on political action, makes it clear that the deliberative process at the heart of his educational program also applies to highly individual decisions of the kind considered in Aristotelian ethics.

The Crucible of Action

Given the inexactitude that must reign over our actions, how, finally, does the actor synthesize the available (provisional and extra-scientific) particulars in the performance demanded by the crucial moment? Strangely, what remains largely absent both from Aristotle’s ethical treatises and from Isocrates’ writings is a more closely observed account of how everything actually gets put together on the playing field of life. We hear of the kairos but lack the case studies (or a more detailed theoretical analysis) in either author of how the ablest agents respond to its challenges. Isocrates suggests the basis of an answer in Antidosis 184, [36] saying that after learning and habituation are complete, the speaker faces the kairoi in reliance upon doxai. We look for more detail than this in vain, and Aristotle does not seem any more interested in giving a detailed and analytical description. In both theories, the very fluidity of ultimate circumstances dictates that any exposition of method must focus on defining the kinds of preparation that enable us to confront such a world.
Perhaps neither author is as concerned to offer useful insights into the rigors of action, as to defend an account of action beginning from the basically empiricist assumption that the knowledge [37] on which we depend for action is imprecise and not firmly in our grasp. [38] Of course, for Aristotle, defending this theoretical orientation entailed a philosophical labor and achievement of a kind Isocrates could not have contemplated. Some of what most clearly shows Aristotle’s openness to practicing rhetoricians’ and empiricists’ models of knowledge—as his critical use of reputable opinion (endoxa)—would nonetheless figure prominently in any philosopher’s account of his distinctive contributions to ethical theory. Aristotle is returning to pre-Platonic technical methodology—to the mainstream of real-world thought about how competent actors master their materials and circumstances to make some progress despite unresolvable uncertainty and ignorance—in the conviction that Plato’s radical rationalism was not a necessary or even desirable condition for a philosophically rigorous approach to the actions of life. This perspective can thus sharpen our perception of Aristotle’s philosophical difference from Plato, keeping clearly in view the less appreciated background on which Aristotle relied: the claims being put forward for the sophisticated capabilities of empirically grounded practical tekhnai. [39]
Despite the Isocratean and Aristotelian theories’ apparent deficiency in analysis of the final action’s mechanics, some Aristotelian passages do address how action is conditioned by doxa and kairos, two terms of crucial importance to Isocrates. Aristotle’s discussion of belief (doxa) concludes that “doxa precedes decision or is inseparably connected to it” (προγίνεται δόξα τῆς προαιρέσεως ἢ παρακολουθεῖ, 1112a11f.). [40] Something more of the improvisatory basis of action is conveyed in general terms when Aristotle allows that some important determinations can only be reached “in outline” (τύπῳ). In a programmatic statement at the beginning of the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle announces the importance of knowledge (gnōsis) of the highest good, “at least in outline” (τύπῳ γε, 1094a25). Thus it is with a provisional grasp on this good that we aim for it. Here Aristotle’s criterion of importance “for our lives” (pros ton bion) repeats exactly those words used by Isocrates to announce his criterion (not met by excessive study of philosophical theories of being), by which all study must be preparatory for speech and deliberation (pros ton bion, Antidosis 269).
Again, in stressing the practical aim of ethics, which is not to know (eidōmen) what virtue is but to become good (1103b27–29), Aristotle declares up front that any account of actions to be performed has to be given in outline (πᾶς ὁ περὶ τῶν πρακτῶν λόγος τύπῳ καὶ οὐκ ἀκριβῶς ὀφείλει λέγεσθαι, 1104a1f.), and this would seem to apply to our accounting and deliberation in process when actions must actually be performed. In this same passage, Aristotle uses Isocrates’ preferred term, kairos, for the moment and urgency that must be confronted on this basis of inexactitude (δεῖ δ’ αὐτοὺς ἀεὶ τοὺς πράττοντας τὰ πρὸς τὸν καιρὸν σκοπεῖν, 1104a8f.). Later, as Aristotle turns to a more detailed account of what the virtuous person aims for—that is, the definition of the mean state between extremes that makes us good in some particular way—we are again faced with the need to recognize a target inexactly for the practical purposes of aiming at it in our actions (e.g. “So much for bravery. It is easy to grasp what it is, in outline at least [τύπῳ γε], from what we have said,” 1117b20–22 [trans. Irwin 1985]).

The Individual’s Nature

The nature (phusis) of an individual is a factor that works at the margins of both Isocrates’ and Aristotle’s theories, excluded from the influence of training or habituation, though frequently mentioned by Isocrates, given his ambition to develop premier-league oratorical talent. It nonetheless plays a role in both writers’ accounts of individual formation, as the substantively irrational germ around which the formally rationalized system [41] of self-fashioning operates.
For the most part, Aristotle’s ethical teachings are not concerned with those individual natures incapable of virtue in the first place—these would, in his view, only be diseased or properly subhuman natures, to whose crippled possessors the categories of virtue and vice can hardly apply (1148b15–49a24). [42] Rather, Aristotle is interested in those whose natures enable them to acquire the virtues, [43] and for these creatures, endowed as they are with correct natures capable of virtue, the main point is that virtue is purely a matter of habituation, a process which neither depends on nature nor involves a struggle against nature (1103a18ff.). When considering the material the educator or legislator has to deal with, Aristotle is ready to call those with natural gifts “fortunate,” but as he goes on immediately to speak of a preexisting readiness for virtue, it is clear that he has early habituation in mind as the crucial factor in making a subject susceptible to the influence of logoi and instruction (δεῖ προδιειργάσθαι τοῖς ἔθεσι τὴν τοῦ ἀκροατοῦ ψυχήν … δεῖ δὴ τὸ ἦθος προϋπάρχειν πως οἰκεῖον τῆς ἀρετῆς, 1179b24–30).
The term ēthos, or “character,” while in this passage clearly associated with ethos, or “habit,” does allow some room for ambiguity. In book VI of the Nicomachean Ethics (1144b1–17), Aristotle acknowledges the evidence showing that virtues of character, in some way, can exist in us by nature from birth. [44] Yet this recognition serves Aristotle mainly as a foil for stating how incomplete, unworthy of our highest nature, and even dangerous such endowments remain without the contributions of phronēsis. In comparison to natural virtue, “full virtue” and its associated ēthē, the subject of the Ethics, are a different object of human efforts and are pursued in a different way (ἕτερόν τι τὸ κυρίως ἀγαθὸν καὶ τὰ τοιαῦτα ἄλλον τρόπον ὑπάρχειν, 1144b7f.). Notably, throughout this passage, Aristotle not only stresses the incompleteness of natural virtue (ἡ φυσικὴ ἀρετή) in comparison to full virtue (ἡ κυρίως) but also avoids the implication that strong natural endowments are of any advantage whatsoever. [45] Irwin seems justified in concluding that Aristotle does not consider inborn qualities or aptitudes to be “genuine virtues.” [46] Nor are weak natures to blame for vice: in discussing the individual virtues, Aristotle makes clear his view that character defects are states arising from choices made (and the importance of choice, or proairesis, in Aristotle’s overall account of ethics can hardly be overestimated), rather than expressions of dunamis, or “capacity” (e.g. 1127b14f., cf. more generally 1106a6–10). Ultimately, in any case, “all who are not maimed … may win [happiness] by a certain kind of study and care” (1099b18–21).
In contrast to Aristotle, Isocrates is quite emphatic about his students’ need to possess the right individual phusis if they are to realize the highest aims of his education and become consummate political actors (agōnistai). [47] This point is closely tied to Isocrates’ rejection of the sophists’ cookbook-like approaches that claim to reduce the highest accomplishments to the level of mere ABC’s (the epistēmē of grammata). Isocrates instead offers his own much more advanced [48] and versatile brand of education, which he claims is adequate to the complex realities in which his students hope to act effectively. What fatal omissions by the authors of rote methods does Isocrates claim to repair? Those factors in education to which the rules of a technique can never answer: nature (phusis) and experience (empeiriai). [49] On this point, despite the differences, the two have in common a view of education for action that requires due attention to the determinative practical constraints within which progress must be made towards the right kind of actions. Aristotle’s circumstantialism—his interest in making the best choice within the bounds of circumstances, which underlies his analysis of ethical and political aporiai—brings him closer to Isocrates. Both claim that the right experiences (for Aristotle, habituation) are required more than logoi. Both would strenuously oppose the claim of a written treatise to fashion aretē out of a bad nature (Isocrates Antidosis 274), with their agreement also taking in the limitation of systematic procedures in this domain.
Isocrates’ regard for phusis seems to indicate a pessimism in comparison to Aristotle about the adequacy of practical training, or certainly about its wide role in determining the virtues attained by humanity (or at least Greek citizenry) in general. The student’s inborn phusis is, of course, beyond the educator’s influence in both theories; while Aristotle and Isocrates are certainly differently attentive to the issue and the ethico-political consequences of such facts, it is still worthwhile to construct the properly comparable case, in which each theory is allowed to have its say about the same natures (say, “good civic material”).
A closer look into Isocrates’ views shows—to a reader looking for that comparable case—that the person of undistinguished phusis is not in fact excluded from Isocratean educational theory, and indeed that this person’s prospects under the regime of a practical education are the object of some theoretical interest to Isocrates. In Against the Sophists, Isocrates considers the value of paideusis for the orator in building up the resources upon which he may draw in his performances, and he then insists that it is not without value for the person whose deficient phusis disqualifies him from becoming an agonistēs or maker of logoi [50] (τοὺς δὲ καταδεεστέραν τὴν φύσιν ἔχοντας ἀγωνιστὰς μὲν ἀγαθοὺς ἢ λόγων ποιητὰς οὐκ ἂν ἀποτελέσειεν, αὐτοὺς δ’ ἂν αὑτῶν προαγάγοι καὶ πρὸς πολλὰ φρονιμωτέρως διακεῖσθαι ποιήσειεν, 15). Training can “advance them and bring them into a more phronimos state.” Phronēsis, of course, is an essential part of Aristotelian virtue, but here it is not yet made clear what actions, if any, a sharpened phronēsis would enable. However, on the last page before Against the Sophists comes to an end, [51] Isocrates suggests that the most general progressive tendency of students under his philosophia is specifically ethical. This striking claim clarifies his doctrine of phusis and provides us with a sounder basis on which to make the comparison to Aristotle’s general conception of progress towards virtue:
καίτοι τοὺς βουλομένους πειθαρχεῖν τοῖς ὑπὸ τῆς φιλοσοφίας ταύτης προσταττομένοις πολὺ ἂν θᾶττον πρὸς ἐπιείκειαν ἢ πρὸς ῥητορείαν ὠφελήσειεν. καὶ μηδεὶς οἰέσθω με λέγειν ὡς ἔστιν δικαιοσύνη διδακτόν· ὅλως μὲν γὰρ οὐδε μίαν ἡγοῦμαι τοιαύτην εἶναι τέχνην, ἥτις τοῖς κακῶς πεφυκόσιν πρὸς ἀρετὴν σωφροσύνην ἂν καὶ δικαιοσύνην ἐμποιήσειεν· οὐ μὴν ἀλλὰ συμπαρακελεύσασθαί γε καὶ συνασκῆσαι μάλιστ’ ἂν οἶμαι τὴν τῶν λόγων τῶν πολιτικῶν ἐπιμέλειαν.
Nevertheless, those who wish to follow the prescriptions of my philosophy may be helped more quickly to fair-mindedness than to speechmaking. Let no one think that I mean that a sense of justice is teachable; I contend that there is no sort of art that can convert those who by nature lack virtue to soundness of mind and a sense of justice. But I certainly do think that the study of political speeches can assist in encouraging and training these faculties.
