Aristotle - The Organon TOPICA Book 6 Part 6

Whether the differentiae be those of the genus

1. Again, in regard to the differentiae, we must examine in like manner whether the differentiae, too, that he has stated be those of the genus. For if a man has not defined the object by the differentiae peculiar to it, or has mentioned something such as is utterly incapable of being a differentia of anything, e.g. 'animal' or 'substance', clearly he has not defined it at all: for the aforesaid terms do not differentiate anything at all. Further, we must see whether the differentia stated possesses anything that is co-ordinate with it in a division; for, if not, clearly the one stated could not be a differentia of the genus. For a genus is always divided by differentiae that are co-ordinate members of a division, as, for instance, by the terms 'walking', 'flying', 'aquatic', and 'biped'. Or see if, though the contrasted differentia exists, it yet is not true of the genus, for then, clearly, neither of them could be a differentia of the genus; for differentiae that are co-ordinates in a division with the differentia of a thing are all true of the genus to which the thing belongs. Likewise, also, see if, though it be true, yet the addition of it to the genus fails to make a species. For then, clearly, this could not be a specific differentia of the genus: for a specific differentia, if added to the genus, always makes a species. If, however, this be no true differentia, no more is the one adduced, seeing that it is a co-ordinate member of a division with this.

2. Moreover, see if he divides the genus by a negation, as those do who define line as 'length without breadth': for this means simply that it has not any breadth. The genus will then be found to partake of its own species: for, since of everything either an affirmation or its negation is true, length must always either lack breadth or possess it, so that 'length' as well, i.e. the genus of 'line', will be either with or without breadth. But 'length without breadth' is the definition of a species, as also is 'length with breadth': for 'without breadth' and 'with breadth' are differentiae, and the genus and differentia constitute the definition of the species. Hence the genus would admit of the definition of its species. Likewise, also, it will admit of the definition of the differentia, seeing that one or the other of the aforesaid differentiae is of necessity predicated of the genus. The usefulness of this principle is found in meeting those who assert the existence of 'Ideas': for if absolute length exist, how will it be predicable of the genus that it has breadth or that it lacks it? For one assertion or the other will have to be true of 'length' universally, if it is to be true of the genus at all: and this is contrary to the fact: for there exist both lengths which have, and lengths which have not, breadth. Hence the only people against whom the rule can be employed are those who assert that a genus is always numerically one; and this is what is done by those who assert the real existence of the 'Ideas'; for they allege that absolute length and absolute animal are the genus.

3. It may be that in some cases the definer is obliged to employ a negation as well, e.g. in defining privations. For 'blind' means a thing which cannot see when its nature is to see. There is no difference between dividing the genus by a negation, and dividing it by such an affirmation as is bound to have a negation as its co-ordinate in a division, e.g. supposing he had defined something as 'length possessed of breadth'; for co-ordinate in the division with that which is possessed of breadth is that which possesses no breadth and that only, so that again the genus is divided by a negation.

4. Again, see if he rendered the species as a differentia, as do those who define 'contumely' as 'insolence accompanied by jeering'; for jeering is a kind of insolence, i.e. it is a species and not a differentia.

5. Moreover, see if he has stated the genus as the differentia, e.g. Virtue is a good or noble state: for 'good' is the genus of 'virtue'. Or possibly 'good' here is not the genus but the differentia, on the principle that the same thing cannot be in two genera of which neither contains the other: for 'good' does not include 'state', nor vice versa: for not every state is good nor every good a 'state'. Both, then, could not be genera, and consequently, if 'state' is the genus of virtue, clearly 'good' cannot be its genus: it must rather be the differentia. Moreover, 'a state' indicates the essence of virtue, whereas 'good' indicates not the essence but a quality: and to indicate a quality is generally held to be the function of the differentia. See, further, whether the differentia rendered indicates an individual rather than a quality: for the general view is that the differentia always expresses a quality.

6. Look and see, further, whether the differentia belongs only by accident to the object defined. For the differentia is never an accidental attribute, any more than the genus is: for the differentia of a thing cannot both belong and not belong to it.

7. Moreover, if either the differentia or the species, or any of the things which are under the species, is predicable of the genus, then he could not have defined the term. For none of the aforesaid can possibly be predicated of the genus, seeing that the genus is the term with the widest range of all. Again, see if the genus be predicated of the differentia; for the general view is that the genus is predicated, not of the differentia, but of the objects of which the differentia is predicated. Animal (e.g.) is predicated of 'man' or 'ox' or other walking animals, not of the actual differentia itself which we predicate of the species. For if 'animal' is to be predicated of each of its differentiae, then 'animal' would be predicated of the species several times over; for the differentiae are predicates of the species. Moreover, the differentiae will be all either species or individuals, if they are animals; for every animal is either a species or an individual.

8. Likewise you must inquire also if the species or any of the objects that come under it is predicated of the differentia: for this is impossible, seeing that the differentia is a term with a wider range than the various species. Moreover, if any of the species be predicated of it, the result will be that the differentia is a species: if, for instance, 'man' be predicated, the differentia is clearly the human race. Again, see if the differentia fails to be prior to the species: for the differentia ought to be posterior to the genus, but prior to the species.

