William FitzGerald Fall 2006
English 393 - Argument and Advocacy
Aristotle's Common Topics
28 Lines (Strategies) of Argument Useful in Treating Diverse Subjects
Below is my effort to paraphrase Aristotle and to offer examples additional to his
1. From opposites: look to see if the opposite claim is true of the opposite subject, confirming it if it is true, refuting the argument if it is not.
Aristotle's Example: Moderation is good because excess (immoderation) is bad.
My Example: Since being stupid is unfortunate, being intelligent is a blessing.
2. From different grammatical forms of the same word: look to see if the same claim is true of the related word; if so, claim is true, if not, then not.
Aristotle's Example: to say that the just is not entirely good because then what is done justly would also be a good, something which is not entirely the case. Justice is not always a desirable good, as when the just punishment is a death sentence.
My examples: Justice is not always just.Nobles (the nobility) do not always behave nobly.
3. From correlatives [logically related things]: see if something that is true of one element of a pair is also true of the other element.
Aristotle's Examples: If it is right to order (an action), it is right to obey it. If it is (not) shameful to sell something, it should (not) be shameful to buy it.
Aristotle's Counter argument: just some action or result is just, doesn't mean anyone can perform it.
My examples: If it is immoral to perform an abortion, it is immoral to seek it, and vice versa. If it is illegal to steal, it should be illegal to buy those stolen goods. Just because I deserved a good whuppin', doesn't give anyone the right to give that whuppin'.
Motto: What's good for the goose is good for the gander.
4. From more and less; if something is not the fact where it should be more expected, it is not the fact where it should be less expected; if the lesser thing is true, the greater is also
Aristotle's Examples: If not even the gods know everything, human beings can hardly be expected to do so; A person who would beat his father, he would also beat his neighbors.
My examples: (from the Bible) Who, when his child asked for an egg, would hand him a scorpion or a snake? If human beings give good things to their child, how miuch more does God the Father give to his children? If a man would rob a young healthy person, he wouldn't hesitate to rob an old sickly person, this latter being an even easier target.
Furthermore: Neither more nor less: if something is the case for a lesser event, person or thing, it is no less the case for a greater event person or thing.
Aristotle's example: If Hector did no wrong in killing Patroclus (best friend of Achilles), Alexander (brother of Hector) did no wrong in killing Achilles (who killed Hector). That is, it is no worse a thing to kill your brother's killer than it is to kill your best friend's killer, a brother being at least as great a loss as a best friend.
My example: If athletes are respectable, so are academics. Ifeven [insert category of bad people here] are kind of animals, then so too should you.
5. From past to current or future time: look to see if something that was true/likely/just in the past is even more true/likely/just in the present or future; this line of reasoning is sometimescalled a fortiori argument, from the lesser case"to the stronger"case.
Aristotle's example: If you would have erected a statue in my honor even before I accomplished a great task, how much more should you be willing to do so now?
My example: if a politician deserved to be voted out of office even before this latest scandal, how much more so now?
6. Turning an accuser's words against oneself back against the accuser
Aristotle's example: If you [with your track record or reputation] wouldn't do such a thing,what makes anyone think that I would?
My example: how can you fault me for not giving to charities when you yourself have hardly given anything? Your one to talk! When was the last time you picked up the phone to call me. How can you sit there and complain that I never call?
7. From definition: focusing on the meaning of a word to support a claim.
Aristotle's example: What is the divine? What is noble?
Myexample: arguing that the so-called 'morning after' pill is not a contraceptive (but rather an abortifacent) because it does not (necessarily) prevent conception. Objecting to the use of the term "hysterical" because it means, literally, "of the womb," so saying that someone is being hysterical is, knowingly or not, maligning their behavior in anti-female terms.
8. From varied meanings of a word
Aristotle's example: from his work "On theTopics," he references a discussion of the various meanings of the work oxus, meaning sharp; in music the opposite of flat, of a knife the opposite of dull.
My example: the concept ofenthymeme, "of the thymos," reminds us that much of our reasoning comes 'from the gut,' not through formal analysis, but from what seems to us, at first impression, correct. We can seek to restrict or to broaden the reference to term.
9. From division: breaking a larger category into smaller parts [and narrowing to one of a few parts by eliminating certain possibilities]
Aristotle's example: All people do wrong for one of three reasons: from this, or this, or this; now two of these are impossible [in this case], but even the accusers do not assert the third.
My example: Why did she ever marry him? She had to be either crazy or desperate. [You can extend that example in various ways Division does not necessarily involve a secondary process of elimination, though it often does.]
10. From induction: to generalize from particular cases.
Aristotle's example: all mothers recognize their own child. Everyone honors the wise.
My example: All New Jersey politicians are corrupt. All librarians are social misfits.
11. From a previous judgment about the same or similar or opposite matter: see if all always make this judgment or if most do, or the wise, or the good. Also called the argument from authority.
Aristotle's example: If the (wise) judges have decided, then it must be accepted.
My example: The great and powerful Oz has spoken. If the Bible says it, it must be so.
The people have spoken. Who am I to question my betters? Science has proven it. It is God's will.
