Author: Aristotle  | Date: 350 BC


NEXT there fall to be discussed the problems of arrangement and method in putting questions. Any one who intends to frame questions must, first of all, select the ground from which he should make his attack; secondly, he must frame them and arrange them one by one to himself; thirdly and lastly, he must proceed actually to put them to the other party. Now so far as the selection of his ground is concerned the problem is one alike for the philosopher and the dialectician; but how to go on to arrange his points and frame his questions concerns the dialectician only: for in every problem of that kind a reference to another party is involved. Not so with the philosopher, and the man who is investigating by himself: the premisses of his reasoning, although true and familiar, may be refused by the answerer because they lie too near the original statement and so he foresees what will follow if he grants them: but for this the philosopher does not care. Nay, he may possibly be even anxious to secure axioms as familiar and as near to the question in hand as possible: for these are the bases on which scientific reasonings are built up.

The sources from which one’s commonplace arguments should be drawn have already been described: we have now to discuss the arrangement and formation of questions and first to distinguish the premisses, other than the necessary premisses, which have to be adopted. By necessary premisses are meant those through which the actual reasoning is constructed. Those which are secured other than these are of four kinds; they serve either inductively to secure the universal premiss being granted, or to lend weight to the argument, or to conceal the conclusion, or to render the argument more clear. Beside these there is no other premiss which need be secured: these are the ones whereby you should try to multiply and formulate your questions. Those which are used to conceal the conclusion serve a controversial purpose only; but inasmuch as an undertaking of this sort is always conducted against another person, we are obliged to employ them as well.

The necessary premisses through which the reasoning is effected, ought not to be propounded directly in so many words. Rather one should soar as far aloof from them as possible. Thus if one desires to secure an admission that the knowledge of contraries is one, one should ask him to admit it not of contraries, but of opposites: for, if he grants this, one will then argue that the knowledge of contraries is also the same, seeing that contraries are opposites; if he does not, one should secure the admission by induction, by formulating a proposition to that effect in the case of some particular pair of contraries. For one must secure the necessary premisses either by reasoning or by induction, or else partly by one and partly by the other, although any propositions which are too obvious to be denied may be formulated in so many words. This is because the coming conclusion is less easily discerned at the greater distance and in the process of induction, while at the same time, even if one cannot reach the required premisses in this way, it is still open to one to formulate them in so many words. The premisses, other than these, that were mentioned above, must be secured with a view to the latter. The way to employ them respectively is as follows: Induction should proceed from individual cases to the universal and from the known to the unknown; and the objects of perception are better known, to most people if not invariably. Concealment of one’s plan is obtained by securing through prosyllogisms the premisses through which the proof of the original proposition is going to be constructed- and as many of them as possible. This is likely to be effected by making syllogisms to prove not only the necessary premisses but also some of those which are required to establish them. Moreover, do not state the conclusions of these premisses but draw them later one after another; for this is likely to keep the answerer at the greatest possible distance from the original proposition. Speaking generally, a man who desires to get information by a concealed method should so put his questions that when he has put his whole argument and has stated the conclusion, people still ask ’Well, but why is that?’ This result will be secured best of all by the method above described: for if one states only the final conclusion, it is unclear how it comes about; for the answerer does not foresee on what grounds it is based, because the previous syllogisms have not been made articulate to him: while the final syllogism, showing the conclusion, is likely to be kept least articulate if we lay down not the secured propositions on which it is based, but only the grounds on which we reason to them.

It is a useful rule, too, not to secure the admissions claimed as the bases of the syllogisms in their proper order, but alternately those that conduce to one conclusion and those that conduce to another; for, if those which go together are set side by side, the conclusion that will result from them is more obvious in advance.

One should also, wherever possible, secure the universal premiss by a definition relating not to the precise terms themselves but to their co-ordinates; for people deceive themselves, whenever the definition is taken in regard to a co-ordinate, into thinking that they are not making the admission universally. An instance would be, supposing one had to secure the admission that the angry man desires vengeance on account of an apparent slight, and were to secure this, that ’anger’ is a desire for vengeance on account of an apparent slight: for, clearly, if this were secured, we should have universally what we intend. If, on the other hand, people formulate propositions relating to the actual terms themselves, they often find that the answerer refuses to grant them because on the actual term itself he is readier with his objection, e.g. that the ’angry man’ does not desire vengeance, because we become angry with our parents, but we do not desire vengeance on them. Very likely the objection is not valid; for upon some people it is vengeance enough to cause them pain and make them sorry; but still it gives a certain plausibility and air of reasonableness to the denial of the proposition. In the case, however, of the definition of ’anger’ it is not so easy to find an objection.

