Theoria and Praxis

…as soon as one begins to argue that there is a sense in which no one who wishes to be a man properly speaking can avoid being a philosopher…, it becomes impossible to think of theoria and praxis as two distinct ways of life, not to speak of walks of life which are incompatible with each other.  After all, Aristotle could not meaningfully argue that all citizens should abandon their political activities and become contemplators of truth, for this would have amounted to inviting the Greeks to let the polis fall apart.  In other words, the idea that each walk of life is related to a particular part of the soul eventually resulted in the notion that the various walks of life are compatible, which, in turn, led to the conception that theoria and praxis are dimensions of human existence rather than realizable types of existing.


Thus “theory” and “practice” became two dimensions or poles of human existence.  But it is important to see in what this polarity ultimately consisted for the Greeks.  It certainly was not an opposition between abstract knowledge and concrete application; nor was it an opposition between “theoretical” endeavors, such as science, and “lived life.”  Rather, it was an opposition (and tension) between what was strictly human and what was divine in man.  When Aristotle extols contemplation, he speaks of an athanatizein, a sort of active immortality; when he speaks of politics, he qualifies it by the verb ‘anthropeuesthai,’ which means “existing and acting as a man.”  The politician is the truly human man, but man cannot restrict himself to being a mere man but rather “ought as far as possible to achieve immortality and do all that he may to live in accordance to what is highest in him.” (25-27)

Nicholas Lobkowicz | Theory and Practice: History of a Concept from Aristotle to Marx