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Aristotles Endoxa and Plausible Argumentation*


Universidad Nacional De Educacion A Distancia Dept. de Logica y Filosofia de la Ciencia Senda Del Rey, s/n 28040 Madrid, Spain

ABSTRACT: Aristotles conception and use of ta endoxa are key points to our understanding of Aristotelian dialectic. But, nowadays, they are not of historical or hermeneutic importance alone, as, in Aristotles treatment of endoxa, we still see a relevant contribution to the modern study of argumentation. I propose here an interpretation of endoxa to that effect: namely, as plausible propositions. This version is not only defensible in the Aristotelian context, it may also shed new light on some of his assumptions and methodological shortcomings e.g. concerning the plausible/implausible pair ; finally, it will even enable us to show certain basic hints and guidelines, advanced by Aristotles study of endoxa, which still serve nowadays to orientate our studies of argumentation from the angle of a theory of plausible argument currently under construction. These hints and guidelines suggest a pragmatic, gradual and comparative discursive concept of plausibility, and point, in particular, towards the reasonable dealing with, and weighing up of, differences of opinion within this frame of reference. KEY WORDS: Aristotle, dialectic, plausible argumentation, theory of argumentation


Endoxos is a rather equivocal term. To begin with, as opposed to adoxos, it means to be held in esteem or to enjoy high repute: it amounts to renowned, illustrious, famous; it is said of persons or cities. But, as fame is capricious, the term can also be used to distinguish prominent deeds and other things e.g. glorious burials, Plutarch: Per. 28. In a second acceptation and in other contexts, within the scope of argumentation, it is said of views or tenets, and has come to signify a certain weight or degree of approval of a belief, opinion, or dictum. Aristotle uses the term in both senses. For example, in EN 1098b28, he alludes to a few persons but illustrious [oligoi kai endoxoi], while in Top. 100a2930, he says that a dialectical deduction is one which deduces from endoxa. Sometimes, they even appear together in the same sentence: Those things are endoxa which seem so to everyone, or to the majority, or to the wise and either to all of them, or to the majority, or to the most notable and reputable [endoxois] among them (Top. 100b2123). In Aristotle, the second meaning, which has to do with argumentation, is certainly more fully developed to the extent that it appears specialized,
Argumentation 12: 95113, 1998. 1998 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.



almost technical in use. So the endoxa are primarily characteristic premises of dialectical syllogism (Top. 100a30, 104a8): propositions put forward or granted as premises which are, say, occupying the ground in argumentation about a controversial issue, as opposed to the true, per se first and incontestable principles upon which demonstrative syllogism ultimately rests. They are also opinions that may be esteemed according to criteria of consensus or approval, as opposed more in general to assertions which are only judged in light of the truth, on the basis of what actually holds (APo. 81b2122). Further on this pragmatic track, endoxon is what appears so to some people not just to anyone, but to certain collective or prominent types of people (Top. 170b6). On the other hand, endoxon or their derivatives are also applied to arguments (Top. 159b23), reductive proofs (112a56) or dialectical guidelines (123b20), and they still indicate metadiscursive opposition along the lines of endoxos vs alethos syllogizesthai (SE. 175a3132). Lastly their use may in some cases have some empirical reference, either via the likely or probable, eikos (a probability is an endoxos proposition: what men know to happen or not to happen, to be or not to be, for the most part and, thus, is a probability, e.g. envious men hate, those who are loved show affection, APr. 70a36), or else as a sign, semeion, which refers to a circumstantial association between the revealing sign and the thing revealed, in contrast to the tekmerion which refers to their necessary connection (a sign is meant to be a demonstrative proposition either necessary or endoxos, APr. 70a6 ss.). In either case, the endoxa are, par excellence, things that people think and they play the specific discursive role of more or less accepted and/or acceptable propositions1 in dialectical argumentation. For example, the general view that one ought to do good to ones friends (Top. 104a22); the less common opinion, maintained by the sophists, that what is, had not in every case either have come to be, or be eternal, in view of the fact that this claim might have some argument in its favour (104b2428); Empedocles statement that the elements of bodies were four, for anyone might assent to the what is said by some reputable authority (105b1618). In Aristotle, this relationship between propositional endoxality and personal reputation does not appear to be a casual one (cf., as the reverse confirmation of the above references, Top. 104b1923: for to take notice when any ordinary person expresses views contrary to mens usual opinions would be silly; see also EE 1214b281215a3). Their complicity may be significant in the context of the process of connivance and transition between the traditional oral uses of personal declaration and the newer uses of writing and documentary proof, a process that was particularly interesting in Athens throughout the 4th century BC. To all appearances, during the first half of that century, the strength and weight of a testimony, allegation, or contract still lay mainly in the reliability of the witness, the claimant or defendant, or the person involved, regardless of whether there was a written record of the case. Furthermore, the reliability of a word



given in writing was directly proportional to the acknowledged reliability of the person who made the declaration, along with the reliability of the person responsible for its safeguard. Similarly, the common heritage of usage and unwritten rules were the guarantee of fairness and of a morality that was superior to that of positive law see e.g. Aristotle, Pol. 1287b58: customary laws have more weight and relate to more important matters than written laws, and a man may be a safer ruler than the written law, but not safer than the common and customary law. A similar process occurs in the field of discourse, where we may detect both connivance and transition from the oral to the written and, ultimately, to the logon technai or arts of discourse (rhetoric, dialectic).2 Today, looking down from our Gutenberg galaxy, this may appear a very long way off. But, nowadays, our analysis not only of discursive efficacy but also of epistemic justification, has become sensitive to the interplay of both types of context, as well as to the weight of tacit knowledge and to the authority wielded by certain illustrious members of the community including, of course, scientific communities. To consider the contexts of oral and written traditions is also interesting from another point of view. These two traditions would, in the eyes of some Greeks, such as Plato, appear to clash with each other; an alleged primal state of pristine experience, truth-words or manifest truths, as opposed to the mediatization woven by the written web remember Platos myth of Theuth and Thamus on the invention of writing (Phaedrus, 274c277a). Either way, they both supply relatively characteristic frameworks of reference: the Platonic world of I hear tell of [akoe] (Phaedrus, 274c); the world of Aristotle the reader [anagnostes] (see Vita Marciana, 6); although they are both, therefore, more or less interrelated parts of the same world. They both make up the realm of doxa, i.e. the vast field of received opinions and adopted attitudes.3 This being the case, attention must be paid to certain sentences and beliefs, because, through them, we may gain some knowledge, even if puzzling or merely approximate and only recognized as such. From the philosophical and epistemological point of view, the realm of doxa is, above all, an uncertain and shifting world of diverse and changing opinion. Yet, within this general, precarious and unstable area, Aristotle deals with endoxa in a more specific and promising arena, which is the one I shall consider here. It is the field of dialectic. The Aristotelian dialectical field is, generally taken, that of argument with some other discursive agent (1) from accepted or acceptable propositions or premises, (2) through questions and answers, (3) on any debatable question. Aristotles dialectic is not reduced to a matter of deduction from endoxa as it is commonly supposed by the received view (e.g., by Irwin, 1988; cf. Hamlyn, 1990, and Smith, 1993, for criticism of this view). But they are in a close relationship as we are told at the very beginning of Topics: Our treatise proposes to find a line of inquiry whereby we shall be able to reason from endoxa about any subject presented to us, and also



shall ourselves, when putting forward an argument, avoid saying anything contrary to it (100a2023). Soon afterwards, Aristotle goes on to state the purposes for which this treatise will be useful, namely: intellectual and discursive training, casual encounters and philosophical sciences (101a2527). Finally, he even claims that dialectic has a further use in relation to the primitive principles of the particular sciences: it is through endoxa about them that these have to be discussed and this task belongs properly, or most appropiately, to dialectic; for dialectic is a process of criticism wherein lies the path to the principles of all enquiries (101a34 b4). So, Aristotelian dialectic becomes, through the Topics, a method of skilled argument which can be applied to ordinary or philosophical questions, and which can proceed from endoxa or through endoxa with various purposes, e.g. gymnastic, examinative, critical. Skilled argument comes about when certain attitudinal and normative suppositions govern the interaction of the two parties (an answerer and a questioner) involved in confrontation, and when skills are acquired with which to handle differences and conflicts of opinion on any question open to discussion. In contrast to some current philosophies of dialogue and to a tendency marked among the European scholars in the field of argumentation (see Walton, 1992: xi), this Aristotelian dialectic is aimed at lucidly and reasonably coping with discrepancies between the parties involved in a controversial issue, rather than at overcoming or neutralising such conflicts for the sake of the ultimately achieving unanimous agreement or a rational consensus. Along these dialectic lines, the Topics and its appendix Sophistical Refutations teach an art of argument, i.e. an inventory of strategic warrants and inference patterns, along with a repertory of movements and indications in order to conduct the debate correctly and, at least, not lose it due to ones own lack of thought or personal skill. This art also points out a discursive heuristics and gives us several hints for testing accepted or acceptable views to discover where their strengths and weaknesses lie. Furthermore, even in the competitive and critical frameworks, there can be a co-operative exploration of philosophical theses and a rational management of dissensions. Within this general framework of dialectical method, endoxa still have certain characteristic operative functions. For example, those entrusted to what is, nowadays, following Barnes (1980: 494495), usually called Aristotles method of endoxa. In this case, it would be tempting to consider that Topics and Sophistical Refutations, comprising as it does a handbook of correct dialectical behaviour, define and teach the method of endoxa. We should overcome this temptation. Barnes himself says: the Topics should enable us to determine exactly what ta endoxa consist in (1980: 498), although later, in fact, his approach to the method in the same paper contradicts this hope. Another temptation regarding Topics is to interpret it as a theory of deduction (e.g. Barnes, 1981).4 I do not believe we should yield this temptation, either. I am going to propose an interpretation of the Aristotelian method of



endoxa in terms of what we may, nowadays, understand to be plausible argumentation. In the light of this version, what we are shown by Topics and Sophistical Refutations is a (partial) art of this type of argumentaion. Not so much a theory, as a logon tekhne in the sense that it provides productive dispositions accompanied by right reason concerning discourse (see Weil, 1975: 100). And what we may today expect from this classical source besides a wide range of tactical resources and discursive strategies5 , is a set of hints and guidelines on plausible argumentation, which are all the more useful in that our theory of plausible argument is one that is still under construction.


Aristotle did not just refer to endoxa in the Topics context and, in fact, some extremely valuable statements about the method of endoxa can be found elswhere. Nicomachean Ethics contains a passage that is nowadays usually read and commented upon as a programmatic text in this respect (see e.g. Barnes, 1980: 490494; Reeve, 1992: 3445; Most, 1994: 175182):
We must, as in all other cases, set out the phenomena before us and, after first going throught the aporiai, go on to prove, if possible, the truth of all the endoxa about these affections or, failing this, of the majority of them and the most authoritative; for if we both resolve the difficulties and leave the endoxa undisturbed, we shall have proven the case sufficiently (EN. 1145b27; a similar statement in EE. 1235b1217).

But Aristotle does not preach this method in his practical philosophy alone; he also does so in his natural philosopy (e.g. in Phys. 211a711). Besides, he also tries to put it into practice in various areas of his philosophical discourse (e.g. in De Cael. 279b414, 308a47; De An. 403b2024; Metaphys. 995b2024). It is therefore hardly surprising that the method of endoxa, being applied in different fields, acquires various usages and meanings, e.g. in order to enquire into definitional principles in natural philosophy, or in order to examine and clarify key concepts in practical philosophy, or merely so as to set out a ground of common beliefs in rhetoric (cf. EN. 1095a1630 and Rh. 1360b418, about happiness). Nevertheless, the programmatic claim at EN. 1145b2 is very general, and we may reduce the method to three main elements: (1) a doxographical starting-point, (2) a process of puzzling and testing, (3) a process of proving. In more explicit terms, this means that: [I] If we are going to apply the method of endoxa, we must consider endoxa a wide spectrum of things said, ranging from the views or opinions which all or most people should approve, to expert dictum and to specific philosophical tenets which seem to have some reason in their favour (EN. 1095a2930). And [II] if we want to follow the method of endoxa, we must: (1) garner an initial set of endoxa or putative endoxa, relevant to the point at issue; (2) survey for



difficulties and examine the endoxa by testing them they may conflict among themselves, they may be ambiguous or apparently contradictory ; (3) return to the set of endoxa, once the correct doctrine has been established, in order to test them against the true, so that they are clarified and the most reputable or most well-founded of them are preserved.6 The reasons Aristotle gives in favour of this method are actually of two kinds: some are practical and methodological and have to do with efficacy and the proof cogency of the discourse (e.g.: for a disputants refutation of what is opposed to his arguments is a proof of the argument itself , EE. 1215a67; see also De Cael. 279b612); others are of an epistemological nature and have to do with the dialectic elucidation of the principles and with the natural disposition towards truth (e.g.: For the true and the approximately true are apprehended by the same faculty; it may also be noted that men have a sufficient natural instinct for what is true, and usually do arrive at the truth. Hence the man who makes a good guess at truth is likely to make a good guess at what is endoxon, Rh. 1355a1518; see also EN. 1173a23, EE. 1216b31). How can this method be understood from the point of view of our own view of plausible argument? At first glance, it might be said that the method of endoxa is to Aristotles dialectic what the theory of plausible argument is to the general pragma-dialectical view of argumentation amongst ourselves. Yet I think one can say more: my contention here is that endoxa are the sort of reasonable expectations that we usually call plausible premises in a context of informal argumentation in which the use of plausible corresponds closely to the idea of what it would be reasonable to grant to an interlocutor in a certain social setting of discussion. According to this, plausible argument could be taken to have a meaning close to that proposed by Walton (1992): as being a distinctive kind of argumentation, presumption-based and/or intimately connected to presumptive reasoning; it goes forward tentatively and subjected to qualifications and rebuttals, in a context of dialogue between two parties who are interacting in argumentation with each other on a controversial issue; so, its analysis and evaluation requires a pragma-dialectical and functional theory. A presumption comes to be a plausible premise, not in the sense of subjective plausibility but in the sense of discursive plausibility. A presumption consists of a relationship between the parties in an argumentative confrontation, and it can rightly be described as a kind of occupying of the ground in argumentation; so, it involves some commitments inherent to the correlative roles of the proposer and the attacker at least for the sake of discussion , and is not reduced to a mere or free assumption; moreover, presumptions can rely on warrants falling into several categories, such as, in particular, expert opinion or conventional wisdom. On the other hand, a presumptive reasoning is also a distinctive kind of discursive or practical reasoning, which is neither deductive nor inductive, but rather tentative and defeasible. I think it is not neccesary to understand, as Walton



does, that all presumption always involves a presumptive reasoning presumptions can also occur in deductive inferences, as endoxa, in fact, occur in dialectical syllogisms. In this case, dialectical endoxa can be seen as kinds of presumptions or plausible premises, and rhetorical enthymeme can be seen as a sort of plausible or presumptive reasoning.7 But let us leave aside enthymeme and rhetorical art an offshoot [antistrofos] of dialectic and also of ethical studies (Rh. 1356a25) , and pause to consider only the case of endoxa, mainly in the light of their dialectic context in the Topics. The foremost intended beneficiary of Aristotles use of the method of endoxa in his philosophical works is neither just anyone, nor the inquirer specialized in an advanced area of scientific knowledge. The beneficiary is, first of all, Aristotles educated man: a person who is expected to be able to judge suitably by a fair estimate what is right or wrong in an exposition (PA, 639a415; see Irwin, 1988: 2729). Topics and Sophistical Refutations provide a guide for acquiring certain dialectical skills that actually form part of such an education.


As we already know, endoxa, generally taken, are things

which seem so to everyone, or to the majority, or to the wise and either to all of them, or to the majority, or to the most notable and reputable among them (Top. 100b2123).

This is not a proper definition (pace Barnes), but rather a classification of types and criteria of endoxality. On the other hand, the most accurate translation of endoxa in our own terms is not easy to decide upon: there are various options with which to accentuate either one aspect or another, as well as there being a wide debate as to which should be the most important or most characteristic.8 Apart from some marginal renderings e.g. as likely (probable) premises , the two most significant aspects are those which point: a/ in the direction of propositions accepted as a matter of fact (generally accepted, Pickard-Cambridge; ides admises, Brunschwig; see above, note 3); b/ in the direction of propositions which, not only in fact, but in principle, are worthy of recognition or deserve a good reputation (notevole, Zarco; reputable, Barnes; see ibd.). Both extremes seek an etymological justification which is, therefore, ambiguous. But I believe it is just as wrong to opt for one extreme as for another. The social acceptance, as a matter of fact, is not enough, because endoxality also involves a sort of reasonable expectation, even if determined at least in part by its social context: Aristotle uses endoxon to suggest that an opinion is widely held and/or that it is, in principle, respectable, with something to be said for it (e.g. a sophists claim which may have some argument in its favour).



Furthermore, Aristotle considers whether to distinguish between apparent endoxa and real ones as an issue that is not only sociological or statistical, but discursive and critical. Certainly, he considers paradoxical [paradoxa] the clashing theses of the wise and the majority, but this does not then exclude them from the examination and verification foreseen in the method of endoxa and, moreover, what opposes a reasonable expectations being an adoxon is that which, because it is a logically absurd proposition or contrary to ethical dictates, would not be acceptable (Top. 160b1821). One consequence of adhering to this factual social sanction would be to exclude the possibility of internal conflicts betwen endoxa: in this way, the rules introduced in Top. VIII, 5, would end up operating in a vaccuum. But nor would the opposite extreme of respectability being good repute be satisfactory in itself, either. Look at the fact that Barnes (1984) own edition had to resort to translating adoxon as implausible in various parts of Topics (e.g. in VIII, 5, 9). For the rest, it would not do justice to the discursive aspects already mentioned, nor would it provide a congruous version of the dynamics of dialectical conflict: the opposition of good/bad repute does not provide as much scope as the contrast of plausible/ implausible. To sum up, the proposal of understanding endoxon as plausible is a defensible rendering as opposed to the etymological alternatives, and offers an operative and comprehensive notion of what an interlocutor could reasonably be expected to accept in a discussion, within a given framework of ideas, traditions and beliefs. Another reason, no less important, is that this notion of discursive plausiblility could cover an extension of endoxality as a distinctive quality of dialectical propositions which Aristotle himself suggests. He states a strict notion in the terms: Now a dialectical proposition consists of asking something that is endoxos to all men or to most men or the wise, i.e. either to all, or to most, or to the best-known, so long as it is not paradoxical; for a man would probably assent to the view of the wise, if it be not contrary to the opinions of most men (Top. 104a812; cf. also 105a3437). But Aristotle goes on to say: Dialectical propositions also include views which are like those which are endoxois, and contraries of those which are taken to be endoxois, antithetically proposed, and all opinions that are in accordance with the recognized arts (104a1215). Thus, Aristotelian dialectic provides itself with premises primarily on the basis of plausible propositions in the strict sense, i.e. those that are effectively sanctioned within the usual scale of approval. But he then extends this condition of plausible dialectical allegations to other propositions according to various criteria of association with the former (see 104a17 ff.), namely: (i) similarity, e.g: if it is plausible that there is such a thing as a science of grammar or various grammars it will also be plausible that there is such a thing as a science or more than one science of flute playing; ii) Informal comparison, e.g. if it is plausible to be good to ones



friends, it will also be plausible to harm ones enemies; (iii) reference to expert opinion on a matter, e.g. what a practicing doctor considers plausible, will be so. I think that, in general, this approach is clear, although some points ought to be discussed. First of all, not all dialectic research takes place between plausible propositions in the strict or extended sense. Other types of plausibilities are possible: that of likelihood or probability, which refers to the frequency of certain events, or that which acts as evidence or empirical sign (e.g. in APo. 70a3 ff.); that which is put to the test by relating it to plain phenomena (e.g. in EN 1145b25 ff.). We already know, from the seminal Owen (1961) on, that certain concepts of empirical significance for us, such as induction, or phenomenon, acquire in some Aristotelian contexts a discursive or dialectical meaning, and it is a tricky problem to discern what our empirical covers there. On the other hand, hovewer, the dialectical plausibility can also involve certain empirical references, e.g. to for the most part regularities that people know or believe to be ones. Another interesting point is the distinction Aristotle makes between dialectical premises and problems. In Top. 104a11, those opinions of the wise that are contrary to those of the many [hoi polloi] are not plausible opinions, but instead paradoxical ones. In SE 173a1214, 1926, beliefs of people which are contrary to those of the wise are also paradoxical. Some interpreters have seen here a reason for making a distinction between the majority of men [hoi pleistoi] and the masses [hoi polloi]: the opinions of the majority of adult men count as endoxa; vulgar beliefs do not (see e.g. Cavini, 1987: 2122). This suggestion may perhaps place too much faith in the consistency of Aristotles terminology; furthermore, it involves questions of another order, both ethical and political, which cannot be settled in the light of the Aristotelian Organon alone. In any case, dissenting opinions of this kind do not generate dialectical premises, but problems instead. Such problems may also arise due to the lack of opinion on the matter (104b2934): they can be a subject for discussion, too. A typical problem is the one arising due to the conflict between nature [physis] and conventional norms or positive laws [nomoi] (cf. SE 173a1216).


Having made these initial points, I shall attempt a more substantial characterization of Aristotelian dialectical plausibility. Plausible opinions, in the strict sense, have two basic features: (a) their pragmatic nature; (b) their gradation. Those which are plausible in a wider sense have another added feature: (c) their potential clash and conflict. (a) A proposition is dialectically plausible if it is recognised or effectively accepted by somebody either by all the people or by the majority,



etc. Plausibility is not a semantic property, but a pragmatic relationship: it is something that has to seem so to a community, a group or some of its illustrious members. Furthermore, it is in this very pragmatic nature that its dialectical relevance lies although Aristotle does not say much about the contexts and frames of communication, he does about the discursive interaction and other aspects (e.g. attitudes, roles, or characters of the agents involved). According to 104a46, not every proposition nor yet every problem is to be set down as dialectical; for no one in his right senses would make a proposition of what no one holds. Nowadays it would be tempting to describe this pragmatic relationship in our own terms as the relationship that mediates between a doxastic attitude and a proposition: we may think something along these lines but only as long as we take into account the informal nature of Aristotles references9 and his referral not to individual attitudes but to typical attitudes (associated to types of people, groups, or recognised authorities). For the Aristotelian dialectic considers plausible what appears so, not just to anyone, but to people of this or that sort (SE 170b67). All that, of course, does not mean the closure of plausibility in a Zelig world as Woody Allen would say , or in the comfortable relativism of public opinion; it does not imply the exclusion of any other consideration beyond sanctioned beliefs. Let us remember that in Rh. 1355a1518, Aristotle assures us that: the true and the probable are apprehended by the same faculty; it may also be noted that human beings are naturally adequate as regards the truth, and usually they happen upon the truth. Hence the man who makes a good guess at truth is likely to make a good guess at what is plausible. And in EN 1098b2729, making an inventory of the opinions on happiness, he points out that some of these views have been held by many men and men of old, others by a few persons but illustrious; and it is reasonable that either of these should be entirely mistaken, but rather that they should be right in at least some respect or even in most respects. Hence dealing with plausible opinions in this matter as in various others becomes an unavoidable phase of the process of testing and inquiry. A lucid and brief comment on the situation is given by Alexander (In Top. 19.2227): Plausibility differs from the truth not by being false some plausible opinions are in fact true but by the criteria on which the judgement is based. In the case of truth, the judgement is made with reference to the very thing with which the opinion deals: when the opinion coincides, it is true. In the case of plausibility, the judgement is not made with reference to things themselves, but with reference to the listeners and their assumptions about things. For those who currently work on the field of argument, few things will be so familiar as this pragmatic and attitudinal dimension of argumentation. Certainly Aristotle suggests that when dealing philosophically with questions on ethics, physics or logic, it should be done according to the truth, whereas when they are dealt with dialectically, it should be done with an



eye to opinion (105b3032). Perhaps nowadays we might also understand these guidelines in the sense that the duty of philosophical research is to search for the truth as it corresponds to reality (i.e. in the sense of our truth as correspondence), and that of dialectical research is to find a kind of truth coherent with a line of argument that is consistent in itself and congruous with the course and purposes of the debate (i.e. a sort of truth as coherence). But, in fact, Aristotelian practice itself shows that these two heuristics are not necessarily opposed; quite the reverse, as they may be complementary to one another. (b) Plausibility is a question of degrees on a scale. First of all, one must not demand that for every problem the argument should be equally plausible and convincing; for it is a direct result of the nature of things that some subjects of inquiry shall be easier and some harder, so that if a man concludes from opinions that are as plausible as the case admits, he has argued well (Top. 161a3438). Moreover, the order in which terms relating to plausibility are enumerated for everybody, for the majority, for the wise, and of the latter, for the most illustrious among them does not appear to be random or irrelevant. It is repeated in the same terms in different places (e.g. 100b2123, 104a810, 105a3539) and references. To all appearances, there is a decreasing scale of plausibility according to the assumption that the most plausible opinions, those with most weight and authority, are those with the greatest degree of real acceptance. But the significance and scope of this scale are still somewhat ambiguous. In fact, they have led to a double interpretation. It could be understood that being plausible is an absolute quality of each of the references mentioned everyone, the majority, etc. The degrees of plausibility are thus comparable against one another, and involve potential conflicts between endoxa: the common opinion is more plausible than the opinion of the wise, ; yet is still fairly plausible even thought it contradicts opinion . It would seem a natural transition from feature (b) to feature (c) mentioned at the beginning. However, this admission of conflicts between endoxa does not fit Aristotles point that the opinion of the wise is only plausible if it is not paradoxical, i.e. if it does not contradict the opinion of many others (Top. 104a1112). So endoxa can be compared amongst each other in terms of their degree of plausibility, but they would exclude the possibility of mutual or internal conflicts. This leads us to an alternative interpretation of the scale, namely in the sense: an endoxon is what is maintained by everybody or, if there is no established opinion of this sort, it is what is maintained by all of the wise, or . . . and so one until we reach the level of the most illustrious among the wise. Nevertheless, this interpretation is not devoid of problems, as it is too restrictive: it avoids the pitfall of paradox, but it falls short when it comes to the fact that some opinions that contradict certain endoxa appear to be plausible (Top. 104b20 ff.), or it must face the use of some equivalences between what is most plausible and what is least implausible (Top. 159b2122), all of which



involves a vision of this area of comparison that goes beyond mere differences of degree, with a view to certain cases of correlation that return us to the first interpretation.10 I think that one solution is the distinction suggested in sect. 3 between endoxality in the strict sense more in line with a restrictive interpretation , and endoxality in the wider sense, capable of covering a wider realm of comparison between degrees of plausibility/implausibility and, hence, able to cope with conflicts within this realm. This wider sense is not only a response to Aritstotles various suggestions on, and uses of, dialectical propositions (e.g. 104a12 ff., 159b9 ff.), but is also expressly mentioned in the glosses of commentators such as Alexander: when the opinion of many enters into conflict [makhetai] with the opinion of a wise man, what appears right to many is the most plausible [endoxon mallon] (In Top. 70.1921). Let us therefore add this characteristic feature (c) which not only foresees an external distinction on a gradual scale, but also potential mutual discrepancy between propositions with different degrees of plausibility. According to this, the pragmatic and comparative nature of plausibility also shows an additional correlative dimension, besides the interaction due to the dialectical exchange of questions and answers: the point is that, to be as endoxon as possible, or most endoxon, is not simply relative to some particular conclusion drawn from it, but also relative to other plausible propositions on the topic under discussion.


It is commonly said by both the Aristotelian scholars and the historians of logic, that the Topics contains, as if it were a logical theory in solution, various contributions to an informal theory of deduction (e.g. that formulated in the terms of a doctrine of predicables: concepts of genera, species, etc.), and to the practice of dialectic (e.g. in dialogical controversies such as those regulated in book VIII).11 Should something similar be thought of plausible argument, in particular? Should we recognize not only a repertory of discussion techniques in terms of plausibility, but also a consistent theory or an underlying logic for discursive categories in this sense, e.g. for the plausible/implausible pair? From this viewpoint, I shall attempt to specify some of the assumptions that would appear to rule relationships of comparability and inference between propositions within the area of plausibility in its more extended sense. To start with, let us look at two methodical guidelines. The first of them, which is fairly negative, consists of avoiding inconsistency: the general aim of the analysis of argument in the Topics is precisely to find a method that will enable us to reason on any problem on the basis of plausibility, without falling into any inconsistency (100a18 21).



The second guideline is a positive one: it consists of starting out from the most familiar and most plausible (159b815), or from what is as plausible as the case permits (161b2633, 161b3438, SE 183a3738; cf. also APo. 81b1920). It can be specified in terms of a principle of correctness such as the following: [C] Criterion: The person who argues correctly puts the question to the test on the basis of premises that are no less plausible than the conclusion; in any other case, his argument will be incorrect (160a1921; cf. also the objections that may be made to an argument, 161b19 ff.).

This criterion would appear perfectly sound. However, what then seems not quite so coherent is an affirmation such as if something were to be proved from premises both of which seem true, but not to the same degree, it may very well be that what is proved seems more true than either (162a1920). Yet this observation, taken by itself, also seems reasonable. Let us look, for example, at an argument with a slightly historical tinge, proceeding from the premises: [] the earth has not perceptible movement it is held by all wise persons (astronomers and philosophers, in general) ; and [] the earth is placed at the centre of the sphere of cosmos it is held by most wise persons (e.g. by a majority of philosophers) , to the following conclusion: [] the earth is immobile in everybodys common opinion. According to the scale, is more plausible than either or , to which different degrees of plausibility would have to be applied. So we are looking at a plausible argument that would be as acceptable to Aristotle himself as it would be illegitimate in the light of his principle of correctness [C] for this type of argument. I think that this example reveals one of the limitations of the Aristotelian approach, which is derived from thinking of argument as a compound of dialectical elements (propositions), instead of considering it as a whole, or, in other words, seeing it not from an atomized angle, but from an integral one. If we adopt this somewhat holistic approach, we can accept the discursive legitimacy of our example insofar as the plausibility of the argument {, }, is not intuitively less than the initial plausibility of premises y , and it is even greater that the plausibility of the conclusion alone. These premises, and , support and accredit the conclusion, , in such a way as to heighten its plausibility. One might therefore propose a slightly amended principle of correctness: [C] An argument is correct and acceptable as proof , only if its overall plausibility is greater than the attributable or supposed plausibility of its object of proof prior to, or independent of, the argument. In other words, in order for an argument such as {1, 2, . . . , m}, n to effectively be a proof, it is necessary that its power of acceptance, or its plausibility be greater than the mere proposition n, within the given framework of discourse. This is compatible with some Aristotelian comments on fallacies such as begging



the question. However, if we were to follow this holistic path, we would end up with very different concepts of argumentation and plausible proof from those of Aristotle.12 But apart from these considerations on a generic criterion of correction for plausible argument, the context of dialectical conflict with which his analysis deals in Topics enables us to add some specifications on its internal constitution. It is a conflict between someone who questions a proposition, and someone who responds to his attacks. This approach is defined, on the one hand, by the game of dialectical fencing, the rules and tactics of which are contained in the famous book VIII; this is what might be called the minor art of plausible argumentation. This minor art is to the major art of debate and dialectic research (e.g. as it is practiced in the method of endoxa), what a manual of fencing exercises is to a real duel. Yet, on the other hand, it gives us some clue of a kind of underlying structure which, prima facie, could be taken for a logic of doxastic modalities or for a logic of plausibility: so, as well as an art, havent we got a theory or system, properly said, of plausible/implausible argumentation in the Topics? Let us see a case in point. The thesis laid dawn by the answerer before facing the questioners argument is bound of necessity to be either plausible or implausible or neither (159a3839). Concerning this, Alexander observes that a question about which there are no opinions either for or against, is neither plausible nor implausible, eg: whether the number of stars is odd or even, or where conflicting opinions have an equivalent weight, e.g. whether infinity exists or not (In Top. 550.25). Thus, let us assume that the field of plausibility is basically divided into the plausible, the implausible and the neutral say: Endox( ), Adox( )and Neut( ), where the parentheses mark the space reserved for the dialectical proposition. If is (a schematic or dummy letter for) any dialectical proposition, and * its negation, we may consider a framework of relationships ruled by conditions such as the following: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] If Endox(), then non-Endox(*) i.e., if is a plausible thesis, its negation is not. If Adox(), then non-Adox(*) i.e., if is an implausible thesis, its negation is not. If non-Endox(), then either Adox() or Neut(). If non-Adox(), then either Endox() or Neut(). If Neut(), then Neut(*).

