Topics, by Aristotle

Book VIII

1

NEXT there fall to be discussed the problems of arrangement and method in putting questions. Any one who intends to frame questions must, first of all, select the ground from which he should make his attack; secondly, he must frame them and arrange them one by one to himself; thirdly and lastly, he must proceed actually to put them to the other party. Now so far as the selection of his ground is concerned the problem is one alike for the philosopher and the dialectician; but how to go on to arrange his points and frame his questions concerns the dialectician only: for in every problem of that kind a reference to another party is involved. Not so with the philosopher, and the man who is investigating by himself: the premisses of his reasoning, although true and familiar, may be refused by the answerer because they lie too near the original statement and so he foresees what will follow if he grants them: but for this the philosopher does not care. Nay, he may possibly be even anxious to secure axioms as familiar and as near to the question in hand as possible: for these are the bases on which scientific reasonings are built up.

The sources from which one’s commonplace arguments should be drawn have already been described:’ we have now to discuss the arrangement and formation of questions and first to distinguish the premisses, other than the necessary premisses, which have to be adopted. By necessary premisses are meant those through which the actual reasoning is constructed. Those which are secured other than these are of four kinds; they serve either inductively to secure the universal premiss being granted, or to lend weight to the argument, or to conceal the conclusion, or to render the argument more clear. Beside these there is no other premiss which need be secured: these are the ones whereby you should try to multiply and formulate your questions. Those which are used to conceal the conclusion serve a controversial purpose only; but inasmuch as an undertaking of this sort is always conducted against another person, we are obliged to employ them as well.

The necessary premisses through which the reasoning is effected, ought not to be propounded directly in so many words. Rather one should soar as far aloof from them as possible. Thus if one desires to secure an admission that the knowledge of contraries is one, one should ask him to admit it not of contraries, but of opposites: for, if he grants this, one will then argue that the knowledge of contraries is also the same, seeing that contraries are opposites; if he does not, one should secure the admission by induction, by formulating a proposition to that effect in the case of some particular pair of contraries. For one must secure the necessary premisses either by reasoning or by induction, or else partly by one and partly by the other, although any propositions which are too obvious to be denied may be formulated in so many words. This is because the coming conclusion is less easily discerned at the greater distance and in the process of induction, while at the same time, even if one cannot reach the required premisses in this way, it is still open to one to formulate them in so many words. The premisses, other than these, that were mentioned above, must be secured with a view to the latter. The way to employ them respectively is as follows: Induction should proceed from individual cases to the universal and from the known to the unknown; and the objects of perception are better known, to most people if not invariably. Concealment of one’s plan is obtained by securing through prosyllogisms the premisses through which the proof of the original proposition is going to be constructed-and as many of them as possible. This is likely to be effected by making syllogisms to prove not only the necessary premisses but also some of those which are required to establish them. Moreover, do not state the conclusions of these premisses but draw them later one after another; for this is likely to keep the answerer at the greatest possible distance from the original proposition. Speaking generally, a man who desires to get information by a concealed method should so put his questions that when he has put his whole argument and has stated the conclusion, people still ask ‘Well, but why is that?’ This result will be secured best of all by the method above described: for if one states only the final conclusion, it is unclear how it comes about; for the answerer does not foresee on what grounds it is based, because the previous syllogisms have not been made articulate to him: while the final syllogism, showing the conclusion, is likely to be kept least articulate if we lay down not the secured propositions on which it is based, but only the grounds on which we reason to them.

It is a useful rule, too, not to secure the admissions claimed as the bases of the syllogisms in their proper order, but alternately those that conduce to one conclusion and those that conduce to another; for, if those which go together are set side by side, the conclusion that will result from them is more obvious in advance.

One should also, wherever possible, secure the universal premiss by a definition relating not to the precise terms themselves but to their co-ordinates; for people deceive themselves, whenever the definition is taken in regard to a co-ordinate, into thinking that they are not making the admission universally. An instance would be, supposing one had to secure the admission that the angry man desires vengeance on account of an apparent slight, and were to secure this, that ‘anger’ is a desire for vengeance on account of an apparent slight: for, clearly, if this were secured, we should have universally what we intend. If, on the other hand, people formulate propositions relating to the actual terms themselves, they often find that the answerer refuses to grant them because on the actual term itself he is readier with his objection, e.g. that the ‘angry man’ does not desire vengeance, because we become angry with our parents, but we do not desire vengeance on them. Very likely the objection is not valid; for upon some people it is vengeance enough to cause them pain and make them sorry; but still it gives a certain plausibility and air of reasonableness to the denial of the proposition. In the case, however, of the definition of ‘anger’ it is not so easy to find an objection.

Moreover, formulate your proposition as though you did so not for its own sake, but in order to get at something else: for people are shy of granting what an opponent’s case really requires. Speaking generally, a questioner should leave it as far as possible doubtful whether he wishes to secure an admission of his proposition or of its opposite: for if it be uncertain what their opponent’s argument requires, people are more ready to say what they themselves think.

Moreover, try to secure admissions by means of likeness: for such admissions are plausible, and the universal involved is less patent; e.g. make the other person admit that as knowledge and ignorance of contraries is the same, so too perception of contraries is the same; or vice versa, that since the perception is the same, so is the knowledge also. This argument resembles induction, but is not the same thing; for in induction it is the universal whose admission is secured from the particulars, whereas in arguments from likeness, what is secured is not the universal under which all the like cases fall.

