Aristotle – On Language and the Way Truth Works

On Interpretation

Chapter 1

WE must first determine what a noun, and what a verb, are; next, what are negation, affirmation, enunciation, and a sentence.

Those things therefore which are in the voice, are symbols of the passions of the soul, and when written, are symbols of the (passions) in the voice, and as there are not the same letters among all men, so neither have all the same voices, yet those passions of the soul, of which these are primarily the signs, are the same among all, the things also, of which these are the similitudes, are the same. About these latter, we have spoken in the treatise “Of the Soul”, for they are parts belonging to another discussion, but as in the soul, there is sometimes a conception, without truth or falsehood, and at another time, it is such, as necessarily to have one of these, inherent in it, so also is it with the voice, for falsehood and truth are involved in composition and division. Nouns therefore and verbs of themselves resemble conception, without composition and division, as “man,” or “white,” when something is not added, for as yet it is neither true nor false, an instance of which is that the word τραγέλαφος [goat-stag] signifies something indeed, but not yet any thing true or false, unless to be, or not to be, is added, either simply, or according to time.

Chapter 2

A NOUN therefore is a sound significant by compact without time, of which no part is separately significant; thus in the noun κάλλιππος [fair-horse], the ἵππος signifies nothing by itself, as it does in the sentence καλὸς ἵππος; neither does it happen with simple nouns as it does with composite, for in the former there is by no means the part significant, but in the latter a part would be, yet signifies nothing separately, as in the word ἐπακτροκέλης [piratical ship], the κέλης signifies nothing by itself. But it is according to compact, because naturally there is no noun; but when it becomes a symbol, since illiterate sounds also signify something, as the sounds of beasts, of which there is no noun.

“Not man,” however, is not a noun, neither is a name instituted by which we ought to call it, since it is neither a sentence, nor a negation; but let it be an indefinite noun because it exists in respect of every thing alike, both of that which is, and of that which is not. Φίλωνος indeed, or Φίλωνι, and such like words are not nouns, but cases of a noun, but the definition of it (that is, of the case) is the same as to other things (with the definition of a noun), but (it differs in) that, with (the verb) “is” or “was” or “will be,” it does not signify what is true or false, but the noun always (signifies this), as “Philonus is,” or “is not,” for as yet, this neither signifies what is true, nor what is false.

Chapter 3

A VERB, is that which, besides something else, signifies time; of which no part is separately significant, and it is always indicative of those things which are asserted of something else. But I say that it signifies time, besides something else, as for instance, “health” is a noun, but “is well” is a verb; for it signifies, besides being well, that such is the case now: it is always also significant of things asserted of something else, as of those which are predicated of a subject, or which are in a subject.

Nevertheless I do not call, “is not well,” and, “is not ill”—verbs; for indeed they signify time, besides something else, and are always (significant) of something, yet a name is not given to this difference, let either be therefore an indefinite verb, because it is similarly inherent both in whatever does, and does not exist. So also “was well” or “will be well” are not verbs, but they are cases of a verb, and differ from a verb, because the latter, besides something else, signifies present time; but the others, that which is about the present time.

Verbs therefore so called, by themselves, are nouns, and have a certain signification, for the speaker establishes conception, and the hearer acquiesces, but they do not yet signify whether a thing “is” or “is not,” for neither is “to be” or “not to be” a sign of a thing, nor if you should say merely, “being,” for that is nothing; they signify however, besides something else, a certain composition, which without the composing members it is impossible to understand.

Chapter 4

A SENTENCE is voice significant by compact, of which any part separately possesses signification, as indeed a word, yet not as affirmation or negation; now I say for example “man” is significant, but does not imply that it “is” or “is not;” it will however be affirmation or negation, if any thing be added to it. One syllable of the word ἄνθρωπος, is not however (significant), neither the “ῦς” in “μῦς,” but it is now merely sound; still in compound words a part is significant, but not by itself, as we have observed.

Now every sentence is significant, not as an instrument, but, as we have said, by compact, still not every sentence is enunciative, but that in which truth or falsehood is inherent, which things do not exist in all sentences, as prayer is a sentence, but it is neither true nor false. Let therefore the other sentences be dismissed, their consideration belongs more properly to Rhetoric or Poetry; but the enunciative sentence to our present theory.

Chapter 5

ONE first enunciative sentence is affirmation; afterwards negation, and all the rest are one by conjunction. It is necessary however that every enunciative sentence should be from a verb, or from the case of a verb, for the definition of “man,” unless “is,” or “was,” or “will be,” or something of this kind, be added, is not yet an enunciative sentence. Why indeed is the sentence “a terrestrial biped animal” one thing, and not many things? for it will not be one, because it is consecutively pronounced: this however belongs to another discussion. One enunciative sentence, moreover, is either that which signifies one thing, or which is one by conjunction, and many (such sentences) are either those which signify many things and not one thing, or which are without conjunction. Let therefore a noun or a verb be only a word, since we cannot say that he enunciates who thus expresses any thing by his voice whether he is interrogated by any one or not, but that he speaks from deliberate intention. Now of these enunciations one is simple, for instance something of something, or from something, but another is composed of these, as a certain sentence which is already a composite; simple enunciation, then, is voice significant about something being inherent, or non-inherent, according as times are divided.

