Monday, 26 March 2007

Polisemy: a warning by Aristotle

"It is useful to have examined the number of meanings of a term both for clearness’ sake (for a man is more likely to know what it is he asserts, if it has been made clear to him how many meanings it may have), and also with a view to ensuring that our reasonings shall be in accordance with the actual facts and not addressed merely to the term used. For as long as it is not clear in how many senses a term is used, it is possible that the answerer and the questioner are not directing their minds upon the same thing: whereas when once it has been made clear how many meanings there are, and also upon which of them the former directs his mind when he makes his assertion, the questioner would then look ridiculous if he failed to address his argument to this". Topics, Book I, translated by Pickard-Cambridge, W.A. 2004, eBooks@Adelaide