In "The Art of Rhetoric" Chapter 1.7, Aristotle presents a list of conditions determining which good out of two goods is the more expedient.

  • If, of two things, one is an end and the other is not, the one that is an end is a greater good, because it is chosen for its own sake, whereas the other is chosen for the sake of something else, as exercise is chosen for the sake of physical fitness.


  • If A is a beginning and B is not, then A is the greater good, and if A is a cause and B is not, then A is the greater good. The principle is the same in both cases: it is impossible for anything to exist or to come into existence without a cause and a beginning.

The way I currently understand this, this is a clear contradiction. In one instance the thing which is the "end" is considered the greater good, and in another the thing which is considered the "beginning".

For example, is "exercise" not the "beginning" of "physical fitness"?


  • Anything scarcer is a greater good than anything abundant, as gold is a greater good than iron, despite being less useful. The possession of gold is a greater good because it is harder to come by.
  • In another sense, however, anything abundant is a greater good than anything scarce, since the use of the former exceeds that of the latter, in so far as 'often' exceeds 'seldom'. Hence the saying that 'Water is best.'

How should I understand these contradictions? They are clearly recognized by Aristotle. But, doesn't it undermine the attempt at determining the "greater good"?

  • You are not using the term contradiction correctly. You are using slang. For Aristotle contradiction has an absolute meaning & one meaning only. You do not seem to be aware of this perhaps. It seems to me you think both possibilities are impossible. You would need to show why that is. Can both possibilities be true simultaneously? Can both possibilities be false simultaneously? A contradiction is a case where both possibilities cannot be true & ALSO cannot be false simultaneously. That is, if one possibility is true the other MUST be false necessarily. I do not see that for here. Show us this.
    – Logikal
    Sep 5, 2021 at 16:40
  • "You do not seem to be aware of this perhaps." Correct, as far as I have read, I have not yet ran into an introduction of "contradiction" by Aristotle; I was using the more colloquial meaning, corresponding to the question "Can both possibilities be true simultaneously?" which my current understanding intuits the response to is "No." Sep 6, 2021 at 8:16
  • If these comparisons are intended to be understood as universals, to me, they are obvious contradictions, adopting the definition you just gave. "Exercise" cannot always be a greater good than "physical fitness" while at the same time stating "physical fitness" is always a greater good than "exercise". Hence, I presume they are not intended as universals (perhaps indicated by language such as "In another sense"). I suppose this is what I would like to see elaborated. If not universals, how are they supposed to be understood? Sep 6, 2021 at 8:23
  • There can a possibility that both propositions are false eventhough it is Aristotle. If something like x is not always true then x is sometimes true & sometimes false. Some is a particular quantifier that expresses there is at least one or more x. It is not a universal quantifier. Always here seem to Express ALL but we have a NOT ALWAYS in the text which means NOT ALL. There is no NOT ALL quantifier allowed if you study deductive reasoning. So that means SOME x or SOME x are not . . .. There seems to be a hierarchy between the propositions. One is more important.
    – Logikal
    Sep 6, 2021 at 12:24
  • Just to be clear, the proper definition of the term contradiction comes from Aristotle's SQUARE OF OPPOSITION. You can look that up & see it is exactly as I stated. There are several relationships shown on that square: contradictory, contrary, sub contrary, sub alternation, super alternation. These concepts are each distinct from the others. So if two propositions are impossible to both be true there is an INCONSISTENCY but in some cases we may not know which kind without additional details. Contraries as well as contradictories cannot both be true simultaneously for instance.
    – Logikal
    Sep 6, 2021 at 13:14


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