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CHAPTER V. *: MODE OF DISCUSSION. - Jeremy Bentham, The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 8 (Chrestomathia, Essays on Logic and Grammar, Tracts on Poor Laws, Tracts on Spanish Affairs) 
The Works of Jeremy Bentham, published under the Superintendence of his Executor, John Bowring (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1838-1843). In 11 vols. Volume 8.
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MODE OF DISCUSSION.
Aristotelian and Socratic Modes—their Difference.
To inform, to be informed, to persuade, to expose to aversion or contempt, under one or other of these heads may be comprised, it is supposed, the supposed good, the advantage, whatever it be, which, in the character of an object or end in view, a man can have on the occasion of his spontaneously joining in discourse.
In so far as to inform or be informed is the whole of the object in view, the seat of what passes is in the understanding,—in so far as persuasion or exposure are in view, it is in the affections;—the affections, which, when excited to a considerable degree of intensity, are termed the passions.†
Great are the eulogiums that have been passed upon the mode of disputation that bears the name of Socrates, compared with that of Aristotle.—What is the real merit, i. e. the real use of it?
Thus much all possible modes of argumentation, consequently these, among the rest, have in common, viz. from some proposition to which assent is given on both sides, an endeavour on the part of the comparatively active collocutor to draw from the comparatively passive collocutor an assent to a proposition, to which the assent of the active collocutor has already been attached, but to which the assent of the passive collocutor has not been, or, at least, is not by the active collocutor supposed to be as yet attached:—whether it be that the mind of the passive collocutor has not as yet taken its side, or that having taken its side, the side it has taken is the opposite side, attaching its dissent to the side to which the mind of the active collocutor has attached its assent,—its assent to that to which the mind of the active collocutor has attached its dissent.
In any form of argumentation this sort of opposition is, if not in actuality, at least, in probability, an essential feature,—from first to last, the existence of it is in contemplation,—from first to last, on the part of the active collocutor, the object and design of his discourse is, to exclude it, and if not, to drive it out, to prevent it from taking place.
For the production of this effect what are the means employed!—what are the means which the nature of the case furnishes? This will presently be visible.
On the part of the passive collocutor, the state of his mind with reference to that of the active collocutor, is, as far as can be collected from his discourse, either negative or neutral; for simplicity sake, suppose it, according to the customary supposition, negative. In this case the discourse, the discussion, is termed a controversy, a debate.
The debate is carried on either with or without the privity of a third person or third persons. According to the customary supposition, it is carried on, not only with the privity, but in the presence of, third persons in an indefinite number.
Of the forms employed by the Aristotelians in their disputations, the function or immediate object is, to designate the several propositions which it is proposed to exhibit to the other interlocutor, say the adversary, for the purpose of his attaching to them successively and respectively the sign of his assent or dissent, of his concession or negation.
The denomination given to the proposition for the purpose of the argument, is one by which the sort of relation which it bears, or is designed to bear, to the other propositions with which it is accompanied and connected, is indicated, or intended to be indicated.
When, in consequence, or in the course of debate, one of the two collocutors passes over to the opinion of the other, a sort of superiority is, by such transition, ascribed to the one with reference to and at the charge of the other;—ascribed to the one whose declared opinion remains fixed, at the charge of him in the state of whose opinion a change has been produced,—a sort of superiority, viz. in the scale of wisdom, or knowledge, or intelligence;—on the part of the superior, the existence of power—a source of enjoyment—is testified to exist: on the part of the inferior, weakness—a source of suffering.
In regard to power,—not only is power itself a source of enjoyment, but so likewise is the reputation of it, i. e. the state and condition of him who is reputed to possess it. So, on the other hand, in regard to weakness, not only is weakness itself a source of suffering, but so likewise, is the reputation of it.
When reputation is mentioned simply, i. e. without addition, it is understood to be reputation of something desirable, of something of which the tendency is to produce enjoyment to him who possesses it. When a debate takes place (a contest for superiority—for the reputation of superiority—a contest, whether avowed or not, not the less real) the side on which the superiority is understood to take place is the side of that one of the collocutors, to which side the other passes. The side on which the inferiority is understood to take place is the side of him, who, from his own side, passes over to the opposite one.
From this source any more than from any other, a man will not subject or expose himself to suffering in any shape but for the avoidance of some apparently greater suffering, or for the obtainment of some apparently more than equivalent enjoyment.
Rather than, as above, acknowledge inferiority, he would continue uttering discourse to any effect, or, if that would serve the purpose, have recourse to silence.
But by silence no such purpose can, on such an occasion, be served. On the contrary, the opposite effect is produced. It is only by action that superiority can be displayed or exercised;—by inaction, whether in the shape of silence or in any other, on any occasion on which action is necessary to the display of superiority, nothing but inferiority and weakness is displayed.
Remains in, and for the sole refuge, discourse. But what discourse? Discourse by which, in the debate in question, the reputation of superiority is capable of being obtained,—discourse by which the reputation—the imputation of inferiority, is capable of being avoided, is, by the supposition, not to be found. But all discourse not conducive to that desirable end is either irrelevant, i. e. unimportant or erroneous. Now, it is only by such discourse as is, at the same time, pertinent and correct, that, on the occasion of a debate, the imputation of weakness can be avoided.
