[1.3.1] Aristotle’s Categories: the Four-Fold Division

“In the Pre-Predicamenta, Aristotle (384-322 BC) discusses a number of semantic relations (1a1–16), gives a division of beings (τἃ ὄντα), into four kinds.
By focusing on Aristotle’s illustrations, most scholars conclude that beings that are said-of others are universals, while those that are not said-of others are particulars. Beings that are present-in others are accidental, while those that are not present-in others are non-accidental. Now, non-accidental beings that are universals are most naturally described as essential, while non-accidental beings that are particulars are best described simply as non-accidental.”

The OntoUML diagram below presents the main entities of Aristotle’s four-fold division:

Aristotle’s categories 4 fold division
BeingBeing (τὰ ὄντα) can be:
EssentialParticular-PrimarySubstance; AccidentalParticular-NonSubstantialParticular
and universals:
EssentialUniversal-SecondarySubstance; AccidentalUniversal
EssentialParticular-PrimarySubstance; AccidentalParticular-NonSubstantialParticular;
EssentialUniversal-SecondarySubstance; AccidentalUniversal
“in addition to primary substances, which are particulars, there are secondary substances, which are [essential] universals. His example of such an entity is man, which, […] is a universal in the category of substance… we should interpret secondary substances as essential characteristics of primary substances”
Example: Man
essential characteristic, component of at least one EssentialParticular
“The pride of place in this classificatory scheme, according to Aristotle, goes to those entities that are neither said-of nor present-in anything. Such entities, Aristotle says, are primary substances [or essential particulars…]
His favorite examples are an individual man and a horse […]
So, it is natural to interpret him as thinking that among primary substances are concrete particulars that are members of natural kinds.”
Example: Socrates
is in material relation with at least one AccidentalUniversal
“a non-substantial [accidental] particular is a dependent entity, individuated only by reference to primary substance that it is present in. Hence, Socrates’ whiteness cannot exist without Socrates.”
Example: Socrates’s whiteness
role of AccidentalUniversal
AccidentalUniversal“being is both said-of and present-in a primary substance if it is an accidental universal… The universal whiteness is said-of many primary substances but is only accidental to them.”
Example: whiteness, as color

Related posts in theory of Universals: [1.2.2][1.3.1][1.3.2][2.5][2.7.3][4.3.1][4.3.2][4.4.1][4.5.2][4.9.8][4.11], [4.15.6], [4.18.8]

The source of all citations and more about the topic in: Studtmann, Paul, “Aristotle’s Categories“, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2018 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)

First published: 07/02/2019
Updated: 3/1/2020 Diagram modified to OntoUML standard
Updated: 7/12/2021

14 thoughts on “[1.3.1] Aristotle’s Categories: the Four-Fold Division

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.