Cognitive Linguistics

Aristotelian model of categorization

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Aristotelian category
Category boundaries
Levels of categorization
Basic level
Category-wide attribute
Collective function
Subordinate level
Superordinate level
Parasitic categorization
Prototype category
Bad member
Degree of membership
Flexible adaptability
Goodness of exemplar
Good member
Informational density
Radial structure
Structural stability
Class inclusion
Degree of generality
Expert taxonomy
Folk taxonomy
Multiple parenting
Scientific taxonomy

The Aristotelian model of categorization is the standard model of categorization in much Western science and philosophy.

The Aristotelian categoryEdit

The classical Aristotelian view claims that categories are discrete entities characterized by a set of properties which are shared by all their members. These are assumed to establish the conditions which are both necessary and sufficient to capture meaning.

Substance and accidenceEdit

A category has a substance, which is the object that it represents and a number of accidents, which are its properties or features. ===de Sustancias y Una categoría tiene una sustancia, que es el objeto que lo representa y una serie de accidentes, que son sus propiedades o características. Substances consist of a physical matter and a specific form which is the individuating principle that gives the substance its shape, identity, and structure. Sustancias consisten en una materia física y una forma específica que es el principio individualizador que da a la sustancia de su forma, la identidad y estructura. The features of a category are necessary conditions: in order to belong to a given category an item must possess all features. Las características de una categoría son condiciones necesarias : con el fin de pertenecer a una una categoría determinada tema debe poseer todas las características.===



According to the classical view, categories should be clearly defined, mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive. This way, any entity of the given classification universe belongs unequivocally to one, and only one, of the proposed categories. This means that the boundaries of categories are fixed and clearly defined.


Following that in order to be a member of a category, an entity must share all properties of the category with the category itself and the notions of mutual exclusivity and collective exhaustivity, category membership is symmetrically structured. All members of a category are equal in status in relation to that category - there are no members that are more members of the category than others.

Criticism of the Aristotelian modelEdit

Cognitive anthropologists of the Cognitive Revolution of the 1970s, who made research into human categorization, observed that human categorization does not abide by the principles of the Arstotelian model of categorization on the follwong points:

Necessary conditions are inadequadeEdit

Unlike what is predicted by the Aristitelian model of categorization, it was observed that humans more often than not categorize entities as members of a category, even though they do not share all features with the category.

Therefore, cognitive scientists criticize the notion of category properties as necessary conditions for being descriptively inadequate in a model of human categorization.

Membership is not symmetricEdit

It was furthermore observed that categories are not symmetrically structured in human categorization. On the contrary, humans tend to consider some members of a category to be good representatives and others to be bad representatives of the category and thus there are differences in goodness of exemplar among members of the same category.

This observation of degree of membership has lead some cognitive linguists, such as (Lakoff 1987) to argue than rather than being symmetrically structures, categories have radial structures.

Categories are not clearly delimited and their boundaries are not fixedEdit

It also turned out that in human categorization, categories are not clearly delimited, and their boundaries are not fixed. Research into categorization of color, temperature and other scalar phenomena showed that in certain cases categories graduate into each other, some members being located in the transition zone between two categories. Further research into the categorization of shapes, organisms and other non-scalar phenomena, category boundaries also tend to be fuzzy, and, moreover, that certain entities are considered members of more than one category.

Rejection of the Aristotelian modelEdit

In cognitive linguistics, Aristotelian categorization is rejected. In stead, a model of categorization that is based on prototypicality is adopted in an attempt to incorporate the areas where the Aristotelian model fails.


  • Croft, William A. & D.A. Cruse (2004). Cognitive Linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Lakoff, George (1987). Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal about the Mind. Chicago: Chicago University Press.
  • Lyons, John (1968). Introduction to Theoretical Linguistics. London: Longman.
  • Ungerer, Friedrich & Hans-Jörg Schmid (1996). An Introduction to Cognitive Linguistics. London: Longman.

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