Aristotle and the idea that truth is not enough

Aristotle’s logic was interested in a good deal more than truth. We might even get a clearer view of what he was doing if we say he wasn’t interested in truth. Truth as such includes even what is true accidentally or by chance, and Aristotle was most of all concerned with how one would avoid such truth. His concern was not identifying every possible formal inference but avoiding sophistry, and sophistry consists not in saying falsehoods but on exploiting the various ways in which something is true, which for Aristotle means exploiting the various ways in which one thing is said of another. Aristotle’s whole logic is an analysis of how something is said of another – he starts with what is said of another (a predicate), he moves on to consider how many ways something is said of another, in which he first considers just one such thing (a proposition) and then more than one (an argument); and then divides in another way into what is known in itself (demonstration) and what is known only of the mind contributed some of its own clarity to the thingsg themselves (dialectic).

This project is obviously related to identifying formal truth functions, but there are crucial differences. Truth fuctioning takes the proposition as a logical unit – but for Aristotle is would leave one powerless to logically distinguish between science and sophistry, which requires opening up the hood on the proposition itself. This also empowers him to give a fuller account of what will count as a true explanation – for he can know in advance that the explanation must not only be true and reached by some valid inference, but that the predicate will be said primarily and universally of a subject, not merely that it will be said or affirmed of all. This  fuller and more developed analysis of the structure of scientific propositons is crucial for his metaphysics, and even for the sorts of analyses that he gives of empirical things. Usually, some objection to an Aristotelian claim – or claims that just look strange on their face – will reduce to a faluire to appreciate the ways in which one thing can be said of another.

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