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Lucas Angioni, University of Campinas

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Conference Aristotle on Science and Metaphysics, Oxford, May 9th-10th 2015


http://old.philosophy.ox.ac.uk/events/conferences/aristotle_on_science_and_metaphysics

Per Se Predicates, Accidental Knowledge and Demonstration


Lucas Angioni, University of Campinas

(Note: the core of this presentation has become the paper “Aristotle’s definition of
scientific knowledge (APo 71b9-12)”, published in Logical Analysis and History of
Philosophy 19, which can be found at https://www.academia.edu/26821349/
Aristotle_s_definition_of_scientific_knowledge_APo_71b_9-12_)

My central question in this paper is: what is kata sumbebekos knowledge?


This question is important because Aristotle defines scientific knowledge in contrast with
kata sumbebekos knowledge.

T1: “We think we understand [or have scientific knowledge of] something
simpliciter (and not in the sophistical way, incidentally [kata sumbebekos]), when
we think we know of the cause because of which the explanandum holds that it is
its cause, and also that it is not possible for it to be otherwise” (71b9–12, Barnes’s
translation modified).

It is not reasonable to dismiss this notion saying that it is not important or that it only
appears incidentally as an aside etc. The notion appears again in many relevant contexts in
APo.:
- For other relevant uses of the expression “kata sumbebekos”, see I.9, 76a2, 76a4 (T3
below); I.8, 75b25; I.6, 74b11-12 (T5 below); I.12, 77b12; II.17, 99a3, 5.
- For other references to “sophists”, see I.5, 74a28-29, and I.6 74b21-27 (=T6 below)).

Questions:
- how the expression “kata sumbebekos” (which seems firstly focused on predicative
relations) can be applied to such a thing as knowledge?
- how “kata sumbebekos” works as an expression in those contexts? Is the structure “kata
+ accusative” relevant or not?
- what “sumbebekos” means in those contexts?

Those questions are important because (i) the expressions “kata sumbebekos/ kath’
hauto” seem to work as a pair and (ii) Aristotle stresses that demonstration proceeds from
kath’ hauta items and excludes kata sumbebekos items. This is the point of the following
passage:

T2: “it is clear that scientific demonstrations are concerned with what holds of
things in themselves and that they proceed from such items. For what is incidental is
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not necessary, so that it is necessarily the case that you do not know why the
conclusion holds” (APo I.6, 75a29-32, Barnes’s translation with modifications);

Aristotle’s point is traditionally taken as concerning predicative relations: on the one


hand, accidental relations must be excluded from the demonstration; on the other hand, per
se predications will be sufficient to deliver the appropriate explanation that a demonstration
must encapsulate. I claim that this is not exactly Aristotle’s point (at T2 as well as in APo as
a whole). On the one side, accidental relations are indeed excluded from demonstrations;
there is no doubt about that; but, on the other side, I challenge the idea that just a pair of per
se predications will be sufficient to deliver the appropriate demonstration. More precisely, I
do not think Aristotle is saying that, if your major premise is a per se predication of the
appropriate kind and your minor premise is also a per se predication of the appropriate kind,
then your syllogism will be a demonstration. Something more is required. As I will show in
a moment, many attempted demonstrations in which the premises are per se predications (of
the appropriate kind) and even definitions might still fail at being demonstrations in the
strictest sense (see 74a1-3; I.5, 74a13-16; 85b5-7 = T4 below).

Claims:

1. In answer to the question “how ‘kata sumbebekos’ works as an expression in those


contexts?”: the syntactical structure “kata + accusative” must be taken seriously (instead of
being flattened into an adverbial expression): this syntactical structure (in the contexts at
stake) presupposes an explanandum formulated in predicative form and points to the middle
term introduced to explain that explanandum;
(there is plenty of evidence for this use of “kata + accusative”: T3 below; 74a36; 74b2;
84b6-10; 85a23-24, 89a20 etc. See McKirahan 1992, 175)
This triadic structure (with an explanandum in predicative form and a middle term as the
explanans) is very important, as I will show in a moment. It implies that something is
characterised as a sumbebekos in relation to a given explanandum, and this is very different
from being characterised as a sumbebekos in relation to a subject.

2. In answer to the question “what ‘sumbebekos’ means in those contexts?”:


“sumbebekos” does not mean accidental predicate (in the strict sense of “contingent
predicate”); it means a predicate that (in an explanatory-triadic context) does not capture the
most relevant explanatory factor and only “comes together” with (or “accompany”) the
terms of the explanandum. Given that the explanandum itself is formulated as a predication
and that the sumbebekos is so characterised in reference to that explanandum, the
sumbebekos can be a predicate that is true (and even necessarily and essentially true) of the
subject of the explanandum.

That “kata sumbebekos” works in an explanatory framework is strongly suggested at:

T3: “We understand something non-incidentally when we know it in virtue of


that in virtue of which it holds and from the principles of that thing as such. E.g. we
understand that having angles equal to two right angles holds of what it holds in
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itself, when we know it in virtue of its principle” (APo I.9, 76a4-7, Barnes’s
translation with strong modifications).

The expression “in virtue of that in virtue of which” translates “kat’ ekeino kath’ ho”, and
“incidentally” translates “kata sumbebekos” : “kata + accusative” (in both cases) is referring
to the explanatory factor through which one attempts to explain a given explanandum. When
you capture the appropriate explanatory factor (the one that should be called “principle of
the explanandum as such”), your knowledge is not “kata sumbebekos”. By contrast, when
your knowledge is “kata sumbebekos”, you have failed to capture the appropriate
explanatory factor. Your explanatory factor is then a sumbebekos, namely, an attribute that
“comes together” with the subject and the predicate that compose the explanandum without
delivering the primary explanation for that explanandum. As I will argue from concrete
examples below, an explanatory factor can be called a sumbebekos in such contexts even if
it delivers an essential predication in the minor premise.

Uses of the pair “kath’ hauto” and “kata sumbebekos”:


In order to clarify the claims above mentioned, I will shortly discuss three ways in which
the opposition between the expressions “kata sumbebekos/ kath’ hauto” is used by Aristotle.
I do not intend this discussion to be exhaustive. I do not intend to give a full analysis of the
first two uses of those expressions: I will merely outline them because my main concern
here is to make a point in favour of a third way which is normally not recognised or not
taken into sufficient consideration in the literature.

I. First usage of the opposition between “kath’ hauto” and “kata sumbebekos”.

Three points are relevant for my purposes:


1) the expressions “kata sumbebekos/ kath’ hauto” qualify predicative relations;
2) they focus on the subject of a predication;
( they can also focus on predicates, but let me skip this complication for strategical
reasons;
it is more important to stress that if someone insists in a structure such as “p kata
sumbebekos” (without paying attention to the internal ramification of the sentence), she will
lose what Aristotle meant.)
3) they say in what way that subject must be taken for the sentence to make sense. In
other words, the expressions inform us about the way in which the subject must be taken in
order to be a subject liable to that kind of predicate. The subject can be taken either:
(i) according to its essence (or to the essential description normally associated with it –
no deep metaphysical insight is needed here): the expression “kath’ hauto” applies in such
cases; or
(ii) according to some further predicative connection which obtains (and was assumed in
the context), but was not asserted in the sentence: the expression “kata sumbebekos” applies
in such cases.

Examples:
A) The surface is white; (“kath’ hauto”); Met. 1022a30-31;
B) The musical is white; (“kata sumbebekos”); 83a10-12.
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C) The ship is moving; (“kath’ hauto”)


D) The nail (in the ship) is moving; (“kata sumbebekos”, from Physics 211a20-21)

II. Second usage of the opposition between “kath’ hauto” and “kata sumbebekos”.

Again, three points are relevant for my purposes (the first two are the same as in the
previous case):
1) the expressions “kata sumbebekos/ kath’ hauto” qualify predicative relations;
2) they focus on the subject of a predication;
3) they say how that subject must be taken to guarantee the truth of the sentence; it is
either:
(i) according to its essence (or to the essential description normally associated with it):
the expression “kath’ hauto” applies in such cases; or
(ii) as being something else besides what is implied or involved in its essence (or in the
essential description normally associated with it): the expression “kata sumbebekos” applies
in such cases.

Examples:
E) The triangle is a figure; (“kath’ hauto”)
F) The triangle is a brazen object; (“kata sumbebekos”).

This second use of “kata sumbebekos” presents the notion of a contingent predicate. My
point is that it plays no role at all in passages such as T1, T2, T3 and T5.

