Aristotle on Whether Young People Should Use Maxims (An Ironic Quotation)

Many books and websites quote Aristotle as saying “It is unbecoming for a young man to use maxims”. Aristotle kind of says this, but why he says it and what he means by a maxim is not understood clearly from the way this quotation is applied as a meme. This is ironic because the quotation is a maxim but it violates the very reason Aristotle says the young should not use maxims (because they don’t have the experience to know what they’re talking about).

Aristotle, Rhetoric 2.1395a

“Using maxims is appropriate for those who are older in age [when uttered] about things for which they have some experience. Using maxims before one is this age lacks propriety as does story-telling: [to speak] about what one has no experience in is foolish and uneducated. A sufficient sign of this is that bumpkins especially tend to make up maxims and they easily show them off.”

 ἁρμόττει δὲ γνωμολογεῖν ἡλικίᾳ μὲν πρεσβυτέροις, περὶ δὲ τούτων ὧν ἔμπειρός τις ἐστί, ὡς τὸ μὲν μὴ τηλικοῦτον ὄντα γνωμολογεῖν ἀπρεπὲς ὥσπερ καὶ τὸ μυθολογεῖν, περὶ δ᾿ ὧν ἄπειρος, ἠλίθιον καὶ ἀπαίδευτον. σημεῖον δ᾿ ἱκανόν· οἱ γὰρ ἀγροῖκοι μάλιστα γνωμοτύποι εἰσὶ καὶ ῥᾳδίως ἀποφαίνονται.

Something else this usage misses is how Aristotle defines a maxim. Oh, and there is also the fact that this comes from the Rhetoric. Aristotle is not claiming that it is unseemly for the young to use maxims because it is amoral or unethical, but rather that because of their youth and lack of experience they will not be persuasive by doing so.

2.1394a

“A maxim is a statement which does not concern specifics about each thing—as in what kind of a person Iphikrates was—but it is general. Nevertheless, it does not aim at all general things—such as the fact that straight is the opposite of crooked—but about however so many things are the goals of actions and what should be selected or avoided in acting.

And where the enthymeme is pretty much the syllogism for these things, maxims are the outcomes of the enthymeme or the starting principles without the syllogism’s completion. Here’s an example: ‘It isn’t right that any sensible man have his children educated to be excessively wise’ [Eur. Medea 296]. This is a maxim; should the cause and the explanation be added, it would be an enthymeme.”

ἔστι δὲ γνώμη ἀπόφανσις, οὐ μέντοι περὶ τῶν καθ᾿ ἕκαστον, οἷον ποῖός τις Ἰφικράτης, ἀλλὰ καθόλου· καὶ οὐ περὶ πάντων καθόλου, οἷον ὅτι τὸ εὐθὺ τῷ καμπύλῳ ἐναντίον, ἀλλὰ περὶ ὅσων αἱ πράξεις εἰσί, καὶ αἱρετὰ ἢ φευκτά ἐστι πρὸς τὸ πράττειν. ὥστ᾿ ἐπεὶ τὰ ἐνθυμήματα ὁ περὶ τούτων συλλογισμός ἐστι σχεδόν, τά τε συμπεράσματα τῶν ἐνθυμημάτων καὶ αἱ ἀρχαὶ ἀφαιρεθέντος τοῦ συλλογισμοῦ γνῶμαί εἰσι, οἷον

χρὴ δ᾿ οὔ ποθ᾿, ὅς τις ἀρτίφρων πέφυκ᾿ ἀνήρ, / παῖδας περισσῶς ἐκδιδάσκεσθαι σοφούς.

τοῦτο μὲν οὖν γνώμη· προστεθείσης δὲ τῆς αἰτίας καὶ τοῦ διὰ τί, ἐνθύμημά ἐστι τὸ ἅπαν

Image result for It is unbecoming for young men to utter maxims

Ugh. Why mountains?

It Sounds Cool, But Aristotle Only Kind of Said “The End of Labor is to Gain Leisure”

 “The end of labor is to gain leisure.”

This shows up in Tyron Edwards’ A Dictionary of Thoughts in 1909, Century Illustrated Magazine, also from 1909. And then it just keeps on keeping on. This may be Aristotelian, but as far as I can find, it is not really Aristotle.

There are ideas that seem akin to this in Aristotle: in Nicomachean Ethics, for example, he says “[because], happiness seems to reside in leisure, we labor [sacrifice leisure] so that we may have leisure” δοκεῖ τε ἡ εὐδαιμονία ἐν τῇ σχολῇ εἶναι, ἀσχολούμεθα γὰρ ἵνα σχολάζωμεν (1177b). And Aristotle talks a lot about leisure as being desirable and “although leisure and business are both necessary, leisure is more fully an end than business” (εἰ γὰρ ἄμφω μὲν δεῖ, μᾶλλον δὲ αἱρετὸν τὸ σχολάζειν τῆς ἀσχολίας καὶ τέλος, 1337b33-35). Earlier, he repeats the phrase that “business is for the sake of leisure” (ἀσχολίαν δὲ σχολῆς), in a series of nearly Orwellian paradoxes: “war is for the sake of peace, business for the sake of leisure, and necessary and useful things are for the sake of the good.” (πόλεμον μὲν εἰρήνης χάριν, ἀσχολίαν δὲ σχολῆς, τὰ δ᾿ ἀναγκαῖα καὶ χρήσιμα τῶν καλῶν ἕνεκεν,1333c35-37).

So, for this one, I think we have a bit of an elaborated translation of an essentially Aristotelian idea. But, still, he didn’t really say this—Aristotle is perfectly capable of saying that the telos of a thing is another thing. Where he mentions telos in conjunction with leisure, he writes that leisure itself is an end on its own more than business [read: ‘labor’] is. This is a rather different notion than saying that one is the end of the other.

Racists Use This Fake Quote From Aristotle

“Tolerance and apathy are the last virtues of a dying society”

The character of this quotation is alien to Aristotle and ancient Greek ideas including using “tolerance” in this way and “dying society” (see the quora discussion). I poked around a bit through Aristotle, changing some of the ideas (an ancient Greek might think of “sick” or “corrupt” society”) but there is nothing close to this.

