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Aristotle - The Organon TOPICA Book 1 Part 15

The number of senses a term bears

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1. On the formation, then, of propositions, the above remarks are enough. As regards the number of senses a term bears, we must not only treat of those terms which bear different senses, but we must also try to render their definitions; e.g. we must not merely say that justice and courage are called 'good' in one sense, and that what conduces to vigour and what conduces to health are called so in another, but also that the former are so called because of a certain intrinsic quality they themselves have, the latter because they are productive of a certain result and not because of any intrinsic quality in themselves. Similarly also in other cases.

2. Whether a term bears a number of specific meanings or one only, may be considered by the following means. First, look and see if its contrary bears a number of meanings, whether the discrepancy between them be one of kind or one of names. For in some cases a difference is at once displayed even in the names; e.g. the contrary of 'sharp' in the case of a note is 'flat', while in the case of a solid edge it is 'dull'. Clearly, then, the contrary of 'sharp' bears several meanings, and if so, also does 'sharp'; for corresponding to each of the former terms the meaning of its contrary will be different. For 'sharp' will not be the same when contrary to 'dull' and to 'flat', though 'sharp' is the contrary of each. Again Barhu ('flat', 'heavy') in the case of a note has 'sharp' as its contrary, but in the case of a solid mass 'light', so that Barhu is used with a number of meanings, inasmuch as its contrary also is so used. Likewise, also, 'fine' as applied to a picture has 'ugly' as its contrary, but, as applied to a house, 'ramshackle'; so that 'fine' is an ambiguous term.

3. In some cases there is no discrepancy of any sort in the names used, but a difference of kind between the meanings is at once obvious: e.g. in the case of 'clear' and 'obscure': for sound is called 'clear' and 'obscure', just as 'colour' is too. As regards the names, then, there is no discrepancy, but the difference in kind between the meanings is at once obvious: for colour is not called 'clear' in a like sense to sound. This is plain also through sensation: for of things that are the same in kind we have the same sensation, whereas we do not judge clearness by the same sensation in the case of sound and of colour, but in the latter case we judge by sight, in the former by hearing. Likewise also with 'sharp' and 'dull' in regard to flavours and solid edges: here in the latter case we judge by touch, but in the former by taste. For here again there is no discrepancy in the names used, in the case either of the original terms or of their contraries: for the contrary also of sharp in either sense is 'dull'.

4. Moreover, see if one sense of a term has a contrary, while another has absolutely none; e.g. the pleasure of drinking has a contrary in the pain of thirst, whereas the pleasure of seeing that the diagonal is incommensurate with the side has none, so that 'pleasure' is used in more than one sense. To 'love' also, used of the frame of mind, has to 'hate' as its contrary, while as used of the physical activity (kissing) it has none: clearly, therefore, to 'love' is an ambiguous term. Further, see in regard to their intermediates, if some meanings and their contraries have an intermediate, others have none, or if both have one but not the same one, e.g. 'clear' and 'obscure' in the case of colours have 'grey' as an intermediate, whereas in the case of sound they have none, or, if they have, it is 'harsh', as some people say that a harsh sound is intermediate. 'Clear', then, is an ambiguous term, and likewise also 'obscure'. See, moreover, if some of them have more than one intermediate, while others have but one, as is the case with 'clear' and 'obscure', for in the case of colours there are numbers of intermediates, whereas in regard to sound there is but one, viz. 'harsh'.

5. Again, in the case of the contradictory opposite, look and see if it bears more than one meaning. For if this bears more than one meaning, then the opposite of it also will be used in more than one meaning; e.g. 'to fail to see' a phrase with more than one meaning, viz. (1) to fail to possess the power of sight, (2) to fail to put that power to active use. But if this has more than one meaning, it follows necessarily that 'to see' also has more than one meaning: for there will be an opposite to each sense of 'to fail to see'; e.g. the opposite of 'not to possess the power of sight' is to possess it, while of 'not to put the power of sight to active use', the opposite is to put it to active use.

6. Moreover, examine the case of terms that denote the privation or presence of a certain state: for if the one term bears more than one meaning, then so will the remaining term: e.g. if 'to have sense' be used with more than one meaning, as applied to the soul and to the body, then 'to be wanting in sense' too will be used with more than one meaning, as applied to the soul and to the body. That the opposition between the terms now in question depends upon the privation or presence of a certain state is clear, since animals naturally possess each kind of 'sense', both as applied to the soul and as applied to the body.

7. Moreover, examine the inflected forms. For if 'justly' has more than one meaning, then 'just', also, will be used with more than one meaning; for there will be a meaning of 'just' to each of the meanings of 'justly'; e.g. if the word 'justly' be used of judging according to one's own opinion, and also of judging as one ought, then 'just' also will be used in like manner. In the same way also, if 'healthy' has more than one meaning, then 'healthily' also will be used with more than one meaning: e.g. if 'healthy' describes both what produces health and what preserves health and what betokens health, then 'healthily' also will be used to mean 'in such a way as to produce' or 'preserve' or 'betoken' health. Likewise also in other cases, whenever the original term bears more than one meaning, the inflexion also that is formed from it will be used with more than one meaning, and vice versa.

