Aristotle on Definition by M. Deslauriers

By M. Deslauriers

This paintings examines Aristotles discussions of definition in his logical works and the Metaphysics , and argues for the significance of definitions of straightforward elements, drawing the relationship among definitions as first ideas of demonstration and as statements of essence.

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Sample text

But this is either difficult or impossible,” (De part. an. 2 642b5–7; trans. Peck). As a related point he adds an objection to the second practice: “A privative differentia is not, insofar as it is privative, a differentia at all. For it is impossible that there should be a species of what is not, 22 Moravcsik writes, “It is crucial for the understanding of the Method of Division that Plato gives no mechanical procedure for finding natural kinds. Plato does not think that there are any such procedures,” (“The Anatomy of Plato’s Divisions,” 344).

There is, however, a significant difference in Aristotle’s conception of definable form, which accounts for his preoccupation with the issue of unity. Plato’s understanding of form as the object of definition is indicated by the passage in the Statesman at which the Stranger explains that it is easy to define those things that have visible likenesses, since we can simply point to those likenesses (285e–286a). Of course, only material objects can have visible images. And since immaterial objects do not have visible images, some other method of giving an account of them must be provided.

In what follows these failings of division are attributed to other practitioners of the method, “For this very point had escaped all those who used the method of division; and they attempted to persuade people that it was possible to make a demonstration of substance and essence. Consequently, they did not understand what it is possible to deduce (συλλογ σασ αι) by division, nor did they understand that it was possible [to deduce] in the manner we have described,” (An. Pr. 31 46a34–39). This already suggests that Aristotle has reforms to make in the procedure of division, in order to make it legitimate for certain purposes.

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