On the basis of such a configuration, Cavini (1989) has tried to outline a logic of dialectic modalities for Aristotelian plausibility. But, at times, Aristotle himself makes a tacit assumption of correlation



between the plausible and the implausible which could be formulated as follows: [0] If is more/less plausible (or implausible), then * is as more/less implausible (or plausible).

Now, this assumption [0] of correlation get us into difficulties when we try to make an accurate and coherent reconstruction, a logic of plausibility, on a basis such as the one put forward in [1][5] and that assumes the Aristotelian criterion of correctness [C] for arguments in this field. For example, let us recall three cases considered in Top. 159b22. In the first of these, an implausible thesis is questioned so that a plausible conclusion * has to be found: here one must proceed, says Aristotle, by making assumptions or allegations that are not only plausible but more plausible than this conclusion. In the second case, a plausible thesis is questioned, so that the relevant conclusion * has to be implausible: one must, according to Aristotle, assume either propositions that are all plausible, or else, if one of them has to be implausible, one that is less implausible than the conclusion. In the third case, we have a thesis that is neither plausible nor implausible; we then have to concede that either all the allegations are plausible, or, if any were implausible, the one that was more plausible than the conclusion. The first case presents no problem. But the other two involve some sort of correlation such as the one formulated in assumption [0], with its corresponding difficulties. Apart from the fact that the third case, in particular, makes one wonder: how can an implausible proposition be more plausible than a neutral proposition? (cf. 162a21 23). In other words, this attempt to give Aristotelian plausible argument a precise conceptualisation and an underlying logical structure, does not appear particularly promising. And the way out proposed by another wellknown suggestion is, Im afraid, unfortunate too.13 The second case has the added interest of involving the argument that Aristotle describes as incisive, aimed at obtaining an implausible conclusion facing a thesis, and flowing from premises, that are all plausible. The most incisive deduction is that which, on the basis of premises that are generally accepted as plausible, demolishes a sentence that is just as plausible (SE 182b36183a2); hence, according to assumption [0], it proves a very implausible conclusion in a given discursive context. It represents what today would be called a genuine paradox. It is, says Aristotle, the proof that necessarily produces the greatest perplexity (182b33). In our times, and in some post-modern philosophical media, perplexity has started to spread like some sort of epidemic. But this end-of-the-century illness has little to do with the critical thoroughness of an incisive counterproof and, in any case, maximum Aristotelian perplexity is not a state of amazement or self-complacency, but the strongest and most decisive motivation for subsequent research (182b37). In short, what are we to think of a supposed informal logic of plausible



argumentation in the Topics? Well, the dialectical treatment of plausibility and the framework of dialogical conflict dealt with in the Topics are, obviously, informal. But it is not clear to me in what sense they constitute a logic. Moreover, it is to be feared that the attempts to reconstruct an Aristotelian logic of plausible argumentation would come across a fair number of structural difficulties at least concerning one contribution of Aristotle that is of great interest here, i.e. the consideration of the plausible/implausible pair.


At the end of Sophistical Refutations, Aristotle resumes his task of establishing the art of dialectic as a logon techne, and ends his revision with a famous self-vindication and on a note of optimism (183b2636, 184a9b2). He claims the recognition due to one who has made the first, most difficult steps, by laying the rational foundations of an art of argument, and he expresses his hope that, once certain principles have been established, it will be easy to develop and add what is missing. After what we have seen, we may perhaps not feel so optimistic about these expectations. But, in any case, I believe we should accept the invitation Aristotle makes at the end: there must remain for all of you, our students, the task of extending us your pardon for the shortcomings of the inquiry, and for the discoveries there of your warm thanks (184b68). So, in what way can we, nowadays, continue to acknowledge Aristotles discovery of some of the principles of the study of argument, in light of the approach to plausible discourse discussed here? I think that we can, at least, be grateful to him for the more or less implicit or express proposal for basic guidelines such as the following. Three of these guidelines have already been expressly pointed out (in section 4). The first is the pragmatic approach to plausibility; secondly, there is its consideration in terms of typical doxastic attitudes (views, states of opinion); thirdly, there is the acknowledgement of certain degrees of plausibility that are correlated within a scale. An additional guideline might be the tacit vision of this domain as a kind of continuum, marked out by a number of maximums or minimums which are not absolute, perhaps, but instead related to a given discursive framework (i.e. to problems that may be discussed and to available strategies within that framework; e.g. it makes a difference to deal with philosophical or rhetorical questions, as well as to argue for inquirys or fencings sake). Demonstration in the Analytics official sense of conclusive proof and fallacy lie beyond this plausibility field as external limits, we can say. The fifth guideline is the express treatment of argument in this area as a process of discursive interaction and conflict: a problem is always discussed with the other party in mind, and



