Topics, by Aristotle

Book III

1

THE question which is the more desirable, or the better, of two or more things, should be examined upon the following lines: only first of all it must be clearly laid down that the inquiry we are making concerns not things that are widely divergent and that exhibit great differences from one another (for nobody raises any doubt whether happiness or wealth is more desirable), but things that are nearly related and about which we commonly discuss for which of the two we ought rather to vote, because we do not see any advantage on either side as compared with the other. Clearly, in such cases if we can show a single advantage, or more than one, our judgement will record our assent that whichever side happens to have the advantage is the more desirable.

First, then, that which is more lasting or secure is more desirable than that which is less so: and so is that which is more likely to be chosen by the prudent or by the good man or by the right law, or by men who are good in any particular line, when they make their choice as such, or by the experts in regard to any particular class of things; i.e. either whatever most of them or what all of them would choose; e.g. in medicine or in carpentry those things are more desirable which most, or all, doctors would choose; or, in general, whatever most men or all men or all things would choose, e.g. the good: for everything aims at the good. You should direct the argument you intend to employ to whatever purpose you require. Of what is ‘better’ or ‘more desirable’ the absolute standard is the verdict of the better science, though relatively to a given individual the standard may be his own particular science.

In the second place, that which is known as ‘an x’ is more desirable than that which does not come within the genus ‘x’-e.g. justice than a just man; for the former falls within the genus ‘good’, whereas the other does not, and the former is called ‘a good’, whereas the latter is not: for nothing which does not happen to belong to the genus in question is called by the generic name; e.g. a ‘white man’ is not ‘a colour’. Likewise also in other cases.

Also, that which is desired for itself is more desirable than that which is desired for something else; e.g. health is more desirable than gymnastics: for the former is desired for itself, the latter for something else. Also, that which is desirable in itself is more desirable than what is desirable per accidens; e.g. justice in our friends than justice in our enemies: for the former is desirable in itself, the latter per accidens: for we desire that our enemies should be just per accidens, in order that they may do us no harm. This last principle is the same as the one that precedes it, with, however, a different turn of expression. For we desire justice in our friends for itself, even though it will make no difference to us, and even though they be in India; whereas in our enemies we desire it for something else, in order that they may do us no harm.

Also, that which is in itself the cause of good is more desirable than what is so per accidens, e.g. virtue than luck (for the former in itself, and the latter per accidens, the cause of good things), and so in other cases of the same kind. Likewise also in the case of the contrary; for what is in itself the cause of evil is more objectionable than what is so per accidens, e.g. vice and chance: for the one is bad in itself, whereas chance is so per accidens.

Also, what is good absolutely is more desirable than what is good for a particular person, e.g. recovery of health than a surgical operation; for the former is good absolutely, the latter only for a particular person, viz. the man who needs an operation. So too what is good by nature is more desirable than the good that is not so by nature, e.g. justice than the just man; for the one is good by nature, whereas in the other case the goodness is acquired. Also the attribute is more desirable which belongs to the better and more honourable subject, e.g. to a god rather than to a man, and to the soul rather than to the body. So too the property of the better thing is better than the property of the worse; e.g. the property of God than the property of man: for whereas in respect of what is common in both of them they do not differ at all from each other, in respect of their properties the one surpasses the other. Also that is better which is inherent in things better or prior or more honourable: thus (e.g.) health is better than strength and beauty: for the former is inherent in the moist and the dry, and the hot and the cold, in fact in all the primary constituents of an animal, whereas the others are inherent in what is secondary, strength being a feature of the sinews and bones, while beauty is generally supposed to consist in a certain symmetry of the limbs. Also the end is generally supposed to be more desirable than the means, and of two means, that which lies nearer the end. In general, too, a means directed towards the end of life is more desirable than a means to anything else, e.g. that which contributes to happiness than that which contributes to prudence. Also the competent is more desirable than the incompetent. Moreover, of two productive agents that one is more desirable whose end is better; while between a productive agent and an end we can decide by a proportional sum whenever the excess of the one end over the other is greater than that of the latter over its own productive means: e.g. supposing the excess of happiness over health to be greater than that of health over what produces health, then what produces happiness is better than health. For what produces happiness exceeds what produces health just as much as happiness exceeds health. But health exceeds what produces health by a smaller amount; ergo, the excess of what produces happiness over what produces health is greater than that of health over what produces health. Clearly, therefore, what produces happiness is more desirable than health: for it exceeds the same standard by a greater amount. Moreover, what is in itself nobler and more precious and praiseworthy is more desirable than what is less so, e.g. friendship than wealth, and justice than strength. For the former belong in themselves to the class of things precious and praiseworthy, while the latter do so not in themselves but for something else: for no one prizes wealth for itself but always for something else, whereas we prize friendship for itself, even though nothing else is likely to come to us from it.

