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Universals in
Ancient Philosophy
edited by
Riccardo Chiaradonna
Gabriele Galluzzo

2013 Scuola Normale Superiore Pisa

isbn 978-88-7642-484-7

Table of contents

Riccardo Chiaradonna, Gabriele Galluzzo

Universals before Universals: Some Remarks on Plato

in His Context
Mauro Bonazzi


Platos Conception of the Forms: Some Remarks

Francesco Ademollo


Platos Five Worlds Hypothesis (Ti. 55cd),

Mathematics and Universals
Marwan Rashed


Plato and the One-over-Many Principle

David Sedley


Universals, Particulars and Aristotles Criticism of Platos Forms

Laura M. Castelli
Universals in Aristotles Logical Works
Mauro Mariani


Universals in Aristotles Metaphysics

Gabriele Galluzzo


Epicureans and Stoics on Universals

Ada Bronowski


Alexander, Boethus and the Other Peripatetics: The Theory of

Universals in the Aristotelian Commentators
Riccardo Chiaradonna


One of a Kind: Plotinus and Porphyry on Unique Instantiation

Peter Adamson


Universals, Education, and Philosophical Methodology

in Later Neoplatonism
Michael Griffin


Universals in Ancient Medicine

Riccardo Chiaradonna


Universals in the Greek Church Fathers

Johannes Zachhuber




Index locorum


Index of names


Alexander, Boethus
and the Other Peripatetics:
The Theory of Universals
in the Aristotelian Commentators

1. Dexippus, Simplicius and Peripatetic universals

his is how one must answer the arguments of the associates of Alexander
and Boethus and the other Peripatetics [
] and it is appropriate for those
interpreting the Metaphysics to show that Aristotle gives priority to common
items ( ) even when considering sensible things (Dexipp., In Cat.,
45, 27-31 Busse)1.

hese lines from Dexippus provide signiicant evidence about the

theory of universals developed in the Aristotelian commentary tradition. he passage quoted above has a parallel in Simplicius (Simpl., In
Cat., 82, 22 f. Kalbleisch), who also mentions the common source
that lies behind both his report and that of Dexippus, i.e. Iamblichus
lost Commentary on the Categories (Simpl., In Cat., 82, 10 and 83, 21
Kalbleisch). Unlike what happens elsewhere, however, here Dexippus provides a crucial detail which is missing in Simplicius. Whereas
Simplicius only names Alexander of Aphrodisias, Dexippus provides
a fuller list of Peripatetic opponents which includes Boethus, Alexander and the other Peripatetics2. hus, Dexippus makes an overt connection between Boethus of Sidon (irst century BCE) and Alexander
of Aphrodisias (second-third century CE), the two main Aristotelian

English translations are generally adapted from those published in the series he
Ancient Commentators on Aristotle. See, in particular, de Haas, Fleet 2001; Chase
2003 (for Simplicius Commentary on the Categories); Dillon 1990 (for Dexippus). I
have also made use of the translations in Sharples 2010, pp. 75-89 (Ontology).
It is unclear to me whether in mentioning Boethus Dexippus was drawing from
Iamblichus or whether he added the name of Boethus to those found in his source.
Dexippus does not usually name his predecessors: this may speak in support of the
irst hypothesis. On Dexippus, see now the excellent discussion in Barnes 2009.

300 Riccardo Chiaradonna

commentators in the post-Hellenistic age. Some recent studies have

convincingly shown that Boethus and Alexander developed two diferent and alternative Peripatetic readings of Aristotle, which mirror two
stages in the history of the reception of Aristotles school treatises3. In
this contribution I aim to develop this point and show that Dexippus
criticism sets out Boethus and Alexanders positions misleadingly,
since Dexippus (or his source Iamblichus) conlates the theories of his
opponents without considering their mutual diferences within a common Peripatetic philosophical background4.
It is worth quoting Dexippus passage in full:
SELEUCUS But what could we say to those who dispute this very point,
claiming that in fact universals are not prior in nature to particulars, but
posterior to them?
DEXIPPUS Well, if we were to consider the question carefully, we would
ind that they actually take as agreed what is disputed. For when they say
that the universals are prior in nature to each thing taken individually, but
on the other hand absolutely5 posterior in nature, they are postulating that
particulars are prior also by nature6, and are proceeding invalidly in taking
as a irst principle that very thing that requires demonstration. Such attempts
at proofs [] as the following are also supericial: if the common
item exists, it is necessary that an individual exists also (for individuals are
comprehended in common items), but if an individual exists, it does not always follow that a common item exists, if at least a common item belongs to
many (instances). For it is obvious that a particular can be an individual only

See, irst and foremost, the illuminating discussion in Rashed 2007. Also, see
Chiaradonna, Rashed 2010 and the discussion of Rasheds volume by Kupreeva
Signiicantly, Dexippus simplifying account was shared by such an eminent
scholar as Paul Moraux. See Moraux 1973, p. 156: Fr Boethos und Alexander []
ist das Gemeinsame nichts anderes als ein Produkt der abstrahierenden Fhigkeit des
Geistes, das aus den enzig un allein in der Wirklichkeit vorhandenen Einzeldingen
gewonnen wird; es besitzt nichts von der Selbstndigkeit und von der Prioritt der
platonischen ideellen Wesenheiten (my italics). Recent scholarship on Alexander has
changed this picture radically.
At 45, 17 Busse Dillon reads instead of (MSS), but this seems
unnecessary to me.
(45, 17-18 Busse) and not only with respect to us ( ) as
Dexippus too recognises (see 45, 6 Busse).

301 The Theory of Universals in the Aristotelian Commentators

if a common item is immanent in it and completes its essence, for a particular

human being is also Human Being. And it is also false to say that, when the
common item is removed, the individual is not altogether removed; for if the
being of the common item consists in extending to all the things ranked under
it, the person who removes this immediately removes the whole existence of
the individual7, his is how one must answer the arguments of the associates
of Alexander and Boethus and the other Peripatetics and it is appropriate for
those interpreting the Metaphysics to show that Aristotle gives priority to the
common items [ ] even when considering sensible things (Dexipp.,
In Cat., 45, 12-31 Busse)8.

According to Dexippus, the Peripatetics hold that universals or common items are posterior in nature to particulars, because they are posterior to the extension of the particulars under them. Dexippus (see
Simpl., In Cat., 82, 22-26 Kalbleisch) replies that his opponents simply take it for granted that particulars are prior in nature, but do not
provide any demonstration of this fact. Simplicius parallel discussion
gives further details, since he remarks that Alexander of Aphrodisias
claims without any proof that common items ( ) derive
their being and their essence ( ) from particulars ( , Simpl., In Cat., 82, 24-25 Kalbleisch).
Some lines above, Simplicius sets out this thesis as distinctively Peripatetic (82, 7-8 Kalbleisch): koina do not exist at all independently, but
have their being in particulars (
, ).
he Peripatetic view rejected by Dexippus and Simplicius is not easy
to assess. As a matter of fact, the claim that universals do not exist
by themselves, independently of particulars, but are in particulars and
depend on them for their existence is an ambiguous statement that
can be interpreted in two diferent ways. (a) Universals do not possess
any kind of existence distinct from that of particulars: they are in particulars since nothing exists but particular entities; (b) universals are
entities distinct from particulars, although they are not independent
of particulars and could not exist without particulars. he reading (a)

At 45, 27 Busse I read instead of (MSS). As I see it, the

parallel with Simpl., In Cat., 82, 34-35 Kalbleisch is decisive. For discussion, see Dillon 1990, p. 83 note 34 (who, however, retains ).
: on Dexippus at 45, 30 Busse, see the last
section of this article.

