Aristotle’s Philosophy of Histories

Polis 39 (3):527-552 (2022)
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Abstract

Aristotle is often considered to have a very pessimistic view about what histories can tell us, considering them too particular and lacking the generality required for scientific knowledge. Most importantly, they are considered to lack causal explanations. I argue against this view and instead that Aristotle considers histories to provide a highly practical level of knowledge. Histories can provide instances of both accidental and hypothetically necessary causation. I draw on the Athenian Constitution and the Constitution of the Spartans to show that the historiai which were written under Aristotle’s direction display these causal explanations. While these explanations are still not at the level of generality characteristic of the most rigorous forms of epistemē, the causal pictures presented are still rich enough to provide valuable insights for both the politician and the political scientist.

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Andrew Hull
Northwestern University

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