De interpretatione

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The beginning of De interpretatione in Boethius' Latin translation . Manuscript Rome, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Vaticanus Palatinus lat. 988, fol. 21v (late 13th century)

Doctrine of the sentence ( ancient Greek Περὶ ἑρμηνείας perí hermēneías , Latin De interpretatione ) is the title of a work by the philosopher Aristotle . It is one of his six logical writings, which are collectively referred to as Organon .

The central theme of the script is logical statements . The Organon is structured according to the principle “from part to whole”: The first book deals with the concepts (terms), the second with that which is built up from concepts, namely the logical statements and the logical relationships between them; the rest of the books deal with the next larger units, which in turn consist of statements, namely the logical conclusions .


Preparatory explanations of terms (1st to 4th chapters)

Epistemological requirements (1st chapter)

At the beginning, Aristotle makes some basic epistemological assumptions. Accordingly there are things ( on , another translation would be: objects). There are images of these things in our souls ( psyche ), which Aristotle calls ideas ( pathematon ). A sound ( phone , here also translatable as “word”) is a sign ( symbola ) for such an idea. And something written ( graphomena ) is in turn a sign for sounds.

So there are: things, ideas in our souls, sounds (or: words, spoken words; these are the subject of further investigation) and written things.

Words connected to statements (1st chapter)

Aristotle now goes into greater detail on the sounds or words. A word like “human” or “white” that is pronounced without connection ( synthesin ) and separation ( diairesin ) is neither true nor false. Only words such as “man is white” uttered in connection or separation are either true or false. These words pronounced in conjunction are called logical statements .

The noun (chapter 2)

In the first chapter, Aristotle explains what he (the term "sound" or "word" phone ) thinks and has also within the words of the nouns ( onomata even onoma ) from the time words ( remata ) distinguished.

He now defines the noun as a "sound that conventionally means something without including a time and without any part of it having a meaning for itself". With “conventional” Aristotle wants to point out that the linguistic signs refer to their meaning according to a human agreement and not due to a natural context (as spots “mean” measles). The clause “without including a time” is intended to separate nouns from verbs. With the addition “without a part of it having a meaning for itself”, Aristotle probably wants to distinguish nouns from larger linguistic units such as sentences, the meaning of which is composed of the meaning of their components. In contrast, the word “mouse” contains the word “off” only as a sound, not as a meaning component.

The verb (3rd chapter)

A verb is defined here by Aristotle as a " word that also indicates the time, the parts of which never mean anything for themselves and which always gives something to understand that applies to another. " Aristotle explains that verbs "show the time" as follows: In contrast to the noun "health", the verb "is healthy" expresses that health exists in the present. What the verb expresses, however, applies “ from another ”, namely from the subject who is healthy.

The (coherent) speech (Chapter 4)

According to Aristotle, speech is “ a sound which conventionally indicates something and from which a single part indicates something separately ”. For example, in the sentence “Socrates runs” the parts “Socrates” and “runs” each have a meaning that adds to the meaning of the whole. A subject is not assigned or denied a predicate for every speech, ie not every speech is true or false. A counterexample is the request. In the following, however, Aristotle wants to restrict himself to a discussion of truthful speech, the statement, since the other types of speech belong to the realm of poetics and rhetoric .

The statement (5th to 9th chapter)

Definition of the statement (5th chapter)

Here Aristotle explains a statement as a " sound designed to indicate the existence or non-existence of a thing with differentiation of the times ". Every statement contains a verb and thus also a time specification. The verb assigns or denies something to a subject, that is, indicates whether there is or is not in existence. A speech itself can be composed of several simple statements.

Affirmation and Denial (Chapter 6)

According to Aristotle, “ affirmation ” is “ a statement that says something to you ”, “ denial ” is analogously one that “ denies you something ”. Affirmation and negation are contradicting each other , provided none of the terms involved are used homonymously . For example, the statements “Socrates is a fox” and “Socrates is not a fox” are not opposing because in the first statement “fox” is used in the figurative meaning “clever person”.

Chapter 7: General and Individual (Chapter 7)

Aristotle differentiates here between a " general " such as "man", which is " naturally predicated of several things ", and an " individual ", for example "Socrates", which " cannot be predicated of several things ". From something general, a general statement can now be made, as in “Everyone is just”, namely here a general statement is made from the general term “human” by means of the quantifier “everyone”. A general statement is the statement that the relationship does not apply in general, contradicting itself, for example the statement "Every person is just" the statement "Not every person is just". Exactly one of these statements must be true. The affirmation of the general and its denial, on the other hand, are merely contrary to how in "Every person is just" vs. "No one is fair". Both can be false, but not both true. If you negate the last two statements, you get statements that can be true together but not false together: “Not everyone is just” “At least one person is just”. Such statements were later referred to as "subcontracting".

Chapter 8: Homonymy (Chapter 8)

Aristotle points out that with homonymous terms, affirmation and negation are also ambiguous. If you were to denote both "horse" and "human" with the word "coat", the statement "The coat is white" would not be a simple, but actually a complex statement, namely the statement "The Man is white and the horse is white ".

Chapter 9: Statements about the future (Chapter 9)

Chapter 9 is that of the later philosophy of the "doctrine of the proposition" most respected. Here, on the one hand, the logical problematic of the so-called " proposition of the excluded third party " is touched upon, on the other hand, the natural philosophical questions of determinism and time are addressed. According to Aristotle, statements about the future are neither true nor false, so the principle of the excluded third party does not apply to them. Aristotle argues here as follows: " If, however, it was always true to say that something ... will be, it is not possible that such ... will not be. But it is impossible that it will not, So everything that will happen in the future will be necessary ... "So if one assumes that statements about the future are true before they occur, Aristotle says that the future is already determined before it occurs is. But this consequence is unacceptable, " because we see that some of the future has its reason for thinking about something and doing something ... ". In contrast to statements about the past and the present, statements about the future " do not necessarily have to be one true and the other false of every opposite affirmation and negation ".

