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The Paideia Archive: Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 3, 1998

Ancient Philosophy

Evelyn M. Barker
Pages 32-37

Aristotle’s Reform of Paideia

Ancient Greek education featured the pedagogical exercise of dialectic, in which a student defended a thesis against rigorous questioning by an instructor. Aristophanes’ Clouds, as well as Plato and Aristotle, criticize the practice for promoting intellectual skepticism, moral cynicism, and an eristic spirit - the desire to win in argument rather than seek the truth. I suggest Aristotle’s logic is meant to reform the practice of dialectic. In the first part of my paper, I defend the thesis that Aristotle’s syllogistic is an art of substantive reasoning against the contemporary view that it is a science of abstract argument forms. First, I show that Aristotle’s exclusive distinction between art and science makes syllogistic a techne for the higher forms of knowledge, science and practical wisdom. Then I argue that Aristotle’s treatment of demonstrative and dialectical syllogisms provides rigorous standards for reasoning in science and public debate. In particular I discuss a) the requirement that a demonstration use verifiable premises whose middle term points out a cause for the predicate applying to the conclusion; b) how his analysis of valid syllogisms with a "wholly or partly false" universal premise applies to dialectical syllogisms.

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