The logic from name to definition(s)

The longest book of Aristotle’s logic was his Topics, which perfected the logic of the first act of the mind through dialectics. One of the central goals of the book is the formation of definitions, which are best understood as the ideal names of things: i.e. what we would call something if we understood what it was as completely as we could when we first saw it. As it stands, this first glance only gives rise to a name, which is an imperfect grasp that stands in need of various degrees of refinement. We always grasp something in naming, but it is not always clear what we grasp, or if the thing we intended to name actually exists; or if it exists, if it is one thing, or many.

Logic has completely forgotten this motion from the name to the definition or definitions of something (I say “or definitions” because most names give rise to more than one definition). Because of this, our contemporary logic is- by its own admission- prone to being a game of “garbage in, garbage out” since the concepts that form propositions and syllogisms cannot be moved from name to definition or definitions by any accepted logical method. Logic is seen to be indifferent to this kind of argument. This motion from name to definition(s) is at the heart of the Socratic method, and it was the practice of philosophy in the philosophia perennis.

Definitions are not all of the same kind, nor is a definition of any kind always necessary for every kind of reasoning. But this makes the study of the logic of name to definition(s) all the more necessary, since we need to know when how, and in what way definitions are necessary or not.


  1. T. Chan said,

    June 25, 2009 at 10:32 pm

    Mr. Chastek, if you had to teach logic using a currently available textbook, which would it be?

  2. June 26, 2009 at 4:28 am

    I learned first out of Copi, and it wasn’t that bad. I very much trust John Oesterle too.

    Whatever I taught from, however, I’d want to stress one lesson from the beginning, very firmly: there is an order to what we know. We must go from what is more known to us to what is more known in itself (for the things we can first know are not what would make someone most call us a knower: the first mathematical truths we know do not make anyone call us mathematicians; the first moves one can do on a skateboard are not enough to make anyone consider him a skateboarder; the first weights one can lift aren’t the sort of loads that make people start referign to you as a weightlifter, etc. Ti si the heart of the axiom that we must go from what is more knowable to us to what is more knowable in itself.)

    The order of knowing grounded in the more universal, and the notion of logic as the mind directing itself. Those are the fundamentals to ground everything else on. So I’d want to work in the first chapter of the physics.

    In an ideal world, I’d want the kids to spend a ear reading Plato and doing Euclid’s Elements and listening to Pre- Wagnerian Romantic music before they even looked at a word of logic.

  3. T. Chan said,

    June 26, 2009 at 11:17 am

    Thanks for the recommendations!

%d bloggers like this: