Aristotle talks about three types of knowledge in “The Nicomachean Ethics”, which is one of his best-known works on ethics. Aristotle divides knowledge into three types, i.e. Episteme, Techne, and Phronesis. Episteme means scientific knowledge, Techne means knowledge of craft and Phronesis means ethical knowledge. There are modern applications of Aristotle’s 3 types of knowledge to help people become better leaders, managers as well as tackle situations efficiently.
1.►Episteme: It means “to know” in Greek. It is related to scientific knowledge. Attributes: Universal, invariable, context-independent. Based on general analytical rationality. Epistemology, the study of knowledge, is derived from episteme.
Episteme was viewed by the Greeks as a partner to techné. Plato used episteme to denote ‘justified true belief”, in contrast to doxa, common belief or opinion.
2.►Techné: The Greek word translates to craftsmanship, craft, or art.
In the Dictionary of Philosophy, it is defined as: “The set of principles, or rational method, involved in the production of an object or the accomplishment of an end; the knowledge of such principles or method; art. Techne resembles episteme in implying knowledge of principles, but differs in that its aim is making or doing not disinterested understanding”.
Aristotle viewed techné as an imperfect human representation of nature. Socrates and Plato also used the word and distinguished craftsmanship (which they viewed in a positive light) from art (which they viewed in a negative light).
3.►Phronesis It means Practical wisdom. It is related to the following main ideas: Ethics. Deliberation about values with reference to praxis. Pragmatic, variable, context dependent. Oriented toward action. Based on practical value-rationality.
Aristotle distinguished between Sophia and Phronesis in the following manner. Sophia involves reasoning concerning universal truths, while Phronesis includes a capability of rational thinking.
In order to practice phronesis, Aristotle felt that political abilities were required, as well as thinking abilities. Aristotle categorized their elements of character (ethos) in the following manner: 1) phronesis (how to act in particular situations), 2) areté (virtue) and 3) eunoia (goodwill).
Techne (Knowledge of Craft)
What Aristotle considered as techno was that realm of knowledge that was related to arts and craft i.e., involving some form of creation. The process of technical or artistic creation cannot be made possible without employing knowledge of some kind and this knowledge was techne. For instance, to create a machine, technical knowledge is a must and without it the process of creation couldn’t take place. It uses technical/technological know-how to create such things which are meant to perform some functions. Therefore, techne is a practical skill that involves the use of tools to create something concrete. Hope you understood the relevance of the 1st one in the list of Aristotle’s 3 types of knowledge.
Episteme (Scientific Knowledge)
There is one other form of knowledge that doesn’t try to create something new but focuses itself on understanding things that already exist in the universe. Aristotle names this realm as episteme i.e., scientific knowledge. For instance, Newton’s law of gravity was not about creating gravity but understanding how it works. And this is the field of episteme, a kind of knowledge that tries to make sense of the world around. This wraps the 2nd name in the list of Aristotle’s 3 types of knowledge.
Phronesis (Ethical Knowledge)
Phronesis is the “practical virtue”. It involves the use of practical wisdom to make ethical judgments in your everyday life and to acquire a strong moral character and habits. So, phronesis refers to that branch of knowledge that probes us to act in a certain manner with the aim of living a “good life”. It’s the wisdom required to make judgments when put in a conflicting position. For instance, you are making use of phronesis or ethical knowledge when you say it’s wrong to lie, or you are not supposed to hit people. Such moral judgments are not formed in a vacuum but are a product of the ethical knowledge which you have acquired over time. This completes the list of Aristotle’s 3 types of knowledge.
Modern Applications of Aristotle’s 3 Types of Knowledge.
So, these are the 3 types of knowledge that Aristotle talks about. And you know how these categories are relevant even today. But the problem is that these categories have gotten hierarchised with time. In this setup, different kinds of knowledge don’t have an equal position but are believed to exist in a hierarchy where one kind of knowledge is given more importance than the other. For instance episteme and techne which root themselves in facts and physical reality are given more practical value than phronesis.
This kind of hierarchization though in itself problematic becomes all the more threatening when one branch of knowledge is completely negated. There should be an understanding that some problems could be solved only by engaging in the phonetic realm and if epistemic knowledge is employed there it could worsen the situation. In simpler terms, you can’t expect everything to have a scientific explanation and in the same manner, not everything should be explained by taking a moral stance. For instance, Newton couldn’t have explained the law of gravity by using phronesis or ethical knowledge and no one could establish lying as a good or bad thing by providing a scientific argument.
So, what is important is to understand which kind of knowledge should be employed where. For that one needs to first accept that different kinds of knowledge exist and that they could be used to solve different problems. In your everyday life, you will face problems that will belong to these different realms. And there what you will need to do is first, comprehend the nature of the problem and then decide which approach to take.