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In philosophy, term logic, also known as traditional logic or Aristotelian logic, is a loose name for the way of doing logic that began with Aristotle and that was dominant until the advent of modern predicate logic in the late nineteenth century. This entry is an introduction to the term logic needed to understand philosophy texts written before predicate logic came to be seen as the only formal logic of interest. Readers lacking a grasp of the basic terminology and ideas of term logic can have difficulty understanding such texts, because their authors typically assumed an acquaintance with term logic.
Aristotle's logical work is collected in the six texts that are collectively known as the Organon. Two of these texts in particular, namely the Prior Analytics and De Interpretatione, contain the heart of Aristotle's treatment of judgements and formal inference, and it is principally this part of Aristotle's works that is about term logic.
The fundamental assumption behind the theory is that propositions are composed of two terms – hence the name "two-term theory" or "term logic" – and that the reasoning process is in turn built from propositions:
- The term is a part of speech representing something, but which is not true or false in its own right, such as "man" or "mortal".
- The proposition consists of two terms, in which one term (the "predicate") is "affirmed" or "denied" of the other (the "subject"), and which is capable of truth or falsity.
- The syllogism is an inference in which one proposition (the "conclusion") follows of necessity from two others (the "premises").
A proposition may be universal or particular, and it may be affirmative or negative. Traditionally, the four kinds of propositions are:
- A-type: Universal and affirmative ("Every philosopher is mortal")
- I-type: Particular and affirmative ("Some philosopher is mortal")
- E-type: Universal and negative ("Every philosopher is immortal")
- O-type: Particular and negative ("Some philosopher is immortal")
This was called the fourfold scheme of propositions (see types of syllogism for an explanation of the letters A, I, E, and O in the traditional square). Aristotle's original square of opposition, however, does not lack existential import:
- A-type: Universal and affirmative ("Every philosopher is mortal")
- I-type: Particular and affirmative ("Some philosopher is mortal")
- E-type: Universal and negative ("No philosopher is mortal")
- O-type: Particular and negative ("Not every philosopher is mortal")
In the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article, "The Traditional Square of Opposition", Terence Parsons explains:
One central concern of the Aristotelian tradition in logic is the theory of the categorical syllogism. This is the theory of two-premised arguments in which the premises and conclusion share three terms among them, with each proposition containing two of them. It is distinctive of this enterprise that everybody agrees on which syllogisms are valid. The theory of the syllogism partly constrains the interpretation of the forms. For example, it determines that the A form has existential import, at least if the I form does. For one of the valid patterns (Darapti) is:
- Every C is B
- Every C is A
- So, some A is B
This is invalid if the A form lacks existential import, and valid if it has existential import. It is held to be valid, and so we know how the A form is to be interpreted. One then naturally asks about the O form; what do the syllogisms tell us about it? The answer is that they tell us nothing. This is because Aristotle did not discuss weakened forms of syllogisms, in which one concludes a particular proposition when one could already conclude the coresponding universal. For example, he does not mention the form:
- No C is B
- Every A is C
- So, some A is not B
If people had thoughtfully taken sides for or against the validity of this form, that would clearly be relevant to the understanding of the O form. But the weakened forms were typically ignored...
One other piece of subject-matter bears on the interpretation of the O form. People were interested in Aristotle's discussion of “infinite” negation, which is the use of negation to form a term from a term instead of a proposition from a proposition. In modern English we use “non” for this; we make “non-horse,” which is true of exactly those things that are not horses. In medieval Latin “non” and “not” are the same word, and so the distinction required special discussion. It became common to use infinite negation, and logicians pondered its logic. Some writers in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries adopted a principle called “conversion by contraposition.” It states that
- ‘Every S is P’ is equivalent to ‘Every non-P is non-S’
- ‘Some S is not P’ is equivalent to ‘Some non-P is not non-S’
Unfortunately, this principle (which is not endorsed by Aristotle) conflicts with the idea that there may be empty or universal terms. For in the universal case it leads directly from the truth:
- Every man is a being
to the falsehood:
- Every non-being is a non-man
(which is false because the universal affirmative has existential import, and there are no non-beings). And in the particular case it leads from the truth (remember that the O form has no existential import):
- A chimera is not a man
to the falsehood:
These are [Jean] Buridan's examples, used in the fourteenth century to show the invalidity of contraposition. Unfortunately, by Buridan's time the principle of contraposition had been advocated by a number of authors. The doctrine is already present in several twelfth century tracts, and it is endorsed in the thirteenth century by Peter of Spain, whose work was republished for centuries, by William Sherwood, and by Roger Bacon. By the fourteenth century, problems associated with contraposition seem to be well-known, and authors generally cite the principle and note that it is not valid, but that it becomes valid with an additional assumption of existence of things falling under the subject term. For example, Paul of Venice in his eclectic and widely published Logica Parva from the end of the fourteenth century gives the traditional square with simple conversion but rejects conversion by contraposition, essentially for Buridan's reason.
