J. L. ACKRILL, Aristotle’s Categories and De Interpretatione. Translated with Notes (Clarendon Aristotle Series). Oxford, Clarendon Press, VII, p. Pr. sh. Aristotle’s Categories is a singularly important work of philosophy. It not only .. Ackrill finds Aristotle’s division of quality at best unmotivated. The Categories is a text from Aristotle’s Organon that enumerates all the possible kinds of Aristotle’s own text in Ackrill’s standard English version is: Of things.

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Aristotle’s Categories is a singularly important work of philosophy. It not only presents the backbone of Aristotle’s own philosophical theorizing, but has exerted an unparalleled influence on the systems of many of the greatest philosophers in the western tradition.

The set of doctrines in the Categorieswhich I will henceforth call categorialismprovides the framework of inquiry for a wide variety of Aristotle’s philosophical investigations, ranging from his discussions of time and change in the Physics, to the science of being qua being in the Metaphysicsand even extending to his rejection of Platonic ethics in the Nicomachean Ethics.

Looking beyond his own works, Aristotle’s categorialism has engaged the attention of such diverse philosophers as Plotinus, Porphyry, Aquinas, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Brentano and Heidegger to mention just a akcrillwho have variously embraced, defended, modified or rejected its central contentions.

All, in their different ways, have thought it necessary to come to terms with features of Aristotle’s categorial scheme. Plainly, the ackrilll of categorialism inaugurated by Aristotle runs deep in the philosophical psyche.

Even so, despite its wide-reaching influence — and, indeed owing to that influence — any attempt to describe categorialism faces a significant difficulty: Each of the following questions has received markedly different answers from highly respected scholars and philosophers. What do the categories classify? What theory of predication underlies Aristotle’s scheme? What is the relationship between categorialism and hylemorphism, Aristotle’s other major ontological theory?

Where does matter fit, if at all, in the categorial scheme? When did Aristotle write the Categories? Did Aristotle write the Categories? Is the list of kinds in the Categories Aristotle’s considered list, or does he modify his views elsewhere? Is Aristotle’s view of substance in vategories Categories consistent with his view of substance in the Metaphysics?

J. L. Ackrill, Aristotle’s Categories and De Interpretatione – PhilPapers

Is there some method that Aristotle used in order to generate his list of categories? Is Aristotle’s categorialism philosophically defensible in whole or in part? If only in part, which part of categpries is philosophically defensible? Given the divergence of expert opinion about even the most basic aspects arristotle Aristotle’s Categoriesit is inevitable that an attempt to give a neutral account of the basic positions it contains will be seen as wrong headed, perhaps drastically so, by some scholar or other.

One could attempt to address this problem by commenting on every scholarly debate and opinion; but such a project would fail to bring to life the most striking features of Aristotelian categorialism. In what follows, therefore, I shall take a different route. I first present a natural, though perhaps overly simplified, interpretation of the main structures in Aristotle’s categorial scheme, while pausing en route to note some especially controversial points.

I then go on to discuss one important scholarly and philosophical debate about the categories, namely the question of whether there is some systematic ccategories by which Aristotle generated his famous list. The debate is of interest in large part because it concerns one of the most fundamental metaphysical topics: I am not ultimately concerned to present the correct interpretation of Aristotle’s Categories.

Rather, I only hope to provide a useful introduction to the content of this endlessly fascinating work. The Categories divides naturally into three distinct parts — what have come to be known as the Pre-Predicamenta chs.

These section titles aristotlee the traditional Latin title of the entire work, the Predicamenta. In the Predicamenta, Aristotle discusses in detail the categories of substance 2a12—4b19quantity 4b20—6a36relatives 6a37—8b24and quality ariistotlecategorids provides a cursory treatment of the other categories 11b1— And finally, in the Post-Predicamentahe discusses a number of concepts relating to modes of opposition 11b15—14A25priority and simultaneity 14a26—15a13motion 15a14—15b17and catefories with a brief discussion of having 15b18— There is considerable debate about whether Aristotle thought all three parts belong to a single catdgories, and if he did, why he thought they are all needed for the work to be a unified whole.

There is nonetheless widespread agreement that at the very heart of the Categories are two systems of classification, one given in the Pre-Predicamentaand the other in the Predicament a. The division proceeds by way of two concepts: Any being, according to Aristotle, is either said-of another or is not said-of another.


Likewise, any being is either present-in another zckrill is not present-in another. Because these are technical notions, one would expect Aristotle to have categoeies them. Unfortunately, he does not define the said-of relation; and his definition of the present-in aristitle is either circular or rests on an undefined concept of being in. Hence, Aristotle’s first system of classification rests on technical concepts whose precise characterization is not settled by anything Aristotle says.

Despite the lack of helpful definitions of these two categoriez, there is a fairly straightforward, though certainly not uncontroversial, characterization of them that many scholars have adopted. By focusing on Aristotle’s illustrations, most scholars conclude that beings that are said-of others are universals, while those that are not said-of others are particulars.

Beings that are present-in others are accidental, while those that are not present-in others are non-accidental. Now, non-accidental beings that are universals are most naturally described as essential, while non-accidental beings that are particulars are best described simply as non-accidental. If we put these possibilities together, we arrive at the following four-fold system of classification: This system maps readily onto Aristotle’s own terminology, given at 1a A brief discussion of each of these classes should suffice to bring out their general character.

The pride of place in this classificatory scheme, according to Aristotle, goes to those entities that are neither said-of nor present-in anything. Such entities, Aristotle zristotle, are primary substances 2a Although he only gives a negative characterization of primary substances in the Categories — they are neither said-of nor present-in — the examples of them that he provides allow us to form a more robust conception aristtle what a primary substance is supposed to be.

