Is there a traditional (singular and delimited) concept for virtues that inform our ideas of what we can and can't know, virtues that mean that their bearers show prudence (I can't know I'll roll a six) but are not overly skeptical (I can know I won't roll seven), etc.?

Something epistemological akin to Sartre's insistence that we don't delude ourselves we can do anything we like or fool ourselves into thinking we have no agency or choices to make whatsoever.

  • 3
    Something like Aristotle's intellectual virtues?
    – Conifold
    Commented Mar 4, 2019 at 18:50
  • @Conifold from that page Gnomê looks the best fit, if, that is, it is not limited to judgments of fairness and the good. is it?
    – user35983
    Commented Mar 5, 2019 at 1:43
  • let me think some more @Conifold "gnomê, which he defines in Book 2 of the Rhetoric as “ A showing forth (apophansis) not of particular things such as what sort of aman a certain Iphicrates is--but in general; and not about everything---such as straight isopposite to curved--but about all that has to do with actions (peri hosôn hai praxeis eisi)and what is to be chosen or avoided with regard to action"
    – user35983
    Commented Mar 5, 2019 at 1:55
  • so why not skill at apophansis??
    – user35983
    Commented Mar 5, 2019 at 2:19
  • Why gnome (consideration)? Its primary context is judging other people, see Aristotle on the Intellectual Virtues by Solopova. For cognitive purposes, eusunesia (good understanding), euboulia (deliberativeness), phronesis (prudence), and even sophia (wisdom) and deinotes (cleverness) when it comes to practical knowledge, seem more to the point.
    – Conifold
    Commented Mar 5, 2019 at 10:19

1 Answer 1


The Aristotelian 'intellectual virtues' - aretai dianoetikai - of Nicomachean Ethics (NE), VI.3 would be my first port of call. Aristotle enumerates and specifies in NE III-V a range of moral virtues or moral 'states' (hexeis) such as courage, temperance, liberality, gentleness, justice. All these involve feelings and desires as directed by reason.

But reason itself consists of intellectual powers which are capable of development:

  1. Technical skill (techne)

  2. Science (episteme)

  3. Practical wisdom (phronesis)

  4. Wisdom (sophia)

  5. Intuitive reason (nous)

Technical skill has an intellectual or cognitive component and is not a mere matter of 'knack'. It involves judgement by the producer about the most efficient way to make what is required, from a statue to a table.

Science deals with what is invariable, eternal, and capable of demonstration.

Practical wisdom is the capacity and practice of deliberation about the good for oneself and others, and is limited to what is capable of alteration and within one's powers.

Wisdom's sphere is first principles; the wise person both fully understands first principles and knows what follows from them. Aristotle's views about first principles shift but in Metaphysics, IV [Δ - Delta], 4-6 these principles turn out to be assumptions which underlie all systematic inquiry and activity and crucially presuppose persistent subjects or continuants with essences.

Intuitive reason - how to explain this ? Roughly it is the intellectual capacity, a form of intuitive apprehension, by which we grasp first principles.

Details may be disputed and probably will be; all I have presented is the best sense I can make of Aristotle's intellectual virtues. I should say, however, that in the sense of your question, the intellectual virtues 'inform our ideas of what we can know'. In other words, if Aristotle is right, all that we can know falls within the scope of one or more of his five intellectual virtues.


Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics, tr. J. A. K Thomson, Hugh Tredennick. ISBN 10: 0140449493 / ISBN 13: 9780140449495. Published by Penguin Books Ltd 2004-01-29, London, 2004.

Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics, tr. J.E.C. Welldon, London: Macmillan, 1897.

Aristotle, The Metaphysics, tr. H. Lawson-Tancred, ISBN 10: 0140446192 / ISBN 13: 9780140446197 Published by Penguin Books Ltd, United Kingdom, 1999.

Gisela Striker, 'Reviewed Work(s): Aristotle's First Principles by T. H. Irwin', The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 88, No. 9 (Sep., 1991), pp. 489-496.

  • @confused. Glad to have been of help. Best - Geoffrey
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Commented Mar 5, 2019 at 18:55

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