The proposed categories have, then, been adequately dealt with. We must next explain the various senses in which the term ‘opposite’ is used. Things are said to be opposed in four senses: (i) as correlatives to one another, (ii) as contraries to one another, (iii) as privatives to positives, (iv) as affirmatives to negatives.
Let me sketch my meaning in outline. An instance of the use of the word ‘opposite’ with reference to correlatives is afforded by the expressions ‘double’ and ‘half’; with reference to contraries by ‘bad’ and ‘good’. Opposites in the sense of ‘privatives’ and ‘positives’ are’ blindness’ and ‘sight’; in the sense of affirmatives and negatives, the propositions ‘he sits’, ‘he does not sit’.
(i) Pairs of opposites which fall under the category of relation are explained by a reference of the one to the other, the reference being indicated by the preposition ‘of’ or by some other preposition. Thus, double is a relative term, for that which is double is explained as the double of something. Knowledge, again, is the opposite of the thing known, in the same sense; and the thing known also is explained by its relation to its opposite, knowledge. For the thing known is explained as that which is known by something, that is, by knowledge. Such things, then, as are opposite the one to the other in the sense of being correlatives are explained by a reference of the one to the other.
(ii) Pairs of opposites which are contraries are not in any way interdependent, but are contrary the one to the other. The good is not spoken of as the good of the bad, but as the contrary of the bad, nor is white spoken of as the white of the black, but as the contrary of the black. These two types of opposition are therefore distinct. Those contraries which are such that the subjects in which they are naturally present, or of which they are predicated, must necessarily contain either the one or the other of them, have no intermediate, but those in the case of which no such necessity obtains, always have an intermediate. Thus disease and health are naturally present in the body of an animal, and it is necessary that either the one or the other should be present in the body of an animal. Odd and even, again, are predicated of number, and it is necessary that the one or the other should be present in numbers. Now there is no intermediate between the terms of either of these two pairs. On the other hand, in those contraries with regard to which no such necessity obtains, we find an intermediate. Blackness and whiteness are naturally present in the body, but it is not necessary that either the one or the other should be present in the body, inasmuch as it is not true to say that everybody must be white or black. Badness and goodness, again, are predicated of man, and of many other things, but it is not necessary that either the one quality or the other should be present in that of which they are predicated: it is not true to say that everything that may be good or bad must be either good or bad. These pairs of contraries have intermediates: the intermediates between white and black are grey, sallow, and all the other colours that come between; the intermediate between good and bad is that which is neither the one nor the other.
Some intermediate qualities have names, such as grey and sallow and all the other colours that come between white and black; in other cases, however, it is not easy to name the intermediate, but we must define it as that which is not either extreme, as in the case of that which is neither good nor bad, neither just nor unjust.
(iii) ‘privatives’ and ‘Positives’ have reference to the same subject. Thus, sight and blindness have reference to the eye. It is a universal rule that each of a pair of opposites of this type has reference to that to which the particular ‘positive’ is natural. We say that that is capable of some particular faculty or possession has suffered privation when the faculty or possession in question is in no way present in that in which, and at the time at which, it should naturally be present. We do not call that toothless which has not teeth, or that blind which has not sight, but rather that which has not teeth or sight at the time when by nature it should. For there are some creatures which from birth are without sight, or without teeth, but these are not called toothless or blind.
To be without some faculty or to possess it is not the same as the corresponding ‘privative’ or ‘positive’. ‘Sight’ is a ‘positive’, ‘blindness’ a ‘privative’, but ‘to possess sight’ is not equivalent to ‘sight’, ‘to be blind’ is not equivalent to ‘blindness’. Blindness is a ‘privative’, to be blind is to be in a state of privation, but is not a ‘privative’. Moreover, if ‘blindness’ were equivalent to ‘being blind’, both would be predicated of the same subject; but though a man is said to be blind, he is by no means said to be blindness.
To be in a state of ‘possession’ is, it appears, the opposite of being in a state of ‘privation’, just as ‘positives’ and ‘privatives’ themselves are opposite. There is the same type of antithesis in both cases; for just as blindness is opposed to sight, so is being blind opposed to having sight.
That which is affirmed or denied is not itself affirmation or denial. By ‘affirmation’ we mean an affirmative proposition, by ‘denial’ a negative. Now, those facts which form the matter of the affirmation or denial are not propositions; yet these two are said to be opposed in the same sense as the affirmation and denial, for in this case also the type of antithesis is the same. For as the affirmation is opposed to the denial, as in the two propositions ‘he sits’, ‘he does not sit’, so also the fact which constitutes the matter of the proposition in one case is opposed to that in the other, his sitting, that is to say, to his not sitting.
It is evident that ‘positives’ and ‘privatives’ are not opposed each to each in the same sense as relatives. The one is not explained by reference to the other; sight is not sight of blindness, nor is any other preposition used to indicate the relation. Similarly blindness is not said to be blindness of sight, but rather, privation of sight. Relatives, moreover, reciprocate; if blindness, therefore, were a relative, there would be a reciprocity of relation between it and that with which it was correlative. But this is not the case. Sight is not called the sight of blindness.
