Form as Neither Art nor External

I have already, with much frustration, attempted to make sense of the beginning of Lamda 3.  In light of the rest of the remaining parts of the chapter, it strikes me that there is a possibility that Aristotle had some Third Man-ish worries in mind.  But, be that as it may or may not be, there is undeniably an assault on the Theory of the Forms here. 

In conjunction with his opening statement that there must be 1) a subject 2) a form 3) an initial mover, Aristotle says we must next,

“observe that every substance is generated from something which has the same name (“substances” including not only natural but all other products). Things are generated either by art or by nature or by chance or spontaneously. Art is a generative principle in something else; nature is a generative principle in the subject itself (for man begets man); the other causes are privations of these” (1070a4-10 trans. Treddenick) (1).

Aristotle continues on with an explication of form, matter and the hylomorphic compound consisting of form and matter.  Then he notes,

“Moving causes are causes in the sense of preexistent things, but formal causes coexist with their effects. For it is when the man becomes healthy that health exists, and the shape of the bronze sphere comes into being simultaneously with the bronze sphere”  (1070a21-24 trans. Treddenick) (2).

He concludes by referencing his aphoristic “man begets man” from earlier in the chapter and says,

Clearly then there is no need on these grounds for the Ideas to exist; for man begets man, the individual begetting the particular person. And the same is true of the arts, for the art of medicine is the formula of health”  (1070a26-30 trans. Treddenick) (3).

Aristotle it appears, is using nature, form, and account interchangeably in this chapter, for at least one important reason: to emphasize that form is a “generative principle in the subject itself,” and does not arise from outside itself.  This claim is already at odds with Plato’s concept of Form, and “man begets man” is evidently a common sense vindication of how things come to be, from which there is no deviation.  Indeed figs don’t come from thistles.

Plato dismisses Aristotle’s dictum that, “formal causes coexist with their effects,” i.e., they come to be at the same time (ἅμα).  Plato instead maintains that forms precede their effects, and that, returning us to the beginning of the chapter, conflates the form and the initial mover.  Thus, instead of  1) a subject 2) a form 3) an initial mover, there is 1) a subject and 2) a form/initial mover.  If a form is an external force, as it would have to be on Plato’s view, then by Aristotle’s understanding above (“Art is a generative principle in something else”) this would make a form an art.  But Plato’s concept of form is clearly not an art, so either form has some other definition or there are no forms.



Μετὰ ταῦτα ὅτι ἑκάστη ἐκ συνωνύμου γίγνεται οὐσία· τὰ γὰρ φύσει οὐσίαι καὶ τἆλλα· ἢ γὰρ τέχνῃ ἢ φύσει γίγνεται ἢ τύχῃ ἢ τῷ αὐτομάτῳ. ἡ μὲν οὖν τέχνη ἀρχὴ ἐν ἄλλῳ, ἡ δὲ φύσις ἀρχὴ ἐν αὐτῷ (ἄνθρωπος γὰρ ἄνθρωπον γεννᾷ), αἱ δὲ λοιπαὶ αἰτίαι στερήσεις τούτων.

Τὰ μὲν οὖν κινοῦντα αἴτια ὡς προγεγενημένα ὄντα, τὰ δ᾿ ὡς ὁ λόγος ἅμα. ὅτε γὰρ ὑγιαίνει ὁ ἄνθρωπος, τότε καὶ ἡ ὑγίεια ἔστιν, καὶ τὸ σχῆμα τῆς χαλκῆς σφαίρας ἅμα καὶ ἡ χαλκῆ σφαῖρα.

φανερὸν δὴ ὅτι οὐδὲν δεῖ διά γε ταῦτ᾿ εἶναι τὰς ἰδέας· ἄνθρωπος γὰρ ἄνθρωπον γεννᾷ, ὁ καθ᾿ ἕκαστον τὸν τινά. ὁμοίως δὲ καὶ ἐπὶ τῶν τεχνῶν· ἡ γὰρ ἰατρικὴ τέχνη ὁ λόγος τῆς ὑγιείας ἐστί.

Aristotle’s Categories: 10-Fold Division of Being

(See here for the previous posts on the Categories: Chapter 1Chapter 2, Chapter 3)

In this fourth chapter of the Categories Aristotle introduces a second division of being, classifying “things said without combination.”  When considered in their most elemental form, if they can be, on Aristotle’s view things will be organized into these 10 types of categories.  In J.A. Ackrill’s considered opinion Aristotle arrived at these categorial classifications, “by observing that different types of answer are appropriate to different questions.” [2]  However he discovered this system of classification, he introduces them very briefly by exampling them with 2 or 3 instances.

Each of the things said without combination signify either substance (ousia)[1], or quantity (poson), or quality (posos), or relation (pros ti) or where (pou) or when (pote) or being in a position (keisthai) or having (echein) or doing (poiein) or being affected (paschein). And substance is, to speak generally, for example a man, a horse; and quantity for example, two cubits long, three cubits long; and quality is for example, white, grammatical; and relation is for example, double, half, greater; and where is for example, in the Lyceum, in the market; and when for example is yesterday, a year ago; and being in a position for example, reclining, sitting; and having for example, having shoes on, being armored; and to do for example, cutting, burning; and to be affected for example, to be cut, to be burnt.

In any affirmation though, none of the things mentioned is said by itself; rather in the combination of these with each other an affirmation comes about. Each affirmation seems either to be true or false, but none of the things said without combination is true or false, for example man, white, runs, wins (translation mine, Categories, 1b25-2a10). [3]

So we have rather straightforwardly, a classification that looks like this:

Substance (ousia) example: horse, man
Quantity (poson) example: two cubits long, three cubits long
Quality (posos) example: white, grammatical
Relation (pros ti) example: double, half, greater
Where (pou) example: in the Lyceum, in the market
When (pote) example: yesterday, a year ago
Being in a position (keisthai) example: reclining, sitting
Having (echein) example: having shoes on, being armoured
Doing (poiein) example: cutting, burning
Being affected (paschein) example: to be cut, to be cut

It should be noted that when Aristotle both earlier and in this chapter spoke of “things said without combination,” he must have intended this to mean the objects to which the words refer.  We can be confident of this because he gives as an example of one his categories, which are by definition said without combination, “in the Lyceum” which is two words in Greek.  Yet, on the supposition that Aristotle was referring to linguistic terms alone, of course using two words is an example of combination.  Thus, Aristotle must be referring to the concrete items for which these terms are merely used as designations.

It is mnemonically suggestive that 8 of the 10 categories begin with the letter p (Greek π).  This might be similar to the journalistic admonition to remember the “W questions,” i.e. who, when, why, where, what.  If so, this might cynically incline us to believe that these categories were chosen because they were easily accessible to Aristotle.

In the second half of this passage, Aristotle wants to emphasis that while these categorial uses are building blocks, they are not of any use when discussing truth or falsity.  We cannot discover the truth value of “horse.” In order to make it truth-evaluable we must say, “horse is white” or “horse is grammatical,” for example.

Some interpretative questions:

Is “in accordance with no combination” κατὰ μηδεμίαν συμπλοκὴν used by Aristotle as a circumlocution to avoid adding another predicate, i.e. things that are without combination are either, etc.?

Why does Aristotle preface his introduction with “to speak generally” ὡς τύπῳ εἰπεῖν about substance (or maybe all the categories, it seems ambigious)?  Is this just to say the examples he is about to give are not exhaustive, typical, or that we should refrain from inferring too much from limited examples?

Does Aristotle want us to understand, in the second paragraph, translating more literally, “In no affirmation is each of the things mentioned predicated of itself?”  Viz. “Horse is horse”  If this is so, what does this mean for how he intended his theory of predication to be employed, since we are excluding this meaning?



[1] Could be translated ‘being.’
[2] Aristotle’s Categories and De Interpretatione, Oxford, 1963, pg. 79
[3] Τῶν κατὰ μηδεμίαν συμπλοκὴν λεγομένων ἕκαστον ἤτοι (25)
οὐσίαν σημαίνει ἢ ποσὸν ἢ ποιὸν ἢ πρός τι ἢ ποὺ ἢ ποτὲ ἢ
κεῖσθαι ἢ ἔχειν ἢ ποιεῖν ἢ πάσχειν. ἔστι δὲ οὐσία μὲν ὡς
τύπῳ εἰπεῖν οἷον ἄνθρωπος, ἵππος· ποσὸν δὲ οἷον δίπηχυ,
τρίπηχυ· ποιὸν δὲ οἷον λευκόν, γραμματικόν· πρός τι δὲ
(2a.) οἷον διπλάσιον, ἥμισυ, μεῖζον· ποὺ δὲ οἷον ἐν Λυκείῳ, ἐν
ἀγορᾷ· ποτὲ δὲ οἷον χθές, πέρυσιν· κεῖσθαι δὲ οἷον ἀνάκειται,
κάθηται· ἔχειν δὲ οἷον ὑποδέδεται, ὥπλισται· ποιεῖν δὲ οἷον
τέμνειν, καίειν· πάσχειν δὲ οἷον τέμνεσθαι, καίεσθαι.

ἕκαστον δὲ τῶν εἰρημένων αὐτὸ μὲν καθ’ αὑτὸ ἐν οὐδεμιᾷ κατα- (5)
φάσει λέγεται, τῇ δὲ πρὸς ἄλληλα τούτων συμπλοκῇ
κατάφασις γίγνεται· ἅπασα γὰρ δοκεῖ κατάφασις ἤτοι
ἀληθὴς ἢ ψευδὴς εἶναι, τῶν δὲ κατὰ μηδεμίαν συμ-
πλοκὴν λεγομένων οὐδὲν οὔτε ἀληθὲς οὔτε ψεῦδός ἐστιν,
οἷον ἄνθρωπος, λευκόν, τρέχει, νικᾷ. (10)

Aristotle’s Categories: Predication with Genus and Differentiae

(See here for the previous posts on the Categories: Chapter 1, Chapter 2)

Aristotle’s philosophical writing, often opaque in style as well as content, can also venture into extended periods of intricate simplicity, innovating complexity and depth from a rather limited set of fixed, technical terms.  This is the case for much of the Categories, and chapter 3 certainly fits this description as well.  In this post, I will be continuing my quasi-commentary on Aristotle’s Categories, now arriving at chapter 3.

Whenever one thing is predicated of another as of a subject (ὑποκειμένου), as many things as are said of the thing being predicated, all of these will also be said of the subject. For example human is predicated of an individual human, and animal is predicated of a human. Therefore animal will be predicated of an individual human also. For an individual human is both a human and an animal.


Of the things differing in genus and not being subordinated to one another there are differentiae different in kind (τῷ εἴδει), for example, there are [distinct] differentiae of animal and of knowledge: footed, winged, water-dwelling, two-footed, and none of these is [a differentia] of knowledge. For [one kind] of knowledge does not differ from [another] knowledge by having two feet. Yet nothing prevents there being the same differentiae of the genera subordinate to each other. For the higher genera are predicated of the things said under them, so that as many differentiae as there are of the thing being predicated there will be of the subject as well (Translation mine, Categories 1b10-24). [1]

Aristotle begins this section with the confusingly worded, “Whenever one thing is predicated of another as of a subject (ὑποκειμένου), as many things as are said of the thing being predicated, all of these will also be said of the subject.”  Now the example that follows makes the concept he is addressing here rather clear.  If an individual human is a human, and if a human is an animal, then an individual human is an animal.  In this instance, using Aristotle’s terminology, the subject and the thing being predicated of is “the individual human,” while the thing being predicated is “human.”  (Keep in mind that I use quotation marks not to designate a mere linguistic term, but to clarify and distinguish the objects to which they refer.)

Aristotle next invokes language about genus and differentia (plural, genera and differentiae.)  Assuming that there are such entities we may roughly think of as “kinds of things,” designated as genera, then it follows that these things must be organized and distinguished from each other in some way.  For example, taking animal as a real genus, we can say that there are (at least) two “kinds”: birds and fish.  These two kinds of things, birds and fish, are each a species of the genus animal, and although they belong to the genus animal, birds and fish are distinguished from each other by differing in some salient way.  Possession of this differing property or properties, such as scales or feathers, is what makes the one animal (fish) differ from the other (bird).  Thus these properties are called differentiae.  Since this usage of genus is not to be confused with our modern classifications in biological nomenclature, we can freely apply the term genus to whatever level of kinds of things we wish.  With confidence in being philosophically consistent, in other words, we can also say that in addition to animal, fish is also a genus, with the differentiae of salt-water or fresh-water picking out two other species based on the difference of the type of water inhabited.  What Aristotle warns against in the second half of this text is being sloppy when it comes to distinctions made in one genus that do not apply to another, viz. knowledge and animal, where one applies two-footedness to knowledge.



[1] Ὅταν ἕτερον καθ’ ἑτέρου κατηγορῆται ὡς καθ’ ὑποκει- (10)
μένου, ὅσα κατὰ τοῦ κατηγορουμένου λέγεται, πάντα καὶ κατὰ τοῦ ὑποκειμένου ῥηθήσεται· οἷον ἄνθρωπος κατὰ τοῦ τι-
νὸς ἀνθρώπου κατηγορεῖται, τὸ δὲ ζῷον κατὰ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου·
οὐκοῦν καὶ κατὰ τοῦ τινὸς ἀνθρώπου τὸ ζῷον κατηγορηθήσε-
ται· ὁ γὰρ τὶς ἄνθρωπος καὶ ἄνθρωπός ἐστι καὶ ζῷον. (15)
τῶν ἑτερογενῶν καὶ μὴ ὑπ’ ἄλληλα τεταγμένων ἕτεραι
τῷ εἴδει καὶ αἱ διαφοραί, οἷον ζῴου καὶ ἐπιστήμης·
ζῴου μὲν γὰρ διαφοραὶ τό τε πεζὸν καὶ τὸ πτηνὸν καὶ τὸ
ἔνυδρον καὶ τὸ δίπουν, ἐπιστήμης δὲ οὐδεμία τούτων· οὐ γὰρ
διαφέρει ἐπιστήμη ἐπιστήμης τῷ δίπους εἶναι. τῶν δέ γε (20)
ὑπ’ ἄλληλα γενῶν οὐδὲν κωλύει τὰς αὐτὰς διαφορὰς εἶναι·
τὰ γὰρ ἐπάνω τῶν ὑπ’ αὐτὰ γενῶν κατηγορεῖται, ὥστε
ὅσαι τοῦ κατηγορουμένου διαφοραί εἰσι τοσαῦται καὶ τοῦ
ὑποκειμένου ἔσονται.