I have found online this distinction, but I cannot wrap my mind around it:

poiesis - means 'to make'; it is an action that transforms; it refers to 'bringing-forth'; a threshold occasion: a moment of ecstasis when something/s becomes another

praxis - a practice (as distinguished from theory); application of skill; conduct in a public space considered as excellence

Can you give some examples?


2 Answers 2


Welcome, s. dragos.

Praxis and poiesis

Aristotle's praxis/ poiesis does not mark a single, fixed distinction. The terms bear different senses in different works. But a quite important distinction is one Aristotle draws between praxis (action) in ethics and poiesis (production) in the crafts.

In Aristotle's 'virtue ethics', actions are intentional and voluntary broadly speaking and a morally good action is an intentional, voluntary action done for its own sake and not with a view to a further end. So, for example, a morally good action would be one in which I returned a $50 bill to you simply because you had dropped it and were entitled to be re-possessed of your property: and not because you are good-looking and I reckon my chances for a date. The morally good action is done for its own sake and not for some end separate from it.

Poiesis, now, is different : the activity of practising a craft is an example of poeisis. Intentional, voluntary actions are involved but also, crucially, so is an end-product. In poeisis I am not doing an action or series of actions for its own sake; I aim to produce something - a pot, a vase, a box, a statue - as the end-product. These are quite separate from the actions that produced it.

(T. Irwin, Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics, 2nd ed, Hackett, 1999: 315 (sense (3) of 'praxis'; and 344 ('produce, production, do, poeisis'.

Problems with the distinction

JL Ackrill is useful on this point. Consider the following:

(a) Aristotle holds that when we choose to do something we always choose with a view to some end, for the sake of something; but he also insists that a man who does a virtuous act is not doing it virtuously - is not displaying virtue - unless he has chosen it 'for itself'. (b) Actions are done for the sake of other things, and things we can do are not themselves the ends with a view to which we do them; yet action (praxis) differs from production (poiesis), according to Aristotle, precisely because it is its own end. (c) In recommending the theoretical life Aristotle says that whereas contemplation 'aims at no end beyond itself' fine actions do 'aim at some end and are not desirable for their own sake'; but in recom- mending the life of action he says that doing noble and good deeds is a thing desirable for its own sake, and that 'those activities are desirable in themselves from which nothing is sought beyond the activity'.

Passages like these suggest two problems. First, how can action be good in itself if it is valued as a means to eudaimonia? Secondly, how can an action be something done to bring about an outcome and yet be distinguished from a production because done for its own sake? The first problem invites discussion of Aristotle's view of morality and its foundation: is it valuable in itself or only because it promotes something else? The second-with which the present note is concerned-calls for an examination of Aristotle's concept of an action, and of his distinction between praxis and poiesis.

Commentators discussing this distinction often fail to face the real difficulty, that actions often or always are productions and productions often or always are actions. (The idea that some periods of the day are occupied by action-episodes and others by production-episodes would obviously be absurd even if 'production' referred only to the exercise of special techniques or skills, since a period of such exercise could certainly be a period during which an action, of promise-keeping for example, was being performed. In fact however Aristotle's notion of production is not limited either to technical performances or to the making of material objects.) The brave man's action is fighting uphill to relieve the garrison, and the just man is paying off his debt by mending his neighbour's fence. How then is one to understand the thesis that paying off a debt is an action but mending a fence is a production? (JL Ackrill, 'Aristotle on Action', Mind, New Series, Vol. 87, No. 348 (Oct., 1978), pp. 595-601: 595-6.)

The response to Ackrill is by no means straightforward but this extract may give you an idea of the difficulties which beset Aristotle and his distinctions.


See NE, VI.4, 1140a17-on :

Among things that can be otherwise are included both things made and things done; making [production, poiesis] and acting [praxis] are different. [...] Making and acting being different, art must be a matter of making, not of acting.

See O.Balaban, Praxis and Poesis in Aristotle's practical philosophy (1990)

In ancient-Greek consciousness a valuable activity was that which was undertaken for its own sake and therefore without concern for the amount of time employed in its performance; whereas an action taken as a means to an end was regarded as immoral. In modern society, on the other hand, utilitarian values tend to make it almost [...] The Greeks valued praxis more than poesis, whereas our culture values poesis and techne more than praxis.

And see also John Ackrill, Aristotle on Action, Mind (1978) :

Actions are done for the sake of other things, and things we can do are not themselves the ends with a view to which we do them; yet action (praxis) differs from production (poiesis), according to Aristotle, precisely because it is its own end.

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