My question is about Aristotle's theory of predication. Why do we need it at all?

I know it's intuitive to pick up something and say something about it like "S is P", but doesn't this lead us to infinite regress? Why don't we simply stop at the first something and say "S is S" and comprehend it? Why did Aristotle take predication or subject and predicate as self-evident and intuitive? What argument did he make that everything is a subject and a predicate?

Thanks in advance.

  • 2
    Not clear... it is basically a "model" of how human language works: when we assert something we are saying that an "object": the subject, has a certain "property": the predicate. Thus, the "atomic" form of a sentence is based on the predication of something about a certain subject. Sep 5, 2017 at 7:58
  • 1
    See Aristotle's Categories and Aristotle's Logic. Sep 5, 2017 at 8:05
  • 1
    See also the post: difference between Aristotelian logic and-Frege's logic. Sep 5, 2017 at 9:19
  • Computer scientists feel that ontologies (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ontology) are quite useful, though that may say more about them than about philosophy :)
    – user935
    Sep 9, 2017 at 2:26
  • Predication is required to say something meaningful about a physical thing, an idea or a language. Also a truth value can be associated with a literally meaningful sentence. So if you were to say 'my cat weighs 40 pounds" we can sense verify that claim. When we sense verify something we can then describe that something in human terms. We also can assign terms to that thing. In science humans sense verify everything we can. When x has the attributes we say the value is TRUE. If the attributes are not present in science they say it is FALSE. What happens if you cant sense verify?
    – Logikal
    Jun 13, 2019 at 17:15

4 Answers 4


Everything is subject&predicate

Well almost but not quite...

Every sentence is subject&predicate

Better but still not quite

Every sentence in majority European languages is subject&predicate.

The great linguist Whorf showed that an English statement like "The light flashed" has a bogus subject-predicate structure

The Hopi equivalent is just "flashed". Whorfs point being that a separate thing (subject) which does flashing (predicate) is an unreal distinction imposed by our language

One of the most overused and useless predications of English is(!) the copula This has been taken further in Eprime – a copula-less English

non European language examples


After Irving Copi discusses arguments generally he discusses arguments using categorical propositions. These are (page 177)

that special kind of argument called deduction. A deductive argument is one whose premisses are claimed to provide conclusive grounds for the truth of its conclusion. Every deductive argument is either valid or invalid: valid if it is impossible for its premisses to be true without its conclusion being true also, invalid otherwise.

To get such an argument Aristotle used

only propositions of a special kind, called categorical propositions....Propositions of this kind can be analyzed as being about classes, affirming or denying that a class S is included in a class P, either in whole or in part.

So, it is not that "everything is a subject and a predicate". Only a "special kind" of proposition has this pattern.

As for "why do we need it at all", if we can write an argument using such categorical propositions and can show that deductive argument is valid, then we may be able to obtain "conclusive grounds for the truth of its conclusion".

Copi, I. M. Introduction to Logic. Sixth Edition. (1982) Macmillan.

  • I would question the part about a SPECIAL PROPOSITION. I only know of one kind or definition of a proposition in Philosophy. Perhaps this is where the schools that teach LOGIC all differ. Math & Computer science related topics may have different definitions of PROPOSITIONS than old school philosophy. What are some other type of propositions? I was taught all propositions have to have certain attributes or else that is NOT a proposition. Perhaps that is just a sentence someone is discussing. Propositions are NOT sentences & cant be evaluated as such or interchanged with semantic sentences.
    – Logikal
    Jun 13, 2019 at 17:06
  • @Logikal The propositions the OP is considering are categorical propositions. They have a subject and predicate. Propositions that don't have this would be those used in predicate logic with relationships between two or more objects from the domain. I am relying for this answer on Copi's definitions of these concepts which I have quoted. Other authors may define them differently. Jun 13, 2019 at 17:36
  • You missed my point: proposition has a specific definition no matter what logic system or style one uses. That is all propositions can be expressed in some form or another. How you use the propositions can differ depending on the style or system which is what COPI also expressed. Sure a Mathematical proposition looks different from a Syllogistic proposition but the definition of what IS A PROPOSITION does not change. The usage changes.
    – Logikal
    Jun 13, 2019 at 17:48

No, it doesn't lead to infinite regress because even though some species and genera can be both subjects or predicates, some species (individuals) are subjects only and some genera (the ten categories) are predicates only.

