Posterior Analytics by Aristotle: Summary & Interpretation

Instructor: Joshua Sipper

Dr. Sipper holds a PhD in Education, a Master's of Education, and a Bachelor's in English. Most of his experience is in adult and post secondary education.

Aristotle's Posterior Analytics is still hailed today as a triumph of philosophy. This lesson will look at its methodologies that still allow teachers and students alike to understand how knowledge is discovered.

Where Knowledge Meets Understanding

Most know Aristotle as an ancient philosopher, logician, and mathematician who lived in Greece in the mid-fourth century BCE. He is hailed as one of the greatest minds in history and credited with the development of much of modern Western thought.

As a philosopher and logician, Aristotle sought to understand knowledge; where it comes from and how to attain it. He compiled many of his writings into a magnum opus we know today as the Organon. The word Organon means 'instrument' or 'tool' and was used as a manual for understanding how to find and use knowledge, information, and wisdom.

Within his Organon, Aristotle explores how knowledge can be sought and analyzed. One of these methodologies is called Posterior Analysis, in other words, analysis of information at the end of the knowledge process. Ultimately, Posterior Analytics comes down to learning from looking back. We all do this all the time. After all, hindsight is 20/20.

Posterior Analytics uses several methods through which to gain episteme or 'knowledge', including induction, demonstration, epistemology, and the indemonstrable.

An ancient bust of Aristotle, hailed as one of the greatest minds of all time and responsible for much of Western thought and understanding.
Bust of Aristotle

Induction

One of the most instrumental components of Posterior Analytics is induction, the process of moving from the particular toward the general.

Induction is seen as an opposite, but equally powerful form of deduction (which moves from the general to the specific). Induction looks at the particulars of a situation or idea and compares and contrasts the common threads. This starts with a hypothesis, leads to observable data, and then to a theory of understanding. This is also known as the scientific process.

Through induction, information can be gathered, digested, and explained, giving a clear picture of the direction, if not the solution, of a generalized network of understanding.

Demonstration

Another powerful method of knowledge discovery in Posterior Analytics is demonstration, which allows scientists to study and share the experience of an understanding that can be repeated and refined so as to verify the solidity and truth of information. This process moves from ideas to a more concrete methodology of gaining and increasing knowledge.

Demonstration may seem to be outside of philosophy and theory and be more in the epistemic (hard knowledge) domain, but Aristotle saw it as a continuation of the process of Posterior Analytics. To him, demonstration was not necessarily a finished act, but a practice using knowledge as a guide, thus placing it firmly in the category of theory.

An ancient Greek manuscript (circa 2nd century) of Prior Analytics by Aristotle.
Ancient Greek Aristotle

Epistemology

Epistemology refers to methods, means, and strategies that are used to take knowledge and see how it works together to formulate complete thoughts, ideas, and laws. The Greek word episteme is generally translated as 'knowledge'. However, what Aristotle seems to be trying to accomplish in Posterior Analytics is really closer to science. Knowledge is perceived as the mere collection of information, whereas science includes methods, means, and strategies for collecting, parsing, and linking information.

Posterior Analytics, then, is related through learning to the process we know as the scientific method. This method was completed in large part by Sir Francis Bacon in his Novum Organon, an extension of Aristotle's Organon, which set the stage for all that was to follow.

So, how do we know when scientific knowledge has been achieved? Aristotle says it is when we discover ''the cause why the thing is, that it is the cause of this, and that this cannot be otherwise.'' In other words, when you have observed something enough to see that it reacts the same way every time and never reacts in a different way, you have seen science in action!

14th century Latin copy of work by Aristotle. His work has been painstakingly preserved for millennia.
14th century Aristotle

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