Commentary on Aristotle’s Topics Part I

A stone is easier to digest than Aristotle’s topics. This could be the reason why of all the works by him, Topics is least studied. Even though it is difficult to learn, because of it’s usefulness, people who want to have a sharp tongue attempted to understand it, and others tried to make it understandable to average person. My goal is to make topics understandable to an average joe by writing a commentary. Not the whole book, but those areas that are most difficult to understand.

Earlier there were several attempts. Famous ones are from Cicero, St. Thomas Aquinas and Avicenna. Aquinas wrote his commentary about 720 years ago. Second commentary is from Avicenna. It is incomplete. Could be because he haven’t got enough time, or he just thought the rest of the book have not much use to him at that time. One reason or the other, he left out a bigger potion of the pie in that book. If we look at this Iranian philospher’s commentary, it is also old but understandable. Then there is Cicero’s work. This was written 2034 years ago, on a voyage to Greece from Rome. He wrote it in a month, without having topics on hand, everything taken from his memory.

The nature of the subject make it boring, dull and difficult to understand. We are dealing with complete abstracts. Eventhough it is boring, words are powerful and it can cut deeper than knife or it can comfort better than a thai massage, the subject is so important, we are compelled to study it.

Aristotle begin with his goal. He start by saying that he is proposing a method that will help you to reason from opinions that are generally accepted and you can use this method to create reason about any problem that is thrown at you. It will make you say the right thing at every situation and avoid saying anything dumb, or make you look like a fool in other situations.

After explaining his goal, he quickly move to explain what reasoning is. Reasoning is a type of argument where you put premises and out of these premises something nessesarily comes out. It already begin confusing I guess. Basically he was describing a logical argument. You have a major premises, a minor premises and from these two a conclusion nessesarily follow.

Here is an example:

All men die
Socrates is a man
So Socrates could die

On the above argument, conclusion ‘Socrates can die’ nessesarily follow from the first two premises.

After explaining what reasoning is next he explains what are different types of reasonings. There are three.
– Demonstration
– Dialectical
– Contentious

He mentions fourth as mis-reasoning, but I have left it out.

The first two are good. Last one is bad because it is used to mislead people.

Up until here, Aristotle give reasons and background of the task he was carrying out. He begin the nuts and bolts on chapter 4. Those stuff I will explain here.

‘If we know what kind of thing arguments take place, what materials it start, and if we can be well supplied with these, we won our goal’ He wrote.

The materials which arguments start are called propositions. Let’s dive into more details. First, Aristotle explain what a proposition in his Prior Analytics ‘A proposition is a statement that affirms or deny something.’

When I say ‘The tree is green’ im affirming that the tree is green. When I say ‘the tree is not green’ I’m denying greenness from that tree. This way if you affirm or deny something from an object, you are making a proposition.

Just like there are components in an engine, there are components in a proposition, Aristotle explains it next.

Every proposition indicate a definition, Property, genus, or accident. Every proposition comes from either one of these four.

Let me list the components:
– Definition
– Property
– Genus
– Accident

Next he begins to explain these four components.

First one, Definition is a sentence that explains a thing’s essence. The Merriam Webster dictionary contains a whole bunch of these.

Next is property. It is something that does not indicate the object’s essence but still belongs to it. For example, if we take man as an object, his capability of playing guitar is a property. It is not an essence because not everyone can play it. But it is a property of the individual who plays it. Or examine a ‘brick wall’. Wall is the object, brick is a property. Not all walls are built with bricks.

A genus is a group that individual items belong. Example is fish. Fish is a group that contains sharks, groupers, tuna etc. Cutlery is a group that contains knife, fork, chopstick and all.

An accident is a feature that sometimes belong and other times not belong to an object. Example is sleep

Above consists everything you need in order to create a proposition. By practicing everyday, it becomes a second nature to you.

To practice these stuff, choose an object, find it’s genus, property, definition and accidents. Here is how you do it. I’ll take an example of a house. Come up with a definition. A house is a place where people live. Genus would be Shelter. Its a form of shelter. Property is ‘white painted’, metal roof, glass windows. Accident: doors open, lights off etc.

Do this for as many objects as you can. Soon people begin to notice a difference in your everyday speaking. Your words become sweeter than before.