On Sophistical Refutations

Author: Aristotle  | Date: 350 BC


Since we know on how many points apparent syllogisms depend, we know also on how many sophistical syllogisms and refutations may depend. By a sophistical refutation and syllogism I mean not only a syllogism or refutation which appears to be valid but is not, but also one which, though it is valid, only appears to be appropriate to the thing in question. These are those which fail to refute and prove people to be ignorant according to the nature of the thing in question, which was the function of the art of examination. Now the art of examining is a branch of dialectic: and this may prove a false conclusion because of the ignorance of the answerer. Sophistic refutations on the other hand, even though they prove the contradictory of his thesis, do not make clear whether he is ignorant: for sophists entangle the scientist as well with these arguments.

That we know them by the same line of inquiry is clear: for the same considerations which make it appear to an audience that the points required for the proof were asked in the questions and that the conclusion was proved, would make the answerer think so as well, so that false proof will occur through all or some of these means: for what a man has not been asked but thinks he has granted, he would also grant if he were asked. Of course, in some cases the moment we add the missing question, we also show up its falsity, e.g. in fallacies that depend on language and on solecism. If then, fallacious proofs of the contradictory of a thesis depend on their appearing to refute, it is clear that the considerations on which both proofs of false conclusions and an apparent refutation depend must be the same in number. Now an apparent refutation depends upon the elements involved in a genuine one: for the failure of one or other of these must make the refutation merely apparent, e.g. that which depends on the failure of the conclusion to follow from the argument (the argument ad impossibile) and that which treats two questions as one and so depends upon a flaw in the premiss, and that which depends on the substitution of an accident for an essential attribute, and- a branch of the last- that which depends upon the consequent: more over, the conclusion may follow not in fact but only verbally: then, instead of proving the contradictory universally and in the same respect and relation and manner, the fallacy may be dependent on some limit of extent or on one or other of these qualifications: moreover, there is the assumption of the original point to be proved, in violation of the clause ’without reckoning in the original point’. Thus we should have the number of considerations on which the fallacious proofs depend: for they could not depend on more, but all will depend on the points aforesaid.

A sophistical refutation is a refutation not absolutely but relatively to some one: and so is a proof, in the same way. For unless that which depends upon ambiguity assumes that the ambiguous term has a single meaning, and that which depends on like verbal forms assumes that substance is the only category, and the rest in the same way, there will be neither refutations nor proofs, either absolutely or relatively to the answerer: whereas if they do assume these things, they will stand, relatively to the answerer; but absolutely they will not stand: for they have not secured a statement that does have a single meaning, but only one that appears to have, and that only from this particular man.


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Chicago: Aristotle, "8," On Sophistical Refutations, trans. W. A. Pickard-Cambridge Original Sources, accessed September 30, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=L7P7R7GUD994HKJ.

MLA: Aristotle. "8." On Sophistical Refutations, translted by W. A. Pickard-Cambridge, Original Sources. 30 Sep. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=L7P7R7GUD994HKJ.

Harvard: Aristotle, '8' in On Sophistical Refutations, trans. . Original Sources, retrieved 30 September 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=L7P7R7GUD994HKJ.