302 Riccardo Chiaradonna

of the Peripatetic thesis is equivalent to an extensional position which

would lead us to equate universals with mere collections of particulars.
he reading (b) is instead equivalent to a moderate kind of realism
according to which universals are entities that can be determined in
themselves and are not identical to collections of particulars; however,
these entities only exist insofar as there is some particular that instantiates them. According to (a), deinitions ultimately refer to the particulars that belong to the extension of a certain predicate. According
to (b), deinitions refer to a feature proper to each particular; such a
feature satisies the intension of the deinitional account and is an entity in some sense of the word9. As I aim to show, the view (a) is that
held by Boethus, whereas the view (b) is that held by Alexander. Furthermore, both (a) and (b) are diferent from (c), Iamblichus strong
realism about universals, according to which universals are universalia
ante rem, i.e. self-subsistent paradigmatic entities that are prior, metaphysically separate and independent with respect to particulars. At
the level of the sensible world Iamblichus and his followers posit immanent common entities (universalia in re), which are lower than the
universalia ante rem and partake in them, but are nevertheless prior to
Ater outlining the Peripatetic view on the priority of particulars,
both Dexippus and Simplicius focus on the arguments (,
Dexipp., In Cat., 45, 19 Busse; , Simpl., In Cat., 82, 26 Kalbleisch) developed by the Peripatetics in support of their theory.
Dexippus and Simplicius (who follow their common source Iamblichus) discard these arguments as unsatisfying (, Dexipp.,
In Cat., 45, 19 Busse; , Simpl., In Cat., 82, 26 Kalbleisch). he
two arguments rejected by Dexippus and Simplicius can be seen as
complementary parts of the same demonstration, since they adopt two
canonical rules of natural priority that were taken to be equivalent by
the commentators:
(1) Fs are prior to Gs if and only if F co-removes but is not co-removed by G;
(2) Fs are prior to Gs if and only if F is co-introduced by but does not
co-introduce G10.

For the distinction between the extensional and the intensional reading, see
Rashed 2007, p. 168 and passim. Also, see Kupreeva 2010, p. 225.
On the rules of natural priority, see Barnes 2003, pp. 248-53.

303 The Theory of Universals in the Aristotelian Commentators

he Peripatetics apply both rules to the relation between particulars

and universals, since (2) individuals are co-introduced by but do not
co-introduce universals and (1) individuals co-remove but are not coremoved by universals. Interestingly, however, these rules of priority
are compatible with both the reading (a) and the reading (b) outlined
above. According to (a), i.e. the extensional reading of the Peripatetic
position, individuals are co-introduced by universals since universals
are nothing but collections of particulars: thus, given a certain collection, the particulars that belong to this collection are also given. Furthermore, particulars co-remove universals, since when all particulars
are removed, their collection is also removed. he opposite does not
hold: one could well consider a species, for instance, with a unique particular member (e.g. the sun and the moon, according to the examples
given in Arist., Met. 15)11. In such cases, the unique member of the
species exists but does not belong to any universal collection: hence
the individual does not co-introduce the universal and the universal
does not co-remove the particular. One may indeed remark that the
collection composed by one single individual is still an entity diferent
from the single individual member that belongs to it. To the best of
my knowledge, however, the ancient commentators do not develop
any argument of this kind. Furthermore, the collection with one single
member would still not be universal in the sense of being composed
by several members12. he two rules of priority are also compatible
with reading (b), i.e. the intensional reading of the Peripatetic position. In this case, individuals are co-introduced by universals, since
universals are deinable entities that exist only insofar as they are instantiated by some individual. When all individuals are removed, the
universal deinable nature is also removed. he opposite does not hold,
as is shown again by the example of a species with one single particular instantiation. he situation, however, is more complicated here.
In fact, one could well consider a deinable entity corresponding to
the sun (the nature sun) which exists only insofar as it is instantiated
by a unique individual. his deinable nature would not be universal,
but would nevertheless be diferent from the unique particular that
instantiates it (the deinable nature would be the same even if it were

See on this Adamson, this volume.

I consciously avoid talking of classes and of their members, but rather adopt
the term collection, which is more neutral and does not suggest any direct parallel
between these ancient views and modern logic.

304 Riccardo Chiaradonna

instantiated by several particulars). As we shall see below, Alexander of

Aphrodisias develops an argument of this kind and treats the deinable
nature (e.g. the genus animal, the species human being or sun) as
something separate from its being universal (see Alex. Aphr., Quaest.
I.11a, 22, 3-6 and I.11b, 23, 26-27 Bruns).
2. Boethus of Sidon: the extensional position
Unfortunately, the commentaries on the Categories by Boethus and
Alexander are lost. he situation is extremely diicult with Boethus
since, unlike what happens with Alexander, none of his works are extant. In order to assess his views, we depend completely on later second
or third-hand accounts furnished by Neoplatonist commentators13. It
is actually very unlikely that Dexippus and Simplicius read Boethus directly. Probably they based their accounts on Iamblichus, who in turn
had relied on Porphyrys lost commentary Ad Gedalium for information about Boethus14. his should indeed recommend prudence. For
example, Martin Tweedale has convincingly shown that Simplicius
sometimes provides a misleading account of Alexanders position: the
same might well be the case with Boethus, but, unlike what happens
with Alexander, we cannot check Dexippus and Simplicius outlines
against Boethus own writings. Furthermore, the testimonia are oten
obscure: for instance, it is very diicult to separate Simplicius report
from his assessment of Boethus position. hat said, we should not
simply give in to desperation, since what we can ind in Dexippus and
Simplicius is enough to draw a suiciently clear and consistent outline
of Boethus position15.

On Boethus, see Moraux 1973, pp. 143-79. More recently, Reinhardt 2007;
Rashed 2007, who provides an in-depth discussion of Boethus in relation to Alexander; Rashed 2013a. Sharples 2008a focuses on Boethus position within the early
reception of Aristotles Categories; on this, see also Chiaradonna 2009b. Several testimonia on Boethus have now been translated and commented upon in Sharples
2010. Griffin forthcoming provides an extensive discussion of Boethus interpretation of the Categories.
It is controversial whether Simplicius read Porphyrys Ad Gedalium directly.
Chase 2003, p. 109 note 194 and passim suggests that Simplicius only relied on Iamblichus.
he recently discovered commentary on Aristotles Categories preserved in the

305 The Theory of Universals in the Aristotelian Commentators

As noted above, Dexippus reference to Boethus and Alexander is

open to diferent interpretations. he most we can say is that the Peripatetic position about the priority of individuals was diferent from
the Neoplatonist realism about universals held by Iamblichus and his
followers. However, two diferent interpretations are possible within
the same Peripatetic philosophical background, i.e. the extensional
and the intensional. Our testimonia on Boethus strongly suggest he
held an extensional view of the universals. First it is worth focusing on
Simpl., In Cat., 78, 4-20 Kalbleisch. Here Simplicius famously expounds Boethus views on sensible substance16. As Simplicius reports,
Boethus compared Aristotles theory of substance in the Categories, according to which ousia is a single category ( [] ), to
the division of substance into form, matter and composite which Aristotle expounds elsewhere ( ). Boethus conclusion is radical
to say the least: while matter and composite substance satisfy the criteria of substantiality established in the Categories, form is in matter as
in something else and is therefore cut of from substance. hus, form
should be seen as belonging to non-substantial categories such as quality, or quantity, or some other. Signiicantly, Boethus comes to this
conclusion by noting that Aristotles deinition of primary substance
( , Simpl., In Cat., 78, 10 Kalbleisch) in
the Categories can only be applied to matter and composite substance,
since the property of not being said of any subject and not being in
any subject belongs to them (In Cat., 78, 11-12 Kalbleisch, see Arist.,
Cat., 5, 2a11-13 and 3a8-9). From these remarks, Boethus infers that
form is outside the category of substance. Boethus, then, equates substance with primary substance without any further qualiication;
apparently, he does not focus on the status of Aristotles secondary
substances (species and genera) that are said of a subject without being in a subject (Cat., 5, 2a37-b2). Hence, he does not consider the
hypothesis according to which form may be substance since it is said
of a subject with respect to matter without being, in consequence of
this, in a subject in relation to matter. Accordingly, if Simplicius parArchimedes palimpsest (probably a section of Porphyrys Ad Gedalium) provides
some crucial new testimonia on Boethus, which lend further support to the present
interpretation. Here I will leave out these passages. For further discussion, see Chiaradonna, Rashed, Sedley 2013.
On this passage, see now Reinhardt 2007; Sharples 2010, pp. 86 f.; Rashed
2013a, who focuses on Boethus notion of quality.

306 Riccardo Chiaradonna

aphrase is trustworthy, Boethus makes a selection within Aristotles

criteria of substantiality in the Categories: he accepts Aristotles stricter
notion of substance (as the particular bearer of properties) and passes
over in silence the reasons that may lead us to regard genera and species as secondary substances.
Indeed, Simplicius second or third-hand paraphrase could well be
inaccurate17. Yet, further testimonia suggest similar conclusions and it
is tempting to infer from the extant evidence that according to Boethus
universals have no reality at all by themselves and are nothing but mere
collections of particulars. Simpl., In Cat., 50, 2-9 Kalbleisch contains
Boethus answer to the aporia according to which individual substances
are in a subject with reference to the place and time in which they are
situated. First Boethus denies that particular substances are in a subject
in relation to a particular place and a particular time: the reason for this
fact is that substances in motion change place and time lows continually. One may say, however, that particulars are in universal time (
, In Cat., 50, 5-6 Kalbleisch). Boethus answers that
he universal does not even exist [ ]18 according to
Aristotle, and if it did exist, it would not be something [ ]; but
Aristotle said in something [ ]. So what is in something cannot be in
what is universal (Simpl., In Cat., 50, 6-9)19.

