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There is of course predicate as in predicate logic; but I'm asking about the notion in Aristotle's Organon.

Consider the proposition:

Socrates is a man.

Man is a universal, Socrates is a particular; and Man is predicated of Socrates. Is this the only sense in which Aristotle means by the term predicate?

  • Of course, in A it is discussed also the possibility of a "more general" universal predicated of another universal : "Piety is a virtue". See e.g. Kwame Gyekye, Aristotle and a modern notion of predication (1974). – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Apr 25 '15 at 20:22
  • Re the close vote -- if we rule out this specific a question on the intended interpretation of this important a philosopher, what on earth is the topic? – jobermark Apr 26 '15 at 18:46
  • The "Organon" is an editorial artefact, not something Aristotle conceived, so the point of the Q is not really clear. And 'predicate' might be the accepted substitute for a Greek word that Aristotle used but in the original text things look/sound rather differently. – sand1 May 16 at 21:57
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The Organon by Aristotle is a set of six books. Here is an example of the use of "predicate" in Categories v (page 29)

The species is predicated of all individual examples, the genus of these and the species....For all we affirm of the predicate will also be affirmed of the subject.

In a footnote in the Prior Analytics, I. iv, the translator, Hugh Tredennick, remarks, "the predicate is naturally a more comprehensive notion than the subject".

The predicate applies or does not apply to the subject.


Regarding the sentence, "Socrates is a man", Henrik Lagerlund remarks that the use of the verb "is" originates with Boethius:

Boethius made no substantial contribution to the theory of the syllogism, though he was an important transmitter of the theory to later logicians and his works offer a clear presentation of the Aristotelian account. But that presentation differs from Aristotle's in one important respect. In Boethius, the categorical sentences are constructed using ‘is’ (’est’) and not ‘belongs’, as in Aristotle.


Aristotle. The Categories On Interpretation Prior Analytics. Loeb Classical Library. 1962. Retrieved on May 16, 2019 from Internet Archive at https://archive.org/details/L325AristotleIPriorAnalytics/page/n5

Lagerlund, Henrik, "Medieval Theories of the Syllogism", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2017/entries/medieval-syllogism/.

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The categories or predicables are part of the syllogistic "logic." Which was not yet strictly a closed logic in Aristotle, but only became so with the Stoics. With Aristotle the research was still more open, and the distinction between formal rules of inference, and general reasoning about the world, was not yet arrived at in the authoritative form which it reached under the Scholastics. Aristotle was still comparable, though qualitatively different, from the Indian thinkers who took a different method and never arrived at pure formalization as did the West. The thing to keep in mind when reading Aristotle is that he's trying to snatch things out of the stream of change. So that they can become part of a true knowledge of the whole or science. Socrates is not a particular under a universal. He is a singular historical being. No Metaphysical knowledge of him is possible (only historia or historical knowledge, meaning empirical investigative knowledge). The predicables are to be distinguished from all that changes. Position relative to other things, the time in which he lived relative to events, whether he is fat or other matters which differentiate his body from other bodies and so forth are not capable to be part of a true knowledge of the whole. Aristotle aims at retrieving those feature which are unchanging. A singular is what we point at, physically. A particular, rather, is a secondary substance. It is a man as instance or occasion of the rational animal coming into being out of the eternal stock of possibilities. The structure of specific differentiation in syllogistic aims at speaking of possibilities which are not historically bound or accidental. Aristotle points towards what became, later, actus purus, the stock of all possibilities as permanently existing in the mind of God. In other words, the categories or things to be said of the beings or substances speak only of what is always, thus truly, a feature of the world. There always can be rational animals. Particular rational animals. Just as there is always the possibility of a particular triangle, which is absorbed in the principle of all triangles but must be some accidental manner of triangle. Isosceles for example.

Generally speaking there are numerous manners of understanding Aristotle resultant of the peculiar character of the questions asked, or the agendas of men in different ages. As soon as one takes an historical survey one sees that the understanding of Aristotle was not the same in the time of Thomas, for example, as in the Edwardian age, or as during the Weimar, and that it again has a general dogmatic or authoritative character in our own time under the power of the now dominant analytic philosophy departments, which is only contrasted by specific readings of Aristotle, which differ from the "text book" view now current. Thus, the student must seek a principle under which to read Aristotle, such as I attempt to give above, rather than learn by route each feature as interpreted by the general current university view which must be understood as under the spell of the authority of experimental Science which is the dark background motivation we are all born into and which did not exist in Aristotle's time, and, indeed, is of very recent origin.

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