Aristotle - The Organon ANALYTICA POSTERIORA Book 2 Part 10

Defining definition

1. Since definition is said to be the statement of a thing's nature, obviously one kind of definition will be a statement of the meaning of the name, or of an equivalent nominal formula. A definition in this sense tells you, e.g. the meaning of the phrase 'triangular character'. When we are aware that triangle exists, we inquire the reason why it exists. But it is difficult thus to learn the definition of things the existence of which we do not genuinely know - the cause of this difficulty being, as we said before, that we only know accidentally whether or not the thing exists. Moreover, a statement may be a unity in either of two ways, by conjunction, like the Iliad, or because it exhibits a single predicate as inhering not accidentally in a single subject.

2. That then is one way of defining definition. Another kind of definition is a formula exhibiting the cause of a thing's existence. Thus the former signifies without proving, but the latter will clearly be a quasi-demonstration of essential nature, differing from demonstration in the arrangement of its terms. For there is a difference between stating why it thunders, and stating what is the essential nature of thunder; since the first statement will be 'Because fire is quenched in the clouds', while the statement of what the nature of thunder is will be 'The noise of fire being quenched in the clouds'. Thus the same statement takes a different form: in one form it is continuous demonstration, in the other definition. Again, thunder can be defined as noise in the clouds, which is the conclusion of the demonstration embodying essential nature. On the other hand the definition of immediates is an indemonstrable positing of essential nature.

3. We conclude then that definition is (a) an indemonstrable statement of essential nature, or (b) a syllogism of essential nature differing from demonstration in grammatical form, or (c) the conclusion of a demonstration giving essential nature.

4. Our discussion has therefore made plain (1) in what sense and of what things the essential nature is demonstrable, and in what sense and of what things it is not; (2) what are the various meanings of the term definition, and in what sense and of what things it proves the essential nature, and in what sense and of what things it does not; (3) what is the relation of definition to demonstration, and how far the same thing is both definable and demonstrable and how far it is not.

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