[1.3.1] Aristotle’s Categories: the Four-Fold Division

“In the Pre-Predicamenta, Aristotle (384-322 BC) discusses a number of semantic relations (1a1–16), gives a division of beings (τἃ ὄντα), into four kinds.
By focusing on Aristotle’s illustrations, most scholars conclude that beings that are said-of others are universals, while those that are not said-of others are particulars. Beings that are present-in others are accidental, while those that are not present-in others are non-accidental. Now, non-accidental beings that are universals are most naturally described as essential, while non-accidental beings that are particulars are best described simply as non-accidental.”

The OntoUML diagram below presents the main entities of Aristotle’s four-fold division:

Aristotle’s categories 4 fold division
Class DescriptionRelations
BeingBeing (τὰ ὄντα) can be:
-particulars: EssentialParticular_PrimarySubstance; AccidentalParticular
and universals: EssentialUniversal
_SecondarySubstance; AccidentalUniversal
“in addition to primary substances, which are particulars, there are secondary substances, which are universals. His example of such an entity is man, which,…is a universal in the category of substance… we should interpret secondary substances as essential characteristics of primary substances”
Example: Man
inherits from Being; essential characteristic of least 1 EssentialParticular
“The pride of place in this classificatory scheme, according to Aristotle, goes to those entities that are neither said-of nor present-in anything. Such entities, Aristotle says, are primary substances…
His favorite examples are an individual man and a horse…
So, it is natural to interpret him as thinking that among primary substances are concrete particulars that are members of natural kinds.”
Example: Socrates
inherits from Being; is in material relation with ar least 1 AccidentalUniversal
“a non-substantial particular is a dependent entity, individuated only by reference to primary substance that it is present in. Hence, Socrates’ whiteness cannot exist without Socrates.”
Example: Socrates’s whiteness
inherits from Being; mediates between EssentialParticular
_PrimarySubstance and AccidentalUniversal
AccidentalUniversal“being is both said-of and present-in a primary substance if it is an accidental universal… The universal whiteness is said-of many primary substances but is only accidental to them.”
Example: whiteness, as color
inherits from Being

Related posts in theory of Universals: [1.2.2], [1.3.1], [1.3.2], [2.5], [2.7.3], [4.3.1], [4.3.2]

The source of all citations and more about the topic in: Studtmann, Paul, “Aristotle’s Categories“, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2018 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)

First published: 07/02/2019
Updated: 03/01/2020 Diagram modified to OntoUML standard.

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