Organon (Owen)/Introduction

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by Aristotle, translated by Octavius Freire Owen
1446432Organon — IntroductionOctavius Freire OwenAristotle


The investigation of the science of Mind, especially as to its element, Thought, is of so interesting a character as in great measure to reconcile the inquirer to the abstruseness of formal reasoning. The beauty of the flower, whilst concealing the ruggedness, is apt to withdraw our attention from the utility, of the soil on which it grows; and thus in like manner the charms of Idealism, ending but too frequently in visionary speculation, have obstructed the clear appreciation of the design and use of Logic. Not that we deny the connexion which must ever subsist between Logic, as the science of the laws of reasoning, and psychology; indeed the latter is constantly introduced in several topics of the Organon; but if we would derive real practical benefit from logical study, we must regard it as enunciative of the universal principle of inference, affording a direct test for the detection of fallacy, and the establishment of true conclusion.

Wherefore, while primarily connected with the laws of Thought, Logic is secondarily and practically allied to language as enunciative of Thought. To enter into the mental processes incident thereto, though so tempting a theme as already to have seduced many from the direct subject of the science, would far exceed the limits of this Introduction. We shall therefore content ourselves with a few observations upon the utility of the study connected with the Organon itself.

It is a quaint remark of Erasmus, that the human understanding, like a drunken clown lifted on horseback, falls over on the farther side the instant he is supported on the nearer; and this is the characteristic of human praise and censure. From an ignorant and exaggerated notion of its purport, Logic, instead of being limited to its proper sphere, was supposed commensurate with the whole investigation of abstract truth in relation to matter, cause, and entity,—in fact, the substance of a folio volume, describing every phase of human life, compressed into a few pages of Boethius and Aldrich. Thus, not having effected what nothing short of a miraculous expansion of the understanding could effect, it sunk into insignificance, until recently vindicated, and placed upon its proper footing, by Whately, Hansel, and others.

It is true that, whether viewed as an art or a science, Logic does not solve the origin of mental conception; but it furnishes the rules on which all reasoning is constructed; and it would be strange indeed if we refused the practical assistance of surgery because it does not exhibit in theory the operation of will upon matter. We may learn Logic and yet not be able to think; but the science cannot be blamed for the imperfection of the element worked upon, any more than the artificer for the inferiority of the only material within his reach. It is sufficient that Logic, without entering into all the phenomena of mind, provides certain forms which an argument, to be legitimate, must exhibit, certain tests by which fallacy may be detected, and certain barriers against ambiguity in the use of language.

Hence, the utility of a science which enables men to take cognizance of the travellers on the mind's highway, and excludes those disorderly interlopers verbal fallacies, needs but small attestation. Its searching penetration by definition alone, before which even mathematical precision fails,[1] would especially commend it to those whom the abstruseness of the study does not terrify, and who recognise the valuable results which must attend discipline of mind. Like a medicine, though not a panacea for every ill, it has the health of the mind for its aim, but requires the determination of a powerful will to imbibe its nauseating yet wholesome influence: it is no wonder therefore that puny intellects, like weak stomachs, abhor and reject it. What florid declaimer can endure that the luxuriant boughs of verdant sophistry, the rich blossoms of oratorical fervour, should be lopped and pared by the stern axe of a syllogism, and the poor stripped trunk of worthless fallacy exposed unprotected to the nipping atmosphere of truth?

Like the science of which it treats, not only has the term "Logic" been variously applied,[2] but even the Organon, as a whole, presents no great claim to unity. The term is neither found, as belonging to an art or science, in Aristotle, nor does it occur in the writings of Plato, and the appellation "Organon," given to the treatises before us, has been attributed to the Peripatetics, who maintained against the Stoics that Logic was "an instrument" of Philosophy. The book, according to M. St. Hilaire, was not called "Organon" before the 15th century,[3] and the treatises were collected into one volume, as is supposed, about the time of Andronicus of Rhodes; it was translated into Latin by Boethius about the 6th century. That Aristotle did not compose the Organon as a whole, is evident from several portions having been severally regarded as logical, grammatical, and metaphysical, and even the Aristotelian names themselves, Analytic and Dialectic, are applicable only to certain portions of the Organon. Still the system is so far coherent in the immediate view taken of Logic, as conversant with language in the process of reasoning, that any addition to the structure of the Stagirite can never augment the compactness with which the syllogism, as a foundation, is built. The treatises themselves are mentioned under distinct titles by their author, and subsequent commentators have discussed the work, not as a whole, but according to its several divisions. It is remarkable also, that no quotations from the Categories, de Interpretatione, or Sophistical Elenchi, are found in the extant writings of Aristotle, since those given by Ritter[4] of the first and last must be considered doubtful.

In the present Translation my utmost endeavour has been to represent the mind and meaning of the author as closely as the genius of the two languages admits. The benefit of the student has been my especial object; hence in the Analysis, the definitions are given in the very words of Aristotle, and the syllogistic examples, introduced by Taylor, have been carefully examined and corrected. In order also to interpret the more confused passages, I have departed somewhat from the usual plan, and in addition to foot-notes have affixed explanations in the margin, that the eye may catch, in the same line, the word and its import. Wherever further elucidation was necessary, I have referred to standard authorities, amongst whom I would gratefully commemorate the works of Mr. Mansel and Dr. Whately, not forgetting my solitary predecessor in this laborious undertaking, Thomas Taylor, whose strict integrity in endeavouring to give the meaning of the text deserves the highest commendation. For books placed at my disposal I have especially to express my sincere acknowledgments to the Rev. Dr. Hessey, Head Master of Merchant Tailors' School, and John Cuninghame, Esq. of Lainshaw.

By an alteration in the original plan, it has been found requisite, in order to equalize the size of the volumes, to place Porphyry's Introduction at the close, instead of at the commencement, of the Organon.

O. F. O.

Burstow, June 23, 1853.


  1. Prior Analyt. ii. 16.
  2. Scotus super Univ. Qu. 3.
  3. Cf. Waitz, vol. ii. p. 294.
  4. Vol. iii. p. 28.