While searching, I found the variation “Tolerance is the last virtue of a depraved society” attributed to Dr. James Kennedy (an Evangelical preacher) and then Hutton Gibson (father of Mel Gibson and Holocaust Denier). Some of the mis-translations and fake translations can be found in quote books from the 19th century. This one does not appear in any books older than a decade or so and mostly in self-published racist texts whose titles and authors I will not print.

One need only a little familiarity with the discourse of modern politics to hear echoes of right-wing alarmism here. As a Reddit commenter notes, this one seems used to target multiculturalism and support a supremacist world view. Don’t google this to see how people use it, because it will be upsetting. A reddit user did point to the Loeb translation of Politics:

“Also difference of race is a cause of faction, until harmony of spirit is reached; for just as any chance multitude of people does not form a state, so a state is not formed in any chance period of time. ” (Politics Book 5 section 1303a)

Aristotle, Politics 1303a27-30

“Not being of the same tribe is a cause of strife until they “breathe in sync” [breathe together? Sumpneusê], for just as a state does not develop from an accidental mob, so too it does not come together at an accidental time.”

στασιωτικὸν δὲ καὶ τὸ μὴ ὁμόφυλον, ἕως ἂν συμπνεύσῃ· ὥσπερ γὰρ οὐδ᾿ ἐκ τοῦ τυχόντος πλήθους πόλις γίγνεται, οὕτως οὐδ᾿ ἐν τῷ τυχόντι χρόνῳ. διὸ ὅσοι ἤδη συνοίκους ἐδέξαντο ἢ ἐποίκους οἱ πλεῖστοι ἐστασίασαν

It is easy to take this passage as supporting a racist point of view; I think that it probably is kind of racist, but it connects more with the Greek political idea of homophrosune or homonoia, that a unifying feature of a multiple people must be shared beliefs or aims. Also, rather than focusing on the first clause (the same tribe thing) note the trouble focus on “accident”: states cannot just happen. They need planning, work and a reason to be.

(Also, homonoia is not unproblematic, but at least it leaves open the idea that people who look different can join together in common cause. Maybe that is a pretty low bar, but it is as far from the texts using this fake quote as Olympos is from Tartaros.)

But, don’t fear, I am not going to defend Aristotle here. He can be plenty hateful. The point is, he did not say this stupid thing. And, further, there’s plenty of material he actually did say which is reprehensible. So, why be so lazy and recycle some nonsense from an American preacher?

LSJ Supneu

 

Meme Police: A Collection of things Aristotle Did Not Say

This is likely to be an ongoing list. If you have any additions, explanations, or counterclaims, leave a comment and we will integrate it. The Kiwi Hellenist has started a blog for some other authors.

1. “It is the mark of an educated mind to entertain a thought without accepting it”

This is probably a willful twisting of something from the Nicomachean Ethics

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1, 1094a24-1095a

“It is right that we ask [people] to accept each of the things which are said in the same way: for it is the mark of an educated person to search for the same kind of clarity in each topic to the extent that the nature of the matter accepts it. For it is similar to expect a mathematician to speak persuasively or for an orator to furnish clear proofs!

Each person judges well what they know and is thus a good critic of those things. For each thing in specific, someone must be educated [to be a critic]; to [be a critic in general] one must be educated about everything.”

τὸν αὐτὸν δὴ τρόπον καὶ ἀποδέχεσθαι χρεὼν ἕκαστα τῶν λεγομένων· πεπαιδευομένου γάρ ἐστιν ἐπὶ τοσοῦτον τἀκριβὲς ἐπιζητεῖν καθ’ ἕκαστον γένος, ἐφ’ ὅσον ἡ τοῦ πράγματος φύσις ἐπιδέχεται· παραπλήσιον γὰρ φαίνεται μαθηματικοῦ τε πιθανολογοῦντος ἀποδέχεσθαι καὶ ῥητορικὸν ἀποδείξεις ἀπαιτεῖν. ἕκαστος δὲ κρίνει καλῶς ἃ γινώσκει, καὶ τούτων ἐστὶν ἀγαθὸς κριτής. καθ’ ἕκαστον μὲν ἄρα ὁ πεπαιδευμένος, ἁπλῶς δ’ ὁ περὶ πᾶν πεπαιδευμένος.

2. “A Whole is greater than the sum of its parts”

This really popular misattribution may be a poor translation of the Metaphysics

Aristotle, Metaphysics 8.6 [=1045a]

“For however many things have a plurality of parts and are not merely a complete aggregate but instead some kind of a whole beyond its parts, there is some cause of it since even in bodies, for some the fact that the there is contact is the cause of a unity/oneness while for others there is viscosity or some other characteristic of this sort.

πάντων γὰρ ὅσα πλείω μέρη ἔχει καὶ μή ἐστιν οἷον σωρὸς τὸ πᾶν ἀλλ᾿ ἔστι τι τὸ ὅλον παρὰ τὰ μόρια, ἔστι τι αἴτιον, ἐπεὶ καὶ ἐν τοῖς σώμασι τοῖς μὲν ἁφὴ αἰτία τοῦ ἓν εἶναι, τοῖς δὲ γλισχρότης ἤ τι πάθος ἕτερον τοιοῦτον.

3. “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” [and many variations thereof]

This one has absolutely no basis. Aristotle says many things about education, this just ain’t one of them.

4. “We are What we repeatedly do. Excellence is an act, not a habit.”

This one is has likely slipped into the Internet Aristotle Quotarium from Will Durant’s misconstruing of the Nicomachean Ethics. Indeed, this has been debunked more than a few times. Here’s another version: “Excellence is not a singular act but a habit. You are what you do repeatedly.” there are many variants

Here’s the closest Aristotle actually gets:

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1105b

“It is therefore well said that a person becomes just by doing just things and prudent from practicing wisdom. And, no one could ever approach being good without doing these things. But many who do not practice them flee to argument and believe that they are practicing philosophy and that they will become serious men in this way. They act the way sick people do who listen to their doctors seriously and then do nothing of what they were prescribed. Just as these patients will not end up healthy from treating their body in this way, so most people won’t change their soul with such philosophy.”

