Aristotle - The Organon TOPICA Book 6 Part 3


1. If, then, the definition be not clear, you should proceed to examine on lines such as these. If, on the other hand, he has phrased the definition redundantly, first of all look and see whether he has used any attribute that belongs universally, either to real objects in general, or to all that fall under the same genus as the object defined: for the mention of this is sure to be redundant. For the genus ought to divide the object from things in general, and the differentia from any of the things contained in the same genus. Now any term that belongs to everything separates off the given object from absolutely nothing, while any that belongs to all the things that fall under the same genus does not separate it off from the things contained in the same genus. Any addition, then, of that kind will be pointless.

2. Or see if, though the additional matter may be peculiar to the given term, yet even when it is struck out the rest of the expression too is peculiar and makes clear the essence of the term. Thus, in the definition of man, the addition 'capable of receiving knowledge' is superfluous; for strike it out, and still the expression is peculiar and makes clear his essence. Speaking generally, everything is superfluous upon whose removal the remainder still makes the term that is being defined clear. Such, for instance, would also be the definition of the soul, assuming it to be stated as a 'self-moving number'; for the soul is just 'the self-moving', as Plato defined it. Or perhaps the expression used, though appropriate, yet does not declare the essence, if the word 'number' be eliminated. Which of the two is the real state of the case it is difficult to determine clearly: the right way to treat the matter in all cases is to be guided by convenience. Thus (e.g.) it is said that the definition of phlegm is the 'undigested moisture that comes first off food'. Here the addition of the word 'undigested' is superfluous, seeing that 'the first' is one and not many, so that even when 'undigested' is left out the definition will still be peculiar to the subject: for it is impossible that both phlegm and also something else should both be the first to arise from the food. Or perhaps the phlegm is not absolutely the first thing to come off the food, but only the first of the undigested matters, so that the addition 'undigested' is required; for stated the other way the definition would not be true unless the phlegm comes first of all.

3. Moreover, see if anything contained in the definition fails to apply to everything that falls under the same species: for this sort of definition is worse than those which include an attribute belonging to all things universally. For in that case, if the remainder of the expression be peculiar, the whole too will be peculiar: for absolutely always, if to something peculiar anything whatever that is true be added, the whole too becomes peculiar. Whereas if any part of the expression do not apply to everything that falls under the same species, it is impossible that the expression as a whole should be peculiar: for it will not be predicated convertibly with the object; e.g. 'a walking biped animal six feet high': for an expression of that kind is not predicated convertibly with the term, because the attribute 'six feet high' does not belong to everything that falls under the same species.

4. Again, see if he has said the same thing more than once, saying (e.g.) 'desire' is a 'conation for the pleasant'. For 'desire' is always 'for the pleasant', so that what is the same as desire will also be 'for the pleasant'. Accordingly our definition of desire becomes 'conation-for-the-pleasant': for the word 'desire' is the exact equivalent of the words 'conation for-the-pleasant', so that both alike will be 'for the pleasant'. Or perhaps there is no absurdity in this; for consider this instance: - 'Man is a biped': therefore, what is the same as man is a biped: but 'a walking biped animal' is the same as man, and therefore walking biped animal is a 'biped'. But this involves no real absurdity. For 'biped' is not a predicate of 'walking animal': if it were, then we should certainly have 'biped' predicated twice of the same thing; but as a matter of fact the subject said to be a biped is 'a walking biped animal', so that the word 'biped' is only used as a predicate once. Likewise also in the case of 'desire' as well: for it is not 'conation' that is said to be 'for the pleasant', but rather the whole idea, so that there too the predication is only made once. Absurdity results, not when the same word is uttered twice, but when the same thing is more than once predicated of a subject; e.g. if he says, like Xenocrates, that wisdom defines and contemplates reality: for definition is a certain type of contemplation, so that by adding the words 'and contemplates' over again he says the same thing twice over. Likewise, too, those fail who say that 'cooling' is 'the privation of natural heat'. For all privation is a privation of some natural attribute, so that the addition of the word 'natural' is superfluous: it would have been enough to say 'privation of heat', for the word 'privation' shows of itself that the heat meant is natural heat.

5. Again, see if a universal have been mentioned and then a particular case of it be added as well, e.g. 'Equity is a remission of what is expedient and just'; for what is just is a branch of what is expedient and is therefore included in the latter term: its mention is therefore redundant, an addition of the particular after the universal has been already stated. So also, if he defines 'medicine' as 'knowledge of what makes for health in animals and men', or 'the law' as 'the image of what is by nature noble and just'; for what is just is a branch of what is noble, so that he says the same thing more than once.

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