Praxis and Poesis in Aristotle's practical philosophy

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All the paradoxes in the Engberg-Pedersen interpretation and all the present-day discussions about whether energeia is an activity or a state, are not, in my opinion, the result of a defective reading of Aristotle but, rather, the influence of the prevailing values of our industrial society. These values - held, as it seems, by these commentators - are conspicuously teleological: they prevent us from grasping the qualitative difference between praxis and poesis and between energeia and kinesis. Indeed, since these teleological values do not take this difference into account, the commentators only ask, when Aristotle distinguishes between praxis and poesis, how much time praxis takes, or if it takes time at all, which is totally irrelevant. Duration in time is incompatible with praxis, not because praxis does not take time nor because it is a state, but because duration in time relates only to purposeful thinking and productive activity, which praxis is not. Commentators fail therefore to analyze successfully the meaning of the expression "actions in which the end (telos) inheres." It is not clear to them what is meant by activities that are ends in themselves. Failing to grasp this fact, they resort to analysing the temporality of the activity, which is irrelevant to it. Time is a measure of efficiency, and therefore relevant in poesis which is concerned with achievement. The relation of poesis to time is an inverse one: the shorter the time taken for an activity the better the poesis. In ancient-Greek consciousness a valuable activity was that which was undertaken for its own sake and therefore without concern for the amount of time employed in its performance; whereas an action taken as a means to an end was regarded as immoral. In modern society, on the other hand, utilitarian values tend to make it almost incomprehensible that something should be done for its own sake: every human action is evaluated by its result, and when the focus is on the result the criteria of efficiency and utility are obviously relevant. The Greeks valued praxis more than poesis, whereas our culture values poesis and techne more than praxis. The understanding of Aristotle's concept of praxis is useful therefore not only in order to understand ancient-Greek culture, but also to understand better our own presuppositions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)185-198
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Value Inquiry
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 1990

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Law


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