Lesson 5: Analogy and the Statement


We have finished our discussion of Aristotle's Categories, and so in this lesson we are going to move on to his treatise On Interpretation, which covers the logic of the second operation. That logic focuses on the statement: the statement is the fundamental logic tool for grasping the true and the false. Before we leave the logic of the first operation behind, I would like to cover a topic which belongs to that part of logic, but is only hinted at by Aristotle: the topic of analogy.


Let us take a second look at the beginning of the Categories, where Aristotle distinguishes between univocal and equivocal uses of a word. A word is used univocally when it is used at least twice but has the same meaning in both cases. For example, a man and an ox are both called animals, and the word "animal" has the same meaning, "sensitive living thing," in both cases. Thus, the word "animal" is used univocally. Aristotle says that a word is used equivocally when it is used at least twice and is used with at least two difference meanings. Let us look closely, however, at the example he uses. He writes:

Thus, a real man and a figure in a picture can both lay claim to the name "animal," yet these are equivocally so named, for though they have a common name, the definition corresponding with the name differs for each.

Notice that in this example, the definition of animal which we apply to the picture and the man, while not exactly the same, is not entirely different. The man is a sensitive living thing, and the picture of a man is an image of a sensitive living thing. In the example Aristotle gives, the meanings are not entirely the same, but neither are they entirely different.

But it is not always the case that the definitions of words used equivocally are somewhat the same. A flying mammal and the club used to hit a baseball are called bats equivocally, and the two meanings have no relation to each other. So sometimes the different meanings of words used equivocally have no relation, sometimes they have some relation.

St. Thomas uses this distinction to identify two kinds of equivocal uses of a name. He writes:

And this way of being common is a middle between pure equivocation and simple univocity. For in those things which are named analogously, there is neither one meaning, as there is with univocals, nor totally diverse meanings, as in equivocals.

St. Thomas here is talking about analogy. When the word used twice has two entirely different meanings, that is pure equivocation. But when a word is used analogously, the two meanings are neither the same, nor entirely different; rather, they are partly the same, and partly different. The picture of a man is called an animal, not with the same meaning as when I call a real man an animal, and not with an entirely different meaning, but a meaning that is partially the same and partially different. It is not a "sensitive living thing," but it is a "picture of a sensitive living thing."

The next thing to notice about the many meanings of a word used analogously is that there is an order among the meanings, a priority of some over others. St. Thomas writes:

In all names which are said analogously of many things, all must be said with respect to one. Therefore, it is necessary that it be put in the definition of all. And since the meaning which the name signifies is the definition, as Aristotle says in the fourth book of the Metaphysics, it is necessary that the name be attributed in the first place to that which is put into the definition of the others, and secondarily of the others, in the order in which they are closer to or farther from the first thing.

St. Thomas is saying that when the same word is used analogously, and therefore has many different but related meanings, there is always some meaning that is first, and that the other meanings fall into an order, a series, which is determined by how closely they are related to the first meaning.

A good example of this is the use we make of the term "medical." We talk about medical doctors, medical students, and medical insurance. If we were to define the term in each case, we would get many different meanings, but they would all point back to the first meaning: that which makes us call the doctor "medical." Thus, the meaning of medical which is applied to the doctor is the first meaning of the term and the meaning that is contained in all of the others. Then, when we look at the other uses of the term, we find that some are closer to the original use, while some are farther away. The meanings of a student being medical is much like that of the doctor, but the meaning of insurance being medical is much farther away. Thus, there is an order in which, first the doctor is medical, then the student, and finally the insurance. There is always an order among the many meanings of a word used analogously.

Since we need to be practical about logic, we must ask why we use words analogously. What is the purpose of analogy? Some of the modern logicians do not see any purpose for analogy, and so want to eliminate it. All equivocation, they argue, is an invitation to confusion. The ideal language would assign a different word or symbol for each different meaning of definition. Thus, the presence of analogy in our language is a sign of its imperfection and an accident of its irrational origins.

Aristotle and St. Thomas would answer that the order in the meanings of analogous names points out the purpose of analogy. That order is the order of knowledge. St. Thomas says that we name things as we know them, and since we know them in a certain order, we name them that way. We could put all this another way: some things are very familiar to us, they are part of our everyday experience, while others are hard to understand. But the ones that are hard to understand are sometimes like the things that we are familiar with. So we use the familiar things to make the unfamiliar more understood. We use the same name for both in order to point out that likeness and increase our knowledge. This is the purpose of analogy.