Chapter 6

AFFIRMATION is the enunciation of something concerning something, but negation is the enunciation of something from something. Since, however, a man may enunciate what is inherent as though it were not, and what is not as though it were; that which is, as if it were, and that which is not, as if it were not, and in like manner about times external to the present; it is possible that whatever any one affirms may be denied, and that whatever any one denies may be affirmed, whence it is evident that to every affirmation there is an opposite negation, and to every negation an opposite affirmation. Let this be contradiction, affirmation and negation being opposites, but I call that opposition which is of the same respecting the same, not equivocally, and such other particulars of the kind as we have concluded against sophistical importunities.

Chapter 7

OF things, since some are universal, but others singular, (and by universal I mean whatever may naturally be predicated of many things, but by singular, that which may not: as “man” is universal, but “Callias” singular,) it is necessary to enunciate that something is, or is not, inherent, at one time, in an universal, at another in a singular thing. Now, if any one universally enunciates of an universal, that something is or is not inherent, these enunciations will be contrary: I mean universally enunciates of an universal, as that “every man is white,” “no man is white.” When on the other hand he enunciates of universals, not universally, these are not contraries, though the things signified may sometimes be contrary; but I mean by not universally enunciating of universals, as that “man is white,” “man is not white:” for man being universal, is not employed as an universal in the enunciation, since the word “every” does not signify the universal, but (shows that the subject is) universally (taken). Now to predicate universally of what is universally predicated is not true, for no affirmation will be true in which the universal is predicated of an universal predicate, as for instance, “every man” is “every animal.” Wherefore I say affirmation is opposed to negation contradictorily, the affirmation which signifies the universal to that which is not universal, as “every man is white,” “not every man is white,” “no man is white,” “some man is white.” But contrarily is between universal affirmative and universal negative, as “every man is white,” “no man is white,” “every man is just,” “no man is just.” Wherefore it is impossible that these should at one and the same time be true, but the opposites to these may sometimes possibly be co- verified about the same thing, as that “not every man is white,” and “some man is white.” Of such contradictions then of universals, as are universally made, one must necessarily be true or false, and also such as are of singulars, as “Socrates is white,” “Socrates is not white;” but of such contradictions as are indeed of universals, yet are not universally made, one is not always true, but the other false. For at one and the same time we may truly say that “man is white,” and that “man is not white,” and “man is handsome,” and “man is not handsome,” for if he is deformed he is not handsome, and if any thing is becoming to be, it is, not. This however may at once appear absurd, because the assertion “man is not white,” seems at the same time to signify the same thing, as “no man is white,” but it neither necessarily signifies the same thing, nor at the same time.

Notwithstanding it is evident that of one affirmation there is one negation, for it is necessary that the negation should deny the same thing which the affirmation affirmed, and also from the same, (i. e.) either from some singular or some universal, universally or not universally; I say, for instance, that “Socrates is white,” “Socrates is not white.” If however there is something else from the same thing, or the same thing from something else, that (enunciation) will not be opposite, but different from it; to the one, “every man is white,” the other (is opposed) “not every man is white,” and to the one, “a certain man is white,” the other, “no man is white;” and to the one, “man is white,” the other, “man is not white.”

That there is then one affirmation contradictorily opposed to one negation, and what these are, has been shown, also that there are other contraries, and what they are, and that not every contradiction is true or false, and why and when it is true or false.

Chapter 8

THE affirmation and negation are one, which indicate one thing of one, either of an universal, being taken universally, or in like manner if it is not, as “every man is white,” “not every man is white,” “man is white,” “man is not white,” “no man is white,” “some man is white,” if that which is white signifies one thing. But it one name be given to two things, from which one thing does not arise, there is not one affirmation nor one negation; as if any one gave the name “garment” to a “horse,” and to “a man;” that “the garment is white,” this will not be one affirmation, nor one negation, since it in no respect differs from saying “man” and “horse” are “white,” and this is equivalent to “man is white,” and “horse is white.” If therefore these signify many things, and are many, it is evident that the first enunciation either signifies many things or nothing, for “some man is not a horse,” wherefore neither in these is it necessary that one should be a true, but the other a false contradiction.

