On Sophistical Refutations by Aristotle Summary

Instructor: Aida Vega Felgueroso

Aida has taught Spanish at the University in Italy. Spanish is her mother tongue and she has a master's degree in Spanish Language and Literature.

In this lesson we are going to see one of the works that Aristotle dedicated to logic: On Sophistical Refutations. We will see who the sophists were and the thirteen types of reasoning that Aristotle identified as false.

Aristotle, the Great Philosopher

Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) was one of the greatest Greek philosophers.

In this lesson we are going to examine one of his works, On Sophistical Refutations. This work belongs to Organon (group of works that deals with logic).

Logic is the science that deals with reasoning. Aristotle is often regarded as the founder of logic, and indeed his theories were in force throughout the Middle Ages and the Modern Age and are still useful today. At the time of Aristotle many philosophers used logical deductions to support their ideas. Among these were the sophists, against whom Aristotle wrote.

Bust of Aristotle

The Sophist

The Sophists were itinerant teachers of philosophy. They charged for their classes and lived off of them. They provided their customers with reasonings that seemed bright and correct but were false, because they contained some hidden error. A sophism is a false reasoning that seems true.

Protagoras, a sophist

Sophist Refutation

In his work On Sophistical Refutations, Aristotle identified thirteen types of sophisms. Let's see them.

Sophistry on Language

These six types of false reasoning depend on language:

  1. Equivocation: the use of words that have several meanings and that, therefore, can cause confusion. ''On all the banks there is usually vegetation or sand. When Mark goes to the bank to get money, he will find vegetation or sand.''
  2. Amphibology: comes from the Greek amfibolos meaning ambiguous. ''Mary told Susan that she was a thief.'' Who was the thief, Mary or Susan?
  3. Combination: a fallacy that is created when we assume that if the parts that make up something have certain characteristics, the whole thing will also have these characteristics. An example: ''The molecules that form the human being are not capable of reasoning, therefore, the human being is not able to reason either.''
  4. Division: a fallacy that is created when we assume that if a thing has certain characteristics, the parts that compose it will have the same characteristics. Just think of the inverted example above: ''Human beings are able to reason, therefore, the molecules that compose them are also able to reason.''
  5. Accent: a fallacy that depends on the stress or emphasis of the word or phrase, because shifting the accent in a sentence can change meaning. ''I don't really love you now.'' With the emphasis on the word you, the phrase means that the speaker loves someone else. If we change the accent, the meaning changes.
  6. Figure of speech: a fallacy produced by the use of a figure of speech, such as a metaphor, comparison, etc. ''He was mad about losing his job. Mad people must be interred.'' In the first phrase ''mad'' does not mean insane of mind, but very angry and is thus rhetorical.

Portrait of Aristotle, 1811

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