2

Moreover, whenever two things are very much like one another, and we cannot see any superiority in the one over the other of them, we should look at them from the standpoint of their consequences. For the one which is followed by the greater good is the more desirable: or, if the consequences be evil, that is more desirable which is followed by the less evil. For though both may be desirable, yet there may possibly be some unpleasant consequence involved to turn the scale. Our survey from the point of view of consequences lies in two directions, for there are prior consequences and later consequences: e.g. if a man learns, it follows that he was ignorant before and knows afterwards. As a rule, the later consequence is the better to consider. You should take, therefore, whichever of the consequences suits your purpose.

Moreover, a greater number of good things is more desirable than a smaller, either absolutely or when the one is included in the other, viz. the smaller number in the greater. An objection may be raised suppose in some particular case the one is valued for the sake of the other; for then the two together are not more desirable than the one; e.g. recovery of health and health, than health alone, inasmuch as we desire recovery of health for the sake of health. Also it is quite possible for what is not good, together with what is, to be more desirable than a greater number of good things, e.g. the combination of happiness and something else which is not good may be more desirable than the combination of justice and courage. Also, the same things are more valuable if accompanied than if unaccompanied by pleasure, and likewise when free from pain than when attended with pain.

Also, everything is more desirable at the season when it is of greater consequence; e.g. freedom from pain in old age more than in youth: for it is of greater consequence in old age. On the same principle also, prudence is more desirable in old age; for no man chooses the young to guide him, because he does not expect them to be prudent. With courage, the converse is the case, for it is in youth that the active exercise of courage is more imperatively required. Likewise also with temperance; for the young are more troubled by their passions than are their elders.

Also, that is more desirable which is more useful at every season or at most seasons, e.g. justice and temperance rather than courage: for they are always useful, while courage is only useful at times. Also, that one of two things which if all possess, we do not need the other thing, is more desirable than that which all may possess and still we want the other one as well. Take the case of justice and courage; if everybody were just, there would be no use for courage, whereas all might be courageous, and still justice would be of use.

Moreover, judge by the destructions and losses and generations and acquisitions and contraries of things: for things whose destruction is more objectionable are themselves more desirable. Likewise also with the losses and contraries of things; for a thing whose loss or whose contrary is more objectionable is itself more desirable. With the generations or acquisitions of things the opposite is the case: for things whose acquisition or generation is more desirable are themselves also desirable. Another commonplace rule is that what is nearer to the good is better and more desirable, i.e. what more nearly resembles the good: thus justice is better than a just man. Also, that which is more like than another thing to something better than itself, as e.g. some say that Ajax was a better man than Odysseus because he was more like Achilles. An objection may be raised to this that it is not true: for it is quite possible that Ajax did not resemble Achilles more nearly than Odysseus in the points which made Achilles the best of them, and that Odysseus was a good man, though unlike Achilles. Look also to see whether the resemblance be that of a caricature, like the resemblance of a monkey to a man, whereas a horse bears none: for the monkey is not the more handsome creature, despite its nearer resemblance to a man. Again, in the case of two things, if one is more like the better thing while another is more like the worse, then that is likely to be better which is more like the better. This too, however, admits of an objection: for quite possibly the one only slightly resembles the better, while the other strongly resembles the worse, e.g. supposing the resemblance of Ajax to Achilles to be slight, while that of Odysseus to Nestor is strong. Also it may be that the one which is like the better type shows a degrading likeness, whereas the one which is like the worse type improves upon it: witness the likeness of a horse to a donkey, and that of a monkey to a man.

Another rule is that the more conspicuous good is more desirable than the less conspicuous, and the more difficult than the easier: for we appreciate better the possession of things that cannot be easily acquired. Also the more personal possession is more desirable than the more widely shared. Also, that which is more free from connexion with evil: for what is not attended by any unpleasantness is more desirable than what is so attended.

Moreover, if A be without qualification better than B, then also the best of the members of A is better than the best of the members of B; e.g. if Man be better than Horse, then also the best man is better than the best horse. Also, if the best in A be better than the best in B, then also A is better than B without qualification; e.g. if the best man be better than the best horse, then also Man is better than Horse without qualification.

Moreover, things which our friends can share are more desirable than those they cannot. Also, things which we like rather to do to our friend are more desirable than those we like to do to the man in the street, e.g. just dealing and the doing of good rather than the semblance of them: for we would rather really do good to our friends than seem to do so, whereas towards the man in the street the converse is the case.

Also, superfluities are better than necessities, and are sometimes more desirable as well: for the good life is better than mere life, and good life is a superfluity, whereas mere life itself is a necessity. Sometimes, though, what is better is not also more desirable: for there is no necessity that because it is better it should also be more desirable: at least to be a philosopher is better than to make money, but it is not more desirable for a man who lacks the necessities of life. The expression ‘superfluity’ applies whenever a man possesses the necessities of life and sets to work to secure as well other noble acquisitions. Roughly speaking, perhaps, necessities are more desirable, while superfluities are better.

Also, what cannot be got from another is more desirable than what can be got from another as well, as (e.g.) is the case of justice compared with courage. Also, A is more desirable if A is desirable without B, but not B without A: power (e.g.) is not desirable without prudence, but prudence is desirable without power. Also, if of two things we repudiate the one in order to be thought to possess the other, then that one is more desirable which we wish to be thought to possess; thus (e.g.) we repudiate the love of hard work in order that people may think us geniuses.

Moreover, that is more desirable in whose absence it is less blameworthy for people to be vexed; and that is more desirable in whose absence it is more blameworthy for a man not to be vexed.

3

Moreover, of things that belong to the same species one which possesses the peculiar virtue of the species is more desirable than one which does not. If both possess it, then the one which possesses it in a greater degree is more desirable.

Moreover, if one thing makes good whatever it touches, while another does not, the former is more desirable, just as also what makes things warm is warmer than what does not. If both do so, then that one is more desirable which does so in a greater degree, or if it render good the better and more important object-if (e.g.), the one makes good the soul, and the other the body.

Moreover, judge things by their inflexions and uses and actions and works, and judge these by them: for they go with each other: e.g. if ‘justly’ means something more desirable than ‘courageously’, then also justice means something more desirable than courage; and if justice be more desirable than courage, then also ‘justly’ means something more desirable than ‘courageously’. Similarly also in the other cases.

Moreover, if one thing exceeds while the other falls short of the same standard of good, the one which exceeds is the more desirable; or if the one exceeds an even higher standard. Nay more, if there be two things both preferable to something, the one which is more highly preferable to it is more desirable than the less highly preferable. Moreover, when the excess of a thing is more desirable than the excess of something else, that thing is itself also more desirable than the other, as (e.g.) friendship than money: for an excess of friendship is more desirable than an excess of money. So also that of which a man would rather that it were his by his own doing is more desirable than what he would rather get by another’s doing, e.g. friends than money. Moreover, judge by means of an addition, and see if the addition of A to the same thing as B makes the whole more desirable than does the addition of B. You must, however, beware of adducing a case in which the common term uses, or in some other way helps the case of, one of the things added to it, but not the other, as (e.g.) if you took a saw and a sickle in combination with the art of carpentry: for in the combination the saw is a more desirable thing, but it is not a more desirable thing without qualification. Again, a thing is more desirable if, when added to a lesser good, it makes the whole greater good. Likewise, also, you should judge by means of subtraction: for the thing upon whose subtraction the remainder is a lesser good may be taken to be a greater good, whichever it be whose subtraction makes the remainder a lesser good.

Also, if one thing be desirable for itself, and the other for the look of it, the former is more desirable, as (e.g.) health than beauty. A thing is defined as being desired for the look of it if, supposing no one knew of it, you would not care to have it. Also, it is more desirable both for itself and for the look of it, while the other thing is desirable on the one ground alone. Also, whichever is the more precious for itself, is also better and more desirable. A thing may be taken to be more precious in itself which we choose rather for itself, without anything else being likely to come of it.

Moreover, you should distinguish in how many senses ‘desirable’ is used, and with a view to what ends, e.g. expediency or honour or pleasure. For what is useful for all or most of them may be taken to be more desirable than what is not useful in like manner. If the same characters belong to both things you should look and see which possesses them more markedly, i.e. which of the two is the more pleasant or more honourable or more expedient. Again, that is more desirable which serves the better purpose, e.g. that which serves to promote virtue more than that which serves to promote pleasure. Likewise also in the case of objectionable things; for that is more objectionable which stands more in the way of what is desirable, e.g. disease more than ugliness: for disease is a greater hindrance both to pleasure and to being good.

