The antepraedicamenta[ edit ] The text begins with an explication of what is meant by Aristotle " synonymous ", or univocal words, what is meant by " homonymous ", or equivocal words, and what is meant by " paronymous ", or denominative sometimes translated "derivative" words. It then divides forms of speech as being: Either simple, without composition or structure, such as "man", "horse", "fights". Or having composition and structure, such as "a man argued", "the horse runs". Only composite forms of speech can be true or false.

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Affective Qualities and Affections Shape Each of these species looks like an extra-linguistic type of entity; and none of the species appears to be a species in another category.

Ackrill, for instance, criticizes Aristotle as follows: He [Aristotle] gives no special argument to show that [habits and dispositions] are qualities. Nor does he give any criterion for deciding that a given quality is or is not a [habit-or-disposition]; why, for example, should affective qualities be treated as a class quite distinct from [habits and dispositions]?

And Ackrill, it would seem, is being polite. For instance, why should we consider any of the species listed as falling directly under quality?

Indeed, when Aristotle lists the species, he does not follow his usual procedure and provide the differentiae that distinguish them. If there are such differentiae, we should expect that habits and dispositions, for instance, can be defined as such and such a quality. The same would of course be true for the other qualities. But not only does Aristotle not provide these differentiae, it is difficult to see what they might be.

To appreciate the difficulty, one need only ask: what differentia can be added to quality so as to define shape? In fact, some of those defenders have gone so far as to provide something of a deduction of the species in the category from various metaphysical principles. Aquinas, for instance, says the following about the category in his Summa Theologiae: Now the mode of determination of the subject to accidental being may be taken in regard to the very nature of the subject, or in regard to action, and passion resulting from its natural principles, which are matter and form; or again in regard to quantity.

If we take the mode or determination of the subject in regard to quantity, we shall then have the fourth species of quality. And because quantity, considered in itself, is devoid of movement, and does not imply the notion of good or evil, so it does not concern the fourth species of quality whether a thing be well or ill disposed, nor quickly or slowly transitory.

But the mode of determination of the subject, in regard to action or passion, is considered in the second and third species of quality. And therefore in both, we take into account whether a thing be done with ease or difficulty; whether it be transitory or lasting.

But in them, we do not consider anything pertaining to the notion of good or evil: because movements and passions have not the aspect of an end, whereas good and evil are said in respect of an end. On the other hand, the mode or determination of the subject, in regard to the nature of the thing, belongs to the first species of quality, which is habit and disposition: for the Philosopher says Phys.

This too is a rich and important topic, but not one that I shall undertake to discuss here. In this respect, it can be compared to the quantifier in Twentieth century metaphysics.

Whether or not the quantifier is ultimately of philosophical interest, it is hard to imagine twentieth century analytical metaphysics without it. He devotes a few comments to the categories of action and passion 11b1 and then has a brief discussion of one of the odder categories, having, at the end of the work 15b17— The bulk of the remaining discussion, which is known as the Post-Predicamenta, is directed at concepts involving some kind of opposition, the concepts of priority, posteriorty, simultaneity and change.

Moreover, his discussion there is largely superseded by his discussion of the same concepts in the Metaphysics. Whence the Categories? The issue concerning the origin of the categories can be raised by asking the most difficult question there is about any philosophical position: why think that it is correct? One might, of course, reject the idea that there are some metaphysically privileged kinds in the world. But here it is important to distinguish between internal and external questions concerning a system of categories.

We can approach category theory externally in which case we would ask questions about the status of any system of categories, whatsoever. So, for instance, we could ask whether any system of categories must exhibit some kind of dependency on the mind, language, conceptual schemes or whatever. Realists will answer this question in the negative, and idealists of one stripe or another in the affirmative. In addition, we can ask about our epistemic access to the ultimate categories in the world.

And we can adopt positions ranging from a radical skepticism about our access to categories to a kind of infallibilism about such access. If, on the other hand, we approach category theory from an internal perspective, we will assume some answer to the external questions and then go on to ask about the correctness of the system of categories under those assumptions. So, for instance, we might adopt a realist perspective and hence assume that there is some correct metaphysically privileged list of mind and language independent highest kinds as well as a correct account of the relations between them.

And we can then try to determine what that list is. Now, Aristotle certainly belongs to this latter tradition of speculation about categories: he assumes rather than defends a posture of realism with respect to the metaphysical structures in the world. It is thus appropriate to assume realism along with him and then inquire into the question of which categories there might be. One way of approaching this question is to ask whether there is some principled procedure by which Aristotle generated his list of categories.

For, if there is, then one could presumably assess his list of highest kinds by assessing the procedure by which he generated it. Unfortunately, with the exception of some suggestive remarks in the Topics, Aristotle does not indicate how he generated his scheme.

