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Aristotle - The Organon DE SOPHISTICIS ELENCHIS Section 2 Part 9

Scientific and dialectical reasoning

1. The number of considerations on which depend the refutations of those who are refuted, we ought not to try to grasp without a knowledge of everything that is. This, however, is not the province of any special study: for possibly the sciences are infinite in number, so that obviously demonstrations may be infinite too. Now refutations may be true as well as false: for whenever it is possible to demonstrate something, it is also possible to refute the man who maintains the contradictory of the truth; e.g. if a man has stated that the diagonal is commensurate with the side of the square, one might refute him by demonstrating that it is incommensurate. Accordingly, to exhaust all possible refutations we shall have to have scientific knowledge of everything: for some refutations depend upon the principles that rule in geometry and the conclusions that follow from these, others upon those that rule in medicine, and others upon those of the other sciences. For the matter of that, the false refutations likewise belong to the number of the infinite: for according to every art there is false proof, e.g. according to geometry there is false geometrical proof, and according to medicine there is false medical proof. By 'according to the art', I mean 'according to the principles of it'. Clearly, then, it is not of all refutations, but only of those that depend upon dialectic that we need to grasp the common-place rules: for these stand in a common relation to every art and faculty. And as regards the refutation that is according to one or other of the particular sciences it is the task of that particular scientist to examine whether it is merely apparent without being real, and, if it be real, what is the reason for it: whereas it is the business of dialecticians so to examine the refutation that proceeds from the common first principles that fall under no particular special study. For if we grasp the startingpoints of the accepted proofs on any subject whatever we grasp those of the refutations current on that subject. For a refutation is the proof of the contradictory of a given thesis, so that either one or two proofs of the contradictory constitute a refutation. We grasp, then, the number of considerations on which all such depend: if, however, we grasp this, we also grasp their solutions as well; for the objections to these are the solutions of them. We also grasp the number of considerations on which those refutations depend, that are merely apparent-apparent, I mean, not to everybody, but to people of a certain stamp; for it is an indefinite task if one is to inquire how many are the considerations that make them apparent to the man in the street. Accordingly it is clear that the dialectician's business is to be able to grasp on how many considerations depends the formation, through the common first principles, of a refutation that is either real or apparent, i.e. either dialectical or apparently dialectical, or suitable for an examination.


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