It is a good rule also, occasionally to bring an objection against oneself: for answerers are put off their guard against those who appear to be arguing impartially. It is useful too, to add that ‘So and so is generally held or commonly said’; for people are shy of upsetting the received opinion unless they have some positive objection to urge: and at the same time they are cautious about upsetting such things because they themselves too find them useful. Moreover, do not be insistent, even though you really require the point: for insistence always arouses the more opposition. Further, formulate your premiss as though it were a mere illustration: for people admit the more readily a proposition made to serve some other purpose, and not required on its own account. Moreover, do not formulate the very proposition you need to secure, but rather something from which that necessarily follows: for people are more willing to admit the latter, because it is not so clear from this what the result will be, and if the one has been secured, the other has been secured also. Again, one should put last the point which one most wishes to have conceded; for people are specially inclined to deny the first questions put to them, because most people in asking questions put first the points which they are most eager to secure. On the other hand, in dealing with some people propositions of this sort should be put forward first: for ill-tempered men admit most readily what comes first, unless the conclusion that will result actually stares them in the face, while at the close of an argument they show their ill-temper. Likewise also with those who consider themselves smart at answering: for when they have admitted most of what you want they finally talk clap-trap to the effect that the conclusion does not follow from their admissions: yet they say ‘Yes’ readily, confident in their own character, and imagining that they cannot suffer any reverse. Moreover, it is well to expand the argument and insert things that it does not require at all, as do those who draw false geometrical figures: for in the multitude of details the whereabouts of the fallacy is obscured. For this reason also a questioner sometimes evades observation as he adds in a corner what, if he formulated it by itself, would not be granted.

For concealment, then, the rules which should be followed are the above. Ornament is attained by induction and distinction of things closely akin. What sort of process induction is is obvious: as for distinction, an instance of the kind of thing meant is the distinction of one form of knowledge as better than another by being either more accurate, or concerned with better objects; or the distinction of sciences into speculative, practical, and productive. For everything of this kind lends additional ornament to the argument, though there is no necessity to say them, so far as the conclusion goes.

For clearness, examples and comparisons should be adduced, and let the illustrations be relevant and drawn from things that we know, as in Homer and not as in Choerilus; for then the proposition is likely to become clearer.

2

In dialectics, syllogism should be employed in reasoning against dialecticians rather than against the crowd: induction, on the other hand, is most useful against the crowd. This point has been treated previously as well.’ In induction, it is possible in some cases to ask the question in its universal form, but in others this is not easy, because there is no established general term that covers all the resemblances: in this case, when people need to secure the universal, they use the phrase ‘in all cases of this sort’. But it is one of the very hardest things to distinguish which of the things adduced are ‘of this sort’, and which are not: and in this connexion people often throw dust in each others’ eyes in their discussion, the one party asserting the likeness of things that are not alike, and the other disputing the likeness of things that are. One ought, therefore, to try oneself to coin a word to cover all things of the given sort, so as to leave no opportunity either to the answerer to dispute, and say that the thing advanced does not answer to a like description, or to the questioner to suggest falsely that it does answer to a like description, for many things appear to answer to like descriptions that do not really do so.

If one has made an induction on the strength of several cases and yet the answerer refuses to grant the universal proposition, then it is fair to demand his objection. But until one has oneself stated in what cases it is so, it is not fair to demand that he shall say in what cases it is not so: for one should make the induction first, and then demand the objection. One ought, moreover, to claim that the objections should not be brought in reference to the actual subject of the proposition, unless that subject happen to be the one and only thing of the kind, as for instance two is the one prime number among the even numbers: for, unless he can say that this subject is unique of its kind, the objector ought to make his objection in regard to some other. People sometimes object to a universal proposition, and bring their objection not in regard to the thing itself, but in regard to some homonym of it: thus they argue that a man can very well have a colour or a foot or a hand other than his own, for a painter may have a colour that is not his own, and a cook may have a foot that is not his own. To meet them, therefore, you should draw the distinction before putting your question in such cases: for so long as the ambiguity remains undetected, so long will the objection to the proposition be deemed valid. If, however, he checks the series of questions by an objection in regard not to some homonym, but to the actual thing asserted, the questioner should withdraw the point objected to, and form the remainder into a universal proposition, until he secures what he requires; e.g. in the case of forgetfulness and having forgotten: for people refuse to admit that the man who has lost his knowledge of a thing has forgotten it, because if the thing alters, he has lost knowledge of it, but he has not forgotten it. Accordingly the thing to do is to withdraw the part objected to, and assert the remainder, e.g. that if a person have lost knowledge of a thing while it still remains, he then has forgotten it. One should similarly treat those who object to the statement that ‘the greater the good, the greater the evil that is its opposite’: for they allege that health, which is a less good thing than vigour, has a greater evil as its opposite: for disease is a greater evil than debility. In this case too, therefore, we have to withdraw the point objected to; for when it has been withdrawn, the man is more likely to admit the proposition, e.g. that ‘the greater good has the greater evil as its opposite, unless the one good involves the other as well’, as vigour involves health. This should be done not only when he formulates an objection, but also if, without so doing, he refuses to admit the point because he foresees something of the kind: for if the point objected to be withdrawn, he will be forced to admit the proposition because he cannot foresee in the rest of it any case where it does not hold true: if he refuse to admit it, then when asked for an objection he certainly will be unable to render one. Propositions that are partly false and partly true are of this type: for in the case of these it is possible by withdrawing a part to leave the rest true. If, however, you formulate the proposition on the strength of many cases and he has no objection to bring, you may claim that he shall admit it: for a premiss is valid in dialectics which thus holds in several instances and to which no objection is forthcoming.

Whenever it is possible to reason to the same conclusion either through or without a reduction per impossibile, if one is demonstrating and not arguing dialectically it makes no difference which method of reasoning be adopted, but in argument with another reasoning per impossibile should be avoided. For where one has reasoned without the reduction per impossibile, no dispute can arise; if, on the other hand, one does reason to an impossible conclusion, unless its falsehood is too plainly manifest, people deny that it is impossible, so that the questioners do not get what they want.

One should put forward all propositions that hold true of several cases, and to which either no objection whatever appears or at least not any on the surface: for when people cannot see any case in which it is not so, they admit it for true.

The conclusion should not be put in the form of a question; if it be, and the man shakes his head, it looks as if the reasoning had failed. For often, even if it be not put as a question but advanced as a consequence, people deny it, and then those who do not see that it follows upon the previous admissions do not realize that those who deny it have been refuted: when, then, the one man merely asks it as a question without even saying that it so follows, and the other denies it, it looks altogether as if the reasoning had failed.

Not every universal question can form a dialectical proposition as ordinarily understood, e.g. ‘What is man?’ or ‘How many meanings has “the good”?’ For a dialectical premiss must be of a form to which it is possible to reply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, whereas to the aforesaid it is not possible. For this reason questions of this kind are not dialectical unless the questioner himself draws distinctions or divisions before expressing them, e.g. ‘Good means this, or this, does it not?’ For questions of this sort are easily answered by a Yes or a No. Hence one should endeavour to formulate propositions of this kind in this form. It is at the same time also perhaps fair to ask the other man how many meanings of ‘the good’ there are, whenever you have yourself distinguished and formulated them, and he will not admit them at all.

Any one who keeps on asking one thing for a long time is a bad inquirer. For if he does so though the person questioned keeps on answering the questions, clearly he asks a large number of questions, or else asks the same question a large number of times: in the one case he merely babbles, in the other he fails to reason: for reasoning always consists of a small number of premisses. If, on the other hand, he does it because the person questioned does not answer the questions, he is at fault in not taking him to task or breaking off the discussion.

3

There are certain hypotheses upon which it is at once difficult to bring, and easy to stand up to, an argument. Such (e.g.) are those things which stand first and those which stand last in the order of nature. For the former require definition, while the latter have to be arrived at through many steps if one wishes to secure a continuous proof from first principles, or else all discussion about them wears the air of mere sophistry: for to prove anything is impossible unless one begins with the appropriate principles, and connects inference with inference till the last are reached. Now to define first principles is just what answerers do not care to do, nor do they pay any attention if the questioner makes a definition: and yet until it is clear what it is that is proposed, it is not easy to discuss it. This sort of thing happens particularly in the case of the first principles: for while the other propositions are shown through these, these cannot be shown through anything else: we are obliged to understand every item of that sort by a definition. The inferences, too, that lie too close to the first principle are hard to treat in argument: for it is not possible to bring many arguments in regard to them, because of the small number of those steps, between the conclusion and the principle, whereby the succeeding propositions have to be shown. The hardest, however, of all definitions to treat in argument are those that employ terms about which, in the first place, it is uncertain whether they are used in one sense or several, and, further, whether they are used literally or metaphorically by the definer. For because of their obscurity, it is impossible to argue upon such terms; and because of the impossibility of saying whether this obscurity is due to their being used metaphorically, it is impossible to refute them.

In general, it is safe to suppose that, whenever any problem proves intractable, it either needs definition or else bears either several senses, or a metaphorical sense, or it is not far removed from the first principles; or else the reason is that we have yet to discover in the first place just this-in which of the aforesaid directions the source of our difficulty lies: when we have made this clear, then obviously our business must be either to define or to distinguish, or to supply the intermediate premisses: for it is through these that the final conclusions are shown.

It often happens that a difficulty is found in discussing or arguing a given position because the definition has not been correctly rendered: e.g. ‘Has one thing one contrary or many?’: here when the term ‘contraries’ has been properly defined, it is easy to bring people to see whether it is possible for the same thing to have several contraries or not: in the same way also with other terms requiring definition. It appears also in mathematics that the difficulty in using a figure is sometimes due to a defect in definition; e.g. in proving that the line which cuts the plane parallel to one side divides similarly both the line which it cuts and the area; whereas if the definition be given, the fact asserted becomes immediately clear: for the areas have the same fraction subtracted from them as have the sides: and this is the definition of ‘the same ratio’. The most primary of the elementary principles are without exception very easy to show, if the definitions involved, e.g. the nature of a line or of a circle, be laid down; only the arguments that can be brought in regard to each of them are not many, because there are not many intermediate steps. If, on the other hand, the definition of the starting-points be not laid down, to show them is difficult and may even prove quite impossible. The case of the significance of verbal expressions is like that of these mathematical conceptions.

