Aristotle - The Organon TOPICA Book 6 Part 1

The five parts of the discussion of definitions

1. The discussion of Definitions falls into five parts. For you have to show either

2. (1) that it is not true at all to apply the expression as well to that to which the term is applied (for the definition of Man ought to be true of every man); or

3. (2) that though the object has a genus, he has failed to put the object defined into the genus, or to put it into the appropriate genus (for the framer of a definition should first place the object in its genus, and then append its differences: for of all the elements of the definition the genus is usually supposed to be the principal mark of the essence of what is defined): or

4. (3) that the expression is not peculiar to the object (for, as we said above as well, a definition ought to be peculiar): or else

5. (4) see if, though he has observed all the aforesaid cautions, he has yet failed to define the object, that is, to express its essence.

6. (5) It remains, apart from the foregoing, to see if he has defined it, but defined it incorrectly.

7. Whether, then, the expression be not also true of that of which the term is true you should proceed to examine according to the commonplace rules that relate to Accident. For there too the question is always 'Is so and so true or untrue?': for whenever we argue that an accident belongs, we declare it to be true, while whenever we argue that it does not belong, we declare it to be untrue. If, again, he has failed to place the object in the appropriate genus, or if the expression be not peculiar to the object, we must go on to examine the case according to the commonplace rules that relate to genus and property.

8. It remains, then, to prescribe how to investigate whether the object has been either not defined at all, or else defined incorrectly. First, then, we must proceed to examine if it has been defined incorrectly: for with anything it is easier to do it than to do it correctly. Clearly, then, more mistakes are made in the latter task on account of its greater difficulty. Accordingly the attack becomes easier in the latter case than in the former.

9. Incorrectness falls into two branches: (1) first, the use of obscure language (for the language of a definition ought to be the very clearest possible, seeing that the whole purpose of rendering it is to make something known); (secondly, if the expression used be longer than is necessary: for all additional matter in a definition is superfluous. Again, each of the aforesaid branches is divided into a number of others.

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