8. Look also at the classes of the predicates signified by the term, and see if they are the same in all cases. For if they are not the same, then clearly the term is ambiguous: e.g. 'good' in the case of food means 'productive of pleasure', and in the case of medicine 'productive of health', whereas as applied to the soul it means to be of a certain quality, e.g. temperate or courageous or just: and likewise also, as applied to 'man'. Sometimes it signifies what happens at a certain time, as (e.g.) the good that happens at the right time: for what happens at the right time is called good. Often it signifies what is of certain quantity, e.g. as applied to the proper amount: for the proper amount too is called good. So then the term 'good' is ambiguous. In the same way also 'clear', as applied to a body, signifies a colour, but in regard to a note it denotes what is 'easy to hear'. 'Sharp', too, is in a closely similar case: for the same term does not bear the same meaning in all its applications: for a sharp note is a swift note, as the mathematical theorists of harmony tell us, whereas a sharp (acute) angle is one that is less than a right angle, while a sharp dagger is one containing a sharp angle (point).

9. Look also at the genera of the objects denoted by the same term, and see if they are different without being subaltern, as (e.g.) 'donkey', which denotes both the animal and the engine. For the definition of them that corresponds to the name is different: for the one will be declared to be an animal of a certain kind, and the other to be an engine of a certain kind. If, however, the genera be subaltern, there is no necessity for the definitions to be different. Thus (e.g.) 'animal' is the genus of 'raven', and so is 'bird'. Whenever therefore we say that the raven is a bird, we also say that it is a certain kind of animal, so that both the genera are predicated of it. Likewise also whenever we call the raven a 'flying biped animal', we declare it to be a bird: in this way, then, as well, both the genera are predicated of raven, and also their definition. But in the case of genera that are not subaltern this does not happen, for whenever we call a thing an 'engine', we do not call it an animal, nor vice versa.

10. Look also and see not only if the genera of the term before you are different without being subaltern, but also in the case of its contrary: for if its contrary bears several senses, clearly the term before you does so as well.

11. It is useful also to look at the definition that arises from the use of the term in combination, e.g. of a 'clear (lit. white) body' of a 'clear note'. For then if what is peculiar in each case be abstracted, the same expression ought to remain over. This does not happen in the case of ambiguous terms, e.g. in the cases just mentioned. For the former will be body possessing such and such a colour, while the latter will be 'a note easy to hear'. Abstract, then, 'a body' and 'a note', and the remainder in each case is not the same. It should, however, have been had the meaning of 'clear' in each case been synonymous.

12. Often in the actual definitions as well ambiguity creeps in unawares, and for this reason the definitions also should be examined. If (e.g.) any one describes what betokens and what produces health as 'related commensurably to health', we must not desist but go on to examine in what sense he has used the term 'commensurably' in each case, e.g. if in the latter case it means that 'it is of the right amount to produce health', whereas in the for it means that 'it is such as to betoken what kind of state prevails'.

13. Moreover, see if the terms cannot be compared as 'more or less' or as 'in like manner', as is the case (e.g.) with a 'clear' (lit. white) sound and a 'clear' garment, and a 'sharp' flavour and a 'sharp' note. For neither are these things said to be clear or sharp 'in a like degree', nor yet is the one said to be clearer or sharper than the other. 'Clear', then, and 'sharp' are ambiguous. For synonyms are always comparable; for they will always be used either in like manner, or else in a greater degree in one case.

14. Now since of genera that are different without being subaltern the differentiae also are different in kind, e.g. those of 'animal' and 'knowledge' (for the differentiae of these are different), look and see if the meanings comprised under the same term are differentiae of genera that are different without being subaltern, as e.g. 'sharp' is of a 'note' and a 'solid'. For being 'sharp' differentiates note from note, and likewise also one solid from another. 'Sharp', then, is an ambiguous term: for it forms differentiae of genera that are different without being subaltern.

15. Again, see if the actual meanings included under the same term themselves have different differentiae, e.g. 'colour' in bodies and 'colour' in tunes: for the differentiae of 'colour' in bodies are 'sight-piercing' and 'sight compressing', whereas 'colour' in melodies has not the same differentiae. Colour, then, is an ambiguous term; for things that are the same have the same differentiae.

16. Moreover, since the species is never the differentia of anything, look and see if one of the meanings included under the same term be a species and another a differentia, as (e.g.) 'clear' (lit. white) as applied to a body is a species of colour, whereas in the case of a note it is a differentia; for one note is differentiated from another by being 'clear'.


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