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Categorial Representations of the World

Project leader: H. Hansen

The Problem

An important aspect of our representation of reality, and thus also of most theories of concepts, is our employment of categories to classify the objects of our experience. The notion of a category first occurs in Aristotle, who employs the Greek word katēgoria as a technical term meaning “predicate” or “predication.” This etymological aspect of the word is mostly lost on us today, but it was obvious to the ancient and medieval philosophers who inherited Aristotle’s theory of categories. This holds not only for those in the Greek-speaking part of the world, but also for those working in the Latin West, since the Latin translation for katēgoria is praedicamentum from praedicare, that is, to predicate.
That a system of categories is at its roots a classification of how we represent the world predicationally raises the important question of what the ontological import of such a system is. What is the relationship between the categories we employ in our representation of the world and the furniture of the world that we employ them to represent? Aristotle never addresses this crucial question head-on, and the problem was much discussed by the ancient and medieval philosophers who inherited his ten-category system. As is well known, some thinkers held that there are as many kinds of beings in the world as there are categories, whereas others took it that there need not be such a one-to-one correspondence between the world and our representation of it. The present project aims to trace these discussions throughout the late-ancient and medieval Greek and Latin traditions.
Main Question What is the relationship between categories and the world? Is there a one-to-one correspondence so that for each category we recognize, there is a distinct type of entity in extramental reality? Or is it the case that only some categories have a matching type of extramental entity whereas others do not?
In each case, the investigation aims to account not only for how philosophers think or do not think that the ontological commitments of a system of categories can or should be reduced, but also for the arguments and theories that they advance in defence of their claims and the assumptions about the world and our representation of it that underlie these arguments and claims.


2014. Aristotle: The first six months will be spent identifying and working on the passages in the Corpus Aristotelicum that were to become the focal points of the discussions of the relationship between the categories and the world. The central texts will be Categories, Metaphysics, and Physics.

2015. Aristotle’s Ancient Greek Interpreters: The ancient Greek tradition will be investigated by studying the late ancient commentators, who produced numerous commentaries on the Categories. The earliest of those still extant is Porphyry’s minor commentary. From the following centuries, we have a fair sample of commentaries. As far as the Metaphysics is concerned, fewer commentaries survive. We have part of a commentary composed by Alexander in the second century AD, and later commentaries (on Books 1–2; 13–14) by Syrianus and (on Books 1–7) by Asclepius. As regards the Physics, there is a paraphrase by Themistius and commentaries by Philoponus and Simplicius. Also important will be Plotinus’ criticism of Aristotle’s categories in his Enneads.

2016. The Byzantine Commentators: The Byzantine period will be investigated by studying the commentaries on the Categories by Arethas (marginal scholia), Leon Magentenos, George Pachymeres, Joseph Philagrios (scholia) and George Gennadios Scholarios as well as the paraphrases and compendia by Anonymus Heiberg, Michael Psellos, Sophonias, Blemmydes, Pachymeres, and others. In addition there are a number of small treatises and other works dealing with more specific questions, notably Photios’ Amphilochia 137–47. Commentaries on the Metaphysics include Michael of Ephesus’ (Ps.-Alexander) on Books 6–14 and Ps.-Philoponus’ (?George Pachymeres) on the whole work. There is also a more compendious work by Pachymeres, namely, Philosophia 10. Commentaries on the Physics include that dubiously ascribed to Michael Psellos (?George Pachymeres) as well as one by Theodore Metochites and one by George Gennadios Scholarios. There are also several compendia, notably Nikephoros Blemmydes’ Epitome Physica. Complete or partial editions of some of the unedited material will be produced.

2017. Latin Commentators from Late Antiquity to 1200: The investigation will start by looking at the late ancient Latin precursors of the commentary tradition in the West, most notably the anonymous paraphrase of Aristotle known as the Categoriae decem and the commentary by Manlius Boethius. Consequently, I will look at the glosses and commentaries that are still extant from the early Middle Ages, as well as the relevant parts of logical handbooks such as Garlandus of Besançon’s Dialectica. Complete or partial editions of some of the unedited material will be produced.

2018–19. Latin Commentators from 1200–1500. The last two years will be devoted to the developments in the Latin West from 1200 to 1500. This period was one of fervent exegetical and philosophical activity, and there are a vast number of commentaries on the Categories (as well as on the Metaphysics and Physics) still extant. Many of them remain unedited and to a large extent unexplored, and the study will begin by surveying this material and locating the relevant discussions. Complete or partial editions of especially interesting material will be also be produced.

Relation to Other Sub-Projects

My project starts where Bydén (Greek part) and Mora-Márquez and Fink (Greek and Latin parts) end. Presumably, Kukkonen and NN2 will offer valuable information concerning my Latin interpreters. In a certain sense, my sub-project holds a position similar to that of Ierodiakonou in that the way we categorize representations of reality obviously influence how we think about reality and arguably also how we perceive reality through our senses and other psychological faculties. If the investigation of sense-perception is the corner stone, my project is the coping stone and completion of the project here proposed.


Page Manager: Andreas Ott|Last update: 3/18/2013

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