The Dialectics of Aristotle Simplified
What is Dialectical reasoning?
Dialectical reasoning can be explained by understanding what is reasoning and its varieties.
Reasoning is an argument leads to other arguments when certain things are laid down.
It is a ‘demonstration’ when the premises from which the reasoning starts are true and primary
It is ‘dialectical’ if it reasons from opinions that are generally accepted.
Things are ’true’ and ‘primary’ which are believed on the strength not of anything else but of themselves= for in regard to the first principles of science it is improper to ask any further for the why and wherefore of them;
each of the first principles should command belief in and by itself. On the other hand, those opinions are ‘generally accepted’ which are accepted by every one or by the majority or by the philosophers – i.e. by all, or by the majority, or by the most notable and illustrious of them.
- It is ‘contentious’ if it starts from opinions that seem to be generally accepted, but not really.
Not every generally accepted opinion is actually generally accepted. In generally accepted opinions, the illusion is not entirely on the surface.
In fallacies, these illusions are obvious immediately.
of the contentious reasonings mentioned, the former really deserves to be called ‘reasoning’ as well, but the other should be called ‘contentious reasoning’, but not ‘reasoning’, since it appears to reason, but does not really do so.
- There are mis-reasonings that start from the premisses peculiar to the special sciences.
This happens in geometry and her sister sciences. Misreasonings differ from other reasonings. The man who draws a false figure reasons from things that are neither true and primary, nor yet generally accepted.
For he does not fall within the definition; he does not assume opinions that are received either by every one or by the majority or by philosophers – that is to say, by all, or by most, or by the most illustrious of them – but he conducts his reasoning upon assumptions which, though appropriate to the science in question, are not true; for he effects his mis-reasoning either by describing the semicircles wrongly or by drawing certain lines in a way in which they could not be drawn.
What is ‘dialectical proposition’ and a ‘dialectical problem’?
Not every proposition or problem is dialectical. No one would make a proposition that is held by no one, or a problem that is not a problem to people.
A dialectical proposition asks something that is held by everyone or most people that is not contrary to the general opinion. A man would probably assent to the view of the philosophers, if it is not contrary to popular opinion.
Dialectical propositions include:
- views which are like those generally accepted
- propositions which contradict the contraries of opinions that are generally accepted, and
- all opinions that are in accordance with the recognized arts.
- the general opinion is that the knowledge of contraries is the same. This would lead to the dialectical proposition as the general opinion also that the perception of contraries is the same.
- the general opinion is that there is one science of grammar. This would lead to a general opinion that there is one science of flute-playing.
- if the general opinion is that there is more than one science of grammar, then it would lead to a general opinion that there is more than one science of flute-playing too
All these seem to be alike. Likewise, propositions contradicting the contraries of general opinions will pass as general opinions.
- If the general opinion was that one should do good to one’s friends, it will also be a general opinion that one should not to do them harm.
Also, on comparison, it will look like a general opinion that the contrary predicate belongs to the contrary subject= e.g. if one should do good to one’s friends, one should also do evil to one’s enemies.
It might appear also as if doing good to one’s friends were a contrary to doing evil to one’s enemies= but whether this is or is not so in reality as well will be stated in the course of the discussion upon contraries. Clearly also, all opinions that are in accordance with the arts are dialectical propositions; for people are likely to assent to the views held by those who have made a study of these things, e.g. on a question of medicine they will agree with the doctor, and on a question of geometry with the geometrician; and likewise also in other cases.
A dialectical problem is a question that contributes either to:
- choice and avoidance, or
- truth and knowledge
This is to help to the solution of some other such problem.
It must be a question that people:
- hold no opinion either way, or
- the masses hold a contrary opinion to the philosophers, or the philosophers to the masses, or each of them among themselves.
For some problems it is useful to know with a view to choice or avoidance, e.g. whether pleasure is to be chosen or not, while some it is useful to know merely with a view to knowledge, e.g. whether the universe is eternal or not= others, again, are not useful in and by themselves for either of these purposes, but yet help us in regard to some such problems; for there are many things which we do not wish to know in and by themselves, but for the sake of other things, in order that through them we may come to know something else.
Problems also include questions in regard to which reasonings conflict (the difficulty then being whether so-and so is so or not, there being convincing arguments for both views); others also in regard to which we have no argument because they are so vast, and we find it difficult to give our reasons, e.g. the question whether the universe is eternal or no= for into questions of that kind too it is possible to inquire.
Problems, then, and propositions are to be defined.
A ’thesis’ is a supposition of some eminent philosopher that conflicts with the general opinion. Examples are:
- the view that contradiction is impossible, as Antisthenes said
- the view of Heraclitus that all things are in motion
- the view that Being is one, as Melissus says
It would be silly for any ordinary person to express views contrary to men’s usual opinions.
A thesis might be a view which is reasonably contrary to men’s usual opinions. An example is that by the sophists. They say that what is need not in every case either have come to be or be eternal. A musician who is also a grammarian ‘is’ either:
- a grammarian without ever being a grammarian or
- a grammarian eternally.
Even if people do not accept this view, they accept it shallowly.
A thesis is also a problem, but a problem is not always a thesis.
A thesis, however, also forms a problem. People might disagree with the philosophers about the thesis. Philosophers might disagree among themselves seeing that the thesis conflicts with general opinion.
Practically, all dialectical problems are now called ’theses’.