Fudging Aristotle: A Digression (Part 5): The Starting Point

In this series, and following the work of Richard Muller (“Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics”), I’ve been making the claim that the Reformed Orthodox writers, who wrote in the two centuries following the Reformation, borrowed from Aristotle’s methods, but not much at all from his own lines of thinking.

As a reference for those who may be interested in what Aristotle did write in his lifetime, William J. Asselt, in his “Introduction to Reformed Scholasticism”, provides an easy to grasp overview of the all the works of Aristotle in context. I’ll reproduce much of his section on the various writings of Aristotle here:

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Aristotle left an extensive corpus that can be divided in different ways. [He] published extensively in the area of logic, physics (physica), and the nature of reality (metaphysica). He also wrote historical works, a major treatise on the human soul, and philosophical handbooks on topics including politics, ethics, and rhetoric.

Aristotle’s most important works can be distinguished into three groups. First are the works on logic, which together form the Organon (Greek: “instrument”). The Organoncontains the entirety of Aristotle’s logical instrument set, or toolbox. The tools of the Organon consist of at least five different works.

First is Categories, on how words and terms must be classified. What is the meaning of terms, and what are the smallest meaningful utterances. In this book, Aristotle begins with the definitions of grammatical words such as homonym and synonym. He then shows how words can relate to each other in sentences. Finally, he discusses the logical functions and properties of words ….

The second work of the Organon is On Interpretation, where Aristotle goes one step further. While <i<Categories deals with different kinds of words, this book treats the relationship of words to phrases and the logical value of phrases and combinations of words ….

On Interpretation is followed by two works on analytics. Prior Analytics deals with arguments. If you can combine three phrases (as discussed in On Interpretation), you can construct an argument as follows: The first phrase is (a) All human beings are mortal. The second is (b) Socrates is a human being. The conclusion from (a) and (b) must then be (c) Socrates is mortal.

Prior Analytics is followed by Posterior Analytics, which treats more elaborate demonstrations. How can valid proofs be obtained in a logical manner, and how do we arrive at necessary conclusions? Aristotle responds that we can only arrive at necessary conclusion (conclusions that cannot be untrue) if the premises (the underlying assumptions that lead to the conclusion are necessarily true … In Analytics Aristotle also discusses the law of contradiction. This law states that in a single argument one may not defend two conflicting (contradictory) propositions. Two mutually exclusive propositions – such as “it is raining” and “it is not raining”—are contradictory and cannot lead to a valid and meaningful argument.

Topics is the fourth treatise that forms part of the Organon This work once again builds on the preceding works and treats methods for coming to scientifically well-founded knowledge. Aristotle develops two different approaches. The first is the inductive method, which takes its point of departure in a series of data and draws universally valid conclusions from them … The second method is deductive and works in exactly the opposite way. The individual data are approached from a universal principle. From the universal principle that all human beings are mortal, one can conclude that Plato must be mortal and that the same is true of Aristotle and Socrates.

The last logical work of Aristotle, On Sophistical Refutations, was discovered rather late. This treatise deals with the identification of fallacies and thus forms a supplement to the Topics. On Sophistical Refutations shows what arguments are invalid and false. For example, Aristotle treats the fallacy of begging the question (petitio principia), which occurs when somebody appears to argue for a certain conclusion, while the arguments for this conclusion in fact already presuppose the conclusion …

Aside from these tools of logic, Aristotle also developed a number of influential models on the nature of reality. He attempted to answer the question concerning the origin of the world, its coherence and goal, and the composition of the universe and the world. His theories about the various aspects of reality can be found in his works on physics (physica) and on the philosophical questions concerning the structure of reality (metaphysica).

For the physica these are:

  • Physics, on physics;
  • On the Heavens, on heaven and cosmology;
  • On Generation and Corruption, on coming into being and perishing;
  • Meterology, on meteorology and cosmology.
  • Aristotle’s most important philosophical works are:

  • Metaphysics, on heaven and cosmology;
  • Nicomachean Ethics, on ethical principles and Aristotle’s views on virtue;
  • Politics, on forms of government;
  • Poetics, on the rules of poetry.
  • * * *

    William J. Asselt, “Introduction to Reformed Scholasticism”, (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books (2011), pgs 27-29).

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