Dialogue 21 (1):79-94 (1982)
AbstractThe last half-century has witnessed a resurgence of interest in Aristotle's Topics and his theory of dialectic—culminating in J. D. G. Evan's book about Aristotle's concept of dialectic; the decision to devote the entire Third Symposium Aristotelicum to the Topics; and the appearance of a small but steady stream of articles, several of which are now conveniently bound together in the first volume of Articles on Aristotle, edited by Barnes, Schofield, and Sorabji. These studies provide two somewhat incompatible views of Aristotle's dialectic. On the one hand, it is argued that dialectic—as a method parallel but inferior to demonstration—was superseded by the discovery of the scientific method, or that dialectic—as a method of discussing first principles and of eliciting assent during debate—is at best a propadeutic to philosophic inquiry. These assessments are a consequence of the view that, what ever its strengths, dialectic can never transcend the level of opinion with which it begins, so as to achieve knowledge or certainty. At the other side of the spectrum are those who maintain that in addition t o having nonphilosophic uses, for Aristotle dialectical inquiry is often an integral part of philosophic investigation and, on occasion, its most important part. To some, dialectic's role in philosophic investigation is limited to the verification of definitions already discovered and to bringing an investigator to the threshold of discovering first principles, to others, dialectic's last stage comprises part of the philosophic discovery itself.
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