Parmenides’ tricky arguments show up several times in Aristotle’s book. For instance, the Philosopher says, don’t let anyone argue that, since some objects are like each other and different from everything else, they are all both the same and different. In another place, he surely has Plato’s dialog in mind when he declares that a thing that grows is not therefore both greater and shorter than itself. And thinking of Parmenides but anticipating an argument of Hegel as well, Aristotle explains that “What is-not” is not a thing just because we can say and think the phrase, and that Being is not nonexistent just because it is nonexistent in some respect.
It’s unclear to me whether Aristotle addressed Sophistical Refutations to students of logic, to what we might call debate competitors, or to budding lawyers. All of the above can use its advice, though, to combat specious arguments and to prepare defenses against the traps of sophists. But, even though Aristotle mainly seeks to train a defense against sophistry, he also has to teach the opponent’s methods, and in doing so, he presents the reader with an entertaining catalog of ancient tricks, riddles, and jokes.
One of the first examples involves what Aristotle calls a “fallacy of combination,” meaning a trick involving a phrase that can modify more than one word. His example essentially runs this way:
I saw the man being beaten with my own eyes.In his weekly e-newsletter World Wide Words, Michael Quinion often shares examples of published mistakes of this kind. (I had to edit that sentence to make sure I didn’t commit the error myself and make it sound as though Quinion made the mistakes himself.) Recent cases include these gems:
Really? How can a man be beaten with your eyes?
We are making a short 3 minute comedy/drama about God coming down to earth to enter into competitions and film festivals throughout the UK.
Woman Hit by Triathlon Cyclist in ComaFor syllogisms that involve a fallacy of Accident, Aristotle provides the following example:
This dog is mine.Finally, in a chapter on ambiguity, he offers the following humorous exchange:
This dog is a father.
Therefore, this dog is my father.
Which cow will calve afore?I have thought of one more potential audience for Aristotle’s instruction: writers of children’s magazines. Did you ever see a fish bowl? Did you ever see a man eating tiger?
Neither, both will calve behind.