Development of the Theme Aristotle Mimesis and Knowledge

It is this kind of knowledge, a practical knowledge in the Aristotelian sense of phronesis that will direct the thinking of this essay. For Aristotle there is a clear link between knowledge, mimesis and the nature of analogy. This inter-association connects his eudaemonistic ethics to therapeia, rhetoric to catharsis, logic to stylistics — as we shall see. And, by extension, this cluster of notions has political consequences. Hence, of tragedy, Aristotle writes that 'by means of language enriched with all kinds of ornament ... it represents men in action ... and through pity and fear it effects relief to these and similar emotions' .21 If we work backwards from the sequence here announced, knowledge begins with experience, the excitation of the passions common to all, and is expressed through the symbolic form of utterance. In De Interpretatione, Aristotle elaborates by emphasising that spoken words are symbols and written words are symbols of those symbols.22 The exchange value of these symbols is established by convention: their meaning is defined and confirmed within social practices. There is no natural relation between names and things in themselves.

Where a gap opens between our naming and our experience of the world, the communication of meaning is paramount, and therefore Aristotle calls for a style which is proper for the subject-matter to be conveyed. Analogy, a subset of metaphor (being a metaphor of proportion) in Poetics, is viewed as the most important kind of figure in Book III of Rhetoric because of its facility to communicate a subject vividly and actively: 'expressions represent a thing to an eye when they show it in a state of activity'.23 The point of communication is impact and event: 'such expressions arrest the hearer's mind, and fix his attention'.24 So the rhetorician aims at pathos, the dialectician aims at pistis (conviction), and the syllogist aims at episteme (knowledge) and scientific demonstration. In Poetics, 'under the head of

21 Poetics, 1449b21—8.

22 De Interpretatione, 16a3—7.

23 Rhetoric, 1411b2.

24 De Interpretatione, 16b19—22.

Thought' Aristotle conceives each of these aims in terms of a specific linguistic effectivity, as 'all the effects to be produced by language'.25 If 'purity of style consists in calling things by their own proper names'26 this is not because things have a direct correspondence to their proper names, but a style of communication is advocated which is appropriate to the experience and communication of those things.27 Mimesis is effective, imitating and conveying an action, to the extent that its metaphors are proportional (analogical). This connection between language, meaning and action can be seen as a development of Aristotle's argument in De Interpretatione that independently neither a noun nor a verb has meaning (16a19—27 and 16b6—8, 19—22). Communication arises only in their association as name (onoma) and expression (rhema); only as such is there logos (significant meaning).

There is no absolute distinction that can be made, then, between analogy as a mode of argumentation (what Aristotle terms an enthymeme) and analogy as a mode of metaphorical expression. Logic and rhetoric are inseparable from the appropriate style necessary for the communication of meaning; just as a virtuous act is one appropriate to the situation. In fact, 'It is the logician, capable of examining the matter and forms of a syllogism, who will be in the highest degree a master of rhetorical argumentation.' Thus even in speculative philosophy, where the definition of words is essential to clarity of demonstration, concern is expressed for 'those unacquainted with the power of names',28 'actual definitions [where] equivocation slips in unnoticed'29 and the ineradicable use of words whose meanings are neither univocal nor equivocal. These words Boethius called modes of equivocation a consilio; more recent scholars have called them pros hen equivocals.30 A metaphoricity remains constitutive of all communication; what is to be discerned is the proportionality in the metaphoric, the appropriateness of the style to the contents of the communication. The distinction between speculative and poetic discourse, for Aristotle, is more a matter of the relationship

25 Poetics, 1456a38—b1.

26 Rhetoric, 1407a3.

27 Sr Miriam Theresa Larkin C.S., Language in the Philosophy of Aristotle (The Hague: Mouton, 1971), p. 51. On Aristotle's understanding of language and how it was received and understood by patristic, medieval and Enlightenment exegetes, see Hans Arens, Aristotle's Theory of Language and its Tradition (Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 1984).

28 Sophistical Refutations I.165a1—18.

29 Topica I.100b6.

30 See Larkin, Language in the Philosophy of Aristotle, p. 75 and her conclusion: 'Aristotle uses the term "metaphor"in such a way that the term itself is a pros hen equivocal', p. 101. See also Ricreur's analysis of paronyms in The Rule of Metaphor, tr. Robert Czerny (London: Routledge, 1978), pp. 259-72.

of function to ends, ergon to telos or, as Wittgenstein might put it, language-

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment