What I mean is that presumably a topic such as logic would have, at this point, been so advanced that the ancestral works are unnecessary.

I would read it for pleasure, but have they been ultimately rendered obsolete?

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    "Historical" has a very broad reach in philosophy. In science when things are reformatted one can mostly get by with the latest version. But if you want to understand the modern philosophical debates about logic, mathematics, etc., you should at least be familiar with Aristotle's syllogistic, semantics and modal ideas. Perhaps secondary literature allows accomplishing it faster than reading the source, but skipping it is not really viable. – Conifold Oct 16 at 0:26
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    It's a bit hard to answer the question as worded, because there appears to be an assumption that Aristotle's logic is a monolithic entity. Are there parts of Aristotle's logic that have been largely surpassed or replaced by easier to understand bits of the same thing? yes. Are there parts of Aristotle's logic where his understanding seems outright confused? yes (with respect to for instance a problem with the use of necessity and possibility in the ship battle). Are there parts where it's one active solution among many? yes. – virmaior Oct 16 at 1:27
  • There are probably many textbooks about logic available that are easier to understand. Not sure if you mean that? – Trilarion Oct 16 at 9:00
  • @PeterJ: You should leave that as an answer, not a comment. Comments don't have the quality assurance mechanisms that answers do. – V2Blast Oct 16 at 22:31
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    @V2Blast - My comment is not here so I don't know what's going on. The quality assurance issue applies to all comments and not just mine. Was my comment deleted for some reason? . – PeterJ Oct 17 at 13:12
up vote 24 down vote accepted

Logic means something different now than what it once did. In classical philosophy one primary branch of philosophy investigated the cosmos, one investigated human life, and a third investigated the forms of reasoning used in the other two: physikē, ethikē, logikē (See Diog. Laert. for variants on this schema.)

When an older writer (or a modern classicist) refers to Aristotle's "Logic" they mean the entire Organon, the first five books of the Aristotelian corpus. These are, in effect, Aristotle's philosophy itself!

Now, since Frege (roughly) there has been an increasing trend to use "logic" to refer to something like predicate logic or propositional logic: in Aristotle this would correspond to his theory of the syllogism (which is summarized here and there but most extensive in the Analytics). Three thoughts:

  1. Yes, in a sense the syllogism is something like a primitive version of set theory so most people interested in math and philosophy aren't going to find Aristotle's syllogism-theory a huge revelation.

  2. However, it isn't the "inner content" of syllogistic inferences Aristotle focuses on - the actual focus is on how syllogisms relate to things that are not syllogisms, including the subjects and predicates they take as arguments, fields of knowledge where syllogistic deductions are valid, licit non-deductive arguments, and illicit deductive fallacies.

  3. All of this machinery is necessary to understand any of the larger issues of Aristotle's physics and ethics - including what subjects are "sciences" (i.e., use deductive inference) - and also the narrower problem of how to interpret difficult passages.

So the problem isn't really that if you don't understand syllogistic logic, you won't understand how to make a deductive inference; the problem is that if you don't understand how Aristotle's theory of the syllogism fits in with Aristotle's theory of the proposition, Aristotle's ontology, etc. (the "Logic") most of the rest of Aristotle will fly over your head. I've done it both ways and Aristotle definitely makes more sense after you've read the Organon.

(And the same goes for many later philosophers who liberally borrow Aristotle's terminology and assumptions even when they profess to be attacking him. See the essay "Aristotle as cuttlefish" for one of the funnier illustrations; historians of philosophical grammar [Itkonen, Padley] are particularly good at documenting this conceptual debt. So the same point applies even to say, Kant; a lot of the terminology and preoccupations will make no sense if you aren't familiar with Aristotle. In fact Kant is a particularly good example; "apodictic certainty" is difficult to define but easily understood once you understand that apodexein = "to demonstrate" [by syllogism], in Aristotle's sense.)

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    Appreciate the answer. It's what I thought, but there is always the fear of reading something for the sake of learning, when you're in fact absorbing inaccurate information, something very difficult to spot (usually) when you're ignorant of the subject. I presume a physicist would be able to swindle most folk into believing that the universe was comprised of sugar. – Sermo Oct 17 at 22:41
  • Yw. No, I wouldn't worry about that w/ his logic more than any other part of his work (obviously with any systematic philosophy, if you accept bad axioms or over-apply useful categories, you get nutty answers). — Now, one thing to keep an eye out for is if you kinda-sorta learned modern logic and then kinda-sort read Aristotle's syllogism, you'll start to conflate them and you'll need to go thru a textbook, do exercises to straighten it out. – guest1806 Oct 17 at 23:25
  • @Sermo It is best to approach Philosophy from a perspective of understanding rather than collection of information. This way reading "inaccurate information" becomes good exercise. – christo183 Nov 2 at 12:54

No, Aristotle's logic has not been rendered obsolete or disproved; "modern works still reference/use his logic frequently" (courtesy: V2Blast).

See, for example:

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    You could add -- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy – user23715 Oct 16 at 20:32
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    You should summarize/clarify what you mean when you reference those works (e.g. "modern works still reference/use his logic frequently"). – V2Blast Oct 16 at 22:33

Aristotle's Rhetoric was fun to read... it isn't long, and it offers a "classical" perspective on what makes a convincing (not just correct) argument. This was the work that introduced me to the notion of a slight, which, as it turns out, is a very powerful notion indeed.

  • Just noticed that you specified works on logic... – elliot svensson Oct 15 at 21:52
  • +1. The Rhet. is a logical text in the broad sense that it concerns argument and reasoning. It was the first Aristotelian text I read and I got a lot from it. Glad you made this contribution. Best - GT – Geoffrey Thomas Oct 17 at 12:07
  • The Rhetoric is the best single-source introduction to all the issues in the organon and is the best overall text on the distinction between demonstration and persuasion (i.e. b/w science and art). But it also covers a lot of other really interesting topics so it would be easy to get distracted from the logic! – guest1806 Oct 17 at 21:32

I would suggest that a study of Aristotle's dialectic logic is as vital as ever since it models how we think. Most serious mistakes in metaphysics are a consequence of abusing Aristotle's rules and it happens a lot. I would go so far as to say that it is a failure to study the dialectic that causes most logical problems in metaphysics.

The consequences of failing to grasp the rules of the dialectic can be seen all over the place. It causes intractable antinomies and leads to desperate ideas like logical positivism and dialethism.

So I'd say a study of the dialectic and Aristotle's rules would be crucial to any real grasp of philosophy. An ill-considered view of dialectic contradictions leads to the idea that metaphysical questions are not just undecidable but intractable, a view held by most scholastic philosophers.

I can speak from experience. I spent five years thinking that Buddhist metaphysics was a violation of classical logic and was only able to correct this view after reading a book I now regularly recommend, which is Aristotle's De Interpretatione: Contradiction and Dialectic by CWA Whittaker.

But there is a lot of Aristotle that is not important so while his dialectic method deserves careful study this need not amount to much work.

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