Aristotle’s Principle of Non-contradiction Edited by Victor H.

Miller Following The Revised Oxford Translation Edited by Jonathan Barnes. For a general introduction to Aristotle go to click on Logic and Metaphysics and read these selections as background to this essay. Beginning in Book 4 (or Gamma) of the Metaphysics, Aristotle begins to lay out what it is that is the subject matter of metaphysics. He says, “There is a science which investigates being as being and the attributes which belong to this in virtue of its own nature.” 1 He then goes on to lay out the various problems which are encountered in studying this subject. First that there are many ways in which a thing can be said to ‘be,’ “but they are related to one central point, one definite kind of thing …” 2 He then proceeds to lay out the various senses that the term can be used. He uses health as an example of what he is talking about. “Everything which is healthy is related to health, one thing in the sense that it preserves health, another in the sense that it produces health, another in the sense that it is a symptom of health, another in the sense that it possesses it, another in the sense that it is naturally adapted to it … another in the sense that it is a function of the medical art.” 3 And so he concludes that there are other words used similarly to these. “So too, he says, there are many senses in which a thing is said to be, but all refer to one starting-point; some things are said to be because they are substances, others because they are affections of substances, others because they are a process towards substance, or destructions or privations or qualities of substances, or productive or generative of substance, or of things which are relative to substances, or negations of some of these things or of substance itself.” 4 For Aristotle there are two types of substances, primary and secondary. At this point in the discussion Aristotle probably has the concept of primary substance in mind. A primary substance is an individual particular thing. The world as he sees it is made up of individual particular things. And all of these things of which the world is made up are primary substances. Now having made the analogy between ‘healthy’ and to ‘be’ he goes on to say, “As, then, there is one science which deals with all things healthy, the same applies in the other cases also. For not only in the case of things which have one common notion does the investigation belong to one science, but also in the case of things which are related to one common nature; for even these in a sense have one common notion. It is clear that it is the work of one science also to study being qua being. – But everywhere science deals chiefly with that which is primary, and on which the other things depend, and in virtue of which they get their names. If, then this is substance, it is of substances that the philosopher must grasp the principles and causes.” 5 Now in this paper we are concerned with the principles that Aristotle thinks applies to all substances. He begins to elaborate this principle as follows “…he whose subject is being qua being must be able to state the most certain principles of all things. This is the philosopher, and the most certain principle of all is that regarding which it is impossible to be mistaken; for such a principle must be best known (for all men may be mistaken

What affirmation through denial demonstrates is that in the process of denying that a proposition is false. “Some demand that even this shall be demonstrated. The method he uses is one that is now known to be affirmation through denial. Aristotle’s example is a case in point. The starting-point for all such arguments is not the demand that our opponent shall say that something either is or is not (for this one might perhaps take to be assuming what is at issue). for this is necessary. because in a demonstration one might be thought to be assuming what is at issue. it is absurd to reason with one who will not reason about anything. he must already have when he comes to a special study. which principle this is. is not he who demonstrates but he who listens. that the same attribute cannot at the same time belong and not belong to the same subject in the same respect… For it is impossible for any one to believe the same thing to be and not to be … for what a man says he does not necessarily believe. But if any one grants this. Now negative demonstration I distinguish from demonstration proper. in so far as he refuses to reason. but this they do through want of education. He goes on to say that he can demonstrate negatively that the principle is true. is already seen to be no better than a mere plant. and of what one may not. but if another person is responsible for the assumption we shall have negative proof. Evidently then such a principle is the most certain of all. either with himself or with another. so that there would still be no demonstration. as such.” 7 Now some may find this to be an unsatisfactory situation. if he says nothing. For. such a man will not be capable of reasoning. not demonstration. The person responsible for the proof. if he really is to say anything. 8 1 2 1003a22-23 1003a32 3 1003a35-1003b3 4 1003b5-1003b10 5 1003b11-1003b19 6 1005b10-1005b26 7 1006a5-1006a11 8 1006a13-1006a28 . however. For such a man.” 6 Aristotle having stated what the principle is goes on argue that there is no demonstration (proof) for this principle. one has to make use of the proposition. and that which every one must know who knows anything. For it is impossible that there should be demonstration of absolutely everything. For a principle which every one must have who knows anything about being. and if he says nothing. for we shall already have something definite. is not a hypothesis. “… if our opponent will say something.about things which they do not know). but that he shall say something which is significant both for himself and for another. And again he who admits this has admitted that something is true apart from demonstration so that not everything will be ‘so and not so. For he says. for while disowning reason he listens to reason. and Aristotle recognizes this. these persons cannot say what principle they regard as more indemonstrable than the present one. we proceed to say. argues simply for want of education. It is. But if there are things of which one should not demand demonstration. demonstration will be possible. there would be an infinite regress. and non-hypothetical. for not to know of what things one may demand demonstration.

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