Moreover, formulate your proposition as though you did so not for its own sake, but in order to get at something else: for people are shy of granting what an opponent’s case really requires. Speaking generally, a questioner should leave it as far as possible doubtful whether he wishes to secure an admission of his proposition or of its opposite: for if it be uncertain what their opponent’s argument requires, people are more ready to say what they themselves think.

Moreover, try to secure admissions by means of likeness: for such admissions are plausible, and the universal involved is less patent; e.g. make the other person admit that as knowledge and ignorance of contraries is the same, so too perception of contraries is the same; or vice versa, that since the perception is the same, so is the knowledge also. This argument resembles induction, but is not the same thing; for in induction it is the universal whose admission is secured from the particulars, whereas in arguments from likeness, what is secured is not the universal under which all the like cases fall.

It is a good rule also, occasionally to bring an objection against oneself: for answerers are put off their guard against those who appear to be arguing impartially. It is useful too, to add that ’So and so is generally held or commonly said’; for people are shy of upsetting the received opinion unless they have some positive objection to urge: and at the same time they are cautious about upsetting such things because they themselves too find them useful. Moreover, do not be insistent, even though you really require the point: for insistence always arouses the more opposition. Further, formulate your premiss as though it were a mere illustration: for people admit the more readily a proposition made to serve some other purpose, and not required on its own account. Moreover, do not formulate the very proposition you need to secure, but rather something from which that necessarily follows: for people are more willing to admit the latter, because it is not so clear from this what the result will be, and if the one has been secured, the other has been secured also. Again, one should put last the point which one most wishes to have conceded; for people are specially inclined to deny the first questions put to them, because most people in asking questions put first the points which they are most eager to secure. On the other hand, in dealing with some people propositions of this sort should be put forward first: for ill-tempered men admit most readily what comes first, unless the conclusion that will result actually stares them in the face, while at the close of an argument they show their ill-temper. Likewise also with those who consider themselves smart at answering: for when they have admitted most of what you want they finally talk clap-trap to the effect that the conclusion does not follow from their admissions: yet they say ’Yes’ readily, confident in their own character, and imagining that they cannot suffer any reverse. Moreover, it is well to expand the argument and insert things that it does not require at all, as do those who draw false geometrical figures: for in the multitude of details the whereabouts of the fallacy is obscured. For this reason also a questioner sometimes evades observation as he adds in a corner what, if he formulated it by itself, would not be granted.

For concealment, then, the rules which should be followed are the above. Ornament is attained by induction and distinction of things closely akin. What sort of process induction is obvious: as for distinction, an instance of the kind of thing meant is the distinction of one form of knowledge as better than another by being either more accurate, or concerned with better objects; or the distinction of sciences into speculative, practical, and productive. For everything of this kind lends additional ornament to the argument, though there is no necessity to say them, so far as the conclusion goes.

For clearness, examples and comparisons should be adduced, and let the illustrations be relevant and drawn from things that we know, as in Homer and not as in Choerilus; for then the proposition is likely to become clearer.


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Chicago: Aristotle, "1," Topics, trans. W. A. Pickard-Cambridge in Library of the Future ® 4th Edition Ver. 5.0 (Irvine, CA: World Library, Inc., 1996), Original Sources, accessed March 21, 2019,

MLA: Aristotle. "1." Topics, translted by W. A. Pickard-Cambridge, in Library of the Future ® 4th Edition Ver. 5.0, Irvine, CA, World Library, Inc., 1996, Original Sources. 21 Mar. 2019.

Harvard: Aristotle, '1' in Topics, trans. . cited in 1996, Library of the Future ® 4th Edition Ver. 5.0, World Library, Inc., Irvine, CA. Original Sources, retrieved 21 March 2019, from