I think I have the basic sense of this line. But there are a few technical details which stump me.

δόξαι τ᾽ ἂν αὐτὴ [θεωρίᾱ] μόνη δι᾽ αὑτὴν ἀγαπᾶσθαι (Nic. Eth. 1177b.1)

You'll notice that I put θεωρίᾱ in brackets. That's because my textbook adapts this passage, and it chooses to use the word θεωρίᾱ instead of αὐτὴ. I'm going to translate this line as if θεωρίᾱ were there instead.

And contemplation alone seems to be loved for its own sake.

As I said before, I think my translation is correct. But did I translate δόξαι correctly? I parsed it as a third-person singular aorist optative, specifically, a potential optative with ἂν. But the tricky thing about δοκέω is that it can take many meanings: it can be impersonal, it can mean "think", etc. You certainly have to think about which seems good to you when confronted with δοκέω.


1 Answer 1


Rackham translates it as follows:

Also the activity of contemplation may be held to be the only activity that is loved for its own sake:

The Greek text again:

δόξαι τ᾽ ἂν αὐτὴ μόνη δι᾽ αὑτὴν ἀγαπᾶσθαι·

According to William Watson Goodwin,1

Δοκέω in the meaning I seem (videor) usually has the personal construction, as in English; as οὗτος δοκεῖ εἶναι, he seems to be. When an infinitive with ἄν follows a personal verb like δοκέω, this must be translated by an impersonal construction, to suit the English idiom: thus, δοκεῖ τις ἂν ἔχειν τοῦτο must be translated it seems that some one would have this, although τις is the subject of δοκεῖ, since we cannot use would with our infinitive to translate ἔχειν ἄν.

First, rather than θεωρία, I believe the referent of the pronoun αὐτὴ is instead θεωρητικὴ,1 which itself is shorthand for «ἡ θεωρητικὴ ἐνέργεια»—the contemplative activity.

After review of Goodwin’s passage, I would edit my translations as follows:

Also, it would seem that [the contemplative activity] alone would be loved for its own sake.

My edit connects the particle ἂν with the following passive infinitive ἀγαπᾶσθαι rather than with the preceding optative δόξαι (which is how I translated it initially), but I employ “would” twice, first as the natural translation of the optative δόξαι (i.e., “it would seem”), and second as the translation of the particle ἂν preceding the infinitive (i.e., “would be loved”).


Goodwin, William Watson. Syntax of the Moods and Tenses of the Greek Verb. 7th ed. Boston: Ginn, 1879.


1 p. 303, §754
2 1177a, Line 15: ὅτι δ᾽ ἐστὶ θεωρητική, εἴρηται.

  • Great answer! Thanks. Could you explain why δόξαι is best translated as impersonal? I assumed that θεωρίᾱ was the subject since it's in the nominative.
    – ktm5124
    Commented Jan 25, 2017 at 21:25
  • 1
    I thought about this quite a bit, and asked for a second opinion. I think the verb δοκέω is a little tricky. It can be an impersonal verb meaning "it seems (good) (to)", and take a subject infinitive, or it can mean "seem" and take a complementary infinitive. I wasn't sure which use was intended in the text. But I do think our translations are practically the same.
    – ktm5124
    Commented Jan 26, 2017 at 7:12
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    I'd say ἄν has to be taken with δόξαι, as potential optatives always have ἄν in Attic prose. Without ἄν pretty much the only reading for a main-clause optative is as a wish, which doesn't work here.
    – TKR
    Commented Jan 26, 2017 at 18:46

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