εὖ οὖν λέγεται ὅτι ἐκ τοῦ τὰ δίκαια πράττειν ὁ δίκαιος γίνεται καὶ ἐκ τοῦ τὰ σώφρονα ὁ σώφρων· ἐκ δὲ τοῦ μὴ πράττειν ταῦτα οὐδεὶς ἂν οὐδὲ μελλήσειε γίνεσθαι ἀγαθός. ἀλλ’ οἱ πολλοὶ ταῦτα μὲν οὐ πράττουσιν, ἐπὶ δὲ τὸν λόγον καταφεύγοντες οἴονται φιλοσοφεῖν καὶ οὕτως ἔσεσθαι σπουδαῖοι, ὅμοιόν τι ποιοῦντες τοῖς κάμνουσιν, οἳ τῶν ἰατρῶν ἀκούουσι μὲν ἐπιμελῶς, ποιοῦσι δ’ οὐδὲν τῶν προσταττομένων. ὥσπερ οὖν οὐδ’ ἐκεῖνοι εὖ ἕξουσι τὸ σῶμα οὕτω θεραπευόμενοι, οὐδ’ οὗτοι τὴν ψυχὴν οὕτω φιλοσοφοῦντες.

5. “Knowing Yourself is the Beginning of all Wisdom”

No. I don’t even need to look this up. No. No. No. This is a version of the Delphic Oracles “know thyself” Γνῶθι σαυτόν. At least attribute it to Plato or Aristotle something. Or do what Diogenes Laertius does at give it to Pittakos (1.79.10)

6. “Whosoever is delighted in solitude, is either a wild beast or a god.”

This is almost Aristotle. It is mostly Francis Bacon (‘Essays’, XXVII “On Friendship” (1612, rewritten 1625). Aristotle said something not to far off, but still not this

Aristotle, Politics 1.2 1253a25–30

“It is clear that the state is naturally prior to each individual person. If each person when separated is not sufficient on his own, just as other parts are to the whole while a person who is incapable of joining commonwealth or does not need any part of a state because of self-sufficiency is either a beast or a god.”

ὅτι μὲν οὖν ἡ πόλις καὶ φύσει πρότερον ἢ ἕκαστος, δῆλον. εἰ γὰρ μὴ αὐτάρκης ἕκαστος χωρισθείς, ὁμοίως τοῖς ἄλλοις μέρεσιν ἕξει πρὸς τὸ ὅλον, ὁ δὲ μὴ δυνάμενος κοινωνεῖν ἢ μηθὲν δεόμενος δι᾿ αὐτάρκειαν οὐθὲν μέρος πόλεως, ὥστε ἢ θηρίον ἢ θεός.

7. “Where the needs of the world and your talents cross, there lies your vocation.”

This is total super-capitalist, corporate double-speak nonsense. It does not even remotely sound like Aristotle. I am not sure where it comes from and I cannot find it debunked, but I will keep looking.

8. “Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.”

This one is likely a mistranslation or an attribution of a lost saying by Seneca in On Tranquility of mind. But I can’t really justify that by what I have found in the Seneca. Regardless, this is more neo-capitalist nonsense. I have a hard time believing this is anywhere in Aristotle.

A few twitter correspondents responded that this sounds a little bit like the end of the Nicomachean Ethics where Aristotle writes “pleasure brings completion to an activity” ( τελειοῖ δὲ τὴν ἐνέργειαν ἡδονή, 1174b). I will not claim that this sounds nothing like the apocryphal translation above, but I will insist that in its context, Aristotle’s comment has nothing to do with “work” in the way it is construed, but instead this is about aesthetic pleasure. The worst version of this meme is this terrible, no-good, evil version:

Note the double emphasis on work? This is the kind of poster a middle manager puts up to ‘motivate’ his underpaid minions before he drives home in his Porsche….

9. “Well-begun is half done”

This is not really Aristotle. The idea is proverbial even when it is kind of quoted by Aristotle. But these words belong to someone else. Here is as close as Aristotle gets:

Aristotle, Politics 5, 1303b

“For the mistake happens in the beginning and the beginning is said to be half of the whole, so that even a minor mistake at the beginning is equal to those made at different stages.”

ἐν ἀρχῇ γὰρ γίγνεται τὸ ἁμάρτημα, ἡ δ᾿ ἀρχὴ λέγεται ἥμισυ εἶναι παντός, ὥστε καὶ τὸ ἐν αὐτῇ μικρὸν ἁμάρτημα ἀνάλογόν ἐστι πρὸς τὰ ἐν τοῖς ἄλλοις μέρεσιν.

This particular quotation comes from the Benjamin Jowett translation and is replicated on the wikiquote site. Aristotle in phrasing this as “it is said” (λέγεται) is marking the line as a proverb. Horace’s “The one who has begun has completed half the task.” dimidium facti, qui coepit, habet (Epistle 1.2) is closer to the popular version. Hesiod has “fool does not know that half is greater than the whole” ( Νήπιοι οὐδ’ ἴσασιν ὅσῳ πλέον ἥμισυ παντός:)

10. “The more you know the more you know you don’t know”

(yes, Pinterest). This is clearly a retread of Plato’s Apology 27d: “I think that I am wiser by this very small bit: I don’t pretend to know what I don’t know.” ἔοικα γοῦν τούτου γε σμικρῷ τινι αὐτῷ τούτῳ σοφώτερος εἶναι, ὅτι ἃ μὴ οἶδα οὐδὲ οἴομαι εἰδέναι.

11. “To write well, express yourself like common people, but think like a wise man. Or, think as wise men do, but speak as the common people do.” 

this shows up a lot in business oriented and inspirational self-help tomes. This does not sound like Aristotle at all. I can’t find anything remotely close to this. Any challengers? (see also the shortened “Think like a wise man, Talk like the common people.”

Image result for To write well, express yourself like common people, but think like a wise man. Or, think as wise men do, but speak as the common people do." ~ Aristotle

12. “No great mind has ever existed without a touch of madness”

This is another indirect attribution that probably comes from Seneca De Tranquilitate Animi 10 (“or [believe] Aristotle that there was never any great genius without a tincture of insanity”. sive Aristoteli nullum magnum ingenium sine mixtura dementiae fuit). So, it is almost Aristotle, except that we do not have it in any of Aristotle’s extant works (and ancient authors like Seneca, Plutarch and Diogenes Laertius are not beyond making quotes up or misattributing them).

Aristotle does talk about poetry and madness in the Poetics and in his Problems.