Against the Sophists 21 (trans. Mirhady and Too 2000)
Granted, the highest goal of training under Isocrates is rhētoreia. But another benefit accrues “much more quickly,” which implies progress made in meaningful and immediately beneficial increments each step of the way—a secure improvement even for the student who never fully acquires the powers of the complete rhētōr. And this beneficial result is epieikeia, that “decency” which Aristotle takes as often simply denoting the good (ἀντὶ τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ, Nicomachean Ethics 1137b1, a sense Aristotle employs alongside its technical use for a supererogatory form of dikaiosunē). [52] It may seem puzzling that Isocrates concludes by specifying the work that leads his students to Aristotelian virtues of character such as sōphrosunē and dikaiosunē as “the epimeleia of politikoi logoi.” But this phrase (like Isocrates’ more programmatic favorite, tēs psukhēs epimeleia, or “care for the soul” [53] ) indicates the highest end (political life as a rhētōr) for which the training aims, [54] and our discussion has suggested that if we were to define the regime by what Isocrates indicates as its most regular, general, and secure effects, we could well call it instead the cultivation of virtue (epieikeia as opposed to rhētoreia).
A passage in Antidosis resoundingly confirms Isocrates’ view that the most generally produced result of his school’s training is improvement in epieikeia and phronēsis. Here Isocrates, aware that his claims for his program of rhetorical education are challenged by a basic skepticism towards all “philosophical” exhorters and professors of human excellence, defends the principle of moral improvement of the soul through purposeful training:
[209] οὐ μόνον δ’ ἐκ τούτων, ἀλλὰ καὶ τῶν λοιπῶν εἰκότως ἂν ἅπαντες τὴν ἄγνοιαν θαυμάσειαν τῶν τολμώντων οὕτως εἰκῇ καταφρονεῖν τῆς φιλοσοφίας, πρῶτον μὲν εἰ πάσας τὰς πράξεις καὶ τὰς τέχνας εἰδότες ταῖς μελέταις καὶ ταῖς φιλοπονίαις ἁλισκομένας πρὸς τὴν τῆς φρονήσεως ἄσκησιν ταῦτα μηδεμίαν ἡγοῦνται δύναμιν ἔχειν, [210] ἔπειτ’ εἰ τῶν μὲν σωμάτων μηδὲν οὕτως ἂν φήσειαν εἶναι φαῦλον, ὅ τι γυμνασθὲν καὶ πονῆσαν οὐκ ἂν εἴη βέλτιον, τὰς δὲ ψυχὰς τὰς ἄμεινον πεφυκυίας τῶν σωμάτων μηδὲν ἂν ν ομίζουσιν γενέσθαι σπουδαιοτέρας παιδευθείσας καὶ τυχούσας τῆς προσηκούσης ἐπιμελείας, [211] ἔτι δ’ εἰ περὶ τοὺς ἵππους καὶ τοὺς κύνας καὶ τὰ πλεῖστα τῶν ζῴων ὁρῶντες τέχνας ἔχοντάς τινας, αἷς τὰ μὲν ἀνδρειότερα, τὰ δὲ πραότερα, τὰ δὲ φρονιμώτερα ποιοῦσιν, περὶ τὴν τῶν ἀνθρώπων φύσιν μηδεμίαν οἴονται τοιαύτην εὑρῆσθαι παιδείαν, ἥτις ἂν αὐτοὺς ἐπί τι τούτων ὧνπερ καὶ τὰ θηρία δυνηθείη προαγαγεῖν, [212] ἀλλὰ τοσαύτην ἁπάντων ἡμῶν ἀτυχίαν κατεγνώκασιν ὥσθ’ ὁμολογήσειαν μὲν ἂν ταῖς ἡμετέραις διανοίαις ἕκαστον τῶν ὄντων βέλτιον γίγνεσθαι καὶ χρησιμώτερον, αὐτοὺς δ’ ἡμᾶς τοὺς ἔχοντας τὴν ταύτην, ᾗ πάντα πλείονος ἄξια ποιοῦμεν, τολμῶσιν λέγειν ὡς οὐδὲν ἂν ἀλλήλους πρὸς ἐπιείκειαν εὐεργετήσαιμεν.
[209] In addition to these, there are other reasons why everyone would naturally be surprised at the ignorance of those who so casually dare to despise philosophy. First, although they know that all pursuits and arts are acquired by practice and hard work, they think that these have no power where the training of intellect is concerned. [210] Then, although they agree that no body is so weak that it cannot be improved by exercise and labor, they do not think the soul, by nature superior to the body, can become finer [ spoudaioteras ] as a result of education and the proper training. [211] Furthermore, although they see that some individuals are skilled at [tekhnas ekhontas…hais] making horses, dogs, and most other animals braver [andreiotera], or gentler [praotera], or cleverer [phronimōtera], they think that no such education [paideian] has been discovered to develop these same qualities in human beings. [212] Instead, they condemn us all to such misfortune that they would agree that every other being becomes better and more useful through our intellect, but they dare to declare that we who have this intellect by which we make everything else more valuable could not help each other at all to become better.
Trans. Mirhady and Too 2000
Both in the account of how students of philosophia progress and in the physical analogies to this process, Isocrates emphasizes the language of hard work (meletai, philoponiai, askēsis, gumnazō, etc.). [55] The sustained discipline of this method may be compared to Aristotelian habituation. In the last lines quoted, Isocrates again chooses epieikeia as the word to sum up the benefits of the rigorous self-cultivation in which he believes. This is an indication of the remarkably universal level on which Isocrates speaks in order to defend his philosophia’s most basic principles. [56] In this passage the care of the soul has the set goal of epieikeia (not rhētoreia). The phronēsis by which we are to achieve this goal is the same faculty ordinary people apply to other practical goals, so that phrase “we ourselves who possess this phronēsis” seems supremely inclusive. Even the language of phusis is used in a manner that lacks the faintest suggestion that any of “us” might lack the natural gifts necessary to answer Isocrates’ call to self-improvement. [57] Isocrates dwells not on the possible deficiencies of our psukhai but on the fact that nature has endowed them with capacities superior to our bodies (τὰς δὲ ψυχὰς τὰς ἄμεινον πεφυκυίας τῶν σωμάτων, 210). When Isocrates clearly rejects the view of any who think that no known paideia is applicable to human nature (περὶ τὴν τῶν ἀνθρώπων φύσιν μηδεμίαν οἴονται τοιαύτην εὑρῆσθαι παιδείαν, 211), he encourages a wide view of what may be made of “our” common and undistinguished natures. As Isocrates continues this plea to develop the capacities of our moral nature, he ends with the complaint that people have not grasped the power of paideia and epimeleia (diligent pursuit) to benefit our nature far more readily than the nature of animals, who we see can be taught outlandish tricks and skills beyond the scope of what we would consider their ordinary nature (ἐκ τούτων δύνανται γνῶναι τὴν παιδείαν καὶ τὴν ἐπιμέλειαν, ὅσην ἔχει δύναμιν, οὐδ’ ὅτι ταῦτα πολὺ ἂν θᾶττον τὴν ἡμετέραν φύσιν ἢ τὴν ἐκείνων ὠφελήσειεν, 214). By making “our nature” (τὴν ἡμετέραν φύσιν) the direct object of “benefit” (ὠφελεῖν), Isocrates suggests that, in this general context, our nature, so far from being an obstacle, is expandable and improvable. [58]
Phronēsis for Aristotle is not only a principle of ethics, but also a general intelligence that serves philosophy and life. Some remarks near the end of Topics illustrate this and show the role Aristotle concedes to individual nature at the point when dialectical training culminates in decision and performance. Aristotle has been speaking of the importance in dialectic of accumulating and laying out a range of possible lines of argument and states:
Moreover, as contributing to knowledge [gnōsis] and to philosophic wisdom [tēn kata philosophian phronēsin] the power of discerning and holding in one view the results of either of two hypotheses is no mean instrument; for it then only remains to make a right choice of one of them. For a task of this kind a certain natural ability is required [dei … huparchein euphua]: in fact real natural ability [euphuïa] just is the power rightly to choose the true and shun the false. Men of natural ability [hoi pephukotes eu] can do this; for by a right liking or disliking for whatever is proposed to them they rightly select what is best. It is best to know by heart arguments [logoi] upon those questions which are of most frequent occurrence …
Aristotle Topics VIII 14, 163b9–18 (trans. Pickard-Cambridge 1928)
This is connected to the Isocratean form of practical thinking. In both, a store of preparatory knowledge and training—arguments, points of view, common conceptions, and the like—puts the student well on the road to phronēsis and philosophia, though individual phusis is a further requirement that enables the most talented students to marshal and select the arguments in the moment so as to succeed in the agōn.
In this chapter, Aristotle uses a variety of key terms for the foundational knowledge in which the dialectician should be well versed: for example, “familiar and primary ideas” (endoxa, prōta). He also draws an analogy to the geometer’s training and exercise in the elements (to peri ta stoikheia gegumnasthai). The verb, analogizing the disputant’s training to the gymnast’s, is Isocratean (Antidosis 180–185) and rhetorical. [59] True, the noun, “elements” (stoikheia), also brings to mind Isocrates’ disdain for an art of rhetoric no more creative than the science (epistēmē) of basic literacy (grammata, Against the Sophists 10), and his preference for such loftier terms as ideai (or, in his gymnastics analogy, skhēmata). [60] Yet his caution in Antidosis 266—that intellectual pursuits such as geometry are merely “gymnastics of the soul and a preparation for philosophy” (γυμνασίαν μέντοι τῆς ψυχῆς καὶ παρασκευὴν φιλοσοφίας)—closely parallels what Aristotle says here.
Aristotle and Isocrates share and contest the language in which they describe how practical performance both depends on ordered elementary building blocks (stoikheia, etc.) and yet ultimately reaches a loftier level that transcends them (euphuïa, etc.). I have just mentioned how Isocrates in Against the Sophists refutes his rivals who try to systematize (“offering the model of an ordered art,” tetagmenēn tekhnēn paradeigma pherontes, Against the Sophists 12) the art of speaking on the level of the art of letters (grammata). It is very striking, then, that Aristotle in his Protrepticus defends a theoretical orientation that elevates to the top of the value scale the rigorous philosophical pursuits that Isocrates wants to keep in a preparatory and instrumental role, in terms that sound as if they were taken from Isocrates’ description of his pedantic and ineffective rivals:
For prior things are always more familiar [gnōrimōtera [61] ] than posterior things, and what is better in nature than what is worse, for there is more knowledge of what is determinate and orderly [tōn gar hōrismenōn kai tetagmenōn epistēmē] than of their opposites, and again of the causes than of the effects. And good things are more determinate and organized than bad things, just as a fair person is more determinate and organized than a foul person; for they necessarily have the same mutual difference. And prior things are causes more than posterior things, for if they are taken away, then so are the things that take their being from them (if numbers , then so are lines, if lines then surfaces, and if surfaces then solids), and elementary letters [stoikheia] are causes more than what are named “syllables.”
Aristotle Protrepticus, in Iamblichus Protrepticus VI 38.3–14 Pistelli (5a W, B33 D) [62] (trans. Hutchinson and Johnson 2009)
Aristotle’s Protrepticus is a text rich in Isocratean connections (to be explored further below) and, as Hutchinson and Johnson will argue in their forthcoming edition, was likely a dialogue with a role for Isocrates. [63] If we consider the echo in this passage of Isocrates’ provocative rejection of the most inert and useless kind of handbook epistēmē (tetagmenē tekhnē), it appears that Aristotle may be purposefully and boldly throwing Isocrates’ language back at him. Lowly stoikheia [64] (cf. Isocrates’ grammata) can serve as a model of how the philosopher’s most important and “prior things” are knowable in a rationally ordered way (in contrast to the always somewhat intractable and unknowable principles of worldly action). [65] In other words, Aristotle may intend a riposte to Isocrates in this subtext: “No, we in the Academy, when we pursue the causes of something, do not simply and mistakenly try to express the principles of a ‘creative affair’ [Isocrates’ poiētikon pragma] in the reductive, incommensurate, and mistakenly technical terms of whatever simplified principles are more easily tractable by reason and theory.” [66]

From Preparation to Performance

A discussion of phusis has already necessarily led us to consider Isocratean training and the habituation so fundamental to Aristotelian ethical theory, and to identify general similarities between these two disciplines. On this basis, we are not surprised to find Isocrates comparing the teacher of philosophy to gymnastic trainers who “train them and habituate [ἐθίζουσι, Aristotle’s regular term] them to hard work” (Antidosis 184). It remains to examine both authors’ methods in greater detail to understand how each conceives that which is preparatory to action. Knowledge (epistēmē), while rejected by both Isocrates and Aristotle as an inappropriate way to speak of the aimed-for state that enables the right and best kind of actions, nevertheless plays an important preparatory role in both theories. It is by considering together these steps which an agent takes towards action (another, as we have seen, is deliberation) that we may achieve some insight into how, after the actor’s habits have been trained under each of the two regimes, action actually comes about in the moment of necessity. This transformation of education into life is an ultimate aim for both Isocrates and Aristotle, and in each of their conceptions there is a distinctly performative synthesis of theory and practice, scientific and unscientific, deliberation and reason, provisional particular and established universal.

