Aristotle - The Organon TOPICA Book 1 Part 11



1. A dialectical problem is a subject of inquiry that contributes either to choice and avoidance, or to truth and knowledge, and that either by itself, or as a help to the solution of some other such problem. It must, moreover, be something on which either people hold no opinion either way, or the masses hold a contrary opinion to the philosophers, or the philosophers to the masses, or each of them among themselves. For some problems it is useful to know with a view to choice or avoidance, e.g. whether pleasure is to be chosen or not, while some it is useful to know merely with a view to knowledge, e.g. whether the universe is eternal or not: others, again, are not useful in and by themselves for either of these purposes, but yet help us in regard to some such problems; for there are many things which we do not wish to know in and by themselves, but for the sake of other things, in order that through them we may come to know something else. Problems also include questions in regard to which reasonings conflict (the difficulty then being whether so-and so is so or not, there being convincing arguments for both views); others also in regard to which we have no argument because they are so vast, and we find it difficult to give our reasons, e.g. the question whether the universe is eternal or no: for into questions of that kind too it is possible to inquire.

2. Problems, then, and propositions are to be defined as aforesaid. A 'thesis' is a supposition of some eminent philosopher that conflicts with the general opinion; e.g. the view that contradiction is impossible, as Antisthenes said; or the view of Heraclitus that all things are in motion; or that Being is one, as Melissus says: for to take notice when any ordinary person expresses views contrary to men's usual opinions would be silly. Or it may be a view about which we have a reasoned theory contrary to men's usual opinions, e.g. the view maintained by the sophists that what is need not in every case either have come to be or be eternal: for a musician who is a grammarian 'is' so without ever having 'come to be' so, or being so eternally. For even if a man does not accept this view, he might do so on the ground that it is reasonable.

3. Now a 'thesis' also is a problem, though a problem is not always a thesis, inasmuch as some problems are such that we have no opinion about them either way. That a thesis, however, also forms a problem, is clear: for it follows of necessity from what has been said that either the mass of men disagree with the philosophers about the thesis, or that the one or the other class disagree among themselves, seeing that the thesis is a supposition in conflict with general opinion. Practically all dialectical problems indeed are now called 'theses'. But it should make no difference whichever description is used; for our object in thus distinguishing them has not been to create a terminology, but to recognize what differences happen to be found between them.

4. Not every problem, nor every thesis, should be examined, but only one which might puzzle one of those who need argument, not punishment or perception. For people who are puzzled to know whether one ought to honour the gods and love one's parents or not need punishment, while those who are puzzled to know whether snow is white or not need perception. The subjects should not border too closely upon the sphere of demonstration, nor yet be too far removed from it: for the former cases admit of no doubt, while the latter involve difficulties too great for the art of the trainer.

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