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Aristotle - The Organon ANALYTICA POSTERIORA Book 1 Part 5

Failure of commensurate universality

1. We must not fail to observe that we often fall into error because our conclusion is not in fact primary and commensurately universal in the sense in which we think we prove it so. We make this mistake (1) when the subject is an individual or individuals above which there is no universal to be found: (2) when the subjects belong to different species and there is a higher universal, but it has no name: (3) when the subject which the demonstrator takes as a whole is really only a part of a larger whole; for then the demonstration will be true of the individual instances within the part and will hold in every instance of it, yet the demonstration will not be true of this subject primarily and commensurately and universally. When a demonstration is true of a subject primarily and commensurately and universally, that is to be taken to mean that it is true of a given subject primarily and as such. Case (3) may be thus exemplified. If a proof were given that perpendiculars to the same line are parallel, it might be supposed that lines thus perpendicular were the proper subject of the demonstration because being parallel is true of every instance of them. But it is not so, for the parallelism depends not on these angles being equal to one another because each is a right angle, but simply on their being equal to one another. An example of (1) would be as follows: if isosceles were the only triangle, it would be thought to have its angles equal to two right angles qua isosceles. An instance of (2) would be the law that proportionals alternate. Alternation used to be demonstrated separately of numbers, lines, solids, and durations, though it could have been proved of them all by a single demonstration. Because there was no single name to denote that in which numbers, lengths, durations, and solids are identical, and because they differed specifically from one another, this property was proved of each of them separately. To-day, however, the proof is commensurately universal, for they do not possess this attribute qua lines or qua numbers, but qua manifesting this generic character which they are postulated as possessing universally. Hence, even if one prove of each kind of triangle that its angles are equal to two right angles, whether by means of the same or different proofs; still, as long as one treats separately equilateral, scalene, and isosceles, one does not yet know, except sophistically, that triangle has its angles equal to two right angles, nor does one yet know that triangle has this property commensurately and universally, even if there is no other species of triangle but these. For one does not know that triangle as such has this property, nor even that 'all' triangles have it - unless 'all' means 'each taken singly': if 'all' means 'as a whole class', then, though there be none in which one does not recognize this property, one does not know it of 'all triangles'.

2. When, then, does our knowledge fail of commensurate universality, and when it is unqualified knowledge? If triangle be identical in essence with equilateral, i.e. with each or all equilaterals, then clearly we have unqualified knowledge: if on the other hand it be not, and the attribute belongs to equilateral qua triangle; then our knowledge fails of commensurate universality. 'But', it will be asked, 'does this attribute belong to the subject of which it has been demonstrated qua triangle or qua isosceles? What is the point at which the subject. to which it belongs is primary? (i.e. to what subject can it be demonstrated as belonging commensurately and universally?)' Clearly this point is the first term in which it is found to inhere as the elimination of inferior differentiae proceeds. Thus the angles of a brazen isosceles triangle are equal to two right angles: but eliminate brazen and isosceles and the attribute remains. 'But' - you may say - 'eliminate figure or limit, and the attribute vanishes.' True, but figure and limit are not the first differentiae whose elimination destroys the attribute. 'Then what is the first?' If it is triangle, it will be in virtue of triangle that the attribute belongs to all the other subjects of which it is predicable, and triangle is the subject to which it can be demonstrated as belonging commensurately and universally.


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