Again, an opinionated reading of the Categories is detectable in these

lines. In order to counter the view that particulars are in universal time

Signiicantly, Simplicius paraphrase of Boethus is followed immediately by Porphyrys response (p. 78, 20 f. Kalbleisch = Porph. 58F. Smith), which Simplicius read
either directly (if he had access to Porphyrys Ad Gedalium) or via Iamblichus.
he translation of is famously controversial. In what follows I will
variously render this term as reality, existence or real existence. A clear-cut distinction between essence and existence is actually diicult to ind in the Greek commentators (as well as in all ancient philosophers). Neither should we assume that an
extremely common term such as always possesses the technical Stoic meaning of subsistence. See on this Burnyeat 2003, pp. 20 f.
Dexipp., In Cat., 22, 30 f. Busse provides a slightly diferent version of this argument and does not name Boethus. Luna 2001, pp. 279 f. compares the two versions
extensively. She concludes that, their diferences notwithstanding, [l]es lments utiliss dans les deux textes sont donc les mmes; ce qui change, ce sont leur disposition
et leur valeur (Luna 2011, p. 281).

307 The Theory of Universals in the Aristotelian Commentators

as in a subject, Boethus argues that time as a universal cannot in any

way be conceived of as a subject in the relation of being in a subject
( ). From Boethus remark one may legitimately infer that nothing can be related to a universal subject according to the
relation of esse in subiecto, since (i) what is universal has no reality
() and (ii) even if universals had some kind of reality, they
would, in any case, not be something determinate ( ). he
relation between (i) and (ii) is not completely clear to me. I would propose that Boethus aims to separate the status of what is universal from
both the status of substances and that of qualities. Both substances and
qualities are, in fact, real entities, whereas universals are not. However,
he might have added (ii) as sort of ad hominen remark: even if we grant
that universals are real, they cannot however in any way be regarded
as subjects of inherence. His explanation is ultimately based on Cat.,
2, 1a24-25, where Aristotle deines what is in a subject as that which
is in something, not as a part [ ], and
cannot exist separately from what it is in. Apparently, Boethus leaves
out Aristotles remark on the notion of part and develops the idea that
what is in a subject should exist in something ( ). Even if we
grant that what is universal has some kind of existence, it cannot in any
way be taken to be a ; accordingly, nothing can exist in relation
to a universal subject.
he parallel passage from Dexippus commentary (
, Dexipp., In Cat., 22, 32-33 Busse)
suggests that Boethus used as a designation for Aristotles .
In fact, both in the Categories and in the Metaphysics Aristotle denies
that what is universal (secondary substances, according to the jargon
of Aristotles Categories) has the status of a . Rather, Aristotle is
inclined to conceive of universals as quasi-qualitative entities ( ,
Cat., 5, 3b17; , Met., 13, 1039a2). hat said, it is worth noting
that Aristotle does not suggest that universals cannot have the position
of subjects in the relation of being in a subject ( ).
As he argues in Cat., 5, 3a1-6, nothing prevents non-substantial items
from being in a subject with regard to substantial species and genera. Probably Boethus gave full emphasis to Aristotles remarks on the
quasi-qualitative status of universal items and (unlike Aristotle) came
to regard universals as incapable of being subjects in the relation of
As noted above, Simplicius account of Boethus theory of substance
suggests that Boethus simply took the category of substance to be
identical with Aristotles primary substance in the Categories and ruled

308 Riccardo Chiaradonna

out Aristotles secondary substances. In a similar way, Simplicius account of universal time suggests that Boethus used the (genuine Aristotelian) remark that a universal item is not a tode ti in order to argue
that universals have no reality and that even if they did, they could not
in any way be conceived of as subjects of inherence. Further passages
conirm these provisional conclusions. Boethus view about the tode ti
is referred to again in Simpl., In Cat., 104, 27 Kalbleisch (Simplicius
discussion is paralleled in Dexipp., In Cat., 51, 15-22 Busse, but Dexippus account is cursory and Boethus is not named). Simplicius asks
in which respect we shall say that the individual substance is a tode ti:
in respect of the form, the matter or the composite? In his answer, he
explains that the individual can be seen as a tode ti on account of all of
these. He mentions Boethus when he explains why the individual can
be called a tode ti on account of its form: [] in respect of the form,
insofar as it is determinate and one in number, for Boethus too determines unity by means of this20.
he reference is cursory to say the least and Simplicius seems to
mention Boethus view outside of its original context (signiicantly,
Boethus name appears immediately ater a reference to Platos theory
of matter in Ti. 50b: see In Cat., 104, 25 Kalbleisch). hus, Simplicius
discussion in these lines probably cannot be used in order to explain
the sense of Boethus original remark. hat said, we can nevertheless
assume with some certainty that Boethus determined () unity
according to the tode ti. Prudence is necessary, but the parallel with
the passages discussed above suggests that Boethus regarded the tode
ti (i.e. the individual substance) as the only kind of reality provided
with genuine unity, whereas on his account genera and species do not

I follow the translation by de Haas in de Haas, Fleet 2001, p. 48. he Greek text
is and it seems to me necessary to supply before ( <> : this suggestion was already made by Kalbleisch
1907, p. 559; see below, 104, 30-31 Kalbleisch: []
). Sharples translation is diferent and closer to the received text: for Boethus
too deines in this respect [ ] what is one (Sharples 2010, p. 79). As I see it,
however, this interpretation is less convincing, because Simplicius does not focus on
the deinition of what is one, but on the deinition of what can be regarded as a tode
ti. Simplicius irst points out that an individual substance can be seen as a tode ti on
account of its form, since form makes the individual determinate and one in number.
hen, in support of his point, Simplicius mentions Boethus view that being one is the
same as being tode ti.

309 The Theory of Universals in the Aristotelian Commentators

correspond to any determinate entity provided with unity (since, if the

present interpretation is correct, Boethus regarded genera and species
as mere collections of particulars). his is simply an hypothesis, but
it is nevertheless interesting that the cursory reference to Boethus ap.
Simpl., In Cat., 104, 25 Kalbleisch may be read according to the conclusions reached so far.
he same holds for a passage from Syrianus Commentary on the
Metaphysics (In Met., 105, 19 f. Kroll) where he critically discusses
some erroneous interpretations of Platos Ideas. According to Syrianus, Boethus the Peripatetic goes astray as a result of Aristotles
teaching, identifying the Forms with generic items (
, 106, 6-7 Kroll). Syrianus speciies further that
the Stoic Cornutus is not far from this position. he reference is again
cursory and not very perspicuous. In particular, the status of Boethus
genika needs further scrutiny. Syrianus (In Met., 106, 7-13 Kroll) opposes genika and particulars and equates genika and universals. his
passage may plausibly be read in connection to Simplicius discussion
on the universal time ap. Simpl., In Cat., 50, 6-9 Kalbleisch. Presumably, Boethus conlated ideas and universal items in order to criticize
and undermine Platos Ideas. hus, he probably argued that Ideas, as
well as universal items, do not exist. he parallel between Boethus and
the Stoic Cornutus is obviously interesting in this respect21. Signiicantly, according to Syrianus Boethus is led astray by Aristotles teaching: his position is set out as an interpretation of Aristotle and Syrianus
does not point to any direct Stoic inluence on Boethus. It is noteworthy however that Syrianus regards Boethus distinctive reading of Aristotle as convergent with Stoicism. hus, even without postulating a
direct inluence of the Stoic view, we can reasonably assume that Boethus developed an opinionated reading of the Categories in which universal items were conceived of as beret of any existence. Predictably
enough, Boethus position was perceived as close to that of the Stoics.
Here the dossier Boethus and the Stoa cannot be discussed extensively. Certainly Boethus was very well aware of the Stoic theories.
Simplicius (In Cat., 163, 6 Kalbleisch) says that Boethus devoted a
whole book ( )22 to the relative, in which he critically dis-


On universals in Stoicism, see Bronowski, this volume.

Presumably, this book was part of his Commentary on the Categories, whatever its
literary form: see on this Griffin forthcoming.

