How Can We Reach the True Definition of Something?

Essence, Definition, and Teleology in Aristole's Metaphysics


  • Minjun Lee St. John's College


This paper aimed to vindicate that Aristotle’s method of reaching the definition of something in Z 12 of Metaphysics is incomplete and suggest the way in which we can reach its true definition. This paper claimed that the definition reached by genus and differentia (say, “a human is a featherless, two-footed animal.”) is not true but merely a taxonomic definition¾“what a definition is like” (1038a35). The combination of essential differentiae of something does not express what it is intrinsically but what other things are not, although the definition is the account of the essence. The combination of the differentiae ‘featherless’ and ‘two-footed’ are not what makes us humans in a positive sense. These differentiae simply set us apart from all other animals. Moreover, his method is arbitrary. The combination of essential differentiae is subject to change insofar as we can swap out one differentia for another. However, the essence of something cannot be changeable. In order to make “a definition like” be “a true definition,” this paper suggests another interpretation of the ultimate differentia. As he presents it, the ultimate differentia is the one that cannot be further divided. However, this paper interprets the ultimate differentia of something as its activity (ἐνέργειά) and its end (τέλος). Hence, it is necessary to combine Aristotle’s method of differentiation with the teleological ultimate differentia of something if we want to reach its true definition. Aristotle at various times refers to human as a rational animal, at other times as a featherless two-footed animal throughout his corpus. This paper suggests that one is taxonomic, an example of what definition is like, and the other one represents the achievement that can be made when we know the true end of a thing¾that is, true definition, if a human is for thinking with our logos.

            Keywords: definition, essence, taxonomy, differentia, the ultimate differentia, activity, end




How to Cite

Lee, Minjun. 2023. “How Can We Reach the True Definition of Something? Essence, Definition, and Teleology in Aristole’s Metaphysics”. Dianoia: The Undergraduate Philosophy Journal of Boston College, no. X (April):27-42.