10/03/2007

Review of Chapter 5 in Aristotle's Metaphysics Zeta

The following is my review of Aristotle's Metaphysics Zeta 5. In hopes that I can receive additional feedback I'm posting this. It must be noted that I've used two translations when discussing this, one by W. D. Ross (available online) and one by David Bostock. Anywhere you believe I've misunderstood Aristotle please feel free to step in and comment.
Thanks,
Matthew

In Chapter 5 of Aristotle’s Zeta in his metaphysics he describes what we will defined as “Polycategormatic” terms. The terms are called such because they straddle multiple categories in Aristotle’s reasoning. These compound or Polycategormatic terms are defined by Aristotle as

“These are those attributes in which there occurs either the name or the formula of that of which they are attributes, and it is not possible to explain such things without reference to this.” Zeta 1030-b23

Aristotle chooses to take these words and delve deeper into them attempting to find out if they have a definition at all and if they have a “what being is”. The main example of a Polycategormatic term that Aristotle chooses to use is the word snub. When using the word snub, Aristotle claims that we are actually making using the compound word “concave nose”. Thus when we say snub nose we are actually saying “concave nose nose”.

This, Aristotle concludes is the reason why these compound words may not have definitions after all. When we acknowledge that the word snub and the word concavity are interchangeable we are faced with the problem of infinite regress. Because the words are interchangeable when we define snub nose as concave nose nose we can then insert the word snub for concave and now define snub nose nose as concave nose nose nose. In this manner of defining words Aristotle demonstrates that there is not a sound definition for words such as snub and thus there is also not a what-being-is for these words. Aristotle then concludes that the only thing that will have a definition is a substance because if predicates had definitions they would be constructed from an addition. Ending Zeta 5 Aristotle says

“It is now clear that a definition is the formula stating what being is for a thing, and that what-being-is belongs either to substances alone, or to substances chiefly and primarily and without qualification” Zeta 1031 a11

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