Aristotle talks about three types of knowledge in “The Nicomachean Ethics”, which is one of his best-known work 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. Read this blog to know more about Aristotle’s 3 types of knowledge and how leaders need to harness these three types to better their leadership capabilities.
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Techne (Knowledge of Craft)
What Aristotle considered as techno was that realm of knowledge which 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 which 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 which doesn’t try to create something new but focuses itself on understanding things which 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 which tries to make sense of the world around. This wraps the 2nd name in the list of Aristotle’s 3 types of knowledge.
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Phronesis (Ethical Knowledge)
Phronesis is the “practical virtue”. It involves use of practical wisdom to make ethical judgements in your everyday life and to acquire a strong moral character and habits. So, phronesis refers to that branch of knowledge which probes us to act in a certain manner with the aim of living a “good life”. It’s the wisdom required to make judgements 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 judgements are not formed in a vacuum but is a product of the ethical knowledge which you have acquired over time. This completes the list of Aristotle’s 3 types of knowledge.
How Leaders can Harness Aristotle’s 3 Types of Knowledge
Roger L. Martin, Richard Straub, and Julia Kirby in a blog by Harvard Business Review on ‘Leaders need to harness Aristotle’s 3 types of knowledge‘ talk about the combination of these three types of knowledge, i.e. in Episteme, Techne and Phronesis in ensuring effective leadership. The key reasons behind why leaders need to harness Aristotle’s 3 types of knowledge is that all these need three different styles of thinking; Episteme focuses on scientific knowledge, Techne uses arts, tech and tools and Phronesis utilises rationale and ethical judgement.
By harnessing these three types of knowledge, leaders can make effective decisions while also distinct themselves from others. Thus, as per Aristotle, a leader can be more of an epistemic leader than a techne-focused leader, thus using each of these types of knowledge at the best of one’s abilities, can help foster distinctive leadership traits. For example, a manager who is more creative thus techne-focused will be able to curate better creative solutions for problems than focus on scientific solutions or ethical resolutions. But, on the other hand, a creative manager can also blend all these realms together and take more holistic decisions, on ethical, creative as well as scientific parameters.
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 hierarchisation 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 which 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.
If you are thinking why to understand these different realms then the answer is that this is what it takes to become a good leader. In a world where everyone dreams of achieving greatness, understanding these different types of knowledge is what will take you closer to that goal. The simple reason behind this is that a leader who governs the masses must know which faculties to use when and where. A leader is supposed to make the right decisions by employing the required knowledge and how are you supposed to do that without knowing what these different types of knowledge are. So, go on and delve deeper into these ideas because you are going to need them at every wake of life. And it’s better to be prepared and face life with the right gears in hand.
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