Topics (Aristotle)
The Topics is the name given to one of Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

's six works on logic
In philosophy, Logic is the formal systematic study of the principles of valid inference and correct reasoning. Logic is used in most intellectual activities, but is studied primarily in the disciplines of philosophy, mathematics, semantics, and computer science...

 collectively known as the Organon
The Organon is the name given by Aristotle's followers, the Peripatetics, to the standard collection of his six works on logic:* Categories* On Interpretation* Prior Analytics* Posterior Analytics...

. The other five are:
  • Categories
    Categories (Aristotle)
    The Categories is a text from Aristotle's Organon that enumerates all the possible kinds of thing that can be the subject or the predicate of a proposition...

  • De Interpretatione
  • Prior Analytics
    Prior Analytics
    The Prior Analytics is Aristotle's work on deductive reasoning, specifically the syllogism. It is also part of his Organon, which is the instrument or manual of logical and scientific methods....

  • Posterior Analytics
    Posterior Analytics
    The Posterior Analytics is a text from Aristotle's Organon that deals with demonstration, definition, and scientific knowledge. The demonstration is distinguished as a syllogism productive of scientific knowledge, while the definition marked as the statement of a thing's nature, .....

  • On Sophistical Refutations

The Topics constitutes Aristotle's treatise on the art of dialectic
Dialectic is a method of argument for resolving disagreement that has been central to Indic and European philosophy since antiquity. The word dialectic originated in Ancient Greece, and was made popular by Plato in the Socratic dialogues...

—the invention and discovery of arguments in which the propositions rest upon commonly-held opinions or endoxa
Endoxa derives from the word doxa . Whereas Plato condemned doxa as a starting point for achieving Truth, Aristotle uses the term endoxa to acknowledge the beliefs of the city...

 ( in Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

). Topoi are "places" from which such arguments can be discovered or invented.

What is a "Topic"?

In his treatise on the Topics, Aristotle does not explicitly define a topos, though it is "at least primarily a strategy for argument not infrequently justified or explained by a principle." He characterises it in the Rhetoric
Rhetoric is the art of discourse, an art that aims to improve the facility of speakers or writers who attempt to inform, persuade, or motivate particular audiences in specific situations. As a subject of formal study and a productive civic practice, rhetoric has played a central role in the Western...

 thus: "I call the same thing element and topos; for an element or a topos is a heading under which many enthymeme
An enthymeme , in its modern sense, is an informally stated syllogism with an unstated assumption that must be true for the premises to lead to the conclusion. In an enthymeme, part of the argument is missing because it is assumed...

s fall." By element, he means a general form under which enthymemes of the same type can be included. Thus, the topos is a general argument source, from which the individual arguments are instances, and is a sort of template from which many individual arguments can be constructed. The word (tópos, literally "place, location") is also related to the ancient memory method of "loci"
Method of loci
The method of loci , also called the memory palace, is a mnemonic device introduced in ancient Roman rhetorical treatises . It relies on memorized spatial relationships to establish, order and recollect memorial content...

, by which things to be remembered are recollected by mentally connecting them with successive real or imagined places.

How Topics Relate to Aristotle's Theory of the Syllogism

Though the Topics, as a whole, does not deal directly with the "forms of syllogism
A syllogism is a kind of logical argument in which one proposition is inferred from two or more others of a certain form...

", clearly Aristotle contemplates the use of topics as places from which dialectical syllogisms (i.e. arguments from the commonly-held ) may be derived. This is evidenced by the fact that the introduction to the Topics contains and relies upon his definition of reasoning : a verbal expression in which, certain things having been laid down, other things necessarily follow from these.. Dialectical reasoning is thereafter divided by Aristotle into inductive
Inductive reasoning
Inductive reasoning, also known as induction or inductive logic, is a kind of reasoning that constructs or evaluates propositions that are abstractions of observations. It is commonly construed as a form of reasoning that makes generalizations based on individual instances...

 and deductive
Deductive reasoning
Deductive reasoning, also called deductive logic, is reasoning which constructs or evaluates deductive arguments. Deductive arguments are attempts to show that a conclusion necessarily follows from a set of premises or hypothesis...

 parts. The endoxa themselves are sometimes, but not always, set out in a propositional form, i.e. an express major or minor proposition, from which the complete syllogism may be constructed. Often, such propositional construction is left as a task to the practitioner of the dialectic art; in these instances Aristotle gives only the general strategy for argument, leaving the "provision of propositions" to the ingenuity of the disputant.

