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Aristotle - The Organon DE SOPHISTICIS ELENCHIS Section 2 Part 10

Argument against the word, and against the thought

1. It is no true distinction between arguments which some people draw when they say that some arguments are directed against the expression, and others against the thought expressed: for it is absurd to suppose that some arguments are directed against the expression and others against the thought, and that they are not the same. For what is failure to direct an argument against the thought except what occurs whenever a man does not in using the expression think it to be used in his question in the same sense in which the person questioned granted it? And this is the same thing as to direct the argument against the expression. On the other hand, it is directed against the thought whenever a man uses the expression in the same sense which the answerer had in mind when he granted it. If now any (i.e. both the questioner and the person questioned), in dealing with an expression with more than one meaning, were to suppose it to have one meaning-as e.g. it may be that 'Being' and 'One' have many meanings, and yet both the answerer answers and the questioner puts his question supposing it to be one, and the argument is to the effect that 'All things are one' - will this discussion be directed any more against the expression than against the thought of the person questioned? If, on the other hand, one of them supposes the expression to have many meanings, it is clear that such a discussion will not be directed against the thought. Such being the meanings of the phrases in question, they clearly cannot describe two separate classes of argument. For, in the first place, it is possible for any such argument as bears more than one meaning to be directed against the expression and against the thought, and next it is possible for any argument whatsoever; for the fact of being directed against the thought consists not in the nature of the argument, but in the special attitude of the answerer towards the points he concedes. Next, all of them may be directed to the expression. For 'to be directed against the expression' means in this doctrine 'not to be directed against the thought'. For if not all are directed against either expression or thought, there will be certain other arguments directed neither against the expression nor against the thought, whereas they say that all must be one or the other, and divide them all as directed either against the expression or against the thought, while others (they say) there are none. But in point of fact those that depend on mere expression are only a branch of those syllogisms that depend on a multiplicity of meanings. For the absurd statement has actually been made that the description 'dependent on mere expression' describes all the arguments that depend on language: whereas some of these are fallacies not because the answerer adopts a particular attitude towards them, but because the argument itself involves the asking of a question such as bears more than one meaning. \RbJbk{171}{a}

2. It is, too, altogether absurd to discuss Refutation without first discussing Proof: for a refutation is a proof, so that one ought to discuss proof as well before describing false refutation: for a refutation of that kind is a merely apparent proof of the contradictory of a thesis. Accordingly, the reason of the falsity will be either in the proof or in the contradiction (for mention of the 'contradiction' must be added), while sometimes it is in both, if the refutation be merely apparent. In the argument that speaking of the silent is possible it lies in the contradiction, not in the proof; in the argument that one can give what one does not possess, it lies in both; in the proof that Homer's poem is a figure through its being a cycle it lies in the proof. An argument that does not fail in either respect is a true proof.

3. But, to return to the point whence our argument digressed, are mathematical reasonings directed against the thought, or not? And if any one thinks 'triangle' to be a word with many meanings, and granted it in some different sense from the figure which was proved to contain two right angles, has the questioner here directed his argument against the thought of the former or not?

4. Moreover, if the expression bears many senses, while the answerer does not understand or suppose it to have them, surely the questioner here has directed his argument against his thought! Or how else ought he to put his question except by suggesting a distinction-suppose one's question to be speaking of the silent possible or not?' - as follows, 'Is the answer "No" in one sense, but "Yes" in another?' If, then, any one were to answer that it was not possible in any sense and the other were to argue that it was, has not his argument been directed against the thought of the answerer? Yet his argument is supposed to be one of those that depend on the expression. There is not, then, any definite kind of arguments that is directed against the thought. Some arguments are, indeed, directed against the expression: but these are not all even apparent refutations, let alone all refutations. For there are also apparent refutations which do not depend upon language, e.g. those that depend upon accident, and others.

5. If, however, any one claims that one should actually draw the distinction, and say, 'By "speaking of the silent" I mean, in one sense this and in the other sense that', surely to claim this is in the first place absurd (for sometimes the questioner does not see the ambiguity of his question, and he cannot possibly draw a distinction which he does not think to be there): in the second place, what else but this will didactic argument be? For it will make manifest the state of the case to one who has never considered, and does not know or suppose that there is any other meaning but one. For what is there to prevent the same thing also happening to us in cases where there is no double meaning? 'Are the units in four equal to the twos? Observe that the twos are contained in four in one sense in this way, in another sense in that'. Also, 'Is the knowledge of contraries one or not? Observe that some contraries are known, while others are unknown'. Thus the man who makes this claim seems to be unaware of the difference between didactic and dialectical argument, and of the fact that while he who argues didactically should not ask questions but make things clear himself, the other should merely ask questions.


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