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Aristotle - The Organon TOPICA Book 7 Part 5

It is more difficult to establish than to overthrow a definition

1. That it is more difficult to establish than to overthrow a definition, is obvious from considerations presently to be urged. For to see for oneself, and to secure from those whom one is questioning, an admission of premisses of this sort is no simple matter, e.g. that of the elements of the definition rendered the one is genus and the other differentia, and that only the genus and differentiae are predicated in the category of essence. Yet without these premisses it is impossible to reason to a definition; for if any other things as well are predicated of the thing in the category of essence, there is no telling whether the formula stated or some other one is its definition, for a definition is an expression indicating the essence of a thing. The point is clear also from the following: It is easier to draw one conclusion than many. Now in demolishing a definition it is sufficient to argue against one point only (for if we have overthrown any single point whatsoever, we shall have demolished the definition); whereas in establishing a definition, one is bound to bring people to the view that everything contained in the definition is attributable. Moreover, in establishing a case, the reasoning brought forward must be universal: for the definition put forward must be predicated of everything of which the term is predicated, and must moreover be convertible, if the definition rendered is to be peculiar to the subject. In overthrowing a view, on the other hand, there is no longer any necessity to show one's point universally: for it is enough to show that the formula is untrue of any one of the things embraced under the term.

2. Further, even supposing it should be necessary to overthrow something by a universal proposition, not even so is there any need to prove the converse of the proposition in the process of overthrowing the definition. For merely to show that the definition fails to be predicated of every one of the things of which the term is predicated, is enough to overthrow it universally: and there is no need to prove the converse of this in order to show that the term is predicated of things of which the expression is not predicated. Moreover, even if it applies to everything embraced under the term, but not to it alone, the definition is thereby demolished.

3. The case stands likewise in regard to the property and genus of a term also. For in both cases it is easier to overthrow than to establish. As regards the property this is clear from what has been said: for as a rule the property is rendered in a complex phrase, so that to overthrow it, it is only necessary to demolish one of the terms used, whereas to establish it is necessary to reason to them all. Then, too, nearly all the other rules that apply to the definition will apply also to the property of a thing. For in establishing a property one has to show that it is true of everything included under the term in question, whereas to overthrow one it is enough to show in a single case only that it fails to belong: further, even if it belongs to everything falling under the term, but not to that only, it is overthrown in this case as well, as was explained in the case of the definition. In regard to the genus, it is clear that you are bound to establish it in one way only, viz. by showing that it belongs in every case, while of overthrowing it there are two ways: for if it has been shown that it belongs either never or not in a certain case, the original statement has been demolished. Moreover, in establishing a genus it is not enough to show that it belongs, but also that it belongs as genus has to be shown; whereas in overthrowing it, it is enough to show its failure to belong either in some particular case or in every case. It appears, in fact, as though, just as in other things to destroy is easier than to create, so in these matters too to overthrow is easier than to establish.

4. In the case of an accidental attribute the universal proposition is easier to overthrow than to establish; for to establish it, one has to show that it belongs in every case, whereas to overthrow it, it is enough to show that it does not belong in one single case. The particular proposition is, on the contrary, easier to establish than to overthrow: for to establish it, it is enough to show that it belongs in a particular instance, whereas to overthrow it, it has to be shown that it never belongs at all.

5. It is clear also that the easiest thing of all is to overthrow a definition. For on account of the number of statements involved we are presented in the definition with the greatest number of points for attack, and the more plentiful the material, the quicker an argument comes: for there is more likelihood of a mistake occurring in a large than in a small number of things. Moreover, the other rules too may be used as means for attacking a definition: for if either the formula be not peculiar, or the genus rendered be the wrong one, or something included in the formula fail to belong, the definition is thereby demolished. On the other hand, against the others we cannot bring all of the arguments drawn from definitions, nor yet of the rest: for only those relating to accidental attributes apply generally to all the aforesaid kinds of attribute. For while each of the aforesaid kinds of attribute must belong to the thing in question, yet the genus may very well not belong as a property without as yet being thereby demolished. Likewise also the property need not belong as a genus, nor the accident as a genus or property, so long as they do belong. So that it is impossible to use one set as a basis of attack upon the other except in the case of definition. Clearly, then, it is the easiest of all things to demolish a definition, while to establish one is the hardest. For there one both has to establish all those other points by reasoning (i.e. that the attributes stated belong, and that the genus rendered is the true genus, and that the formula is peculiar to the term), and moreover, besides this, that the formula indicates the essence of the thing; and this has to be done correctly.

6. Of the rest, the property is most nearly of this kind: for it is easier to demolish, because as a rule it contains several terms; while it is the hardest to establish, both because of the number of things that people must be brought to accept, and, besides this, because it belongs to its subject alone and is predicated convertibly with its subject.

7. The easiest thing of all to establish is an accidental predicate: for in other cases one has to show not only that the predicate belongs, but also that it belongs in such and such a particular way: whereas in the case of the accident it is enough to show merely that it belongs. On the other hand, an accidental predicate is the hardest thing to overthrow, because it affords the least material: for in stating accident a man does not add how the predicate belongs; and accordingly, while in other cases it is possible to demolish what is said in two ways, by showing either that the predicate does not belong, or that it does not belong in the particular way stated, in the case of an accidental predicate the only way to demolish it is to show that it does not belong at all.

8. The commonplace arguments through which we shall be well supplied with lines of argument with regard to our several problems have now been enumerated at about sufficient length.


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