Image result for "No great mind has ever existed without a touch of madness. aristotle

  1. “Memory is the scribe of the soul”

Ugh. “scribe”? Soul? This one sounds like it a misunderstanding or a fabrication made to sound old-fashioned.

This seems to become really popular at the end of the 19th century where it makes its way into quotation books (Pearls of Thought by Martin Ballou, 1892; Pensnylvania School Journal 42; James Wood, Dictionary of Quotations 1899). This seems off to me and I cannot find a passage to match it. Since there is no work or passage attached to any version of this quotation and there is not even a discussion of it on places like wikiquote, I feel pretty confident calling this one false until someone tells me otherwise.

14. “It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.”

I really did not need to look this one up. The tone of self-help encouragement motivating this quote is really not Aristotelian. I think this might be one of the clearest offenders. But, its essential badness made me google it. This line is often misattributed to Buddha–but it is often attributed to Aristotle…Onassis. So this meme is a new variation on an old virus. I fear we might already be too late

15. “Tolerance and apathy are the last virtues of a dying society”

The character of this quotation is alien to Aristotle and ancient Greek ideas including using “tolerance” in this way and “dying society” (see the quora discussion). I poked around a bit through Aristotle, changing some of the ideas (an ancient Greek might think of “sick” or “corrupt” society”) but there is nothing close to this.

While searching, I found the variation “Tolerance is the last virtue of a depraved society” attributed to Dr. James Kennedy (an Evangelical preacher) and then Hutton Gibson (father of Mel Gibson and Holocaust Denier). Some of the mis-translations and fake translations can be found in quote books from the 19th century. This one does not appear in any books older than a decade or so and mostly in self-published racist texts whose titles and authors I will not print.

15. “There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.”

This one is easy. Wikiquote has already debunked it. But the content of the quote as well as its form should be a warning anyway. The final triplet is not really Aristotelian, but it is almost imaginably Greek. This is alleged to come from Elbert Hubbard’s Little Journeys to the Houses of American Statesmen, but that provides only the second half.

 

16. “The end of labor is to gain leisure.”

This shows up in Tyron Edwards’ A Dictionary of Thoughts in 1909, Century Illustrated Magazine, also from 1909. And then it just keeps on keeping on. This may be Aristotelian, but as far as I can find, it is not really Aristotle.

There are ideas that seem akin to this in Aristotle: in Nicomachean Ethics, for example, he says “[because], happiness seems to reside in leisure, we labor [sacrifice leisure] so that we may have leisure” δοκεῖ τε ἡ εὐδαιμονία ἐν τῇ σχολῇ εἶναι, ἀσχολούμεθα γὰρ ἵνα σχολάζωμεν (1177b). And Aristotle talks a lot about leisure as being desirable and “although leisure and business are both necessary, leisure is more fully an end than business” (εἰ γὰρ ἄμφω μὲν δεῖ, μᾶλλον δὲ αἱρετὸν τὸ σχολάζειν τῆς ἀσχολίας καὶ τέλος, 1337b33-35). Earlier, he repeats the phrase that “business is for the sake of leisure” (ἀσχολίαν δὲ σχολῆς), in a series of nearly Orwellian paradoxes: “war is for the sake of peace, business for the sake of leisure, and necessary and useful things are for the sake of the good.” (πόλεμον μὲν εἰρήνης χάριν, ἀσχολίαν δὲ σχολῆς, τὰ δ᾿ ἀναγκαῖα καὶ χρήσιμα τῶν καλῶν ἕνεκεν,1333c35-37).

So, for this one, I think we have a bit of an elaborated translation of an essentially Aristotelian idea. But, still, he didn’t really say this—Aristotle is perfectly capable of saying that the telos of a thing is another thing. Where he mentions telos in conjunction with leisure, he writes that leisure itself is an end on its own more than business [read: ‘labor’] is. This is a rather different notion than saying that one is the end of the other.

 

17. “It is unbecoming for a young man to use maxims.”

Eh, yeah. He kind of said this. But what he meant was…ugh.

Image result for aristotle sad bust

Why? Why?

Nope, Aristotle Did Not Say, “It Is the Mark of an Educated Mind to Entertain a Thought Without….”

Oh, Internet, why do you abuse Aristotle so?

This has been bouncing around lately with the hashtag #Aristotle

Like many of the fake-istotle quotes, this one can be googled out of existence in about 5 seconds. According to wikiquote, this was first attributed to Aristotle by Lowell L. Bennion in his Religion and the Pursuit of Truth 1989, 52). They suggest that it is a misunderstanding of Nicomachean Ethics 1094b24. The density of the passage provides some grounds for why it may have been (over)simplified. But since it stands so early at the beginning of the Ethics, I suspect that there was a kind of smash and run search for an authoritative sounding quotation. As a side note, there is an interesting–by which I mean crazy–discussion of what this fake quote might mean on Quora. Some of the content there is interesting and accurate (about the idea of the fake quotation, not the actual bit); other parts are like Ancient Aliens crazy.

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1 1094a24-1095a

“It is right that we ask [people] to accept each of the things which are said in the same way: for it is the mark of an educated person to search for the same kind of clarity in each topic to the extent that the nature of the matter accepts it. For it is similar to expect a mathematician to speak persuasively or for an orator to furnish clear proofs!

Each person judges well what they know and is thus a good critic of those things. For each thing in specific, someone must be educated [to be a critic]; to [be a critic in general] one must be educated about everything.”

τὸν αὐτὸν δὴ τρόπον καὶ ἀποδέχεσθαι χρεὼν ἕκαστα τῶν λεγομένων· πεπαιδευομένου γάρ ἐστιν ἐπὶ τοσοῦτον τἀκριβὲς ἐπιζητεῖν καθ’ ἕκαστον γένος, ἐφ’ ὅσον ἡ τοῦ πράγματος φύσις ἐπιδέχεται· παραπλήσιον γὰρ φαίνεται μαθηματικοῦ τε πιθανολογοῦντος ἀποδέχεσθαι καὶ ῥητορικὸν ἀποδείξεις ἀπαιτεῖν. ἕκαστος δὲ κρίνει καλῶς ἃ γινώσκει, καὶ τούτων ἐστὶν ἀγαθὸς κριτής. καθ’ ἕκαστον μὲν ἄρα ὁ πεπαιδευμένος, ἁπλῶς δ’ ὁ περὶ πᾶν πεπαιδευμένος.

