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June 6, 2020

Know Your Limits

Aristotle has the following to say about recognizing one’s intellectual limitations and taking care to properly order one’s studies toward a good end:

Now each man judges well the things he knows, and of these he is a good judge. And so the man who has been educated in a subject is a good judge of that subject, and the man who has received an all-round education is a good judge in general. Hence a young man is not a proper hearer of lectures on political science; for he is inexperienced in the actions that occur in life, but its discussions start from these and are about these; and further, since he tends to follow his passions, his study will be in vain and unprofitable, because the end aimed at is not knowledge but action. And it makes no difference whether he is young in years or youthful in character; the defect does not depend on time, but on his living, and pursuing each successive object, as passion directs. For to such persons, as to the incontinent, knowledge brings no profit; but to those who desire and act in accordance with a rational principle knowledge about such matters will be of great benefit. (Nicomachean Ethics 1094b29-1095a12)

So, according to Aristotle:

(1) If you want to render a judgment about a subject, make sure you know that subject,

(2) An “all-round education” makes for a much better judge of matters generally speaking,

(3) Don’t let your studies be governed by your passions, because then you aren’t aiming for knowledge but merely for action,

(4) Failure to observe such guidelines as these makes one intellectually incontinent, depriving one of the benefits that might otherwise come from knowledge obtained.

Wise advice for everyone.