Aristotle - The Organon TOPICA Book 2 Part 11

Matters of degree

1. You can argue, then, from greater or less or like degrees of truth in the aforesaid number of ways. Moreover, you should argue from the addition of one thing to another. If the addition of one thing to another makes that other good or white, whereas formerly it was not white or good, then the thing added will be white or good - it will possess the character it imparts to the whole as well. Moreover, if an addition of something to a given object intensifies the character which it had as given, then the thing added will itself as well be of that character. Likewise, also, in the case of other attributes. The rule is not applicable in all cases, but only in those in which the excess described as an 'increased intensity' is found to take place. The above rule is, however, not convertible for overthrowing a view. For if the thing added does not make the other good, it is not thereby made clear whether in itself it may not be good: for the addition of good to evil does not necessarily make the whole good, any more than the addition of white to black makes the whole white.

2. Again, any predicate of which we can speak of greater or less degrees belongs also absolutely: for greater or less degrees of good or of white will not be attributed to what is not good or white: for a bad thing will never be said to have a greater or less degree of goodness than another, but always of badness. This rule is not convertible, either, for the purpose of overthrowing a predication: for several predicates of which we cannot speak of a greater degree belong absolutely: for the term 'man' is not attributed in greater and less degrees, but a man is a man for all that.

3. You should examine in the same way predicates attributed in a given respect, and at a given time and place: for if the predicate be possible in some respect, it is possible also absolutely. Likewise, also, is what is predicated at a given time or place: for what is absolutely impossible is not possible either in any respect or at any place or time. An objection may be raised that in a given respect people may be good by nature, e.g. they may be generous or temperately inclined, while absolutely they are not good by nature, because no one is prudent by nature. Likewise, also, it is possible for a destructible thing to escape destruction at a given time, whereas it is not possible for it to escape absolutely. In the same way also it is a good thing at certain places to follow see and such a diet, e.g. in infected areas, though it is not a good thing absolutely. Moreover, in certain places it is possible to live singly and alone, but absolutely it is not possible to exist singly and alone. In the same way also it is in certain places honourable to sacrifice one's father, e.g. among the Triballi, whereas, absolutely, it is not honourable. Or possibly this may indicate a relativity not to places but to persons: for it is all the same wherever they may be: for everywhere it will be held honourable among the Triballi themselves, just because they are Triballi. Again, at certain times it is a good thing to take medicines, e.g. when one is ill, but it is not so absolutely. Or possibly this again may indicate a relativity not to a certain time, but to a certain state of health: for it is all the same whenever it occurs, if only one be in that state. A thing is 'absolutely' so which without any addition you are prepared to say is honourable or the contrary. Thus (e.g.) you will deny that to sacrifice one's father is honourable: it is honourable only to certain persons: it is not therefore honourable absolutely. On the other hand, to honour the gods you will declare to be honourable without adding anything, because that is honourable absolutely. So that whatever without any addition is generally accounted to be honourable or dishonourable or anything else of that kind, will be said to be so 'absolutely'.

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