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Aristotle - The Organon DE SOPHISTICIS ELENCHIS Section 2 Part 6

Further discussion of these sophistical refutations

1. The right way, then, is either to divide apparent proofs and refutations as above, or else to refer them all to ignorance of what 'refutation' is, and make that our starting-point: for it is possible to analyse all the aforesaid modes of fallacy into breaches of the definition of a refutation. In the first place, we may see if they are inconclusive: for the conclusion ought to result from the premisses laid down, so as to compel us necessarily to state it and not merely to seem to compel us. Next we should also take the definition bit by bit, and try the fallacy thereby. For of the fallacies that consist in language, some depend upon a double meaning, e.g. ambiguity of words and of phrases, and the fallacy of like verbal forms (for we habitually speak of everything as though it were a particular substance) - while fallacies of combination and division and accent arise because the phrase in question or the term as altered is not the same as was intended. Even this, however, should be the same, just as the thing signified should be as well, if a refutation or proof is to be effected; e.g. if the point concerns a doublet, then you should draw the conclusion of a 'doublet', not of a 'cloak'. For the former conclusion also would be true, but it has not been proved; we need a further question to show that 'doublet' means the same thing, in order to satisfy any one who asks why you think your point proved.

2. Fallacies that depend on Accident are clear cases of ignoratio elenchi when once 'proof' has been defined. For the same definition ought to hold good of 'refutation' too, except that a mention of 'the contradictory' is here added: for a refutation is a proof of the contradictory. If, then, there is no proof as regards an accident of anything, there is no refutation. For supposing, when A and B are, C must necessarily be, and C is white, there is no necessity for it to be white on account of the syllogism. So, if the triangle has its angles equal to two right-angles, and it happens to be a figure, or the simplest element or starting point, it is not because it is a figure or a starting point or simplest element that it has this character. For the demonstration proves the point about it not qua figure or qua simplest element, but qua triangle. Likewise also in other cases. If, then, refutation is a proof, an argument which argued per accidens could not be a refutation. It is, however, just in this that the experts and men of science generally suffer refutation at the hand of the unscientific: for the latter meet the scientists with reasonings constituted per accidens; and the scientists for lack of the power to draw distinctions either say 'Yes' to their questions, or else people suppose them to have said 'Yes', although they have not.

3. Those that depend upon whether something is said in a certain respect only or said absolutely, are clear cases of ignoratio elenchi because the affirmation and the denial are not concerned with the same point. For of 'white in a certain respect' the negation is 'not white in a certain respect', while of 'white absolutely' it is 'not white, absolutely'. If, then, a man treats the admission that a thing is 'white in a certain respect' as though it were said to be white absolutely, he does not effect a refutation, but merely appears to do so owing to ignorance of what refutation is.

4. The clearest cases of all, however, are those that were previously described as depending upon the definition of a 'refutation': and this is also why they were called by that name. For the appearance of a refutation is produced because of the omission in the definition, and if we divide fallacies in the above manner, we ought to set 'Defective definition' as a common mark upon them all.

5. Those that depend upon the assumption of the original point and upon stating as the cause what is not the cause, are clearly shown to be cases of ignoratio elenchi through the definition thereof. For the conclusion ought to come about 'because these things are so', and this does not happen where the premisses are not causes of it: and again it should come about without taking into account the original point, and this is not the case with those arguments which depend upon begging the original point.

6. Those that depend upon the assumption of the original point and upon stating as the cause what is not the cause, are clearly shown to be cases of ignoratio elenchi through the definition thereof. For the conclusion ought to come about 'because these things are so', and this does not happen where the premisses are not causes of it: and again it should come about without taking into account the original point, and this is not the case with those arguments which depend upon begging the original point.

7. Those that depend upon the consequent are a branch of Accident: for the consequent is an accident, only it differs from the accident in this, that you may secure an admission of the accident in the case of one thing only (e.g. the identity of a yellow thing and honey and of a white thing and swan), whereas the consequent always involves more than one thing: for we claim that things that are the same as one and the same thing are also the same as one another, and this is the ground of a refutation dependent on the consequent. It is, however, not always true, e.g. suppose that and B are the same as C per accidens; for both 'snow' and the 'swan' are the same as something 'white'. Or again, as in Melissus' argument, a man assumes that to 'have been generated' and to 'have a beginning' are the same thing, or to 'become equal' and to 'assume the same magnitude'. For because what has been generated has a beginning, he claims also that what has a beginning has been generated, and argues as though both what has been generated and what is finite were the same because each has a beginning. Likewise also in the case of things that are made equal he assumes that if things that assume one and the same magnitude become equal, then also things that become equal assume one magnitude: i.e. he assumes the consequent. Inasmuch, then, as a refutation depending on accident consists in ignorance of what a refutation is, clearly so also does a refutation depending on the consequent. We shall have further to examine this in another way as well.

8. Those fallacies that depend upon the making of several questions into one consist in our failure to dissect the definition of 'proposition'. For a proposition is a single statement about a single thing. For the same definition applies to 'one single thing only' and to the 'thing', simply, e.g. to 'man' and to 'one single man only' and likewise also in other cases. If, then, a 'single proposition' be one which claims a single thing of a single thing, a 'proposition', simply, will also be the putting of a question of that kind. Now since a proof starts from propositions and refutation is a proof, refutation, too, will start from propositions. If, then, a proposition is a single statement about a single thing, it is obvious that this fallacy too consists in ignorance of what a refutation is: for in it what is not a proposition appears to be one. If, then, the answerer has returned an answer as though to a single question, there will be a refutation; while if he has returned one not really but apparently, there will be an apparent refutation of his thesis. All the types of fallacy, then, fall under ignorance of what a refutation is, some of them because the contradiction, which is the distinctive mark of a refutation, is merely apparent, and the rest failing to conform to the definition of a proof.


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