Moreover, argue by showing that the thing in question is in like measure objectionable and desirable: for a thing of such a character that a man might well desire and object to it alike is less desirable than the other which is desirable only.

4

Comparisons of things together should therefore be conducted in the manner prescribed. The same commonplace rules are useful also for showing that anything is simply desirable or objectionable: for we have only to subtract the excess of one thing over another. For if what is more precious be more desirable, then also what is precious is desirable; and if what is more useful be more desirable, then also what is useful is desirable. Likewise, also, in the case of other things which admit of comparisons of that kind. For in some cases in the very course of comparing the things together we at once assert also that each of them, or the one of them, is desirable, e.g. whenever we call the one good ‘by nature’ and the other ‘not by nature’: for dearly what is good by nature is desirable.

5

The commonplace rules relating to comparative degrees and amounts ought to be taken in the most general possible form: for when so taken they are likely to be useful in a larger number of instances. It is possible to render some of the actual rules given above more universal by a slight alteration of the expression, e.g. that what by nature exhibits such and such a quality exhibits that quality in a greater degree than what exhibits it not by nature. Also, if one thing does, and another does not, impart such and such a quality to that which possesses it, or to which it belongs, then whichever does impart it is of that quality in greater degree than the one which does not impart it; and if both impart it, then that one exhibits it in a greater degree which imparts it in a greater degree.

Moreover, if in any character one thing exceeds and another falls short of the same standard; also, if the one exceeds something which exceeds a given standard, while the other does not reach that standard, then clearly the first-named thing exhibits that character in a greater degree. Moreover, you should judge by means of addition, and see if A when added to the same thing as B imparts to the whole such and such a character in a more marked degree than B, or if, when added to a thing which exhibits that character in a less degree, it imparts that character to the whole in a greater degree. Likewise, also, you may judge by means of subtraction: for a thing upon whose subtraction the remainder exhibits such and such a character in a less degree, itself exhibits that character in a greater degree. Also, things exhibit such and such a character in a greater degree if more free from admixture with their contraries; e.g. that is whiter which is more free from admixture with black. Moreover, apart from the rules given above, that has such and such a character in greater degree which admits in a greater degree of the definition proper to the given character; e.g. if the definition of ‘white’ be ‘a colour which pierces the vision’, then that is whiter which is in a greater degree a colour that pierces the vision.

6

If the question be put in a particular and not in a universal form, in the first place the universal constructive or destructive commonplace rules that have been given may all be brought into use. For in demolishing or establishing a thing universally we also show it in particular: for if it be true of all, it is true also of some, and if untrue of all, it is untrue of some. Especially handy and of general application are the commonplace rules that are drawn from the opposites and co-ordinates and inflexions of a thing: for public opinion grants alike the claim that if all pleasure be good, then also all pain is evil, and the claim that if some pleasure be good, then also some pain is evil. Moreover, if some form of sensation be not a capacity, then also some form of failure of sensation is not a failure of capacity. Also, if the object of conception is in some cases an object of knowledge, then also some form of conceiving is knowledge. Again, if what is unjust be in some cases good, then also what is just is in some cases evil; and if what happens justly is in some cases evil, then also what happens unjustly is in some cases good. Also, if what is pleasant is in some cases objectionable, then pleasure is in some cases an objectionable thing. On the same principle, also, if what is pleasant is in some cases beneficial, then pleasure is in some cases a beneficial thing. The case is the same also as regards the things that destroy, and the processes of generation and destruction. For if anything that destroys pleasure or knowledge be in some cases good, then we may take it that pleasure or knowledge is in some cases an evil thing. Likewise, also, if the destruction of knowledge be in some cases a good thing or its production an evil thing, then knowledge will be in some cases an evil thing; e.g. if for a man to forget his disgraceful conduct be a good thing, and to remember it be an evil thing, then the knowledge of his disgraceful conduct may be taken to be an evil thing. The same holds also in other cases: in all such cases the premiss and the conclusion are equally likely to be accepted.

