Order in Multiplicity: Homonymy in the Philosophy of Aristotle

By Christopher Shields | Go to book overview

Afterword: Homonymy's Promise Reconsidered

The results of our investigation into Aristotle's approach to the homonymy of being have been mainly negative. If we agree that establishing core-dependent homonymy is a three-stage process, the first of which involves establishing non-univocity, then we are hard pressed to appreciate how Aristotle can show that being qualifies as core-dependent. It is open to him to argue, in a positive way, that non-substances depend for their existence on the existence of substances; but even winning this point will not suffice to establish the non-univocity of 'existence'. For it will be appropriate for the defender of synonymy to demand something more at this juncture: Aristotle must show that the accounts of 'exists' as it attaches to the various categories will diverge. This is something neither he nor his expositors have been able to accomplish.

Now, it would be unfortunate to allow this negative conclusion to overshadow the positive contribution that Aristotle's approach to homonymy has to offer. To begin, although I am sceptical that any Aristotelian will ever be able to establish the non-univocity of 'existence', I remain optimistic about Aristotle's contention that many central philosophical concepts are in fact core-dependent homonyms. The first point, then, is that it is possible to distinguish rather sharply between the methodology of homonymy, with its distinctive proposals about philosophical definition, and the claims its proponents offer regarding the range of its application. So, while 'being' fails to be homonymous, 'goodness', 'life', 'body', and 'oneness' all qualify. Further, although I have nowhere argued it in this book, I maintain that Aristotle's claims regarding a host of other homonyms are well-founded. These include: 'cause', principle', 'nature', 'necessity', 'substance', 'friendship', 'part', 'whole', 'priority', 'posteriority', 'the state', and 'justice'. To these, I would add, from some contemporary debates: 'mind', 'consciousness', 'law', 'responsibility', 'freedom', 'determination', 'property', 'right', 'concept', 'knowledge', 'consequence', and 'love'.

To take just one of these examples, which could be multiplied, it is worth reflecting on the notion of causation as it crops up in some contemporary discussions. Some theses regarding the nature of causation in contemporary debates include: (i) that a cause is a sufficient condition;1

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1
Burks 1951.

-268-

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Order in Multiplicity: Homonymy in the Philosophy of Aristotle
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Contents ix
  • Abbreviations xiii
  • Introduction 1
  • I - Homonymy as Such 7
  • 1 - The Varieties of Homonymy 9
  • 2 - The Promises and Problems of Homonymy 43
  • 3 - Homonymy and Signification 75
  • 4 - Core-Dependent Homonymy 103
  • II - Homonymy at Work 129
  • 5 - The Body 131
  • 6 - Oneness, Sameness, and Referential Opacity 155
  • 7 - The Meaning of Life 176
  • 8 - Goodness 194
  • 9 - The Homonymy of Being 217
  • Afterword: Homonymy's Promise Reconsidered 268
  • Bibliography 271
  • Index of Passages Cited 281
  • General Index 287
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