Aristotle (384–322 BC)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-A022-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved September 20, 2018, from

7. Categories and beings

Part of the task of logic is to explain the nature of predication (‘A is B’, analysed by Aristotle as ‘B is predicated of A’ or ‘B belongs to A’, as in ‘Animal belongs to every man’), which is presupposed by complex logoi (statements and arguments). In the Categories (katēgoriai; predications), Aristotle introduces ten ‘categories’ (usually called schēmata tēs katēgorias, ‘figures (that is, types) of predication’). The categories correspond to different sorts of words (for example, count-nouns, adjectives, verbs) and to different grammatical functions (for example, subject, predicate), but they primarily classify the different non-linguistic items introduced in predications. The sentences ‘Socrates is a man’ and ‘Socrates is a musician’ are grammatically similar, but they introduce different sorts of things; the first predicates a second substance of a first substance, whereas the second predicates a non-substance of a first substance.

The first category is called ousia (literally, ‘being’), which is translated into Latin as ‘substantia’, and hence usually called ‘substance’ (see Substance §1). The nine non-substance categories include quality, quantity and relative (the only ones that Aristotle refers to often; the categories are listed in Categories 4, Topics I 9). Each category contains both particulars and universals. The statement that this individual man is an animal predicates a second substance (that is, a universal in the category of substance) of a first substance (that is, a particular in the category of substance). ‘White is a colour’ predicates one universal quality of another.

The categories display the multivocity of beings (see §4). Whereas animals constitute an ordinary univocal genus with a single definition, beings do not constitute an ordinary genus; hence there is no single account of what it is for something to be a being. Aristotle believes Plato mistakenly pursued a single account of beings; the theory of categories is meant to avoid Platonic errors.

In marking categorial divisions, Aristotle is influenced by grammar and syntax, but also by his ontology – his classification of beings. This classification rests on his view of nature and change, which clarifies his analysis of predication.

Citing this article:
Irwin, T.H.. Categories and beings. Aristotle (384–322 BC), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-A022-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2018 Routledge.

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