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Five Views of definienda in Alexander’s Quaestiones 1.3 and 2.14

  • Matyáš Havrda EMAIL logo
From the journal Elenchos


In Quaestiones 1.3 and 2.14, Alexander presents a distinctly realist or essentialist view of the objects of definition, distinguished, on the one hand, from two types of realism rejected by Aristotle (definienda as separate forms and as particulars), and, on the other, from two types of conceptualism (non-essentialist and essentialist abstractivism) that probably belong within the Peripatetic tradition. The difference between Alexander’s view and essentialist abstractivism lies in his understanding of definienda not as the common concepts of things existing in the particulars, but as the common things conceived of as existing in the particulars. This paper offers a close reading of Quaest. 1.3, whose aim is to flesh out Alexander’s position vis-à-vis the objects of definition against the backdrop of the four rejected alternatives. The distinction between Alexander’s essentialism and the essentialist abstractivist notion of definienda is further explained in light of Quaest. 2.14. The amended Greek text of Quaest. 1.3 is appended with an English translation.

Corresponding author: Matyáš Havrda, Institute of Philosophy, Czech Academy of Sciences, Prague, Czech Republic, E-mail:

Funding source: Czech Science Foundation

Award Identifier / Grant number: GA 20-16937S


Quaestio 1.3, CAG Suppl. II 2, pp. 7–8, Bruns (1892), revised Greek text and translation[66]

Τίνων εἰσὶν οἱ ὁρισμοί: Of what things definitions are definitions

7, 21–27

1. Οἱ ὁρισμοὶ τῶν μὲν καθέκαστα οὐκ εἰσίν, ὅτι ταῦτα μετὰ συμβεβη|κότων τινῶν τὸ εἶναι τοιαῦτα ἔχει καὶ οὐκ ἀεὶ τῶν αὐτῶν, ἀλλὰ μετα|πιπτόντων, καὶ αἰσθήσεων μᾶλλον ἢ λόγου δηλώσοντος αὐτὰ δεομένων·| ἀλλ’ οὐδὲ κοινοῦ τινος τῶν καθέκαστα κεχωρισμένου καὶ ὄντος ἀσωμάτου | τινὸς φύσεως καὶ ἀιδίου· πῶς γὰρ ἂν εἴη δίπουν ἀσώματόν τι ἢ πῶς | θνητὸν ἀίδιον; λέγομεν δὲ ὁριζόμενοι τὸν ἄνθρωπον ποτὲ μὲν ζῷον πεζὸν | δίπουν, ποτὲ δὲ ζῷον λογικὸν θνητόν.

Definitions are not definitions of particulars, for their being particular is linked with certain accidents, which are not always the same, but change, and which require sense perceptions rather than reason to make them manifest. Nor are definitions definitions of something common, which is separated from the particulars and which is some incorporeal and eternal nature. For how could something incorporeal be biped or something eternal mortal? Yet, when we define human being, we sometimes say: ‘biped terrestial animal’, sometimes: ‘rational mortal animal’.

7, 27–32

2. ἀλλ’ εἰσὶν οἱ ὁρισμοὶ τῶν ἐν τοῖς | καθέκαστα κοινῶν ἢ τῶν καθέκαστα κατὰ τὰ ἐν αὐτοῖς κοινά. ἐν γὰρ | τοῖς καθέκαστα τὰ μέν ἐστιν ἴδια [καὶ] <τῶν> καθέκαστα [ἐστι], τὰ δὲ κοινὰ [καὶ] | πρὸς ἄλληλα ἐν πᾶσιν <ἐν> οἷς ἂν ᾖ· <καὶ> κοινά τε ὄντα καὶ ἀδιάφορα [καὶ] | κατὰ τὴν αὑτῶν φύσιν, τοῦ ὁμοίας τε καὶ τῆς αὐτῆς φύσεως εἶναι πάντα | τὰ ἔχοντα αὐτά ἐστιν αἴτια.

29f. τὰ μέν ἐστιν ἴδια καὶ καθέκαστά [ἐστι], τὰ δὲ κοινὰ καὶ πρὸς ἄλληλα, <ἃ> ἐν πᾶσιν, οἷς ἂν ᾖ κοινά Bruns :: καὶ1 delevi; καθὸ Apelt, agn. Sharples (1992) 120; lect. ms. def. Rashed (2007) 257 n. 706 | τῶν ante καθέκαστα addidi (cf. 8,4f: μετὰ τούτων γὰρ τὰ ἴδια τῶν καθέκαστά ἐστιν) | ἐστι del. B | καὶ2 delevi | ἃ post ἄλληλα add. Bruns; ἅπερ add. B2S2; lect. ms. def. Lloyd (1981), Sharples (1992), Rashed (2007) | ἐν post πᾶσιν addidi | καὶ ante κοινά addidi | καὶ post ἀδιάφορα del. B2

Rather, definitions are definitions of common items in the particulars, or of the particulars with respect to that which is common in them. For certain [features] in the particulars are peculiar to the particulars, whereas others are common to one another in all [particulars] in which they are. And, being common and undifferentiated as to their own nature, they cause all things possessing them to be of a nature that is both similar and the same.

7, 32–8, 7

3. τὸ γὰρ ζῷον λογικὸν θνητόν, εἰ μὲν λαμ|βάνοιτο μετὰ τῶν ὑλικῶν περιστάσεών τε καὶ διαφορῶν, μεθ’ ὧν ἡ ὑπό|στασις αὐτῶν, αἵ εἰσιν ἄλλου ἄλλαι, ποιεῖ τὸν Σωκράτη καὶ τὸν Καλλίαν | καὶ τοὺς καθέκαστα ἀνθρώπους· <μετὰ τούτων γὰρ τὰ ἴδια τῶν καθέκαστά ἐστιν·> εἰ δὲ χωρὶς τούτων λαμβάνοιτο, κοινὸν | γίνοιτο, οὐχ ὅτι μὴ ἔστιν ἐν ἑκάστῳ τῶν καθέκαστα ἀνθρώπων [μετὰ τού|των γὰρ τὰ ἴδια τῶν καθέκαστά ἐστιν], ἀλλ’ ὅτι ἐστὶν ἐν πᾶσιν τὸ αὐτό. | τοῦ δὴ τοιούτου καὶ οὕτω κοινοῦ, διόπερ πολλοῖς τῶν καθέκαστα ταὐτόν, | οἱ ὁρισμοί.

8, 4f. μετὰ τούτων γὰρ τὰ ἴδια τῶν καθέκαστά ἐστιν post ἀνθρώπους (8,3) transposui; cf. Sharples (1992) 25 n. 45: “… what is wanted is not a statement that the common nature is accompanied by individual peculiarities in each case, but rather the converse, that the individual peculiarities are not the whole story but the common nature is needed as well.” Rashed (2007) 258 n. 709: “Le texte τούτων est insatisfaiant. Je hasarde une correction τούτου, renvoyant à la formule définitionelle ‘animal rationnel mortel’ (7, 32).” See, however, 7, 21f.: ταῦτα μετὰ συμβεβηκότων τινῶν τὸ εἶναι τοιαῦτα ἔχει; 8, 1f.: τῶν ὑλικῶν περιστάσεών τε καὶ διαφορῶν, μεθ’ ὧν ἡ ὑπόστασις αὐτῶν.

For if the rational mortal animal is taken with the circumstances and differences with which their existence is linked and which are different in each case, it produces Socrates and Callias and [other] particular human beings; for the peculiar [features] of the particulars are linked with these [circumstances and differences]. But if it is taken without these [circumstances and differences], it becomes common, not because it would not be in each particular human being, but because it is the same in all [of them]. So, definitions are definitions of such an item, which is common in this way, because it is the same for many particulars.

8, 7–12

4. διὸ οὔτε ἀσωμάτου τινὸς φύσεως καὶ τῶν καθέκαστα κεχω|ρισμένης οἱ τῶν τοιούτων ὁρισμοί. τοῦ γὰρ ἀνθρώπου ὁρισμός, τὸ ζῷον | πεζὸν δίπουν, κοινόν ἐστιν ἐν πᾶσιν ὂν τοῖς καθέκαστα ἀνθρώποις, ὁλό|κληρον ἐν ἑκάστῳ, κοινὸν τῷ ἐν πλείοσιν εἶναι τὸ αὐτό, ἀλλ’ οὐ τῷ μέρους | αὐτοῦ μετέχειν ἕκαστον. ἕκαστος γοῦν τῶν ἀνθρώπων ζῷον πεζὸν δίπουν | ἐστί.

Therefore, definitions of such items are not definitions of some incorporeal nature, which is separated from the particulars. For, the definition of human being, ‘biped terrestial animal’, is a common thing that is in all particular human beings, and it is in each of them in its entirety. It is common because it is the same in several things, not because each of these [particulars] shares a part of it. For each human being is a biped terrestial animal.

