Aristotle's Rhetoric
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Book II - Chapter 24

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Besides genuine syllogisms, there may be syllogisms that look genuine but are not; and since an enthymeme is merely a syllogism of a particular kind, it follows that, besides genuine enthymemes, there may be those that look genuine but are not.

[1401a] 1. Among the lines of argument that form the Spurious Enthymeme the first is that which arises from the particular words employed.

(a) One variety of this is when -- as in dialectic, without having gone through any reasoning process, we make a final statement as if it were the conclusion of such a process, "Therefore so-and-so is not true," "Therefore also so-and-so must be true" -- so too in rhetoric a compact and antithetical utterance passes for an enthymeme, such language being the proper province of enthymeme, so that it is seemingly the form of wording here that causes the illusion mentioned. In order to produce the effect of genuine reasoning by our form of wording it is useful to summarize the results of a number of previous reasonings: as "some he saved -- others he avenged -- the Greeks he freed." Each of these statements has been previously proved from other facts; but the mere collocation of them gives the impression of establishing some fresh conclusion.

(b) Another variety is based on the use of similar words for different things; e.g. the argument that the mouse must be a noble creature, since it gives its name to the most august of all religious rites -- for such the Mysteries are. Or one may introduce, into a eulogy of the dog, the dog-star; or Pan, because Pindar said:

O thou blessed one!
Thou whom they of Olympus call
The hound of manifold shape
That follows the Mother of Heaven:

or we may argue that, because there is much disgrace in there not being a dog about, there is honour in being a dog. Or that Hermes is readier than any other god to go shares, since we never say "shares all round" except of him. Or that speech is a very excellent thing, since good men are not said to be worth money but to be worthy of esteem -- the phrase "worthy of esteem" also having the meaning of "worth speech."

2. Another line is to assert of the whole what is true of the parts, or of the parts what is true of the whole. A whole and its parts are supposed to be identical, though often they are not. You have therefore to adopt whichever of these two lines better suits your purpose. That is how Euthydemus argues: e.g. that any one knows that there is a trireme in the Peiraeus, since he knows the separate details that make up this statement. There is also the argument that one who knows the letters knows the whole word, since the word is the same thing as the letters which compose it; or that, if a double portion of a certain thing is harmful to health, then a single portion must not be called wholesome, since it is absurd that two good things should make one bad thing. Put thus, the enthymeme is refutative; put as follows; demonstrative: "For one good thing cannot be made up of two bad things." The whole line of argument is fallacious. Again, there is Polycrates' saying that Thrasybulus put down thirty tyrants, where the speaker adds them up one by one. Or the argument in the Orestes of Theodectes, where the argument is from part to whole:

'Tis right that she who slays her lord should die.

"It is right, too, that the son should avenge his father. Very good: these two things are what Orestes has done." [1401b] Still, perhaps the two things, once they are put together, do not form a right act. The fallacy might also be said to be due to omission, since the speaker fails to say by whose hand a husband-slayer should die.

3. Another line is the use of indignant language, whether to support your own case or to overthrow your opponent's. We do this when we paint a highly-coloured picture of the situation without having proved the facts of it: if the defendant does so, he produces an impression of his innocence; and if the prosecutor goes into a passion, he produces an impression of the defendant's guilt. Here there is no genuine enthymeme: the hearer infers guilt or innocence, but no proof is given, and the inference is fallacious accordingly.

4. Another line is to use a "Sign," or single instance, as certain evidence; which, again, yields no valid proof. Thus, it might be said that lovers are useful to their countries, since the love of Harmodius and Aristogeiton caused the downfall of the tyrant Hipparchus. Or, again, that Dionysius is a thief, since he is a vicious man -- there is, of course, no valid proof here; not every vicious man is a thief, though every thief is a vicious man.

5. Another line represents the accidental as essential. An instance is what Polycrates says of the mice, that they "came to the rescue" because they gnawed through the bowstrings. Or it might be maintained that an invitation to dinner is a great honour, for it was because he was not invited that Achilles was "angered" with the Greeks at Tenedos? As a fact, what angered him was the insult involved; it was a mere accident that this was the particular form that the insult took.

6. Another is the argument from consequence. In the Alexander, for instance, it is argued that Paris must have had a lofty disposition, since he despised society and lived by himself on Mount Ida: because lofty people do this kind of thing, therefore Paris too, we are to suppose, had a lofty soul. Or, if a man dresses fashionably and roams around at night, he is a rake, since that is the way rakes behave. Another similar argument points out that beggars sing and dance in temples, and that exiles can live wherever they please, and that such privileges are at the disposal of those we account happy and therefore every one might be regarded as happy if only he has those privileges. What matters, however, is the circumstances under which the privileges are enjoyed. Hence this line too falls under the head of fallacies by omission.

7. Another line consists in representing as causes things which are not causes, on the ground that they happened along with or before the event in question. They assume that, because B happens after A, it happens because of A. Politicians are especially fond of taking this line. Thus Demades said that the policy of Demosthenes was the cause of all the mischief, "for after it the war occurred."

8. Another line consists in leaving out any mention of time and circumstances. E.g. the argument that Paris was justified in taking Helen, since her father left her free to choose: here the freedom was presumably not perpetual; it could only refer to her first choice, beyond which her father's authority could not go. [1402a] Or again, one might say that to strike a free man is an act of wanton outrage; but it is not so in every case -- only when it is unprovoked.

9. Again, a spurious syllogism may, as in "eristical" discussions, be based on the confusion of the absolute with that which is not absolute but particular. As, in dialectic, for instance, it may be argued that what-is-not is, on the ground that what-is-not is what-is-not: or that the unknown can be known, on the ground that it can be known to be unknown: so also in rhetoric a spurious enthymeme may be based on the confusion of some particular probability with absolute probability. Now no particular probability is universally probable: as Agathon says,

One might perchance say that was probable --
That things improbable oft will hap to men.

For what is improbable does happen, and therefore it is probable that improbable things will happen. Granted this, one might argue that "what is improbable is probable." But this is not true absolutely. As, in eristic, the imposture comes from not adding any clause specifying relationship or reference or manner; so here it arises because the probability in question is not general but specific. It is of this line of argument that Corax's Art of Rhetoric is composed. If the accused is not open to the charge -- for instance if a weakling be tried for violent assault -- the defence is that he was not likely to do such a thing. But if he is open to the charge -- i.e. if he is a strong man -- the defence is still that he was not likely to do such a thing, since he could be sure that people would think he was likely to do it. And so with any other charge: the accused must be either open or not open to it: there is in either case an appearance of probable innocence, but whereas in the latter case the probability is genuine, in the former it can only be asserted in the special sense mentioned. This sort of argument illustrates what is meant by making the worse argument seem the better. Hence people were right in objecting to the training Protagoras undertook to give them. It was a fraud; the probability it handled was not genuine but spurious, and has a place in no art except Rhetoric and Eristic.

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Lee Honeycutt ( Last modified:3/15/04
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