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Encyclopedia Judaica: Categories

CATEGORIES, in medieval Jewish philosophy the highest logical as well as metaphysical classification into which all beings are divided. *Aristotle (Categories, chs. 5–9; Metaphysics, book 5, especially chs. 8 and 30) speaks of the categories which are divided into substance and nine accidents: quality, quantity, relation, place, time, position, possession, action, and passion. In his categories Aristotle distinguishes between two kinds of substances, primary and secondary. Substance in its primary sense is defined by him as "that which is neither predicable of a subject nor present in a subject," an example of this kind of substance being an individual man or an individual horse (Categories, 5, 2a). Species and genera are examples of secondary substances. These secondary substances as well as the accidents are described by Aristotle (Categories, 5, 2b) as those properties which are either predicated of primary substances or present in them.

These definitions and groupings became a commonplace in medieval Jewish philosophy. Thus, for example, the neoplatonist Joseph ibn *Ẓaddik discusses them in his Olam Katan (1:2; ed. by A. Jellinek (1854), 7–10), as do the Aristotelians Abraham *Ibn Daud (Emunah Ramah, ch. 1) and *Maimonides in his Millot ha-Higgayon (Treatise on Logic, tr. by I. Efros, in PAAJR, 8 (1938), 34–65; ibid., 34 (1966), 155ff.). *Judah Halevi defines substance as that which does not need a substratum for its existence, e.g., matter, form, and the concrete individual, and accident as that the existence of which needs an abode or substratum, e.g., color and dimension, whose existence cannot be conceived of without matter wherein to reside (Kuzari 5:18).

Once the categories had been formulated, it became a recurrent problem of Jewish philosophy whether the categories can be applied to God. *Philo , in addressing himself to this question, states that God is without quality, but he holds that the category of relation does apply to Him. *Saadiah Gaon refers to Aristotle's classification of the ten categories as an argument against the dualist notion that all existing things may be subsumed only under one of two classifications – useful or harmful (Book of Beliefs and Opinions 2:2). He further analyzes each of the categories in terms of its possible application to God, and concludes that none of the categories may be attributed to God (ibid., 2:9–12). Similarly, Joseph ibn Ẓaddik argues that God cannot be subsumed under any of the categories (Olam Katan, ch. 3, p. 53). Because God is infinite and eternal, one cannot ask about Him what, how, why, of which kind, where, and when. Maimonides also makes reference to the ten categories in his discussion of the attributes of God (see H.A. Wolfson , in Essays and Studies in Memory of Linda R. Miller (1938), 151–73), where he concludes that the categories, being accidents, cannot be attributes to God who is the creator of all accidents, and their attribution to God would introduce multiplicity into God's being. Even the category of relation is rejected by Maimonides. Referring to the categories in a different context, *Baḥya ibn Paquda uses them as a basis for his argument for the unity of God (Ḥovot ha-Levavot 1:7). The higher the classes, the fewer they are, he states. The most comprehensive of the classes are the ten categories, which have five causes – motion, and the four elements. These, in turn, are caused by matter and form. Since matter and form are two, their cause must be one – the cause of all causes, who is God.

The Aristotelian categories play a significant role in the ontological hierarchy and metaphysical scheme of Solomon ibn *Gabirol . A central doctrine of Ibn Gabirol's thought is that all created beings, spiritual as well as corporeal, are composed of matter and form, and he envisages that these matters and forms are arranged in an hierarchical structure. As part of this scheme he speaks of a general matter which underlies those beings that can be perceived by the senses, and he describes this matter as the one sustaining the nine categories (Mekor Ḥayyim 3:1; 3:4–10).

[David Kadosh]

The doctrines contained in Aristotle's Categories became familiar to Hebrew readers in the late 12th or early 13th centuries from a variety of sources. Samuel Ibn *Tibbon's Explanation of Foreign Terms (Perush ha-Millim ha-Zarot), which the author appended to his translation of Maimonides' Guide of the Perplexed, explained the ten categories in a rudimentary fashion. Maimonides' Logical Terms (Millot ha-Higayon), which includes a brief expose of the categories, was one of the most popular medieval Hebrew works of any kind; it is extant in over 80 mansucripts and numerous printed editions. (The work's attribution to Maimonides has been questioned by H. Davidson.) More detailed treatments are found in Alfarabi's short commentary on the Categories (translated twice) and Averroes' paraphrase (middle commentary), translated in 1232 by Jacob Anatoli, the son-in-law (or perhaps brother-inlaw) of Samuel Ibn Tibbon. The latter work is extant in over 80 manuscripts, making it one of the most popular works of medieval Hebrew philosophy. (Aristotle's own version of the Categories was never translated into Hebrew, nor, for that matter, were his other works on logic; the paraphrases of Averroes were deemed sufficient.) Averroes' Epitome on Logic, which included a section on the doctrine of the categories, was translated twice into Hebrew. The translation by Jacob b. Machir was very popular and was printed in the 16th century (Riva di Trento). As for Jewish authors, one should point out the very popular commentary on Averroes' paraphrase by Gersonides in the 14th century and the very rare commentary by Elijah Xabillo ( *Habillo ) in the 15th. Shorter discussions are found in works by Joseph *Kaspi and Judah b. Solomon ha-Kohen Ibn *Matkah . Scholastic treatments of the categories and the so-called postpredicaments (e.g., opposition, etc.) appear in the various Hebrew versions of the Tractatus attributed to Peter of Spain and in the voluminous Mikhlal Yofi of Judah Messer Leon. The Categories' most significant doctrine for medieval Jewish theology was that of the signification of terms, for that doctrine provided the semantic and metaphysical framework for the discussion of Divine names and attributes. Abraham *Ibn Ezra used the ten categories to explain the relationship of the first commandment in the Decalogue ("I am the Lord your God"), which he compared to substance, to the other nine, which he compared to accidents, since the existence of God is the foundation of all the other commandments (Long Commentary to Ex. 20:1).

[Charles Manekin (2nd ed.)]


M. Steinschneider, Uebersetzungen, 42–108; S. Rosenberg, "Logikah ve-Ontologiyah ba-Filosofiyah ha-Yehudit ba-Me'ah ha-14" (diss., Heb. Univ., 1973); C.H. Manekin, "When the Jews Learned Logic from the Pope: Three Hebrew Versions of the Tractatus of Peter of Spain," in: Science in Context, 10 (1997), 395–430.

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.