Where does Aristotle say that it's better to know a little bit of higher things (e.g., metaphysics) than a lot of lower things (e.g., physics)?

It would seem this would be somewhere in his Ethics or Metaphysics.

  • 2
    Where did you hear, or read, that Aristotle said such a thing? Commented Sep 12, 2017 at 22:14
  • 1
    I vaguely remember this idea being presented in a class I took a long time go. Like, it's better to know something higher up in the hierarchy because some knowledge from the lower ones will be present there? E.g. It's better to know about biology than it is about horses because some knowledge about horses is included in biology, and same goes for the metaphysics and physics, as he argued. If what I'm remembering is what you're talking about, we were reading Nicomachean Ethics at the time. That being said, we spent two class periods talking about what I'm remembering, so he did in fact say it.
    – Not_Here
    Commented Sep 13, 2017 at 1:37
  • @Not_Here Yes, it's certainly related to the classification of the sciences. In your example, hippology is a subalternate science to biology.
    – Geremia
    Commented Sep 13, 2017 at 4:57
  • 1
    as Not_Here suggests, there's definitely such a presentation in Book I of NE, but I'm not sure about "a little bit'".... at least my reading is that the passage says it's "better" to know a higher science like animal husbandry than a lower science like horse grooming that contributes to it. ("better" here seeming to have both a sense of utility and of improvement).
    – virmaior
    Commented Sep 13, 2017 at 5:06
  • 2
    I.1 "as there are many actions, arts, and sciences, their ends also are many; the end of the medical art is health, that of shipbuilding a vessel, that of strategy victory, that of economics wealth. But where such arts fall under a single capacity- as bridle-making and the other arts concerned with the equipment of horses fall under the art of riding, and this and every military action under strategy, ... [others too] - in all of these the ends of the master arts are to be preferred to all the subordinate ends; for it is for the sake of the former that the latter are pursued. "
    – virmaior
    Commented Sep 13, 2017 at 16:15

1 Answer 1


In Aristotle's De Partibus Animalium lib. 1 cap. 5:

The scanty conceptions to which we can attain of celestial things give us, from their excellence, more pleasure than all our knowledge of the world in which we live; just as a half glimpse of persons that we love is more delightful than a leisurely view of other things, whatever their number and dimensions.

St. Thomas Aquinas paraphrases this in Summa Theologica I q. 1 a. 5 ad 1:

minimum quod potest haberi de cognitione rerum altissimarum, desiderabilius est quam certissima cognitio quae habetur de minimis rebus

the slenderest knowledge that may be obtained of the highest things is more desirable than the most certain knowledge obtained of lesser things

and in De veritate q. 10 a. 7 ad 3:

quamvis cognitio quam de rebus materialibus habemus, sit prior tempore illa notitia quam habemus de Deo, tamen haec est prior dignitate. Nec obstat quod materialia a nobis perfectius cognoscuntur quam Deus; quia minima cognitio quae de Deo haberi potest, superat omnem cognitionem quae de creatura habetur. Nobilitas enim scientiae ex nobilitate sciti dependet, ut patet in principio I De anima; unde et in XI De animalibus philosophus praeponit modicam scientiam quam habemus de rebus caelestibus omni scientiae quam de rebus inferioribus habemus.

Although the knowledge which we have of physical things is prior in time to that which we have of God, the latter is prior in dignity. And the fact that we know physical reality better than we know God offers no difficulty, because the least knowledge which can be had about God surpasses all knowledge about creatures. The nobility of knowledge depends on the nobility of the thing known, as is clear from The Soul. For this reason, the Philosopher puts the little knowledge which we have of heavenly things before all the knowledge which we have about things here below.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .