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The Aristotelian Doctrine of Homonyma in the Categories and Its Platonic Antecedents J OHN P. ANTON I THE ARISTOTELIAN DOCTRINE OF homonyma is of part i cul ar historical interest at least for t he following reasons: (1) I t appears t hat t he meani ng of homonyma was seriously debat ed in Aristotle' s times and t hat his own formul at i on was but one among many others. Evi dent l y, t here were ot her platonizing t hi nkers in
  The ristotelian Doctrine of Homonyma n the ategories and Its Platonic ntecedents JOHN P. ANTON THE ARISTOTELIAN DOCTRINE OF homonyma is of particular historical interest at least for the following reasons: (1) It appears that the meaning of homonyma was seriously debated in Aristotle's times and that his own formulation was but one among many others. Evidently, there were other platonizing thinkers in the Academy who had formulated their own variants. According to ancient testi- monies, the definition which Speusippus propounded proved to be quite influential in later times. 1 (2) The fact that Aristotle chose to open the Categories with a discussion, brief as it is, on the meaning of homonyma, synonyma, and paronyma, attests to the significance he attached to this preliminary chapter. Furthermore, there is general agreement among all the commentators on the relevance of the first chapter of the Categories to the doctrine of the categories. (3) The corpus affords ample internal evidence that the doctrine of homonyma figures largely in Aristotle's various discussions on the nature of first principles and his method of metaphysical analysis. This being the case, it is clear that Aristotle considered this part of his logical theory to have applications beyond the limited scope of what is said in the Categories. Since we do not know the actual order of Aristotle's writings it is next to the impossible to decide which formulation came first. It remains a fact that Aristotle discusses cases of homonyma and their causes as early as the Sophistici Elenchi. Special mention of the cause of homonyma is made in the very first chapter of this work. We find it again in the Topics, de Interpretatione, the Analytics and the other logical treatises. He opens the Sophietici Elenchi with a general distinction between genuine and apparent reasonings and refutations, and then proceeds to explain why some refutations fail to reach their goal, that is, establish the contradictory of the given conclusion. ~ This is the first of a two part article. 1 See De Speusippi Academici scriptis, ed. P. Lang (Bonn, 1911), flag. 32. Simplicius com- ments that Speusippus defended this formulation and remarks that once the definition is granted, it could be shown that homonyma axe also synonyma, and vice versa In Aristotelis Categorias commentarium, ed. C. Kalbfleisch, Commentaria in Aristotelis Graeca, VIII [Berlin, 1907] 29, 5-6). It is impossible in a discussion to bring in the actual things discussed: we use their names as symbols instead of them; and, therefore, we suppose that what follows in the names, follows in the things as well, just as people who calculate suppose in regard to their counters. But the two cases (names and things) are not alike. For names are finite and so is the sum-total of formulae, while things are infinite in number. Inevitably, then, the same formulae, and a single name, have a number of meanings. Accordingly just as, in counting, those who are not  316 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY II It would be an error to claim that Aristotle was the first to observe that homonymy constitutes a source of ambiguity. Plato had already made a diagnosis in the Sophist: At present, you see, all that you and I possess in common is the name. The thing to which each of us gives that name we may perhaps have privately before our eyes, but it is always desirable to have reached an agreement about the thing itself by means of explicit statements rather than be content to use the same word without formulating what it means) The Stranger is addressing Theaetetus in this passage; the issue before them is to hunt down the troublesome sort of creature that the sophist is. Plato is suggesting here that when two people embark on a conversation and are using names whose meaning they suspect is not the same for both, it is imperative that they settle their differences and decide upon a common and acceptable meaning of that name. In this particular case, the Stranger and Theaetetus happen to have private meanings on what it means to be a sophist. However, the Stranger suggests, the matter can- not be left to rest at this level of understanding. The discussion cannot continue and hope to bear some fruit unless an appropriate method is introduced to resolve the difference and affix with precision the meaning of the name in question. The warning is clear: one mustnot take it for granted that common names have oommonmeanings. It is preferable to go on the assumption that two people who are using the same name actually have private meanings for it. The way to settle this matter and arrive at common meanings is by formulating explicit statements about the thing named. In the Sophist Plato propounds the method of division. The main point here is that Plato identified the actual source of homonymy as follows: given a name which is commonly used by two persons, it is by no means certain that both entertain the same meaning. When we turn to Aristotle, the context of the discussion on the nature of homonymy changes. In the Top/cs and the Sophistici Elenchi the tone is more Platonic, but less so in the Categories. Let us explain. In the Categories we see Aristotle starting out with the fact that things have names; they are the legomena. There is no direct resemblance here to the Platonic context of the Sophist in which mention is made of two individuals who are said to have private meanings for the same name in their