That those terms which fall under the heads of ‘positives’ and ‘privatives’ are not opposed each to each as contraries, either, is plain from the following facts: Of a pair of contraries such that they have no intermediate, one or the other must needs be present in the subject in which they naturally subsist, or of which they are predicated; for it is those, as we proved,’ in the case of which this necessity obtains, that have no intermediate. Moreover, we cited health and disease, odd and even, as instances. But those contraries which have an intermediate are not subject to any such necessity. It is not necessary that every substance, receptive of such qualities, should be either black or white, cold or hot, for something intermediate between these contraries may very well be present in the subject. We proved, moreover, that those contraries have an intermediate in the case of which the said necessity does not obtain. Yet when one of the two contraries is a constitutive property of the subject, as it is a constitutive property of fire to be hot, of snow to be white, it is necessary determinately that one of the two contraries, not one or the other, should be present in the subject; for fire cannot be cold, or snow black. Thus, it is not the case here that one of the two must needs be present in every subject receptive of these qualities, but only in that subject of which the one forms a constitutive property. Moreover, in such cases it is one member of the pair determinately, and not either the one or the other, which must be present.
In the case of ‘positives’ and ‘privatives’, on the other hand, neither of the aforesaid statements holds good. For it is not necessary that a subject receptive of the qualities should always have either the one or the other; that which has not yet advanced to the state when sight is natural is not said either to be blind or to see. Thus ‘positives’ and ‘privatives’ do not belong to that class of contraries which consists of those which have no intermediate. On the other hand, they do not belong either to that class which consists of contraries which have an intermediate. For under certain conditions it is necessary that either the one or the other should form part of the constitution of every appropriate subject. For when a thing has reached the stage when it is by nature capable of sight, it will be said either to see or to be blind, and that in an indeterminate sense, signifying that the capacity may be either present or absent; for it is not necessary either that it should see or that it should be blind, but that it should be either in the one state or in the other. Yet in the case of those contraries which have an intermediate we found that it was never necessary that either the one or the other should be present in every appropriate subject, but only that in certain subjects one of the pair should be present, and that in a determinate sense. It is, therefore, plain that ‘positives’ and ‘privatives’ are not opposed each to each in either of the senses in which contraries are opposed.
Again, in the case of contraries, it is possible that there should be changes from either into the other, while the subject retains its identity, unless indeed one of the contraries is a constitutive property of that subject, as heat is of fire. For it is possible that that that which is healthy should become diseased, that which is white, black, that which is cold, hot, that which is good, bad, that which is bad, good. The bad man, if he is being brought into a better way of life and thought, may make some advance, however slight, and if he should once improve, even ever so little, it is plain that he might change completely, or at any rate make very great progress; for a man becomes more and more easily moved to virtue, however small the improvement was at first. It is, therefore, natural to suppose that he will make yet greater progress than he has made in the past; and as this process goes on, it will change him completely and establish him in the contrary state, provided he is not hindered by lack of time. In the case of ‘positives’ and ‘privatives’, however, change in both directions is impossible. There may be a change from possession to privation, but not from privation to possession. The man who has become blind does not regain his sight; the man who has become bald does not regain his hair; the man who has lost his teeth does not grow a new set. (iv) Statements opposed as affirmation and negation belong manifestly to a class which is distinct, for in this case, and in this case only, it is necessary for the one opposite to be true and the other false.
Neither in the case of contraries, nor in the case of correlatives, nor in the case of ‘positives’ and ‘privatives’, is it necessary for one to be true and the other false. Health and disease are contraries: neither of them is true or false. ‘Double’ and ‘half’ are opposed to each other as correlatives: neither of them is true or false. The case is the same, of course, with regard to ‘positives’ and ‘privatives’ such as ‘sight’ and ‘blindness’. In short, where there is no sort of combination of words, truth and falsity have no place, and all the opposites we have mentioned so far consist of simple words.
At the same time, when the words which enter into opposed statements are contraries, these, more than any other set of opposites, would seem to claim this characteristic. ‘Socrates is ill’ is the contrary of ‘Socrates is well’, but not even of such composite expressions is it true to say that one of the pair must always be true and the other false. For if Socrates exists, one will be true and the other false, but if he does not exist, both will be false; for neither ‘Socrates is ill’ nor ‘Socrates is well’ is true, if Socrates does not exist at all.
In the case of ‘positives’ and ‘privatives’, if the subject does not exist at all, neither proposition is true, but even if the subject exists, it is not always the fact that one is true and the other false. For ‘Socrates has sight’ is the opposite of ‘Socrates is blind’ in the sense of the word ‘opposite’ which applies to possession and privation. Now if Socrates exists, it is not necessary that one should be true and the other false, for when he is not yet able to acquire the power of vision, both are false, as also if Socrates is altogether non-existent.
But in the case of affirmation and negation, whether the subject exists or not, one is always false and the other true. For manifestly, if Socrates exists, one of the two propositions ‘Socrates is ill’, ‘Socrates is not ill’, is true, and the other false. This is likewise the case if he does not exist; for if he does not exist, to say that he is ill is false, to say that he is not ill is true. Thus it is in the case of those opposites only, which are opposite in the sense in which the term is used with reference to affirmation and negation, that the rule holds good, that one of the pair must be true and the other false.
The Categories by Aristotle