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Aristotle - The Organon TOPICA Book 8 Part 11

Five kinds of criticism of arguments

1. Adverse criticism of an argument on its own merits, and of it when presented in the form of questions, are two different things. For often the failure to carry through the argument correctly in discussion is due to the person questioned, because he will not grant the steps of which a correct argument might have been made against his position: for it is not in the power of the one side only to effect properly a result that depends on both alike. Accordingly it sometimes becomes necessary to attack the speaker and not his position, when the answerer lies in wait for the points that are contrary to the questioner and becomes abusive as well: when people lose their tempers in this way, their argument becomes a contest, not a discussion. Moreover, since arguments of this kind are held not for the sake of instruction but for purposes of practice and examination, clearly one has to reason not only to true conclusions, but also to false ones, and not always through true premisses, but sometimes through false as well. For often, when a true proposition is put forward, the dialectician is compelled to demolish it: and then false propositions have to be formulated. Sometimes also when a false proposition is put forward, it has to be demolished by means of false propositions: for it is possible for a given man to believe what is not the fact more firmly than the truth. Accordingly, if the argument be made to depend on something that he holds, it will be easier to persuade or help him. He, however, who would rightly convert any one to a different opinion should do so in a dialectical and not in a contentious manner, just as a geometrician should reason geometrically, whether his conclusion be false or true: what kind of syllogisms are dialectical has already been said. The principle that a man who hinders the common business is a bad partner, clearly applies to an argument as well; for in arguments as well there is a common aim in view, except with mere contestants, for these cannot both reach the same goal; for more than one cannot possibly win. It makes no difference whether he effects this as answerer or as questioner: for both he who asks contentious questions is a bad dialectician, and also he who in answering fails to grant the obvious answer or to understand the point of the questioner's inquiry. What has been said, then, makes it clear that adverse criticism is not to be passed in a like strain upon the argument on its own merits, and upon the questioner: for it may very well be that the argument is bad, but that the questioner has argued with the answerer in the best possible way: for when men lose their tempers, it may perhaps be impossible to make one's inferences straight-forwardly as one would wish: we have to do as we can.

2. Inasmuch as it is indeterminate when people are claiming the admission of contrary things, and when they are claiming what originally they set out to prove - for often when they are talking by themselves they say contrary things, and admit afterwards what they have previously denied; for which reason they often assent, when questioned, to contrary things and to what originally had to be proved - the argument is sure to become vitiated. The responsibility, however, for this rests with the answerer, because while refusing to grant other points, he does grant points of that kind. It is, then, clear that adverse criticism is not to be passed in a like manner upon questioners and upon their arguments.

3. In itself an argument is liable to five kinds of adverse criticism:

4. (1) The first is when neither the proposed conclusion nor indeed any conclusion at all is drawn from the questions asked, and when most, if not all, of the premisses on which the conclusion rests are false or generally rejected, when, moreover, neither any withdrawals nor additions nor both together can bring the conclusions about.

5. (2) The second is, supposing the reasoning, though constructed from the premisses, and in the manner, described above, were to be irrelevant to the original position.

6. (3) The third is, supposing certain additions would bring an inference about but yet these additions were to be weaker than those that were put as questions and less generally held than the conclusion.

7. (4) Again, supposing certain withdrawals could effect the same: for sometimes people secure more premisses than are necessary, so that it is not through them that the inference comes about.

8. (5) Moreover, suppose the premisses be less generally held and less credible than the conclusion, or if, though true, they require more trouble to prove than the proposed view.

9. One must not claim that the reasoning to a proposed view shall in every case equally be a view generally accepted and convincing: for it is a direct result of the nature of things that some subjects of inquiry shall be easier and some harder, so that if a man brings people to accept his point from opinions that are as generally received as the case admits, he has argued his case correctly. Clearly, then, not even the argument itself is open to the same adverse criticism when taken in relation to the proposed conclusion and when taken by itself. For there is nothing to prevent the argument being open to reproach in itself, and yet commendable in relation to the proposed conclusion, or again, vice versa, being commendable in itself, and yet open to reproach in relation to the proposed conclusion, whenever there are many propositions both generally held and also true whereby it could easily be proved. It is possible also that an argument, even though brought to a conclusion, may sometimes be worse than one which is not so concluded, whenever the premisses of the former are silly, while its conclusion is not so; whereas the latter, though requiring certain additions, requires only such as are generally held and true, and moreover does not rest as an argument on these additions. With those which bring about a true conclusion by means of false premisses, it is not fair to find fault: for a false conclusion must of necessity always be reached from a false premiss, but a true conclusion may sometimes be drawn even from false premisses; as is clear from the Analytics.

10. Whenever by the argument stated something is demonstrated, but that something is other than what is wanted and has no bearing whatever on the conclusion, then no inference as to the latter can be drawn from it: and if there appears to be, it will be a sophism, not a proof. A philosopheme is a demonstrative inference: an epichireme is a dialectical inference: a sophism is a contentious inference: an aporeme is an inference that reasons dialectically to a contradiction.

11. If something were to be shown from premisses, both of which are views generally accepted, but not accepted with like conviction, it may very well be that the conclusion shown is something held more strongly than either. If, on the other hand, general opinion be for the one and neither for nor against the other, or if it be for the one and against the other, then, if the pro and con be alike in the case of the premisses, they will be alike for the conclusion also: if, on the other hand, the one preponderates, the conclusion too will follow suit.

12. It is also a fault in reasoning when a man shows something through a long chain of steps, when he might employ fewer steps and those already included in his argument: suppose him to be showing (e.g.) that one opinion is more properly so called than another, and suppose him to make his postulates as follows: 'x-in-itself is more fully x than anything else': 'there genuinely exists an object of opinion in itself': therefore 'the object-of-opinion-in-itself is more fully an object of opinion than the particular objects of opinion'. Now 'a relative term is more fully itself when its correlate is more fully itself': and 'there exists a genuine opinion-in-itself, which will be "opinion" in a more accurate sense than the particular opinions': and it has been postulated both that 'a genuine opinion-in-itself exists', and that 'x-in-itself is more fully x than anything else': therefore 'this will be opinion in a more accurate sense'. Wherein lies the viciousness of the reasoning? Simply in that it conceals the ground on which the argument depends.


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