• When one wants to take a synoptic view of the history of epistemology, one notices that Aristotle's contribution is almost always explained in terms of scientific knowledge resting on demonstration.

  • What Aristotle says about cogniton in De Anima is not much taken into account ( for this reason , I think, that this part of Aristotle's doctrine is refered to psychology, not to epistemology).

  • However, I think it is necessary to take into account the De Anima treatise in order to determine how Aristotle understood knowledge as " knowledge of" something ( while Posterior Analytics treat of knowledge as " knowledge that" , knowledge of a proposition).

  • What I would like to know is (1) whether Arstotle has a general term ( in Greek) for knowledge, a term equivalent to the latin term " cognitio"? (2) in case he has such a term, does he consider sensation as a kind of knowledge ( understood boadly, but properly ) ? Are sensible powers ( of the soul) cognitive powers according to Aristotle?

  • Medieval thinkers standardly talked about " cognitive" powers comprising (1) sensible powers ( sensibility) and (2) intellectual powers; each one having an apprehensive aspect and a judicating or discriminating aspect.

  • Is the medieval picture true to original aristotelianism? Is there a general concept of cognition in Aristotle - manely " reception of the form of the object" - that officially applies both to sensation and intellection?

Note : my question is not as to whether Aristotle defines sensation / perception as the reception of the form of the object, since it seems obvious he does; my question is as to whether this kind of form reception officially counts as knowledge / cognition in his doctrine.

2 Answers 2


You need to get a hold of F.E. Peters book Greek Philosophical Terms: a historical lexicon. It traces the use of important words in Greek philosophy through the history of Greek writing, with detailed notes. He has several pages on each of the terms I will mention below, I'm just cherry picking what I hope is useful for you.

Aristotle recognized several types of knowledge but only two are important here.

Episteme is true and scientific knowledge , an organized boy of knowledge, a science, and theoretical knowledge.

Doxa is opinion, judgement, or contingent knowledge. or contingent knowledge.

Quoting from Peters:

“Opinion; the distinction between true knowledge (episteme) and an inferior grade of cognition goes back as far as Xenophanes (fr. 34) but the classic pre-Scoratic exposition of it is to be found in Parmendides’ poem (fr.8, lines 50-61) where sensation (aesthesis) is regulated to the position of “seeming” or “opinion” (doxa). The distinction is based on the ontological status of the object of sense perception (aistheta) that, because of their exclusion form the realm of true being cannot be the objects of true knowledge" (Peters, p. 40).

"Aristotle’s treatment of episteme and doxa moves into another area. Knowledge is either immediate (see nous) or discursive (dianoia). The latter may be described as episteme if it proceeds from premises that are necessary, doxa if the premises are contingent (Anal. Post. 1, 88b-89b). Aristotle defines doxa as that which could be otherwise (Meta. 1039b)" (Peters, p. 41)

The other term you need to look up is aisthesis which means perception, sensation, sensitive knowledge.

Peters says that starting with Aristotle aisthesis was revaluated more favorably with regards to epistemology than it had been with the Pre-socractics but still "truth in its primary sense is a noetic function. it is only when the impressions (typoseis) on the sense organs are carried, via the pneuma (cf. psyche) to the rational faculty (hegemonikon) and there assented to (katalepsis) that primary truth is possible (cf. phantasia, noesis) " (Peters, p. 14).

Regarding the medievals, I assume based on your question you are referring to the Latin west during the medieval period. There were a wide range of authors during this period some who could read Greek, many others who could not. There was also a prohibition on reading Aristotle at some universities although it's not clear how closely this was actually enforced but even when they did read Aristotle in translation it is not always clear which texts they had access to or when they had access to it, or if they were relying on notes (Jean-Pieree Torrell talks about these issues in vol 1 of his Aquinas biography). My point is that "medieval" is a broad group and it may be hasty to group them all together. Do you have specific authors in mind?


Aristotle Metaph X gives two relevant passages: (1053a31–5)

We also speak of knowledge or sense perception as a measure of things for the same reason,

καὶ τὴν ἐπιστήμην δὲ μέτρον τῶν πραγμάτων λέγομεν καὶ τὴν αἴσθησιν διὰ τὸ αὐτό,

and a few pages later (1057a11)

it happens that whereas all knowledge is knowable, the knowable is not always knowledge, because in a way knowledge is measured by the knowable.

It is seen that he writes about episteme which is knowledge in the sense of latin scientia; gnorizo/ γνωρ-ίζω (according toLiddell) has the sense of "gain knowledge of, become acquainted with, discover" or simply "learn" as it is the quoted passage (1053) when read in full.

We also speak of knowledge or sense perception as a measure of things for the same reason, because through them we come to know something; whereas really they are measured themselves rather than measure other things. But our experience is as though someone else measured us, and we learned our height by noticing to what extent he applied his foot-rule to us.Protagoras says that "man is the measure of all things," meaning, as it were, the scholar or the man of perception

The Latin has the opposition cognosco/scio, in French connaitre/ savoir or in English to learn /know. Latin commentators were interested in theological problems and reshaped much of what Aristotle wrote about epistemology. So, in the last count it does not seem that the question as formulated above has a precise answer.

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