Some writers claim that Aristotle has 4 predicables: definition, preperty, genus & accident; some other writers however claim 5 with the additional differentia. So what exactly is the case strictly according to Aristotle? Thank you.

1 Answer 1


Accoding to Topics, they are four; see 101b11-101b29:

arguments start with propositions, while the subjects on which deductions take place are problems. Now every proposition and every problem indicates either a genus or a property or an accident — for the differentia too, being generic, should be ranked together with the genus. Since, however, of what is proper to anything part signifies its essence, while part does not, let us divide the proper into both the aforesaid parts, and call that part which indicates the essence a definition, while of the remainder let us adopt the terminology which is generally current about these things, and speak of it as a property.

What we have said, then, makes it clear that according to our present division, the elements turn out to be four, all told, namely either property or definition or genus or accident.

See also Alexander of Aphrodisias (fl.200 AD) commentary On Aristotle Topics 1, page 67:

there are four kinds in which [...]: definition, distictive property, genus and accidental [...]

It seems that with Porphyry (c.234 – c.305 AD)'s Eisagōgḗ, one of the most familiar handbooks of logic in the early Middle Ages, the predicables (commonly known under the title quinque voces) became five, with "species" in place of "definition".

Thus, as is apparent from the above text, Topics itself strongly supports the traditional fivefold classification.

See also 103b20:

Next, then, we must distinguish between the categories of predication in which the four above-mentioned are found. These are ten in number: What a thing is, Quantity, Quality, Relation, Place, Time, Position, State, Activity, Passivity. [See Aristolte's Logic: Categories and Aristotle's Categories].

Thus, in the analysis of the basic relation of "predication" (katêgorein) we have a (quite obscure) interplay between "types of predication" and "categories" (katêgoria).

See e.g. Michael Frede, Categories in Aristotle.

  • Did you mean differentia is sort of some sub-classification within genus?
    – sonny
    Apr 10, 2017 at 12:26
  • What about the 10 predicaments/categories?
    – Geremia
    Apr 11, 2017 at 18:17
  • @Geremia, could you elaborate on your question?
    – sonny
    Apr 12, 2017 at 4:37
  • @Geremia - Topics is concerned with "arguments" and deductions; it speaks of problems and we may say that a "problem" is expressed by a sentence (categorical proposition) asserting of something (i.e. predicating of) "what it is". This "what" can be fourfold: a definition (the essence), a unique property, a genus (including the differentia) or an accident. Man is a rational animal (definition), rationality being its unique prop; its genus is animal and two-handed is an accidental property. Apr 12, 2017 at 9:51
  • Categories is clearly more "ontological minded": categories are different kind of entities. They are naturally related to the "basic" relation of predication: "Of things said without combination, each signifies either: (i) a substance (ousia); (ii) a quantity; (iii) a quality; ..." Thus, they are the (ten) different ways an "entity" (the constituent of facts) may be classified. Apr 12, 2017 at 10:07

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .