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A NOTE ON ΤΑ ΕΣΧΑΤΑ ΕΙΔΗ AT 644A23 IN ARISTOTLE'S PART. AN. 1.4*

  • Errol G. Katayama (a1)

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Is Aristotle committed, as a theoretical matter, to fixed species in biology? The answer seems to be a resounding no, if we were to infer his theoretical commitments from the actual practice found in his biological works. The answer, however, is far from clear, if we turn to the ‘philosophical discussion of biology’ found in Book 1 of Parts of Animals. In fact, I shall note that its context suggests that, contrary to some recent interpretations put forward, the phrase τὰ ἔσχατα εἴδη at 644a23 is best translated and understood as ‘infima species’, and that such a reading implies that Aristotle favours the methodology that reflects his theoretical commitment to fixed species (at least in Book 1 of Part. an.).

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I would like to thank CQ’s referee for providing me with helpful comments, CQ’s editor Andrew Morrison for assisting me with editorial corrections, and my friend and colleague Pat Croskery for kindly reading a number of earlier drafts and for offering his valuable feedback.

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1 As amply shown by the works of some scholars: e.g. Balme, D.M., ‘Γένος and εἶδος in Aristotle's biology’, CQ 12 (1962), 81–9, at 85 shows that there is no evidence to support ‘that Aristotle did actually classify animals into genera and species’; Pellegrin, P., ‘Logical difference and biological difference: the unity of Aristotle's thought’, in Gotthelf, A. and Lennox, J. (edd.), Philosophical Issues in Aristotle's Biology (Cambridge, 1987), 313–38, at 324 points out that εἶδος and γένος are relative terms that do not ‘mark a fixed level of generality’ but are applied at various levels, where Aristotle seeks his definition of kinds; and Lennox, J., Aristotle: On the Parts of Animals I-IV (Oxford, 2001), 122 states explicitly that he purposefully avoids using ‘the standard Latinate translations “genus”, “species”, and “differentia” which are embedded in modern taxonomic theory and practice’, because he believes that such a theory and practice ‘systematically mislead the modern reader of Aristotle’.

2 This is the description of Book 1 of Part. an. by Balme (n. 1), 83.

3 Most notably by Lennox (n. 1), 122–3 and 169–70 (which are discussed in this article).

4 Although, as a principled matter of translation, it is innocuous to render all occurrences of εἶδος as ‘form’ since Aristotle himself does not use separate terms for ‘form’ and ‘species’, as a principled matter of interpretation, it is perspicuous to pin it down by means of a precise term (‘species’ as opposed to ‘form’), as some scholars do (e.g. Charles, D., ‘Aristotle on meaning, natural kinds and natural history’, in Devereux, D. and Pellegrin, P. [edd.], Biologie, Logique et Métaphysique chez Aristote [Paris, 1990], 145–67, at 154). At the end of this article, I shall address how the relative notion of ‘form’ and the fixed notion of ‘form’ (that is, ‘species’) correspond to the two different methods introduced by Aristotle in Part. an. 1 and the consequences that result from employing these methods.

5 Although some scholars (see n. 1) may reduce the question of whether Aristotle is committed to fixed species to the question of whether Aristotle is committed to a fixed classification of animals, in this article I shall separate these two questions and focus exclusively on his commitment (at least in theory) to fixed species. In other words, even if Aristotle is committed to fixed species, a number of options are logically possible: (1) he is also committed to fixed classification of animals; (2) he is committed rather to pluralistic classification (as defended most recently by Henry, D., ‘Aristotle's pluralistic realism’, The Monist 94 [2011], 198222); or (3) Aristotle is not interested in classifying animals at all. I shall briefly mention this issue at the end of this article.

6 Lennox (n. 1), 169.

7 See e.g. Balme, D.M., Aristotle's De Partibus Animalium I and De Generatione Animalium I (with Passages from II. 1–3) (Oxford, 1972), 121 for his discussion. For his revised view on this issue, see his 1992 version of the translation.

8 See Peck, A.L. and Forster, E.S., Aristotle XII: Parts of Animals, Movement of Animals, Progression of Animals (Cambridge, 1937), 92 .

9 See e.g. Le Blond, J.-M., Aristote, philosophie de la vie: Le Livre premier du traité sur les Parties des Animaux (Paris, 1945), 178 .