The Place of Knowledge

Since Isocrates was Plato’s contemporary and competitor, his depreciation in some passages of epistēmē in favor of doxa, reversing as it does Plato’s most important priority, has served many modern interpreters as ready proof of Isocrates’ supremely “unphilosophical” character. In drawing a comparison between Isocrates’ philosophia and Aristotle’s ethical teachings, we must be more careful. Aristotle maintains very clearly that neither ethical action nor moral philosophy is a scientific undertaking, and he endeavors to find the right language to describe what ethics is instead. We should explore, therefore, any overlap between the two ways of thinking about the limitations of knowledge in practical matters. Moreover, there are grounds for revising the common belief that Isocrates’ belittlement of epistēmē is absolute and per se, in favor of a more nuanced account of what Isocrates did and did not consider epistēmē to be good for. The precise manner in which epistēmē fits into the two theories involves some important and irreconcilable differences in perspective, but the several points of contact again demonstrate the value of counterposing Isocrates’ project with Aristotle’s.
Systematic knowledge does play a definite role in Isocratean education. Its function is essentially preparatory—something to be acquired before action is taken or a speech delivered. The passages depreciating epistēmē are concerned rather with action; like Aristotle, Isocrates denies the existence of a science of action, though science may be ancillary to action. Thus in Antidosis 271, Isocrates speaks of how a knowledge (indefinite) to inform our actions is unavailable, much as in Against the Sophists he scorns the sophists’ cookbook approach to logoi (as if the epistēmē of grammata would be worth anything, 10—again, not ruling out another epistēmē). Likewise, the uselessness of epistēmē in Antidosis 184 is also limited to its direct application in the crucial moments (kairoi) of political life, which cannot be brought under the control of systematic knowledge. [67] In less notorious passages, Isocrates can be found plainly asserting knowledge’s significant place in education. These include Against the Sophists 16 (ἐπιστήμην … εἰδόσι), Antidosis 187 (λαβεῖν τὴν ἐπιστήμην: the definiteness and preparatory role of the knowledge), and Antidosis 201 (the acquisition of definite plural epistēmai as preliminary and complementary to practice). [68]
In book X of the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle states that the discussion so far has fallen short of its aim, which is not knowledge [69] about virtue, but virtuous actions—the actual possession and use of virtue, by whatever means is effective (1179a34–b4). If we restrict ourselves to familiarizing the would-be virtuous individual with the nature of virtue by means of arguments (logoi), we are gathering in only the low-hanging fruit among all potential virtuous actions. Aristotle describes the character so preeminently susceptible to virtue as “well-born” (ἦθος … εὐγενὲς, 1179b8). While it seems most likely that, on the theoretical level, Aristotle means those persons who have been gradually habituated to virtuous dispositions (ὁ δὲ λόγος καὶ ἡ διδαχὴ μή ποτ’ οὐκ ἐν ἅπασιν ἰσχύει, ἀλλὰ δεῖ προδιειργάσθαι τοῖς ἔθεσι τὴν τοῦ ἀκροατοῦ ψυχήν, 1179b23–25), his formulation here is closer to the Isocratean view of who constitutes the (naturally) well-suited audience for educative discourse. [70]
But Aristotle’s concern in these final pages of the Nicomachean Ethics is to realize the project of ethics more fully by expanding the pool of human subjects, and this means a way of educating those who can only be reached by compulsion, not argument. Here (somewhat surprisingly, since we are moving on beyond the means of logoi) is the first situation where Aristotle prescribes the direct pursuit of an epistēmē, namely that legislative science necessary to anyone who hopes to instill moral virtue in another. Unlike any epistēmē recommended by Isocrates to his students, this one is reserved to the ethically and intellectually mature helper of others and is not part of the self’s resources which all agents must cultivate in order to be virtuous. It is thus, for its possessor, an extra attainment built upon a foundation that includes complete virtue, but, for its beneficiaries, an external means to virtue.
No too close comparison is to be made with any Isocratean epistēmē. One might imagine that Aristotle would recognize the contribution of various sciences, in an ancillary role, to character development (as Isocrates does), but he seems nowhere to do so. Perhaps, however, the discrepancy is somewhat smoothed if we consider the advanced nature of Isocratean training, intended for older students who have conceived a desire to develop new excellences by attaching themselves to a school of philosophia. [71] Aristotelian habituation must begin in childhood; progress towards a more ambitious and public role (nomothetikos for Aristotle, rhētōr for Isocrates) can only begin once one’s adult character is already well formed. Yet we must acknowledge that, for Isocrates, the acquisition of epistēmē is not merely of use in fostering others’ progress, but is an indispensable preparation for any life of action [72] ; if Isocrates’ reputation as the enemy of epistēmē were better deserved, his theory would more closely approximate Aristotle’s.
Aristotle’s concluding remarks on the legislative science deserve our closer attention. Two interesting points emerge. First, Aristotle takes great pains to make clear that, while he does have a universal epistēmē in mind (1180b13–28), legislative science is not something done on the scale of the polis, [73] but rather, realistically speaking, part of the duty of every individual in their capacity as philos to any other (ἑκάστῳ δόξειεν ἂν προσήκειν τοῖς σφετέροις τέκνοις καὶ φίλοις εἰς ἀρετὴν συμβάλλεσθαι καὶ δρᾶν αὐτὸ δύνασθαι, ἢ προαιρεῖσθαί γε, 1180a31f.). Indeed, Aristotle holds that individually tailored paideia is superior to a generalized regime (ἔτι δὲ καὶ διαφέρουσιν αἱ καθ’ ἕκαστον παιδεῖαι τῶν κοινῶν, 1180b7f.). Insofar as it treats the individual case, the legislative science is even partially substitutable by experience (1180b16–20). The science itself in this discussion is never spoken of as nomothetikē; instead, Aristotle prefers the personal expression “to become nomothetikos” (1180a33f., 1180b24f., 1180b29, 1181b1), putting us again in mind of the advanced studies of the individual to whom all the Nicomachean Ethics is addressed, and of the analogous advanced studies undertaken in Isocrates’ school. Second, the Aristotelian legislator, trying as he does to compel virtuous behavior out of the illiberal, faces limitations to his success somewhat reminiscent of Isocrates’ insistence on the ultimate intractability of nature (“not just anyone can improve the condition of just anyone, or the person presented to him; but if anyone can it is the person with knowledge [tou eidotos],” 1180b25–27, trans. Irwin 1985).
Despite a fundamental difference in their valuation of impractical sciences, [74] Isocrates and Aristotle both draw a contrast between mathematics, as a discipline in which young people can profitably seek mastery, and the completion of training for action, which requires a fuller engagement in life’s experiences. Isocrates, like Callicles in Gorgias, approves geometry for the young (tois neōterois, Antidosis 268) as “a training of the soul and a preparation for philosophia” (γυμνασίαν μέντοι τῆς ψυχῆς καὶ παρασκευὴν φιλοσοφίας, 266). Aristotle observes that the young may quickly pick up the universal science of mathematics, [75] whereas more mature experience is necessary to acquire the practical wisdom concerned with particulars (1142a11–20). These views show some common ground in their authors’ attitudes towards epistēmē as preparation for, and a more universal concern than, the immediate requirements for the performance of the best actions.

Isocratean and Aristotelian Protreptics

It will be reserved for chapter 3 to consider the historical tradition that suggests a polemical competition between Aristotle and Isocrates—for example, the evidence that Aristotle developed a public form of rhetoric instruction as a response to the success of Isocrates’ school in capturing the audience of lofty-minded and “philosophical” youth in Athens. The purpose of this chapter (and analogously of the one that follows) is to suggest the theoretical and intellectual links between the two thinkers, as a background against which to interpret the historical evidence for contact and influence between them. Too often, the testimonia for the polemic have been brought up, only to be dismissed on the basis of the unexamined and apparently obvious ground that Isocrates is a lightweight and therefore cannot be a serious adversary or interlocutor.
Aristotle’s Protrepticus, or exhortation to philosophy, [76] offers intriguing evidence that spans both of these dimensions of his entanglement with Isocrates: the theoretical and the polemical. I treat it here because its importance for my purposes lies especially in how it shows Aristotle thinking through the intellectual analogies between his own ideas and Isocratean ones. Several issues that would allow us to interpret these analogies more specifically—for example, those attending the reconstruction of the fragmentary text and its generic classification (in particular, the question of whether it is a dialogue, and if so of the assignment of speech)—must remain uncertain, though we may expect significant illumination of them in Hutchinson and Johnson’s forthcoming edition, translation, and commentary. [77] For my present purposes, it is not absolutely essential that the reader accept their reconstruction of a dialogue in which Isocrates was one of the speakers. What is crucial is that Aristotle in this exoteric protreptic articulates the case, and the reasoning, for a “practical philosophy” with recognizable theoretical affinities to Isocrates, alongside a higher order of philosophical contemplation that outranks it without supplanting it entirely (much as in the Nicomachean Ethics, book X). In other words, this is material that can and should be approached with the same method we have applied to Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, but in which it should not be surprising if we discover closer connections to Isocrateanism in its specific focuses, with Aristotle thinking through the links and parallels, constructing no mere straw man, but rather an Isocrates who meets him halfway as a theorist. This is not simply Isocrates through the eyes of Aristotle, or in Aristotle’s hostile sights, but an “Isocrates” sympathetically fleshed out in a mixture of Isocratean and Aristotelian discourse, a character whose dialogic contributions best serve to develop the protreptic value of Aristotelian moral and practical philosophy. In short, Aristotle has included a rival version, and not an inverted travesty, of his own claims for the philosophical life. It would be analytically useful to label the voice of “Isocrates” in the Protrepticus even without the latest editors’ conclusion that Isocrates is in fact a named speaker.
We cannot discover much about the formal frame of the Protrepticus, but the testimony of a royal Cypriot addressee, given by Stobaeus, is a suggestive connection to Isocrates’ own didactic Cyprian orations, which reflect not only his maneuvering for patronage, but his confidence that educated and powerful rulers represented a unique opportunity for his own philosophia to bring about some real good. Stobaeus mentions “the Protrepticus of Aristotle, which he wrote to Themiso (king of Cyprus), saying that no one has more good things going for him to help him do philosophy, since, as he has great wealth, he can spend it on these things, and he has a reputation [doxa] as well.” [78] This idea recurs in the Isocratean To Demonicus, [79] as the ill use base deceivers make of their fortune is lamented in contrast to the life driven by the higher pleasures of virtue: “Good fortune has handed them money, a good reputation [doxa], and friends, but they have made themselves unworthy of the prosperity they possess” (49, trans. Mirhady and Too 2000). Isocrates’ own praise of Evagoras concludes with words encouraging his surviving son Nicocles in his zeal for virtue, exhorting him to the discipline of his soul (epimeleisthai kai tēn psukhēn askein) in order be worthy (axios esei) of his royal inheritance, and continuing the language of philosophical cultivation of the intellect, claiming that while it befits all to value phronēsis highly, [80] “you [pl.] especially, because you hold power over very many and very important affairs” (80). From this point Isocrates rapidly brings his discourse to an end, culminating with the word philosophia itself: it is to philosophy that Nicocles must stay true in order to become the kind of man it befits him to become. [81] Thus Aristotle’s reported introduction of the Protrepticus along these lines is entirely within the topics of protreptic he shared with his rival.
