By RJ Snell, September 28, 2010 in Pedagogy and Teaching, What is Education?
Both demonstration and dialectic use deduction, but the ability to use deduction requires skill – a skill obtained or whetted in the game of intellectual training. This game does not seek truth, merely attempting to build the skill necessary for demonstration: the ability to reason well. Topics VIII.6 claims that the partner in a game of dialectic who loses, who is brought to inconsistency, is not to blame so long as they reasoned well and recognized the consequences of what they were admitting. The loss is entirely the fault of the flawed thesis, so long as the dialectician was consistent and aware of consequences. Why this caveat by Aristotle? Why is it not the fault of the dialectician so long as they are aware of the consequences of admitting to a question? It seems that the answer must rest in the nature of the activity: intellectual training. The one who is aware of the implications of the admission has some understanding of what will result, and has an understanding of the connection between premises (this admission) and conclusion, i.e., they begin to see the middle term. If I admit that A is B, and realize in advance that B is C, and C is the contrary to my original thesis I have gained the benefit of dialectic as a game, and have played the game well, i.e., without a contentious spirit. The dialectician who cannot see such consequences will still lose the thesis but it cannot be said that they have gained any understanding. In dialectic there are probably many such embarrassments; unable to see implications the novice loses countless debates until finally having an insight connecting the question to its implications. This insight may occur when a previously debated topic is raised, or when a certain similarity in arguments is grasped, or perhaps only in relation to a simple problem, but once the insight is grasped a small step is taken. Therefore, we may say that “the heart of the responder’s art, then, is the ability to foresee the consequences of propositions put to him.” This need not be limited to the respondent, for the questioner must also grasp these connections or else ask pointless questions.
What is the great advance that the game brings to the dialectician? If seeing implications means only better results at debate we must say little benefit, but if the implications are the ability to see the middle term we must say a great gain. To see the implication of an argument is to see the middle term, for to see that in admitting that A is B, C will necessarily result is to see that B is C. This is the beginning of proficiency in deduction. This talent is important as the ability to see a middle allows explanation, as the middle term provides the explanation for why A is C, and also shows the necessity of A being C, and explanation and necessity are attributes of demonstration. Further, the middle term is not simply the logical connection of terms but also “. . . ontological, as the real ground of the subject exhibiting the predicate.” In other words, finding the middle is the beginning of understanding the reason why, understanding the cause, as Posterior Analytics I.34 makes clear.