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Aristotle - The Organon TOPICA Book 8 Part 12

An argument is called fallacious in four senses

1. An argument is clear in one, and that the most ordinary, sense, if it be so brought to a conclusion as to make no further questions necessary: in another sense, and this is the type most usually advanced, when the propositions secured are such as compel the conclusion, and the argument is concluded through premisses that are themselves conclusions: moreover, it is so also if some step is omitted that generally is firmly accepted.

2. An argument is called fallacious in four senses:

3. (1) when it appears to be brought to a conclusion, and is not really so - what is called 'contentious' reasoning:

4. (2) when it comes to a conclusion but not to the conclusion proposed - which happens principally in the case of reductiones ad impossibile:

5. (3) when it comes to the proposed conclusion but not according to the mode of inquiry appropriate to the case, as happens when a non-medical argument is taken to be a medical one, or one which is not geometrical for a geometrical argument, or one which is not dialectical for dialectical, whether the result reached be true or false:

6. (4) if the conclusion be reached through false premisses: of this type the conclusion is sometimes false, sometimes true: for while a false conclusion is always the result of false premisses, a true conclusion may be drawn even from premisses that are not true, as was said above as well.

7. Fallacy in argument is due to a mistake of the arguer rather than of the argument: yet it is not always the fault of the arguer either, but only when he is not aware of it: for we often accept on its merits in preference to many true ones an argument which demolishes some true proposition if it does so from premisses as far as possible generally accepted. For an argument of that kind does demonstrate other things that are true: for one of the premisses laid down ought never to be there at all, and this will then be demonstrated. If, however, a true conclusion were to be reached through premisses that are false and utterly childish, the argument is worse than many arguments that lead to a false conclusion, though an argument which leads to a false conclusion may also be of this type. Clearly then the first thing to ask in regard to the argument in itself is, 'Has it a conclusion?'; the second, 'Is the conclusion true or false?'; the third, 'Of what kind of premisses does it consist?': for if the latter, though false, be generally accepted, the argument is dialectical, whereas if, though true, they be generally rejected, it is bad: if they be both false and also entirely contrary to general opinion, clearly it is bad, either altogether or else in relation to the particular matter in hand.


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