The very same combination of themes (ethical cultivation, worthiness of royal position, immortal reputation versus perishable outward ornament) is repeated in Isocrates’ To Nicocles (31f.). When we hear in To Demonicus that we are to despise those who cannot make proper use (khrēsthai) of the goods they possess, the thought is developed with a comparison to the owner of a fine horse who lacks the knowledge of horsemanship, [82] and we may think of the association, in the Oxyrhynchus fragment of Aristotle’s Protrepticus, between the worthless man (mēdenos axios) splendidly and abundantly furnished with external goods (tois ektos lamprōs kekhorēgēmenos), and the horse whose golden trappings disguise its poor nature (phaulos). [83] This association is confirmed as Aristotle goes on immediately to consider the man inferior to his own domestics (oiketai, line 121), which more precisely matches the thought of the fine horse’s ignorant owner in To Demonicus. Thus, at this stage of his argument, and especially in this “rhetorically charged conclusion,” [84] “Aristotle” continues to use Isocrates’ terms and values, hoping to persuade those who accept the Isocratean notion of the benefits philosophia bring to the statesman that his school confers those same benefits (with further studies leading to additional and more solidly grounded benefits). In consonance with Isocrates, “Aristotle” here promotes living well (zēn eu) over living (zēn) and admonishes us, “nor should one sail to the Pillars of Heracles and run many risks for the sake of property [khrēmatōn heneka]” while neglecting intelligence (phronēsis). At this point Aristotle is still at pains to keep his protreptic relevant to the conventional topoi shared by Isocrates, and he even adds an Isocratean touch by suggesting that phronēsis is manifested in our doxai, so that if we pursue philosophy and intelligence, we will substitute our own doxai (tais hautou [doxais]) for those of the majority as a more proper guide to follow. The break with Isocrates only becomes more sharply defined a bit later, when “Aristotle” turns to “precision about the truth” and more mathematical forms of knowledge. [85] I stress the importance of his having first strongly assured us that his vision is inclusive of everything moral and intelligent that would have been generally credited to the Isocratean approach.
More important are the Aristotelian touches that show how “Isocratean” topics are being engaged seriously for their affinities to Aristotle’s own philosophical principles. The orientation defined by these topics may not be the best one, in Aristotle’s view, but it is a properly philosophical orientation and not a mere foil: at the least, a position whose principled adherents are worth addressing persuasively in their own terms. Hutchinson and Johnson’s reconstruction identifies “Isocrates” as the speaker in a text from POxy 666 and sees a passage from Iamblichus Protrepticus VI as taking up this discussion, if not in the voice of Isocrates, then with the character “Aristotle” at least “agree[ing] to a limited extent with the line of argument.” [86] Either way, we have an intriguingly Aristotelian digestion of unmistakably Isocratean principles. Following on these two sections, the editors’ preliminary work consistently posits a set of objections to abstract studies in the persona of Isocrates. [87] After this point, of course, Aristotle goes on to answer Isocrates’ objections; our interest here is not to claim that Aristotle lets Isocrates win in the Protrepticus, but that he lets him speak [88] in terms that mingle the two thinkers’ principles and establish certain topoi that remain recognizable in the complete and final Aristotelian protreptic to philosophy.
The POxy 666 fragment of the Protrepticus (3 W, B2–5 D) lays a foundation, and issues a general invitation to the love of wisdom, by expressing the nobility and loftiness of adherence to “philosophy” in value terms shared between Isocrates and Aristotle. Faced with the evidence of misfortune, we should “consider success in life [eudaimonia] as in fact not consisting in the possession of lots of things as much as in the condition of the soul” and be unimpressed with the man who “is splendidly furnished with the externals but is himself worth nothing.” Without the proper concern for our nature and the condition of our souls, those other things cannot be good and are turned to harmful ends like the proverbial “knife for a child.”
At this level of generality, the exhortation to care for the soul more than the body and external goods is indeed perhaps as Isocratean as Aristotelian. The Isocratean To Demonicus announces a similarly lofty—while resolutely practical [89] —protreptic perspective. Other rhetorical discourses may provide encouragement or exhortation (3–5), but the speaker of this address will actually illuminate the educational path to virtue (aretē, 5) and shift the focus from cleverness in speech to ethical self-cultivation (ta tōn tropōn ēthē), which is the heart of philosophy (to kratiston tēs philosophias, 4). From here the speech moves immediately to the same “knife for a child” caution employed by “Isocrates” in Aristotle’s work: “Strength is a benefit when it is joined with practical wisdom [phronēsis], [90] but without this, it does more harm to those who have it: it embellishes the bodies of those who exercise, but it obscures their care for the soul” (6, trans. Mirhady and Too 2000).
The Isocratean To Demonicus applies philosophical and even Platonic scales of value in its protreptic. The revaluation of pleasure is an important example: industry (philoponia) applied to virtue and to education (paideia, 45) is the source of the most genuinely (malista gnēsiōs, 46), purely, and securely (bebaioteras) possessed pleasures (hēdonai, terpseis). [91] There are two rival loves for the direction of our life: reason and the passions as typified by drunkenness. The drunk man’s mind (nous) is like a chariot (harmata) that has thrown its drivers (hēniokhoi), and the proper driver is the thinking faculty (dianoia). [92] In both these passages reason and study are the only firm basis for the conduct of life. Against this background, the discourse states a fundamental principle of Isocratean oratory in its precept that the only occasion for speaking, apart from absolute necessity, is when the speaker possesses clear knowledge (oistha saphōs, 41).
In Isocrates, these topics are tied to the majesty of logos and, by extension, to the specifically intellectual powers. Despite the characteristically Isocratean atmosphere of discussion—with its royal-didactic and political contexts—no one denies Isocrates’ evident concern to insist that his approach to politikoi logoi is a high form of intellectual self-cultivation, leading to a perspective (on practical affairs, at least) that is more theoretical, oriented to a higher good and not to narrow interests or the petty concerns of tekhnē. Still, even with a strong reading of Isocrates’ philosophical self-fashioning, it is striking that Aristotle has “Isocrates” move to the concluding protreptic exhortation (“we should do philosophy,” philosophēteon) by way of the claim “that wisdom [phronēsis] comes from learning or searching [zētein].” [93]
The emphasis on the investigative spirit (zētein) in this last step of Aristotle’s “Isocrates” strikes the modern reader at first as a likely point at which the specifically Aristotelian conception of philosophy has taken over. However, several Isocratean passages show that this is also an important element of Isocrates’ philosophia. In Busiris, Isocrates spins a legend about the Egyptian priests’ invention of philosophia as a training (askēsis) for their souls, whose scope included not only legislation (nomothetēsai) but also “to investigate the nature of reality” (tēn phusin tōn ontōn zētēsai, 22). Elsewhere the idea of investigative examination in Isocrates, while occurring in connection with practical and political matters (pragmata), is part of an effort to cluster as many intellectual and philosophical terms of praise as possible. When Evagoras is praised for his intellectual (tēn gnōmēn) endowments, Isocrates’ point is that the success of his practical plans depended on a foundation of investigation and thoughtful reflection (zētein kai phrontizein, Evagoras 41). [94] According to a parallel passage in To Nicocles (46), those who wallow in shallow pleasures envy sensible people (eu phronountes), resist truths (alētheiai) and knowledge about what concerns themselves, and above all are unwilling “to labor and trouble their soul by examining [skepsasthai] the necessary facts of life” (trans. Mirhady and Too 2000).
The programmatic opening chapters of Aristotle’s Metaphysics take on similar problems concerning knowledge, learning, and experience and are rich in connections with these portions of the Protrepticus. [95] Take, for example, the definition of the wise man (sophos) as “he who can learn things that are difficult, and not easy for man to know” (τὸν τὰ χαλεπὰ γνῶναι δυνάμενον καὶ μὴ ῥᾴδια ἀνθρώπῳ γιγνώσκειν, Metaphysics I 2, 982a10f.). Besides the shared equation between wisdom and the activity of effectively gaining knowledge, both passages define a wise man who can and should make executive use of his knowledge. The wise man of the Protrepticus’s “Isocrates” will be able in action to exercise the power and use the resources that would be like a “knife for a child” to the uninquisitive person, and the Metaphysics’ man who can gain knowledge of causes should command and be obeyed, “for the wise man must not be ordered but must order [epitattein], and he must not obey another, but the less wise must obey him” (982a17–19). The idea of a rightfully commanding science (compare also the eleuthera epistēmē of Metaphysics 982b27) recurs in the Protrepticus passage hesitantly assigned to “Aristotle” but showing some connections to the voice of “Isocrates”: “In these as it were more commanding kinds of knowledge exists what is good in the strict sense ... one ought to do philosophy, since only philosophy includes within itself this correct judgment and this intelligence to issue orders without errors.” [96] And “Aristotle” returns to the criterion of the wise man [97] in a passage emphasizing that this knowledge will inform choice of what is good in the practice of life: “What norm do we have or what more precise standard of good things, than the wise man? For all things that this man will choose, if the choice is based on knowledge, are good things.” [98]
The common thread in these passages is a learning- and knowledge-based form of wisdom, espoused by “Isocrates” and “Aristotle,” that certainly has loftier theoretical aspirations in Aristotle’s theory (knowledge of causes for its own sake), but which nonetheless (protreptically) keeps in its sights the test of life’s choices and actions. If we are to distinguish the two accounts more carefully, we are fortunate to have parallel texts from Metaphysics and the “Isocrates” of Protrepticus that directly, and differently, frame the question of applying purely theoretical insight in the crucible of productive action. “Isocrates”—echoing the painstakingly qualified reservations expressed about abstract pursuits by the real Isocrates in Antidosis 261–269—declares not only that practical training and facility (gegumnasmenoi kai doxazontes orthōs, Iamblichus, On General Mathematical Science XXVI 80.22 Festa, 5b W, C41 D) are the proper determinants of competent performance of actions, but even that an admixture of demonstrative science tends to spoil the practical competence:
[80.5] For we have the greatest example in the sciences that are similar to it, and the opinions that fall under them, for we see none of the things which the geometers are able to observe by means of proofs as being something that they themselves are capable of doing, but the land-surveyors are capable, by experience, to divide an estate and all the other variables in quantities as well as places, whereas those who know about the mathematical subjects and the discourses about them know how they should act, but are not capable of acting. [80.13] The case is similar with music and the other sciences in which there is a division separating the cognitive aspect from the empirical. [80.15] For those who determine the proofs and the arguments about harmony and other suchlike things, just as in philosophy, are accustomed to enquiring, but take no part in activities. [80.19] In fact, even if they happen to be capable of crafting any of them, when they learn the proofs, they immediately do them worse, as if on purpose, whereas those who have no knowledge of the arguments, if they are trained and have correct opinions, are altogether superior for practical purposes. [80.23] So too with the subject matter of astronomy, such as sun and moon and the other stars: those who have practiced knowledge of the reasons and arguments have no knowledge of what is useful for humans, whereas those who have what is called navigational knowledge about them are capable of predicting for us storms and winds and many of these phenomena. [81.1] Hence for practical activities such sciences will be entirely useless, and, if they miss out on the correct activities, the love of learning misses out on the greatest of goods.
