Aristotle - The Organon TOPICA Book 8 Part 14

Training and practice in arguments

1. The best way to secure training and practice in arguments of this kind is in the first place to get into the habit of converting the arguments. For in this way we shall be better equipped for dealing with the proposition stated, and after a few attempts we shall know several arguments by heart. For by 'conversion' of an argument is meant the taking the reverse of the conclusion together with the remaining propositions asked and so demolishing one of those that were conceded: for it follows necessarily that if the conclusion be untrue, some one of the premisses is demolished, seeing that, given all the premisses, the conclusion was bound to follow. Always, in dealing with any proposition, be on the look-out for a line of argument both pro and con: and on discovering it at once set about looking for the solution of it: for in this way you will soon find that you have trained yourself at the same time in both asking questions and answering them. If we cannot find any one else to argue with, we should argue with ourselves. Select, moreover, arguments relating to the same thesis and range them side by side: for this produces a plentiful supply of arguments for carrying a point by sheer force, and in refutation also it is of great service, whenever one is well stocked with arguments pro and con: for then you find yourself on your guard against contrary statements to the one you wish to secure. Moreover, as contributing to knowledge and to philosophic wisdom the power of discerning and holding in one view the results of either of two hypotheses is no mean instrument; for it then only remains to make a right choice of one of them. For a task of this kind a certain natural ability is required: in fact real natural ability just is the power right to choose the true and shun the false. Men of natural ability can do this; for by a right liking or disliking for whatever is proposed to them they rightly select what is best.

2. It is best to know by heart arguments upon those questions which are of most frequent occurrence, and particularly in regard to those propositions which are ultimate: for in discussing these answerers frequently give up in despair. Moreover, get a good stock of definitions: and have those of familiar and primary ideas at your fingers' ends: for it is through these that reasonings are effected. You should try, moreover, to master the heads under which other arguments mostly tend to fall. For just as in geometry it is useful to be practised in the elements, and in arithmetic to have the multiplication table up to ten at one's fingers' ends - and indeed it makes a great difference in one's knowledge of the multiples of other numbers too - likewise also in arguments it is a great advantage to be well up in regard to first principles, and to have a thorough knowledge of premisses at the tip of one's tongue. For just as in a person with a trained memory, a memory of things themselves is immediately caused by the mere mention of their loci, so these habits too will make a man readier in reasoning, because he has his premisses classified before his mind's eye, each under its number. It is better to commit to memory a premiss of general application than an argument: for it is difficult to be even moderately ready with a first principle, or hypothesis.

3. Moreover, you should get into the habit of turning one argument into several, and conceal your procedure as darkly as you can: this kind of effect is best produced by keeping as far as possible away from topics akin to the subject of the argument. This can be done with arguments that are entirely universal, e.g. the statement that 'there cannot be one knowledge of more than one thing': for that is the case with both relative terms and contraries and co-ordinates.

4. Records of discussions should be made in a universal form, even though one has argued only some particular case: for this will enable one to turn a single rule into several. A like rule applies in Rhetoric as well to enthymemes. For yourself, however, you should as far as possible avoid universalizing your reasonings. You should, moreover, always examine arguments to see whether they rest on principles of general application: for all particular arguments really reason universally, as well, i.e. a particular demonstration always contains a universal demonstration, because it is impossible to reason at all without using universals.

5. You should display your training in inductive reasoning against a young man, in deductive against an expert. You should try, moreover, to secure from those skilled in deduction their premisses, from inductive reasoners their parallel cases; for this is the thing in which they are respectively trained. In general, too, from your exercises in argumentation you should try to carry away either a syllogism on some subject or a refutation or a proposition or an objection, or whether some one put his question properly or improperly (whether it was yourself or some one else) and the point which made it the one or the other. For this is what gives one ability, and the whole object of training is to acquire ability, especially in regard to propositions and objections. For it is the skilled propounder and objector who is, speaking generally, a dialectician. To formulate a proposition is to form a number of things into one - for the conclusion to which the argument leads must be taken generally, as a single thing - whereas to formulate an objection is to make one thing into many; for the objector either distinguishes or demolishes, partly granting, partly denying the statements proposed.

6. Do not argue with every one, nor practise upon the man in the street: for there are some people with whom any argument is bound to degenerate. For against any one who is ready to try all means in order to seem not to be beaten, it is indeed fair to try all means of bringing about one's conclusion: but it is not good form. Wherefore the best rule is, not lightly to engage with casual acquaintances, or bad argument is sure to result. For you see how in practising together people cannot refrain from contentious argument.

7. It is best also to have ready-made arguments relating to those questions in which a very small stock will furnish us with arguments serviceable on a very large number of occasions. These are those that are universal, and those in regard to which it is rather difficult to produce points for ourselves from matters of everyday experience.

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