Aristotle - The Organon TOPICA Book 6 Part 11

Complex terms, equimembrals

1. Suppose now that a definition has been rendered of some complex term, take away the definition of one of the elements in the complex, and see if also the rest of the definition defines the rest of it: if not, it is clear that neither does the whole definition define the whole complex. Suppose, e.g. that some one has defined a 'finite straight line' as 'the limit of a finite plane, such that its centre is in a line with its extremes'; if now the definition of a 'finite line' be the 'limit of a finite plane', the rest (viz. 'such that its centre is in a line with its extremes') ought to be a definition of 'straight'. But an infinite straight line has neither centre nor extremes and yet is straight so that this remainder does not define the remainder of the term.

2. Moreover, if the term defined be a compound notion, see if the definition rendered be equimembral with the term defined. A definition is said to be equimembral with the term defined when the number of the elements compounded in the latter is the same as the number of nouns and verbs in the definition. For the exchange in such cases is bound to be merely one of term for term, in the case of some if not of all, seeing that there are no more terms used now than formerly; whereas in a definition terms ought to be rendered by phrases, if possible in every case, or if not, in the majority. For at that rate, simple objects too could be defined by merely calling them by a different name, e.g. 'cloak' instead of 'doublet'.

3. The mistake is even worse, if actually a less well known term be substituted, e.g. 'pellucid mortal' for 'white man': for it is no definition, and moreover is less intelligible when put in that form.

4. Look and see also whether, in the exchange of words, the sense fails still to be the same. Take, for instance, the explanation of 'speculative knowledge' as 'speculative conception': for conception is not the same as knowledge - as it certainly ought to be if the whole is to be the same too: for though the word 'speculative' is common to both expressions, yet the remainder is different.

5. Moreover, see if in replacing one of the terms by something else he has exchanged the genus and not the differentia, as in the example just given: for 'speculative' is a less familiar term than knowledge; for the one is the genus and the other the differentia, and the genus is always the most familiar term of all; so that it is not this, but the differentia, that ought to have been changed, seeing that it is the less familiar. It might be held that this criticism is ridiculous: because there is no reason why the most familiar term should not describe the differentia, and not the genus; in which case, clearly, the term to be altered would also be that denoting the genus and not the differentia. If, however, a man is substituting for a term not merely another term but a phrase, clearly it is of the differentia rather than of the genus that a definition should be rendered, seeing that the object of rendering the definition is to make the subject familiar; for the differentia is less familiar than the genus.

6. If he has rendered the definition of the differentia, see whether the definition rendered is common to it and something else as well: e.g. whenever he says that an odd number is a 'number with a middle', further definition is required of how it has a middle: for the word 'number' is common to both expressions, and it is the word 'odd' for which the phrase has been substituted. Now both a line and a body have a middle, yet they are not 'odd'; so that this could not be a definition of 'odd'. If, on the other hand, the phrase 'with a middle' be used in several senses, the sense here intended requires to be defined. So that this will either discredit the definition or prove that it is no definition at all.

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