Iamblichus On General Mathematical Science XXVI 80.5–81.4 Festa (8b W, C41 D) (trans. Hutchinson and Johnson 2010:10)
This would seem a very unpromising passage in which to discern Aristotelian parallels. Yet the opening of Metaphysics is in dialogue with it, for Aristotle considers, if not the detriment of universal or theoretical knowledge for practical performance, at least the frequent inutility of art (tekhnē), which is being considered as a species of universal judgment: “With a view to action experience seems in no respect inferior to art, and men of experience succeed even better than those who have theory without experience” (I 1, 981a12–15). [99] Here the framing implies that theory could well be an enhancement to what experience provides, while interestingly avoiding a direct statement about whether this is so. The sentence clearly addresses the same general issue Aristotle makes “Isocrates” address in the Protrepticus, seeing the possibility of the Isocratean view yet failing to rebut the Isocratean rationale for positively avoiding the introduction of demonstrative science into the arts of practical life. Aristotle acknowledges the inferiority of the straw man, “theory without experience,” while leaving us to wonder about the perhaps unpredictable interference effects generated by theory added to experience. When and how, exactly, do we apply our knowledge of universals to the individual, with which our actions and productions are concerned, and with which we are otherwise acquainted by experience? In the real world, we often do find experience outdoing theory; what are the conditions under which its foundational contribution to good practice is supplemented or even supplanted? [100]
Later in the Protrepticus, well after Isocrates has finished speaking, “Aristotle” is free to develop a “properly philosophical” account (indeed, it is strikingly Platonizing) of how theory should properly ground the empirical arts by which we live our lives. [101] “Aristotle” argues here that, because the tekhnai seek what has advantage for life by reference to (mere) experience of what is, it is only the “philosopher’s vision … of these things themselves, not of imitations” that can deliver life’s true advantage. Matthew Walker has analyzed this argument for the utility of contemplation for practical life (as providing more proper standards of reference), seeking to reconcile it with the more familiar strand of Aristotelian thought, equally present in the Protrepticus, that defends contemplation as for-its-own-sake and in no need of any utilitarian defense. The philosopher, by “looking toward nature and toward the divine … goes forth and lives according to himself,” [102] gaining precise knowledge of “boundary markers” (horous, 55.1) that are useful guides to practical life and the human good; according to Walker, this is because these horoi allow the philosopher to make comparative judgments between, on the one hand, the majesty of the cosmos and the divine intellect, and, on the other hand, human nature—both how we are “miserable and difficult” (athlios … kai khalepos) and also our intellect as the “god in us” (Protrepticus VIII 47.5–48.21 Pistelli, 10a–c W, B104–110 D). [103]
The principle of reference to “things themselves” is extended into legislation: a good lawgiver will not look at and imitate existing politeiai “whether of Sparta or Crete or of any other such state” but will follow “what is eternal and unchanging.” [104] Essentially, the statesman will need an ultimate grounding in knowledge of the Form of the Good in order to do his job. Bertelli suggests that Antidosis 80–83 is Isocrates’ reply to this, [105] in particular his clear limitation of the legislator’s work to compiling and selecting from existing “well regarded” laws (83). Aristotle’s reply to this in turn would have been in the programmatic conclusion of Nicomachean Ethics X, where the proof that “sophists” teach their subjects despite lacking knowledge of them is that they thought legislation could easily be accomplished by collecting reputed laws (with Aristotle’s sunagagonti tous eudokimountas, 1181a16, clearly echoing Isocrates’ eudokimountas … sunagagein, 83).
Note that the originality of the orator stands in contrast to this task for Isocrates, so that Aristotle’s polemic is somewhat specious insofar as it takes legislation and not oratory as the diagnostic case to determine the role of generalized knowledge for Isocrates. Aristotle elides this by castigating the “sophists” for making legislation inferior to rhetoric, without considering the point of making rhetoric—the art that has to respond to the political life that proceeds once the laws are set—superior to legislation.
The evidence here for an Isocrates–Aristotle polemic is indisputable, and Bertelli valuably adds to our knowledge of it by showing that the opening words of Aristotle’s Politics II again directly echo this passage of Antidosis. Here Aristotle sounds a defensive note about his decision to go beyond the existing laws and constitutions:
Our purpose is to consider what form of political community is best of all for those who are most able to realize their ideal of life. We must therefore examine not only this but other constitutions, both such as actually exist in well-governed states, and any theoretical forms which are held in esteem [dokousai kalōs = Antidosis 83, eudokimountas]; that what is good and useful may be brought to light. And let no one suppose that in seeking for something beyond them [to zētein ti par’ autas heteron = Antidosis 83, zētein heterous] we are anxious to make a sophistical display at any cost; we only undertake this inquiry because all the constitutions with which we are acquainted are faulty.
1260b27–37 (trans. Jowett 1921)
Here we must note Aristotle’s defensiveness about departing from the empirical methodos: such a departure could seem “sophistical.” This fits with his admission in the Nicomachean Ethics X passage of the additional importance of experience (e.g. prosdein … empeirias, 1181a12). It seems Aristotle wishes to reassure his reader that he understands the empirical nature of the inquiry into human laws and will endeavor to avoid the mistaken principles that have hindered the “sophists” from proceeding properly in this largely empirical subject. Bertelli sees here the possibility of a move in an Isocratean direction but resists it, claiming that “Aristotle’s insistence on the empeiria necessary to the true legislator should not suggest … a concession to his adversary.”
I agree that Aristotle remains committed to the value of universal knowledge (to katholou eidenai) in subjects that also require experience, but I propose that we do see some concession to Isocrates [106] (and the other exponents of the practical arts’ methodology) in the tone he takes in his Ethics and Politics. A careful reading of the Ethics passage shows that even as Aristotle finds fault with legislation-by-collection, he has backed off entirely from the idea (which he had embraced in Protrepticus and Politics) that theoretical systems of law should be considered alongside, or instead of, extant ones. Now his argument is entirely that legislation-by-selection is being practiced incompetently by those who are not qualified to judge the best extant laws: “as though even the selection did not demand intelligence [sunesis] and as though right judgement [krinai orthōs] were not the greatest thing, as in matters of music. For … people experienced in any department judge rightly the works produced in it” (1181a17–20, trans. Ross 1925). We should be struck by the choice of the model of the musical tekhnē. The sophists have not wrongly substituted tekhnē for epistēmē; they simply do not have the right tekhnē. The very type of those who have the authority to judge in such matters are the experienced practitioners of a practical art like music! If Aristotle wanted to hold to the theory-centric perspective of the Protrepticus passage, he has singularly failed to do so.
In the final surviving sentence of “Isocrates” ’ dismissal of the efficacy of knowledge-of-causes, Aristotle gives his rival a more open formula, which (taken out of context, or developed further in what is missing) matches the logic of the Metaphysics, where the concern is with deficiency of experience and not with the ruinous effect of abstracted theory: “if such sciences miss out on the correct activities [praxeis], the love of learning [philomatheia] misses out on the greatest goods” (On General Mathematical Science XXVI 81.2–4 Festa, 5b W, C41 D). [107] Here it sounds as if theory-with-practice could be viable, and that those who have omitted practice are securing some goods, but could have the greatest ones too with the proper attention to practice. It is worth considering why Aristotle follows up an unsparing Isocratean attack on theoretical investigation with a formula that could almost have come from Aristotle’s own lips.
These subtle affinities show Aristotle’s concern to do some justice to the Isocratean school’s claim to “love of wisdom,” “care of the soul,” and so forth, if only to reach the audience of those whose interest in philosophy and in moral and intellectual self-cultivation generally had been inspired through Isocrates’ doctrine and ideals. Perhaps the ultimate hope is to expose some contradiction between Isocrateanism and reasoned theoretical argument, but by acknowledging the two strands in tension within Isocrates’ project (charitably enough to provoke our recognition of Isocrates’ own slogans), Aristotle effectively credits Isocrates with the status of a rival who promotes at least an alloy with a philosophical element. Despite Isocrates’ resolute method of experience and emphasis on the performative and imprecise doxa that guides practice, he also consistently pleads for learning, philosophy, and a cultivation of that knowledge which does not strike him as foolishly recondite and irrelevant to the world of practice. Aristotle must bring this point of connection into focus in order to develop not only the lustrous distinction that attaches to a certain lofty philosophical vantage point on reality which Isocrates has failed to appreciate, but also the adequacy of his own practical philosophy to combine theoretical and practical understanding as effectively and usefully as his rival was widely credited to have done. In short, a sentence for “Isocrates” such as this one, dangling everything desired before the student in love with intellectual and practical mastery of self and of the environment, makes Isocrates a properly protreptic speaker in the dialogue, charting a philosophical course forward for anyone who chooses to follow him.
In support of this, we may note that the motto “Isocrates” proffers here, philomatheia, is not a usual Isocratean or Aristotelian expression for the method and object of their philosophies, [108] but it does have a discernible flavor of philosophical protreptic. [109] In the Protrepticus itself, an Academic speaker [110] employs it to speak of the basic, universal, and positive human urge towards knowledge and clarity, and away from obscurity and ignorance: “And the fact that most people avoid death also shows the soul’s love of learning [philomatheian]; for it avoids what it does not recognize [gignōskei], what is dark and not clear, and naturally seeks what is evident and recognizable [to gnōston].” [111] Similarly protreptic is the Isocratean aphorism in To Demonicus 18: “If you are a lover of learning (philomathēs), you will be a polymath (polumathēs).” In the Nicomachean Ethics, the same word appropriately occurs in book X, in a discussion that explains pleasure in terms of the universal human attraction to the various activities that make up life itself, the natural object of our desires: “Living is a type of activity, and each of us is active towards the objects he likes most and in the ways he likes most. The musician, for example, activates his hearing in hearing melodies; the lover of learning [philomathēs] activates his thought in thinking about objects of study [tēi dianoiāi peri ta theōrēmata]; and so on for each of the others.” [112] The context and subject matter are strongly protreptic. This whole part of the Nicomachean Ethics culminates a discussion of practical and moral philosophy with a gesture towards the supreme happiness of the contemplative life. In the remainder of Nicomachean Ethics X 5–6, Aristotle relates the degrees of goodness of various activities to the degrees of goodness of their corresponding pleasures, and then establishes the life of theoretical study as the pleasantest human activity. Again the philomath- stem stands for the basic creditable human urge, activity, and pleasure—learning—before the discussion is refined into a technical consideration of what theoretical study is. The subject of pleasure in particular is a major protreptic topos. The passage about the soul’s natural philomatheia quoted from Protrepticus VIII follows on a dismissal of the unchoiceworthy pleasure of sleep (45.25–46.1 Pistelli, 9 W, B101 D) and anticipates the dialogue’s climactic revelation, that activating intelligence in the philosophical life is life in the highest degree, so that “living pleasantly and feeling true enjoyment belong only to philosophers, or to them most of all.” [113]


[ back ] 1. Some of the ramifications through medical theory will be considered in connection with Plato’s Phaedrus in chap. 2. Other “empiricist” practical-arts methodologies turn out to be less relevant than they might at first appear (see the end of chap. 2 for the counterexample of harmonic theory).
[ back ] 2. Halliwell 1997 is a thoughtful meditation on these issues, arguing that “Isocrates ought to be regarded as a much more problematic thinker than most historians of ideas currently take him to be” (p. 108).
[ back ] 3. Isocrates Against the Sophists 8, Antidosis 184, 271, discussed below.
[ back ] 4. One salutary result—to be pursued in the following chapter—is a correction of our naïve tendency to see Aristotle as being in competition and dialogue with Plato more than with any other thinker, so that we may in turn see Plato’s exceptionalism in sharper relief and feel more keenly the tensions in his confrontations and compromises with the practical arts.
[ back ] 5. For example, Hardie (1980:136) sees the application of the analogy to the doctrine of the mean in Nicomachean Ethics II 6 as “a popular illustration, a lecturer’s aside, rather than an essential part of the exposition.” Even when the analogy is accorded a fundamental importance, the tekhnai are still usually seen as features of everyday life rather than as disciplines that have elaborated their own methodological problems and solutions.
[ back ] 6. Isocrates Against the Sophists 12: ποιητικοῦ πράγματος τεταγμένην τέχνην παράδειγμα φέροντες λελήθασιν σφᾶς αὐτούς (see Vallozza 2003:22–25 for an effort to find “dialogic” elements in the Isocratean corpus that fit this description). For Aristotle’s acknowledgment of the value of written sungrammata alongside his insistence on the necessary and complementary role of experience, see e.g. Nicomachean Ethics X 9, 1181b1–6; cf. Politics 1286a10–22, where the king’s relationship to the law (and address to “circumstances,” or prospiptonta: cf. Isocrates Panathenaicus 30, Epistle 5.4, Steidle 1952:276; of actual leaders in Antidosis 131, Evagoras 43; of Isocrates’ own rhetorical performance in Antidosis 140; a counterexample where to prospipton is not the circumstance for action but the inept response, Epistle 6.10) takes the place of the normal distinction between law and decree (Politics 1291a36f., Nicomachean Ethics 1137b27ff., Rhetoric 1354a32ff.).
