Contemplating the Idea of Contemplating

While I was contemplating the idea of contemplating, I found the following in Wikipedia:

For Plato, what the contemplative (theoros) contemplates (theorei) are the Forms, the realities underlying the individual appearances, and one who contemplates these atemporal and aspatial realities is enriched with a perspective on ordinary things superior to that of ordinary people.  Philip of Opus viewed theoria as contemplation of the stars, with practical effects in everyday life similar to those that Plato saw as following from contemplation of the Forms.

Aristotle, on the other hand, separated the spectating of theoria from practical purposes, and saw it as an end in itself, the highest activity of man. To indicate that it is the philosopher who devotes himself to pursuits most worthy of a free man, Heraclides of Pontus compared him to a spectator (theoros) at the Olympic spectacle: unlike the other participants, he does not seek either glory, as does the competitor, or money, as does the businessman. Aristotle used the same image:

As we go to the Olympian festival for the sake of the spectacle (θεᾶς), even if nothing more should come of it – for the theoria(θεωρία) itself is more precious than money; and just as we go to theorize(θεωροῦμεν) at the festival of Dionysus not so that we will gain anything from the actors (indeed we pay to see them) … so too the theoria(θεωρία) of the universe must be honoured above all things that are considered to be useful. For surely we would not go to such trouble to see men imitating women and slaves, or athletes fighting and running, and not consider it right to theorize without payment (θεωρεῖν ἀμισθί) the nature and truth of reality.

Indeed, Andrea Wilson Nightingale says that Aristotle considers that those who, instead of pursuing theoria for its own sake, would put it to useful ends would be engaging in theoria in the wrong way, and Richard Kraut says that, for Aristotle, theoretical activity alone has limitless value.

 Thomas Louis Schubeck says that, in Aristotle’s view, the knowledge that guides ethical political activity does not belong to theoria. “Leading a contemplative life can be considered Aristotle’s answer to the question what life humans ought to live. … The more humans engage in contemplation, the closer they are to their gods and the more perfect will be their happiness.”

Aristotle’s view that the best life would be a purely contemplative (intellectual) one was disputed by the Stoics and others, such as the Epicureans, who saw speculation as inferior to practical ethics. Middle Platonism and Neoplatonism considered contemplation superior and saw as its goal the knowledge of God or union with him, so that a “contemplative life” was a life devoted to God rather than to any kind of activity.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s