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Aristotle - The Organon TOPICA Book 6 Part 5

When an object in a genus has not been placed in it

1. Generally speaking, then, one commonplace rule relates to the failure to frame the expression by means of terms that are prior and more intelligible: and of this the subdivisions are those specified above. A second is, see whether, though the object is in a genus, it has not been placed in a genus. This sort of error is always found where the essence of the object does not stand first in the expression, e.g. the definition of 'body' as 'that which has three dimensions', or the definition of 'man', supposing any one to give it, as 'that which knows how to count': for it is not stated what it is that has three dimensions, or what it is that knows how to count: whereas the genus is meant to indicate just this, and is submitted first of the terms in the definition.

2. Moreover, see if, while the term to be defined is used in relation to many things, he has failed to render it in relation to all of them; as (e.g.) if he define 'grammar' as the 'knowledge how to write from dictation': for he ought also to say that it is a knowledge how to read as well. For in rendering it as 'knowledge of writing' has no more defined it than by rendering it as 'knowledge of reading': neither in fact has succeeded, but only he who mentions both these things, since it is impossible that there should be more than one definition of the same thing. It is only, however, in some cases that what has been said corresponds to the actual state of things: in some it does not, e.g. all those terms which are not used essentially in relation to both things: as medicine is said to deal with the production of disease and health; for it is said essentially to do the latter, but the former only by accident: for it is absolutely alien to medicine to produce disease. Here, then, the man who renders medicine as relative to both of these things has not defined it any better than he who mentions the one only. In fact he has done it perhaps worse, for any one else besides the doctor is capable of producing disease.

3. Moreover, in a case where the term to be defined is used in relation to several things, see if he has rendered it as relative to the worse rather than to the better; for every form of knowledge and potentiality is generally thought to be relative to the best.

4. Again, if the thing in question be not placed in its own proper genus, one must examine it according to the elementary rules in regard to genera, as has been said before.

5. Moreover, see if he uses language which transgresses the genera of the things he defines, defining, e.g. justice as a 'state that produces equality' or 'distributes what is equal': for by defining it so he passes outside the sphere of virtue, and so by leaving out the genus of justice he fails to express its essence: for the essence of a thing must in each case bring in its genus. It is the same thing if the object be not put into its nearest genus; for the man who puts it into the nearest one has stated all the higher genera, seeing that all the higher genera are predicated of the lower. Either, then, it ought to be put into its nearest genus, or else to the higher genus all the differentiae ought to be appended whereby the nearest genus is defined. For then he would not have left out anything: but would merely have mentioned the subordinate genus by an expression instead of by name. On the other hand, he who mentions merely the higher genus by itself, does not state the subordinate genus as well: in saying 'plant' a man does not specify 'a tree'.


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