[ back ] 7. Nicomachean Ethics II 2, 1104a3–7. Akribeia is an interesting common thread to pursue in methodological discussions ranging from Thucydides to Aristotle. See e.g. Hirsch 1993, which comments on the importance of this term in the methodological engagement of Plato’s Phaedrus with Hippocratic medicine (a subject I explore at length in the following chapter). Arnim (1898:14) discusses the scholastic split between Gorgias’ students Isocrates and Alcidamas in these terms: Isocrates “one-sidedly” devoted himself to a new oratorical ideal of akribeia, to the point of cutting himself off from the old sophistic tradition of extemporizing to which Alcidamas adhered (a split which continued to the day of Aristides and beyond), adopting an incompatible method with different limitations and capacities dictated by the changing demands on speech. On akribeia in Isocrates, see further Usher 1990 on Panegyricus 11, Too 1995:183, Abernathy 2003, and Innes 2007:161.
[ back ] 8. Nicomachean Ethics 1094a25, 1104a1f., and 1117b20–22, respectively, laid out more fully below.
[ back ] 9. Note the narrower sense of (formalized) tekhnē alongside iatrikē and kubernētikē (sc. tekhnē) referring to the skilled practice in particular cases that cannot be covered by universal laws.
[ back ] 10. In this context note the reference to kairoi in the description of the learnt practice of both gymnastics and philosophy students (Antidosis 184; cf. Panathenaicus 30, Against the Sophists 8, 16).
[ back ] 11. To Broadie (1991:187), Eudemian Ethics II 5, 1222a6–14, “suggests that the good ethical agent is like familiar craftsmen, except that he works with pleasures and pains, actions and emotions, whereas they work with leather or stone or the hot and cold humours of the body”; this way of putting the distinction doesn’t work as well if we are thinking of rhētorikē tekhnē. Eudemian Ethics II 3, 1220b21–27, extends the doctrine of the mean further in two directions, to cover unskilled action (praxis atekhnos) and scientific action (praxis epistēmonikē), though all the examples are of tekhnai. “Scientific” here is presumably used in the same loose sense (to be discussed further below) as evidently applies in the quotation I have made from Nicomachean Ethics VI 1, and perhaps praxis epistēmonikē is nearly synonymous with praxis tekhnikē.
[ back ] 12. See esp. Hutchinson 1988, the most important contribution to date to understanding the connections I explore in this chapter. Hutchinson brings together the empiricism of the Hippocratic treatise On Ancient Medicine (on which now see Schiefsky 2005), of Isocrates, and of Aristotle’s ethics. The basic issues of method and practice were raised in other fields; for example, while I treat harmonic theory below as a counterexample, Barker makes several suggestive connections between this field and other disciplines (2007:66, 88f., 104). It is dangerous to assume that any fourth-century discourse about practice is not “scientific” and taking a considered epistemological position of some kind, empiricist or rationalist; once we trace the overlapping ideas and influences, we have to do with a circle of scientific discourse that includes Aristotle.
[ back ] 13. Aristotle is very careful, however, to say that we become virtuous through our just actions (prattontes), whereas we learn crafts poiountes (“by producing”). For him, “playing the cithara well or badly” is an issue of production.
[ back ] 14. On this triple distinction see also Nightingale 2004:202–204.
[ back ] 15. Our future examinations will complicate this formulation: in Aristotle’s protreptic language, phronēsis also includes the highest levels of philosophical contemplation, and a fuller account of Isocratean epistēmē shows that it has an important role, serving as the necessary foundation for the orator’s performative readiness.
[ back ] 16. For the importance and significance of phronēsis in Isocrates, see Alexiou 2010:130, with complete bibliography.
[ back ] 17. Broadie 1991:185.
[ back ] 18. Garver 2006:15–46. I have not done justice to the subtlety of Garver’s interpretation: the orator’s productive aim includes the practice of rational persuasion (not any persuasion, not sophistry), and rationality has aspects that “can be achieved in action and not merely by action”—the orator’s decisions and fund of knowledge are oriented toward this kind of end (38). Perhaps, then, we can judge the orator as a tekhnitēs strictly by the quality of his product (his speech), while acknowledging that the speech itself may demonstrate a standard of eupraxia. An error (cf. Nicomachean Ethics VI 5, 1140b21–25) that caused a departure from eupraxia would vitiate the product.
[ back ] 19. Irwin 1985:342.
[ back ] 20. εἰ δὴ τῶν μὲν κατὰ τὰς ἀρετὰς πράξεων αἱ πολιτικαὶ καὶ πολεμικαὶ κάλλει καὶ μεγέθει προέχουσιν, αὗται δ’ ἄσχολοι καὶ τέλους τινὸς ἐφίενται καὶ οὐ δι’ αὑτὰς αἱρεταί εἰσιν. Irwin takes pains to avoid the simpler translation “not choiceworthy for themselves,” which would seem to exclude the praxis dimension of productive activities.
[ back ] 21. Comparable is Isocrates’ programmatic use of “care for the soul” (To Demonicus 6, Against the Sophists 8, 17, Evagoras 41, 80, Areopagiticus 43, Antidosis 304), discussed further below in connection with Aristotle’s Protrepticus.
[ back ] 22. The compatibility of this goal of epieikeia with Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics is discussed in more detail below (“The Individual’s Nature”).
[ back ] 23. For the relation between Isocratean and Aristotelian virtues, see also Alexiou 2010:104f.
[ back ] 24. An interesting comparison for “general ethics” as a preparatory stage of “philosophical” paideia is the use of Isocrates’ protreptic and ethical writings in the later Neoplatonic curriculum. What we would think of as Platonic studies were preceded by a propaedeutic cycle of the trivium and quadrivium, and “then a set of preparatory ethical studies and prologues involved recourse to three hortatory discourses by Isocrates” (To Demonicus, To Nicocles, and Nicocles) (Hoffmann 2006:605). I will discuss this further as an example of interscholastic borrowing in chap. 3.
[ back ] 25. Isocrates Against the Sophists 15, on which see further below (“The Individual’s Nature”). In Antidosis 201, Isocrates says that only a few students from any of the schools (ἐξ ἁπάντων τῶν διδασκαλείων) become agōnistai, whereas the vast majority of students continue life as laymen (idiōtai). Isocrates proceeds to note the improved qualifications of these idiōtai both in social life (ἔν τε ταῖς ὁμιλίαις χαριεστέρους ὄντας ἢ πρότερον ἦσαν) and in political life (τῶν τε λόγων κριτὰς καὶ συμβούλους ἀκριβεστέρους τῶν πλείστων, 204). The former description echoes Aristotle’s description of the nameless virtue “most like friendship,” even if it tends a bit away from Aristotle’s mean towards the ingratiating extreme (Nicomachean Ethics IV 6, 1126b11–19); it is perhaps even closer to the Aristotelian virtue of wit (IV 8, 1127b33–1128a1) and not totally irrelevant to Aristotle’s discussions of friendship.
[ back ] 26. For all the seeming universality of this passage, Isocrates makes clear (Antidosis 274) that no paideia or tekhnē can make virtue in those with inferior natures (τοῖς κακῶς πεφυκόσιν). Note the repetition of pros epieikeian (212). Elsewhere, it is true, the importance of the orator’s virtuous reputation appears in a more instrumental light (278).
[ back ] 27. We must understand the famous dictum in Physics II 8 that “tekhnē does not deliberate” (199b28) in its heuristic context: Aristotle is refuting the conclusion that nature lacks purpose because it does not deliberate. Nature is always already engaged in the masterful and purposeful fulfillment of its craftsmanlike ends, which do not require selection or decision. In any case, Aristotle speaks explicitly of the art-practitioner’s deliberation at Nicomachean Ethics III 3, 1112a34–b17, with discussion of arts that call for more (medicine, money-making) or less (gymnastics) deliberation. Broadie (1991:203f.) distinguishes well between “deliberative craft” and “the more mechanical exercise of craft” (under principles, like nature’s, that “need no monitoring”), but it is not so evident to me that Aristotle’s virtue/craft comparison involves only “habitual skills automatically applied” and not deliberative craft (which surely can better parallel the operation of deliberation as described in Aristotle’s account of decision, Nicomachean Ethics III 2–3).
[ back ] 28. For Isocrates’ self-citations and the attendant textual issues, see Pinto 2003.
[ back ] 29. This passage’s assertion of the value of producing a privately deliberate (euboulos) person (together with the distinction rhētorikoi vs. eubouloi) thus recalls the passages we have already discussed in which Isocrates considers the important ethical progress his education offers to students who cannot become agōnistai. Cf. Natali 1994:379f.
[ back ] 30. There is extensive historical evidence for contact and competition between Isocrates, Aristotle, and their schools—not least in the tradition of Aristotle’s afternoon rhetoric lectures. I will consider this evidence in later chapters; my purpose here is to test the plausibility of a theory of influence using only the evidence in each author’s extant exposition of his doctrines.
[ back ] 31. Rhetoric I 2, 1357a1–4 (Revised Oxford Translation).
[ back ] 32. See e.g. Shields 2007:377: “Aristotle does not suppose it appropriate to persuade for the sake of persuasion, or even to persuade for the sake of winning. Interestingly, when he approaches rhetoric as a productive craft, Aristotle assumes that persuasion is its goal, but then credits his audience with the intelligence to sort out reasonable sorts of persuasive appeals from the banal, fatuous, and manipulative.” Balla (2004:56f.) has drawn several connections between Aristotle’s Rhetoric and Isocratean thought, including the preference for deliberative oratory, a pragmatic and empirical conception of knowledge, and the reliance on the audience’s endoxa.
[ back ] 33. Compare n7 above.
[ back ] 34. Nicomachean Ethics II 4, 1105b27–33 (trans. Ross 1925).
[ back ] 35. See n24 above.
[ back ] 36. Closely related passages are Against the Sophists 8, 16.
[ back ] 37. Isocrates’ dramatic statements about the importance of the doxai the orator relies upon in action should not blind us to the role he accords to epistēmē in the orator’s education.
[ back ] 38. Hutchinson (1988:39) has also arrived at the conclusion that “Aristotle rejects characteristically Platonic views on practical skills in favour of their Isocratean alternatives.”
[ back ] 39. To give a small example: Aristotle’s discussion of the relationship between virtue and tekhnē can no longer be seen as primarily made with reference to the Socratic doctrine (see the references in Irwin 1985:342, note on Nicomachean Ethics 1140b21–25).
[ back ] 40. In discussing that practical sense (nous) with which we orient ourselves to particulars, Aristotle says we must give our attention to the undemonstrated doxai of those who have more experience, because of their “possession of an eye [omma] as a result of their experience” (1143b11–14). The eye analogy interestingly evokes a complex but instantaneous synthesis of particulars, but here the doxai are simply “opinion” whose use is prescribed together with rigorously settled demonstrations.
[ back ] 41. I borrow the terms from Max Weber.
[ back ] 42. Aristotle’s examples regrettably include the extremes of non-Greek humanity, who he says lack reason, and homosexuals.
[ back ] 43. These would seem to be, at least, all those men whose virtuous development is sufficient to realize the good legislator’s aims. They are often clubbily referred to in the first-person plural.
[ back ] 44. πᾶσι γὰρ δοκεῖ ἕκαστα τῶν ἠθῶν ὑπάρχειν φύσει πως· καὶ γὰρ δίκαιοι καὶ σωφρονικοὶ καὶ ἀνδρεῖοι καὶ τἆλλα ἔχομεν εὐθὺς ἐκ γενετῆς, 1144b4–6.
[ back ] 45. Perhaps Aristotle’s strongest recognition of natural virtue’s power comes at 1151a18f., when he allows that either it or habituated virtue may teach the agent correct belief about the first principle of virtuous action, i.e. provide a right orientation toward the ends for which we act. It seems clear that the continence and judgment needed to realize these aims must come through habituation and cultivation of practical wisdom. We may be fortunate enough to have some natural inclination toward the aims ordained for us by nature, but the practical science of action derives little of value from this.