The example of the naval battle chosen by Aristotle is famous. If a sea battle is going to take place tomorrow, the statement that it will take place tomorrow is already true now; if it does not take place, this applies to the statement "The sea battle will not take place". Since only these two possibilities exist, one of the two statements must already correspond to the truth and the opposite does not. But if this is the case, there is nothing we can do that would do the opposite of what is already true. Since this applies to every future event, this should result in a strict determinism . However, Aristotle rejects determinism. Therefore, for contingent events of the future (Latin contingentia futura ) he abandons the sentence of the excluded third party.

Statements with attachments (10th to 14th chapter)

Privations (Chapter 10)

Aristotle examines the negated terms - the so-called "privations" - such as "unjust" (too "just"). He establishes the corollary relationships between sentences with negative and non-negative terms: From "Every person is unjust" follows "No person is just" and from "A person is just" follows "Not every person is unjust".

Connection of predications (11th chapter)

Aristotle states that under certain circumstances one can combine two predications into one and that this is not allowed in other cases. Thus, if one can say of a certain person that he is a sensory being and bipedal, one can conclude that he is a bipedal sensual being. However, if he is a good cobbler, it does not necessarily follow that he is a good cobbler. Aristotle points out that in the first case the truth of the predication (also called "predication per se") results from a definition : "bipedal" and "sensory beings" are included in the definition of "human". In the second case (predication "per accidens") the truth is based on a coincidental (empirical) connection. Therefore the union into a single predication is not always permissible here (although it can sometimes be permissible).

Modal terms (Chapter 12)

Aristotle deals here with the modal terms "wealthy", "necessary" and "impossible". For him, "being wealthy" always includes "not being wealthy". For example, what can work cannot always work. It clarifies the negation of the modal terms: The negation of "to be necessary" is "not necessary to be" instead of "necessary not to be" (it is similar with "wealthy" and "impossible"). For example, if one wants to deny "God necessarily exists", one arrives at "God does not necessarily exist" instead of "God necessarily does not exist".

Modal conclusions (Chapter 13)

Aristotle examines inferential relationships between statements with modal concepts. For example, “being wealthy” follows both “not being unable” and “not being necessary”. According to modern modal logic only the first, but not the second, of these conclusions would hold (from "it is possible that p" follows "it is not the case that it is not possible that p" but not "it is not necessary that p "). The reason for this is that, for Aristotle, "being wealthy" always includes "not being wealthy", as I said. The subject cannot therefore be necessary, then it would no longer have the capacity not to be. Aristotle himself points out that with this understanding of "being able" from "being necessary" does not follow "being able", a conclusion that is valid according to modern understanding. According to Aristotle, however, there is another reading of "wealthy" according to which this conclusion is valid, which would then correspond more to the modern conception.

Privation and Contrarity (Chapter 14)

The last chapter deals again with the privations already dealt with in chapter 10 and the term "contrary" known from chapter 7. Thus two contradicting statements can apparently be made to the sentence "Every person is just": "No person is just" and "Every person is unjust". According to Aristotle, the first sentence is contrary in the strict sense, the other only " follows ", i.e. H. indirectly.

The foreword by Johannes Argyropulos to his Latin translation of De interpretatione in the dedication copy for Piero di Cosimo de 'Medici . Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana , Plut. 71.7, fol. 2r (15th century)


Numerous Latin translations of the theory of theorem have survived, the first by Boethius (6th century). The first New High German translation was made by Karl Zell in 1837.

See also

Text output

  • Aristotle: Aristotle graece , ex recensione Immanuelis Bekkeri . Academia Regia Borussica . Volume prius. Berolini apud Georgium Reimerum a. 1831, pp. 16-24 [1]
  • Aristotle: De interpretatione . In: Lorenzo Minio Paluello (ed.): Aristotelis categoriae et liber de interpretatione , Oxford University Press, Oxford 1949 (authoritative critical edition)
  • Aristotle: De interpretatione . Edited by Hermann Weidemann , Walter de Gruyter, Berlin 2014



  • Aristotle: Categories Doctrine of Sentence (Peri hermeneias) , translated, provided with an introduction and explanatory notes by Eugen Rolfes, unchanged new edition of the 1958 2nd edition from 1925, Reprint Meiner, Hamburg 1974, ISBN 3-7873-0002- 3
  • Aristotle: Categories and Hermeneutics , translated by Paul Gohlke, Paderborn 1951
  • Aristotle: Peri hermeneias , translated and explained by Hermann Weidemann (= Aristotle: Works in German translation , ed. Hellmut Flashar , Vol. 1 Part 2), Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 1994
  • Aristotle: Categories, Hermeneutics , translated by Hans Günter Zekl , Meiner, Hamburg 1998, ISBN 3-7873-1313-3 (Greek text of the edition of Minio-Paluello with German translation)
  • Aristotle: Explanations , translated by Gottfried Scherer, Bautz, Nordhausen 2012, ISBN 978-3-88309-752-7 (including the Greek text of the Bekker edition of 1831 with variants by Lorenzo Minio Paluello)

Latin (ancient and medieval)

  • Aristotle: De interpretatione vel peri ermenias. Translatio Boethii, specimina translationum recentiorum, translatio Guillelmi de Moerbeka (= Aristoteles Latinus , Vol. II.1-2), ed. by Lorenzo Minio-Paluello, Gérard Verbeke, Bruges / Paris 1965


  • Whitaker, CWA: Aristotle's De Interpretatione: Contradiction and Dialectic , Clarendon Press, Oxford 1996.

Web links