Aristotle on Logical Consequence

Compare two conceptions of validity: under an example of a modal conception, an argument is valid just in case it is impossible for the premises to be true and the conclusion false; under an example of a topic-neutral conception, an argument is valid just in case there are no arguments of the same logical form with true premises and a false conclusion. This taxonomy of positions suggests a project in the philosophy of logic: the reductive analysis of the modal conception of logical consequence to the topic-neutral conception. Such a project would dispel the alleged obscurity of the notion of necessity employed in the modal conception in favour of the clarity of an account of logical consequence given in terms of tractable notions of logical form, universal generalization and truth simpliciter. In a series of publications, John Etchemendy has characterized the model-theoretic definition of logical consequence as truth preservation in all models as intended to provide just such an analysis. In this paper, I will argue that Aristotle intends to provide an account of a modal conception of logical consequence in topic-neutral terms and so is engaged in a project comparable to the one described above. That Aristotle would be engaged in this sort of project is controversial. Under the standard reading of the Prior Analytics, Aristotle does not and cannot provide an account of logical consequence. Rather, he must take the validity of the first figure syllogisms (such as the syllogism known by its medieval mnemonic ‘Barbara’: A belongs to all B; B belongs to all C; so A belongs to all C) as obvious and not needing justification; he then establishes the validity of the other syllogisms by showing that they stand in a suitable relation to the first figure syllogisms. I will argue that Aristotle does attempt to provide an account of logical consequence—namely, by appeal to certain mereological theorems. For example, he defends the status of Barbara as a syllogism by appeal to the transitivity of mereological containment. There are, as I will discuss, reasons to doubt the success of this account. But the attempt is not implausible given certain theses Aristotle holds in semantics, mereology and the theory of relations.
Keywords aristotle  logical consequence  syllogism
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