One may be sure then, whenever a position is hard to discuss, that one or other of the aforesaid things has happened to it. Whenever, on the other hand, it is a harder task to argue to the point claimed, i.e. the premiss, than to the resulting position, a doubt may arise whether such claims should be admitted or not: for if a man is going to refuse to admit it and claim that you shall argue to it as well, he will be giving the signal for a harder undertaking than was originally proposed: if, on the other hand, he grants it, he will be giving the original thesis credence on the strength of what is less credible than itself. If, then, it is essential not to enhance the difficulty of the problem, he had better grant it; if, on the other hand, it be essential to reason through premisses that are better assured, he had better refuse. In other words, in serious inquiry he ought not to grant it, unless he be more sure about it than about the conclusion; whereas in a dialectical exercise he may do so if he is merely satisfied of its truth. Clearly, then, the circumstances under which such admissions should be claimed are different for a mere questioner and for a serious teacher.

4

As to the formulation, then, and arrangement of one’s questions, about enough has been said.

With regard to the giving of answers, we must first define what is the business of a good answerer, as of a good questioner. The business of the questioner is so to develop the argument as to make the answerer utter the most extrvagant paradoxes that necessarily follow because of his position: while that of the answerer is to make it appear that it is not he who is responsible for the absurdity or paradox, but only his position: for one may, perhaps, distinguish between the mistake of taking up a wrong position to start with, and that of not maintaining it properly, when once taken up.

5

Inasmuch as no rules are laid down for those who argue for the sake of training and of examination:-and the aim of those engaged in teaching or learning is quite different from that of those engaged in a competition; as is the latter from that of those who discuss things together in the spirit of inquiry: for a learner should always state what he thinks: for no one is even trying to teach him what is false; whereas in a competition the business of the questioner is to appear by all means to produce an effect upon the other, while that of the answerer is to appear unaffected by him; on the other hand, in an assembly of disputants discussing in the spirit not of a competition but of an examination and inquiry, there are as yet no articulate rules about what the answerer should aim at, and what kind of things he should and should not grant for the correct or incorrect defence of his position:-inasmuch, then, as we have no tradition bequeathed to us by others, let us try to say something upon the matter for ourselves.

The thesis laid down by the answerer before facing the questioner’s argument is bound of necessity to be one that is either generally accepted or generally rejected or else is neither: and moreover is so accepted or rejected either absolutely or else with a restriction, e.g. by some given person, by the speaker or by some one else. The manner, however, of its acceptance or rejection, whatever it be, makes no difference: for the right way to answer, i.e. to admit or to refuse to admit what has been asked, will be the same in either case. If, then, the statement laid down by the answerer be generally rejected, the conclusion aimed at by the questioner is bound to be one generally accepted, whereas if the former be generally accepted, the latter is generally rejected: for the conclusion which the questioner tries to draw is always the opposite of the statement laid down. If, on the other hand, what is laid down is generally neither rejected nor accepted, the conclusion will be of the same type as well. Now since a man who reasons correctly demonstrates his proposed conclusion from premisses that are more generally accepted, and more familiar, it is clear that (1) where the view laid down by him is one that generally is absolutely rejected, the answerer ought not to grant either what is thus absolutely not accepted at all, or what is accepted indeed, but accepted less generally than the questioner’s conclusion. For if the statement laid down by the answerer be generally rejected, the conclusion aimed at by the questioner will be one that is generally accepted, so that the premisses secured by the questioner should all be views generally accepted, and more generally accepted than his proposed conclusion, if the less familiar is to be inferred through the more familiar. Consequently, if any of the questions put to him be not of this character, the answerer should not grant them. (2) If, on the other hand, the statement laid down by the answerer be generally accepted without qualification, clearly the conclusion sought by the questioner will be one generally rejected without qualification. Accordingly, the answerer should admit all views that are generally accepted and, of those that are not generally accepted, all that are less generally rejected than the conclusion sought by the questioner. For then he will probably be thought to have argued sufficiently well. (3) Likewise, too, if the statement laid down by the answerer be neither rejected generally nor generally accepted; for then, too, anything that appears to be true should be granted, and, of the views not generally accepted, any that are more generally accepted than the questioner’s conclusion; for in that case the result will be that the arguments will be more generally accepted. If, then, the view laid down by the answerer be one that is generally accepted or rejected without qualification, then the views that are accepted absolutely must be taken as the standard of comparison: whereas if the view laid down be one that is not generally accepted or rejected, but only by the answerer, then the standard whereby the latter must judge what is generally accepted or not, and must grant or refuse to grant the point asked, is himself. If, again, the answerer be defending some one else’s opinion, then clearly it will be the latter’s judgement to which he must have regard in granting or denying the various points. This is why those, too, who introduce other’s opinions, e.g. that ‘good and evil are the same thing, as Heraclitus says,’ refuse to admit the impossibility of contraries belonging at the same time to the same thing; not because they do not themselves believe this, but because on Heraclitus’ principles one has to say so. The same thing is done also by those who take on the defence of one another’s positions; their aim being to speak as would the man who stated the position.