10 See n. 1.

11 See the note on 644a24 of Balme, D.M., Aristotle's De Partibus Animalium I and De Generatione Animalium I (with Passages from II. 1-3) with a Report and Recent Work and on Additional Bibliography by Allan Gotthelf (Oxford, 1992), which is taken from Longrigg, J., ‘Review of D.M. Balme, Aristotle's De Partibus Animalium I and De Generatione Animalium I (with Passages from II. 1-3) ’, CR 27 (1977), 38–9, at 39.

12 Most notably, see Cat. 1b4–5. Use of such an indefinite article to pick out an individual object can also be found in his Metaphysics; see, for example, B.4, 999b19–20.

13 Balme (n. 11), 72.

14 Balme (n. 11), 73.

15 For the method of division, see Part. an. 1.2–3 and An. post. 2.14, 98a1–12; for the use of common names, see Part. an. 1.4, 644b1–7 and An. post. 2.14, 98a13–19; and for the discussion of analogy, see Part. an. 1.4, 644a12–23 and An. post. 2.14, 98a20–3.

16 Lennox, J., ‘Divide and explain: the Posterior Analytics in practice’, in Gotthelf, A. and Lennox, J. (edd.), Philosophical Issues in Aristotle's Biology (Cambridge, 1987), 90119, at 114.

17 Lennox (n. 16), 114.

18 Lennox (n. 1), 170.

19 Balme (n. 11), 73.

20 Lennox (n. 1), 121.

21 Lennox (n. 1), 170.

22 Lennox (n. 1), 121 (his emphasis).

23 Lennox (n. 1), 120 (his emphasis).

24 Metaph. Α.2, 994b21.

25 Metaph. Ι.1, 1052a31–3: ‘ἀδιαίρετος … εἴδει δὲ τὸ τῷ γνωστῷ καὶ τῇ ἐπιστήμῃ’.

26 De An. 2.3, 414b25–8: διὸ γελοῖον ζητεῖν τὸν κοινὸν λόγον καὶ ἐπὶ τούτων καὶ ἐφ’ ἑτέρων, ὃς οὐδενὸς ἔσται τῶν ὄντων ἴδιος λόγος, οὐδὲ κατὰ τὸ οἰκεῖον καὶ ἄτομον εἶδος, ἀφέντας τὸν τοιοῦτον. Lennox (n. 1), 123 refers to this passage to point out that ‘the converse of the repetition problem’ occurs when one focusses exclusively on a general account that fails to explain specific differences. But Aristotle is not setting up the contrast as Lennox suggests; i.e. Aristotle does not say that he prefers Method 2 over Method 1 in Part. an. 1 (because of the repetition problem) and Method 1 over Method 2 in the De Anima passage (because of the specificity problem). On the contrary, both in Part. an. 1 and in the De Anima passages Aristotle prefers Method 1 (that studies ‘indivisible form’) over Method 2 (that studies something ‘common’).

27 See also 31–3. The appeals to Categories here and elsewhere (see n. 12) may demand further comment since it is well attested that Aristotle's hylomorphism is absent; however, the points defended here (the epistemological advantage of Method 1) and elsewhere (Aristotle's use of an indefinite article to pick out individuals) can be made without relying on the passages from Categories and only from the texts where Aristotle's hylomophism is prominent (as can be seen from other passages to which I appealed). My reliance on the passages of Categories, though not necessary, strengthens my interpretation.

28 639a18–23.

29 I have exclusively focussed my attention on the term ‘species’ in this article and have set aside whether or not Aristotle is also committed to some kind of fixed level of ‘genera’, such as the greatest kind. For a more recent discussion of this topic, see Stoyles, B., ‘Μέγιστα γένη and division in Aristotle's Generation of Animals ’, Apeiron 46 (2013), 125 .

30 See Balme, D.M., ‘Aristotle's biology was not essentialist’, in Gotthelf, A. and Lennox, J. (edd.), Philosophical Issues in Aristotle's Biology (Cambridge, 1987), 291312, at 291. See also Charles's, D. celebrated assessment of Aristotle's biology in Aristotle on Meaning and Essence (Oxford, 2000), 312 : ‘It is no exaggeration to say that the study of biological kinds precipitated a crisis in Aristotle's thinking about definition’, because he failed to locate the type of unitary essence his Analytics-based theory requires.

31 See n. 5.

* I would like to thank CQ’s referee for providing me with helpful comments, CQ’s editor Andrew Morrison for assisting me with editorial corrections, and my friend and colleague Pat Croskery for kindly reading a number of earlier drafts and for offering his valuable feedback.

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