310 Riccardo Chiaradonna

cussed the Stoic views (see Simpl., In Cat., 167, 22 f. Kalbleisch)23.

Furthermore, some of his views are indeed similar to those of the Stoics: this is the case with his theory of the immanent form as an accident of matter (ap. Simpl., In Cat., 78, 11-20 Kalbleisch), which has
been connected to the Stoic theory of quality24, and with his theory of
the universals, whose ainities with the Stoic theory did not escape
Syrianus. Robert Sharples remarks that Boethus position is closer to
that of the Stoics than to Aristotle25, hese conclusions need some
qualiication, however, since Boethus position can also be seen as a
systematic reading of Aristotle which gives full weight to some aspects
of Aristotles thought and treats other aspects as secondary. Marwan
Rashed has interestingly presented that of Boethus as one among several possible Aristotelianisms. According to Rashed, Boethus develops his systematic Aristotelianism by giving full weight to the ontic
priority of individuals established in the Categories. As a consequence
of this fact, Boethus regards the status of the hylomorphic form as secondary. hus, no speciic Stoic inluence would be necessary to explain
Boethus position, which would only be based on a selection of works
and themes internal to Aristotles corpus. Other Aristotelian commentators in the irst century BCE, such as Andronicus, shared this attitude and their reading of Aristotle was mostly based on the Categories
(as Rashed aptly remarks, their Aristotelianism was Catgories-centrique), whereas works such as the Physics and the Metaphysics played
a minor role. As Rashed takes it, Alexander of Aphrodisias essentialist
reading of Aristotle was a reaction against the reading of his ancient
Rasheds reading sheds new light on the development of the ancient
Aristotelian tradition. Yet I would perhaps qualify his interpretation
with some further remarks. In my view, it is crucial to note that Aristotles Categories do not suice to explain the genesis of Boethus reading of Aristotle27, Boethus rejection of the universals outside substance
goes in fact far beyond Aristotles views on species and genera as secondary substances. Boethus radicalizes the secondary status of genera

See Sharples 2010, pp. 62 f.; Rashed 2013a.

See Reinhardt 2007, pp. 526 f.
Sharples 2010, p. 87.
See Rashed 2007, pp. 1-31 and p. 42; Rashed 2004.
Here I am inclined to disagree with Rashed 2007, p. 42: Bothos et consorts
prennent les Catgories pour seul guide du rel.

311 The Theory of Universals in the Aristotelian Commentators

and species, to the extent that they are conceived of as beret of real
existence. hus, according to Boethus Aristotles substance is simply
identical with the primary substance in the Categories, whereas secondary substances are not substances at all. Probably Boethus does not
even take the status of universal items to be the same as that of nonsubstantial qualities or quantities. Rather, he is likely to be assuming
that universal items simply do not exist as distinct from individuals. As
we shall see below, Alexander follows a diferent path and does his best
to give full emphasis to the substantial status of secondary substances.
Certainly, they are secondary, since they are not independent of individuals and could not exist without any instantiation. Yet in Alexanders view genera and species are not mere collections of particulars,
but deinable natures that exist in particulars. Boethus view about the
unqualiied ontic priority of individual substances may well be read in
connection with the philosophical climate of his time, which was determined by the Hellenistic schools and by Stoicism in particular. I also
suspect that the selection of Aristotles esoteric works among the early
commentators was heavily inluenced by late Hellenistic philosophical
debates (this holds for Aristotles Categories and On the Heaven, the
two star treatises of the early commentators)28. hese remarks are by
no means intended to reject Rasheds systematic reading of Boethus.
In my view, however, it is philosophically very interesting to situate
the genesis of Boethus reading of Aristotle within the philosophical
climate of his time. his may help to explain why the early commentators developed an opinionated reading of Aristotle, which could be
seen (and indeed later was seen) as convergent with Stoicism.
It is worth focusing on two further diicult testimonia from Simplicius. he irst passage is about the theory of speciic diferentia:
Boethus, however, says that the diferentia is properly placed with the species, not with the genus [
, ], because the diferentiae are oten
substituted for the species [ ] (Simpl., In
Cat., 97, 28-30 Kalbleisch)29.

In his discussion, Simplicius irst reports the view of some exegetes

who regard the diferentia as something which by nature separates

See Chiaradonna 2013; Chiaradonna 2011c.

Parallel in Dexipp., In Cat., 46, 1-2, where Boethus is not named.

312 Riccardo Chiaradonna

items under the same genus (In Cat., 97, 25-26 Kalbleisch). his
deinition is an ancient one: it occurs in Porphryrys Isagoge and its
ultimate source is the Topics (Z 3, 140a27-29)30. According to Simplicius, Boethus disagrees, since he claims that the diferentia should
properly be placed with the species, not with the genus. Ater the lines
quoted above, Simplicius makes some further remarks, but it is unclear whether he is still reporting Boethus view or critically discussing it (Simpl., In Cat., 97, 31-34 Kalbleisch)31: for this reason, I will
not consider these lines in the present discussion. Simplicius remark
against Boethus at In Cat., 97, 34-35 Kalbleisch (cf. Dexipp., In Cat.,
48, 6-9 Busse) is however very interesting and can be used as a starting point in order to outline Boethus position. Simplicius says that
the diferentia is diferent from the species (Dexippus remarks that the
diferentia is diferent from the species as the part is diferent from the
whole) and it is a kind of form () of the genus, while the genus is
like a subject ().
It has been suggested that Boethus echoes Met. 12, where Aristotle
identiies the ultimate diferentia with the eidos32. his is not impossible, but I would be prudent about Boethus use of Met. , since Aristotles hylomorphism plays virtually no role in Boethus philosophy. As
I see it, Boethus silence about the genus, and his equation between the
species and the diferentia can well be read as relecting the extensional
interpretation developed so far. If, in fact, we conceive of universals in
an extensional way, i.e. as collections of individuals, any generic entity or nature will simply be suppressed. Accordingly, the genus cannot be like a subject that is determined by the diferentia: this explains
Simplicius critical remark. In Boethus view, the genus simply does
not exist as such (i.e. as a nature determined in an intensional way):
this explains Boethus parallel between the genera and Platos Ideas. If
this is the case, the diferentia must be placed with the species, because
the species is identical with the diferentia. he species cannot in fact
be composed of the genus and the diferentia, since the genus in itself
simply does not exist.
Unfortunately, we do not know how Boethus conceived of the differentia and its ontic status (we do not know, in particular, whether
See. Porph., Isag., 11, 18-19 Busse and the excellent commentary ad loc. in Barnes 2003, p. 197, with further parallels.
See de Haas in de Haas, Fleet 2001, p. 74 note 115.
De Haas in de Haas, Fleet 2001, p. 74 note 114.

313 The Theory of Universals in the Aristotelian Commentators

he regarded diferentiae as tropes, something which would indeed

it very well with the interpretation developed so far); neither do we
know what kind of relation Boethus established between the diferentia and the (in his view non-substantial) hylomorphic form. So, the
present discussion cannot but be partial and speculative. It is however at least possible to propose some hypotheses about Boethus
view, which try to combine the information drawn from the passages
discussed above. According to Boethus, matter and individuals are
the only existing substantial subjects, whereas diferentiae are mere
non-substantial qualities (diferentiae cannot be substantial, since
they cannot be regarded as subjects of inherence). Species are mere
collections of particulars grouped according to their diferentiae and
these diferentiae are somehow equivalent to the non-substantial formal properties inhering in matter mentioned ap. Simpl., In Cat., 78,
19-20 Kalbleisch. hus, diferentiae make it possible to class individuals according to speciic collections. For an individual, belonging to
a species means belonging to a speciic collection on account of the
non-substantial qualities inhering in it. According to this theory, a
genus would be nothing but the sum (or rather the logical product)
of several speciic collections (see also Simpl., In Cat., 58, 29-59.4
Kalbleisch). Boethus overall attitude can aptly be characterized as
nominalist and, as noted above, his position goes beyond what Aristotle says in the Categories. In Met., 12, 1038a5-6 Aristotle famously
provides the following alternative: either the genus absolutely does
not exist apart () from the species, or if it does exist exists
as matter. If Boethus ever considered this text, he must have opted
for the irst horn of the alternative. In his view, the genus has in itself
simply no kind of existence and cannot be seen as the subject of any
possible information of the part of the diferentia.
If general concepts have no real correlate apart from particulars, one
might well wonder just what their status is. Did Boethus regard general concepts as mere mental ictions? Again, all we can do is draw
some hypotheses. Possibly in his discussion about universals Boethus
made use of his semantic view that propositions are about things
( [] ), but their meaning is composed of concepts or
thoughts (, see Simpl., In Cat., 41, 14-19 and 41, 28-42, 2
Kalbleisch), since according to Boethus there are no propositional
objects which can be the meaning of statements. Boethus remarks
are perhaps (and very interestingly) reminiscent of Platos distinction between saying something and saying something about something (Pl., Sph. 262e-263d), and may well be directed against the Stoic

