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Posts Tagged ‘Phronesis’

► “Metis in Ancient Greece”:

“Collaboration with José Cervera”💫:

Statue of the Greek philosopher Plato (c. 428 B.C.-348 B.C.). Behind him, the Goddess of Wisdom, Athena. Modern Academy of Athens.

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Summary:

This article is divided into three sections.

The First section presents Metis as a character, a Titan Goddess.

Being swallowed by Zeus (his cousin and husband), Metis would succumb to the same fate that Cronus´children, as indicated in the Second section.

The Third section will categorize different types of Knowledge, in Ancient Greece; Metis, among them. In that same section, the post will highlight how the word Metis acquired different meaning, changing from the name of the Goddess (Metis, the  Oceanid Titaness & Zeus´cousin and wife) to refer to a type of Intelligence (Practical wisdom). Thus, Metis was considered to cover all cognitive processes that were necessary for man in order to face adverse or confrontational situations against powerful adversaries, often in unstable and complex environments. Three examples from Greek Mythology will be provided. Finally, some final thoughts in the conclusion.

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I. ►Metis, The Titan Goddess:

Metis was a mythological character belonging to the Titan generation. Like several primordial figures, she was an Oceanid. She was born of Oceanus and his sister Tethys, of an earlier age than Zeus and his siblings.

Metis was the first spouse of Zeus, and also her cousin.

Zeus lay with Metis but immediately feared the consequences. It had been prophesied that Metis would bear extremely powerful children: the first, Athena and the second, a son more powerful than Zeus himself, who would eventually overthrow Zeus.

In order to forestall these dire consequences, Zeus tricked her into turning herself into a fly and promptly swallowed her. He was too late: Metis had already conceived a child.

As Zeus had swallowed Metis, Athena leaped from Zeus’s head. She was fully grown, armed, and armoured. 

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II. ►A (side) note on Zeus and Cronus´Cannibal behaviours:

The similarities between Zeus swallowing Metis; and Cronus, swallowing his children, have been noted by several scholars.

Cronus was the Titan god of time and the ages. He envied the power of his father, the ruler of the universe, Uranus.

Cronus attacked him with the sickle, castrating him and casting his testicles into the sea.

From the blood that spilled out from Uranus and fell upon the earth, the Gigantes, and the Erinyes  were produced. The testicles produced a white foam from which the goddess Aphrodite emerged.

 

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Once Cronus had castrated Uranus, he and his wife Rhea took the throne. Under their power a time of harmony and prosperity began, which became known as the “Golden Age”; a time when it was said that people lived without greed or violence, and without toil or the need for laws. But not all was well for Cronus, as he had learned from Gaia and Uranus that he was destined to be overcome by his own sons, just as he had overthrown his father. As a result, although he sired the gods Demeter, Hestia, Hera, Hades and Poseidon by Rhea, he devoured them all as soon as they were born to prevent the prophecy.

 

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When the sixth child, Zeus, was born Rhea sought Gaia to devise a plan to save them and to eventually get retribution on Cronus for his acts against his father and children. 

Rhea secretly gave birth to Zeus in Crete, and handed Cronus a stone wrapped in clothes, which he promptly swallowed, thinking that it was his son.

Once he had grown up, Zeus used an emetic given to him by Gaia to force Cronus to disgorge the contents of his stomach in reverse order: first the stone, which was set under the glens of Mount Parnassus, and then his two brothers and three sisters. 

This would lead the Olympians in a ten-year war against the Titans, before driving them defeated into the pit of Tartaros. Many years later, Zeus released Kronos and his brothers from this prison, and made the old Titan king of the Elysian Islands, in the Underworld

As to Zeus´s story, relevant to us here, José Cervera accurately notes that the Ruler of Gods might have swallowed Metis (also) because he was to a certain extent aware of the fact that he was lacking something. Meaning: The Practical Wisdom that Metis represented. By swallowing Metis, however, Zeus had gained wisdom as part of his intrinsic nature. This would be a case of Incorporation which reminds us (despite the differences) to the biblical account, according to which Eve was molded by God from Adam´s rib.

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III. A ►Different Types of Knowledge: Episteme, Techne, Metis and Phronesis:

For the Greeks and particularly for Plato, Episteme and Techne represented knowledge of an order completely different from Metis.

