Two Doctrines of Categories in Aristotle: Topics, Categories, and Metaphysics

Part of the Philosophers in Depth book series (PID)


The aim of this chapter is to offer support for the view — one contrary to the main tradition represented by Alexander and most more recent commentators — that there are, in fact, two different sets and two different, and incompatible, doctrines of categories in Aristotle. I do not have in mind here any difference between the Categories, or the Organon, and the Metaphysics. Rather, both doctrines are present in the Organon and even in a single chapter of the Organon, Topics I.9. The proper explanation for this striking fact is not, as some would suggest, historical or developmental — that one doctrine came earlier in Aristotle’s thinking, the other later. Nor is it, as others have suggested, that both doctrines need to be mastered to adequately employ dialectic, so that both are present in the Topics. Instead, as we shall see, one doctrine, for Aristotle, is precisely suited to the needs of the art of reasoning kata doxan, i.e. to the practice of dialectic, the other to procedure kat’ aletheian, or to the needs and the practice of science, indeed of metaphysical science. I go on to consider a main question for this result, one whose proper resolution helps us to understand better Aristotle’s scientific method overall and the special, if limited, role of dialectic in it. I begin by developing a problem for the interpretation of Topics I.9.


Primary Substance Ancient Philosophy Linguistic Item Metaphysical Doctrine Primary Reality 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Ackrill, J. L. 1963. Aristotle’s Categories and De Interpretatione (Oxford: Clarendon Press).Google Scholar
  2. Bolton, R. 1987. “Definition and Scientific Method in Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics and Generation of Animals,” in A. Gotthelf and J. Lennox, (eds), Philosophical Issues in Aristotle’s Biology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).Google Scholar
  3. — 1990. “The Epistemological Basis of Aristotelian Dialectic,” in D. Devereux and P. Pellegrin, (eds), Biologie, Logique et Metaphysique chez Aristote (Paris: Editions du CNRS).Google Scholar
  4. — 1991. “Aristotle on the Objectivity of Ethics,” in J. Anton and A. Preus, (eds), Essays In Ancient Greek Philosophy IV: Aristotle’s Ethics (Albany: State University of New York Press).Google Scholar
  5. — 1995. “Science and the Science of Substance in Aristotle’s Metaphysics Z,” Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 76: 419–69.Google Scholar
  6. Brunschwig, J. 1967. Aristote: Topiques (Paris: Les Belles Lettres).Google Scholar
  7. Frede, M. 1987a. “Categories in Aristotle,” in M. Frede, Essays in Ancient Philosophy (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press).Google Scholar
  8. — 1987b. “The Title, Unity and Authenticity of the Aristotelian Categories,” in M. Frede, Essays in Ancient Philosophy (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press).Google Scholar
  9. Frede, M. and G. Patsig. 1988. Aristoteles Metaphysik Z (München: C. H. Beck).Google Scholar
  10. Malink, M. 2007. “Categories in Topics I.9,” Rhizai: A Journal for Ancient Philosophy and Science 4: 271–94.Google Scholar
  11. Matthen, M. 1978. “The Categories and Aristotle’s Ontology,” Dialogue 17: 228–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Menn, S. 1995. “Metaphysics, Dialectic and the Categories,” Revue de Metaphysique et de Morale 100: 311–37.Google Scholar
  13. Reeve, C. D. C. 1992. Practices of Reason (Oxford: Oxford University Press).Google Scholar
  14. Ross, W. D. 1936. Aristotle’s Physics (Oxford: Clarendon Press).Google Scholar
  15. Smith, R. 1997. Aristotle’s Topics I and VIII (Oxford: Oxford University Press).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Robert Bolton 2013

Authors and Affiliations

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations