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Aristotle, On Interpretation. Chapter 7

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Of Universal, Particular, Indefinite and Singular Enunciations

Chapter 7 of Aristotle’s work On Interpretation” is one of the most difficult chapters for students to understand. To complete the objectives of this lesson, complete the following tasks:

  1. Read through the lesson below.
  2. Study the lesson for mastery.
  3. Complete the lesson assessment questions.


Translation by Thomas Taylor.

Of Universal and Particular Subjects

1. Since some spoken things are universals, but others particulars, it is necessary to enunciate that something is inherent or is not inherent, at one time in something universal, but at another in something particular. I call that “universal” which is adapted by its nature to be predicated of many things; but that “particular” which is not adapted to be so predicated; as, “man” is a universal, but “Callias” a particular.

Of Contrary Enunciations

2. If, therefore, any one enunciates of that which is universal in a universal manner, that something is inherent, or is not inherent, these enunciations will be contrary. But I say, “to enunciate of that which is universal in a universal manner”; as, for instance: “Every man is white.” vs. “No man is white.”

Of Indefinite Enunciations

3. But when one enunciates of universal things, but not in a universal manner, these are not contrary. The things signified, may, however, sometimes be contrary. But I say, “to enunciate of things universal but not in a universal manner” as, for instance: “Man is white.” vs. “Man is not white.”

For “man” being a universal, is not used as a universal in this enunciation; since the word “every” does not signify universal, but shows that the subject is universally assumed.

Universal Sign not Joined to Predicates

4. Of that, however, which is universally predicated, the universal predicate is not true. For no affirmation will be true, in which the universal is predicated of that which is universally predicated; as for instance, “Every man is every animal.”.

Of Contradictory Enunciations

5. I say, therefore, that affirmation is opposed to negation contradictorily; the affirmation which signifies a universal, to that which signifies that the same is not to be assumed as a universal; as: “Every man is white.” vs. “Not every man is white.”, or “No man is white.” vs. “Some man is white.”

But the affirmation of a universal, and the negation of a universal, are opposed contrarily; as: “Every man is white.” vs. “No man is white.”; or “Every man is just.” vs. “No man is just.”

6. Hence it is impossible that these should be at one and the same time true.

Of Subcontraries

7. It may sometimes happen, that the opposites to these are co-verified in the same thing: as, “Not every man is white.”, and “Some man is white.”.

Of Universal Contradictions

8. Of such contradictions, therefore, of universals are universally made, it is necessary that one of them should be true or false.

Of Singular Contradictions

9. And also such contradictions as are of singulars; as, “Socrates is white.”, “Socrates is not white.”.

Of Indefinite Contradictions

10. But with respect to such contradictions as are of universals, indeed, yet are not universally made, the one is not always true, but the other false. For at one and the same time it may be truly said, “Man is white.”, and “Man is not white.”; and “Man is beautiful.”, and “Man is not beautiful.”; for if he is deformed he is not beautiful; and if any thing is becoming to be, it is not. This, however, may immediately appear to be absurd, because this assertion, “Man is not white.”, seems at the same time to signify the same thing, as “No man is white.”. It neither, however, necessarily signifies the same thing, nor at the same time.

Contradicting One Negation to One Negation

11. But it is evident, that there is one negation of one affirmation; for it is necessary that the negation should deny (1) the same thing which the affirmation affirmed; and also (2) about the same subject, either from some particular, or some universal, and (3) in the same manner, either as universal, or as not universal. I say, as, for instance: “Socrates is white.” vs. “Socrates is not white.”

But if there is something else denied of the same subject, or the same thing denied of some other subject, that enunciation will not be opposite, but different from it. To this enunciation, however, “Every man is white.”, the enunciation, “Not every man is white.”, is opposed. But to this, “A certain man is white.”, the enunciation is opposed, “No man is white.”.


12. And thus we have shown that one affirmation is contradictorily opposed to one negation, and also what these are. We have likewise shown there are other contraries, and what they are; and that not every contradiction is true or false, and why it is not, and when it is true or false.

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