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Aristotle - The Organon TOPICA Book 1 Part 10

Dialectical propositions and problems

1. First, then, a definition must be given of a 'dialectical proposition' and a 'dialectical problem'. For it is not every proposition nor yet every problem that is to be set down as dialectical: for no one in his senses would make a proposition of what no one holds, nor yet make a problem of what is obvious to everybody or to most people: for the latter admits of no doubt, while to the former no one would assent. Now a dialectical proposition consists in asking something that is held by all men or by most men or by the philosophers, i.e. either by all, or by most, or by the most notable of these, provided it be not contrary to the general opinion; for a man would probably assent to the view of the philosophers, if it be not contrary to the opinions of most men. Dialectical propositions also include views which are like those generally accepted; also propositions which contradict the contraries of opinions that are taken to be generally accepted, and also all opinions that are in accordance with the recognized arts. Thus, supposing it to be a general opinion that the knowledge of contraries is the same, it might probably pass for a general opinion also that the perception of contraries is the same: also, supposing it to be a general opinion that there is but one single science of grammar, it might pass for a general opinion that there is but one science of flute-playing as well, whereas, if it be a general opinion that there is more than one science of grammar, it might pass for a general opinion that there is more than one science of flute-playing as well: for all these seem to be alike and akin. Likewise, also, propositions contradicting the contraries of general opinions will pass as general opinions: for if it be a general opinion that one ought to do good to one's friends, it will also be a general opinion that one ought not to do them harm. Here, that one ought to do harm to one's friends is contrary to the general view, and that one ought not to do them harm is the contradictory of that contrary. Likewise also, if one ought to do good to one's friends, one ought not to do good to one's enemies: this too is the contradictory of the view contrary to the general view; the contrary being that one ought to do good to one's enemies. Likewise, also, in other cases. Also, on comparison, it will look like a general opinion that the contrary predicate belongs to the contrary subject: e.g. if one ought to do good to one's friends, one ought also to do evil to one's enemies. it might appear also as if doing good to one's friends were a contrary to doing evil to one's enemies: but whether this is or is not so in reality as well will be stated in the course of the discussion upon contraries. Clearly also, all opinions that are in accordance with the arts are dialectical propositions; for people are likely to assent to the views held by those who have made a study of these things, e.g. on a question of medicine they will agree with the doctor, and on a question of geometry with the geometrician; and likewise also in other cases.


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