Joyce on Aristotle’s Categories

The ten Categories enunciated by Aristotle provide a metaphysical classification for all things, i.e. everything in creation falls into one of these categories. “All things” refers not only to substances (the first category), but also to attributes, actions, etc. Thus, more than one category is applicable to every substance.

[Aristotle’s] ten Categories may be illustrated in the case of an individual. We find that in order that the individual may fill his place as a part of Nature, he must be determined in all these ten ways. Here, for instance, is some one whom I know. As man, he is [1] substance, something that is not a determination, but can receive determinations. As regards [2] quantity, he is six feet high. Among his [3] qualities it may be noted that he is (a) a mathematician, (b) a skilful carver, (c) swarthy, (d) square-shouldered. He closely resembles his father, to whom he is thus related by the relation of likeness [4] [relation]. He is in the city of York [5] (place) ; and it is October, 1907 [6] (time). He is stooping [7] (posture) ; dressed in cloth, and provided with a hammer and chisel [8] (habit); he is carving wood [9] (action), and his tool has just cut him [10] (passion).

***

The order in which [the Categories] are enumerated, reveals to us the law governing the synthesis of forms in the individual. This will easily be seen on consideration. The substantial nature gives us as it were the starting point. In virtue of this, the thing possesses independent existence, and is the kind of thing it is. But the substantial nature cannot exist without those accidental forms which constitute the complement of its being. Of these the first is magnitude or extension, the second Category. Physical qualities presuppose extension: they are supported by the substance as extended. From these three primary Categories result three kinds of relation, which give an order and harmony in the manifold of the universe, viz.: likeness of quality, equality of quantity, sameness of specific form.

The remaining categories are extrinsic determinations. They add nothing to the entity itself. But in the physical universe, each entity is determined not merely by its inherent characteristics, but by its status as a part of the whole. It must be at a definite point in space, and at a definite period in time. Its own parts are disposed either after one order, or after another. Further, in the case of man, a special Category arises, that of habit. For man, unlike the beasts, is not fully equipped by Nature. . . . The entity is now determined as a part of Nature. But between the different physical substances there is mutual interaction. Hence arise the two last Categories, action and passion.

George Hayward Joyce, S.J., Principles of Logic, London: Longmans 1916, pp. 138-141.

I doubt I can communicate it, but somehow I was deeply touched by the statement that “in the physical universe, each entity is determined not merely by its inherent characteristics, but by its status as a part of the whole. It must be at a definite point in space, and at a definite period in time.”

In order for me to exist in the material universe, I need to be a substance with quantity, i.e. depth, breadth, etc. And as a substance I must have certain qualities, such as color, capabilities, habits of mind. But not only that, I must have a location and a time: I have to be somewhere and some-when*. Further, I must be able to affect other things, and be affected by them. In short, I don’t exist in isolation, but occupy a place “as a part of the whole” within the physical universe.

Joyce explains this just beautifully, in my opinion.

* To borrow a term coined by my son.

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