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Aristotle's Use of Examples in the Prior Analytics

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This paper examines the relevance and importance of the large number of examples which Aristotle uses in his Prior Analytics. In the first part of the paper three preliminary issues are raised: First, it investigates what counts as an example in Aristotle's syllogistic, and especially whether only examples expressed in concrete terms should be considered as examples or maybe also propositions and arguments with letters of the alphabet. The second issue concerns the kinds of examples Aristotle actually uses from everyday life as well as from various scientific and philosophical forms of discourse; among these, it seems that biological examples, rather than mathematical ones, have a predominant place. Finally, I discuss what Aristotle himself has to say about the use of examples, and in particular about the similarity between the use of an example and the use of induction. The second part of the paper focusses on the functions of Aristotle's logical examples. It is of course obvious that some of the examples in the Prior Analytics are used to illustrate, and thus to clarify, a definition, a logical rule, a type of argument. However, I think that Aristotle's logical examples have another function, which is philosophically more interesting, namely as integral parts of the procedure of proving something. To support this claim, I analyse three passages from the Prior Analytics in which examples are used either in order to prove that something is not the case, i.e. as counter-examples, or in order to prove positively that it is possible for something to be the case. At the end, I argue that for such uses of examples Aristotle uses the notion of 'ekthesis', which seems to have a wider sense than usually suggested; that is to say, it is used to refer to any proof by means of an example, and not only for the procedure which Aristotle uses to reduce imperfect to perfect syllogisms.


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