III. Third usage of the opposition between “kath’ hauto” and “kata sumbebekos”.

1) this use still depends on predicative relations, but it qualifies the relation between
explanandum and explanans (which is a triadic relation in which the explanandum has
predicative form and the explanans is the middle term).
Thus, we have a shift from a dyadic perspective in the first two uses to a triadic
perspective in the third use; I say “dyadic” in attention to the fact that a predicative sentence
has two elements, the subject and the predicate; I use “triadic”, by contrast, to point out that
an explanatory context involves a triplet of terms.
2) the expressions focus on middle terms as middle terms (not as merely predicates of
their subjects or as merely subjects of their predicates); what I mean by that will become
more clear in the next item.
3) the expressions say how/ in what way the middle term is doing the work proper to
middle terms, namely, how/ in what way the middle term is introducing the explanation for a
given explanandum.
The most important thing here is the following: in order to say something about the
explanatory work a middle term is doing in relation to a given explanandum, one must not
only pay attention to each predication in which it appears, but also asks whether those
predications taken together are appropriately explanatory of the explanandum.
The middle term introduces an explanation either:
(i) by taking the explanandum as what it is and by presenting the explanatory factor that
makes it what it is:
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the expression “kath’ hauto” (or some equivalent expression, like “hei auto” and “hei
ekeino”) applies in this case; or
(ii) by taking some explanatory factor which is not the primary (or most appropriate) one,
i.e., is not the factor that makes the explanandum what it is – even if this factor delivers (in
the minor premise) a predication which is a necessary truth, or even an essential predication,
or even the full definition of its subject:
the expression “kata sumbebekos” applies in this case.

Note that, in this usage of “kath’ hauto” (or some equivalent expression, like “hei auto”
and “hei ekeino”), the pronoun “hauto” (or “auto”, or “ekeino”) refers to the explanandum
as such – Aristotle sometimes refers to the major term as being the explanandum, but this is
so only because the major term is being introduced qua attributed to the minor (so that
reference to the major in those contexts collapses into reference to a pragma with
predicative form).
This point will be explored in connection with T4 and T5.

Compare the two syllogisms (from T4 below, I.24, 85a5-7):


(Warning about “notation”:
“a” is the sign for a universal affirmative predication;
the item on the left of “a” is the subject, the item on the right is the predicate, so that “2R” is the major
term in both syllogisms)

Syllogism 1:
Definition of isosceles triangle a 2R
Isosceles triangle a Definition of isosceles triangle
Isosceles triangle a 2R

Syllogism 2:
Definition of triangle a 2R
[Isosceles] triangle a Definition of triangle
[Isosceles] triangle a 2R

- Definition of isosceles triangle: “rectilinear plane figure enclosed by three sides with two angles (and two
sides) equal to each other”;
- Definition of triangle: “rectilinear plane figure enclosed by three sides”;

T4: “For if having two right angles holds of something not as isosceles but as
triangle, then if you know [sc. that the isosceles has 2R] because it is isosceles, you
will know it less as such [hei auto] than if you know [sc. that the isosceles – or the
triangle – has 2R] because it is triangle” (85b5-7, Barnes’s translation with strong
modifications).

Remarks:
(Barnes has taken the two “hoti” (85b6, 7) as “that”, but comparison with 85a26-28
shows that they must be taken as “why”);
(Note that a parallel case to Syllogism 1 can be built from 74a13-16)
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(“oiden [2R] hei auto” at 85b7 = has the explanation of why 2R obtains by taking 2R as
what it is in itself) (cf. “hei ekeino” in 75b 38 and 76a6 in T3);
(Aristotle’s text is open as to which term is the minor term in Syllogism 2, whether
“triangle” or “isosceles triangle”; although the question of determining which term is the
minor is important for many other issues, it will not affect my point).

Note that the minor premise in Syllogism 1 introduces a definition: the predicate is the
definiens of its subject! Even so, it does not deliver the required explanation.

Now, what those syllogisms have to do with the notion of “kata sumbebekos”
knowledge? The expression “kata sumbebekos” does not appear in T4. So, how can one be
entitled to claim that there is some connection between T4 and “kata sumbebekos”
knowledge?

