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Aristotle - The Organon ANALYTICA PRIORIA Book 2 Part 2

Reaching true conclusions from false premisses

1. It is possible for the premisses of the syllogism to be true, or to be false, or to be the one true, the other false. The conclusion is either true or false necessarily. From true premisses it is not possible to draw a false conclusion, but a true conclusion may be drawn from false premisses, true however only in respect to the fact, not to the reason. The reason cannot be established from false premisses: why this is so will be explained in the sequel.

2. First then that it is not possible to draw a false conclusion from true premisses, is made clear by this consideration. If it is necessary that B should be when A is, it is necessary that A should not be when B is not. If then A is true, B must be true: otherwise it will turn out that the same thing both is and is not at the same time. But this is impossible. Let it not, because A is laid down as a single term, be supposed that it is possible, when a single fact is given, that something should necessarily result. For that is not possible. For what results necessarily is the conclusion, and the means by which this comes about are at the least three terms, and two relations of subject and predicate or premisses. If then it is true that A belongs to all that to which B belongs, and that B belongs to all that to which C belongs, it is necessary that A should belong to all that to which C belongs, and this cannot be false: for then the same thing will belong and not belong at the same time. So A is posited as one thing, being two premisses taken together. The same holds good of negative syllogisms: it is not possible to prove a false conclusion from true premisses.

3. But from what is false a true conclusion may be drawn, whether both the premisses are false or only one, provided that this is not either of the premisses indifferently, if it is taken as wholly false: but if the premiss is not taken as wholly false, it does not matter which of the two is false.

4. (1) Let A belong to the whole of C, but to none of the Bs, neither let B belong to C. This is possible, e.g. animal belongs to no stone, nor stone to any man. If then A is taken to belong to all B and B to all C, A will belong to all C; consequently though both the premisses are false the conclusion is true: for every man is an animal. Similarly with the negative. For it is possible that neither A nor B should belong to any C, although A belongs to all B, e.g. if the same terms are taken and man is put as middle: for neither animal nor man belongs to any stone, but animal belongs to every man. Consequently if one term is taken to belong to none of that to which it does belong, and the other term is taken to belong to all of that to which it does not belong, though both the premisses are false the conclusion will be true.

5. (2) A similar proof may be given if each premiss is partially false.

6. (3) But if one only of the premisses is false, when the first premiss is wholly false, e.g. AB, the conclusion will not be true, but if the premiss BC is wholly false, a true conclusion will be possible. I mean by 'wholly false' the contrary of the truth, e.g. if what belongs to none is assumed to belong to all, or if what belongs to all is assumed to belong to none. Let A belong to no B, and B to all C. If then the premiss BC which I take is true, and the premiss AB is wholly false, viz. that A belongs to all B, it is impossible that the conclusion should be true: for A belonged to none of the Cs, since A belonged to nothing to which B belonged, and B belonged to all C. Similarly there cannot be a true conclusion if A belongs to all B, and B to all C, but while the true premiss BC is assumed, the wholly false premiss AB is also assumed, viz. that A belongs to nothing to which B belongs: here the conclusion must be false. For A will belong to all C, since A belongs to everything to which B belongs, and B to all C. It is clear then that when the first premiss is wholly false, whether affirmative or negative, and the other premiss is true, the conclusion cannot be true.

7. (4) But if the premiss is not wholly false, a true conclusion is possible. For if A belongs to all C and to some B, and if B belongs to all C, e.g. animal to every swan and to some white thing, and white to every swan, then if we take as premisses that A belongs to all B, and B to all C, A will belong to all C truly: for every swan is an animal. Similarly if the statement AB is negative. For it is possible that A should belong to some B and to no C, and that B should belong to all C, e.g. animal to some white thing, but to no snow, and white to all snow. If then one should assume that A belongs to no B, and B to all C, then will belong to no C.

8. (5) But if the premiss AB, which is assumed, is wholly true, and the premiss BC is wholly false, a true syllogism will be possible: for nothing prevents A belonging to all B and to all C, though B belongs to no C, e.g. these being species of the same genus which are not subordinate one to the other: for animal belongs both to horse and to man, but horse to no man. If then it is assumed that A belongs to all B and B to all C, the conclusion will be true, although the premiss BC is wholly false. Similarly if the premiss AB is negative. For it is possible that A should belong neither to any B nor to any C, and that B should not belong to any C, e.g. a genus to species of another genus: for animal belongs neither to music nor to the art of healing, nor does music belong to the art of healing. If then it is assumed that A belongs to no B, and B to all C, the conclusion will be true.

