05 May 2006

The Origin of the Mistake?

In an earlier post I traced my mistake (as I now consider it), of thinking that primary substances are ordinary 'things', to my first studying the Categories with the aid of Acrkill's commentary, where Ackrill simply presumes that this is so.

Today I found, I think, the origin of Ackrill's mistake (as I consider it). It surfaces in his discussion of how Aristotle arrives at the categories.

Ackrill distinguishes two methods of arriving at the categories:

(i) A category is marked out by the range of non-absurd responses to what are apparently the most general sorts of questions. (This is the method I described in my last post.)

(ii) A category is a 'highest genus,' which we arrive at by pressing, again and again, questions about classification ('what is it?'), until higher genera give out. (E.g. "This whiteness is a kind of white." "But what is white?" "A kind of color." "But what is a color?" "A kind of visual quality." "But what is a visual quality?" "A kind of quality." And here, it is claimed, words fail, because a quality is not a kind of anything else. Quality is a category.)
Ackrill then says:
It should be noticed, however, that only the second method gets individuals into categories. For one may ask 'what is it?' of an individual in any category; but items introduced by answers to different questions about Callias are not themselves individuals, and a classification of such items will have no place for Callias himself or for Callias' generosity (80).
It's strange that Ackrill thinks these two methods lead to different inventories for the categories. By the one method, Callias gets counted as a substance (Ackrill thinks), and by the other method not. And it's stranger still that Ackrill never concludes, as he should, that (i) is therefore not a good method for arriving at the categories (he doesn't, presumably, because that would be untenable on its face).

But Ackrill's mistake is in thinking that (i) doesn't yield individuals. Consider the examples of the categories that Aristotle himself gives:
Of things said without any combination, each signifies either substance or quantity or qualification or a relative or where or when or being-in-a-position or having or doing or being-affected. To give a rough idea, examples of substance are man, horse; of quantity: four-foot, five-foot; of qualification: white, grammatical; of a relative: double, half, larger; of where: in the Lyceum, in the market-place; of when: yesterday, last-year; of being-in-a-position: is-lying, is-sitting; of having: has-shoes-on, has-armour-on; of doing: cutting, burning; of being-affected: being-cut, being-burned (Ackrill).
It is easy to think of these examples as answers to questions. And it is easy, too, to consider such answers as, in some contexts, indicating individuals. For example, the exchange, "What qualification?" --"White", admits of being understood as an exchange about Socrates' particular whiteness ("How is he qualified?" "There is a whiteness to his skin."), just as much as an exchange about what sort of color he has ("How is he looking?" "Very pale.").

Ackrill fails to see this, I think, because he fails to see that Aristotle's distinctions--between 'said of'/'not said of', and 'existing in'/'not existing in'--are meant precisely to clarify this ambiguity. When I say "white" in response to "what qualification?", I might mean either an instance or a sort. If I mean to indicate something existing in a thing, but not said of it, then I am indicating an instance of white; if I mean to indicate something existing in a thing and said of it, then I am indicating the sort, white.

Yet then, of course, the same thing holds of the category, substance. When I say "man" in response to the question, "what?", I might mean either an instance or a sort. If I mean to indicate something not said of something, then I mean "an instance of man (human nature)", that is, "a particular man" (o( tij a1nqrwpoj); if I mean to indicate something said of something, then I mean the sort of thing to which he belongs.

To sum up: method (i) is perfectly well suited to arriving at categories that contain individuals. The only problem is, as regards Ackrill's interpretation: the individual it arrives at in the category of substance is a particular instance of human nature, not a Callias or a Socrates.