Real definitions: Quine and Aristotle

Philosophical Studies 72 (2-3):265 - 282 (1993)
Abstract
Re-activating the philosophical quest for real definitions, I dare propose that its fulfillment is most convincingly represented, close to home, where one probably least expects it, notably in the first half of Section 36 of Word and Object, in the pages of Quine. Aristotle must inevitably remain our guide even as we insist on respecting Quine's anti-essentialism, and I must then explain how Aristotle, truncated, can be put here to use. Well, we may begin, appropriately, with a definition or with what, nearly enough, smacks of being one, namely the Aristotelian slogan, definitio fit per genus proximum et differentiam specificam. Although that may be itself a real definition (of real definition), I shall not pursue this scholastic point, preferring to concentrate on my principal task which I take to be to vindicate the feasibility of formulating a real definition of some mind-independent reality. Such a vindication can scarcely succeed today unless it is recognized from the outset that we have here at hand one of those cases where the very (logical) possibility of a problematic thing can be established only by having recourse to the modal principle that actuality entails possibility. Nothing less than a concrete instance of a real definition will then suffice, and I thus expect my sceptical reader (I count on her scepticism) to be in doubt whether the scholastic bit of jargon 'real definition' picks out one of the concepts in her repertoire
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