Aristotle - The Organon TOPICA Book 1 Part 14

Three divisions of propositions and problems

1. Propositions should be selected in a number of ways corresponding to the number of distinctions drawn in regard to the proposition: thus one may first take in hand the opinions held by all or by most men or by the philosophers, i.e. by all, or most, or the most notable of them; or opinions contrary to those that seem to be generally held; and, again, all opinions that are in accordance with the arts. We must make propositions also of the contradictories of opinions contrary to those that seem to be generally held, as was laid down before. It is useful also to make them by selecting not only those opinions that actually are accepted, but also those that are like these, e.g. 'The perception of contraries is the same' - the knowledge of them being so - and 'we see by admission of something into ourselves, not by an emission'; for so it is, too, in the case of the other senses; for in hearing we admit something into ourselves; we do not emit; and we taste in the same way. Likewise also in the other cases. Moreover, all statements that seem to be true in all or in most cases, should be taken as a principle or accepted position; for they are posited by those who do not also see what exception there may be. We should select also from the written handbooks of argument, and should draw up sketch-lists of them upon each several kind of subject, putting them down under separate headings, e.g. 'On Good', or 'On Life' - and that 'On Good' should deal with every form of good, beginning with the category of essence. In the margin, too, one should indicate also the opinions of individual thinkers, e.g. 'Empedocles said that the elements of bodies were four': for any one might assent to the saying of some generally accepted authority.

2. Of propositions and problems there are - to comprehend the matter in outline - three divisions: for some are ethical propositions, some are on natural philosophy, while some are logical. Propositions such as the following are ethical, e.g. 'Ought one rather to obey one's parents or the laws, if they disagree?'; such as this are logical, e.g. 'Is the knowledge of opposites the same or not?'; while such as this are on natural philosophy, e.g. 'Is the universe eternal or not?' Likewise also with problems. The nature of each of the aforesaid kinds of proposition is not easily rendered in a definition, but we have to try to recognize each of them by means of the familiarity attained through induction, examining them in the light of the illustrations given above.

3. For purposes of philosophy we must treat of these things according to their truth, but for dialectic only with an eye to general opinion. All propositions should be taken in their most universal form; then, the one should be made into many. E.g. 'The knowledge of opposites is the same'; next, 'The knowledge of contraries is the same', and that 'of relative terms'. In the same way these two should again be divided, as long as division is possible, e.g. the knowledge of 'good and evil', of 'white and black', or 'cold and hot'. Likewise also in other cases.

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