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Aristotle - The Organon ANALYTICA PRIORIA Book 1 Part 13

Proof of or from possibility

1. Perhaps enough has been said about the proof of necessity, how it comes about and how it differs from the proof of a simple statement. We proceed to discuss that which is possible, when and how and by what means it can be proved. I use the terms 'to be possible' and 'the possible' of that which is not necessary but, being assumed, results in nothing impossible. We say indeed ambiguously of the necessary that it is possible. But that my definition of the possible is correct is clear from the phrases by which we deny or on the contrary affirm possibility. For the expressions 'it is not possible to belong', 'it is impossible to belong', and 'it is necessary not to belong' are either identical or follow from one another; consequently their opposites also, 'it is possible to belong', 'it is not impossible to belong', and 'it is not necessary not to belong', will either be identical or follow from one another. For of everything the affirmation or the denial holds good. That which is possible then will be not necessary and that which is not necessary will be possible. It results that all premisses in the mode of possibility are convertible into one another. I mean not that the affirmative are convertible into the negative, but that those which are affirmative in form admit of conversion by opposition, e.g. 'it is possible to belong' may be converted into 'it is possible not to belong', and 'it is possible for A to belong to all B' into 'it is possible for A to belong to no B' or 'not to all B', and 'it is possible for A to belong to some B' into 'it is possible for A not to belong to some B'. And similarly the other propositions in this mode can be converted. For since that which is possible is not necessary, and that which is not necessary may possibly not belong, it is clear that if it is possible that A should belong to B, it is possible also that it should not belong to B: and if it is possible that it should belong to all, it is also possible that it should not belong to all. The same holds good in the case of particular affirmations: for the proof is identical. And such premisses are affirmative and not negative; for 'to be possible' is in the same rank as 'to be', as was said above.

2. Having made these distinctions we next point out that the expression 'to be possible' is used in two ways. In one it means to happen generally and fall short of necessity, e.g. man's turning grey or growing or decaying, or generally what naturally belongs to a thing (for this has not its necessity unbroken, since man's existence is not continuous for ever, although if a man does exist, it comes about either necessarily or generally). In another sense the expression means the indefinite, which can be both thus and not thus, e.g. an animal's walking or an earthquake's taking place while it is walking, or generally what happens by chance: for none of these inclines by nature in the one way more than in the opposite.

3. That which is possible in each of its two senses is convertible into its opposite, not however in the same way: but what is natural is convertible because it does not necessarily belong (for in this sense it is possible that a man should not grow grey) and what is indefinite is convertible because it inclines this way no more than that. Science and demonstrative syllogism are not concerned with things which are indefinite, because the middle term is uncertain; but they are concerned with things that are natural, and as a rule arguments and inquiries are made about things which are possible in this sense. Syllogisms indeed can be made about the former, but it is unusual at any rate to inquire about them.

4. These matters will be treated more definitely in the sequel; our business at present is to state the moods and nature of the syllogism made from possible premisses. The expression 'it is possible for this to belong to that' may be understood in two senses: 'that' may mean either that to which 'that' belongs or that to which it may belong; for the expression 'A is possible of the subject of B' means that it is possible either of that of which B is stated or of that of which B may possibly be stated. It makes no difference whether we say, A is possible of the subject of B, or all B admits of A. It is clear then that the expression 'A may possibly belong to all B' might be used in two senses. First then we must state the nature and characteristics of the syllogism which arises if B is possible of the subject of C, and A is possible of the subject of B. For thus both premisses are assumed in the mode of possibility; but whenever A is possible of that of which B is true, one premiss is a simple assertion, the other a problematic. Consequently we must start from premisses which are similar in form, as in the other cases.


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