And as a matter of historical fact the lack of any justification for his list of highest kinds has been the source of some famous criticisms. Kant, for instance, just prior to the articulation of his own categorial scheme, says: It was an enterprise worthy of an acute thinker like Aristotle to try to discover these fundamental concepts; but as he had no guiding principle he merely picked them up as they occurred to him, and at first gathered up ten of them, which he called categories or predicaments.

Afterwards he thought he had discovered five more of them, which he added under the name of post-predicaments. Hence, it cannot stand firm as a correct set of categories. As it turns out, although Kant did not know of any procedure by which Aristotle might have generated his list of categories, scholars have given a number of proposals.

Ackrill is the most prominent defender of the Question Approach. Ackrill claims that there are two different ways to generate the categories, each of which involves asking questions. According to the first method, we are to ask a single question — what is it? So, for instance, we can ask of Socrates, what is Socrates? And we can answer — Socrates is a human. We can then direct the same question at the answer we have given: what is a human? And we can answer: a human is an animal. Eventually, this process of question asking will lead us to some highest kind, in this case Substance.

According to the second method of questioning, we are to ask as many different questions as we can about a single primary substance. So, for instance, we might ask — how tall is Socrates? Where is Socrates? What is Socrates? And in answering these questions, we will respond: five feet; in the Agora; Human.

We will then realize that our answers to our various questions group into ten irreducible kinds. But from a philosophical point of view, the question method suffers from some serious problems. Suppose, for instance, I employ the second method and ask: does Socrates like Plato? But where does that answer belong in the categorical scheme? But we can still ask the question: is Socrates present-in or not present-in something else?

It is indeed hard to see. Similar problems face the first method. Of course, particulars are part of the four-fold system of classification that Aristotle articulates. But we are not at the moment concerned with that scheme.

Indeed, to advert to that scheme in the present context is simply to re-open the question of the relations between the two main systems of classification in the Categories. Unless we can be confident that our questions are tracking the metaphysical structures of the world, we should be unimpressed by the fact that they yield any set of categories.

But to know whether our questions are tracking the metaphysical structures of the world requires us to have some way of establishing the correctness of the categorial scheme. Clearly, at this point we are in a circle that is too small to be of much help. Maybe all metaphysical theorizing is at some level laden with circularity; but circles this small are generally unacceptable to a metaphysician.

According to the grammatical approach, which traces to Trendelenburg and has most recently been defended by Michael Baumer , Aristotle generated his list by paying attention to the structures inherent in language. On the assumption that the metaphysical structure of the world mirrors the structures in language, we should be able to find the basic metaphysical structures by examining our language.

This approach is quite involved but for our purposes can be illustrated with a few examples. The distinction between substance and the rest of the categories, for instance, is built into the subject-predicate structure of our language. Consider, for instance, the two sentences: 1 Socrates is a human; and 2 Socrates is white.

Corresponding to that subject, one might think, is an entity of some kind, namely a primary substance. Moreover, the first sentence contains what might be called an individuating predicate — it is a predicate of the form, a such and such, rather than of the form, such and such. So, one might think, there are predicates that attribute to primary substances properties the having of which suffices for that substance to be an individual of some kind.

On the other hand, the second sentence contains a non-individuating predicate. So by examining the details of the predicates in our language, we have some grounds for distinguishing between the category of substance and the accidental categories. The grammatical approach certainly does have some virtues. First, we have ample evidence that Aristotle was sensitive to language and the structures inherent in it. So it would not be all that surprising were he led by his sensitivity to linguistic structures to his list of categories.

Moreover, some of the peculiarities of his list are nicely explained in this way. Two of the highest kinds are action and passion. In Physics III 3, however, Aristotle argues that in the world there is only motion and that the distinction between action and passion lies in the way in which one is considering the motion.

So why should there be two distinct categories, namely action and passion, rather than just one, namely motion? Well, the grammatical approach offers an explanation: in language we differentiate between active and passive verbs.

Hence, there are two distinct categories, not just one. Despite these virtues, the grammatical approach faces a difficult question: why think that the structures we find in language reflect the metaphysical structures of the world?

For instance, it may simply be a historical accident that our language contains individuating and non-individuating predicates.

Likewise, it may be a historical accident that there are active and passive verbs in our language. Of course, this type of objection, when pushed to its limits, leads to one of the more difficult philosophical questions, namely how can we be sure that the structures of our representations are in any way related to what some might call the basic metaphysical structures and to what others might call the things in themselves?

But one might hold out hope that some justification for a categorial scheme could be given that did not rest entirely on the unjustified assertion of some deep correspondence between linguistic and metaphysical structures.

The Modal Approach, which traces to Bonitz and has most recently been defended by Julius Moravscik , avoids the defects of both the previous two approaches. As Moravscik formulates this view, the categories are those types of entity to which any sensible particular must be related.


J. L. Ackrill



Aristotle’s Categories


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