Moreover you should judge by means of greater or smaller or like degrees: for if some member of another genus exhibit such and such a character in a more marked degree than your object, while no member of that genus exhibits that character at all, then you may take it that neither does the object in question exhibit it; e.g. if some form of knowledge be good in a greater degree than pleasure, while no form of knowledge is good, then you may take it that pleasure is not good either. Also, you should judge by a smaller or like degree in the same way: for so you will find it possible both to demolish and to establish a view, except that whereas both are possible by means of like degrees, by means of a smaller degree it is possible only to establish, not to overthrow. For if a certain form of capacity be good in a like degree to knowledge, and a certain form of capacity be good, then so also is knowledge; while if no form of capacity be good, then neither is knowledge. If, too, a certain form of capacity be good in a less degree than knowledge, and a certain form of capacity be good, then so also is knowledge; but if no form of capacity be good, there is no necessity that no form of knowledge either should be good. Clearly, then, it is only possible to establish a view by means of a less degree.

Not only by means of another genus can you overthrow a view, but also by means of the same, if you take the most marked instance of the character in question; e.g. if it be maintained that some form of knowledge is good, then, suppose it to be shown that prudence is not good, neither will any other kind be good, seeing that not even the kind upon which there is most general agreement is so. Moreover, you should go to work by means of an hypothesis; you should claim that the attribute, if it belongs or does not belong in one case, does so in a like degree in all, e.g. that if the soul of man be immortal, so are other souls as well, while if this one be not so, neither are the others. If, then, it be maintained that in some instance the attribute belongs, you must show that in some instance it does not belong: for then it will follow, by reason of the hypothesis, that it does not belong to any instance at all. If, on the other hand, it be maintained that it does not belong in some instance, you must show that it does belong in some instance, for in this way it will follow that it belongs to all instances. It is clear that the maker of the hypothesis universalizes the question, whereas it was stated in a particular form: for he claims that the maker of a particular admission should make a universal admission, inasmuch as he claims that if the attribute belongs in one instance, it belongs also in all instances alike.

If the problem be indefinite, it is possible to overthrow a statement in only one way; e.g. if a man has asserted that pleasure is good or is not good, without any further definition. For if he meant that a particular pleasure is good, you must show universally that no pleasure is good, if the proposition in question is to be demolished. And likewise, also, if he meant that some particular pleasure is not good you must show universally that all pleasure is good: it is impossible to demolish it in any other way. For if we show that some particular pleasure is not good or is good, the proposition in question is not yet demolished. It is clear, then, that it is possible to demolish an indefinite statement in one way only, whereas it can be established in two ways: for whether we show universally that all pleasure is good, or whether we show that a particular pleasure is good, the proposition in question will have been proved. Likewise, also, supposing we are required to argue that some particular pleasure is not good, if we show that no pleasure is good or that a particular pleasure is not good, we shall have produced an argument in both ways, both universally and in particular, to show that some particular pleasure is not good. If, on the other hand, the statement made be definite, it will be possible to demolish it in two ways; e.g. if it be maintained that it is an attribute of some particular pleasure to be good, while of some it is not: for whether it be shown that all pleasure, or that no pleasure, is good, the proposition in question will have been demolished. If, however, he has stated that only one single pleasure is good, it is possible to demolish it in three ways: for by showing that all pleasure, or that no pleasure, or that more than one pleasure, is good, we shall have demolished the statement in question. If the statement be made still more definite, e.g. that prudence alone of the virtues is knowledge, there are four ways of demolishing it: for if it be shown that all virtue is knowledge, or that no virtue is so, or that some other virtue (e.g. justice) is so, or that prudence itself is not knowledge, the proposition in question will have been demolished.

It is useful also to take a look at individual instances, in cases where some attribute has been said to belong or not to belong, as in the case of universal questions. Moreover, you should take a glance among genera, dividing them by their species until you come to those that are not further divisible, as has been said before:’ for whether the attribute is found to belong in all cases or in none, you should, after adducing several instances, claim that he should either admit your point universally, or else bring an objection showing in what case it does not hold. Moreover, in cases where it is possible to make the accident definite either specifically or numerically, you should look and see whether perhaps none of them belongs, showing e.g. that time is not moved, nor yet a movement, by enumerating how many species there are of movement: for if none of these belong to time, clearly it does not move, nor yet is a movement. Likewise, also, you can show that the soul is not a number, by dividing all numbers into either odd or even: for then, if the soul be neither odd nor even, clearly it is not a number.

In regard then to Accident, you should set to work by means like these, and in this manner.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 12:59