[ back ] 46. Irwin 1985:349 ad loc.
[ back ] 47. For this term, see n25 above, and cf. “Demosthenes” 61.44 (a text that shows an unmistakable Isocratean influence), Plato Phaedrus 269d2.
[ back ] 48. The orientation of Isocrates’ school to the highest levels of professional oratory is a crucial point, forcing us to examine his occasional remarks about the value and effect of his education for students who cannot reach that level in order to make an apples-to-apples theoretical comparison with Aristotle’s ethics.
[ back ] 49. Isocrates Against the Sophists 10. Other passages that recognize the importance of phusis in education are Against the Sophists 17f. and Antidosis 185–188.
[ back ] 50. If we shift our attention to Aristotle’s Politics, we find in the description of the “statesman” (politikos) little direct mention of phusis (as we do in, for example, the discussion of what makes conspirators tick: 1312a17f.); the general account is based on the idea of a generically human political capacity, and the three requirements enumerated in Politics V 9, 1309a33–39 (philia, dunamis, aretē kai dikaiosunē) all correspond to the variable conditions of a given politeia, which seems to stress the social, as opposed to natural, context of their acquisition. Furthermore, Aristotle’s first example of a quality that is essential and rare (τίνος ἔλαττον μετέχουσι πάντες, 1309b2f.), and thus to be given especial weight, is the general’s experience (empeiria: διὸ ἐν στρατηγίᾳ μὲν εἰς τὴν ἐμπειρίαν μᾶλλον τῆς ἀρετῆς, 1309b4f.).
[ back ] 51. For the discourse’s problematic closure see Too 1995:161ff., 194ff.
[ back ] 52. Despite Isocrates’ insistence, in what follows, that (contrary to the sophists) the virtues are not a simple matter of teachable tekhnē, it is clear that the obstacles thrown up by phusis in the way of ethical improvement are nothing like those that limit the number of those who can become masterful orators. Thus, when Isocrates is discussing the right method for developing virtue, the student’s phusis is a secondary concern. Likewise, Aristotle distinguishes mathētos “learnable” from ethistos “habituable” (1099b9), and moral education (while indeed, like the Isocratean training, a species of education) deals in the latter.
[ back ] 53. See n21 above.
[ back ] 54. I believe that it is precisely because Isocrates has so elevated the end of logoi that he feels compelled in such a passage as this one, by introducing the discussion of epieikeia and aretē and the distinction from tekhnē, to try to make it clear that his methods and results do not produce the (contemptible and empty, in his view) situation of chasing after logoi purely by means of logoi.
[ back ] 55. Many of these same terms are used in the Nicomachean Ethics (e.g. δι’ ἀγυμνασίαν καὶ ἀμέλειαν, 1114a24f.; πολλοὺς πόνους ὑπομένειν, 1104a31f., analogically; ἄσκησίς τις τῆς ἀρετῆς, 1170a11f.). For the triad nature/practice/knowledge see the following chapter and Shorey 1909. Cf. Rhetoric 1410b8, in which “invention can only come through natural talent or long practice; but this treatise may indicate the way it is done.”
[ back ] 56. Azoulay (2010) studies the distinctions through which Isocrates defines an elite in cultural, social, and intellectual terms (the changing notion of epieikeis as traced by Brun [2007] alongside phronimoi, spoudaioi, kharientes, eugeneis, etc.); cf. Azoulay 2007:194f.
[ back ] 57. This is, indeed, no more than we would expect on the basis of our interpretation of Against the Sophists 15, which it does much to confirm.
[ back ] 58. Cf. Isocrates’ statement in Antidosis 181 that by means of philosophia we get more intelligent souls (phronimōterai psukhai). To save Isocrates from inconsistency, perhaps it would be more appropriate to say that the true potential of our individual natures is rarely understood or developed, and that epieikeia at least is well within the range of the ordinary human nature of the wide civic audience Isocrates aims to impress. Note the close similarity of wording to Against the Sophists 21, πολὺ ἂν θᾶττον πρὸς ἐπιείκειαν ἢ πρὸς ῥητορείαν ὠφελήσειεν, discussed above. The comparison is different, but in both passages it is the benefit of epieikeia (implying quite Aristotelian character virtues, I have argued) that is “much more readily” available to even the ungifted through Isocratean training.
[ back ] 59. Note the opposition between the well-trained orator (gugumnasmenos) and the naturally talented one (euphuēs, the same word Aristotle has used in the passage just discussed) at Aristotle Rhetoric 1410b8.
[ back ] 60. The ideai of Isocrates Against the Sophists 16 will be considered in the following chapter.
[ back ] 61. Or, “more known”: this is the familiar Aristotelian distinction between what is “by nature” better known (i.e. higher in the explanatory analysis) and what is better known to us.
[ back ] 62. In citing Aristotle’s Protrepticus, I refer to the source text and also to the fragment numbers of Walzer 1934 (taken over by Ross [1955]) and Düring 1961 (with A, B, C prefixed, showing classification as testimonia, fragments, and related texts).
[ back ] 63. Despite the influential argument against the dialogue form by Jaeger (1948:55f.), according to which a speech marked by “imitation of the Isocratean exhortation or παραίνεσις” was only recast as a dialogue by Cicero in Hortensius, a conclusion defended by Düring (1961:29–32), the plausibility of the dialogue form has been recognized by e.g. Allan (1953:249f.), who regretted Ross’s failure to indicate where we might feel “some doubt whether the sentiments were those of Aristotle himself, since readers without experience of sources of this kind will probably assume that they are,” and stopped just short of seeing Isocrates as a likely character, conjecturing that “Aristotle may easily have supposed himself addressing the royal personage, to whom the work is inscribed, in rivalry with a representative of the Isocratean school, who would maintain that a mathematical and scientific training such as the Platonists offer is useless for practical life.” Compare, later in the fourth century, Praxiphanes’ dialogue between Isocrates and Plato On Poets (Diogenes Laertius 3.8).
[ back ] 64. It is to be expected, if we give due weight again to the complex interlacement of terms with which Isocrates and Aristotle contest both theoretical and practical values, that stoikheion is a congenial word for Isocrates. It can mean the principles of a sound constitution (στοιχεῖα πρῶτα καὶ μέγιστα χρηστῆς πολιτείας, To Nicocles 16). More interesting still is the only other Isocratean usage of the word, an important theoretical passage (Epistle 6.8) where Isocrates says that his philosophia teaches how ideai are used in speaking (logoi), but also that they are a basic principle (stoikheion) “in all other things and in your pragmata.” Note, however, the practical and political orientation of both passages. In their forthcoming Protrepticus commentary, Hutchinson and Johnson argue (in their note on Iamblichus Protrepticus VI 38.14 Pistelli) that the literary-critical use of stoikheia (i.e. in educational traditions allied to Isocrates) is, contrary to a mistaken view of Diels and Düring, the source of its usage for “elements”; several passages in Plato and Aristotle deal quite explicitly with “the familiar metaphor of letter, syllable, word, and phrase to stand for various levels of analysis of reality, from primitive elements up to complex wholes.”
[ back ] 65. In Aristotle’s Rhetoric I 6, 1362a20f., though, the stoikheia of the good and the expedient (that is, their definitional principles as subjects of forensic and deliberative oratory) are to be investigated. Xenocrates wrote four books of Stoikheia on Kingship to Alexander (Diogenes Laertius 4.14).
[ back ] 66. I do not pretend to exhaust every topic treated in common by Isocrates and Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. For example, akrasia is an important consideration for both thinkers, an account of which Isocrates would take in Antidosis 221, To Demonicus 21, Nicocles 21.
[ back ] 67. These two passages will be reconsidered in the context of the following chapter.
[ back ] 68. The branches of knowledge with which the student-rhētōr is concerned may to some extent be identified with the ideai Isocrates likens to gymnastic skhēmata (see Against the Sophists 16). Thus Natali (2001), as part of an argument that the material in Aristotle’s rhetorical writings has ethical import (taking up von Arnim’s suggestion that Aristotle’s early ethical thought could be reconstructed on the basis of the ethical examples in the Topics, p. 1), states, “There is, in fact, no reason why τόποι of this kind, collected and elaborated to be used in dialectical discussions on ethics, cannot be used also by those who deliberate and debate with themselves about how to act. This same possibility of twofold use of the τόποι is found in many orators of the time” (91). In a note, Natali (2001:212n97) specifies: “For example, in the series of rhetorical ἰδέαι taught by Isocrates to his disciples. Cf. Antid. 180–185.” A relationship between Isocrates and Aristotle’s Rhetoric (stressing the distance between ethics and rhetoric) is also posited by Garver (1994:195), reflecting an interesting view that Isocrates in the rhetorical domain is not more practical than Aristotle, but less (interested in the production of discourse rather than the production of actions).
[ back ] 69. The terms are γνῶναι and εἰδέναι, not ἐπίστασθαι.
[ back ] 70. In the same sentence (1179b8), Aristotle also identifies the elect audience as “the liberal ones of the youth” (τῶν νέων τοὺς ἐλευθερίους), which certainly seems consistent with the student demographic of the fourth-century Athenian schools’ philosophia.
[ back ] 71. This point can be pressed to narrow further the gap between Aristotle and Isocrates’ notions of phusis. When Isocrates complains repeatedly that his methods cannot make agōnistai of those candidates he receives already deficient in nature, we must recall that, in Aristotelian terms, his students begin their training with their habits (and more loosely, their “nature”) already decisively formed. If Isocrates had not couched his more universal theory of virtuous self-formation with such constant reference to the goals of the would-be agōnistēs, this propaedeutic stage would be clearer to us. As it is, this counts as another aspect of Isocrates’ theory obscured by his presentation of his educational ideas in polemical, epidictic, and apologetic discourses rather than in treatises.
[ back ] 72. As noted above, even the Isocratean idiōtēs participates in political decision-making (τῶν τε λόγων κριτὰς καὶ συμβούλους ἀκριβεστέρους τῶν πλείστων, Antidosis 204), but he is no Aristotelian legislator. The Aristotelian virtues are also not private, but rather social and (in the widest sense) political, as they had been for Plato (e.g. Symposium 209a, Gorgias 464b).
[ back ] 73. At least not necessarily or theoretically: whether the laws are “for the education of one or of many, seems unimportant,” 1180b1f., trans. Irwin (1985).
[ back ] 74. It must be borne in mind that we are comparing only the conception of moral education in Nicomachean Ethics to Isocratean philosophia, which wants nothing to do with anything approaching Aristotelian “first philosophy.”
[ back ] 75. Mathematics is of course an epistēmē for Aristotle (e.g. Metaphysics 1061b28–33, Eudemian Ethics 1219a17), though he here uses the personal expression mathēmatikos genesthai, as we have seen him do in speaking of legislative science.
[ back ] 76. For the genre of philosophical protreptic, see Slings 1999:67–95.
[ back ] 77. D. S. Hutchinson and Monte Ransome Johnson, Aristotle: Protrepticus, Cambridge Classical Texts and Commentaries, forthcoming. I am grateful to these scholars for discussing their work in progress with me. While a close connection between the Protrepticus and Isocrates had already been suggested by others (see below), I believe that the value of the Aristotelian text for understanding the aspects of Isocrates’ thought under study here will emerge much more clearly from Hutchinson and Johnson’s work than from previous studies, not least through a defense of Aristotle’s authorship of important passages that were excluded by scholars whose critical assumption was a uniform discourse in the persona of Aristotle.