314 Riccardo Chiaradonna

33. hus, we cannot directly refer these remarks to the status of

general concepts. hat said, the diference between being
and being (Simpl., In Cat., 41, 18-19 Kalbleisch) can
plausibly be applied to the meaning of statements such as Socrates
is man or Socrates is animal. Boethus could easily argue that the
predicate in these judgements does not stand for any general entity.
So general terms only mean mental concepts. his, however, does not
entail that species and genera are mere igmenta, since their real correlate is given by the particular members of their extension. According
to this overall view, general terms would have the status of common
names: again, such a theory can aptly be characterized as nominalist.
hese diiculties notwithstanding, the passages discussed above provide a suiciently consistent picture of Boethus position about universals. he same is not the case with Simpl., In Cat., 65, 19-24 Kalbleisch. Here Simplicius focuses on some objections against the alleged
completeness of Aristotles list of categories. Among these objections,
he mentions the one concerning the categorial status of the monad and
the point. Ater mentioning Alexanders solution (the monad and the
point should be placed among the relative), Simplicius says:
If, however, number is twofold one incorporeal, the other corporeal then, as
Boethus too would say the monad will also be twofold: one which is substance,
and is in intelligible number Aristotle also thinks that this one exists and
one which is a relative or quantiied item. Later, however, Boethus says that
perhaps it is better to call it a quantiied item, for as whiteness is to white, so
the dyad is to two. If, therefore, the former are both quantiied, the latter are
also quantiied (Simpl., In Cat., 65, 19-24 Kalbleisch)34.

Paul Moraux had already remarked that this passage is troublesome

to say the least35. Boethus criticism of Platos Ideas and his view about
Boethus was certainly familiar with Platos Sophist: see below. On Boethus criticism of the Stoic lekton, see Rashed 2013a.
, , , ,
, , , (
), .
, . Parallel in Dexipp., In Cat., 33, 23-27 Busse. On these
passages, see the extensive commentary in Luna 2001, pp. 673-96.
See Moraux 1973, p. 155.

315 The Theory of Universals in the Aristotelian Commentators

the unqualiied priority of particulars cannot easily be reconciled with

a theory of ideal numbers such as that which Simplicius seems to attribute to Boethus in these lines. Moraux, however, regards Simplicius
report as trustworthy and suggests that Boethus followed Speusippus
on this issue, since Boethus was certainly interested in Speusippus
and referred to his theory of polyonyms (ap. Simpl., In Cat., 36, 2830 Kalbleisch). Unfortunately, Simplicius words (
, 65, 20 Kalbleisch) do not help to settle the issue and it remains
uncertain whether his paraphrase can be trusted completely or not36.
Here I will propose a tentative explanation of this controversial passage. Simplicius outline of Boethus theory of sensible substance opens
with these words:
(Simpl., In
Cat., 78, 4-5 Kalbleisch). he questions (ztmata) rejected by Boethus are those set out in Simplicius previous pages, where he focuses
on Nicostratus and Plotinus criticisms against substance. To make
a long story short, according to Simplicius Nicostratus and Plotinus
claim that Aristotles theory of substance in the Categories is unsatisfying and incomplete, since Aristotle leaves out intelligible substance
(Simpl., In Cat., 76, 13-17)37. Simplicius account misleadingly lends
the impression that Boethus countered these objections raised by later
exegetes, arguing that their criticism was redundant since Aristotles
discussion of substance in the Categories simply does not focus on the
intelligible ousia. Perhaps Boethus was addressing objections developed by an early anti-Aristotelian exegete and similar to those later
raised by Nicostratus and Plotinus. Perhaps Simplicius (or Iamblichus)
incorporated Boethus in his account in order to counter Nicostratus
and Plotinus later objections. It is also possible that Boethus was reacting to an early Platonizing reading of the Categories: by his remark, he
might be warning that one should not read Platos Ideas into Aristotles ousia. Be that as it may38, Boethus certainly mentioned Aristotles
irst mover in his discussion of and (Simpl., In Cat.,
302, 17 Kalbleisch). Accordingly, if Boethus really claimed that one
should not consider the when interpreting Cat. 5, by this
he did not intend to rule out intelligible beings from the interpretation

See the critical remarks against Moraux in Tarn 1981, p. 745 f. Griffin forthcoming provides a full discussion.
On Plotinus and Nicostratus, see Chiaradonna 2005.
For further discussion, see Chiaradonna 2009b.

316 Riccardo Chiaradonna

of Aristotles Categories, nor suggest that intelligible beings do not exist at all. Rather, he was probably claiming that a discussion about intelligible substances is redundant in the framework of Cat. 5 (whereas
in his view talking of the unmoved mover was certainly not redundant
in the discussion on and ). Accordingly, nothing rules
out the possibility that Boethus might have referred to the theory of
intelligible numbers where he thought this to be relevant to his reading
of Aristotle.
his is all the more likely, since Boethus was possibly reacting against
the Pythagorizing reading of Aristotles Categories developed by Eudorus of Alexandria, a reading which is detectable in Ps.-Archytas
treatise , as well in Philo and Plutarch. Perhaps
Boethus remark about the irrelevance of the sensible substance for
the interpretation of Cat. 5 was originally directed against Eudorus39.
Given such premises, Boethus mention of the intelligible monad is
not really surprising: he might well have referred to this theory when
discussing the views of his rival Platonic-Pythagorean readers of Aristotle (and this could explain why he would seem to ascribe the theory
of intelligible numbers to Aristotle: this would in fact be an allusion
to the exegesis developed by his opponents)40. Morauxs parallel with
Speusippus is plausible too, for the early commentators were certainly
willing to recall and possibly incorporate the views of Plato and the
Ancient Academy. As noted above, Boethus mentions Speusippus
polyonyms and refers to Plato (Simpl., In Cat., 159, 12 f.). Andronicus
mentions Xenocrates when discussing the categorial bi-partition per
se/relative and the theory of the soul41. his attitude is easily justiiable
within the philosophical climate of the irst century BCE, which was
still rather luid and marked by the renaissance of ancient dogmatic
philosophies within a philosophical debate dominated by the Hellenistic schools. Perhaps Boethus and Andronicus appeal to the Academy
was directed against the Stoics. Be that as it may, Boethus mention of
the intelligible monad can plausibly be placed within this picture.
hese remarks, however, still do not answer to the main question

See Chiaradonna 2009b; Griffin forthcoming.

his, however, is not completely sure, since the words
at 65, 21 Kalbleisch might well be a remark by Simplicius. According to Chase
2003, p. 147 note 734 Simplicius reference may be to Aristotles lost On the Good.
Ap. Simpl. In Cat., 63, 22-24 Kalbleisch; Them. In De An., 32, 19-31 Heinze. See
Rashed 2004.

317 The Theory of Universals in the Aristotelian Commentators

raised by the passage quoted above: given Boethus nominalist position about substance and universals, is it plausible that he developed
a Platonizing theory of ideal numbers and that he ascribed this view
to Aristotle? Certainty cannot be attained, and Simplicius passage is
obscure. Actually Simplicius refers to two diferent solutions proposed
by Boethus. According to the irst solution, Boethus distinguished between a substantial monad, which is in the realm of intelligible number,
and a relative or quantiied monad (which should obviously be placed
in the sensible world). According to a second solution set out later,
however, Boethus says that perhaps it is better to call it a quantiied
item, for the dyad is to two as whiteness is to white. Accordingly, if
both whiteness and white are qualiied, then both the dyad and the
two are quantiied. he Greek text at 65, 14 Kalbleisch runs as follows:
. he
subect of einai poson can plausibly be identiied with the monad. If
this is the case, according to Boethus second solution both the monad
and the dyad are quantiied items. hus, given a couple of particulars,
the dyad is the quantity which corresponds to the quantiied predicate
two. his view is not incompatible with those on the status of substances and generic items and does not point to any metaphysics of
ideal numbers.
According to Simplicius, however, Boethus irst solution recognized
the existence of intelligible numbers (among which we should place
the substantial monad). If Simplicius does not misleadingly ascribe
to Boethus the Platonist-Pythagorean view that he aimed to reject
through his second solution (although this may well be the case, as
noted above), then we are forced to admit that Boethus acknowledged
the existence not only of the unmoved mover, but also of ideal numbers. While I would not endorse this reading without some hesitation,
it is crucial to note that even in this case Boethus would not be conceiving of ideal numbers as causal principles, nor taking them to be generic
of universal entities. Rather, essential numbers would have the status
of intelligible individuals, and thus be diferent from Platos Forms
(which Boethus regarded as non-substantial genika).
We ind a similar situation in Alexander (ap. Simpl., In Cat., 82, 7-10
Kalbleisch), who according to Iamblichus/Simplicius claims that
the intelligible and separate form ( ) is
called individual substance ( ). Simplicius explains that
this view is probably characteristic of the Peripatus, since according to
the members of this school common items have no independent existence ( ), but rather only have

