“Said of”

Aristotle seems to have enjoyed using expressions in a polymorphic way. For example, he very commonly writes that B “is said of” A. This never just refers to an empirical report of linguistic practice. It always should be understood to refer to a judgment that B is properly said of A. This in turn means all of the following:

  • It is apparently a fact that A is B.
  • It is properly judged that A is B.
  • It is good usage to say that A is B.

He is using one abstract expression to make multiple isomorphic assertions (in respective registers of objective reality, normative judgment, and linguistic usage) all at the same time. Too often, people assume these are all mutually exclusive topics, when they are not. By actually doing it in a simple way, Aristotle offers hope that we can talk about reality, and be Critical, and follow the linguistic turn all at once.

Brandom refers to Frege to begin to explain Hegel’s notion of conceptual content. Frege said “A fact is a thought that is true.” As Brandom points out, this is a nonpsychological approach. Hegel, Frege, and Brandom have recovered ways of speaking that include at least the first two of the three senses above, and I imagine Brandom at least would be sympathetic to the third as well.

We might consider the “it is apparently a fact” form to be materially implied by the “it is properly judged” form. I think Plato and Aristotle considered the “it is properly judged” form to be materially implied by the “it is good usage to say” form, as well as accepting the first implication. Good language use should be consistent with good judgment, which should be consistent with reality. So, by transitivity, “said of” (understood as shorthand for “properly said of”) would also materially imply both the others.

All three forms are inherently normative. This is most obvious with the second form, which is expressly concerned with judgment. But the form concerned with language use is about good usage, not any and all randomly occurring usage; and the form concerned with fact is really about normatively valid judgments of apparent fact. (See also Aristotelian Semantics.)

Translations influenced by the Latin commentary tradition render “said of” in terms of predication, which misleadingly suggests the purely syntactic way in which a grammatical predicate is “said of” its grammatical subject, and obscures Aristotle’s focus on normative logical assertion.


Some time after writing this post, I came to the realization — reflected in Aristotelian Propositions — that “said of” may also be taken to directly express a material-inferential relation. Based on an analysis of implicit propositions like the one developed there — and recalling that A and B are canonically universals or higher-order terms — I now think the root meaning of “B is said of A”, is that if we have x: A, then it is a good material inference that we also have x: B. Goodness of material inference is what stands behind and justifies the initial formulation that B is properly said of A, and the other polymorphic meanings.

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