JONATHAN DOLHENTY, PH.D.
Direct Universals: Categories
An idea which expresses the essence or nature of a thing as the thing is in itself, without relation to other things or ideas, is called a direct universal.
A direct universal considers and manifests only the comprehension and the intellect pays no attention to the extension of the idea or how the comprehension of the idea applies to the individuals of the extension.
A direct universal expresses the essence or nature of an object as it is found directly and immediately in the real order of objects existing all around us. The extension of the idea is not considered; the application of the universal to the individuals and the class is ignored.
There are different types of direct universals and various philosophers have designed different ways of organizing them into divisions. For our purposes, we will use a classification designed by Aristotle, who considered his categories to be the supreme and ultimate classes of predicates as found in our judgments and sentences. These predicates are direct universals and the categories are the supreme and ultimate classes of direct universals.
The categories determined by Aristotle are ten in number and it’s easy to see, once each one is considered, why his system of categories appeals to common sense critically examined. These categories are very practical and very serviceable. Each one will be explained.
The first category is Substance. We’ve used this word before so it should be familiar. A substance is a being existing in and for itself. It doesn’t need a subject in which to exist. A human being, a dog, a stone, a tree, a house are examples of substances. Each can exist in itself and for itself. If you ask the following question, the answer will express the substance: Who or what is this object?
The second category is Quantity. Quantity refers to the extension or number of an object. Weight and size are examples. “My dog stands two feet high.” “This stone weighs twenty pounds.” If you ask the following question, the answer will express the quantity: How much or how big?
The third category is Quality. Quality refers to a determining attribute in a thing. For example: strength, color, intelligence, temperature, and so on. “This dog is black.” “That woman is really intelligent.” “This stone is hard.” If you ask the following question, the answer will express the quality: What sort of thing is it?
The fourth category is Relation. Relation is the reference or bearing of one thing to another. For example: maternity, equality, similarity. “She is a mother.” “Sally is older.” “Jane is a teacher.” “Peter’s hair is similar to John’s hair.” If you ask the following question, the answer will express a relation: To what or to whom does it refer?
The fifth category is Action. Action is the production of an effect in another. For example: drawing, making, driving, pounding, eating. “The dog is chewing a bone.” “Sally is drawing a picture.” “John is driving his father’s truck.” “Peter broke his leg.” If you ask the following question, the answer will express action: What does it do to another?
The sixth category is Reaction. Reaction is the reception of an effect from another. Examples would include: being murdered, being lifted, being entrapped, being thrown, being heated. “The box is dropped.” “John’s fingers are burned.” “Sally is hurled forward.” “The boy is hit.” If you ask the following question, the answer will express a reaction: What is done to it?
The seventh category is When. When refers to a situation in time. Today, sometime, a decade ago, and now are examples. “Peter went there last year.” “Jane is going now.” “The package will arrive at noon.” If you ask the following question, the answer will express when: At what point of time?
The eighth category is Where. Where refers to a position in space. Examples of this are: on the table, in the box, below the top shelf, at school, up the river. “Sally is downtown.” “The car is in the carport.” “The book is on the desk.” If you ask the following question, the answer will express where: Where is it?
The ninth category is Posture. Posture refers to disposition or attitude, immanent action expressed by an intransitive verb. Upright, standing, lying down, sideways, kiddy-corner are examples. “The house is leaning to the right.” “Peter is running.” “Sally is resting on the couch.” If you ask the following question, the answer will express posture: In what attitude?
The tenth category is Habitus. Habitus is the outward modification of one substance by another, as expressed by the reflexive verb. Examples include: armed, clothed, being one’s self, praising one’s self. “John wears a blue coat.” “The girl is disgusted with herself.” “Jane has a yellow hat on her head.” If you ask the following question, the answer will express habitus: How surrounded, how equipped, how conditioned?
Always look to the primary meaning expressed in the idea in order to place an idea into its proper category. For example, “student” and “child” belong to the category of relation even though they are substances. “Student” is related to “teacher” and “child” is related to “parent.” These reflect the primary meanings expressed in the ideas.
Many ideas can be placed in a category only indirectly or reductively. For example, parts go into the category to which the whole belongs. “Arm” is a part of “body” and belongs in the category of substance. “Branch” is a part of a “tree” or “plant” and belongs in the category of substance.
Dr. Jonathan Dolhenty was the Founder and President of The Center for Applied Philosophy and the Radical Academy, and is Honorary Philosophy Editor at The Moral Liberal. The Moral Liberal has adopted these projects beginning with a republishing and preserving of all of Dr. Dolhenty’s work.
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