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Aristotle - The Organon TOPICA Book 8 Part 7

Terms used obscurely

1. The questioner should be met in a like manner also in the case of terms used obscurely, i.e. in several senses. For the answerer, if he does not understand, is always permitted to say 'I do not understand': he is not compelled to reply 'Yes' or 'No' to a question which may mean different things. Clearly, then, in the first place, if what is said be not clear, he ought not to hesitate to say that he does not understand it; for often people encounter some difficulty from assenting to questions that are not clearly put. If he understands the question and yet it covers many senses, then supposing what it says to be universally true or false, he should give it an unqualified assent or denial: if, on the other hand, it be partly true and partly false, he should add a comment that it bears different senses, and also that in one it is true, in the other false: for if he leave this distinction till later, it becomes uncertain whether originally as well he perceived the ambiguity or not. If he does not foresee the ambiguity, but assents to the question having in view the one sense of the words, then, if the questioner takes it in the other sense, he should say, 'That was not what I had in view when I admitted it; I meant the other sense': for if a term or expression covers more than one thing, it is easy to disagree. If, however, the question is both clear and simple, he should answer either 'Yes' or 'No'.


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