His favorite examples are an individual man and a horse 1a20, 2a So, it is natural to interpret him as thinking that among primary substances are concrete particulars that are members of natural kinds.

Whether in the Categories Aristotle intended to aristotlf the class of primary substances to just members of natural kinds turns out to be among the more controversial topics in Aristotle scholarship. But at the very least, he seems to think that members of natural kinds present enough of a paradigmatic case that he can use them as examples.

Aristotle’s Categories

Now, given the above interpretation of the said-of and present-in relation, a primary substance is a particular that is non-accidental. It must be admitted that it is difficult to say exactly what it means to say that a particular is non-accidental. In highlighting the fact that primary substances are not the sorts of beings which can be accidents, Aristotle seems to be indicating both that they are not predicated of anything accidentally and that they are not entities which are manifestly temporary, accidentally characterized, or artificially unified, such as Socrates-seated-in-a-chair.

Similarly, by treating them as not said-of anything, Aristotle draws attention to the fact that primary substances are not predicated of anything either. Rather, they are themselves essential unities, and indeed not predicable at all. Beyond these few remarks, however, it is difficult to say exactly, given only what is made explicit in the Pre-predicamenta what a primary substance is. But this, one might argue, is appropriate for a metaphysically fundamental entity — we can say of it what it is not, but because it is so basic, we lack the vocabulary to say in an informative way what it is.

And indeed, Aristotle thinks that primary substances are fundamental in this way, since he thinks that all other entities bear some type of asymmetric dependence relation to primary substances 2a34—2b6. If we continue to understand the said-of and present-in distinctions as I have characterized them, we will also find that Aristotle thinks that in addition to particulars in the category of substance there are accidental, or what we can now call non-substantialparticulars.

Aristotle’s example of such an entity is an individual piece of grammatical knowledge 1a Perhaps a more intuitive example is the particular whiteness that some object has.

If there are non-substantial particulars, then Socrates’ whiteness is a numerically distinct particular from Plato’s whiteness. Contemporary metaphysicians might call such entities tropes, and such a label is acceptable as long as one is careful not to expect Aristotle’s theory to resemble too much contemporary trope theories. In the first instance, if Aristotle does accept the existence of non-substantial particulars, he certainly does not think that they can exist apart from primary substances — indeed, it is most natural to interpret Aristotle on this point as thinking that a non-substantial particular is a dependent entity, individuated only by reference to primary s substance that it is present in.


Hence, Socrates’ whiteness cannot exist without Socrates. Moreover, thinking of such entities as standing in a primitive relation of resemblance to one another is quite foreign to Aristotle’s way of thinking. Nonetheless, if the present interpretation is correct, Aristotle did accept what are appropriately called particularized properties.

Returning, then, to those beings that are not-present in other beings, Aristotle thinks that in addition to primary substances, which are particulars, categorles are secondary substances, which are universals 2aa His qckrill of such an entity is man 1a21which, according to the present interpretation, is a universal in the category of substance.

If we again accept the distinctions in question as I have drawn them, we should interpret secondary substances as essential characteristics of primary substances. Moreover, because primary substances seem to be members of natural kinds, it is natural to interpret secondary substances as the kinds to which primary substances belong. If that is so, then Aristotle thinks that not only are primary substances members of natural kinds but that they are essentially characterized by the kinds to which they belong.

Finally, a being is both said-of and present-in a primary substance if it is an accidental universal. Aristotle’s example of such an entity is knowledge; but again, whiteness, provides a somewhat more intuitive example. The universal whiteness is said-of many primary substances but is only accidental to them.

The way in which I have characterized the concepts of said-of and present-in is, as I have said, natural and relatively straightforward. Moreover, it was by far the orthodox interpretation amongst Aristotle’s Medieval interpreters. I would be remiss, however, were I not to mention the recent debate started by G.

According to Owen, Aristotle did not accept the existence of non-substantial particulars. Instead, Owen argues, a being that is not said-of but present-in primary substances is an accidental universal of the lowest possible generality. I shall not discuss Owen’s interpretation but shall simply note that it has spawned a huge deal of scholarly attention. The interested reader can find a discussion of these issues here:. After providing his first system of classification, Aristotle turns to the predicamenta and presents a second, which ends up occupying him for much of the remainder of the Categories.

Things that are said according to Aristotle, are words De Int 16a3and so it is natural to interpret his second system as a classification of words.

There is, however, considerable debate about the subject matter of the second system of classification. There are three reasons to think that Aristotle is not primarily interested in words but rather in the objects in the world to which words correspond. Second, Aristotle’s examples of items belonging to the various categories are generally extra-linguistic. For instance, his examples of substances are an individual man and a horse.

Third, Aristotle explicitly accepts a doctrine of meaning according to which words conventionally signify concepts, and concepts naturally signify objects in the world De Int 16a3. So, even if he is in some sense classifying words, it is natural to view his classification as ultimately driven by concerns about objects in the world to which our words correspond.

Those scholars dissatisfied with the linguistic interpretation of Aristotle’s second system of classification have moved in one of several directions. Some have interpreted Aristotle as classifying concepts. The objections raised against the linguistic interpretation, however, can again be raised against the concept interpretation as well.

Other scholars have interpreted Aristotle as classifying extra-linguistic and extra-conceptual reality. Finally, some scholars have synthesized the linguistic and extra-linguistic interpretations by interpreting Aristotle as classifying linguistic predicates in so far as they are related to the world in semantically significant ways. Categoriee I think that this latter interpretation is probably the one that best withstands close textual scrutiny, the general character of the second system of classification is most easily seen by focusing on the extra-linguistic interpretation.