Saturday, August 12, 2006

Aristotle on the Goat-Stag

"He who knows what human-or any other-nature is, must know also that man exists; for no one knows the nature of what does not exist-one can know the meaning of the phrase or name 'goat-stag' but not what the essential nature of a goat-stag is. But further, if definition can prove what is the essential nature of a thing, can it also prove that it exists? And how will it prove them both by the same process, since definition exhibits one single thing and demonstration another single thing, and what human nature is and the fact that man exists are not the same thing? Then too we hold that it is by demonstration that the being of everything must be proved-unless indeed to be were its essence; and, since being is not a genus, it is not the essence of anything. Hence the being of anything as fact is matter for demonstration; and this is the actual procedure of the sciences, for the geometer assumes the meaning of the word triangle, but that it is possessed of some attribute he proves. What is it, then, that we shall prove in defining essential nature? Triangle? In that case a man will know by definition what a thing's nature is without knowing whether it exists. But that is impossible."

(Posterior Analytics, Book II.7)

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