Aristotle took predication as self-evident because he has to since subjects and predicates are simple expressions. Not everything is either a subject or a predicate nor did Aristotle argue for that.

  • If you have references to support your answer this would give the reader a place to go for more information. Welcome! Sep 2, 2019 at 18:08

Humans, like beasts, can express themselves without using language, and they do. Humans probably have a richer repertoire of postures and faces than beast do, to express anger, to challenge, to convey amorous disposition, boredom and many other mental states.

You can limit yourself to that if you want to. Me, I value the possibility we have of using an articulated language.

We can speak by making groans and shouts, and we do. Some people do more of that than others. Humanity at some point in the past must have been limited to that. Thanks God, we're not longer.

I'm old enough to have seen language evolve. Between 1995 and today, I saw how British English changed. I myself sound as if coming out of an old French film! Language evolves because it is a tool we use to express our ideas and our ideas evolve with our culture. A civilisation using books to record its ideas will evolve differently. 2,500 years after he put his ideas on paper, we can read Aristotle and continue arguing about his ideas.

The quantity today of the information somehow processed by humans and available to them on some material support external to their own brains has increased beyond anything even Aristotle could have imagined, let alone foresee. We cannot ourselves even imagine it properly. Maybe a metaphor for it would be the size of planet Earth.

Languages do not follow rules but present regularities. Different languages may be thought of as different plants growing in different regions and climates. Structure is functional. A given structure allows speakers to exchange ideas up to a point.

Shut up!

"Shut up" has neither subject nor predicate and yet we use it to effect. However, relying only on injunction would be a limitation of the semantic of our conversations. The subject-predicate structure offers more possibilities. We use it today because our ancestors opted for it at some point and it turned out to be very convenient and full of potentialities.

Marie loves Jack. You can say it using the subject-predicate structure, but at some point, without even being aware of it, humans started to think of it as subject–verb–object. There are languages favouring the SVO structure, while others prefer the SOV structure. However, according to Wikipedia, SVO is "the most common order developed in Creole languages, suggesting that it may be somehow more initially 'obvious' to human psychology".

Languages differ but there are all subject to the same physical constraints and they all are used essentially for the exchange of information and ideas between humans. And exchange of information and ideas are critical to the individual as well as the community.

Thus, structures that are efficient will be retained if the community has a need for it. Structures that are more complex have a cost: more difficult for the speaker to control, more difficult for the audience to understand. Cost and benefit. Languages evolve with the culture and therefore the civilisation.

The subject-predicate structure is not absolutely necessary but it is very convenient, very efficient and full of potential, even taking its cost into account.

Maybe we could have a look at mathematical and technical languages. Software languages are probably a good indication of the range of possibilities in terms of structures. And of how useful it is to avail oneself of these structures. Or indeed how costly.

Logic and language. Language is only the vehicle. We do logic without realising it and without formalising it. Language and our use of language reflect our logic, which explains that Aristotle could notice and that he was able to observe the empirical facts of logic by looking at how politicians and philosophers argued, i.e. how they used language to express their logical ideas, logical ideas they didn't even know were logical.

Aristotle described what logic would come out of the language he knew and of how people used it. However, logic is much more primitive than language and more primitive languages will be just as much used to express the logical ideas of the speakers, however primitive the language or the speaker.

We can get people to do what we want using many different ways and, between the whole of us, we use them all. Brute force. Cajoling. Insistence. Command. Argument. Well, I will assume that argument proved decisive to the civilisation inherited from people like Aristotle. Democracy is founded on the modality of argument and it has been a long journey. And we are still on it. Did we find anything better than argument yet?

But nobody is forced to argue anything. We can listen to music, which is another kind of language, perhaps.

Yes, the logic of the subject-predicate structure, like the logic of any structure, leads to infinite regress. However, we stop the regress as soon as we can agree between ourselves on what exactly are the facts of the matter. Which is why we usually don't need to argue with ourselves, and why, like sex, we need to do it with other people.

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