with reference to an adopted attitude (Top. 155b10; and if what is at stake in this c. VIII of Topics is a fencing game between two discursive agents, it could, in other contexts of the method of endoxa, be a dialectic of critical and analytical research by several parties). The sixth is associated to the others: the plausibility of a proposition or a proof is determined by the plausibility of an alternative counter-proposition or a counter-argument. All these guidelines are, to my mind, capital in the current course of analysis and study in the wide field of argument.
NOTES * I am specially indebted to Geoffrey E. R. Lloyd for several useful comments on a first version. 1 This characterization should be taken as a merely provisional and neutral indication, prior to entering into discussion on the more appropiate meaning for ta endoxa within the context of Aristotelian dialectic see later, sect. 3. 2 See on this transition T. Cole, The Origins of Rhetoric in Ancient Greece. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore/London, 1991, and a more general survey in I. Worthington (Ed.), Voice into text: orality and literacy in Ancient Greece. E.J. Brill, Leiden, 1996. 3 The root *dek- refers to agreement with what is accepted as the norm and the family of the verb dokein tends to describe opting for an opinion or taking what one considers to be the right side in a particular situation. Barnes (1980: 500) adds that Aristotle may have been the first to apply endoxos to opinions, and in doing so, he may have been entertained by the pun on doxa. But this etymological scent may be rather ambiguous: it can suggest a reading of endoxastic opinions as accepted ones see W. A. Pickard-Cambridge, Topics and De Sophisticis Elenchis. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1928; J. Brunschwig, Aristote. Topiques, IIV. Les Belles Lettres, Paris, 1967 , or an alternative reading as reputable ones see J. Barnes (Ed.), The Complete Works of Aristotle [The revised Oxford edition]. Princeton University Press [Bollingen Series LXXI, 2], Princeton, 1984; also A. Zadro, Aristotele. I Topici. Bibliopolis, Napoli, 1974. 4 Or, even, as some sort of informal logic (e.g.: the logic of Rhetoric is the informal dialectic of the Topics, Burnyeat, 1994: 31). The so-called Solmsen-Barnes thesis on Aristotles Organon chronology seems give way to this temptation. But this is another story I can not consider here. Apart from chronological issues, the rhetorical enthymeme as it is understood by Burnyeat (1994) himself is rather a kind of presumptive reasoning (in the sense of Walton, 1992): it can also work without any inferential necessity and, then, it turns out to be logically different from the deductive dialectic taken into account by the Topics. 5 Including, of course, the topoi or machines faire des prmisses, in the words of J. Brunschwig (1967, Introduction, xxxix). The traditional hermenutics of Topics has paid attention to this and other aspects related to some sort of inventive logic. But let us leave these aspects aside, and focus on the isssues concerning the more specific case of argument from or throught the endoxa. 6 Into this scheme one may later introduce the appropriate details or variations, e.g. in natural philosophy, the additional explanation of the causes of the troubles and difficulties encountered (Phys. 211a1011); in practical philosohy, the selective consideration of those endoxa that are or seem to be respectable opinions in the standard sense (EE. 1214b2815a4), or that are held by experienced people (1094b2830, 1143b1114) or by a wise person who has investigated the matter at issue (e.g. Socrates view on incontinence, 1145b2131); in rhetoric, exclusive attention to those endoxa that represent or fit commonly accepted beliefs,



with no need to take critical steps (2) and (3) of the general scheme (see Most, 1994). Besides, the philosopher can use endoxa as premises that, however true, an opponent in a dialectical wrestling match might not concede (Top. 155b916) 7 I assume here the interpretation of enthymeme vindicated by Burnyeat (1994). Walton himself says that the conception of argument (and reasoning) in Aristotles Topics, Rhetoric, and Sophistical Refutations has a lot in common with his theory of plausible argument (1992: 194). He adds that Aristotles definition of reasoning (in Topics, 100a2526) is narrow as restricted to deductive reasoning, ruling out the possibility of plausible reasoning. But Walton does not take into account either the omission of necessarily as a modifier of inference in the notion more relaxed of syllogism/enthymeme in Rh. 1356b1518, nor other peculiarities of rhetorical argumentation from likehood and signs; for discussion and references, see Wrner (1982: 8285), Burnyeat (1994: 1521, 2430, 3539). 8 Cf. e.g., for discussion and references, Weil, 1975: 97; Evans, 1977: 7785; Barnes 1980: 498502; Bolton, 1990: 203213; Brunschwig, 1990: 245252; Devereux, 1990: 266267; Reves, 1992: 3437, 5056; Most, 1994, passim. The issue is still open to debate. 9 The express formulation and regulation of propositional attitudes of discoursive agents go back, at the most, as far as the medieval treatises on the so-called Obligationes. 10 Two examples of these interpretations, the one that admits internal conflicts between endoxa and the other more restrictive one, are respectively Bolton (1990) and Brunschwig (1990). 11 For just two representative authorities, see Barnes (1981), passim, and W. and M. Kneale, The Development of Logic. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1991 11th. impr., 33 ff. 12 Rescher (1976), in an attempt to see in the Topics a proto-theory of his concept of plausible reasoning, tries to find another way out by using a principle of consequence. This consists of modifying a famous rule of Theophrasus (the conclusion always follows the weakest part [conclusio semper sequitur peiorem partem]), in the sense that the plausibility of the conclusion, although it cannot be less than that of the least plausible premise, could easily be greater perhaps due to its similarity to the way a true conclusion could be derived from false premises. But, although some of Aristotles declarations might, in their vagueness, suggest something of the sort (e.g. 162a2123), it is a way out that is blocked in various passages of Topics (e.g. in 159b9 ff.). For another way of relating plausibility with inferential patterns and informal rules corresponding to traditional topoi or loci, beyond Aristotle, see Kienpointner (1992). 13 I specifically refer to Alexanders suggestion of extending to plausibility a principle of homogeneity defended by Aristotle in APr. 41b2731: it is clear also that in every deduction either both or one of the propositions must be like the conclusion. I mean not only in being affirmative or negative, but also in being necessary, simple or possible. The other kinds of predication must also be examined. This principle is not valid for the true/false pair: a true conclusion may follow from false premisses. Neither does it apply to the pair plausible/implausible, due to the second case considered by Aristotle and to the existence of arguments like the one called most incisive by him arguments which, in a certain discoursive framework, conclude against the most plausible from the most plausible, see below.

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