318 Riccardo Chiaradonna

their being in individuals. his passage is indeed somewhat surprising

and might suggest that Alexander held some version of Platos theory
of separate forms. his is certainly not the case, however, and Simplicius later explains (In Cat., 90, 21 f. Kalbleisch) that Alexander was
referring to what he took to be a separate form, i.e. the irst mover42.
Possibly Alexander was replying to Nicostratus, who regarded Aristotles discussion in the Categories as partial, since Aristotle leaves out
intelligible substances. Against Nicostratus, Alexander was perhaps
attempting to show that the accounts of substance in Cat. 5 and Met.
are compatible, since Aristotles deinition of primary substance
in the Categories can also be referred to the unmoved mover, which
is not a universal but an individual, and is not in subiecto. If Simplicius paraphrase of Boethus irst solution is trustworthy, the passage
about the intelligible monad could be interpreted along similar lines,
and Boethus view on the monad would in no way be opposed to his
nominalist view of generic items. In fact, whether he really admitted
an intelligible monad or not, nothing suggests that he conceived of it
as a universal.
his hypothesis might suggest further (indeed very speculative)
conclusions. Alexander was probably inclined to equate the status of
mathematical objects and that of universals43. In both cases, he developed an abstractionist view according to which these items are immanent in sensible particulars and our soul is able to separate them
from matter, thus conceiving them in themselves. his view should
carefully be distinguished from that according to which mathematical objects are mere mental constructions. In fact, both universals and
mathematical objects are perfectly real entities that can be determined
objectively. Our soul simply separates them from matter and conceives of in itself what de facto only exists insofar as it is instantiated by
material objects. As noted above, Boethus view on universals is radically diferent from Alexaders abstractionist essentialism and we can
plausibly suppose that Alexander was reacting against his predecessor.
According to Boethus, universals are mere collections of individuals,
they are beret of existence and there is no entity that corresponds to

See on this Guyomarch 2008. On Alexanders approach to Platos forms, see

Lefebvre 2008.
See Mueller 1990, pp. 467-70 with the supplementary remarks in Rashed 2011,
pp. 59-64, who convincingly rejects Muellers mentalistic interpretation of Alexanders abstractionism.

319 The Theory of Universals in the Aristotelian Commentators

(e.g.) the general concept human being and is immanent in particular

human beings. It is at least possible that Boethus regarded human being as a mere mental concept without any direct general real correlate,
whereas the expression human being actually denotes the particular
human beings classed according to their proper qualities. Given such
premises, if Boethus was inclined to conceive of mathematical objects
as real independent entities, he could not have regarded their status
as parallel to that of the genika. Hence, it is not completely unlikely
that he held some (perhaps Speusippean) theory according to which
ideal numbers are individual and intelligible substances. If this is true,
Boethus distinguished real individual and substantial numbers from
those in the sensible world, which are mere quantiied and collective
predicates of particular items. his would explain the relation between
Boethus irst and second solution, without making the two incompatible. If this is the case, Alexanders essentialism was toto caelo opposed
to Boethus ontology, both on the status of universals and on that of
mathematical objects.
To sum up: either Simplicius paraphrase is misleading and Boethus
irst solution does not express Boethus own view, but rather that of his
Pythagorean opponents, or Simplicius paraphrase is correct, and Boethus irst solution provides a realist view about mathematical objects,
which is compatible with Boethus nominalism about universals. he
second solution expresses either Boethus own position (as opposed
to that of the Pythagoreans), or his view about sensible and quantiied
numbers (as opposed to substantial and intelligible numbers).

3. Alexander of Aphrodisias essentialism and his views on universals

his nominalist view on universals is repeatedly criticized by Alexander of Aphrodisias, whose own Peripatetic view is basically equivalent to the intensional position set out above44. Even if Alexander does
not mention Boethus by name in these contexts (indeed, Alexander
rarely mentions the names of his adversaries), it is more than plausible that Boethus was his polemical target. Against Boethus nominalism, Alexander develops a kind of moderate realism about universals,

he literature on Alexanders views on universals is abundant. I would only refer

to Lloyd 1981; Tweedale 1984; Sharples 2005; Rashed 2007, pp. 254-60. Sorabji
2004, pp. 149-56 provides an excellent survey.

320 Riccardo Chiaradonna

which is part of his overall systematic essentialist reading of Aristotles

logic, physics and ontology. Here I will only cursorily recall some aspects of Alexanders position.
Quaestio I.3 probably provides the clearest way to approach all aspects of Alexanders sophisticated realism45. In this short work, Alexander aims to establish what kind of things are those referred to by
deinitions. he Quaestio opens by outlining two opposite theories
that Alexander rejects. According to the irst position (7, 20-24 Bruns),
deinitions refer to particulars. Alexander rejects this view because
particulars are what they are in conjunction with accidents; they are
not always self-identical, but are subject to change; and in addition
to that, particulars are the object of perception rather than deinition.
According to the second position (7, 24-27 Bruns), deinitions refer
to a common entity separated from particulars, an entity that is incorporeal and eternal. Alexander rejects this theory too. His remark
is rather cursory and he simply asks how biped could be something
incorporeal and mortal something eternal. his remark is actually not
very convincing: for instance, one may well conceive of the separate
form biped as an incorporeal entity, which is the principle that explains why the quality biped is present in corporeal things. Signiicantly, Alexander himself regards qualities inhering to sensible particulars as incorporeal (see De An., 18, 5-7 Bruns), since they do not
include matter in their nature even if they exist only in conjunction
with matter46. So his polemical remark against self-subsisting separate
incorporeal forms could in principle also be addressed against his own
views on qualities. However, Alexanders remark can perhaps better
be understood in connection to what he says against the nominalist
position in the immediately preceding lines. According to Alexander,
deinitions should refer to stable objects that only reason can grasp
adequately. his prevents deinitions from referring to particulars that
exist in conjunction with accidents and are beret of stability. hat said,
one should not assume that there are deinable entities independent
of particulars: such entities would in fact be beret of any connection
with particulars. His remark about the status of biped and mortal
can be read as an emphatic statement of this point. Deinitions must in
some way be connected to sensible particulars: using notions such as
that of biped or mortal in order to refer to entities separate from and

See now the commentated translation of this work in Rashed 2007, pp. 257 f.
See on this Kupreeva 2003.

321 The Theory of Universals in the Aristotelian Commentators

independent of particular biped and mortal living beings would make

little (if any) sense.
his issue comes up at 7, 27-28 Bruns, where Alexander says that
deinitions refer to (a) common entities that exist in particulars, or
(vel) (b) to those particulars insofar as they are determined by the common entities that are present in them (
, ). In his
view, (a) and (b) are not mutually exclusive hypotheses, but diferent
ways of expressing the same fact. We can now clearly understand why
Alexander rejects both the nominalist and the realist Platonic positions. Since deinitions refer to entities that are common and diferent from particulars, the nominalist view must be rejected. Particulars,
however, cannot merely be cut of from the object of deinition: if this
were the case, we could well deine the universal Human Being, but
this deinition could in no way be applied to particular human beings.
Alexander takes a sort of middle path between Boethus nominalism
and a kind of Platonic realism47.
According to Alexander, the fact that several individuals are such
and such is grounded on another more primitive fact, i.e. the existence
of a common entity according to which (cf. , 7, 28 Bruns) those
particulars are such and such. As far as we can judge from the extant
evidence, Boethus held a very diferent view and regarded the fact that
several particulars are such and such (in his jargon: that several particulars have certain diferences) as primitive: this primitive fact does
not require any further explanation. Alexanders objection, however,
points to an interesting problem. A radically anti-essentialistic view
should address the issue of how to establish a suicient criterion in
order to select those aspects of particular beings which make it possible to rank them under the same species. In other words, a philosophical position that suppresses the existence of generic or speciic essences should nonetheless somehow account for our classiications of
the natural world. Indeed, one may well argue that natural species are
nothing but pragmatic arbitrary classiications with no ontic import.
Alexander, however, would probably have regarded this conclusion as
simply nonsensical (and all ancient non-sceptic philosophers would
share such an attitude).
his explains Alexanders remark at 7, 21-22 Bruns that particulars

As Rashed 2007, p. 259 aptly remarks, [l]es Aristotliciens ne doivent pas combattre le platonisme en sombrant dans le nominalisme.