8, 12–17

5. διὸ οὐδὲ τῶν κοινῶν ὡς κοινῶν οἱ ὁρισμοί, ἀλλὰ τούτων οἷς κοινοῖς | καθ’ ἑκάστην φύσιν εἶναι συμβέβηκεν. καὶ γὰρ ἑνὸς ὄντος ἐν ὑποστάσει | ἀνθρώπου μόνου ὁ αὐτὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου λόγος· οὐ γὰρ διότι ἐν πολλοῖς | ἐστιν οὗτος ὁ λόγος αὐτοῦ, ἀλλὰ διότι κατὰ τὴν τοιαύτην φύσιν ὁ ἄνθρω|πος ἄνθρωπός ἐστιν, εἴτε πλείους εἶεν κεκοινωνηκότες τῆσδε τῆς φύσεως | εἴτε μή.

Therefore, definitions are also not definitions of common items as common; rather, they are definitions of items that happen to be common with respect to each nature. For the account of human being would be the same even if there were only one human being in existence. For it is the account of human being not because it is in many [human beings], but because a human being is a human being with respect to such a nature, whether or not there are several who have this nature in common.

8, 17–22

6. λέγονται δὲ τῶν νοημάτων καὶ τῶν κοινῶν οἱ ὁρισμοί, ὅτι νοῦ | τὸ χωρίσαι τὸν ἄνθρωπον ἀπὸ τῶν σὺν οἷς ὑφέστηκεν ἄλλων καὶ καθ’ | αὑτὸν λαβεῖν, ὁ δὲ τοῦ ὑφεστῶτος μὲν μετ’ ἄλλων, νοουμένου δὲ χωρὶς | ἐκείνων καὶ ἄλλων καὶ οὐχ ὡς ὑφέστηκεν ὁρισμὸς νοήματος εἶναι δοκεῖ | καὶ κοινοῦ, ὅτι χωρὶς τῶν συμβεβηκότων τὸ τοιοῦτον ἐν ἑκάστῳ νοούμενον | κοινόν τί ἐστι καὶ ἐν πλείοσι ταὐτόν.

But definitions are said to be definitions of thoughts, namely common ones, because it is [the work] of the intellect to separate the human being from other things with which it exists, and grasp it in itself; and the definition of a being that exists in connection with other things but, when thought of, it is not thought of as it exists, but separately from these things, for they are other [than it] – such a definition seems to be a definition of a thought, namely a common one; this is because such an object that is thought of in each case separately from accidents is something common and the same in several [particulars].

8, 22–28

7. ἄφθαρτα δὲ τὰ κοινὰ τῇ τῶν κα|θέκαστα ἐν οἷς ἐστιν ἐκ διαδοχῆς ἀιδιότητι, τοῦ γὰρ ἐν τῇ τῶν καθέ|καστα γενέσει πάντων ὁμοίου τε καὶ ταὐτοῦ μένοντός ἐστι. τοιαῦτα γὰρ | τὰ κοινά, οὐκ ἐν τοῖς συνυπάρχουσιν ἀλλήλοις τῶν καθέκαστα μόνοις ὄντα | καὶ διὰ τοῦτο ὄντα κοινά, ἀλλ’ ἐν πᾶσι τοῖς ὁμοειδέσιν. διὸ καὶ οὐδὲν | κεκώλυται θνητόν τι ὂν ἀίδιον εἶναι· θνητὸν γὰρ ὂν ὡς καθέκαστα ἀίδιόν | ἐστιν.

But, in virtue of the eternity by succession of the particulars in which the common items are, these items are imperishable. For this [eternity] belongs to that which, in the course of the generation of all the particulars, remains both similar and the same. And the common items are such: they are not common because they are only in the particulars co-existing with one another, but because they are in all particulars of the same species. Therefore, nothing prevents something mortal from being eternal. For, while being mortal as particulars, it is eternal.


The first draft of this paper was presented at the colloquium on Alexander’s Quaestiones organized by Gweltaz Guyomarc’h in Lyon in September 2019. I’m grateful to Gweltaz for inviting me and the participants of the conference, in particular Marwan Rashed, for comments. I have also received uncommonly helpful advice from two anonymous readers for Elenchos and from Riccardo Chiaradonna.

  1. Research funding: The paper has benefited from the financial support of the Czech Science Foundation (GA 20-16937S)


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Published Online: 2021-11-29
Published in Print: 2021-12-20

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