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Categories: Ten Kinds of Names

Previously, Aristotle has explained that both the genus and the differentia of something are always transitive. Now Aristotle will discuss how to categorize names as such rather than their relationship as predicates. He does this in the Categories.

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-armor-on; of doing: cutting, burning; of being-affected: being-cut, being-burned.

When speaking about names that are not combined, they can be divided into ten categories. These are: substance, quantity, quality, relation, place, time, state of being, having, active action and passive action. Examples can be given of each of these things as well. Examples of substance are men and horses; of quantity, four feet and five feet; of quality, white and grammatical; of relations, double half and larger; of place, in Canada and in the store; of time, yesterday, tomorrow and in five hours; of state of being, lying and sitting; of having, wearing shoes and wearing hats; of active action, cutting and burning trees and of passive action, being healed and being moved.

There are two major debates on this passage. The first debate is over whether and how Aristotle shows that there must be exactly ten categories. A number of philosophers have claimed that Aristotle does not support his division of these categories with any kind decision procedure. Others have claimed that there is a reason for the distinctions. The second debate concerns the nature of these categories. These categories either have debates about what belongs to them or it is claimed that their membership is vague. These two debates are linked to each other and have a long history. They are also connected to how the philosophers of the time interpreted the Categories themselves.

Even including the two major debates, this passage is not simply speaking about language. Even though Aristotle uses words such as “signifies” and “things said”, he is speaking of both language and the world. By understanding what words we use to describe the world we gain a basic understanding of what problems exist in reality. An investigation into language is useful because it is also an investigation into the world. This naturally assumes that language is a truthful way of representing the world and our linguistic distinctions often divide the world the way it is really divided. This assumption is not questioned until much later in the history of philosophy.

Next, Aristotle discusses the relationship of combined concepts and truth.