IX*—MULTIPLICITY AND UNITY OFBEING IN ARISTOTLEby Enrico Berti
I. In analytic philosophy, so-called ‘univocalism’ is the prevailinginterpretation of the meaning of terms such as ‘being’ or ‘existence’, i.e. thethesis that these terms have only one meaning (see Russell, White, Quine, vanInwagen). But some analytical philosophers, inspired by Aristotle, maintain that‘being’ has many senses (Austin, Ryle). II. Aristotle develops an argument infavour of this last thesis, observing that ‘being’ and ‘one’ cannot be a singlegenus, because they are predicated of their differences (
. B 3). III. But‘being’ for Aristotle has also a unity, i.e. ‘focal meaning’, which coincides withsubstance (
2), and substance has not only an ontological priority, butalso a logical priority, in respect to the other beings, as was shown by G. E. L.Owen. IV. This ‘focal meaning’ cannot be identiﬁed with primary substance, i.e.with the unmovable mover, as some interpreters pretend, because this latterhas only an ontological, not a logical, priority in respect to the world. V. Theimpossibility of this interpretation results from Aristotle’s rejection of an essenceand a substance of being (
. B 4), i.e. the rejection of what the Christianphilosophers called
esse ipsum subsistens
eing and existence in contemporary
’. Inthe history of analytic philosophy the prevailing interpret-ation of the meaning of terms such as ‘being’ or ‘existence’ wasso-called ‘univocalism’, i.e. the thesis that they have only onemeaning, as was shown in a clear exposition by Morton Whitemore than forty years ago.
The author indicated the origins of such a position in John Stuart Mill, and attributed the most clearformulation of it to Bertrand Russell, though admitting that thelatter initially held a position which could be called ‘duovocal-ism’, according to which the existence of physical objects andthe existence of universals (e.g. of numbers) were afﬁrmed withdifferent meanings, respectively equivalent to being in space andtime and being not in space and time. Later on Russell discovered
*Meeting of the Aristotelian Society, held in Senate House, University of London,on Monday, 19th February, 2001 at 4.15 p.m.1. See White,
Toward a Reunion in Philosophy
, Cambridge Mass. 1956, pp. 60–80.