I keep six honest serving-men
                (They taught me all I knew);
                Their names are What and Why and When
                And How and Where and Who.
                                                Rudyard Kipling

    And of course we remember the 5 W’s and H from the traditional teachings of contemporary journalism, which are exactly the same (but in a different order). Wait a minute! Six? What about the ‘septem’ in ‘Septem Circumstantiae’?

    As it turns out (finally, in 2010) the source of the “Five W’s (and one H)” is nothing else that the Aristotle’s “Nicomachean Ethics”. There they are as we know them from the more popular treatises on rhetoric: quis, quid, quando, ubi, cur, quem ad modum, quibus adminiculis (who, what, when, where, why, in what way, by what means).

    You understand that a robot is supposed to be able to explain the circumstances of events, don’t you? Aristotle thinks that this is the way to do it (as it is explained by Michael C. Sloan):

Regardless of the ambiguity of Aristotle’s Greek, five of the seven circum-
stances are easily identifiable, namely, the “who”, “what”, “by what means”,
“for the sake of what” or “why”,and “how”. The other two circumstances,
“where” and “when,” maybe found in the phrase (...).

Notice the particular translations of individual circumstances.
    It is important that he is discussing a very interesting subject which totally maps onto the situation of Common-Language, namely: the person being interrogated in order to decide whether something has been done intentionally or just happened by itself, naturally, without any bad will involved. Basically, we are discussing putting a blame for what has happened upon somebody here. It’s because of that “where” and “when” are so unimportant that they are in the next phrase, the terrible thing has happened already, somebody is dead or something like that, the particularities - the minutes and seconds of latide and how many hours, minutes and seconds was on the watch - are not so important now, we are putting the man to jail… or not. Same with the robots! Same with our robots! We need to know whether the robot can be trusted to continue doing the job or it must be reprogrammed.
    As Sloan mentions, and I think he is right, the passage is a little bit more than a recommendation for rhetoric, it is a shema for classification of voluntary and involuntary acts and that’s why it is important and useful for the task that is in front of us with our machines.
    I’m a little bit confused… let’s make a table.

Latin Rhetoric Kipling & 5W’s Aristotle / Sloan
quis who who who
quid what what what
quando when when when
ubi where where where
cur why why for the sake of what?

quem ad modum in what way how how
quibus adminiculis by what means   by what means

Meditate a little bit looking at this table. What I see is that the latin ‘journalists’ might have had a “5 Q’s and C and U” mnemonic rule. :) I also love the questions : quis, quid, quando, quem and quibus :) where the word “question” itself is clearly comming from the same root. As it turns out there is one more term for what we are discussing here: “wh-questions”. They, together with the “yes-no-questions” are in the foundation of the inquisitive semantics, which is a ‘framework’… ha-ha-ha!

There’s a nice picture in wikipedia:

quis=persona; quid=factum; cur=causa; ubi=locus; quando=tempus; quemadmodum = modus; quib/adminiculis=facultas
By Karl Halm (1809-1882) - Uploaded by Macrakis on English Wikipedia (17:48, 25 April 2009), Public Domain, Link


  1. The Sloan’s article
  2. The wikipedia article about 5W’s

Septem Circumstantiae organization and library.