[ back ] 78. Stobaeus 4.32.21 (1 W, A1 D), trans. after Hutchinson and Johnson 2009. τὸν Ἀριστοτέλους Προτρεπτικόν, ὃν ἔγραψε πρὸς Θεμίσωνα τὸν Κυπρίων βασιλέα λέγων ὅτι οὐδενὶ πλείω ἀγαθὰ ὑπάρχει πρὸς τὸ φιλοσοφῆσαι· πλοῦτόν τε γὰρ πλεῖστον αὐτὸν ἔχειν ὥστε δαπανᾶν εἰς ταῦτα, ἔτι δὲ δόξαν ὑπάρχειν αὐτῷ. See further Chroust 1966 for an answer (in terms of the temporal and scholastic politics impinging on Isocrates and Aristotle) to the question, “What prompted Aristotle to address the Protrepticus to Themison?” Cf. Ostwald and Lynch 1994:619: “Aristotle’s Protrepticus, or ‘Exhortation to Philosophy,’ may be read as a challenge to Isocrates’ political influence, patronage, and intellectual following on the island of Cyprus. Having befriended and memorialized Eudemus, a political exile from Cyprus, Aristotle seems to have taken it upon himself to try to counteract Isocrates’ standing among the Cypriot Evagorids by offering to Themison, a prince or minor Cypriot king, a vision of paideia and the philosophical life different from that presented by Isocrates in his Antidosis of 353 by emphasizing the primacy of the ‘theoretical’ over the ‘active’ life, the possibility of precise knowledge about human values analogous to mathematical knowledge, and the pleasure of devoting one’s energy and life to intellection (phronesis).” I would suggest, however, that it is precisely the high role Isocrates also grants to epistēmē and phronēsis (whatever the differences) that justifies the whole engagement on Aristotle’s part. See also Weil 1980, Berti 1997.
[ back ] 79. In this section I make my own suggestions for connections to the works of Isocrates worth exploring in order to understand the content and context of the Protrepticus. For previous suggestions, see Einarson 1936: esp. 264–269 and 273–278, Nix 1969: esp. 75ff., and Bertelli 1977b:23–27 (with further bibliography, 24n19). Jaeger (1948:57) connects the Protrepticus’s exhortatory formulae with Isocrates’ (the statement is vague, but he seems to have in mind a connection between e.g. nomizein at POxy 666, lines 65, 102f., and 131 [3 W, B2–3 D], and the imperatives hēgou and nomize in To Nicocles [8×] and To Demonicus [10×]). These studies are already adequate to establish that the voice of Isocrates is present in some sense in the remains of the Protrepticus. On the contested authenticity of To Demonicus, cf. Too 1995:58n53 and Jebb 1893:82. It is Isocratean enough (perhaps a production of his school, so Burk 1923:56, and hardly a sophistic work, pace Drerup 1906) and so obviously remote from the climate of Aristotle that its affinities to Aristotelian protreptic are part of the phenomena we have to explain here.
[ back ] 80. Reading ὡς with the MSS and editors (Benseler-Blass, Drerup, Norlin); the Budé edition’s ὧν, given without any note in the apparatus or effect on the French translation, seems to be a lapse, though this is also the reading in Wilhelm Lange’s 1803 edition (on the basis of a Munich MS of no value and a Latin version) and was wrongly attributed to Codex Vaticanus 65 by Coray (according to Drerup 1906).
[ back ] 81. Evagoras 81: ἂν γὰρ ἐμμένῃς τῇ φιλοσοφίᾳ καὶ τοσοῦτον ἐπιδιδῷς ὅσονπερ νῦν, ταχέως γενήσει τοιοῦτος οἷόν σε προσήκει.
[ back ] 82. To Demonicus 27: ὥσπερ ἂν εἴ τις ἵππον κτήσαιτο καλὸν κακῶς ἱππεύειν ἐπιστάμενος.
[ back ] 83. POxy 666, lines 92–100 (3 W, B2 D), ed. Grenfell and Hunt = Stobaeus 3.3.25 (with the reading kekosmēmenos).
[ back ] 84. Iamblichus Protrepticus VI 40.1–11 Pistelli (5a W, B53 D), translation and comment in Hutchinson and Johnson 2009:7.
[ back ] 85. Iamblichus On General Mathematical Science XXVI 83.6ff. Festa (8 W, C55:2 D). This passage thus culminates the value scale announced by “Aristotle” in pitting “prior things” against “posterior things” in Iamblichus Protrepticus VI 37.26ff. Pistelli (5a W, B32 D).
[ back ] 86. POxy 666 cols. ii–iii (3 W, B2–5 D), assigned to “Isocrates” in Hutchinson and Johnson 2009 and 2010; Iamblichus Protrepticus VI 37.3–22 Pistelli (4 W, B8–9 D), assigned to “Isocrates” in Hutchinson and Johnson 2009 but to Aristotle in idem 2010:2, where this Aristotelian response is also supplemented with texts from Philoponus’ Commentary on Nicomachus of Gerasa’s Introduction to Arithmetic I (1.14–49 Hoche 1864), Proclus’ Commentary on Euclid’s Elements I (second prologue, ch. 4, 64.8–68.4 Friedlein), and Iamblichus On General Mathematical Science (better known in Latin as De communi mathematica scientia and never translated into English) XXI–XXVII. The fact that arguments could be entertained for attributing a single passage either to Isocrates or to an Aristotle who “agrees to a limited extent” is a convenient illustration of the very point I wish to argue here.
[ back ] 87. Iamblichus On General Mathematical Science XXVI (79.5–24, 80.5–81.4 Festa; 5b W; C32:2, B52, C41 D), assigned to “Isocrates” in Hutchinson and Johnson 2009 and 2010.
[ back ] 88. Again, an alternative reconstruction of the Protrepticus in which all these affinities occur in the voice of Aristotle himself (e.g. speaking in a unified discourse) would show no less striking an engagement and cooptation.
[ back ] 89. For Isocrates’ practical test of cultivation of the soul—not empty professions of knowledge, but scrutiny of actions and an ability to work from doxai—cf. Against the Sophists 7f.
[ back ] 90. The same term used in Isocrates, Evagoras 80 (quoted above). We should be cautious about the translation “practical wisdom,” even in Isocrates; the plainer “intelligence” may be more suitable. In Aristotle’s Protrepticus, phronēsis is the general term for philosophical wisdom or intelligence, and not confined to the practical sphere as in the Nicomachean Ethics.
[ back ] 91. In Nicocles 59, the idea of virtue’s higher pleasure (with a psukhē of unencumbered conscience life is lived most pleasantly, hēdista) is directly opposed to the false value attaching to great possessions, which we have discussed above (tous pleista kektēmenous). I do not deny the essential conventionality of this moralism (cf. Areopagiticus 43, where the traditional education of the citizenry—the taming of their souls—proceeds alike by the cares bestowed on fine practices [epimeleiais tōn epitēdeumatōn] and by toils leavened with pleasures [ponois hēdonas ekhousin]) but wish to stress Isocrates’ concern to advance it into the unmistakable language of philosophical protreptic.
[ back ] 92. Cf. Plato Phaedrus 246ff.
[ back ] 93. τὴν δὲ φρόνησιν ἅπαντες ἂν ὁμολογήσειαν ἐκ τοῦ (Wilamowitz: εἰς τὸ pap.) μανθάνειν γίγνεσθαι <καὶ> ζητεῖν ὧν τὰς δυνάμεις φιλοσοφία περιείληφεν, ὥστε πῶς οὐκ ἀπροφασίστως φιλοσοφητέον καὶ …, POxy 666, lines 161–170, the end of the papyrus fragment (3 W, B5 D); for the expression tēn dunamin tinos perilambanein, cf. Isocrates, To Nicocles 9.
[ back ] 94. Other philosophical vocabulary in this passage includes phronēsis and care for the soul (tēs psukhēs ... epimeleian, for which collocation cf. also To Nicocles 12, 51).
[ back ] 95. For the appropriateness of this text as a comparison to the Protrepticus, compare also the remarks of “Aristotle” “on the comparative value of sight, perception, opinion, and knowledge” (in the summary of Hutchinson and Johnson 2009:10) at Iamblichus Protrepticus VII 43.25 ff. Pistelli (7 W, B72 D).
[ back ] 96. Iamblichus Protrepticus VI 37.14–22 Pistelli (4 W, B9 D), trans. Hutchinson and Johnson 2009:3.
[ back ] 97. This echoes, again, the examination of the “wise man” to determine which knowledge is wisdom in Metaphysics I 2.
[ back ] 98. Iamblichus Protrepticus VI 39.18ff. Pistelli (5a W, B39 D).
[ back ] 99. Compare the parallel formulation in Isocrates Against the Sophists 8 (doxa a more consistent basis for success than epistēmē).
[ back ] 100. Compare also Isocrates’ praise in Nicocles of long and wide expertise among officials in monarchies, in contrast to the limited experience of democratic officeholders. The former have more experience (tais empeiriais proekhousin, 18), which even compensates for any deficiency in their individual nature (phusis). Crucially (to de megiston, 21), the monarchical officials choose the most intelligent persons (phronimōtatoi) as their advisors: those who have actual knowledge (epistamenous) in practical affairs. This kind of passage reminds us that, whatever the Isocratean prejudice against branches of knowledge whose connection to pragmata he found to be weak, he never forgets to insist on the decisive importance of intellectual qualifications within the realm of practice (here even setting aside his concern with the limitations of phusis).
[ back ] 101. Iamblichus Protrepticus X 54.12–56.2 Pistelli (13 W, B46–50 D, trans. Hutchinson and Johnson 2009:17 and Ross 1952:47–49).
[ back ] 102. Protrepticus X 55.26–56.2 Pistelli (13 W, B50 D).
[ back ] 103. Walker 2010.
[ back ] 104. Iamblichus Protrepticus X 55.17–25 Pistelli (13 W, B49 D).
[ back ] 105. Bertelli 1977b:22–25; it is likely, however, that the Protrepticus followed the Antidosis.
[ back ] 106. The discrepancy is not lost on Jaeger (1948:266), who remarks on “the contrast between the last paragraph of the Nicomachean Ethics and the method of the Protrepticus and the Statesman.” Jaeger goes on to call attention to the different spirit informing at least some parts the Ethics, e.g. 270 (“The standard there is immanent and biological. It is obtained by immersing oneself sympathetically in the manifold possible forms of the state, and not by looking to a single, fixed, ideal goal.”), 395 (“The new element reveals another direction, namely the analysis of the forms of the moral life as they actually are. He abandons Plato’s theory of virtue for a theory of living types, adequate to the rich variety of moral life in all conceivable manifestations”). A further indication of Aristotle’s concession to Isocrates may be found in the fact that Philodemus later considered Aristotle open to the charge of traducing philosophy precisely by joining the law-collectors: see chap. 3 below.
[ back ] 107. εἰ δὲ τῶν πράξεων τῶν ὀρθῶν ἀπολείπονται [sc. αἱ τοιαῦται ἐπιστῆμαι], τῶν μεγίστων ἀγαθῶν ἀπολείπεται ἡ φιλομάθεια.
[ back ] 108. Compare, however, the many occurrences in Plato’s Republic, where philomath- is generally paired with, and synonymous with, philosoph- (apart from Glaucon’s reservation at 475d–e). Its protreptic flavor is appropriate to the topic of education (development of human natures and desires in a philosophical direction).
[ back ] 109. I was grateful to learn, after developing these thoughts, of Norman Sandridge’s work on this term (“Philomatheia and the Knowledge of Leadership in Xenophon’s Education of Cyrus,” unpublished paper), which highlights its applicability in Xenophon (with related expressions of desire or eagerness for learning and inquiry) to the range of pursuits undertaken by the honor-seeking Persian nobles. Protreptic marries philosophy with worldly success and utility, and this is an interesting demonstration of how the term can apply in the latter domain with only a light suggestion of the philosophical (albeit a very pregnant suggestion, if we read Xenophon through the lens of many of his recent critics).
[ back ] 110. Identified by Hutchinson and Johnson as Heraclides Ponticus.
[ back ] 111. Iamblichus Protrepticus VIII 46.8–11 Pistelli (9W, B102 D), trans. Hutchinson and Johnson 2009:11.
[ back ] 112. X 5, 1175a12–15, trans. Irwin (1985).
[ back ] 113. Iamblichus Protrepticus XI 59.11–13 Pistelli (14 W, B91 D), trans. Hutchinson and Johnson 2009:19f.