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On Sophistical Refutations


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On Sophistical Refutations translated by W. A. Pickard-Cambridge

Numbered in terms of chapters. There is only one book. This is the last book of the Organon. I would count Rhetoric as part of it though as a book about how to think and to discuss, so I will be doing that next.

1 - Sophistical refutations appeared to be refutations but are actually fallacies. Most of these revolve around language

Aristotle suggests that a sophist would rather appear to be wise, than to be wise without seeming to be; so seeming to accomplish the goal of a wise man is more important to them, than accomplishing the goal of a wise man without seeming to do so.

2 - Contentious arguments are analyzed in the following chapters. In this context, those are arguments and competitions and contests.

3 - These are 5 goals for competitors of this sort: refutation, fallacy, paradox, solecism (using bad or improper grammar), reduce the opponent in the discussion to babbling.

4 -  There are 6 ways of producing the false appearance of an argument which depend on language: 

amphiboly (ambiguity caused by grammatical construction)
combination ("a man can write while not writing" is confusing or ambiguous because 'can' might refer to ability to write, not the act of writing and not writing at the same time or the entire phrase)
division of words 
accent (criticism about the emphasized word)
form of expression (when what is really different is expressed in the same form, like using active verbs for what is actually passive)

5 - It's interesting how Aristotle mentions different things that are relevant philosophical ideas that he discusses later, so it is clear that he is best thought of as a teacher. He repeats things he says elsewhere, and uses those ideas in different ways than before, such as if the universe has a beginning (and explains what would be better arguments about those topics).

Edited by Eiuol
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8 - invalid proof will occur through the same means that an audience can be convinced of the same invalid proof. It is the appearance of refutation. It is also treating 2 questions as one.

9 - Since the sciences might be infinite in number, demonstrations might be infinite in number as well. Also, the only way to exhaust all possible proofs and demonstrations is to have scientific knowledge of everything. This is why we should grasp common rules in terms of dialectics. Regarding arguments about sciences, those apply to the particular scientist, unique to their subject.

10 - Some people distinguish between arguments directed against expressions, and arguments directed against thoughts. But Aristotle ultimately demonstrates that all arguments are directed at both at once. That is, expressions are of thoughts in the first place. If you are arguing against the expression, then you are arguing against the thought. Not to mention that if something is reduced to mere expression, that would be to make an argument depend on language, which is sophistical.

In a way, he is saying that language should serve a function of making things clear and distinct, a cognitive function, which would make any proper expression the same as a thought. But if language is left ambiguous and holding multiple meanings without any effort to clarify or distinguish, it fails to serve this function, and one cannot even truly argue against it except to say that it involves incoherent reasoning.

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12 - Argue from a person's wishes and professed beliefs if you need to draw them into paradox. Most people contradict themselves or say paradoxical things in these situations.

15 - Sometimes you should attack positions other than the one stated it there are no other lines of attack. I think this means a similar position to the one stated, probably someone of the same philosophical school.

16 - for philosophy, there are 3 reasons to solve contentious disputes.

-Understanding the senses a term may be used, and the differences between things in their names
-To learn how to not commit the same fallacies oneself when alone
-Good reputation

17 - Contentious or sophistical people should not be treated as if they are really trying to refute anything. They just appear to refute.

I think this is why Aristotle seems to say it's okay to use some form of a sophistical argument against sophists. Since they are not even engaging in refutations, there is no reason to play by the standards of refutations. So in some ways, he is okay with playing dirty when the context calls for it. But not in such a simplistic way that one is doing it for the same reasons as the sophist. I wonder if Aristotle was good at arguing against sophists with straight up irony.

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22 - A sophist does not actually provide a solution to a problem, so often when responding to a sophist, people will only end up arguing against the person, not the argument. Even if you grant every one of the premises, there will still be no proof of a conclusion.

Mentions the third man argument from Plato. 

23 - Use the opposite of the point when a point of the argument depends on language. If the sophistical Reputation depends on division, use combination for your argument.

24 - Solutions to flawed arguments (or arguments whose conclusions are known to be false like Zeno's argument) should show why the reasoning is wrong, not just that the conclusion is false.

34 - Aristotle discusses how discoveries develop. He also says that discoveries that are at first small advance because of the developments that later spring from them. He also says it is the most difficult to start at the beginning. From all this, he goes on to say that on the subject of reasoning, there was no clear way to impart that knowledge, although there was much work on it for a while. By reasoning, I think here the context means dialectic reasoning as shown in Topics and here. The passage closes as if he is ending a lecture, thinking you for your time and thinking future people for the discoveries they use from his. He hopes that the inquiry is satisfactory, because this task is so difficult, starting from somewhere besides tradition.

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