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International Philosophical Quarterly

Volume 58, Issue 4, December 2018

Ignacio De Ribera-Martin
Pages 389-406
DOI: 10.5840/ipq201872117

External Figure (Schêma) and Homonymy in Aristotle

According to Aristotle’s homonymy principle, when we use a common name to refer to wholes and parts that lack the capacity to carry out the function (ergon) signified by the name, we are using the name in a homonymous way. For example, pictures and statues of a man, or a dead eye, are called “man” and “eye” only homonymously because they cannot carry out their proper function, i.e., to live and to see. This principle serves well Aristotle’s purposes in natural philosophy, for it avoids a reduction of the essence of living bodies and their parts to their material composition and shape. This principle, however, leaves unexplained why we still use those names in common language, despite their homonymy. Using Aristotle’s own comments on homonymy, I will examine the role played by external figure (schêma), for it explains why such homonyms are not accidental. In fact, they are correct forms of linguistic usage in non-philosophical contexts.