9. (6) And if the premiss BC is not wholly false but in part only, even so the conclusion may be true. For nothing prevents A belonging to the whole of B and of C, while B belongs to some C, e.g. a genus to its species and difference: for animal belongs to every man and to every footed thing, and man to some footed things though not to all. If then it is assumed that A belongs to all B, and B to all C, A will belong to all C: and this ex hypothesi is true. Similarly if the premiss AB is negative. For it is possible that A should neither belong to any B nor to any C, though B belongs to some C, e.g. a genus to the species of another genus and its difference: for animal neither belongs to any wisdom nor to any instance of 'speculative', but wisdom belongs to some instance of 'speculative'. If then it should be assumed that A belongs to no B, and B to all C, will belong to no C: and this ex hypothesi is true.

10. In particular syllogisms it is possible when the first premiss is wholly false, and the other true, that the conclusion should be true; also when the first premiss is false in part, and the other true; and when the first is true, and the particular is false; and when both are false.

11. (7) For nothing prevents A belonging to no B, but to some C, and B to some C, e.g. animal belongs to no snow, but to some white thing, and snow to some white thing. If then snow is taken as middle, and animal as first term, and it is assumed that A belongs to the whole of B, and B to some C, then the premiss BC is wholly false, the premiss BC true, and the conclusion true. Similarly if the premiss AB is negative: for it is possible that A should belong to the whole of B, but not to some C, although B belongs to some C, e.g. animal belongs to every man, but does not follow some white, but man belongs to some white; consequently if man be taken as middle term and it is assumed that A belongs to no B but B belongs to some C, the conclusion will be true although the premiss AB is wholly false. (If the premiss AB is false in part, the conclusion may be true. For nothing prevents A belonging both to B and to some C, and B belonging to some C, e.g. animal to something beautiful and to something great, and beautiful belonging to something great. If then A is assumed to belong to all B, and B to some C, the a premiss AB will be partially false, the premiss BC will be true, and the conclusion true. Similarly if the premiss AB is negative. For the same terms will serve, and in the same positions, to prove the point.

12. (9) Again if the premiss AB is true, and the premiss BC is false, the conclusion may be true. For nothing prevents A belonging to the whole of B and to some C, while B belongs to no C, e.g. animal to every swan and to some black things, though swan belongs to no black thing. Consequently if it should be assumed that A belongs to all B, and B to some C, the conclusion will be true, although the statement BC is false. Similarly if the premiss AB is negative. For it is possible that A should belong to no B, and not to some C, while B belongs to no C, e.g. a genus to the species of another genus and to the accident of its own species: for animal belongs to no number and not to some white things, and number belongs to nothing white. If then number is taken as middle, and it is assumed that A belongs to no B, and B to some C, then A will not belong to some C, which ex hypothesi is true. And the premiss AB is true, the premiss BC false.

13. (10) Also if the premiss AB is partially false, and the premiss BC is false too, the conclusion may be true. For nothing prevents A belonging to some B and to some C, though B belongs to no C, e.g. if B is the contrary of C, and both are accidents of the same genus: for animal belongs to some white things and to some black things, but white belongs to no black thing. If then it is assumed that A belongs to all B, and B to some C, the conclusion will be true. Similarly if the premiss AB is negative: for the same terms arranged in the same way will serve for the proof.

14. (11) Also though both premisses are false the conclusion may be true. For it is possible that A may belong to no B and to some C, while B belongs to no C, e.g. a genus in relation to the species of another genus, and to the accident of its own species: for animal belongs to no number, but to some white things, and number to nothing white. If then it is assumed that A belongs to all B and B to some C, the conclusion will be true, though both premisses are false. Similarly also if the premiss AB is negative. For nothing prevents A belonging to the whole of B, and not to some C, while B belongs to no C, e.g. animal belongs to every swan, and not to some black things, and swan belongs to nothing black. Consequently if it is assumed that A belongs to no B, and B to some C, then A does not belong to some C. The conclusion then is true, but the premisses arc false.


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