03 May 2006

It Appears So, On a Presupposition

I distinguished two conceptions of primary substance in the Categories:

(i) commonsense: a primary substance is an ordinary 'thing';
(ii) theoretical: a primary substance is an instance of a nature, that is, the substance without the accidents.
Which does Aristotle accept? The common wisdom is that he accepts the former. But does any text indicate that he held one view rather than the other? If, on both views, a primary substance is conceived of as particular, how could a text serve to decide this question?

There is an important linguistic mark distinguishing (i) from (ii). Someone who holds (i) will believe that a proper name is an appellation for a primary substance, and that, indeed, a proper name is a better and clearer appellation than some such phrase as 'the individual man'.

That this is so, is evident in Ackrill's commentary, because, as we have seen, Ackrill accepts (i), and, in his commentary, as a result, he usually illustrates Aristotle's remarks about primary substances with observations about an individual, Callias (as it happens), supplying a proper name where the text itself has none.

Thus, if Aristotle accepts (i), he would believe that a proper name is the clearest appellation of a primary substance, and he would be disposed to appeal to proper names when a phrase such as 'the individual man' seems ambiguous. In contrast, if he accepts (ii), he would regard an expression such as 'the individual man' as the best and only appellation for a primary substance.

Note that we should probably regard 'the individual man' (o( tij a1nqrwpoj) as simply Aristotle's strengthening of the ordinary Greek, 'the man' (o( a1nqrwpoj).

Given these considerations, I maintain that the following text from the Categories indicates that Aristotle accepts (ii):
Every substance seems to signify a certain 'this'. As regards the primary substances, it is indisputably true that each of them signifies a certain 'this'; for the thing revealed is individual and numerically one. But as regards the secondary substances, though it appears from the form of the name--when one speaks of man or animal--that a secondary substance likewise signifies a certain 'this', this is not really true; rather, it signifies a certain qualification, for the subject is not, as the primary substance is, one, but man and animal are said of many things. However, it does not simply imply a certain qualification, as white does. White signifies nothing but a qualification, whereas the species and the genus mark off the qualification of the substance--they signify substance of a certain qualification. (One draws a wider boundary with the genus than with the species, for in speaking of animal one takes in more than in speaking of man.) (3b10-23, Ackrill)

Pa~sa de\ ou)si/a dokei= to&de ti shmai/nein. e0pi\ me\n ou}n tw~n prw&twn ou)siw~n a)namfisbh&thton kai\ a)lhqe/j e0stin o3ti to&de ti shmai/nei: a1tomon ga_r kai\ e4n a)riqmw|~ to_ dhlou&meno&n e0stin. e0pi\ de\ tw~n deute/rwn ou)siw~n fai/netai me\n o(moi/wj tw|~ sxh&mati th~j proshgori/aj to&de ti shmai/nein, o3tan ei1ph| a1nqrwpon h2 zw|~on: ou) mh_n a)lhqe/j ge, a)lla_ ma~llon poio&n ti shmai/nei, ou) ga_r e3n e0sti to_ u(pokei/menon w3sper h( prw&th ou)si/a, a)lla_ kata_ pollw~n o( a1nqrwpoj le/getai kai\ to_ zw|~on: ou)x a(plw~j de\ poio&n ti shmai/nei, w3sper to_ leuko&n: ou)de\n ga_r a1llo shmai/nei to_ leuko_n a)ll' h2 poio&n, to_ de\ ei]doj kai\ to_ ge/noj peri\ ou)si/an to_ poio_n a)fori/zei, poia_n ga&r tina ou)si/an shmai/nei. e0pi\ plei=on de\ tw|~ ge/nei h2 tw|~ ei1dei to_n a)forismo_n poiei=tai: o( ga_r zw|~on ei0pw_n e0pi\ plei=on perilamba&nei h2 o( to_n a1nqrwpon.
  1. In this passage Aristotle is concerned with an appearance: every substance seems to signify a 'this'. We should probably understand this as: every appellation for a substance seems to signify a this. Aristotle wants to explain why this is only an appearance, in the case of appellations for secondary substances.
  2. The appearance arises only on the presumption that proper names are not appellations for substances, because the 'form of the name' Callias has nothing in common with the form of the name 'the man'. Insofar as we use 'Callias' as an appellation for a primary substance, there is no possibility of regarding 'man' as working in the same way. That the appearance arises, then, and needs to be accounted for, indicates that Aristotle is regarding the appellation of a primary substance and that of a secondary substance as similar, presumably 'the man' (o( a1nqrwpoj).
  3. Note that Aristotle does not say that, in the case of a primary substance, something like: the fact that the appellation indicates a particular is clear from the possibility of our using a proper name instead. That is, he does not appeal here to proper names. Rather, he says, tellingly, that the referent itself shows that what we mean is a particular: "the thing revealed (to_ dhlou&menon) is individual and numerically one". It is the fact that we are applying 'the man' to an individual, that shows that what is got at or 'revealed' is a particular.
  4. On the other hand, Aristotle takes pains to explain how we arrive at a similar appellation which indicates a species or genus: we use 'man' (a1nqrwpoj) to indicate a qualification, and then we construct an expression derived from this, 'the man' (o( a1nqrwpoj), which now signifies, not a particular, but rather all of those things so qualified. (What Aristotle describes, actually, is what we should call the construction, by 'abstraction', of the equivalence class man, consisting of all of those substances similar to--qualified in the same way as--this man.)
That is, this passage makes best sense if we attribute to Aristotle the view that 'the man' is an appellation for the primary substance and that it is the only available appellation for it--that is, if we attribute to him the corresponding view that primary substances are instances of a nature. And the passage is not constructed in the way that Aristotle would have argued, if he had believed that primary substances were ordinary 'things'.