Aristotle - The Organon TOPICA Book 5 Part 1

Essential and Relative Properties

1. The question whether the attribute stated is or is not a property, should be examined by the following methods:

2. Any 'property' rendered is always either essential and permanent or relative and temporary: e.g. it is an 'essential property' of man to be 'by nature a civilized animal': a 'relative property' is one like that of the soul in relation to the body, viz. that the one is fitted to command, and the other to obey: a 'permanent property' is one like the property which belongs to God, of being an 'immortal living being': a 'temporary property' is one like the property which belongs to any particular man of walking in the gymnasium.

3. [The rendering of a property 'relatively' gives rise either to two problems or to four. For if he at the same time render this property of one thing and deny it of another, only two problems arise, as in the case of a statement that it is a property of a man, in relation to a horse, to be a biped. For one might try both to show that a man is not a biped, and also that a horse is a biped: in both ways the property would be upset. If on the other hand he render one apiece of two attributes to each of two things, and deny it in each case of the other, there will then be four problems; as in the case of a statement that it is a property of a man in relation to a horse for the former to be a biped and the latter a quadruped. For then it is possible to try to show both that a man is not naturally a biped, and that he is a quadruped, and also that the horse both is a biped, and is not a quadruped. If you show any of these at all, the intended attribute is demolished.]

4. An 'essential' property is one which is rendered of a thing in comparison with everything else and distinguishes the said thing from everything else, as does 'a mortal living being capable of receiving knowledge' in the case of man. A 'relative' property is one which separates its subject off not from everything else but only from a particular definite thing, as does the property which virtue possesses, in comparison with knowledge, viz. that the former is naturally produced in more than one faculty, whereas the latter is produced in that of reason alone, and in those who have a reasoning faculty. A 'permanent' property is one which is true at every time, and never fails, like being 'compounded of soul and body', in the case of a living creature. A 'temporary' property is one which is true at some particular time, and does not of necessity always follow; as, of some particular man, that he walks in the market-place.

5. To render a property 'relatively' to something else means to state the difference between them as it is found either universally and always, or generally and in most cases: thus a difference that is found universally and always, is one such as man possesses in comparison with a horse, viz. being a biped: for a man is always and in every case a biped, whereas a horse is never a biped at any time. On the other hand, a difference that is found generally and in most cases, is one such as the faculty of reason possesses in comparison with that of desire and spirit, in that the former commands, while the latter obeys: for the reasoning faculty does not always command, but sometimes also is under command, nor is that of desire and spirit always under command, but also on occasion assumes the command, whenever the soul of a man is vicious.

6. Of 'properties' the most 'arguable' are the essential and permanent and the relative. For a relative property gives rise, as we said before, to several questions: for of necessity the questions arising are either two or four, or that arguments in regard to these are several. An essential and a permanent property you can discuss in relation to many things, or can observe in relation to many periods of time: if essential, discuss it in comparison with many things: for the property ought to belong to its subject in comparison with every single thing that is, so that if the subject be not distinguished by it in comparison with everything else, the property could not have been rendered correctly. So a permanent property you should observe in relation to many periods of time; for if it does not or did not, or is not going to, belong, it will not be a property. On the other hand, about a temporary property we do not inquire further than in regard to the time called 'the present'; and so arguments in regard to it are not many; whereas an arguable question is one in regard to which it is possible for arguments both numerous and good to arise.

7. The so-called 'relative' property, then, should be examined by means of the commonplace arguments relating to Accident, to see whether it belongs to the one thing and not to the other: on the other hand, permanent and essential properties should be considered by the following methods.

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