9. Look and see also if the differentia mentioned belongs to a different genus, neither contained in nor containing the genus in question. For the general view is that the same differentia cannot be used of two non-subaltern genera. Else the result will be that the same species as well will be in two non-subaltern genera: for each of the differentiae imports its own genus, e.g. 'walking' and 'biped' import with them the genus 'animal'. If, then, each of the genera as well is true of that of which the differentia is true, it clearly follows that the species must be in two non-subaltern genera. Or perhaps it is not impossible for the same differentia to be used of two non-subaltern genera, and we ought to add the words 'except they both be subordinate members of the same genus'. Thus 'walking animal' and 'flying animal' are non-subaltern genera, and 'biped' is the differentia of both. The words 'except they both be subordinate members of the same genus' ought therefore to be added; for both these are subordinate to 'animal'. From this possibility, that the same differentia may be used of two non-subaltern genera, it is clear also that there is no necessity for the differentia to carry with it the whole of the genus to which it belongs, but only the one or the other of its limbs together with the genera that are higher than this, as 'biped' carries with it either 'flying' or 'walking animal'.

10. See, too, if he has rendered 'existence in' something as the differentia of a thing's essence: for the general view is that locality cannot differentiate between one essence and another. Hence, too, people condemn those who divide animals by means of the terms 'walking' and 'aquatic', on the ground that 'walking' and 'aquatic' indicate mere locality. Or possibly in this case the censure is undeserved; for 'aquatic' does not mean 'in' anything; nor does it denote a locality, but a certain quality: for even if the thing be on the dry land, still it is aquatic: and likewise a land-animal, even though it be in the water, will still be a and not an aquatic-animal. But all the same, if ever the differentia does denote existence in something, clearly he will have made a bad mistake.

11. Again, see if he has rendered an affection as the differentia: for every affection, if intensified, subverts the essence of the thing, while the differentia is not of that kind: for the differentia is generally considered rather to preserve that which it differentiates; and it is absolutely impossible for a thing to exist without its own special differentia: for if there be no 'walking', there will be no 'man'. In fact, we may lay down absolutely that a thing cannot have as its differentia anything in respect of which it is subject to alteration: for all things of that kind, if intensified, destroy its essence. If, then, a man has rendered any differentia of this kind, he has made a mistake: for we undergo absolutely no alteration in respect of our differentiae.

12. Again, see if he has failed to render the differentia of a relative term relatively to something else; for the differentiae of relative terms are themselves relative, as in the case also of knowledge. This is classed as speculative, practical and productive; and each of these denotes a relation: for it speculates upon something, and produces something and does something.

13. Look and see also if the definer renders each relative term relatively to its natural purpose: for while in some cases the particular relative term can be used in relation to its natural purpose only and to nothing else, some can be used in relation to something else as well. Thus sight can only be used for seeing, but a strigil can also be used to dip up water. Still, if any one were to define a strigil as an instrument for dipping water, he has made a mistake: for that is not its natural function. The definition of a thing's natural function is 'that for which it would be used by the prudent man, acting as such, and by the science that deals specially with that thing'.

14. Or see if, whenever a term happens to be used in a number of relations, he has failed to introduce it in its primary relation: e.g. by defining 'wisdom' as the virtue of 'man' or of the 'soul,' rather than of the 'reasoning faculty': for 'wisdom' is the virtue primarily of the reasoning faculty: for it is in virtue of this that both the man and his soul are said to be wise.

15. Moreover, if the thing of which the term defined has been stated to be an affection or disposition, or whatever it may be, be unable to admit it, the definer has made a mistake. For every disposition and every affection is formed naturally in that of which it is an affection or disposition, as knowledge, too, is formed in the soul, being a disposition of soul. Sometimes, however, people make bad mistakes in matters of this sort, e.g. all those who say that 'sleep' is a 'failure of sensation', or that 'perplexity' is a state of 'equality between contrary reasonings', or that 'pain' is a 'violent disruption of parts that are naturally conjoined'. For sleep is not an attribute of sensation, whereas it ought to be, if it is a failure of sensation. Likewise, perplexity is not an attribute of opposite reasonings, nor pain of parts naturally conjoined: for then inanimate things will be in pain, since pain will be present in them. Similar in character, too, is the definition of 'health', say, as a 'balance of hot and cold elements': for then health will be necessarily exhibited by the hot and cold elements: for balance of anything is an attribute inherent in those things of which it is the balance, so that health would be an attribute of them. Moreover, people who define in this way put effect for cause, or cause for effect. For the disruption of parts naturally conjoined is not pain, but only a cause of pain: nor again is a failure of sensation sleep, but the one is the cause of the other: for either we go to sleep because sensation fails, or sensation fails because we go to sleep. Likewise also an equality between contrary reasonings would be generally considered to be a cause of perplexity: for it is when we reflect on both sides of a question and find everything alike to be in keeping with either course that we are perplexed which of the two we are to do.

16. Moreover, with regard to all periods of time look and see whether there be any discrepancy between the differentia and the thing defined: e.g. supposing the 'immortal' to be defined as a 'living thing immune at present from destruction'. For a living thing that is immune 'at present' from destruction will be immortal 'at present'. Possibly, indeed, in this case this result does not follow, owing to the ambiguity of the words 'immune at present from destruction': for it may mean either that the thing has not been destroyed at present, or that it cannot be destroyed at present, or that at present it is such that it never can be destroyed. Whenever, then, we say that a living thing is at present immune from destruction, we mean that it is at present a living thing of such a kind as never to be destroyed: and this is equivalent to saying that it is immortal, so that it is not meant that it is immortal only at present. Still, if ever it does happen that what has been rendered according to the definition belongs in the present only or past, whereas what is meant by the word does not so belong, then the two could not be the same. So, then, this commonplace rule ought to be followed, as we have said.

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