Patience for the Human Task: One Swallow Makes Not a Spring

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 1097b-1098a

“Doesn’t it seem that, just as the eye, hand, foot, and every part of the body has a purpose, so too there must be some task beyond all these together for a human being? What then could this be? For simply to live seems shared with plants too—we are looking for humanity’s particular purpose. The survival functions of nourishment and growth should just be set aside.

Following this, some might emphasize the function of sentience—but this seems common too with a horse, a cow and nearly every animal. What is left is the practice from human’s having reason. Of this, we have the part that heeds reason, and the part that possesses it and uses it. What this means can again be divided according to practice—for this seems to be the more proper way to say it.

If the task of the human soul is the practice according to reason rather than without reason, and we say that a task is the same in general for a group as it is for its serious members—just as it will be for a harp player in general the same as for a serious harpist once we accept that the excellence of the task is defined by its particular virtue: it is the task of a harpist to play the harp, the serious one plays it well—if this principle is true, and we propose that the task of a human being is some kind of life, and that life in this regard is the practice of the soul and actions performed with reason, and that the serious person does these things well and nobly, and each thing will be done well according to its intrinsic virtue—if all this is so, then the human good is the exercise of the soul through its own virtue—and if there are multiple kinds of virtues, then it is in accord with the best and most complete of them.

And, still, this happens over a full lifetime. For, one swallow does not make it spring, nor even one day; and thus, neither does one day or any brief amount of time make someone blessed and happy.”

ἢ καθάπερ ὀφθαλμοῦ καὶ χειρὸς καὶ ποδὸς καὶ ὅλως ἑκάστου τῶν μορίων φαίνεταί τι ἔργον, οὕτω καὶ ἀνθρώπου παρὰ πάντα ταῦτα θείη τις ἂν ἔργον τι; τί οὖν δὴ τοῦτ’ ἂν εἴη ποτέ; τὸ μὲν γὰρ ζῆν κοινὸν εἶναι φαίνεται καὶ τοῖς φυτοῖς, ζητεῖται δὲ τὸ ἴδιον. ἀφοριστέον ἄρα τήν τε θρεπτικὴν καὶ τὴν αὐξητικὴν ζωήν. ἑπομένη  δὲ αἰσθητική τις ἂν εἴη, φαίνεται δὲ καὶ αὐτὴ κοινὴ καὶ ἵππῳ καὶ βοῒ καὶ παντὶ ζῴῳ. λείπεται δὴ πρακτική τις τοῦ λόγον ἔχοντος· τούτου δὲ τὸ μὲν ὡς ἐπιπειθὲς λόγῳ, τὸ δ’ ὡς ἔχον καὶ διανοούμενον. διττῶς δὲ καὶ ταύτης λεγομένης τὴν κατ’ ἐνέργειαν θετέον· κυριώτερον γὰρ αὕτη δοκεῖ λέγεσθαι. εἰ δ’ ἐστὶν ἔργον ἀνθρώπου ψυχῆς ἐνέργεια κατὰ λόγον ἢ μὴ ἄνευ λόγου, τὸ δ’ αὐτό φαμεν ἔργον εἶναι τῷ γένει τοῦδε καὶ τοῦδε σπουδαίου, ὥσπερ κιθαριστοῦ καὶ σπουδαίου κιθαριστοῦ, καὶ ἁπλῶς δὴ τοῦτ’ ἐπὶ πάντων, προστιθεμένης τῆς κατὰ τὴν ἀρετὴν ὑπεροχῆς πρὸς τὸ ἔργον· κιθαριστοῦ μὲν γὰρ κιθαρίζειν, σπουδαίου δὲ τὸ εὖ· εἰ δ’ οὕτως, [ἀνθρώπου δὲ τίθεμεν ἔργον ζωήν τινα, ταύτην δὲ ψυχῆς ἐνέργειαν καὶ πράξεις μετὰ λόγου, σπουδαίου δ’ ἀνδρὸς εὖ ταῦτα καὶ καλῶς, ἕκαστον δ’ εὖ κατὰ τὴν οἰκείαν ἀρετὴν ἀποτελεῖται· εἰ δ’ οὕτω,] τὸ ἀνθρώπινον ἀγαθὸν ψυχῆς ἐνέργεια γίνεται κατ’ ἀρετήν, εἰ δὲ πλείους αἱ ἀρεταί, κατὰ τὴν ἀρίστην καὶ τελειοτάτην. ἔτι δ’ ἐν βίῳ τελείῳ. μία γὰρ χελιδὼν ἔαρ οὐ ποιεῖ, οὐδὲ μία ἡμέρα· οὕτω δὲ οὐδὲ μακάριον καὶ εὐδαίμονα μία ἡμέρα οὐδ’ ὀλίγος χρόνος.

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Virtue and the Arts: Some Aristotle to Start Your Day

Some Aristotle for this morning. I don’t think I actually believe the third point–because I suspect that insisting that human character is constant and consistent is actually (1) wrong and (2) impacts mental health negatively. But I like the beginning and the emphasis on that Aristotelian notion that doing something makes you something...

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 2.2-4

“Or is this also true in the arts? For spelling a word accidentally or with someone else guiding you is possible. Then, one will be a scholar if he spells something the way a scholar does, by which I mean according to the scholarly art itself. In addition, there is no real similarity between the arts and virtue. For the products of art are good in themselves—it suffices if they develop while having their own quality.

But acts of virtue don’t have their own intrinsic quality and are performed wisely or justly, but if the person who does them acts in a certain way. First, he must understand what he does. Second, he must choose to do it and for its own nature. And, third, he must act from a fixed and constant character. None of these conditions are necessary for the other arts apart from understanding the act. But knowledge is of little or no importance for the virtues while the other conditions are not minor but rather everything, if truly [virtue] emerges from repeatedly doing just and wise things.”