6

It is clear, then, what the aims of the answerer should be, whether the position he lays down be a view generally accepted without qualification or accepted by some definite person. Now every question asked is bound to involve some view that is either generally held or generally rejected or neither, and is also bound to be either relevant to the argument or irrelevant: if then it be a view generally accepted and irrelevant, the answerer should grant it and remark that it is the accepted view: if it be a view not generally accepted and irrelevant, he should grant it but add a comment that it is not generally accepted, in order to avoid the appearance of being a simpleton. If it be relevant and also be generally accepted, he should admit that it is the view generally accepted but say that it lies too close to the original proposition, and that if it be granted the problem proposed collapses. If what is claimed by the questioner be relevant but too generally rejected, the answerer, while admitting that if it be granted the conclusion sought follows, should yet protest that the proposition is too absurd to be admitted. Suppose, again, it be a view that is neither rejected generally nor generally accepted, then, if it be irrelevant to the argument, it may be granted without restriction; if, however, it be relevant, the answerer should add the comment that, if it be granted, the original problem collapses. For then the answerer will not be held to be personally accountable for what happens to him, if he grants the several points with his eyes open, and also the questioner will be able to draw his inference, seeing that all the premisses that are more generally accepted than the conclusion are granted him. Those who try to draw an inference from premisses more generally rejected than the conclusion clearly do not reason correctly: hence, when men ask these things, they ought not to be granted.

7

The questioner should be met in a like manner also in the case of terms used obscurely, i.e. in several senses. For the answerer, if he does not understand, is always permitted to say ‘I do not understand’: he is not compelled to reply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to a question which may mean different things. Clearly, then, in the first place, if what is said be not clear, he ought not to hesitate to say that he does not understand it; for often people encounter some difficulty from assenting to questions that are not clearly put. If he understands the question and yet it covers many senses, then supposing what it says to be universally true or false, he should give it an unqualified assent or denial: if, on the other hand, it be partly true and partly false, he should add a comment that it bears different senses, and also that in one it is true, in the other false: for if he leave this distinction till later, it becomes uncertain whether originally as well he perceived the ambiguity or not. If he does not foresee the ambiguity, but assents to the question having in view the one sense of the words, then, if the questioner takes it in the other sense, he should say, ‘That was not what I had in view when I admitted it; I meant the other sense’: for if a term or expression covers more than one thing, it is easy to disagree. If, however, the question is both clear and simple, he should answer either ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.

8

A premiss in reasoning always either is one of the constituent elements in the reasoning, or else goes to establish one of these: (and you can always tell when it is secured in order to establish something else by the fact of a number of similar questions being put: for as a rule people secure their universal by means either of induction or of likeness):-accordingly the particular propositions should all be admitted, if they are true and generally held. On the other hand, against the universal one should try to bring some negative instance; for to bring the argument to a standstill without a negative instance, either real or apparent, shows ill-temper. If, then, a man refuses to grant the universal when supported by many instances, although he has no negative instance to show, he obviously shows ill-temper. If, moreover, he cannot even attempt a counter-proof that it is not true, far more likely is he to be thought ill-tempered-although even counter-proof is not enough: for we often hear arguments that are contrary to common opinions, whose solution is yet difficult, e.g. the argument of Zeno that it is impossible to move or to traverse the stadium;-but still, this is no reason for omitting to assert the opposites of these views. If, then, a man refuses to admit the proposition without having either a negative instance or some counter-argument to bring against it, clearly he is ill-tempered: for ill-temper in argument consists in answering in ways other than the above, so as to wreck the reasoning.

9

Before maintaining either a thesis or a definition the answerer should try his hand at attacking it by himself; for clearly his business is to oppose those positions from which questioners demolish what he has laid down.

He should beware of maintaining a hypothesis that is generally rejected: and this it may be in two ways: for it may be one which results in absurd statements, e.g. suppose any one were to say that everything is in motion or that nothing is; and also there are all those which only a bad character would choose, and which are implicitly opposed to men’s wishes, e.g. that pleasure is the good, and that to do injustice is better than to suffer it. For people then hate him, supposing him to maintain them not for the sake of argument but because he really thinks them.

10

Of all arguments that reason to a false conclusion the right solution is to demolish the point on which the fallacy that occurs depends: for the demolition of any random point is no solution, even though the point demolished be false. For the argument may contain many falsehoods, e.g. suppose some one to secure the premisses, ‘He who sits, writes’ and ‘Socrates is sitting’: for from these it follows that ‘Socrates is writing’. Now we may demolish the proposition ‘Socrates is sitting’, and still be no nearer a solution of the argument; it may be true that the point claimed is false; but it is not on that that fallacy of the argument depends: for supposing that any one should happen to be sitting and not writing, it would be impossible in such a case to apply the same solution. Accordingly, it is not this that needs to be demolished, but rather that ‘He who sits, writes’: for he who sits does not always write. He, then, who has demolished the point on which the fallacy depends, has given the solution of the argument completely. Any one who knows that it is on such and such a point that the argument depends, knows the solution of it, just as in the case of a figure falsely drawn. For it is not enough to object, even if the point demolished be a falsehood, but the reason of the fallacy should also be proved: for then it would be clear whether the man makes his objection with his eyes open or not.