- A non-man is not a non-chimera—Terence Parsons, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
A term (Greek horos) is the basic component of the proposition. The original meaning of the horos (and also of the Latin terminus) is "extreme" or "boundary". The two terms lie on the outside of the proposition, joined by the act of affirmation or denial. For early modern logicians like Arnauld (whose Port-Royal Logic was the best-known text of his day), it is a psychological entity like an "idea" or "concept". Mill considers it a word. To assert "all Greeks are men" is not to say that the concept of Greeks is the concept of men, or that word "Greeks" is the word "men". A proposition cannot be built from real things or ideas, but it is not just meaningless words either.
In term logic, a "proposition" is simply a form of language: a particular kind of sentence, in which the subject and predicate are combined, so as to assert something true or false. It is not a thought, or an abstract entity. The word "propositio" is from the Latin, meaning the first premise of a syllogism. Aristotle uses the word premise (protasis) as a sentence affirming or denying one thing of another (Posterior Analytics 1. 1 24a 16), so a premise is also a form of words. However, as in modern philosophical logic, it means that which is asserted by the sentence. Writers before Frege and Russell, such as Bradley, sometimes spoke of the "judgment" as something distinct from a sentence, but this is not quite the same. As a further confusion the word "sentence" derives from the Latin, meaning an opinion or judgment, and so is equivalent to "proposition". The logical quality of a proposition is whether it is affirmative (the predicate is affirmed of the subject) or negative (the predicate is denied of the subject). Thus every philosopher is mortal is affirmative, since the mortality of philosophers is affirmed universally, whereas no philosopher is mortal is negative by denying such mortality in particular. The quantity of a proposition is whether it is universal (the predicate is affirmed or denied of all subjects or of "the whole") or particular (the predicate is affirmed or denied of some subject or a "part" thereof). In case where existential import is assumed, quantification implies the existence of at least one subject, unless disclaimed.
For Aristotle, the distinction between singular and universal is a fundamental metaphysical one, and not merely grammatical. A singular term for Aristotle is primary substance, which can only be predicated of itself: (this) "Callias" or (this) "Socrates" are not predicable of any other thing, thus one does not say every Socrates one says every human (De Int. 7; Meta. Δ9, 1018a4). It may feature as a grammatical predicate, as in the sentence "the person coming this way is Callias". But it is still a logical subject.
He contrasts "universal" (katholou, "whole") secondary substance, genera, with primary substance, particular specimens. The formal nature of universals, in so far as they can be generalized "always, or for the most part", are the subject matter of both scientific study and formal logic.
The essential feature of the syllogistic is that, of the four terms in the two premises, one must occur twice. Thus
- All Greeks are men
- All men are mortal.
The subject of one premise, must be the predicate of the other, and so it is necessary to eliminate from the logic any terms which cannot function both as subject and predicate, namely singular terms.
- All men are mortals
- All Socrates are men
- All Socrates are mortals
This is clearly awkward, a weakness exploited by Frege in his devastating attack on the system (from which, ultimately, it never recovered, see concept and object).
The famous syllogism "Socrates is a man ...", is frequently quoted as though from Aristotle, but fact, it is nowhere in the Organon. It is first mentioned by Sextus Empiricus in his Hyp. Pyrrh. ii. 164.
Influence on philosophy
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Decline of term logic
Term logic began to decline in Europe during the Renaissance, when logicians like Rodolphus Agricola Phrisius (1444–1485) and Ramus (1515-1572) began to promote place logics. The logical tradition called Port-Royal Logic, or sometimes "traditional logic", saw propositions as combinations of ideas rather than of terms, but otherwise followed many of the conventions of term logic. It remained influential, especially in England, until the 19th century. Leibniz created a distinctive logical calculus, but nearly all of his work on logic remained unpublished and unremarked until Louis Couturat went through the Leibniz Nachlass around 1900, publishing his pioneering studies in logic.