ἢ οὐδ᾿ ἐπὶ τῶν τεχνῶν οὕτως ἔχει; ἐνδέχεται γὰρ γραμματικόν τι ποιῆσαι καὶ ἀπὸ τύχης καὶ ἄλλου ὑποθεμένου· τότε οὖν ἔσται γραμματικός, ἐὰν καὶ γραμματικόν τι ποιήσῃ καὶ γραμματικῶς, τοῦτο δ᾿ ἐστὶ [τὸ] κατὰ τὴν ἐν αὑτῷ γραμματικήν. ἔτι οὐδ᾿ ὅμοιόν ἐστιν ἐπὶ τῶν τεχνῶν καὶ τῶν ἀρετῶν· τὰ μὲν γὰρ ὑπὸ τῶν τεχνῶν γινόμενα τὸ εὖ ἔχει ἐν αὑτοῖς, ἀρκεῖ οὖν αὐτά πως ἔχοντα γενέσθαι· τὰ δὲ κατὰ τὰς ἀρετὰς γινόμενα οὐκ ἐὰν αὐτά πως ἔχῃ, δικαίως ἢ σωφρόνως πράττεται, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐὰν ὁ πράττων πως ἔχων πράττῃ, πρῶτον μὲν ἐὰν εἰδώς, ἔπειτ᾿ ἐὰν προαιρούμενος, καὶ προαιρούμενος δι᾿ αὐτά, τὸ δὲ τρίτον καὶ ἐὰν βεβαίως καὶ ἀμετακινήτως ἔχων πράττῃ. ταῦτα δὲ πρὸς μὲν τὸ τὰς ἄλλας τέχνας ἔχειν οὐ συναριθμεῖται, πλὴν αὐτὸ τὸ εἰδέναι· πρὸς δὲ τὸ τὰς ἀρετὰς τὸ μὲν εἰδέναι μικρὸν ἢ οὐδὲν ἰσχύει, τὰ δ᾿ ἄλλα οὐ μικρὸν ἀλλὰ τὸ πᾶν δύναται, εἴπερ ἐκ τοῦ πολλάκις πράττειν τὰ δίκαια καὶ σώφρονα περιγίνεται.

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Brtitish Library, Constitution of the Athenians

No, Aristotle Didn’t Write “A Whole is Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts”

(…but he said something that could kind of be misconstrued that way.)

From the website T.E. Wealth:

“First coined by the philosopher Aristotle, this phrase aptly defines the modern concept of synergy. For anyone who has played team sports, it echoes the T.E.A.M. acronym—together, everyone achieves more. At T.E. Investment Counsel, it embodies how we take our investment process to the next level, bringing unparalleled value to our clients.”

Goodreads also attributes this to Aristotle so does quote fancy. A simple google search will show that there is an alarming uptick in the casual assertion that Aristotle said this. He didn’t. He said something kind of like this…

This line was clearly listed as a attribution and not a correct quotation on quoteland. The quotation is not attributed to Aristotle when it shows up in connection with Gestalt psychology. Indeed, a search of google books of the 20th century shows this proverbial saying as a generally unattributed axiom. The earliest example I can find so far is an essay by Patterson Dubois in the Pennsylvania School Journal, vol. 39. This essay certainly seems partly informed by some of the categorization in Aristotelian Metaphysics.

As some have noted online and as Seán Stickle informed us (@seanstickle), the closest passage from Aristotle which comes close to the apocryphal quotation is this:

Aristotle, Metaphysics 8.6 [=1045a]

“Concerning the challenge we just faced about how to describe things in numbers and definitions, What is the reason for a unity/oneness? For however many things have a plurality of parts and are not merely a complete aggregate but instead some kind of a whole beyond its parts, there is some cause of it since even in bodies, for some the fact that the there is contact is the cause of a unity/oneness while for others there is viscosity or some other characteristic of this sort. But a definition [which is an] explanation is one [thing] not because it is bound-together, like the Iliad, but because it is a definition of a single thing

Περὶ δὲ τῆς ἀπορίας τῆς εἰρημένης περί τετοὺς ὁρισμοὺς καὶ περὶ τοὺς ἀριθμούς, τί αἴτιον τοῦ ἓν εἶναι; πάντων γὰρ ὅσα πλείω μέρη ἔχει καὶ μή ἐστιν οἷον σωρὸς τὸ πᾶν ἀλλ᾿ ἔστι τι τὸ ὅλον παρὰ τὰ μόρια, ἔστι τι αἴτιον, ἐπεὶ καὶ ἐν τοῖς σώμασι τοῖς μὲν ἁφὴ αἰτία τοῦ ἓν εἶναι, τοῖς δὲ γλισχρότης ἤ τι πάθος ἕτερον τοιοῦτον. ὁ δ᾿ ὁρισμὸς λόγος ἐστὶν εἷς οὐ συνδέσμῳ καθάπερ ἡ Ἰλιάς, ἀλλὰ τῷ ἑνὸς εἶναι.

If anyone can find a better passage, please leave it in the comments.

One twitter correspondent who may be Aristotle the living demigod suggested a separate text for the sense (Topica 6.13)

Also, maybe Aquinas

(I love twitter for this stuff)

There’s always Hesiod too (Works and Days 37-41)

“For we have already divided up our inheritence, but you
made off with much more as you kowtowed to bribe-taking
kings, the men who long judge this kind of case.
The fools, they do not know how much half is greater than the whole
Nor how much wealth is in mallow and asphodel.”

ἤδη μὲν γὰρ κλῆρον ἐδασσάμεθ’, ἄλλα τε πολλὰ
ἁρπάζων ἐφόρεις μέγα κυδαίνων βασιλῆας
δωροφάγους, οἳ τήνδε δίκην ἐθέλουσι δικάσσαι.
νήπιοι, οὐδὲ ἴσασιν ὅσῳ πλέον ἥμισυ παντὸς
οὐδ’ ὅσον ἐν μαλάχῃ τε καὶ ἀσφοδέλῳ μέγ’ ὄνειαρ.

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From here.

Heroes, Isolation, and Madness

The notion of the depressive and insane artist (etc.) is an ancient one. In this passage it is also related to the stories of heroes. The different symptoms of madness Aristotle offers here are interesting. For instance, Bellerophon’s avoidance of other humans is seen as a symptom rather than a cause of his madness.

Aristotle, Problems 30

“What reason is it that all those men who are preeminent in philosophy or politics or poetry or the other arts are clearly melancholic and are so much so that they are also overcome by the afflictions from the black bile, as is implied in the tales of Herakles of the heroes? For that figure seems to be of this nature and because of this the ancients called the illnesses of epilepsy a sacred disease after him. And his madness toward his children and the outbreak of open sores before he vanished on Mt. Oitê make this clear. For this comes to many because of the black bile. These sores developed on the Spartan Lysander before his death.