There are four possible ways of preventing a man from working his argument to a conclusion. It can be done either by demolishing the point on which the falsehood that comes about depends, or by stating an objection directed against the questioner: for often when a solution has not as a matter of fact been brought, yet the questioner is rendered thereby unable to pursue the argument any farther. Thirdly, one may object to the questions asked: for it may happen that what the questioner wants does not follow from the questions he has asked because he has asked them badly, whereas if something additional be granted the conclusion comes about. If, then, the questioner be unable to pursue his argument farther, the objection would properly be directed against the questioner; if he can do so, then it would be against his questions. The fourth and worst kind of objection is that which is directed to the time allowed for discussion: for some people bring objections of a kind which would take longer to answer than the length of the discussion in hand.

There are then, as we said, four ways of making objections: but of them the first alone is a solution: the others are just hindrances and stumbling-blocks to prevent the conclusions.

11

Adverse criticism of an argument on its own merits, and of it when presented in the form of questions, are two different things. For often the failure to carry through the argument correctly in discussion is due to the person questioned, because he will not grant the steps of which a correct argument might have been made against his position: for it is not in the power of the one side only to effect properly a result that depends on both alike. Accordingly it sometimes becomes necessary to attack the speaker and not his position, when the answerer lies in wait for the points that are contrary to the questioner and becomes abusive as well: when people lose their tempers in this way, their argument becomes a contest, not a discussion. Moreover, since arguments of this kind are held not for the sake of instruction but for purposes of practice and examination, clearly one has to reason not only to true conclusions, but also to false ones, and not always through true premisses, but sometimes through false as well. For often, when a true proposition is put forward, the dialectician is compelled to demolish it: and then false propositions have to be formulated. Sometimes also when a false proposition is put forward, it has to be demolished by means of false propositions: for it is possible for a given man to believe what is not the fact more firmly than the truth. Accordingly, if the argument be made to depend on something that he holds, it will be easier to persuade or help him. He, however, who would rightly convert any one to a different opinion should do so in a dialectical and not in a contentious manner, just as a geometrician should reason geometrically, whether his conclusion be false or true: what kind of syllogisms are dialectical has already been said. The principle that a man who hinders the common business is a bad partner, clearly applies to an argument as well; for in arguments as well there is a common aim in view, except with mere contestants, for these cannot both reach the same goal; for more than one cannot possibly win. It makes no difference whether he effects this as answerer or as questioner: for both he who asks contentious questions is a bad dialectician, and also he who in answering fails to grant the obvious answer or to understand the point of the questioner’s inquiry. What has been said, then, makes it clear that adverse criticism is not to be passed in a like strain upon the argument on its own merits, and upon the questioner: for it may very well be that the argument is bad, but that the questioner has argued with the answerer in the best possible way: for when men lose their tempers, it may perhaps be impossible to make one’s inferences straight-forwardly as one would wish: we have to do as we can.

Inasmuch as it is indeterminate when people are claiming the admission of contrary things, and when they are claiming what originally they set out to prove-for often when they are talking by themselves they say contrary things, and admit afterwards what they have previously denied; for which reason they often assent, when questioned, to contrary things and to what originally had to be proved-the argument is sure to become vitiated. The responsibility, however, for this rests with the answerer, because while refusing to grant other points, he does grant points of that kind. It is, then, clear that adverse criticism is not to be passed in a like manner upon questioners and upon their arguments.

In itself an argument is liable to five kinds of adverse criticism:

(1) The first is when neither the proposed conclusion nor indeed any conclusion at all is drawn from the questions asked, and when most, if not all, of the premisses on which the conclusion rests are false or generally rejected, when, moreover, neither any withdrawals nor additions nor both together can bring the conclusions about.

(2) The second is, supposing the reasoning, though constructed from the premisses, and in the manner, described above, were to be irrelevant to the original position.

(3) The third is, supposing certain additions would bring an inference about but yet these additions were to be weaker than those that were put as questions and less generally held than the conclusion.

(4) Again, supposing certain withdrawals could effect the same: for sometimes people secure more premisses than are necessary, so that it is not through them that the inference comes about.

(5) Moreover, suppose the premisses be less generally held and less credible than the conclusion, or if, though true, they require more trouble to prove than the proposed view.

One must not claim that the reasoning to a proposed view shall in every case equally be a view generally accepted and convincing: for it is a direct result of the nature of things that some subjects of inquiry shall be easier and some harder, so that if a man brings people to accept his point from opinions that are as generally received as the case admits, he has argued his case correctly. Clearly, then, not even the argument itself is open to the same adverse criticism when taken in relation to the proposed conclusion and when taken by itself. For there is nothing to prevent the argument being open to reproach in itself, and yet commendable in relation to the proposed conclusion, or again, vice versa, being commendable in itself, and yet open to reproach in relation to the proposed conclusion, whenever there are many propositions both generally held and also true whereby it could easily be proved. It is possible also that an argument, even though brought to a conclusion, may sometimes be worse than one which is not so concluded, whenever the premisses of the former are silly, while its conclusion is not so; whereas the latter, though requiring certain additions, requires only such as are generally held and true, and moreover does not rest as an argument on these additions. With those which bring about a true conclusion by means of false premisses, it is not fair to find fault: for a false conclusion must of necessity always be reached from a false premiss, but a true conclusion may sometimes be drawn even from false premisses; as is clear from the Analytics.