322 Riccardo Chiaradonna

are such and such () in conjunction with accidents. In his view,

a deinition entails that we select its object and isolate it from the other
features which inhere to particulars. Alexander, therefore, demands a
suicient criterion for establishing this selection and his essentialism
actually provides an answer to the problem (indeed, an answer that
could easily be criticized as circular), whereas Boethus radical antirealist position is much more problematic from this perspective. Signiicantly, Simplicius reports that Porphyry raised a similar objection:
according to Porphyry, Boethus envisaged enmattered form (what
Aristotle himself conceived of as substance) as nothing but a quality
or some other among the accidents (ap. In Cat., 78, 21-22 Kalbleisch
= 58F. Smith). hus, he was not able to isolate essential features from
qualitative aspects in the structure of sensible particulars. Porphyrys
objections against Boethus recall Alexanders views and it is more than
likely that Porphyry based his criticism on previous objections raised
by Alexander48. his is not enough to demonstrate beyond all doubt
that Boethus is polemically targeted at the beginning of Alexanders
Quaestio I.3 (although this is a plausible hypothesis); be that as it may,
the philosophical parallel between Boethus position and Alexanders
nominalist polemical target remains interesting.
In the remaining part of the Quaestio, Alexander focuses on the ontic
status of immanent deinable entities. As he explains at 7, 32 f. Bruns,
the deinition rational mortal animal49 can be taken in conjunction
with the material circumstances and diferences accompanying its
concrete existence: in this case, the deinable entity produces (, 8,
2) Socrates, Callias and all other individuals. herefore, we should not
suppose that particular beings and their deinable natures are mutually
separated. Each deinable nature (e.g. human being) only exists insofar as it is instantiated by the particular material beings determined by
it. If all particulars were suppressed, the deinable nature would be suppressed with them (see also Quaest. I.11b, 24, 11-15 and 19-22 Bruns).
his, however, does not entail that particular beings are all that exists.
Indeed, objects of deinition are immanent to particulars and exist in
actuality only insofar as they determine particular beings. hat said, it
is crucial to regard each object of deinition as an entity irreducible to
particulars, an entity that we can grasp through our mind in isolation

See Chiaradonna, Rashed 2010, pp. 272 f.

Here Alexander calls deinition the deinable nature which is the real correlate
of the deinition.

323 The Theory of Universals in the Aristotelian Commentators

from the particulars which it is in. When grasped by our mind, the
object of deinition becomes common ( , 8, 3-4 Bruns).
his is a key aspect of Alexanders abstractionist realism, according to
which deinitions refer to real natures that exist in individuals. hese
are natures that are not universal as such, but only insofar as our soul
isolates them from matter and conceives of them by themselves (see
De An., 85, 14-20 Bruns).
If we come back to the parallel between Boethus and Alexander established by Dexippus, we can easily see how Alexanders essentialist thesis about the ontic priority of individuals toto caelo difers from
Boethus extensional theory. According to Alexander, what is common
is a nature that is deinable and irreducible to particulars, a nature that
exists in each particular as a whole, the same in all (8, 9-10 Bruns).
Alexander conceives of both the speciic (human being: see. Quaest.
I.3) and the generic (animal: see Quaest. I.11 a and b) deinable natures
in this way50. In both cases, he aims to rule out all possible extensional
conclusions in the theory of universals. hus, universals are connected
to formal natures that are deinable in themselves and are the proper
object of rational knowledge. Alexanders famous and controversial
thesis according to which what we call a universal is an accident of a
given thing (, Quaest. I.11a, 22, 3-6; I.11b, 23, 26-27; see I.3,
8, 12-13 Bruns) is part of this theory. As noted by M. Tweedale, the
thing which the universal is an accident of should not be equated
with a particular being, but with a deinable nature (animal or human
being)51. Alexanders terminology is not completely consistent, but a
general theory is clearly at work in his writings. Formal natures can be
determined and deined by themselves and are not necessarily universal as such. If, for example, there were only one human being, his deinable nature would not be universal (at least de facto), since it would be
instantiated by only one particular being. Nonetheless, it would equally
be possible to isolate the deinable nature human being from the unique
human being determined by this nature (Quaest. I.3, 8, 13-16 Bruns).
Hence it is an accident that the deinable nature is universal, while it

Here I ignore Alexanders sophisticated and somewhat ambivalent ontology of

the genus: see Rashed 2007, pp. 94-104. I only focus on what Rashed would call la
teneur formelle of the genus.
See Tweedale 1984. Alexanders view that what is universal is an accident of the
deinable nature should not be conlated with the view that existence is an accident of
the deinable nature: see Chiaradonna, Rashed 2010, p. 288.

324 Riccardo Chiaradonna

not accidental that this nature is intensionally determined as it is. As

reported by Simpl., In Cat., 85, 13-14 Kalbleisch, Alexander applied
this line of argument to some canonical examples of species instantiated by only one particular, such as the sun, the moon and the cosmos52.
As noted above, at the beginning of Quaestio I.3 Alexander raises
a quasi-Platonist criticism against the nominalist position: deinitions
cannot refer to particulars, since particulars change and deinitions
should refer to permanent objects. he concluding part of this short
work explains how Alexander regards deinable natures as permanent
objects without conceiving of them as separate quasi-Platonic forms.
As he notes, common natures are incorruptible in virtue of the eternity by succession ( , 8, 23 Bruns) of the
particulars in which they exist. hus, the logico-epistemological realist analysis of deinable natures is ultimately grounded in the Peripatetic hylomorphic analysis of generation. As noted by Marwan Rashed,
the hylomorphic form provides objective content for the species and
makes it diferent from any arbitrary classiication53. he close connection between universality, the eternity of the species and hylomorphic
form emerges in Alexanders On Providence (87, 5-91, 4 Ruland)54. Here
Alexander relies on Aristotles GC 10 and explains that the eternal
and universal species is the primary object of providence. Eternity and
universality come to be taken as equivalent characters. As Rashed remarks, the eidos is unique in the chain of generation: its continual and
eternal realization directly entails that it is universal55.
A succinct comparison between Boethus and Alexanders views may
help to summarize our conclusions. According to Boethus, universals
are mere collections of individuals, whereas according to Alexander
universals are deinable entities that happen to be universals insofar
as they are instantiated by several particulars. As far as we can judge,
according to Boethus deinitions are simply based on the primitive fact
that particulars are such and such, whereas according to Alexander
the actual structure of sensible particulars depends on immanent deinable natures. Boethus general view makes it very diicult to isolate
those essential aspects that allow us to rank several particulars under

Tweedale 1984, p. 293 shows that Simplicius does not understand Alexanders
point correctly.
See Rashed 2007, pp. 253 f.
his text is preserved in Arab. Translation in Rashed 2007, p. 253.
See Rashed 2007, p. 255.

