Different Kinds of Equivocation in Aristotle
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Notes and Discussions DIFFERENT KINDS OF EQUIVOCATIONIN ARISTOTLE In an interesting essay, "Aristotle on the Snares of Ontology" (in R. Bambrough , New Essays on Plato and Aristotle [London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1965], pp. 69-95) Professor G. E. L. Owen has returned to some of the same problems he dealt with earlier in a different context in his famous essay on "Logic and Metaphysics in Some Earlier Works of Aristotle." 1 As before, the different terms Aristotle used to make distinctions between the different senses in which words and phrases may be used in more than one way play an important role in spelling out Aristotle's meaning. The general comments on this topic which Owen makes would deserve a long discussion. Here I shall comment on a couple of points only.2 On page 72, Owen says that in the Topics Aristotle "makes it clear that to say that a word (as contrasted with a complex phrase or sentence) has many uses is to say that it is used homonymously." This statement has a solid basis in the distinctions Aristotle makes in De Soph. El. 7, 169a22 ft., for the equivocity of a single term is there identified with homonymy and distinguished from the equivocity of a phrase, called by Aristotle amphiboly. There is little in De Soph. El. or in the Topics to contradict this. However, Owen's claim seems to fly in the face of what we find in the Metaphysics and in the Analytics. There we seem to have a variety of perfectly obvious instances in which a term has according to Aristotle many uses (is pollakhos legetai or dikhos legetai) and yet is said by Aristotle not to be homonymous. Some of these passages were discussed by Professor Owen himself in his earlier paper under the heading of [ocal meaning (pros hen equivocation). Some of them are commented on in my paper "Aristotle and the Ambiguity of Ambiguity" (Inquiry 2 [1959]: 137-151). I am genuinely at a loss to see how these passages could be reconciled with Owen's claim. He now discusses only one of of them, viz. Metaphysics IV, 2, 1003a34, saying that a multiplicity of uses is here not called homonymy "for political reasons." The politics in question presumably dealt with the idea of a universal science whose denial was likely to touch a sensitive nerve in the Platonists. There are passages in Aristotle, however, in which these "political" reasons could scarcely have been operative, e.g., Met. IX, 1, 1046a4-7: "We have pointed out elsewhere that 'potency' and the word 'can' have several senses [legetai poUakhos]. Of these we may neglect those which are so called by homonymy." Here Aristotle is discussing some of the most characteristic notions In I. Diiring and G. E. L. Owen, eds., Aristotle and Plato in Mid-/ourth Century (Gothenburg, 1960), pp. 163-190. I have briefly dealt with some other issues in my review article, "New Essays on Old Philosophers," Inquiry 10 (1967): 138-147. [368] NOTES AND DISCUSSIONS 369 of his own--notions which others had little reason to be sensitive about. Moreover, in addition to the passages in which homonymy is explicitly said to be a narrower notion than a multiplicity of uses (pollakhos legetai), there is a host of passages in which the phrase pollakhos legetai (or dikhos legetai) is used in a context which has so little to do with equivocation that it seems extremely unlikely that Aristotle should have wanted to assimilate them to cases of homonymy. Prompted by evidence of this kind, I argued in the earlier paper that in his mature works Aristotle normally distinguishes between cases of pollakhos legetai and those of homonymy. The former phrase can occasionally serve to indicate almost any distinction between the different parts of the field of a term, while homonymy for the mature Aristotle means a genuine logical difference between the different uses. How wide Aristotle's use of dikhos legetai was is perhaps shown by the fact that it is once used (in An. Pr. I, 17, 37a16 ff.) to indicate that certain syllogistic premises were really conjunctions of two different statements. Notice that Owen's claim...


pdf