Albertus Magnus and the Notion of Syllogistic Middle Term

The Thomist 54 (1):115-122 (1990)
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In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:ALBERTUS MAGNUS AND THE NOTION OF SYLLOGISTIC MIDDLE TERM J. M. HUBBARD College of St. Thomas St. Paul, Minnesota ABERT THE GREAT is recognized as one of the great scientific minds of the Middle A:ges, both for his commentaries on Aristotle's scientific works and for his own contributions to the study of nature. His contributions to the science of logic go largely unnoticed, however. This is probably due to the ascendency of the Summulae tradition in medieval logic a.bout the time of Albert's death, for the Summulae traidition is quite different from the one represented in his commentaries on the logical writings of Aristotle. I should like to remedy this a bit by looking at how he understands the concept of middle term in Aristotle's Prior Analytics. There are two points with which we can begin this study. First, Albert insists that Ar.istotle's remark that second and third figure syllogisms are imperfect when compared to those of the first figure does not mean that they somehow lack the necessity cha.racteristic of syHogisms of the first figure. On the contra;ry, all syllogisms, in whatever figure, conclude necessa,rily. This is what it is to be a syllogism. First figure syllogisms are perfect with respect to us, for in them the necessity of consequence, which is the very na;bure of the syllogism, is manifest to us in a way that it is not in syllogisms of the second and third figures. Hence, the marks perfect and imperfeot refer not to the syllogisms in themselves but to the syUogisms in relation to us.1 1 Albertus Magnus, Oommentares CYn the Prior Analytics, Bk. I, Tr. 1, Ch. 8, pp. 469-71. See also Tr. 1, Ch. 6, p. 467, and Tr. 1, Chs. 5 and 6. Page 115 116 J. M. HUBBARD Seoond, the notion of syllogism is coextensive with the notion of middle term, for the middle term is the root and cause of the necessity that characterizes the syllogism. This is why some other kinds of argument, induction and example for instance, are not syllogisms strictly speaking, but only in a loose and improper sense; they lack a true middle term.2 What is it, then, to be a middle term of a syllogism on Albert's reading of Aristotle? Is the middle term middle in some quantitative sense, then? Although Albert uses the expressions scope, breadth, contain, etc., he is quite explicit that the notions of figure and term are transferred " metaphorically " from quantity to properly logical considerations.8 For logic deails not with quantity and its relations, but with relations that exist between things as conceived by the mind, the most fundamental of which is the relation of predica.bility. To be predicable is to be sayable of many things, and although a predicable can be considered a whole in relation to the things of which it is said (its parts then), such talk is metaphorical and not literal. A predicable (whole) is sayable of many things but is not constituted by them. Dog, for instance, is sayable of Fido and Rover, but being a dog is not being Fido and Rover. A whole in the ordinary sense, on the other hand, is not sayable of its parts and is composed of them. One could not say that a wall is a house, but a house is composed, among other things, of a wall. The notions of figure and term, and therefore of middle term, are taken from the quantitative aspects of things and trans£erred to properly logical things. This being so, the notion of middle term cannot be reduced to something quantatative, spatial organization for example. From these remarks one can anticipate how Albert would respond to the suggestion that the middle term is the one that is middle in universality with respect to the other two. This references will be to Oommentaria in Prioru.m A.nalytiooru.m in Opera Omnia, ed. A. Borgnet (Paris: Vives, 1890), Vol. 1. 2 Bk. II, Tr. 7, Ch. 4, p. 794. a Bk. I, Tr. I, Ch. 2, pp. 460-61. ALBERTUS MAGNUS AND THE MIDDLE TERM 117 would...

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