In addition to this there are tales about Ajax and Bellerophon. The first of them was completely mad; but the second pursued isolated places, which is how Homer depicts him as “when that man was hated by all the gods / then he wandered alone on the Alêian plain / consuming his heart and avoiding the path of other people.”

And many other heroes seem to have shared afflictions with these men. In later times, Empedocles, Plato, Socrates and many other famous people [suffered] too. In addition, most of those who worked at poetry [suffered]. In many people like this the diseases develop from a kind of mixture in the body while in others there is a clear nature predisposing them to these maladies. But all, to put it simply, as has been said, are this way somehow because of nature.”

1. Διὰ τί πάντες ὅσοι περιττοὶ γεγόνασιν ἄνδρες ἢ κατὰ φιλοσοφίαν ἢ πολιτικὴν ἢ ποίησιν ἢ τέχνας φαίνονται μελαγχολικοὶ ὄντες, καὶ οἱ μὲν οὕτως ὥστε καὶ λαμβάνεσθαι τοῖς ἀπὸ μελαίνης χολῆς ἀρρωστήμασιν, οἷον λέγεται τῶν [τε] ἡρωϊκῶν τὰ περὶ τὸν Ἡρακλέα; καὶ γὰρ ἐκεῖνος ἔοικε | γενέσθαι ταύτης τῆς φύσεως, διὸ καὶ τὰ ἀρρωστήματα τῶν ἐπιληπτικῶν ἀπ᾿ ἐκείνου προσηγόρευον οἱ ἀρχαῖοι ἱερὰν νόσον. καὶ ἡ περὶ τοὺς παῖδας ἔκστασις καὶ ἡ πρὸ τῆς ἀφανίσεως ἐν Οἴτῃ τῶν ἑλκῶν ἔκφυσις γενομένη τοῦτο δηλοῖ· καὶ γὰρ τοῦτο γίνεται πολλοῖς ἀπὸ μελαίνης χολῆς. συνέβη δὲ καὶ | Λυσάνδρῳ τῷ Λάκωνι πρὸ τῆς τελευτῆς γενέσθαι τὰ ἕλκη ταῦτα. ἔτι δὲ τὰ περὶ Αἴαντα καὶ Βελλεροφόντην, ὧν ὁ μὲν ἐκστατικὸς ἐγένετο παντελῶς, ὁ δὲ τὰς ἐρημίας ἐδίωκεν, διὸ οὕτως ἐποίησεν Ὅμηρος

αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ καὶ κεῖνος ἀπήχθετο πᾶσι θεοῖσιν,
ἤτοι ὁ κὰπ πεδίον τὸ Ἀλήϊον οἶος ἀλᾶτο
ὃν | θυμὸν κατέδων, πάτον ἀνθρώπων ἀλεείνων.

καὶ ἄλλοι δὲ πολλοὶ τῶν ἡρώων ὁμοιοπαθεῖς φαίνονται τούτοις. τῶν δὲ ὕστερον Ἐμπεδοκλῆς καὶ Πλάτων καὶ Σωκράτης καὶ ἕτεροι συχνοὶ τῶν γνωρίμων. ἔτι δὲ τῶν περὶ τὴν ποίησιν οἱ πλεῖστοι. πολλοῖς μὲν γὰρ τῶν τοιούτων γίνεται νοσήματα ἀπὸ | τῆς τοιαύτης κράσεως τῷ σώματι, τοῖς δὲ ἡ φύσις δήλη ῥέπουσα πρὸς τὰ πάθη. πάντες δ᾿ οὖν ὡς εἰπεῖν ἁπλῶς εἰσί, καθάπερ ἐλέχθη, τοιοῦτοι τὴν φύσιν.

Another figure often seen as less than sane is Philoktetes who his described as (2.721)

“He lies there on the island suffering strong pains
In fertile Lemnos where the sons of the Achaeans left him
Suffering with an evil wound from a murderous watersnake.”

ἀλλ’ ὃ μὲν ἐν νήσῳ κεῖτο κρατέρ’ ἄλγεα πάσχων
Λήμνῳ ἐν ἠγαθέῃ, ὅθι μιν λίπον υἷες ᾿Αχαιῶν
ἕλκεϊ μοχθίζοντα κακῷ ὀλοόφρονος ὕδρου·

When Odysseus is described in book 5 of the Odyssey, his first line is identical with Philoktetes’ (Od. 5.13-15):

“He lies there on the island suffering strong pains
In the halls of Kalypso the nymph who holds him
By necessity. He is not able of returning to his paternal land.”

ἀλλ’ ὁ μὲν ἐν νήσῳ κεῖται κρατέρ’ ἄλγεα πάσχων,
νύμφης ἐν μεγάροισι Καλυψοῦς, ἥ μιν ἀνάγκῃ
ἴσχει· ὁ δ’ οὐ δύναται ἣν πατρίδα γαῖαν ἱκέσθαι·

If we can imagine an “abnormal mental state” for these figures, the implication is the inverse, perhaps, of what Aristotle indicates for Bellerophon. Their madness is caused by isolation rather than causing it. When commenting upon Odysseus’ first appearance in book 5, an ancient scholar records Aristonicus’ comment that the language is more fit (οἰκειότερον ἐν ᾿Ιλιάδι) for the Iliad at 2.721 where Philoktetes is described. He adds that it would be right for him instead to be “tortured in his heart” (νῦν δὲ ἔδει τετιημένος ἦτορ εἶναι, Schol. H ad Od. 5.13).

Psychologists have studied the emotional and physical effects of isolation over the past few generations. These studies reinforce important themes of the Odyssey, namely that individual identity is constitutive of social relationships without which we cease to be ourselves. Modern studies of isolated individuals have shown that limited social engagements have deleterious emotional effects including a rise in fear and paranoia and a decrease in self-esteem. Some have even argued that over time, the brain of an isolated person has fewer neural connections and a thinner cerebral cortex. Inmates have difficulties with memory, distorted perceptions of reality, and display a deterioration of language function. Isolation’s biological changes affect the very parts of the brain that facilitate social interaction, higher order analytical thinking, and the ability to plan and act in the world.

