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Berti, E. - Multiplicity and Unity of Being in Aristotle

Berti, E. - Multiplicity and Unity of Being in Aristotle

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Published by: DAR on Sep 02, 2011
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I. In analytic philosophy, so-called ‘univocalism’ is the prevailinginterpretation of the meaning of terms such as ‘beingor ‘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
analytical ontology
’. 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.
that these different meanings could be reduced to only one. Hediscovered that affirming the existence of anything is equivalentto saying that it is something, where being something is a genusof which being in space and time and being not in space and timeare the species.Summarizing Russell’s position, White wrote:
We can therefore say that there is a correspondingly generalexpression, namely ‘There is at least one’, which we can put beforethe phrase ‘physical objectand before the word ‘universal’. Inboth of the resulting sentences, ‘There is at least one physicalobject’ and ‘There is at least one universal’, the phrase ‘there is atleast one’ is used in the same sense, and this is reflected in the factthat we can use logical notation and symbolize these two sentencesas follows: ‘(
) (
is a physical object)’ and ‘(
) (
is a univer-sal)’. Now ... the symbol ‘(
)’, read in English as ‘there is an
such that’, is used in the same way in both cases.
White acknowledged that a third position is possible. He calledit ‘multivocalism’. The champion of this position is Gilbert Ryle,according to whom
It may be true that there exists a cathedral in Oxford, a three-engined bomber, and a square number between 9 and 25. But thenaı¨ve passage to the conclusion that there are three existents, abuilding, a brand of aircraft and a number soon leads to trouble.The senses of ‘exists’ in which the three subjects are said to existare different and their logical behaviours are different.
To illustrate Ryle’s position White quoted another famous pass-age, this time drawn from his major work,
The Concept of Mind 
It is perfectly proper to say, in one logical tone of voice, that thereexist minds and to say, in another logical tone of voice, that thereexist bodies. But these expressions do not indicate two differentspecies of existence ... They indicate two different senses of ‘exist’,somewhat as ‘rising’ has different senses in ‘the tide is rising’,‘hopes are rising’ and ‘the average age of death is rising’. A manwould be thought to make a poor joke who said that three thingsare now rising, namely the tide, hopes and the average age of death. It would be just as good or bad a joke to say that there existprime numbers and Wednesdays and public opinion and navies; orthat there exist both minds and bodies.
2. Ryle,
Philosophical Arguments
, Oxford 1945, pp. 15–16.3. Ryle,
The Concept of Mind 
, London 1949, p. 23.
According to White, Ryle could dispense with multivocalism. Allthe existential statements mentioned by Ryle can be translatedinto ‘(
) (
is ...)’, and these translations free us from the needto assert the existence of things like relationships, possibilitiesand attributes, and save us from having to say that the phrase‘exists’ applies to some ‘entities’ in one sense and to others inanother ‘sense’.Today’s champion of univocalism is surely W.V.O. Quine. In
Word and Object
he wrote:
There are philosophers who stoutly maintain that ‘exists’ said of numbers, classes, and the like and ‘exists’ said of material objectsare two usages of an ambiguous term ‘exists’. What mainly bafflesme is the stoutness of their maintenance. What can they possiblycount as evidence?
Resting on the refutation of Ryle made by White, Quine couldconclude:
In our canonical notation of quantification, then, we find therestoration of law and order. Insofar as we adhere to this notation,the objects we are to be understood to admit are precisely theobjects which we reckon to the universe of values over which thebound variables of quantification are to be considered to range.Such is simply the intended sense of the quantifiers ‘(
)’ and ‘(
)’:‘every object
is such that’, ‘there is an object
such that’. Thequantifiers are encapsulations of these specially selected, unequivo-cally referential idioms of ordinary language.
Also, in
Ontological relati 
ity and Other Essays
Quine wrote:
Are there two senses of existence? Only in a derivative way. Forus common men who believe in bodies and prime numbers, thestatements ‘there is a rabbit in the yard’ and ‘there are prime num-bers between 10 and 20’ are free from double-talk. Quantificationdoes them justice ... It has been fairly common in philosophy earlyand late to distinguish between being, as the broadest concept, andexistence, as narrower. This is no distinction of mine; I mean‘exists’ to cover all there is, and such of course is the force of thequantifier.
4. Quine,
Word and Object
, Cambridge Mass. 1960, p. 131.5.
., p. 242.6. Quine,
Ontological Relati 
ity and Other Essays
, New York 1969, pp. 99–100.

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