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Language and Ontology in Aristotle's Categories* CHARLOTTE L. STOUGH ANY ATTEMPTTO INTERPRETthe text of Aristotle's Categories in isolation from the larger context of his thought would be singularly unrewarding. The ideas sketched out there are no more than the skeleton of a doctrine whose significance, while it may have been evident to Aristotle's philosophical contemporaries, is distressingly remote to us. To make matters worse, Aristotle nowhere tells us him aim in writing that treatise as he frequently does in his other works. So we are driven to his fuller accounts of philosophical doctrine for help in understanding the Categories. Unfortunate perhaps but, nonetheless, unavoidable. Yet there is an attendant danger in reading the Categories freely in the light of later works such as the Metaphysics. It is altogether too easy to find in that early text the more sophisticated ideas of a maturer period of Aristotle's philosophical development and hence unwittingly to incorporate into our procedure the assumption, dubious at best, that Aristotle's views remained virtually unchanged throughout his philosophical career. Thus there would seem to be prima facie reason for raising some questions of a rather special sort about the body of the Categories as such---about what can be said of Aristotle's notion of categories of being without going beyond that work (or at least the Orgctnon) for support. One question in particular deserves attention, because it strikes at the very center of the theory expounded in the Categories. Granted that Aristotle attached a privileged status to the category of substance--a status importantly not enjoyed by the other nine categories--we want to know what he conceived that special status to be. Our question concerns the relation between substance and the remaining categories. Aristotle had some important things to say on this subject in later works, x but how much of that was originally central to the theory of categories cannot be uncovered by his subsequent remarks. Very little can be said about the philosophical significance of the early doctrine of categories until we understand precisely how Aristotle ordered the category of substance in relation to the nine * I am grateful to Professor J. L. Ackrill for discussing an earlier version of this paper with me. t For example, Met., Zeta 1 (cf. Delta 11); Aristotle's doctrine of x~t~p6q ~v XeTblaevct set forth in central sections of the Metaphysics may represent his most finished thoughts on this subject. [2611 262 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY nonsubstantial forms of predication in the Categories itself. As might be expected, Aristotle offers no easy answer to this question, but his own words are suggestive in ways that are worth exploring and yet, at the same time, quite easily overlooked. The question, as I have posed it, assumes that in the Categories Aristotle did accord to substance a position that is unique and in some sense superior to that of other existents. Several of his remarks attest to this. He characterizes individuals in the first category as the only things that are neither "said of" nor "in" a subject (lb4), whereas "all other things" are either said of or in primary substances as subjects (2a34, 2b4). Certainly this affirms the uniqueness of primary substance, but by itself it does not appear to assert privileged status. We have not far to look, however, for Aristotle unmistakably affirms the pre-eminence of what is neither said of nor in a subject over everything else when he claims for such individuals (2all) the title of orc[~t "in the strictest sense, primarily, and most of all" (Kupt(bxtt~t ~8 ~ui. ~pcbxo~ Ket[ IX&~,tcxct).And he soon ties these two statemerits together by claiming one as justification of the other. It is because of their role as subjects for all other things, we are told, that primary substances are said to be substances most strictly and most of all? And it also seems clear that Aristotle thought the unique role of substantial individuals as subjects to secure a further point when he concludes therefrom (orv) that "if primary substances did not exist it would be impossible for any of the other things to exist" (2b5). There is...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 261-272
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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