We can clarify this with an example. The nature of sight is clearer to us than the nature of intellectual understanding, which is very obscure. But since seeing is like understanding, we can use seeing to make the nature of understanding clearer to our minds. How, then, do we point out this likeness between sight and understanding? We use the same word to name them. We say not only that we see colors, but that we "see" what someone means when they say something. In this latter case, we use the term "see" with a second meaning, different from but related to the first. The analogous use of the word "see" helps us to grasp better what understanding is.

Analogy, then, is not only not a hindrance, but an aid to knowledge. In fact, it is often an indispensable aid. When something is entirely outside of our ordinary experience, the only way that we can name it is by analogy, since every first meaning of a term comes from our experience. Since God is entirely outside of our ordinary experience, the only way we can name God, that is, assign an attribute to God, is by an analogy to that attribute in our experience. When we say "God is wise," we give to that word "wise" a meaning that is derived from, but secondary to, the meaning which the word has when we say "Socrates is wise." Every name of God is analogous, and without analogous naming theology would be impossible.

Of course, we could say much more about analogy, as we could about much of what we discussed in the first part of logic. But I think we have covered the most fundamental and most useful points. And that completes our discussion of the first part of logic. We are now going to talk about the second part of logic, the logic of the second operation, that which deals with the true and the false. The fundamental tool of the logic of the second operation is the statement. So our first task is to look at the statement in itself, its parts and its definition. That will occupy the remainder of this lesson. In our next lesson we will look at the kinds of statements and the relations that these kinds have to each other.

The Statement

The second book of the Organon is titled On Interpretation, or in the Greek, Peri Hermeneias. Before we get into the details of this book, I would like to explain its title. The word "hermeneias" comes from Hermes, the messenger god. This implies that the statement, the logical tool which is the subject of the Peri Hermeneias, is an interpreter, a messenger, a go-between. What is the statement an interpreter for? It is an interpreter between one human mind and another. We use statements to reveal what we are thinking to other people. Thus, the book about the statement is a book about the interpreter.

This might seem a puzzling assertion, since every word, not just the statement, is an interpreter between one mind and another. I think that Aristotle means to imply that the statement is an interpreter par excellence because it is only when I make a statement that I fully reveal my mind to another. If I merely say the word "man," you know what the term means, and you presume that I do also. But you would remain puzzled about why I said that word. My communication would be incomplete because you would not know what I think about man. If I then said "Man has a fallen nature," whether you agreed with that statement or not, you would feel satisfied that my communication was complete, and that you knew what I was thinking. Since only the statement does this, the statement is the perfect interpreter of one mind to another.

Since the statement is the first complete speech, Aristotle takes up the question of the relation of speech to thought and reality at the very beginning of the Peri Hermeneias. He writes:

Sounds are the symbols of impressions in the soul, and written words are symbols of sounds. Just as not all men have the same writing, so not all men have the same speech, but the impressions in the soul, of which these are first the signs, are the same for all, as are the things, which these are likenesses of.

Let us look at this text in reverse order. Fido the dog is just Fido the dog, and it makes no difference to him whether he is seen by Cicero or George Washington. So Fido, and all of reality, is common to all men. Now when Cicero and George both see the dog, they have the same basic mental impression, since the impression in our minds is just a likeness of the thing seen. But the words used to signify that impression might be different from different men. For example, Cicero calls Fido "canis," George calls him "dog." And since the written word is a sign of the spoken word, then Cicero and George would write different words as well. The written and spoken words are different for different societies, but the mental impression and reality itself are common to all men.

Digression on the Subject of Logic

Thus there are three fundamental levels laid out here: words, thoughts, and things. Which is logic about? Is logic about words, or thoughts, or things?

I think that Aristotle would say that logic is about all three. Words are the tools of the mind, and logic is about such tools, so logic must be about words. But logic is not about words in the way that poetry or grammar is about words. Poetry is concerned about making words beautiful, while grammar makes words be fittingly arranged, but logic uses words to guide thought to the truth. For example, the statement "Men is animals" would offend the rules of both poetry and grammar, but not logic. Logic approves because the statement is true, and truth is its goal. Logic is about words insofar as they somehow lead to knowledge of the truth.

Since logic uses words to guide thought, it must also be about thought. But it does not study thought to understand the nature of thought. That is the task of philosophical psychology. Logic studies thought only to perfect its process, not to know its nature completely. Thus, logic is about both words and thoughts.

Finally, since thought aims at the truth about things, then logic cannot ignore reality. Logic takes for granted our basic knowledge of reality in formulating the rules of thought. Aristotle could not talk about the categories, for example, without assuming many basic truths about the nature of reality. Logic then is about all three, words, thoughts, and things. Maybe the best way to express what logic is about, then, is through this formula: logic is about words that signify things through our thoughts.

