Aristotle on Relatives in Categories 7 (Part 2): Quine’s Safari

We saw in the first post in this series that  Aristotle gives two definitions of relatives in Categories 7, which I called D1 and D2. Aristotle worries that D1 will allow some substances to be relatives, so introduces D2. Specifically, Aristotle worries that parts of secondary substances, like hand, will turn out to be both substances and relatives. So, what is the difference, according to Aristotle, between D1 and D2?

One way we could understand the difference is as a difference of extension: D2 excludes some items that D1 does not. Hand would have to be one of the relatives excluded from D2, but included in D1. The existing suggestions in the literature are of this kind.[1]

My suggestion, in contrast, will be that D1 and D2 are different ways of viewing the terms in question. Viewed in a D1 way, hand seems a relative, but viewed in a D2 way, hand does not.  I will specify the two different ways of viewing a , with a little help from Quine’s Safari, focusing on an ambiguity in how we understand statements involving relative terms.

Quine points out that there are two ways of reading a sort of statement involving certain relational terms.[2] Take the statement:

(L) Ernest is hunting lions.

This could mean either:

(L1) There are some particular lions that Ernest is trying to shoot

(L2) Ernest is trying to shoot any lion.

Quine calls the difference between L1 and L2 a difference between ‘transparent’ and ‘opaque’ readings of L. The difference is easy enough to see: does Ernest have particular lion or lions in mind, or is he just out lion-hunting? We could say that (L1) gives us a lot more information than (L2). L1 tells us that there is some particular lion, let’s call them Leo and Oel, who Ernest is trying to track down. L2 doesn’t tell us much about the object of Ernest’s blood-thirsty desire: Ernest would be happy with Leo, or Oel or any lion. L1 gives us more information in at least the sense that it rules out more possibilities. Only situations where Ernest hunts Leo and Oel will make (L1) true, while any situation where Ernest hunts any lion will make L2 true.

Quine’s own quarry in his discussion is the special case of a relational statement, namely, propositional attitude statements. But we can generalise his thought to any relational statement. Take (R) ‘the parent is parent of the offspring’:

(R1) There is some particular offspring that the parent is parent of;

(R2) The parent is parent of some offspring or other.

On a transparent reading, R1, ‘the parent is parent of the offspring’ means that there is some particular child in relation to which someone is a parent. On an opaque reading, R2, it would mean that any parent you like is parent of some child, but, R2 does not say which. Again, R1 gives us much more information than R2.

With these two ways of understanding relational statements on the table, next I will argue that the best way to understand Aristotle difference between D1 and D2 relatives is as between understanding relatives opaquely and transparently.  


[1] Sedley, D. (2002) ‘Aristotelian Relativities’. In La Style de la Pensee; Harari O. (2011) ‘The unity of Aristotle’s Category of Relatives’. Classical Quarterly.

[2] Quine, W. V. O. (1956): ‘Quantifiers and Propositional Attitudes’. Journal of Philosophy.

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    • djr
    • February 7th, 2014

    Interesting. I admit I’m not able to anticipate where you’re headed, because things like hands seem to be relatives on both construals; any hand is the hand of some animal or other, and there is a particular animal that any hand is the hand of. So, so far as I can see, the problem remains (if it is a problem; I’d think Aristotle should be happy to deny that hands are substances). But I’m pretty sure you’ll convince me that things aren’t so simple. So I look forward to the next installment!

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