Third, Aristotle distinguishes between practical and theoretical knowledge in terms of the level of precision that can be attained when studying them. Political and moral knowledge does not have the same degree of precision or certainty as mathematics. Aristotle says at Ethics 1094b14: "Problems of what is noble and just, which politics examines, present so much variety and irregularity that some people believe that they exist only by convention and not by nature….Therefore, in a discussion of such subjects, which has to start with a basis of this kind, we must be satisfied to indicate the truth with a rough and general sketch: when the subject and the basis of a discussion consist of matters that hold good only as a general rule, but not always, the conclusions reached must be of the same order." Aristotle does not believe that the noble and the just exist only by convention, any more than, say, the principles of geometry do. However, the principles of geometry are fixed and unchanging. The definition of a point, or a line, or a plane, can be given precisely, and once this definition is known, it is fixed and unchanging for everyone. However, the definition of something like justice can only be known generally; there is no fixed and unchanging definition that will always be correct. This means that unlike philosophers such as Hobbes and Kant, Aristotle does not and in fact cannot give us a fixed set of rules to be followed when ethical and political decisions must be made. Instead he tries to make his students the kind of men who, when confronted with any particular ethical or political decision, will know the correct thing to do, will understand why it is the correct choice, and will choose to do it for that reason. Such a man will know the general rules to be followed, but will also know when and why to deviate from those rules. (I will use "man" and "men" when referring to citizens so that the reader keeps in mind that Aristotle, and the Greeks generally, excluded women from political part icipation. In fact it is not until the mid-19th century that organized attempts to gain the right to vote for women really get underway, and even today in the 21st century there are still many countries which deny women the right to vote or participate in political life).
F eminism, neuroscience, psychoanalysis and art find a place in most, if not all, of Hustvedt ’s works, be they novels, non-fiction or poetry. Here, in this sprawling collection of essays, these topics meet in a philosophical and theoretical setting. Writing in the first person, Hustvedt weaves the academic with the personal. The result shifts between literary, gender, art and scientific theory, with brief glimpses of what might be best described as anti-memoir. Central to the book is the study of perception – perception of reality, fiction, other people. Hustvedt studies her own sense of perception alongside scientific and art theories of perception. “What am I seeing?” she asks while standing in front of Weeping Woman by Picasso, before studying the impact our first interactions and observations as babies have on us as adults and, then, the manner in which perceiving anything can alter the physical makeup of the brain. This is a phenomenal book. Its soul is in the connections it draws between disparate subjects, through which Hustvedt manages to shrink the world into something comprehensible.