Chapter 9

IN those things which are, and have been, the affirmation and negation must of necessity be true or false; in universals, as universals, always one true but the other false, and also in singulars, as we have shown; but in the case of universals not universally enunciated, there is no such necessity, and concerning these we have also spoken, but as to singulars and futures, this is not the case. For if every affirmation or negation be true or false, it is also necessary that every thing should exist or should not exist, for if one man says that a thing will be, but another denies the same, one of them must evidently of necessity speak truth, if every affirmation or negation be true or false, for both will not subsist in such things at one and the same time. Thus if it is true to say that “a thing is white,” or that “it is not white,” it must of necessity be “white” or not “white,” and if it is white or not white, it was true to affirm or to deny it: also if it is not, it is falsely said to be, and if it is falsely said to be, it is not; so that it is necessary that either the affirmation or the negation should be true or false. Indeed there is nothing which either is, or is generated fortuitously, nor casually, nor will be, or not be, but all things are from necessity, and not casually, for either he who affirms speaks truth, or he who denies, for in like manner it might either have been or not have been, for that which subsists casually neither does nor will subsist more in this way than in that. Moreover if a thing is now “white,” it was true to say before that it will be “white,” so that it was always true to say of any thing generated that it either is, or that it will be; but if it was always true to say that it is, or will be, it is impossible that this is not, nor should be; and whatever must of necessity be, it is impossible that it should not have been generated, and what it is impossible should not have been generated must of necessity have been generated; wherefore all things that will be, it is necessary should be generated, and hence there will be nothing casual nor fortuitous, for if it were fortuitous it would not be of necessity. Nor is it possible to say, that neither of them is true, as that it will neither be, nor will not be, for in the first place the affirmation being false, the negation will not be true, and this being false, it results that the affirmation is not true. And besides, if it were true to say that a thing is at the same time “white” and “great,” both must of necessity be, but if it shall be to-morrow, it must necessarily be to-morrow, and if it will neither be nor will not be to-morrow, it will not be a casual thing, for example, a naval engagement, for it would be requisite that the engagement should neither occur nor not occur.

These and similar absurdities then will happen, if of every affirmation and negation, whether in respect of universals enunciated universally, or of singulars, it is necessary that one of the opposites be true and the other false, but that nothing happens casually in those things which subsist, but that all are, and are generated of necessity; so that it will neither be necessary to deliberate nor to trouble ourselves, as if we shall do this thing, something definite will occur, but if we do not, it will not occur. For there is nothing to prevent a person for ten thousand years asserting that this will happen, and another person denying it, so that of necessity it will have been then true to assert either of them. And it makes no difference whether any persons have uttered a contradiction or not, for it is evident that the things are so, although the one should not have affirmed any thing, or the other have denied it, since it is not, because it has been affirmed or denied, that therefore a thing will or will not be, neither will it be more so for ten thousand years than for any time whatever. Hence if a thing so subsisted in every time that one of these is truly asserted of it, it was necessary that this should take place; and each thing generated, always so subsisted, as to have been generated from necessity, for when any one truly said that it will be, it was not possible not to have been generated, and of that which is generated, it was always true to say that it will be.

But if these things are impossible—(for we see that there is a beginning of future things, both from our deliberation and practice, and briefly in things which do not always energize, there is equally a power of being and of not being, in which both to be and not to be occurs, as well as to have been generated and not to have been generated; and, indeed, we have many things which evidently subsist in this manner, for example, it is possible for this garment to have been cut in pieces, and it may not be cut in pieces, but be worn out beforehand, so also it is possible that it may not be cut in pieces, for it would not have been worn out before, unless it had been possible that it might not be cut in pieces, and so also in respect of other productions, which are spoken of according to a power of this kind—) then it is evident that all things neither are, nor are generated of necessity, but that some things subsist casually, and that their affirmation is not more true than their negation, and that there are others in which one of these subsists more frequently, and for the most part, yet so, that either might possibly have occurred, but the other not.

Wherefore, being, must of necessity be when it is, and non-being, not be, when it is not; but it is not necessary that every being should be, nor that non- being should not be, since it is not the same thing for every being to be from necessity, when it is, and simply to be from necessity, and in like manner as to non-being. There is the same reasoning also in the case or contradiction; to be or not to be is necessary for every thing, also that it shall, or shall not be, yet it is not requisite to speak of each separately, but I say, for instance, that it is necessary for a naval action to occur or not occur to-morrow, yet it is not necessary that there should be a naval action to-morrow, nor that there should not be; it is necessary, however, that it should either be or not be. Wherefore, since assertions and things are similarly true, it is evident that things which so subsist, as that whatever have happened, the contraries also were possible, it is necessary that contradiction should subsist in the same manner, which happens to those things which are not always, or which not always, are not. For of these, one part of the contradiction must necessarily be true or false, not indeed this or that, but just as it may happen, and one must be the rather true, yet not already true nor false; so that it is evidently not necessary that of every affirmation and negation of opposites, one should be true, but the other false; for it does not happen in the same manner with things which are not, but which either may or may not be, as with things which are, but it happens as we have said.


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Aristotle - On Language and the Way Truth Works by Dr. Jeff McLaughlin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.