19th-century attempts to algebraize logic, such as the work of Boole (1815-1864) and Venn (1834-1923), typically yielded systems highly influenced by the term-logic tradition. The first predicate logic was that of Frege's landmark Begriffsschrift (1879), little read before 1950, in part because of its eccentric notation. Modern predicate logic as we know it began in the 1880s with the writings of Charles Sanders Peirce, who influenced Peano (1858-1932) and even more, Ernst Schröder (1841-1902). It reached fruition in the hands of Bertrand Russell and A. N. Whitehead, whose Principia Mathematica (1910–13) made use of a variant of Peano's predicate logic.
Term logic also survived to some extent in traditional Roman Catholic education, especially in seminaries. Medieval Catholic theology, especially the writings of Thomas Aquinas, had a powerfully Aristotelean cast, and thus term logic became a part of Catholic theological reasoning. For example, Joyce's Principles of Logic (1908; 3rd edition 1949), written for use in Catholic seminaries, made no mention of Frege or of Bertrand Russell.
Some philosophers have complained that predicate logic:
- Is unnatural in a sense, in that its syntax does not follow the syntax of the sentences that figure in our everyday reasoning. It is, as Quine acknowledged, "Procrustean," employing an artificial language of function and argument, quantifier, and bound variable.
- Suffers from theoretical problems, probably the most serious being empty names and identity statements.
Even academic philosophers entirely in the mainstream, such as Gareth Evans, have written as follows:
- "I come to semantic investigations with a preference for homophonic theories; theories which try to take serious account of the syntactic and semantic devices which actually exist in the language ...I would prefer [such] a theory ... over a theory which is only able to deal with [sentences of the form "all A's are B's"] by "discovering" hidden logical constants ... The objection would not be that such [Fregean] truth conditions are not correct, but that, in a sense which we would all dearly love to have more exactly explained, the syntactic shape of the sentence is treated as so much misleading surface structure" (Evans 1977)
- Bocheński, I. M., 1951. Ancient Formal Logic. North-Holland.
- Louis Couturat, 1961 (1901). La Logique de Leibniz. Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlagsbuchhandlung.
- Gareth Evans, 1977, "Pronouns, Quantifiers and Relative Clauses," Canadian Journal of Philosophy.
- Peter Geach, 1976. Reason and Argument. University of California Press.
- Hammond and Scullard, 1992. The Oxford Classical Dictionary. Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-869117-3.
- Joyce, George Hayward, 1949 (1908). Principles of Logic, 3rd ed. Longmans. A manual written for use in Catholic seminaries. Authoritative on traditional logic, with many references to medieval and ancient sources. Contains no hint of modern formal logic. The author lived 1864-1943.
- Jan Łukasiewicz, 1951. Aristotle's Syllogistic, from the Standpoint of Modern Formal Logic. Oxford Univ. Press.
- John Stuart Mill, 1904. A System of Logic, 8th ed. London.
- Parry and Hacker, 1991. Aristotelian Logic. State University of New York Press.
- Arthur Prior, 1962. Formal Logic, 2nd ed. Oxford Univ. Press. While primarily devoted to modern formal logic, contains much on term and medieval logic.
- --------, 1976. The Doctrine of Propositions and Terms. Peter Geach and A. J. P. Kenny, eds. London: Duckworth.
- Willard Quine, 1986. Philosophy of Logic 2nd ed. Harvard Univ. Press.
- Rose, Lynn E., 1968. Aristotle's Syllogistic. Springfield: Clarence C. Thomas.
- Sommers, Fred, 1970, "The Calculus of Terms," Mind 79: 1-39. Reprinted in Englebretsen, G., ed., 1987. The new syllogistic New York: Peter Lang. ISBN 0-8204-0448-9
- --------, 1982. The logic of natural language. Oxford University Press.
- --------, 1990, "Predication in the Logic of Terms," Notre Dame Journal of Formal Logic 31: 106-26.
- -------- and Englebretsen, George, 2000. An invitation to formal reasoning. The logic of terms. Aldershot UK: Ashgate. ISBN 0-7546-1366-6.
- Szabolcsi Lorne, 2008. Numerical Term Logic. Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press.
- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Aristotle's term logic online—This online program provides a platform for experimentation and research on Aristotelian logic.
- Annotated bibliographies of writings by:
- Fred Sommers.
- George Englebretsen.
- PlanetMath: Aristotelian Logic.
- Interactive Syllogistic Machine for Term Logic A web based syllogistic machine for exploring fallacies, figures, terms, and modes of syllogisms.