Observation Claims and Epistemic Confidence in Aristotle’s Biology
This essay looks at the ways in which Aristotle signals his confidence in observation claims in his biological works. Widely seen as an astute observer of the natural world, Aristotle in fact makes surprisingly few explicit claims to personal observation, even if circumstantial and other evidence often provides strong hints of his own involvement. At the same time, because of the incredible variety (and often the localization) of biological species, Aristotle also necessarily relies heavily on the testimony of others. This essay shows how Aristotle employs careful rhetorical strategies to signal or qualify his certainty both in his own observations and in the reports of others, on a case-by-case basis, for his reader.