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Platonists of Late Antiquity were keen students of Aristotle’s philosophical corpus, especially the logical and analytical works. Yet they often viewed Aristotle more as a systematic compiler of ideas originally developed by Plato than as a philosopher of intrinsic value (Karamanolis 2006). Despite their reverence for his systematization of philosophy, nearly all Platonist students of Aristotle found fault with his attribution of ontological supremacy to individual concrete things found in the natural world instead of to ‘Ideal Forms’ (Lloyd 1955, Strange 1992, Mann 2000). As a result, Platonist commentaries on Aristotle’s logical treatises tended to minimize the involvement of these texts with the fields of biology, physics, and natural history. The Categories, in particular, was treated by Platonists as a piece of semantic philosophy dealing not with “things as things but with the words signifying things” (Porph.In Cat.57.5-6) (Chase 2003, Karamanolis 2006). The Platonist exegetes Porphyry, Dexippus, and Ammonius, however, although generally committed to a semantic reading of the Categories, at many points in their commentaries appear to acknowledge the treatise’s implications for Aristotle’s study of nature (phusis).

Such acknowledgement occurs in several forms. On several occasions, though apparently overlooked by modern scholars, the commentators overtly declare that the Categories should be utilized as a primer for the Aristotelian philosophical system as a whole (e.g., Porph.In Cat.56.28-31, Ammon.In Cat.10.9-13), which included inquiries into biology, physics, and nature in general. The commentators also use examples from the natural world and the language of empirical science in attempts to simplify and explain technical concepts from the Categories. Ammonius (Ammon.In Cat.71.20-23), for instance, uses material from ornithological sections of the Historia Animalium in an effort to clarify the relationship between the terms ‘bird’ and ‘winged,’ used as a model of a correlative pair, in the Categories. Even when the commentators emphasize a semantic reading of the Categories, which centers on oppositions between ‘sensible things’ (ta aisthÄ“ta) and ‘intelligible things’ (ta noÄ“ta) and ‘things that are’ (ta onta) and ‘things that are said’ (ta legomena), as well as on a hierarchical network of ‘concept’ (noÄ“ma), ‘word’ (phōnÄ“), and ‘thing’ (pragma) they are forced to admit, often in grudging fashion, that both ‘concepts’ and ‘words’ depend on the material existence of concrete ‘things’ (e.g., Dexipp.In Cat.9.22-25). The concessions of readers who generally upheld a semantic interpretation of the Categories to the text’s engagement with the physical sciences and the material world show a greater awareness on the part of Platonist commentators of Aristotle’s writings on ‘nature’ than has previously been recognized. Additionally, by reading the Categories through the lens of later Platonist interpretations – interpretations generally regarded as hostile to physicalistic readings of the text – a clearer picture emerges of how the putatively logical treatises of the Aristotelian corpus were in fact both foundational for Aristotle’s work in the ‘hard sciences’ and supplemented by material drawn from his empirical observations of the natural world.


  • Chase, Michael. 2003. Simplicius: On Aristotle's "Categories 1-4." Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
  • Cohen, Marc S. and Gareth B. Matthews. 1991. Ammonius: On Aristotle's Categories. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
  • Dillon, John. 1990. Dexippus: On Aristotle's Categories. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
  • Karamanolis, George E. 2006. Plato and Aristotle in Agreement? Platonists on Aristotle from Antiochus to Porphyry. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Lloyd, A.C. 1955. "Neoplatonic Logic and Aristotelian Logic: I." Phronesis 1.1: 58-72.
  • Mann, Wolfgang-Rainer. 2000. The Discovery of Things: Aristotle's Categories and their Context. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Strange, Steven K. 1992. Porphyry: On Aristotle's Categories. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

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