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David T. Mitchell and Sharon L. Snyder. Narrative Prosthesis: Disability and the Dependency of Discourse. Ann Arbor. 2000.

39: “Beginning with ancient Greece, Thiher’s study demonstrates that literary stories of mental discordance have provided the foundation for scientific explanations of cognitive deviance. Rather than view this historical material as superficial and primitive, Thiher argues for a historical vision of madness as that which could productively give voice to the existence of disparate, and even antithetical, “realities”.

Some inspirations

Andersen, H. S., Sestoft, D. D., Lillebæk, T. T., Gabrielsen, G. G., Hemmingsen, R. R., & Kramp, P. P. (2000), ―”A Longitudinal Study of Prisoners on Remand: Psychiatric Prevalence, Incidence and Psychopathology in Solitary vs.Non-Solitary Confinement.‖ , 102(1), 19.

Betty Gilmore and Nanon M. Williams. The Darkest Hour: Shedding Light on the Impact of Isolation and Death Row in Texas Prisons. Dallas 2014.

Fatos Kaba, Andrea Lewis, Sarah Glowa-Kollisch, James Hadler, David Lee, Howard Alper, Daniel Selling, Ross MacDonald, Angela Solimo, Amanda Parsons, and Homer Venters.  “Solitary Confinement and Risk of Self-Harm Among Jail Inmates.” American Journal of Public Health: March 2014, Vol. 104, No. 3, pp. 442-447.

Shruti Ravindran. “Twilight in the Box.” Aeon 27 February 2014.

Thiher, Allen. 1999. Revels in Madness: Insanity in Medicine and Literature. Ann Arbor.

 

Medically Mad or Just Thinking Bad? Early Greek on Being Crazy

An ancient distinction between mental maladies with absolutely no relevance to the modern day.

Assemblywomen, 248-253

[First Woman]: But what if Kephalos attacks you with abuse—
How will you response to him in the assembly?

[Praksagora]: I will say he’s out of his mind [paraphronein]

[First Woman]: but everyone knows this!

[Praksagora]: then I will also call him psychopathic [lit. ‘black-biled’=melancholic].

[First Woman]: They know this too.

[Praksagora]: But I will add that he produces terrible ceramics and will then do a fine job of doing the same to the city.

ἀτὰρ ἢν Κέφαλός σοι λοιδορῆται προσφθαρείς,
πῶς ἀντερεῖς πρὸς αὐτὸν ἐν τἠκκλησίᾳ;
ΠΡΑΞΑΓΟΡΑ φήσω παραφρονεῖν αὐτόν.
ΓΥΝΗ Α …ἀλλὰ τοῦτό γε
ἴσασι πάντες.
ΠΡΑΞΑΓΟΡΑ ἀλλὰ καὶ μελαγχολᾶν.
ΓΥΝΗ Α καὶ τοῦτ᾿ ἴσασιν.
ΠΡΑΞΑΓΟΡΑἀλλὰ καὶ τὰ τρύβλια
κακῶς κεραμεύειν, τὴν δὲ πόλιν εὖ καὶ καλῶς.

Melancholy here contrasts with “thinking -wrongly” (paraphronein). A scholion to another play by Aristophanes glosses the realms of these types of mental maladies (Schol. ad Plut. 11a ex 20-28)

“He seems to say this because he harmed or helped his master through his own virtue more—and while he disturbed him through prophecy, he made him crazy [melankholan] through medicine and took away his ability to think [phronein] through wisdom, which is the art of thinking. The servant lies. For he does not speak the truth….”

…τοῦτο οὖν
ἔοικε λέγειν, ὅτι διὰ τῶν ἑαυτοῦ
μᾶλλον ἀρετῶν ἔβλαψε τὸν δεσπότην
ἤπερ ὠφέλησε, καὶ διὰ μὲν τῆς
μαντείας ἐτάραξε, διὰ δὲ τῆς ἰατρι-
κῆς μελαγχολᾶν ἐποίησε, διὰ δὲ
τῆς σοφίας, ὅ ἐστι τῆς φρονήσεως,
τοῦ φρονεῖν αὐτὸν ἀφείλατο. ψεύδεται
ὁ δοῦλος· οὐ γὰρ ἀλήθειαν λέγει

Where melancholy denotes a physical ailment [i.e. biologically caused and treated], paraphrosunê indicates parafunctionality which may be treated without medicine.

μελαγχολάω: to be atrabilious, melancholy-mad.

μελαγχολία: atrabiliousness, melancholy, a disease [atual LSJ definition]

παραφροσύνη, ἡ:  wandering of mind, derangment, delirium

παραφρονέω: to be beside oneself, be deranged, or mad.

Lyrica Adespota, fr. 3.9-10

“Lust–that magician–takes me. It descends upon my mind
And makes me crazy!”

῎Ερως μ’ ἔλα]β’ ὁ γόης· εἰς τὴν ψυχήν μου εἰσπε-
σὼν [ποιεῖ μ]ε παραφρονεῖν.

Aristotle, Metaphysics 4.1009b

“In the same way, ‘truth’ concerning the way things appear has come to some people from their senses. They believe that it is right that truth should be judged neither by the multitude or the scarcity [of those who believe it]; and they believe that the same thing seems sweet to some who taste it and bitter to others with the result that if all men were sick or if they were all insane and two or three were healthy or in their right mind, wouldn’t it seem that these few were sick and crazy and not the rest?”

[1] —ὅμοιως δὲ καὶ ἡ περὶ τὰ φαινόμενα ἀλήθεια ἐνίοις ἐκ τῶν αἰσθητῶν ἐλήλυθεν. τὸ μὲν γὰρ ἀληθὲς οὐ πλήθει κρίνεσθαι οἴονται προσήκειν οὐδὲ ὀλιγότητι, τὸ δ᾽ αὐτὸ τοῖς μὲν γλυκὺ γευομένοις δοκεῖν εἶναι τοῖς δὲ πικρόν, ὥστ᾽ εἰ πάντες ἔκαμνον [5] ἢ πάντες παρεφρόνουν, δύο δ᾽ ἢ τρεῖς ὑγίαινον ἢ νοῦν εἶχον, δοκεῖν ἂν τούτους κάμνειν καὶ παραφρονεῖν τοὺς δ᾽ ἄλλους οὔ:

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