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post #19 of Old 12-07-2007
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Since we are seeking this knowledge, we must inquire of what
kind are the causes and the principles, the knowledge of which is
Wisdom. If one were to take the notions we have about the wise man,
this might perhaps make the answer more evident. We suppose first,
then, that the wise man knows all things, as far as possible, although
he has not knowledge of each of them in detail; secondly, that he
who can learn things that are difficult, and not easy for man to know,
is wise (sense-perception is common to all, and therefore easy and
no mark of Wisdom); again, that he who is more exact and more
capable of teaching the causes is wiser, in every branch of knowledge;
and that of the sciences, also, that which is desirable on its own
account and for the sake of knowing it is more of the nature of Wisdom
than that which is desirable on account of its results, and the
superior science is more of the nature of Wisdom than the ancillary;
for the wise man must not be ordered but must order, and he must not
obey another, but the less wise must obey him.
Such and so many are the notions, then, which we have about Wisdom
and the wise. Now of these characteristics that of knowing all
things must belong to him who has in the highest degree universal
knowledge; for he knows in a sense all the instances that fall under
the universal. And these things, the most universal, are on the
whole the hardest for men to know; for they are farthest from the
senses. And the most exact of the sciences are those which deal most
with first principles; for those which involve fewer principles are
more exact than those which involve additional principles, e.g.
arithmetic than geometry. But the science which investigates causes is
also instructive, in a higher degree, for the people who instruct us
are those who tell the causes of each thing. And understanding and
knowledge pursued for their own sake are found most in the knowledge
of that which is most knowable (for he who chooses to know for the
sake of knowing will choose most readily that which is most truly
knowledge, and such is the knowledge of that which is most
knowable); and the first principles and the causes are most
knowable; for by reason of these, and from these, all other things
come to be known, and not these by means of the things subordinate
to them. And the science which knows to what end each thing must be
done is the most authoritative of the sciences, and more authoritative
than any ancillary science; and this end is the good of that thing,
and in general the supreme good in the whole of nature. Judged by
all the tests we have mentioned, then, the name in question falls to
the same science; this must be a science that investigates the first
principles and causes; for the good, i.e. the end, is one of the
That it is not a science of production is clear even from the
history of the earliest philosophers. For it is owing to their
wonder that men both now begin and at first began to philosophize;
they wondered originally at the obvious difficulties, then advanced
little by little and stated difficulties about the greater matters,
e.g. about the phenomena of the moon and those of the sun and of the
stars, and about the genesis of the universe. And a man who is puzzled
and wonders thinks himself ignorant (whence even the lover of myth
is in a sense a lover of Wisdom, for the myth is composed of wonders);
therefore since they philosophized order to escape from ignorance,
evidently they were pursuing science in order to know, and not for any
utilitarian end. And this is confirmed by the facts; for it was when
almost all the necessities of life and the things that make for
comfort and recreation had been secured, that such knowledge began
to be sought. Evidently then we do not seek it for the sake of any
other advantage; but as the man is free, we say, who exists for his
own sake and not for another's, so we pursue this as the only free
science, for it alone exists for its own sake.
Hence also the possession of it might be justly regarded as beyond
human power; for in many ways human nature is in bondage, so that
according to Simonides 'God alone can have this privilege', and it
is unfitting that man should not be content to seek the knowledge that
is suited to him. If, then, there is something in what the poets
say, and jealousy is natural to the divine power, it would probably
occur in this case above all, and all who excelled in this knowledge
would be unfortunate. But the divine power cannot be jealous (nay,
according to the proverb, 'bards tell a lie'), nor should any other
science be thought more honourable than one of this sort. For the most
divine science is also most honourable; and this science alone must
be, in two ways, most divine. For the science which it would be most
meet for God to have is a divine science, and so is any science that
deals with divine objects; and this science alone has both these
qualities; for (1) God is thought to be among the causes of all things
and to be a first principle, and (2) such a science either God alone
can have, or God above all others. All the sciences, indeed, are
more necessary than this, but none is better.
Yet the acquisition of it must in a sense end in something which
is the opposite of our original inquiries. For all men begin, as we
said, by wondering that things are as they are, as they do about
self-moving marionettes, or about the solstices or the
incommensurability of the diagonal of a square with the side; for it
seems wonderful to all who have not yet seen the reason, that there is
a thing which cannot be measured even by the smallest unit. But we
must end in the contrary and, according to the proverb, the better
state, as is the case in these instances too when men learn the cause;
for there is nothing which would surprise a geometer so much as if the
diagonal turned out to be commensurable.
We have stated, then, what is the nature of the science we are
searching for, and what is the mark which our search and our whole
investigation must reach.
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