Episteme means “science”, “understanding” or “knowledge”, with the implication that the understanding was rationally founded, in contrast to mere opinion or hearsay. Noesis, or dialectic reason, is the method used by Episteme.  

Techne entails “technical skills”.  It could be expressed precisely and comprehensively in the form of hard-and-fast rules, principles, and propositions. Techne is based on logical deduction from self-evident first principles.

Nous is the closest word to “intelligence” but it is more correctly translated as “mind”, and “mental activity”. For Plato and Aristotle it is the part of the soul which perceives abstract truths. 

Phronesis means “practical wisdom”, “good judgement” or what we might call “common sense”. 

Metis, in what concerns us is another form of practical wisdom, what we would call “cunning”. It is similar to Phronesis in that it entails knowledge of how humans behave, but it is manipulative and deceitful rather than seeking the common good. Cunning intelligence would later be defined as Phronesis.

III. B ►Metis, Magical Cunning and Practical Wisdom. Examples of Metis in “The Odyssey”:

By the era of Greek philosophy in the 5th century BC, Metis had become the mother of wisdom and deep thought, but her name originally connoted “magical cunning”.

Metis represented a wide array of practical skills and acquired intelligence in responding to a constantly changing natural and human environment.

Hence the word Metis began to be used to denote a particular form of practical wisdom, 

The classic case of Metis is Odysseus, as he often used his cleverness to deceive and defeat his enemies. This is found many times in Homer´s epic poem.

•1. One example of Metis as magical cunning  appears in Book XII. We are referring to the episode in which Odysseus plugged his crew’s ears with earwax, while binding himself and his crew to the mast of the ship to avoid the Siren´s song

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•2. When it comes to Metis (magical cunning), the episode of Polyphemus, from Homer´s “Odyssey” (Book IX) is also worth mentioning.

The Cyclops Polyphemus is portrayed as a cruel monster who had devoured a few of Odysseus’ men. The hero  wanted to beat him and take revenge so he offered Polyphemus some wine. The cyclops easily got drunk, but before falling asleep, he asked Odysseus his name, Odysseus told him his name was “Οὖτις”, which means “nobody”. While the monster was sleeping, Odysseus used a stake to blind him. When Polyphemus shouted for help from his fellow giants, saying that “Nobody” had hurt him, they just ignored him as they just took his words literally (“Nobody had hurt him”). In the morning, the blind Cyclops let the sheep out to graze. But Odysseus and his men had tied themselves to the undersides of the animals and that was how they managed to finally get away. 

•3. Finally, the Trojan Horse. Wasn´t it a great example of Metis or Cunning, as well?. Using trickery rather than violence, Odysseus disguised warriors as a gift, men as (a wooden image of) an animal, a symbol of the Greeks’ future victory as an image of their defeat, and ultimately, a clever trap. Once inside the city walls, the transformation was reversed and the act of Metis revealed for what it was.

“Building of the Trojan Horse” by Giandomenico Tiepolo (1774).-

 

In these examples of Metis, taken from “The Odyssey”, the emphasis is both on Odysseus’s ability to adapt successfully to a constantly shifting and challenging situation and on his capacity to understand, and hence outwit, his human and divine adversaries. 

It is not a minor detail, either, that Odysseus is traditionally aided by Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom. 

Athena- as mentioned before- was born from Zeus’ head, after the latter had swallowed her mother, the goddess Metis, because, as it had been predicted to him that his children by her would overthrow him.

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►Conclusion:

Metis, understood as a type of  practical wisdom, is commonly found in Greek Myths and Literature. In all its facets and faces of the same phenomenon lies a peculiar kind of behavior. More specifically: the extreme attention, observation, flexibility and creativity to sort out things, under certain “special” circumstances.

However, despite its relevance, Metis as type of Intelligent ability has been also relegated, criticized and even despised.

Plato intentionally ignored it, keeping it aside in his Gnoseological Theory. In turn, he enthroned the discursive Episteme, clearly much more acceptable to him, as he considered that Episteme was related to the highest degree of Knowledge.

Plato´s ideal of knowledge was sternly rational and hence: Apollonian. He made sure to suppress any “intuitive” shade that might somehow darken the diaphanous light of Reason and Episteme. Indeed, as pointed out before, Plato despised practical knowledge basically because it did not depend on Dialectical Reason (Noesis) and it seemed to be linked to the body and senses, therefore to the so-called “Dionysiac” forms.

