The Varieties of Homonymy
Aristotle opens an early work, the Categories,1 by distinguishing between synonymy, homonymy, and paronymy (1a1-15). I begin by considering this early characterization, which has come to be regarded as his canonical statement of the natures of homonymy and synonymy, with an eye toward assessing their eventual roles in his mature critical and non-critical philosophy. When first characterizing these notions, I avoid relying, as far as possible, on their most important and heavily disputed applications. I especially set aside Aristotle's treatments of being and goodness, the____________________
I accept the Categories, De Interpretatione, Topics, Sophistici Elenchi, Eudemian Ethics, Prior Analytics, and Posterior Analytics as comparatively early. I accept the Physics, Nicomachean Ethics, De Anima, Politics, and most of the Metaphysics, as comparatively late. Strikingly, regarding the topic of this study, it seems clear that Aristotle developed an account of homonymy very early and that he relied upon some notion of homonymy - whether or not this notion itself varies -- from his earliest to his latest works. In a general way, it is safe to say that Aristotle found appeals to homonymy appropriate in nearly every subject he investigated in virtually every period of his life. More difficult is the question of whether his appeals to homonymy always come to the same; and more difficult still is the question of whether Aristotle's occasional reversals about whether a given concept qualifies as homonymous reflect a change in attitude about the concepts in question or a broader shift in his attitude about homonymy itself. I approach these questions as they arise in the text.