Aristotle was one of Plato’s students. He, too, was concerned with seeking eternal being by the light of reason. By attending and participating in the many debates, dialogues, and disputations then popular, he became convinced that reasonings varied drastically in quality. He says at the beginnings of “Sophistical Refutations”,

“That some reasonings are genuine, while other seem to be so  but are not, is evident. This happens with arguments, as  also elsewhere, through a certain likeness between the genuine  and the sham.”[6]

Aristotle made a clear distinction between genuine reasoning and sham reasoning. He still believed in the Greek ideal of seeking wisdom, truth and reason, but the reasoning, he figured, should be genuine reasoning. Sham reasoning led only to the show of wisdom and the pretense of truth.

Because Aristotle believed that sham reasoning was foul fighting, he began searching for rules to distinguish genuine reasoning from sophistical or contentious reasoning. It was through such efforts that he discovered the syllogism. He learned that by relating a major and a minor premise containing a common term, a conclusion followed. He further discovered that the necessity of the conclusion varied with the arrangement of the terms, that is, the validity depended on the form. Through seriously studying the rules of correct reasoning and through the discovery of the syllogism, Aristotle became the father of a new science. He called it Analytics. We call it Logic.

Aristotle stated the first syllogism thus:  If all B is A, and all C is B, then all C is A. Later logicians simplified the syllogism into the familiar form:

Major Premise:  All men are mortal.    All M is P

Minor Premise:  Socrates is a man.     All S is M

Conclusion: Socrates is mortal.        All S is P 

This simple scheme, full of implications, added a new dimension to man’s understanding of reason. Much of Aristotle works is an expansion of the possibilities inherent in the syllogistic scheme and the distinction between valid and sham reasoning. His works are sometimes referred to as syllogistic.

This did not mean Aristotle abandoned the dialectic he learned from Plato. Although forsaking some of Plato’s doctrines, namely Plato’s contempt for the senses, Aristotle saw the dialectic and syllogistic schemes as complementary. In the Topics[7], he lists for kinds of reasoning:

1. Demonstration

2. Dialectical

3. Contentious

4. False Demonstration.[8] 

According to Aristotle, both demonstration and dialectical reasoning are genuine. Demonstration reasons from premises that are true and primary. Dialectic reasons establish opinions commonly accepted or supposed by prominent persons. Both contentious reasoning (which is the abuse of the dialectical method and only appears to reason), and false demonstration (which starts from assumptions that are not true) are invalid forms of reasoning. Those who seek truth should avoid being taken in by sham tactics.

After making the distinction between the demonstrator and the dialectician, Aristotle explains their relationship to the syllogism[9]. The real distinction between dialectician and demonstrator is the source of their premises, but once these are chosen it makes no difference in the production of a syllogism. He says,

“...both the demonstrator and the dialectician argue syllogistically after stating that something does or does not belong to something else.”[10]

Aristotle stated in Topics that there are two species of dialectical arguments, Induction and Reasoning.

“There is on the one hand Induction, on the other Reasoning. Now what reasoning is has been said before. Induction is a passage from individuals to universals, e.g., the argument that supposing the skilled pilot is the most effective, and likewise the skilled charioteer, then in general the skilled man is the best at his particular task. Induction is the more convincing and clear:  it is more readily learnt by the use of the senses, and is applicable generally to the mass of men, though Reasoning is more forcible and effective against contradictions people.”[11]

Aristotle also distinguished between a dialectical and a scientific method of inquiry. He discussed dialectical reasoning, dialectical induction, scientific reasoning, and scientific induction.[12]  With these distinctions in mind it is possible to summarize, in part, Aristotle’s understanding of the term dialectic.

1. The dialectic was a method of inquiry.[13] 

2. The dialectic was a mode of examination that proceeds by questioning.14] 

3. The dialectician was one who examined by the help of a theory or reasoning.[15] 

4. The dialectic was a process of criticism wherein lay the path to the principles of all inquiries.[16]

5. The art of examination was a branch of the dialectic whose purpose was to expose the ignorant pretender.[17]

To this point, Aristotle’s understanding of the term dialectic, except for the distinction between dialectic and scientific, is close to Plato’s. However, in his Metaphysics Aristotle distinguished between the dialectician and the philosopher. He says,

“The dialectic is merely critical where philosophy claims to know.”[18]

To Plato the Dialectic was the path to eternal being. To Aristotle, philosophy was the path to eternal being.[19] From an Aristotelian point of view philosophy is a religion and dialectic is a path of right reason. Dialectic is not a religion but rather a method of sound rational thinking.

Aristotle was the father of logic but his works have had a strange and twisted history. Part of the problem is that he attempted to state systematically the rules of syllogistic reasoning for the first time and he made some mistakes. Much of what he did was awkward, overdone, underdone, and contradictory. In light of his incredible positive accomplishments, it feels petty to criticizing what he failed to do but the truth is, his writings are laborious and his arguments hard to follow, often trailing off into wilderness. He lays down careful definitions and rules and then at crucial moments fails to follow them himself. Much of this is due to the natural growth of his philosophy, which he revised as he matured. Even more problems are due to the history of the collections. Some of what we have, may have been notes taken by his students and may not reflect Aristotle’s thinking. Many of his published works are lost. As a result it is virtually impossible to say what the Aristotelian philosophy or the Aristotelian logic actually is. His work is a preface more than a finished product. His writings are open to divergent interpretations and one person’s idea of Aristotelian philosophy or logic might be quite different from another.

Aristotle’s works have had a strange history. After his death his manuscripts, for political reasons, were concealed in a vault in Asia Minor. His school in Athens, the Peripatetics, rapidly declined and those of philosophical ability threw themselves into one of two rival schools which had arisen, the Stoic and the Epicurean. These schools were interested in Aristotle’s theories, especially his logic, but it is probable they did not have copies of his more mature works. They did have some material which they attributed to Aristotle and which has since been lost. Some speculate this might have been dialogues Aristotle wrote while still a young man studying under Plato plus notes made by those who attended Aristotle’s lectures. Whatever they were, they are now missing. It happens, from this turn of events, that there are several Aristotle’s. When one reads comments in ancient works, particularly works of the Stoics, about Aristotle’s logic or his dialectic it does not necessarily mean the Aristotelian logic we now possess. Cicero apparently in his later years had some contact with Aristotle’s mature works.

The thirteenth century was famous because of its rediscovery of Aristotle. Thomas Aquinas (1224?-1274 Mar 17) integrated Aristotle’s philosophy with Christian theology. What happened to Aristotle’s works between Cicero and St. Thomas is somewhat obscure. As a result, significant bits of material attributed to Aristotle was, and still is, hearsay.

External confusion added to the internal difficulties has populated the modern world with widely divergent interpretations of Aristotle. When a philosopher criticizes Aristotelian logic, we are at a loss to know which aspect and which translation of which Aristotle is in question unless the critic is explicit.