Saturday, June 23, 2007

Aristotle's Ten Categories

Write in the concrete, not in the abstract. This is the overarching theme in my Creative Writing class with multiple Palanca winner Don Pagusara. Hence, the recent exercises in metaphor (of which you should probably expect more.) We are not to write, for example, "sadness" but instead "one bird singing terribly afar in the lost lands" (after e.e. cummings).

This lesson brought back some old lessons in metaphysics. Aristotle wrote in Categories about the different ways of being. The categories seem to be a suitable test for concreteness of concept. While I have not exhaustively tested for completeness, it might do for a rough guide.

Aristotle's Ten Categories are:

  • SUBSTANCE, what an object is, e.g., a human or a horse

  • QUANTITY, its measure, e.g., one, two, many, or few

  • QUALITY, the disposition of the subject, e.g., white, smooth

  • RELATION, as a comparison to another,e.g., double, half, larger

  • HABIT, what the subject has (habet), e.g., has shoes

  • POINT OF TIME, when the subject is, e.g., yesterday, in the year before

  • PLACE, where the subject is, e.g., in the market, in school

  • ORIENTATION, its position in space, e.g., lying, sitting

  • ACTION, what the subject is doing, e.g., cutting, burning, crying

  • PASSION, what is is being done to the subject, e.g., is being cut, or is being burned

  • We can't really apply these categories to abstract concepts -- but we can to concrete things. That's what makes it a good test to measure for concreteness and specificity.

    Take, for example, the word "kiss." Is "kiss" an abstract or concrete concept?


    1. hello! i've really enjoyed reading about all your mountain biking... i'm in davao for a couple of months and was wondering if you know anywhere I could rent a bike for a weekend? and maybe you could recommend a trail or two?? i'd really appreciate it. thanks (lisasaldanha(at)

    2. Habit is not one of the categories; a quality, according to Aristotle, can either be habitual or disposed. I think the one you are missing is 'State'