Division of the Text

Book I of the Topics is introductory, laying down a number of preliminary principles upon which dialectical argumentation proceeds. After defining dialectical reasoning (syllogism) and distinguishing it from demonstrative, contentious, and (one might say) "pseudo-scientific" syllogism, Aristotle notes the utility of the art of dialectic, then sets out four bases (accident, property, genus, definition) from which invention of such reasoning proceeds. He next elucidates various senses of "sameness", as bearing directly upon the usual character of such arguments. Dialectical propositions and dialectical problems are characterized. Then, the (órgana) or means by which arguments may be obtained are described, in a four-fold summary, as:
  1. the provision of propositions
  2. discovery of the number of senses of a term
  3. the discovery of differences
  4. the investigation of similarities

Methods and rationale for attaining each of these ends are briefly illustrated and explained.

Book II is devoted to an explication of topics relating to arguments where an "accident
Accident (philosophy)
Accident, as used in philosophy, is an attribute which may or may not belong to a subject, without affecting its essence. The word "accident" has been employed throughout the history of philosophy with several distinct meanings....

" (i.e. non-essential attribute, or an attribute that may or may not belong) is predicated of a subject.

Book III concerns commonplaces from which things can be discussed with respect to whether they are "better" or "worse".

Book IV deals with "genus"—how it is discovered and what are the sources of argument for and against attribution of a genus.

Book V discusses the base of "property"—that which is attributable only to a particular subject and is not an essential attribute. Property is subdivided into essential and permanent, versus relative and temporary.

Book VI describes "definition" and the numerous means that may be used to attack and defend a definition.

Book VII is a short recapitulation of "definition" and "sameness", and compares the various difficulties involved in forming arguments, both pro and con, about the other bases of dialectical disputation.

Book VIII (the final book) is a lengthy survey containing suggestions, hints, and some tricks about the technique of organizing and delivering one or the other side of verbal disputation..

The Topics As Related to the Treatise On Sophistical Refutations

The Sophistical Refutations is viewed by some as an appendix to the Topics, inasmuch as its final section appears to form an epilogue to both treatises.

Critical Editions and Translations

  • Bekker, Immanuel. Corpus Aristotelicum
    Corpus Aristotelicum
    The Corpus Aristotelicum is the collection of Aristotle's works that have survived from antiquity through Medieval manuscript transmission. These texts, as opposed to Aristotle's lost works, are technical philosophical treatises from within Aristotle's school...

    . Berlin 1831. Oxford 1837. This is probably the most traditionally-accepted critical edition of the works of Aristotle (Greek).
  • Oxford Classical Text edition by W. D. Ross
    W. D. Ross
    Sir David Ross KBE was a Scottish philosopher, known for work in ethics. His best known work is The Right and the Good , and he is perhaps best known for developing a pluralist, deontological form of intuitionist ethics in response to G.E. Moore's intuitionism...

    , 1958.
  • Aristotle. Topica. Translated by E. S. Forster. Loeb Classical Library
    Loeb Classical Library
    The Loeb Classical Library is a series of books, today published by Harvard University Press, which presents important works of ancient Greek and Latin Literature in a way designed to make the text accessible to the broadest possible audience, by presenting the original Greek or Latin text on each...

    . Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989. With facing Greek and English pages.
  • Collection Budé
    Collection Budé
    The Collection Budé, or the Collection des Universités de France, is a series of books comprising the Greek and Latin classics up to the middle of the 6th century...

     edition (includes French translation) of Books 1-4 by Jacques Brunschwig, 1967 (3nd ed., 2009).
  • Collection Budé
    Collection Budé
    The Collection Budé, or the Collection des Universités de France, is a series of books comprising the Greek and Latin classics up to the middle of the 6th century...

    edition (includes French translation) of Books 5-8 by Jacques Brunschwig, 2007).
  • Robin Smith (ed.). Aristotle's Topic Book I and VIII Translation and commentary. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997.

Critical studies

  • G.E.L. Owen (ed). Aristotle on dialectic: the Topics. Proceedings of the Third Symposium Aristotelicum. Oxford, 1963). Oxford: Clarendon Press 1968.
  • Paul Slomkowski. Aristotle's Topics. Leiden: Brill 1997.

External links

  • Topics, trans. by W. A. Pickard-Cambridge
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