Whenever by the argument stated something is demonstrated, but that something is other than what is wanted and has no bearing whatever on the conclusion, then no inference as to the latter can be drawn from it: and if there appears to be, it will be a sophism, not a proof. A philosopheme is a demonstrative inference: an epichireme is a dialectical inference: a sophism is a contentious inference: an aporeme is an inference that reasons dialectically to a contradiction.

If something were to be shown from premisses, both of which are views generally accepted, but not accepted with like conviction, it may very well be that the conclusion shown is something held more strongly than either. If, on the other hand, general opinion be for the one and neither for nor against the other, or if it be for the one and against the other, then, if the pro and con be alike in the case of the premisses, they will be alike for the conclusion also: if, on the other hand, the one preponderates, the conclusion too will follow suit.

It is also a fault in reasoning when a man shows something through a long chain of steps, when he might employ fewer steps and those already included in his argument: suppose him to be showing (e.g.) that one opinion is more properly so called than another, and suppose him to make his postulates as follows: ‘x-in-itself is more fully x than anything else’: ‘there genuinely exists an object of opinion in itself’: therefore ‘the object-of-opinion-in-itself is more fully an object of opinion than the particular objects of opinion’. Now ‘a relative term is more fully itself when its correlate is more fully itself’: and ‘there exists a genuine opinion-in-itself, which will be “opinion” in a more accurate sense than the particular opinions’: and it has been postulated both that ‘a genuine opinion-in-itself exists’, and that ‘x-in-itself is more fully x than anything else’: therefore ‘this will be opinion in a more accurate sense’. Wherein lies the viciousness of the reasoning? Simply in that it conceals the ground on which the argument depends.

12

An argument is clear in one, and that the most ordinary, sense, if it be so brought to a conclusion as to make no further questions necessary: in another sense, and this is the type most usually advanced, when the propositions secured are such as compel the conclusion, and the argument is concluded through premisses that are themselves conclusions: moreover, it is so also if some step is omitted that generally is firmly accepted.

An argument is called fallacious in four senses: (1) when it appears to be brought to a conclusion, and is not really so-what is called ‘contentious’ reasoning: (2) when it comes to a conclusion but not to the conclusion proposed-which happens principally in the case of reductiones ad impossibile: (3) when it comes to the proposed conclusion but not according to the mode of inquiry appropriate to the case, as happens when a non-medical argument is taken to be a medical one, or one which is not geometrical for a geometrical argument, or one which is not dialectical for dialectical, whether the result reached be true or false: (4) if the conclusion be reached through false premisses: of this type the conclusion is sometimes false, sometimes true: for while a false conclusion is always the result of false premisses, a true conclusion may be drawn even from premisses that are not true, as was said above as well.

Fallacy in argument is due to a mistake of the arguer rather than of the argument: yet it is not always the fault of the arguer either, but only when he is not aware of it: for we often accept on its merits in preference to many true ones an argument which demolishes some true proposition if it does so from premisses as far as possible generally accepted. For an argument of that kind does demonstrate other things that are true: for one of the premisses laid down ought never to be there at all, and this will then be demonstrated. If, however, a true conclusion were to be reached through premisses that are false and utterly childish, the argument is worse than many arguments that lead to a false conclusion, though an argument which leads to a false conclusion may also be of this type. Clearly then the first thing to ask in regard to the argument in itself is, ‘Has it a conclusion?’; the second, ‘Is the conclusion true or false?’; the third, ‘Of what kind of premisses does it consist?’: for if the latter, though false, be generally accepted, the argument is dialectical, whereas if, though true, they be generally rejected, it is bad: if they be both false and also entirely contrary to general opinion, clearly it is bad, either altogether or else in relation to the particular matter in hand.

13

Of the ways in which a questioner may beg the original question and also beg contraries the true account has been given in the Analytics:’ but an account on the level of general opinion must be given now.

People appear to beg their original question in five ways: the first and most obvious being if any one begs the actual point requiring to be shown: this is easily detected when put in so many words; but it is more apt to escape detection in the case of different terms, or a term and an expression, that mean the same thing. A second way occurs whenever any one begs universally something which he has to demonstrate in a particular case: suppose (e.g.) he were trying to prove that the knowledge of contraries is one and were to claim that the knowledge of opposites in general is one: for then he is generally thought to be begging, along with a number of other things, that which he ought to have shown by itself. A third way is if any one were to beg in particular cases what he undertakes to show universally: e.g. if he undertook to show that the knowledge of contraries is always one, and begged it of certain pairs of contraries: for he also is generally considered to be begging independently and by itself what, together with a number of other things, he ought to have shown. Again, a man begs the question if he begs his conclusion piecemeal: supposing e.g. that he had to show that medicine is a science of what leads to health and to disease, and were to claim first the one, then the other; or, fifthly, if he were to beg the one or the other of a pair of statements that necessarily involve one other; e.g. if he had to show that the diagonal is incommensurable with the side, and were to beg that the side is incommensurable with the diagonal.

The ways in which people assume contraries are equal in number to those in which they beg their original question. For it would happen, firstly, if any one were to beg an opposite affirmation and negation; secondly, if he were to beg the contrary terms of an antithesis, e.g. that the same thing is good and evil; thirdly, suppose any one were to claim something universally and then proceed to beg its contradictory in some particular case, e.g. if having secured that the knowledge of contraries is one, he were to claim that the knowledge of what makes for health or for disease is different; or, fourthly, suppose him, after postulating the latter view, to try to secure universally the contradictory statement. Again, fifthly, suppose a man begs the contrary of the conclusion which necessarily comes about through the premisses laid down; and this would happen suppose, even without begging the opposites in so many words, he were to beg two premisses such that this contradictory statement that is opposite to the first conclusion will follow from them. The securing of contraries differs from begging the original question in this way: in the latter case the mistake lies in regard to the conclusion; for it is by a glance at the conclusion that we tell that the original question has been begged: whereas contrary views lie in the premisses, viz. in a certain relation which they bear to one another.

14

The best way to secure training and practice in arguments of this kind is in the first place to get into the habit of converting the arguments. For in this way we shall be better equipped for dealing with the proposition stated, and after a few attempts we shall know several arguments by heart. For by ‘conversion’ of an argument is meant the taking the reverse of the conclusion together with the remaining propositions asked and so demolishing one of those that were conceded: for it follows necessarily that if the conclusion be untrue, some one of the premisses is demolished, seeing that, given all the premisses, the conclusion was bound to follow. Always, in dealing with any proposition, be on the look-out for a line of argument both pro and con: and on discovering it at once set about looking for the solution of it: for in this way you will soon find that you have trained yourself at the same time in both asking questions and answering them. If we cannot find any one else to argue with, we should argue with ourselves. Select, moreover, arguments relating to the same thesis and range them side by side: for this produces a plentiful supply of arguments for carrying a point by sheer force, and in refutation also it is of great service, whenever one is well stocked with arguments pro and con: for then you find yourself on your guard against contrary statements to the one you wish to secure. Moreover, as contributing to knowledge and to philosophic wisdom the power of discerning and holding in one view the results of either of two hypotheses is no mean instrument; for it then only remains to make a right choice of one of them. For a task of this kind a certain natural ability is required: in fact real natural ability just is the power right to choose the true and shun the false. Men of natural ability can do this; for by a right liking or disliking for whatever is proposed to them they rightly select what is best.

It is best to know by heart arguments upon those questions which are of most frequent occurrence, and particularly in regard to those propositions which are ultimate: for in discussing these answerers frequently give up in despair. Moreover, get a good stock of definitions: and have those of familiar and primary ideas at your fingers’ ends: for it is through these that reasonings are effected. You should try, moreover, to master the heads under which other arguments mostly tend to fall. For just as in geometry it is useful to be practised in the elements, and in arithmetic to have the multiplication table up to ten at one’s fingers’ ends-and indeed it makes a great difference in one’s knowledge of the multiples of other numbers too-likewise also in arguments it is a great advantage to be well up in regard to first principles, and to have a thorough knowledge of premisses at the tip of one’s tongue. For just as in a person with a trained memory, a memory of things themselves is immediately caused by the mere mention of their loci, so these habits too will make a man readier in reasoning, because he has his premisses classified before his mind’s eye, each under its number. It is better to commit to memory a premiss of general application than an argument: for it is difficult to be even moderately ready with a first principle, or hypothesis.

Moreover, you should get into the habit of turning one argument into several, and conceal your procedure as darkly as you can: this kind of effect is best produced by keeping as far as possible away from topics akin to the subject of the argument. This can be done with arguments that are entirely universal, e.g. the statement that ‘there cannot be one knowledge of more than one thing’: for that is the case with both relative terms and contraries and co-ordinates.

Records of discussions should be made in a universal form, even though one has argued only some particular case: for this will enable one to turn a single rule into several. A like rule applies in Rhetoric as well to enthymemes. For yourself, however, you should as far as possible avoid universalizing your reasonings. You should, moreover, always examine arguments to see whether they rest on principles of general application: for all particular arguments really reason universally, as well, i.e. a particular demonstration always contains a universal demonstration, because it is impossible to reason at all without using universals.

You should display your training in inductive reasoning against a young man, in deductive against an expert. You should try, moreover, to secure from those skilled in deduction their premisses, from inductive reasoners their parallel cases; for this is the thing in which they are respectively trained. In general, too, from your exercises in argumentation you should try to carry away either a syllogism on some subject or a refutation or a proposition or an objection, or whether some one put his question properly or improperly (whether it was yourself or some one else) and the point which made it the one or the other. For this is what gives one ability, and the whole object of training is to acquire ability, especially in regard to propositions and objections. For it is the skilled propounder and objector who is, speaking generally, a dialectician. To formulate a proposition is to form a number of things into one-for the conclusion to which the argument leads must be taken generally, as a single thing-whereas to formulate an objection is to make one thing into many; for the objector either distinguishes or demolishes, partly granting, partly denying the statements proposed.

Do not argue with every one, nor practise upon the man in the street: for there are some people with whom any argument is bound to degenerate. For against any one who is ready to try all means in order to seem not to be beaten, it is indeed fair to try all means of bringing about one’s conclusion: but it is not good form. Wherefore the best rule is, not lightly to engage with casual acquaintances, or bad argument is sure to result. For you see how in practising together people cannot refrain from contentious argument.

It is best also to have ready-made arguments relating to those questions in which a very small stock will furnish us with arguments serviceable on a very large number of occasions. These are those that are universal, and those in regard to which it is rather difficult to produce points for ourselves from matters of everyday experience.

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