Suffice it to recall that for Nietzsche, the Apollonian-Dionysian Dichotomy, (“The Birth of Tragedy”. 1872) represented the opposition between structured, geometric forces; and fluctuating, creative, irregular forms; respectively. Nietzsche contrasted the cerebral Apollo with his half-brother, the hedonistic Dionysus. Apollo, as the sun-god, represents light, clarity, and form, whereas Dionysus, as the wine-god, represents drunkenness and ecstasy.

However, back to Plato, it is worth noting that certain Dionysiac forces still seem to be present in his dialogues. Most times in the forms of myths or allegories. 

We could conclude that Episteme and Metis are different types of intelligences.Episteme is rigid, dialectic and Apollonian, while Metis might be quite unpredictable in its reasonings and linked to Dionysus. But despite this, they complement each other. We´d rather say the ideal entails not a dichotomy but, instead, a conjunction of abilities. 

Apollo (on The Left) & Dionysus (on The Right), representing the duality of Arts… And Intelligence. Apollo=Episteme. Dionysus=Metis.-


♠About José Cerbera:

José is a Spanish philosopher and blogger. In his own words: “I am a restless and curious being who believes in the religion of books and their healing power. But without forgetting that the mystery of existence isn´t contained in any book. I have studied Philosophy and that led me to distrust everything. Later on, I believed in me. Soon after, in the World Itself and what goes beyond it because it just boundless”. Please check out José´s blog: “El Ritual de las Palabras”. Thank you, José! ⭐️💫.

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José Ignacio Cervera. Click to visit José´s blog.-

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♠Links Post:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metis_(mythology)
http://www.theoi.com/Titan/TitanisMetis.html
https://ritualdelaspalabras.wordpress.com/2017/04/09/las-artimanas-de-la-inteligencia/
https://socialecologies.wordpress.com/2016/02/23/metis-cunning-intelligence-in-greek-thought/
http://eprints.maynoothuniversity.ie/2255/1/e_bracke_thesis.pdf
https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/episteme-techne/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyphemus
https://locvsamoenvs.wordpress.com/2014/12/26/homers-odyssey-12181-201-siren-song/
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♠Aristotle’s Three Types of Knowledge in The Nichomachean Ethics: “Techné, Episteme and Phronesis”:

Eudaimonia (Ancient Greek: εὐδαιμονία)  is a central concept in Aristotelian ethics, translated as happiness, welfare or "human flourishing".-

Eudaimonia (Ancient Greek: εὐδαιμονία) is a central concept in Aristotelian ethics, translated as happiness, welfare or “human flourishing”.-

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In The Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle (384 /322) describes three approaches to knowledge. In Greek, the three are episteme, techné and phronesis

Whereas episteme concerns theoretical know why and techné denotes technical know how, phronesis emphasizes practical knowledge and practical ethics.

Aristotle classified knowledge in three different types Episteme (Scientific Knoledge), Techné (Skill and crafts) and Phronesis (Wisdom).

1.►Episteme: It means “to know” in Greek. It is related to scientific knowledge. Attributes: Universal, invariable, context-independent.  Based on general analytical rationality. Epistemology, the study of knowledge, is derived from episteme. 

Episteme was viewed by the Greeks as a partner to techné. Plato used episteme to denote ‘justified true belief”, in contrast to doxa, common belief or opinion.

2.►TechnéThe greek word translates to craftsmanship, craft, or art.

In the Dictionary of Philosophy,  it is defined as: “The set of principles, or rational method, involved in the production of an object or the accomplishment of an end; the knowledge of such principles or method; art. Techne resembles episteme in implying knowledge of principles, but differs in that its aim is making or doing, not disinterested understanding”. 

Characteristics: Pragmatic, variable, context-dependent. Oriented toward production. Based on practical instrumental rationality governed by a conscious goal. The original concept appears today in terms such as “technique” and “technology.” 

For the ancient Greeks, when techné appears as art, it is most often viewed negatively, whereas when used as a craft it is viewed positively because a craft is the practical application of an art, rather than art as an end in itself. In “The Republic”, written by Plato, the knowledge of forms is the indispensable basis for the philosophers craft of ruling in the city.

