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Aristotle - The Organon ANALYTICA POSTERIORA Book 1 Part 22

Dialectical considerations

1. In the case of predicates constituting the essential nature of a thing, it clearly terminates, seeing that if definition is possible, or in other words, if essential form is knowable, and an infinite series cannot be traversed, predicates constituting a thing's essential nature must be finite in number. But as regards predicates generally we have the following prefatory remarks to make. (1) We can affirm without falsehood 'the white (thing) is walking', and 'that big (thing) is a log'; or again, 'the log is big', and 'the man walks'. But the affirmation differs in the two cases. When I affirm 'the white is a log', I mean that something which happens to be white is a log - not that white is the substratum in which log inheres, for it was not qua white or qua a species of white that the white (thing) came to be a log, and the white (thing) is consequently not a log except incidentally. On the other hand, when I affirm 'the log is white', I do not mean that something else, which happens also to be a log, is white (as I should if I said 'the musician is white,' which would mean 'the man who happens also to be a musician is white');on the contrary, log is here the substratum - the substratum which actually came to be white, and did so qua wood or qua a species of wood and qua nothing else.

2. If we must lay down a rule, let us entitle the latter kind of statement predication, and the former not predication at all, or not strict but accidental predication. 'White' and 'log' will thus serve as types respectively of predicate and subject.

3. We shall assume, then, that the predicate is invariably predicated strictly and not accidentally of the subject, for on such predication demonstrations depend for their force. It follows from this that when a single attribute is predicated of a single subject, the predicate must affirm of the subject either some element constituting its essential nature, or that it is in some way qualified, quantified, essentially related, active, passive, placed, or dated.

4. (2) Predicates which signify substance signify that the subject is identical with the predicate or with a species of the predicate. Predicates not signifying substance which are predicated of a subject not identical with themselves or with a species of themselves are accidental or coincidental; e.g. white is a coincident of man, seeing that man is not identical with white or a species of white, but rather with animal, since man is identical with a species of animal. These predicates which do not signify substance must be predicates of some other subject, and nothing can be white which is not also other than white. The Forms we can dispense with, for they are mere sound without sense; and even if there are such things, they are not relevant to our discussion, since demonstrations are concerned with predicates such as we have defined.

5. (3) If A is a quality of B, B cannot be a quality of A - a quality of a quality. Therefore A and B cannot be predicated reciprocally of one another in strict predication: they can be affirmed without falsehood of one another, but not genuinely predicated of each other. For one alternative is that they should be substantially predicated of one another, i.e. B would become the genus or differentia of A - the predicate now become subject. But it has been shown that in these substantial predications neither the ascending predicates nor the descending subjects form an infinite series; e.g. neither the series, man is biped, biped is animal, &c., nor the series predicating animal of man, man of Callias, Callias of a further. subject as an element of its essential nature, is infinite. For all such substance is definable, and an infinite series cannot be traversed in thought: consequently neither the ascent nor the descent is infinite, since a substance whose predicates were infinite would not be definable. Hence they will not be predicated each as the genus of the other; for this would equate a genus with one of its own species. Nor (the other alternative) can a quale be reciprocally predicated of a quale, nor any term belonging to an adjectival category of another such term, except by accidental predication; for all such predicates are coincidents and are predicated of substances. On the other hand - in proof of the impossibility of an infinite ascending series - every predication displays the subject as somehow qualified or quantified or as characterized under one of the other adjectival categories, or else is an element in its substantial nature: these latter are limited in number, and the number of the widest kinds under which predications fall is also limited, for every predication must exhibit its subject as somehow qualified, quantified, essentially related, acting or suffering, or in some place or at some time.

6. I assume first that predication implies a single subject and a single attribute, and secondly that predicates which are not substantial are not predicated of one another. We assume this because such predicates are all coincidents, and though some are essential coincidents, others of a different type, yet we maintain that all of them alike are predicated of some substratum and that a coincident is never a substratum - since we do not class as a coincident anything which does not owe its designation to its being something other than itself, but always hold that any coincident is predicated of some substratum other than itself, and that another group of coincidents may have a different substratum. Subject to these assumptions then, neither the ascending nor the descending series of predication in which a single attribute is predicated of a single subject is infinite. For the subjects of which coincidents are predicated are as many as the constitutive elements of each individual substance, and these we have seen are not infinite in number, while in the ascending series are contained those constitutive elements with their coincidents - both of which are finite. We conclude that there is a given subject (D) of which some attribute (C) is primarily predicable; that there must be an attribute (B) primarily predicable of the first attribute, and that the series must end with a term (A) not predicable of any term prior to the last subject of which it was predicated (B), and of which no term prior to it is predicable.

7. The argument we have given is one of the so-called proofs; an alternative proof follows. Predicates so related to their subjects that there are other predicates prior to them predicable of those subjects are demonstrable; but of demonstrable propositions one cannot have something better than knowledge, nor can one know them without demonstration. Secondly, if a consequent is only known through an antecedent (viz. premisses prior to it) and we neither know this antecedent nor have something better than knowledge of it, then we shall not have scientific knowledge of the consequent. Therefore, if it is possible through demonstration to know anything without qualification and not merely as dependent on the acceptance of certain premisses - i.e. hypothetically - the series of intermediate predications must terminate. If it does not terminate, and beyond any predicate taken as higher than another there remains another still higher, then every predicate is demonstrable. Consequently, since these demonstrable predicates are infinite in number and therefore cannot be traversed, we shall not know them by demonstration. If, therefore, we have not something better than knowledge of them, we cannot through demonstration have unqualified but only hypothetical science of anything.

8. As dialectical proofs of our contention these may carry conviction, but an analytic process will show more briefly that neither the ascent nor the descent of predication can be infinite in the demonstrative sciences which are the object of our investigation. Demonstration proves the inherence of essential attributes in things. Now attributes may be essential for two reasons: either because they are elements in the essential nature of their subjects, or because their subjects are elements in their essential nature. An example of the latter is odd as an attribute of number - though it is number's attribute, yet number itself is an element in the definition of odd; of the former, multiplicity or the indivisible, which are elements in the definition of number. In neither kind of attribution can the terms be infinite. They are not infinite where each is related to the term below it as odd is to number, for this would mean the inherence in odd of another attribute of odd in whose nature odd was an essential element: but then number will be an ultimate subject of the whole infinite chain of attributes, and be an element in the definition of each of them. Hence, since an infinity of attributes such as contain their subject in their definition cannot inhere in a single thing, the ascending series is equally finite. Note, moreover, that all such attributes must so inhere in the ultimate subject - e.g. its attributes in number and number in them - as to be commensurate with the subject and not of wider extent. Attributes which are essential elements in the nature of their subjects are equally finite: otherwise definition would be impossible. Hence, if all the attributes predicated are essential and these cannot be infinite, the ascending series will terminate, and consequently the descending series too.

9. If this is so, it follows that the intermediates between any two terms are also always limited in number. An immediately obvious consequence of this is that demonstrations necessarily involve basic truths, and that the contention of some - referred to at the outset - that all truths are demonstrable is mistaken. For if there are basic truths, (a) not all truths are demonstrable, and (b) an infinite regress is impossible; since if either (a) or (b) were not a fact, it would mean that no interval was immediate and indivisible, but that all intervals were divisible. This is true because a conclusion is demonstrated by the interposition, not the apposition, of a fresh term. If such interposition could continue to infinity there might be an infinite number of terms between any two terms; but this is impossible if both the ascending and descending series of predication terminate; and of this fact, which before was shown dialectically, analytic proof has now been given.


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