The answer comes from APo I.9. In APo I.9 (before and after T3), attempted
demonstrations such as Brison’s squaring of the circle are described as cases that deliver
“kata sumbebekos” knowledge instead of knowing the explanandum as such (“hei ekeino”).
Now, the problem with such pseudo-demonstrations is not that they incur in some logical
fallacy, nor that they smuggle some false premise into the demonstration. Aristotle makes it
clear that he is discussing cases in which the premises from which one attempts to
demonstrate are true and even immediate and somehow primary (see 75b39-41 and T7
below). Why do they fail at delivering knowledge of the explanandum as such? Why are
they described as delivering accidental knowledge? I submit that they fail at delivering a
scientific demonstration because the middle term they select as explanatory factor (even
being true, or necessarily true, or essentially true, or primarily true, or definitionally true of
its subject in the minor premise) does not capture the most appropriate feature that makes
the explanandum what it is.
Now, kata sumbebekos knowledge is not mentioned in T4, but Syllogism 1 is clearly
described as failing to know its explanandum in itself (“hei auto”). Now, since “in
itself” (“hei auto”) and “as such” (“hei ekeino”) can be taken as equivalent in those contexts,
and since kata sumbebekos knowledge is described as a failure in knowing the explanandum
as such (“hei ekeino”), I submit that Syllogism 1 from T4 is a good example of “kata
sumbebekos knowledge”.

“Kata sumbebekos knowledge” versus necessary principles

This approach also helps us to understand how scientific demonstration is related to “the
necessary” and to the opposition between “necessary/ incidental”.

T5: “Since demonstrative understanding proceeds from necessary principles


(…), and necessary is what holds of an explanandum in itself (…), then it is clear
that a demonstrative syllogism will proceed from certain items of this sort; for
everything holds either in this way or incidentally, and what is incidental is not
necessary” (74b5-12, Barnes’s translation with strong modifications).
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With “pragmata” at 74b7 taken as explananda (qua explananda), Aristotle can be taken
to be saying that the principles of demonstration (the ones that he calls “necessary
principles”) are those that characterise their explananda as such. But what “necessary”
means in the expression “necessary principles”? (I will just outline in a sketchy way what I
have argued for in my paper “Aristotle on necessary principles and on explaining X through
the essence of X” (Studia Philosophica Estonica 7.2, pp. 88-112: http://www.spe.ut.ee/
ojs-2.2.2/index.php/spe/article/view/179)

These “necessary” principles are opposed to the “sumbebekota”. But the “sumbebekota”
are not the “accidental predicates” or the “contingent predicates”, but the middle terms that,
even being essential of their subjects etc. (look at Syllogism 1), are not the appropriate
explanatory factors that make their explanandum what it is.

In this picture, many crucial texts make much more sense. For instance:

T6: “From these considerations it is plain too that those people are naïve who
think that they assume their principles correctly if the propositions are true and
reputable (e.g., the sophists who assume that to understand is to possess
understanding). For it is not what is reputable that we count as a principle, but rather
what is primary for the thing with which the proof is concerned – and not every
truth is appropriate” (74b21-27, Barnes’s translation with slight modifications).

T6 is not a “curious aside” (pace Barnes), but a remark perfectly squared with what was
previously said. The sentence “to understand is to possess understanding” is not only true
but necessarily true. Aristotle has chosen it as an example because its triflingness helps him
to stress that the most important thing on which scientific demonstration depends is the
notion of explanatory appropriateness.

(One more word about the connection between “kata sumbebekos knowledge” and
sophists: it is the purpose of deluding and deceiving that turns a syllogism such as Syllogism
1 into a “sophistical pseudo-demonstration”; the Syllogism 1 by itself is not yet a piece of
“sophistical way of knowing”, the sophistikos tropos mentioned in 71b9-10 and 74a28-29; it
turns out to be a sophistic pseudo-demonstration if it is intended as a refutation of the
scientist. I have argued for this view in my Portuguese paper “Três Tipos de Argumento
Sofístico”, https://www.academia.edu/6861490/Tr%C3%AAs_Tipos_de_Argumento_Sof
%C3%ADstico, or, http://www2.ufpel.edu.br/isp/dissertatio/dissertatio-36.htm).

Finally, let me consider a text that was so awkward to the standard interpretation that
Solmsen and Barnes were inclined to interfere in the text:

T7: “We think we understand something if we possess a syllogism from some


true and primitive items. But this is not so: they [sc. the principles, namely, the
middle terms] must be of a kind with the first terms [namely, the major terms]” .
(76a28-30, Barnes’s translation with strong modifications).
(Cf. 75b37-40)
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The excision of “tois protois”, proposed by Solmsen and adopted by Barnes, is desperate.
But it is clear from the context that the expression “tois protois” refers to the major terms,
which are the most important factor in the explanandum, the factor that determines the
explanandum as such.

To conclude: “kata sumbebekos knowledge” is every attempted demonstration in which


the middle term introduces an explanatory factor that does not capture what the “first
term” [= the major term] as such [and as attributed to its proper subject] is.