Source: p 264, A Concise Introduction to Logic (12 Ed, 2014), by Patrick J. Hurley

Each of the three terms in a categorical syllogism has its own name depending on its position in the argument. The major term, by definition, is the predicate of the conclusion, and the minor term is the subject of the conclusion.

  1. What is 'major'/'minor' about the major term/minor term?
  2. How is 'the predicate of the conclusion' more major or less minor than 'the subject of the conclusion'?

I already tried to research of the etymologies of 'major' and 'minor' on OED, and the definitions of their etymons in Latin.

major (adj.)
In use in Logic (see sense B. 1) after post-classical Latin major (from a1225 in British sources, in Grosseteste, Bacon, Ockham, Wyclif, etc.) and Middle French majour (c1354), Middle French, French majeure (from the 14th cent.).

mājor = māior = 'greater, larger'

minor (adj.)
With use as noun in logic denoting a minor premiss (see sense B. 2) compare post-classical Latin minor (feminine, from 13th cent. in British sources), Middle French mineur (feminine, 1373; French mineure, contrasted with mineur (masculine) denoting a minor term).

minor = 'lesser, inferior, smaller'

Source: p 22, With Good Reason, An Introduction to Informal Fallacies (6 ed, 2000) by Prof. S. Morris Engel PhD (Toronto)

Arguments of this type may lack either the statement of the general principle (called in logic the [M]ajor [P]remise), explicit reference to the case in question (the [M]inor [P]remise), or the inference (the conclusion).


See Aristotle's Logic and Medieval Theories of the Syllogism :

In the Prior Analytics, Aristotle presents the first system of logic, the theory of the syllogism . A syllogism is a deduction consisting of three sentences: two premises and a conclusion. Syllogistic sentences are categorical sentences involving a subject and a predicate connected by a copula (verb).

The subject and predicate in the categorical sentences used in a syllogism are called terms (horoi) by Aristotle. There are three terms in a syllogism: a major, a minor, and a middle term. The major and the minor are called the extremes (akra), i.e., the major extreme (meizon akron) and the minor extreme (elatton akron), and they form the predicate and the subject of the conclusion. The middle (meson) term is what joins the two premises.

Thus, the original technical Aristotelian names has been translated into Medieval Latin and the "current" terminology is of Latin origin.

Consider a simple example of Aristotelian syllogism :

Mortality belongs to all men

Humanity belongs to all Greeks

Therefore, Mortality belongs to all Greeks.

It is an instance of the Barbara schema (1st figure), where all sentences are universal affirmatives :

A belongs to all B.

Thus "Humanity (men)" is the middle term, used as subject in the first premise and as predicate in the second. The middle term is what joins the two premises, acting as a sort of "link", and disappears in the conclusion.

The name of meson ("middle") term is thus quite intuitive.

See Prior Analytics, 25b32-26a2 :

I call that term middle which both is itself in another and contains another in itself: in position also this comes in the middle. By extremes I mean both that term which is itself in another and that in which another is contained.

The other two are the akra ("extremes"); also this is quite natural.

The first extreme is the "major" (meizon akron) and the last one is the "minor" (elatton akron).

See Prior Analytics, 26a16-26a30 :

I call that term the major in which the middle is contained and that term the minor which comes under the middle.

In terms of "modern" set-theoretic interpretation (see Venn diagram and Venn Diagrams for Categorical Syllogisms), the set corresponding to the minor term is included into that corresponding to the middle, which in turn is included into that corresponding to the major term.

In terms of aristotelian language, the major term is is "more universal" than the middle, which in turn is "more universal" than the minor:

[Pr.An., Book A, 46a39] In demonstrations, when there is a need to deduce that something belongs, the middle term through which the deduction is formed must always be inferior to and not comprehend the first of the extremes.

  • Thank you, but I cannot see the answer to my question in the quote above, which only redirect my questions to Aristotle's motivations: What did Aristotle find 'major' in 'major term'? What did Aristotle find 'minor' in 'minor term'?
    – NNOX Apps
    Dec 26 '15 at 15:10
  • Sorry, no. I have not read Aristotle's works entirely; I am using this Logic textbook for now. Does Aristotle explain this himself in his book? If so, please tell me which pages and I will read them myself.
    – NNOX Apps
    Dec 26 '15 at 15:15
  • Thank you again. I understand the need to read the original texts. Sorry to bother you again, but will you please explain further the etymology behind The first extreme is the "major" (meizon akron) and the last one is the "minor" (elatton akron)? I still do not see what is 'major' or 'minor' about the Major and Minor Terms.
    – NNOX Apps
    Dec 28 '15 at 19:49
  • Also, I ask only about the Major and Minor Terms; I do understand the etymology behind 'Middle Term' and so no need to say anything more about it.
    – NNOX Apps
    Dec 28 '15 at 19:50

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