Few thinkers can be described as profound, prolific, and enduring. Needless to say, all of these characteristics apply to the thought of Aristotle. Few would ever truly acknowledge his contributions to biology. Aristotle was a master of taxonomy. Rigorously examining defining characteristics of a specific category. Categories extending from entities from the physical world to the metaphysical world. This may be a careless oversimplification, he was great at labeling groups of objects, ideas, people, animals, etc.
We could simply state that Aristotle’s fixation on category was somewhat superfluous. Even go so far to call it pointless. I would vehemently disagree. We as humans think in language. Categories operating as a natural corollary of language. Language in of itself is a category. A category of a specified system of human communication. While many people claim that categorization is either unnecessary or problematic, it is an inevitable proclivity of human thinking. Even in a broad sense we subconsciously place ideas, objects, locations, people into categories. Categories to some extent operate as a tool to better navigate the world and to engage in higher-level thinking. Classification brings order to thought. To indignantly vilify the act of labeling things due to the social stigma surrounding specific designations is shortsighted. Without structure, stray thoughts are aimless and do not form anything comprehensive. So yes, we do need to put a label on it. Unlike your son’s last girlfriend.
Beyond cognitive organization, categories are helpful in other ways. To fit into a specific category, the object must possess certain immutable attributes that define this specific label. The quiddity or essence of the stone. Some are large, some are small, some are smooth, and so on. However, despite these superficial differences each stone possesses defining characteristics that categorically specific. Here is where Aristotle comes in. He sharply defines the difference between the categorical object and its attributes. The distinction between “body” and “characteristics” (Adler, 1978, P.12) . The “body” whether conceptual or physical is the corpus of all constant characteristics of an entity in a specific category. For example, all of the defining attributes that all dogs possess constitute the categorical “body” of a dog. The characteristics of the dog or attributes are much more dynamic. Unlike the categorical “body” of the essence of a dog, it is subject to change (Adler, 1978, P.13) .
It is clear how Aristotle places the line of demarcation between uniform traits of a category and those that vary. A rough stone can be polished then it is no longer rough, but smooth. The texture of a stone being rough is certainly not a defining trait of the essence of the stone. Seemingly when the characteristic is altered it does operate on a continuum. It replaces the previous attribute. Call me foolhardy to question one of the greatest minds of Western Philosophy, however, this appears to lack some nuance. Does the new characteristic replace the old one? Because we live in an imperfect and imprecise world there isn’t a golden-mean for defining qualitative attributes. The problem becomes when is a previously rough stone polished to the point of being smooth? That is a potential flaw I see in perceiving fluid traits in a total category rather than sequential gradations. Which “smooth” and “rough” are definitive descriptions of texture the exist on a scale. It is a matter of degree The extent to which a surface is “soft”, “hard”, “smooth” is held captive by subjective perception. Which at times can lead to faulty interpretations of the characteristics of the surface. For example, in the instance of tactile hallucinations.
It could be said that the defining difference between two fluid characteristics suffers from the Sorites Paradox. When does a rough stone become smooth? In the absence of any quantitative parameters, we need to rely on common consensus. If the majority of people would agree with a surface of a polished stone being smooth, then that is the proper attribute. Not that all because the majority of people agree with this notion makes it correct. When effect with a lack of any objective criteria how else are we to approach the problem? The best course of action would be to take an average composite of subjective evaluations of a specific characteristic for the best approximate answer. Unfortunately, it is still an imprecise standard. However, better than a survey of one subjective observation.
The very fact that I can veer into this direction reinforces the importance of fixed categories. Even fixed categories with loose parameters can be subject to scrutiny. Therefore, having a strong distinction between the fixed and dynamic features of a categorical object. Without boundaries, we devolve into aimless thinking. Which is incapable of solving algebraic equations much less pontificating upon the larger questions of existence. Being able to organize thought is a crucial feature of higher-level thinking. Hence why you tend to witness fleeting and fractional thoughts from young children. Outside of the limitations of a 4-year old’s attention span, they are still developing their sense of category. What distinguishes one object from another. What remains constant in similar objects. If we did not have categories even at the conceptual level nothing would exist in a context. Making everything aimless and boundless.