325 The Theory of Universals in the Aristotelian Commentators

the same species. Alexanders position is instead completely grounded on a clear-cut distinction between essence and accidents. Finally,
Boethus ascribes unqualiied priority to the notion of substance as subject, thus relegating the status of enmattered forms outside substance.
Alexander, instead, accords unqualiied ontic priority to the essential
form and the theory of eidos can be seen as the philosophical focus of
Alexanders reading of Aristotle.
4. he Neoplatonic criticism and the levelling of the diferent Aristotelianisms
If the present discussion is correct, Dexippus certainly simpliies
Boethus and Alexanders views when he presents them as identical.
he parallel established by Dexippus, however, can easily be appreciated from the perspective of the post-Iamblichean Neoplatonist theory
of universals. Some preliminary remarks are necessary. Alexanders
essentialist reading of Aristotle paved the way for the later incorporation of Aristotles ontology within Neoplatonism. On the one hand,
Plotinus critical discussion of Aristotle is largely shaped by Alexander. Much work has still to be done on these issues, but Alexander can
safely be regarded as a ilter through which Plotinus understands Aristotles philosophy and criticizes some of Aristotles principal theories
(in particular his hylomorphic account of nature). On the other hand,
Porphyrys harmonizing of Plato and Aristotle is heavily inluenced by
Alexanders essentialist reading, which Porphyry incorporates into his
overall Platonist account of reality. his clearly emerges from the theory of the hylomorphic form and that of universals. Porphyry seems
to follow Alexander closely and takes a somewhat simpliied version
of Alexanders essentialism as a valid account of physical reality, with
the fundamental proviso that this account should be placed within a
broader Platonist view, which includes real intelligible principles too.
Porphyrys general programme of harmonizing Plato and Aristotle is
basically followed by all later Neoplatonists, but signiicant diferences
and nuances are to be found between one philosopher and another
within this general framework. Iamblichus (the source of the passages
from Dexippus and Simplicius discussed in this contribution) systematically develops what might aptly be called a throughout Neoplatonisation of Aristotle. Simplicius (see In Cat., 2, 9-14 Kalbleisch) says
that Iamblichus followed Porphyry closely, but, unlike Porphyry, applied his intellective theory ( ) everywhere. his expres-

326 Riccardo Chiaradonna

sion refers to the metaphysical account of intelligible beings which had

a key position in Iamblichus exegesis. In addition to that, Iamblichus
took Aristotles Categories to be inspired by Archytas Pythagorean
teaching. As far as we can judge, this attitude was signiicantly diferent
from that of Porphyry, who extensively followed the Peripatetic views
of Alexander. For example, Iamblichus interpreted Aristotles theory
of substantial predication from the perspective of the Neoplatonist
theory of derivation. Accordingly, he regarded substantial predication
as the logical expression of the metaphysical relation in virtue of which
physical realities partake in the separate ante rem forms (ap. Simpl., In
Cat., 52, 9-18 Kalbleisch). Iamblichus pushed his reading of Aristotle
along Platonic/Pythagorean lines so far that (as David/Elias, In Cat.,
123, 2-3 Busse reports) he did not refrain from assuming that Aristotle
was not opposed to Plato on the theory of Ideas56.
he Iamblichean background is crucial to understanding Dexippus
and Simplicius accounts of the Peripatetics, for the diference between
the extensional and the intensional readings of Aristotle becomes minimal or irrelevant from the perspective of Iamblichus extreme Platonist realism. Dexippus sequence of questions (In Cat., 44, 31 f. Busse =
Simpl., In Cat., 82, 1 f. Kalbleisch) clearly reveals the overall scope of
his discussion. a) Why does Aristotle call the sensible substance primary in the Categories, whereas elsewhere the sensible substance is
ranked second ater the incorporeal (Dexipp., In Cat., 44, 30-31 Busse
= Simpl., In Cat., 82, 1-2 Kalbleisch)? b) Why is it that in the Physics
Aristotle ranks common items as primary, whereas in the Categories
he ranks particulars irst (Dexipp., In Cat., 45, 3-4 Busse = Simpl., In
Cat., 82, 14-15 Kalbleisch)? c) What could one reply to those who
dispute this very point and claim that in fact universals are not prior in
nature to particulars, but posterior to them (Dexipp., In Cat., 45, 12-14
Busse = Simpl., In Cat., 82, 22-23 Kalbleisch)? Dexippus provides the
following answers (the parallel with Simplicius is extremely close and
it is virtually certain that both were paraphrasing Iamblichus). a1) In
the Categories Aristotle calls the sensible substance primary because
sensible realities are called substances in common parlance: here Aristotles purpose is not to speak about incorporeal substances. b1) Unlike what happens in the Categories, in the Physics Aristotle follows the

In these paragraphs I summarise what I have tried to show in a number of recent

contributions. See esp. Chiaradonna, Rashed 2010, pp. 268 f. (on Plotinus and Alexander); Chiaradonna 2007c (on Porphyry and Iamblichus).

327 The Theory of Universals in the Aristotelian Commentators

natural order of things and not their order in relation to us. According to the natural order, one will give prior ranking to simple entities,
causes, things which have their being in themselves, universal, immaterial entities, indivisibles and such like ( , ,
, , ,
, Dexipp., In Cat., 45, 8-10 Busse = Simpl., In Cat.,
82, 19-20 Kalbleisch). c1) To those who regard individuals as prior in
nature, we should reply that Aristotle takes common items as prior in
his theory of sensibles as well (Dexipp., In Cat., 45, 29-31 Busse). hus,
Dexippus and Simplicius read their Neoplatonist theory of universal
and intelligible beings into Aristotle and argue that this view is set out
in the Physics57. Furthermore, they claim that universals are prior in
the account of sensible beings as well: accordingly, Dexippus and Simplicius conlate universals and immanent essential natures completely.
According to this view, the reality of an immanent nature is not
grounded in its instantiation. Rather, immanent natures exist because
they derive from separate universals and partake in them (see Iamblichus ap. Simpl., In Cat., 52, 9-18 Kalbleisch). his view is toto caelo diferent from both Boethus extensional reading of Aristotle and
Alexanders intensional one, since in both of them the metaphysical
notion of participation plays no role at all. According to the Neoplatonist metaphysics of participation (which Iamblichus and his followers read into Aristotle), we cannot in any way regard particulars as
primary according to the canonical rules of priority. In fact, Dexippus takes immanent common items to be primary because they complete the essence of particulars:
(Dexipp., In Cat., 45, 22-24 Busse). he being of the common item
will exted to all the things ranked under it (
, Dexipp., In Cat., 45,
26 Busse). hus, if the common item is removed, the whole existence
of the individual is removed as well. It is along these lines, according
to Dexippus, that one must reply to the arguments of the associates of
Alexander, Boethus and the other Peripatetics (
, Dexipp., In Cat., 45, 28
Busse). Aristotles Metaphysics is crucial for any attempt to reject the
According to Dillon 1990, p. 82 note 32 Dexippus refers to Arist., Ph., 1,
184a23; A 7, 189b31 and 1, 200b24. De Haas in de Haas, Fleet 2001, p. 70 note
44 points out the parallel with Simpl., In Ph., 14, 30-20, 27; 208, 27-32 Diels. See now
Menn 2010.

328 Riccardo Chiaradonna

Peripatetic theory of immanent universals: in interpreting this work

one can show (pace Alexander and Boethus) that Aristotle gives priority to common items ( ) even when considering sensible things
( , Dexipp., In Cat., 45, 29-31 Busse).
Dexippus at 45, 30 Busse raises some problems. Why should one
reject Boethus and Alexanders views by showing the priority of common items even when considering sensible things? Two hypotheses
are possible. According to the irst, Dexippus refers to the theses
held by the Peripatetic commentators. Accordingly, Dexippus would
be suggesting that Boethus and Alexander recognized the priority of
common items in relation to intelligible beings, but not sensible ones.
Against their view, Dexippus wishes to show that Aristotle gives prior
ranking to common items even when considering sensible beings. his
hypothesis is ingenious, but remains unlikely in my view58. Dexippus
allusion would be exceedingly cryptic. Furthermore, Boethus and Alexander recognized the existence of intelligible substances but, as noted
above, they certainly did not regard such substances as universal. Instead, Alexander overtly regards his separate form (i.e. the irst mover)
as a kind of individual substance (ap. Simpl., In Cat., 82, 6-7 and 90,
31-32 Kalbleisch). As I see it, Dexippus can easily be explained in
relation to what Dexippus says above, i.e. in his discussion of the immediately preceding questions. here he argues that Aristotle regarded
universals as primary in nature when considering intelligible beings.
According to Dexippus, this view can be found in the Physics. What
about sensible things? According to the Peripatetic commentators, Aristotle conceived of sensible particulars as primary. his, however, is
not the case according to Dexippus, and the Metaphysics shows that
Aristotle regarded common items as primary even when considering
sensible beings (and not only when considering intelligible beings, as
Dexippus argues in the previous lines). hus, I take the at 45, 30
Busse to refer to Dexippus Neoplatonist philosophical agenda, which
reads a hyper-realist theory of universals into Aristotle, with regard to
both universalia ante rem (see Dexipp., In Cat., 45, 9-10 Busse) and
universalia in re (see Dexipp., In Cat., 45, 22-24, 25-27 Busse).
Riccardo Chiaradonna

A detailed defence of this hypothesis can be found in Griffin forthcoming. Grifins account of Boethus is astute and difers signiicantly from that of the present


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