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Aristotle - The Organon TOPICA Book 2 Part 2

Mistaken accidental ascription

1. Now one commonplace rule is to look and see if a man has ascribed as an accident what belongs in some other way. This mistake is most commonly made in regard to the genera of things, e.g. if one were to say that white happens (accidit) to be a colour - for being a colour does not happen by accident to white, but colour is its genus. The assertor may of course define it so in so many words, saying (e.g.) that 'Justice happens (accidit) to be a virtue'; but often even without such definition it is obvious that he has rendered the genus as an accident; e.g. suppose that one were to say that whiteness is coloured or that walking is in motion. For a predicate drawn from the genus is never ascribed to the species in an inflected form, but always the genera are predicated of their species literally; for the species take on both the name and the definition of their genera. A man therefore who says that white is 'coloured' has not rendered 'coloured' as its genus, seeing that he has used an inflected form, nor yet as its property or as its definition: for the definition and property of a thing belong to it and to nothing else, whereas many things besides white are coloured, e.g. a log, a stone, a man, and a horse. Clearly then he renders it as an accident.

2. Another rule is to examine all cases where a predicate has been either asserted or denied universally to belong to something. Look at them species by species, and not in their infinite multitude: for then the inquiry will proceed more directly and in fewer steps. You should look and begin with the most primary groups, and then proceed in order down to those that are not further divisible: e.g. if a man has said that the knowledge of opposites is the same, you should look and see whether it be so of relative opposites and of contraries and of terms signifying the privation or presence of certain states, and of contradictory terms. Then, if no clear result be reached so far in these cases, you should again divide these until you come to those that are not further divisible, and see (e.g.) whether it be so of just deeds and unjust, or of the double and the half, or of blindness and sight, or of being and not-being: for if in any case it be shown that the knowledge of them is not the same we shall have demolished the problem. Likewise, also, if the predicate belongs in no case. This rule is convertible for both destructive and constructive purposes: for if, when we have suggested a division, the predicate appears to hold in all or in a large number of cases, we may then claim that the other should actually assert it universally, or else bring a negative instance to show in what case it is not so: for if he does neither of these things, a refusal to assert it will make him look absurd.

3. Another rule is to make definitions both of an accident and of its subject, either of both separately or else of one of them, and then look and see if anything untrue has been assumed as true in the definitions. Thus (e.g.) to see if it is possible to wrong a god, ask what is 'to wrong'? For if it be 'to injure deliberately', clearly it is not possible for a god to be wronged: for it is impossible that God should be injured. Again, to see if the good man is jealous, ask who is the 'jealous' man and what is 'jealousy'. For if 'jealousy' is pain at the apparent success of some well-behaved person, clearly the good man is not jealous: for then he would be bad. Again, to see if the indignant man is jealous, ask who each of them is: for then it will be obvious whether the statement is true or false; e.g. if he is 'jealous' who grieves at the successes of the good, and he is 'indignant' who grieves at the successes of the evil, then clearly the indignant man would not be jealous. A man should substitute definitions also for the terms contained in his definitions, and not stop until he comes to a familiar term: for often if the definition be rendered whole, the point at issue is not cleared up, whereas if for one of the terms used in the definition a definition be stated, it becomes obvious.

4. Moreover, a man should make the problem into a proposition for himself, and then bring a negative instance against it: for the negative instance will be a ground of attack upon the assertion. This rule is very nearly the same as the rule to look into cases where a predicate has been attributed or denied universally: but it differs in the turn of the argument.

5. Moreover, you should define what kind of things should be called as most men call them, and what should not. For this is useful both for establishing and for overthrowing a view: e.g. you should say that we ought to use our terms to mean the same things as most people mean by them, but when we ask what kind of things are or are not of such and such a kind, we should not here go with the multitude: e.g. it is right to call 'healthy' whatever tends to produce health, as do most men: but in saying whether the object before us tends to produce health or not, we should adopt the language no longer of the multitude but of the doctor.


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