Return to the Statement

Aristotle's next task is to clarify the difference between the first and second operations. He writes:

As there are in the mind thoughts which do not involve truth or falsity, and also those which must be either true or false, so it is in speech. . . . "Man" and "white" as isolated terms, are not yet either true or false.

Aristotle first points to the obvious fact that we do not assign truth or falsity to simple expressions, like "man." In fact, we do not even assign it directly to definitions, such as "rational animal." We only assign truth and falsity when such terms are combined in statements, for example, "Man is a rational animal."

Thus, Aristotle concludes:

Truth and falsity imply composition and division.

The reason why truth and falsity come in only with composition and division is that truth in speech is the conformity between what is said and the way something is in reality, while falsity is the opposition between what is said and the way something is. When I say "man" I do not express the way man is, since "the way" in which something exists is different from and added to the subject that exists in that way. "Man" is simply a subject that exists, but when I combine "man" with "runs" and say "The man runs," then I express the way man exists. Only then can I check whether that way I am speaking conforms to the reality signified. Only then can I speak about truth and falsity, truth if the man is running, falsity if he is not. And since truth and falsity in speech corresponds to truth and falsity in thought, we can see that only the second operation of the intellect concerns the true and the false.

Aristotle first defines the parts of the statement, then the statement itself. The statement itself is complex, but its fundamental parts are simple. In the Categories Aristotle is dealing with simple expressions, but he was content there to give examples; here, he gives a definition. A simple expressions is:

. . . a sound significant by convention, . . . of which no part is significant apart from the rest.

As we noted before, words are different for different languages, so the sound of the word cannot by itself, naturally point to a thing. It can only point to a thing if those speaking the language agree to that.

An expression is simple when no part of it signifies by itself, at least not in such a way that the meaning of the part determines the meaning of the whole. For example, the word "dog" has a part, "og," but that part does not mean anything by itself. Thus, "dog" is a simple expression. Sometimes by accident a word has a part which does have its own meaning, but if the expression is simple, the meaning of the part does not determine the meaning of the whole. For example, "table" is part of the whole word "stable," but the meaning of the part "table" has nothing to do with the meaning of the whole word "stable."

The statement is made of simple expressions of two kinds, the noun and the verb. The difference between them is that the noun signifies something without implying time, while the verb signifies something and implies time. In grammatical terms, nouns do not have tenses, verbs do. The reason is that the verb signifies something that is attributed to the noun, as happening to the noun, and the happening implies time. For example, in the statement, "The man runs," "man" is the noun and "runs" is the verb. Running is attributed to man, and since what is attributed to a thing affects how a thing is, then we can look at running as something that happens to the man. Happening then brings in the notion of change: if it is happening to him, we have to ask when it is happening. Is it happening now, or in the past, or in the future? The tense of this verb tells us that it is happening now: "runs" is the present tense. Thus every verb, because it is something attributed to another, implies time.

The noun, however, does not imply something happening to another, but instead points to the subject which has something happening to it. The subject is always the stable thing in the happening, and therefore time does not matter to it: the man is a man, whether he is running now, or ran in the past, or will run in the future. So the noun signifies without time.

But when we put the noun and the verb together, we get a statement. Aristotle does not define the statement all in one place, but we can gather a definition from several places. First, since the statement is made of simple expressions, it will be a complex expression because its parts do signify something by themselves. The name which Aristotle assigns to the genus of simple expressions is "sentence." Thus, we can ask what kind of sentence a statement is. Aristotle writes:

Not every sentence is a statement; only such are statements as have in them either truth or falsity. Thus, a request is a sentence, but is neither true nor false.

There are several kinds of sentences, such as questions, commands, requests, and all are complex; that is, all have parts which have meaning by themselves. None of these others, however, express something that is true or false. For example, "Is the dog in the yard?" or "Leave the yard" are sentences, but not true or false. Only a statement, such as "The dog is in the yard," does that. Thus the definition of the statement is a sentence which is true or false.


Since the purpose of logic is to aid the mind in knowing the truth, Aristotle dismisses all other kinds of sentences here and deals only with statements. In this lesson we have discussed the parts and definition of the statement. The noun and verb are its parts, and the statement is a sentence that is true or false. In our next lesson we are going to look at how Aristotle divides statements into kinds, and how he determines the important relations between the different kinds of statements.


1. Examine the words used equivocally in Exercise One of Lesson Three and determine whether they are used purely equivocally or analogously.

2. Identify the noun and the verb in the following statements. If an entry is not a statement, note that.

1. Fido is a dog.
2. Triangles have three sides.
3. What a good speech!
4. Philosophers love wisdom.
5. Do sophists love wisdom?
6. Men are apes wearing trousers.
7. Let us pursue virtue.


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