12. From the parts; look to see which individual elements of some larger thing are at issue.
Aristotle's example: What kind of motion is the soul, this or that? Which gods that the city recognizes does he not believe in?
My examples: What particular statute did the accused violate? Exactly what kind of academic dishonesty is he being accused of?
13. From consequences: look to see whether to exhort or dissaude, accuse or defend, praise or blame on the basis of consequences, since similar effects spring from similar causes. Note: this is an argument of generality
Aristotle's Example: Because envy (by others) follows from being educated, it is good not be educated. Because wisdom comes from education, and wisdom is a good thing, it follows that it is good to be educated.
My Example: Every time he shows up, trouble follows. Therefore, I say let's not invite him. It's a bad idea to marry one's high school sweetheart, since most such marriages end unhappily or end up being unhappy ones.
14. From alternatives: look to see [how to resolve] a dilemma, a choice between two alternatives, where each choice has negative consequences.
Aristotle's Examples: If you rule justly, the people will hate you. If you rule unjustly, the gods will punish you. When you buy the salt, you also buy the marsh.
Myexample: If you tell the truth, your boss will fire you. But if you lie, you will likely end up being prosecuted. [Better unemployment than prison.] You're damned if you do, and damned if you don't.
Motto: sometimes one has to take the good with the bad.
15. From inward vs. outward contradictions; look to see if one thing is said in one (public) place and a different thing is said in another (private) place. [Challenges an opponents motives and honesty.]
Aristotle's Example: What people say praise in public is not necessarily what they say in private; the reasons people offer to others are not necessarily their private motives.
My Example: "That oughta hold the little bastards" said one children's TV host in the 1950s, not realizaing he was still on air, in his unexpectedly last broadcast.
16. From consequencesby analogy: look to see how an opposing case challenges an act and itsconsequences.
Aristotle's Example: If tall boys are now to be counted as men, then short men will soon be counted as boys.
17. From identical results: look to see (or argue) if the antecedents are the same where the results are the same.
Aristotle's Example:It is equally impious to say that the gods were born as to say that they die, since either statement means that the gods, at one time, did not exist.
My Example: Erroneous calculations of some outcome are equally bad when they lead to bad results, regardless of their differences. Failing to vote is a lapse in one's patriotic duty whatever the reason. Consequences matter, not motives or intentions. To pay taxes is to submit to tyranny.
18. From differences in position or action before and after
Aristotle's Example: It would be terrible if we fought to come home, but when, having come home, we choose exile over fighting.
My Example: If I knew then what I knew now, I would not have chosen a course of action. If I knew that the Iraq war would be so mismanaged, I would not have voted to authorize the use of force.
19. From attributed motive or from a result to an attributed motive: assert that a particular outcome is, in fact, the intended purpose.
Aristotle's Example: If something results in inury, argue that the purpose was to cause injury. God gives great forture to many not out of good will but so that misfortunes may be more obvious.
MyExample: God gave us memory so that we could have roses in December. My parents treated me harshly as a child so that I would learn to be self-sufficient. [That might be true, or they might simply have been jerks, yet I turned out okay.]
20. From perceived incentives and deterrents: reason about a motive on the basis of perceived benefits or disadvantages that would accrue.
Aristotle's Example: If someone had motive and opportunity, then he did the action.
My Example: No one does something without a reason, and people generally act in their own best interest.
21. From improbability: something implausible, but thought to be a fact, is true.
Aristotle's Example: Laws need a law to correct them; Fish need salt and olives oil to preserve them.
My Example: It's so unlikely, it has to be true.
22. From contradictions in circumstances; look to see if there are discrepancies in dates, actions or words.
Aristotle's Example: He says I am litigious, but he cannot show that I have ever brought a lawsuit.
My Example: I say there are many, many examples, but I fail to produce a single one of my own.
23. From false impression: state why something is erroneously perceived.
Aristotle's Example: Despite an affectionate embrace, someone is not a woman's lover, but her son.
MyExample: Corrupt people think that virtuous people have a base motive when they appear to do something altruistic, but here is a case where the person really is selfless.
24. From the necessity of a cause to effect relationship: for without cause there is nothing.
Aristotle's Example: There was no reason to cover up a crime, because no crime was committed.
My Example: Where there's smoke, there's fire.
25. From alternatives::look to see if there is a better plan
Aristotle's Example: none
My example: There's got to be a better way; the current course is not acceptable.
26. From comparison of possible actions: look for a different course of action
Aristotle's Example: When the people of Elia asked Xenophanes whether they should sacrifice and sing dirges to Leucothea, he said they should not sing dirges if they regarded her as a god, and if as a human being then not to sacrifice.
My example: If something isn't working, then change it.
27. From mistakes that have been made in the past: accuse or defend on the basis of mistakes
Aristotle's Example: Some accuse Medea of killing her own children, but if she didn't kill Jason, why would she kill her own children.
My example: Someone would not be so careless as to leave the murder weapon in plain sight. She must be innocent.
28. From the meaning of a name
Aristotle's Example: When your mother named you Sidero she clearly meant it.
My example: Boy [to Thomas], you really are a doubting Thomas.