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Aristotle - The Organon ANALYTICA PRIORIA Book 1 Part 14

Reasoning about possibilities

1. Whenever A may possibly belong to all B, and B to all C, there will be a perfect syllogism to prove that A may possibly belong to all C. This is clear from the definition: for it was in this way that we explained 'to be possible for one term to belong to all of another'. Similarly if it is possible for A to belong no B, and for B to belong to all C, then it is possible for A to belong to no C. For the statement that it is possible for A not to belong to that of which B may be true means (as we saw) that none of those things which can possibly fall under the term B is left out of account. But whenever A may belong to all B, and B may belong to no C, then indeed no syllogism results from the premisses assumed, but if the premiss BC is converted after the manner of problematic propositions, the same syllogism results as before. For since it is possible that B should belong to no C, it is possible also that it should belong to all C. This has been stated above. Consequently if B is possible for all C, and A is possible for all B, the same syllogism again results. Similarly if in both the premisses the negative is joined with 'it is possible': e.g. if A may belong to none of the Bs, and B to none of the Cs. No syllogism results from the assumed premisses, but if they are converted we shall have the same syllogism as before. It is clear then that if the minor premiss is negative, or if both premisses are negative, either no syllogism results, or if one it is not perfect. For the necessity results from the conversion.

2. But if one of the premisses is universal, the other particular, when the major premiss is universal there will be a perfect syllogism. For if A is possible for all B, and B for some C, then A is possible for some C. This is clear from the definition of being possible. Again if A may belong to no B, and B may belong to some of the Cs, it is necessary that A may possibly not belong to some of the Cs. The proof is the same as above. But if the particular premiss is negative, and the universal is affirmative, the major still being universal and the minor particular, e.g. A is possible for all B, B may possibly not belong to some C, then a clear syllogism does not result from the assumed premisses, but if the particular premiss is converted and it is laid down that B possibly may belong to some C, we shall have the same conclusion as before, as in the cases given at the beginning.

3. But if the major premiss is the minor universal, whether both are affirmative, or negative, or different in quality, or if both are indefinite or particular, in no way will a syllogism be possible. For nothing prevents B from reaching beyond A, so that as predicates cover unequal areas. Let C be that by which B extends beyond A. To C it is not possible that A should belong - either to all or to none or to some or not to some, since premisses in the mode of possibility are convertible and it is possible for B to belong to more things than A can. Further, this is obvious if we take terms; for if the premisses are as assumed, the major term is both possible for none of the minor and must belong to all of it. Take as terms common to all the cases under consideration 'animal' - 'white' - 'man', where the major belongs necessarily to the minor; 'animal' - 'white' - 'garment', where it is not possible that the major should belong to the minor. It is clear then that if the terms are related in this manner, no syllogism results. For every syllogism proves that something belongs either simply or necessarily or possibly. It is clear that there is no proof of the first or of the second. For the affirmative is destroyed by the negative, and the negative by the affirmative. There remains the proof of possibility. But this is impossible. For it has been proved that if the terms are related in this manner it is both necessary that the major should belong to all the minor and not possible that it should belong to any. Consequently there cannot be a syllogism to prove the possibility; for the necessary (as we stated) is not possible.

4. It is clear that if the terms are universal in possible premisses a syllogism always results in the first figure, whether they are affirmative or negative, only a perfect syllogism results in the first case, an imperfect in the second. But possibility must be understood according to the definition laid down, not as covering necessity. This is sometimes forgotten.


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