Term (Logic)

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A sign from which a simple proposition (oral, written, or mental) is made. It is the ultimate significant element into which a sentence or proposition may be resolved. The proposition "man exists" can be resolved into two concepts or terms, "man" and "exists." This notion of term as being the ultimate element is indicated in Aristotle's use of ρος (Anal. pr. 24b 16) and St. Thomas's use of terminus (In 1 perih. 4.2); both have the primary meaning of limit or extreme and the secondary meaning of elementary part of a proposition.

Term is basically divided into mental, oral, and written term. All three types are signs; they signify something other than themselves. The concept or mental term is a sign of the thing; an oral or written term is immediately a sign of the concept, but principally a sign of the thing (In 1 perih. 2.5). Oral and written terms, inasmuch as they are both instrumental and conventional signs, are distinguished from the mental term, which is a formal and natural sign.

Moreover, terms are the primary components of a simple proposition, as "man is just." (A compound proposition, as "If man is just, he is pleasing to God," is primarily made up of simple propositions, and these in turn are composed of terms.)

A most important division of term, based on the manner of signifying, is that into univocal, equivocal, and analogous terms. A univocal term is one that signifies things divisively, according to their strictly common nature, or that signifies the things represented by one and the same concept; e.g., the word "man" signifies all men as identified in one and the same concept of human nature.

An equivocal term is one that signifies the things represented by several essentially different and unrelated concepts. In other words, an equivocal term signifies several things, not as they are united under a concept that has a certain unityeven a proportional unitybut as they differ, e.g., "bark" as signifying a canine sound and a tree's covering. The concept of the sound and the concept of the covering have nothing in common but the name; their content is completely different. see equivocation (logic).

An analogous term is one that signifies things represented by a concept that has a unity of proportion, e.g., "healthy" as referring to an animal and to a food, but not signifying the same thing in both. It is predicated of an animal because the organism possesses health; of a food, because it has a causal relation to the health that is formally found in the animal. see analogy.

See Also: supposition (logic).

Bibliography: john of st. thomas, Cursus Philosophicus Thomisticus, 3 v. (Turin 193037) 1:712, 85112. j. maritain, Formal Logic, tr. i. choquette (New York 1946) 4550. h. gre nier, Thomistic Philosophy, tr. j. p. o'hanley, 3 v. (Charlottetown, Canada 194849) 1:2938.

[j. f. peifer]