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Aristotle - The Organon TOPICA Book 8 Part 5

Premisses generally accepted or rejected without qualification

1. Inasmuch as no rules are laid down for those who argue for the sake of training and of examination: - and the aim of those engaged in teaching or learning is quite different from that of those engaged in a competition; as is the latter from that of those who discuss things together in the spirit of inquiry: for a learner should always state what he thinks: for no one is even trying to teach him what is false; whereas in a competition the business of the questioner is to appear by all means to produce an effect upon the other, while that of the answerer is to appear unaffected by him; on the other hand, in an assembly of disputants discussing in the spirit not of a competition but of an examination and inquiry, there are as yet no articulate rules about what the answerer should aim at, and what kind of things he should and should not grant for the correct or incorrect defence of his position: - inasmuch, then, as we have no tradition bequeathed to us by others, let us try to say something upon the matter for ourselves.

2. The thesis laid down by the answerer before facing the questioner's argument is bound of necessity to be one that is either generally accepted or generally rejected or else is neither: and moreover is so accepted or rejected either absolutely or else with a restriction, e.g. by some given person, by the speaker or by some one else. The manner, however, of its acceptance or rejection, whatever it be, makes no difference: for the right way to answer, i.e. to admit or to refuse to admit what has been asked, will be the same in either case. If, then, the statement laid down by the answerer be generally rejected, the conclusion aimed at by the questioner is bound to be one generally accepted, whereas if the former be generally accepted, the latter is generally rejected: for the conclusion which the questioner tries to draw is always the opposite of the statement laid down. If, on the other hand, what is laid down is generally neither rejected nor accepted, the conclusion will be of the same type as well.

3. Now since a man who reasons correctly demonstrates his proposed conclusion from premisses that are more generally accepted, and more familiar, it is clear that:

4. (1) where the view laid down by him is one that generally is absolutely rejected, the answerer ought not to grant either what is thus absolutely not accepted at all, or what is accepted indeed, but accepted less generally than the questioner's conclusion. For if the statement laid down by the answerer be generally rejected, the conclusion aimed at by the questioner will be one that is generally accepted, so that the premisses secured by the questioner should all be views generally accepted, and more generally accepted than his proposed conclusion, if the less familiar is to be inferred through the more familiar. Consequently, if any of the questions put to him be not of this character, the answerer should not grant them.

5. (2) If, on the other hand, the statement laid down by the answerer be generally accepted without qualification, clearly the conclusion sought by the questioner will be one generally rejected without qualification. Accordingly, the answerer should admit all views that are generally accepted and, of those that are not generally accepted, all that are less generally rejected than the conclusion sought by the questioner. For then he will probably be thought to have argued sufficiently well.

6. (3) Likewise, too, if the statement laid down by the answerer be neither rejected generally nor generally accepted; for then, too, anything that appears to be true should be granted, and, of the views not generally accepted, any that are more generally accepted than the questioner's conclusion; for in that case the result will be that the arguments will be more generally accepted.

7. If, then, the view laid down by the answerer be one that is generally accepted or rejected without qualification, then the views that are accepted absolutely must be taken as the standard of comparison: whereas if the view laid down be one that is not generally accepted or rejected, but only by the answerer, then the standard whereby the latter must judge what is generally accepted or not, and must grant or refuse to grant the point asked, is himself. If, again, the answerer be defending some one else's opinion, then clearly it will be the latter's judgement to which he must have regard in granting or denying the various points. This is why those, too, who introduce other's opinions, e.g. that 'good and evil are the same thing, as Heraclitus says,' refuse to admit the impossibility of contraries belonging at the same time to the same thing; not because they do not themselves believe this, but because on Heraclitus' principles one has to say so. The same thing is done also by those who take on the defence of one another's positions; their aim being to speak as would the man who stated the position.


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