On a category mistake: ‘Human beings are weak’

Here are three questions that fascinate me:

1.) How did we go from being creatures who above all ‘desire to know’ (Aristotle, Metaphysics I)–let us say: to understand our place in the world–to being creatures who want most of all to be helped (modernity)?

2.) How did the accidental property of weakness (e.g., feeling weak on Tuesday) become a state or condition (Smith IS weak; human beings ARE weak)?

3.) How was it possible for compassion (or: empathy or pity) to become championed as the supreme virtue of all virtues today?


Consider the category mistake made in the second claim. By ‘category mistake,’ the philosopher Gilbert Ryle means the attribution of certain properties that rightly belong to one category to another category. For instance, although the body certainly has appendages, it seems to me a category mistake to claim that the mind ‘has’ ‘faculties.’

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