Aristotle viewed techné as an imperfect human representation of nature. Socrates and Plato also used the word, and distinguished craftsmanship (which they viewed in a positive light) from art (which they viewed in a negative light). 

3.►Phronesis It means Practical wisdom. It is related to the following main ideas: Ethics.  Deliberation about values with reference to praxis.  Pragmatic, variable, context dependent.  Oriented toward action.  Based on practical value-rationality.

Aristotle distinguished between Sophia and Phronesis in the following manner. Sophia involves reasoning concerning universal truths, while Phronesis includes a capability of rational thinking. 

In order to practice phronesis, Aristotle felt that political abilities were required, as well as thinking abilities. Aristotle categorized there elements of character (ethos) in the following manner: 1) phronesis (how to act in particular situations), 2) areté (virtue) and 3) eunoia (goodwill).-

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♠Quotes From Aristotle´s “Nicomachean Ethics”

“Techné, Episteme and Phronesis”:

Aristotle (384 /322) .

Aristotle (384 /322) .-

“What science [episteme] is…will be clear from the following argument.  We all assume that what we know cannot be otherwise than it is, whereas in the case of things that may be otherwise, when they have passed out of our view we can no longer tell whether they exist or not.  Therefore, the object of scientific knowledge is of necessity.  Therefore it is eternal…  Induction introduces us to first principles and universals, while deduction starts from universals… Thus scientific knowledge is a demonstrative state, (i.e., a state of mind capable of demonstrating what it known)…i.e., a person has scientific knowledge when his belief is conditioned in a certain way, and the first principles are known to him;  because if they are not better known to him than the conclusion drawn from them, he will have knowledge only incidentally”. [N.E. 1139b18-36].
“Since building is an art [techné] and is essentially a reasoned productive state, and since there is no art that is not a state of this kind, and no state of this kind that is not an art, it follows that art is the same as a productive state that is truly reasoned.  Every art is concerned with bringing something into being, and the practice of an art is the study of how to bring into being something that is capable either of being or of not being…For it is not with things that are or come to be of necessity that art is concerned [this is the domain of episteme] nor with natural objects (because these have their origin in themselves)…Art…operates in the sphere of the variable”.  [N.E. 1140a1-23].
“We may grasp the nature of prudence [phronesis] if we consider what sort of people we call prudent.  Well, it is thought to be the mark of a prudent man to be able to deliberate rightly about what is good and advantageous…But nobody deliberates about things that are invariable…So…prudence cannot be science or art;  not science [episteme] because what can be done is a variable (it may be done in different ways, or not done at all), and not an art [techne] because action and production are generically different.  For production aims at an end other than itself;  but this is impossible in the case of action, because the end is merely doing well.  What remains, then is that it is a true state, reasoned, and capable of action with regard to things that are good or bad for man.  We consider that this quality belongs to those who understand the management of households or states”.  [N.E. 1140a24-1140b12].

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 Aristotle (384 /322) .-

Aristotle (384 /322) .-

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♠Attached Notes: “Techné, Episteme in Plato´s Republic“:

platoPlato’s uses the notion of techné as a way of explicating central themes, such as virtue, ruling, and the creation of the cosmos. First of all, a craft has a function (ergon); this is what it characteristically does or what it characteristically accomplishes. In fact, he highlights that crafts are differentiated by their specific functions (erga) (Rep. 346a). 

While the ergon of a craft is its goal, the goal is frequently identified with a result separate from the activity of the craft. Whereas techné is associated with knowing how to do (epistasthai) certain activities, episteme sometimes indicates a theoretical component of techné, associated then with understanding (gnôsis).

For Plato, Knowledge (episeême) is the ability to know the real as it is (Rep 477b). Knowledge, in the sense of episteme, will be deductive and logical, like mathematics; unlike mathematics, its deductions will be based on foundations that need no further justification. In part it will be something like mathematical deduction based in fundamental reality. When using mathematical thinking as an analogue for dialectic, Platon  is still relying on the notion of technê since both geometry and calculation are technai. So even though he distinguishes between techné and episteme, their relation is more of a tension than a divorce.

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♠Links Post:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Techne
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/episteme-techne/
http://www.crab.rutgers.edu/~goertzel/threeapproaches.htm
http://ian.umces.edu/blog/2013/08/29/its-all-greek-to-me-the-terms-praxis-and-phronesis-in-environmental-philosophy/

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