Aristotle's de Interpretatione: Contradiction and Dialectic

Aristotle's de Interpretatione: Contradiction and Dialectic

Aristotle's de Interpretatione: Contradiction and Dialectic

Aristotle's de Interpretatione: Contradiction and Dialectic

Synopsis

Aristotle's treatise De Interpretatione is one of his central works; it continues to be the focus of much attention and debate. C. W. A. Whitaker presents the first systematic study of this work, and offers a radical new view of its aims, its structure, and its place in Aristotle's system, basing this view upon a detailed chapter-by-chapter analysis. By treating the work systematically, rather than concentrating on certain selected passages, Dr Whitaker is able to show that, contrary to traditional opinion, it forms an organized and coherent whole. He argues that the De Interpretatione is intended to provide the underpinning for dialectic, the system of argument by question and answer set out in Aristotle's Topics ; and he rejects the traditional view that the De Interpretatione concerns the assertion and is oriented towards the formal logic of the Prior Analytics. In doing so, he sheds valuable new light on some of Aristotle's most famous texts.

Excerpt

With Chapter 1, the preliminary section of the treatise begins, which culminates in the introduction of the contradictory pair in chapter 6. Before such a complex item as the contradictory pair can be understood, we must first be shown how assertions work, and that means understanding the name and verb, and, before that, how language is related to thought and to the real world, and how it is that utterances can make claims about things which are true or false. the first sentence sets out the programme for these introductory chapters: first the name and verb must be defined, then the negation, affirmation, assertion, and phrase (16a1 f.). the last four are listed in the opposite order to that in which they are introduced; this is easily explained if we think of Aristotle as seeing the contradictory pair as the final goal of these chapters, and working his way back through the parts of language which must be defined first. a contradictory pair contains a negation (17a9) but also an affirmation (17a8), which is more basic; both are kinds of assertion (17a2), which is in turn a kind of compound utterance, or phrase (λόγος, 16b26 ff.).

We are told that the first task is to introduce the name and verb (16a1). Before turning to this task, however, Aristotle offers a preliminary treatment of significant utterances in general, which occupies the remainder of chapter 1. the chapter falls into two sections. in the first, the general relation between words, thoughts, and things is set out (16a3-9). This shows what it means for utterances to be significant, and so prepares the way for the definitions which are to follow: names, and, it is implied, verbs, are significant utterances (16a19), as are phrases (16b26). in the second section of chapter 1, a distinction is drawn between simple thoughts and utterances, which cannot possess truth value, and complex ones, which can (16a9-18). This distinction paves the way for the succeeding chapters, in which we are presented first with names and verbs, the . . .

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