Order in Multiplicity: Homonymy in the Philosophy of Aristotle

By Christopher Shields | Go to book overview
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The Body

5. 1

Aristotle's distinction between seductive and non-seductive homonymy cuts across his distinction between discrete and associated homonymy.1 Hence, among the varieties of homonymy, Aristotle recognizes a category which is both discrete and seductive. This may be in some ways surprising, since we do not expect discrete homonyms to be seductive. In general, if the occurrences of F in 'a is F' and 'b is F' are homonymous but not associated, the distinctions between them will be obvious, and available to any competent speaker. Aristotle's introduction of discrete homonyms which are not immediately obvious therefore requires special pleading.

In this chapter I justify Aristotle's introduction of discrete seductive homonymy by considering its principal application: the body. I argue that the body provides a defensible application of homonymy, one which helps explain why Aristotle would be motivated to recognize such a category in the first place. My overarching aim, however, is not narrowly taxonomical. Rather, I wish to show how Aristotle's appeals to homonymy help stave off what would otherwise be cogent criticisms of his hylomorphism in philosophy of mind. If my defence of Aristotle against these criticisms is successful, and if, as I argue, 'body' is a discrete homonym, then my remarks also justify Aristotle's introduction of seductive discrete homonymy. The special pleading will be direct: philosophical contexts sometimes demand defensible distinctions to which everyday contexts can be safely indifferent. Indeed, because they will arise only in philosophical disputation, such distinctions may seem positively peculiar from a prosaic point of view. This is why even discrete homonymy may be seductive.


Aristotle contends that the body is homonymous ( An. 412b20-5, 412b27-413a2), and he supposes this claim to be of service in his

See 1. 5 and 1. 6.


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