Skip to content
Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter March 30, 2018

Empty Negations and Existential Import in Aristotle

Phil Corkum
From the journal Apeiron

Abstract

Aristotle draws what are, by our lights, two unusual relationships between predication and existence. First, true universal affirmations carry existential import. If ‘All humans are mortal’ is true, for example, then at least one human exists. And secondly, although affirmations with empty terms in subject position are all false, empty negations are all true: if ‘Socrates’ lacks a referent, then both ‘Socrates is well’ and ‘Socrates is ill’ are false but both ‘Socrates is not well’ and ‘Socrates is not ill’ are true. In this paper, I conjecture that for Aristotle predications have mereological truth conditions: for example, ‘Socrates is pale’ is true just in case Socrates is a part of the mereological sum of pale things. The existential import of universal affirmations and the semantic profile of empty negations follow from this mereological semantics.

Acknowledgements

Ancestral papers were delivered to the American Philosophical Association Eastern Division Meeting and the Annual Workshop in Ancient Philosophy, Washington University in St. Louis. Thanks to the participants, including Rachel Barney, Sean Coughlin, Matt Evans, Jessica Gelber, Devin Henry, and especially my commentators, Tim Clarke and Robin Smith. Thanks also to an anonymous referee for this journal for helpful suggestions. I gratefully acknowledge the support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Standard Research Grant # 410-2008-0431.

References

Ackrill, J. L. 1963. Aristotle’s Categories and De Interpretatione: Translated with Notes and Glossary. Oxford: Clarendon.10.1093/actrade/9780198720867.book.1Search in Google Scholar

Aristotle. 1928. “Categorae Transl. E. M. Edghill.” In The Works of Aristotle, edited by W. D. Ross and J. A. Smith. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Arlig, A. 2015. “Medieval Mereology.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2015 Edition), edited by E. N. Zalta. http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2008/entries/mereology-medieval/.Search in Google Scholar

Bäck, A. 1990. Aristotle’s Theory of Predication. Leiden: Brill.Search in Google Scholar

Carson, S. 2000. “Aristotle on Existential Import and Nonreferring Subjects.” Synthese 124:343–360.10.1023/A:1005270116956Search in Google Scholar

Corkum, P. 2015. “Aristotle on Predication.” European Journal of Philosophy 23:793–813.10.1111/ejop.12054Search in Google Scholar

Dancy, J. 1975. Sense and Contradiction. Boston: Reidel.10.1007/978-94-010-9770-3Search in Google Scholar

Hintikka, J. 1986. “The Varieties of Being in Aristotle.” In The Logic of Being: Historical Studies, edited by S. Knuuttila and J. Hintikka. Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands.10.1007/978-94-009-4780-1Search in Google Scholar

Jacobs, W. 1979. “Aristotle and Nonreferring Subjects.” Phronesis 24:282–300.10.1163/156852879X00180Search in Google Scholar

Kahn, C. 2009. Essays on Being. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Kirk, G. S., J. E. Raven, and M. Schofield. 1984. The Presocratic Philosophers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.10.1017/CBO9780511813375Search in Google Scholar

Kirwan, C. 1993. Aristotle Metaphysics Books Gamma, Delta and Epsilon, 2nd ed. Oxford: Clarendon.10.1093/oseo/instance.00262329Search in Google Scholar

Lewis, D. 1991. Parts of Classes. Oxford: Blackwell.Search in Google Scholar

Malink, M. 2009. “A Non-Extensional Notion of Conversion in the Organon.” Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 37:105–141.Search in Google Scholar

Malink, M. 2013. Aristotle’s Modal Syllogistic. Harvard: Harvard University Press.10.4159/harvard.9780674726352Search in Google Scholar

Mignucci, M. 1996. “Aristotle’s Theory of Predication.” In Studies on the History of Logic. Proceedings of the III. Symposium on the History of Logic, edited by A. Ignacio and C. María. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.Search in Google Scholar

Owen, G. E. L. 1965. “Snares of Ontology.” In New Essays on Plato and Aristotle, edited by R. Brambaugh. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.Search in Google Scholar

Parsons, T. 2008. “The Traditional Square of Opposition.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition), edited by E. N. Zalta. http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2008/entries/square/.Search in Google Scholar

Peters, S., and D. Westerståhl. 2008. Quantifiers in Language and Logic. Oxford: Oxford University Press.10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199291267.001.0001Search in Google Scholar

Thompson, M. 1953. “On Aristotle’s Square of Opposition.” The Philosophical Review 62:251–65.10.1007/978-1-349-15267-4_4Search in Google Scholar

Tweedale, M. 1987. “Aristotle’s Universals.” Australasian Journal of Philosophy 65:412–426.10.1080/00048408712343051Search in Google Scholar

Wedin, M. 1978. “Aristotle on the Existential Import of Singular Sentences.” Phronesis 23:179–196.10.1163/156852878X00091Search in Google Scholar

Published Online: 2018-3-30
Published in Print: 2018-3-26

© 2018 Walter de Gruyter Inc., Boston/Berlin

Scroll Up Arrow