discussion. The first thing Aristotle mentions in this treatise is things that have common names. The issue that arises immediately is that of determining whether we have a case of homonyma or one of synonyma. The method to be followed here is not that of division as used by Plato in the Sophist clever in manipulating their counters are taken in by the experts, in the same way in arguments too those who are not well acquainted with the force of names misreason both in their own discussions and when they listen to others. For this reason, then, and for others to be mentioned later, there exists both reasoning and refutation that is apparent but not real (165a 5-20, Oxford trans.). s At 218b-c (Cornford's trans.). This passage is mentioned by Simplicius as evidence to sup- port the claim that Plato had anticipated the problem (In Categ., 25, 103). Plato's text reads: X~ ~ X6 yov. Earlier in his commentary, Simplicins refers to Plato's Euthydemus (277e, 295d), where Plato draws attention to the need for a proper method to distinguish between the various uses of names in order to meet the Sophistic nuisance and also to remove doubt. Simplicins reports that the need to deal with double meanings of names was one of the main reasons that led to the development of dialectic (22, 10-13).  ARISTOTELIAN HOMONYMA 317 for it is not confused opinion about some subject that we wish to settle. Not our opinions, but how two things are related to a third thing whose name they have in common, is what must be clarified. Thus, the problem is not whether sophist means really this or that sort of thing to two different persons. The task is a new one: given that two things share the name of something else, we must ask by virtue of what pattern of relationships they come to share the name. The issue then is to find out whether the two things are essentially related to each other and to some third thing or not. What we are asked to do is to discover something about the claims things have to names of other things and by virtue of what properties. In the Aristotelian view we start out with things and with the natural fact of language whereby names of things happen to be common to certain other things. The ambiguities to be removed are not so much those of private opinion. The deeper issue has now become one whereby homonymy, if allowed to remain undetected, interferes with the validity of syllogistic thinking. 4 It is an obstacle to attaining scientific knowledge. These two different approaches to homonymy point to the fact that Plato and Aristotle are not solving the same problem in their respective quests in the Sophist and the Categories, though it is true that both deal with some fundamental aspect of ambiguous talking. Just the same, one can readily notice how Aristotle is lin- guistically indebted to Plato for the formulation of his own definition of homonyma. Aristotle's formulation evidently owes much to Plato's choice of words. Compare for instance Aristotle's text in Categories la 1-2, with Plato's wording of the issue when he says: To~o~a pS~o~ ~o~... ~v~tto)~o~C?~a~#a~ ~ ~GTo~. The Aristotelian text runs as follows: '0#&~v~a k~era~ $~ 5~o~a pS~o~ ~o~5~, 5 ~ ~ara ro~oua ~57o~ r~ David in his commentary on Porphyry's Isagoge remarks that ~dXot~ ~ TOs 8tao'rdkaaOat 9 ~ $t~pvt,~ z.~ avat~t~ r~ a~Ct~oXta~ (123, 14-15). However, the removal of amphiboly is only part of the issue. Unless homonymy is dealt with in all its aspects, the connection that is needed to tie the major to the minor term in a syllogism could remain in doubt. The scholiast David failed to see how the detection of homonyma is vital to the validity of syllogistic think- ing. Hence, the discussion on homonyma has broader implications than what David mentions in this passage. It might be said that his remark is related to the way in which he interprets the denotation of homonyma. Looking at this matter from a strict Aristotelian point of view, we could say that once this notion is allowed to mean individual substances of the sort that David mentions in his examples, then its relation to terms in syllogistic thinking becomes questionable on the ground that the terms in syllogistic premises are universals, not individ- uals. It should be remembered that Aristotle distinguishes between 6~v~la, r& ~vv~a, and ~/~bt~oks The first refers to the multiple use of a word (see Topics, esp. 106b 3-4, 106b 8, 107a 5, 107b 7); &~b~o~s refers to the multiple use of a whole phrase or a sentence, logos (Topics, 129b 31-32, 130a 9). G. E. L. Owen, in a recent essay observes: Commonly, though not always, he [Aristotle] uses 'homonymons' and 'synonymous' to describe not words but the things to which a word is applied. Thus in the Categories (la 1-11) he explains that two things (or kinds of things) are called synonymous if they both answer to some such name as 'animal', and if the logos which corresponds to the name, i.e. the appropriate definition or paraphrase, is the same in each case. They are called homonymous if both answer to the same name, but the appropriate logos differs in the two cases. By logos in such contexts he plainly does mean a definition or ~araphrase: this is shown by the many examples in his logic ( Aristotle on the Snares of Ontology, in New Essays on Plato and Aristotle, ed. R. Bamhrough [London, 1965], p. 73). Owen correctly takes the view that homonyma is about things and not words. J. L. Ackrill, commenting on the opening chapter of the Categories, concurs and remarks that it is important to recognize from the start that the Categories is not primarily or explicitly about names, but about the things that names signify (Aristotle's Categories and De Interpretatione, trans, with notes and glossary, [Oxford, 1963], p. 71, scholium on Cat. la 1). Also compare M. Grene, A Portrait of Aristotle (Chicago, 1963)pp. 70-73, who agrees that the discussion is about things


Jul 23, 2017
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