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. – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Sep 5 '17 at 7:58
  • 1
  • 1
  • Computer scientists feel that ontologies (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ontology) are quite useful, though that may say more about them than about philosophy :) – barrycarter Sep 9 '17 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 at 17:15

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 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. – Frank Hubeny Jun 13 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 at 17:48

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.