Posterior Analytics (Bouchier)/Book II/Chapter IV

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Posterior Analytics (Bouchier) by Aristotle, translated by E. S. Bouchier
Book II, Chapter IV

Chapter IV: The Essence of a thing cannot be attained by Syllogism[edit]

A syllogism could only be expressed as a definition if a middle term convertible with the two other terms were employed. This, however, would involve a Petitio Principii.

Can a syllogism or a demonstration treating of a thing’s Nature be arrived at, or, as our recent argument assumed, is that impossible? Syllogism proves one thing of another by means of a middle term, but a thing’s Nature is a property and is predicated as part of its essence. Further, definition must be convertible with the thing defined; for if A be a property of B, and that again of C, each term is a property of the other. Further, if A be an essential attribute of B, and B be essentially universally and distributively predicable of C, A must be essentially predicable of C.

If, however, one do not thus make use of A twice over, it will not of necessity be predicable of C; that is to say when A is an essential attribute of B, but not of everything of which B is predicable. Both A and B then form part of the essence of C. Hence too B is essentially predicable of C; but if both A and B be essential attributes of the subject C, and also of the formal cause of C, the formal cause will be present in the middle term before the syllogism is formed.

In general then if one have to prove, e.g. What man’s essence is; let C be ‘man,’ and A the essence, whether this be ‘biped animal’ or something else. If then a syllogism is to be formed, A must be predicated distributively of B, and further a middle term is required, and this will be predicable of the essence A. Thus one will be assuming what one ought to prove, seeing that B will also denote man’s essence.

One ought to consider this phenomenon both in the two premises and in the primary and ultimate proposition, as it will appear most plainly in them. In fact, those who prove by means of a convertible proposition what is the essence of Soul, of Man, or of any other existing thing, are guilty of begging the question.

Thus, suppose it were asserted that the soul is a thing which is the cause of its own life, and that this cause is a number which moves itself. Here one would have to assume that the soul is like a number which moves itself, and is actually identical with it. A will not in fact be essentially predicable of C because A is a consequence of B, and B of C, though it may be conventionally so denoted; nor yet, if A exists, is it thereby made essentially and distributively predicable of B.

For instance, the essence ‘animal’ is predicated of the essence ‘man,’ and it is true to say that every essential attribute of man is an essential attribute of animal, (just as it is true to say that every man is an animal) but not in the sense that man and animal are identical.

If the terms are not so stated one cannot infer that A constitutes the essential nature and substance of C. If they are so stated there will be a preliminary assumption that B, the thing which ought to be proved, constitutes the essential nature of C. Thus no demonstration of this latter fact will have been given, but we shall have begged the question.