Aristotle on deliberation

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Aristotle differs from most later philosophers in distinguishing clearly between epistemic reasoning, which aims for truth, and practical reasoning, which does not. How can he posit this distinction and yet not dismiss practical reasoning as flattery and manipulation, as Plato did? The answer lies in the concepts of deliberation (boulē, bouleusis) and deliberate choice (proairesis). They link Aristotle’s rhetoric, ethics, and politics together and help provide definitions of all three: Ethics is about deliberate choices by individuals. Politics and rhetoric are about the collective deliberate choices by the polity: politics is about making these choices well so that the good life of all citizens is optimally secured; rhetoric is the principal means to do this. These links have not been much discussed by scholars, probably because few studies range across these three Aristotelian ‘arts’; a proper discussion of them should draw on modern work in ethics, political science, and rhetoric. These key concepts and Aristotle’s discussions of them offer inspiration for modern theories of ‘deliberative democracy,’ citizenship, argumentation, debate, and the public sphere.


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