In proportion, as in case of irrelevancy, the irrelevancy,—in the case of erroneousness, the erroneousness, is manifest and glaring, absurdity is the quality universally ascribed to the discourse,—absurdity is the character ascribed to the mind of him by whom it is uttered.
Of debate, in whatever form carried on, what, then, is the object of him, the course taken by him, by whom an active part is taken in it? Answer: So to shape his discourse, that, on return to it, the adversary shall, for the avoidance of a still more afflictive humiliation, submit to the humiliation of coming over to his side. But such will be the effect, if, in return to the discourse, whatever it be, which is uttered by the more active of the two debaters, the discourse uttered by the other is of such a nature as to be, in the eyes of all competent judges, either palpably irrelevant or palpably erroneous.
A case in which irrelevancy is carried to as high a pitch as possible, is that of nonsensicalness; for discourse which has, or propositions that have, not any meaning at all, cannot, with reference to any discourse that has a meaning, be relevant.
What does the Socratic method of disputation?
The Socratic method employs not any such determinate mode and figure as that which is employed by the Aristotelian, nor, in a word, any mode or figure, except in so far as the use of a modification of what the Grammarians call the imperative mood may be styled, as it is by the Rhetoricians, a figure.*
In the Aristotelian method the person by whom is borne the principal part in the debate advances himself the propositions that are brought forward.
Now, then, as to the difference between the Aristotelian method of disputation or debate and the Socratic.
What does the Aristotelian?
Answer: In bringing up his arguments, the object and endeavour of the active collocutor is, previously so to frame and marshal them, that, at the issue, the adversary shall not be able to express his dissent from the proposition, or string of propositions, advanced by him without advancing a proposition palpably erroneous or irrelevant.
In this view all the propositions which, for the reduction of the adversary to this unwelcome dilemma can be necessary are so framed, that while without error, as supposed dissent cannot in relation to the last link in the chain be expressed, without absurdity the expression either of dissent or assent (in which last case the proselytism is acknowledged) cannot be refused.†
The Disputative Branch of Aristotle’s Logic,—in what respects it failed.
In respect of miscarriage and success, the character and lot of the art of logic, as taught by Aristotle, may be considered as a sort of prototype of the art of alchemy, as taught by the searchers after the universal medicine, the universal solvent, and the philosopher’s stone. In both instances, in respect of the ultimate object, a complete failure was the result; but, in both instances, in the course, and in consesequence, of the inquiry, particular discoveries of no small use and importance were brought to light.
Of the art of logic, according to the profession made by the Aristotelians, the professed object was, the communication, in which was necessarily implied the attainment of knowledge, correct and complete knowledge; a perfect acquaintance with relation to everything knowable by human faculties: knowledge, and that not slight, superficial, and imperfect, but correct and complete, viz. such as it was in the nature of the instrument called demonstration to produce.
So much for profession; now for the result. For about two thousand years, little more or less, the precepts of this art have been before us; and the result is, that, of the whole amount of things knowable, there is not a single one concerning which the smallest particle of knowledge has been found obtainable by means of it.
On the contrary, the nature of it is now, or may now, be seen to be such, that, by means of it, of no one thing can any sort or degree of knowledge, at any time, by any possibility, be obtained.
Experience, Observation, Experiment, Reflection, or the results of each and of all together; these are the means, these are the instruments by which knowledge, such as is within the power of man, is picked up, put together, and treasured up, and of no one of these, in the whole mass of the Aristotelian logic, is so much as a syllable to be found.
The import of words,—in this short expression will, in truth, be found the subject, the only subject of it; in such or such a manner, the import of this or that word agrees or disagrees with the import of this or that other.
On this occasion—a notion, and that an erroneous one—a proposition, and that a false one—was all along involved: this is, that to each word was an import naturally inherent, that the connexion between the sign and the thing signified, was altogether the work of nature.
What is now pretty generally, and at the same time, pretty clearly, understood, is, that the connexion between a word and its import is altogether arbitrary, the result of tacit convention and long-continued usage; and, of the truth of this proposition, the short proof is the infinite diversity of languages,—the infinite multitude of signs by which, in the different languages, the same object has been found represented.
The case is, that so firmly connected by habit are the connexions between these signs, and the things which they have respectively been employed to signify and present to the mind, that, in Aristotle’s time, men had not learned sufficiently to distinguish them from one another; and of this inability, one consequence, and thereby one proof, was their aptitude, as often as they observed a word which, in its grammatical form, purported to be the name of a thing, (that form being the form that had been given to such words as were really, and in truth respectively, the names of things,) to infer the existence of a particular sort of real thing corresponding to that word, the observation not having been as yet made that the purposes of human converse could not, in any instance, have been attained, unless to such words as are names of real entities, a mixture, and that a large one, had been added of words which are but so many names of so many purely fictitious entities.
Of useful Instruction how much, and what has been obtained and obtainable from it?
Thus completely (it has been seen) has the disputative branch of this art, that which was regarded as the main and crowning branch, failed in the accomplishment of its promise.
But (besides that as hath been observed in and by the precedent and supposed subservient branches of the same system of instruction,—many, and very useful, helps to instruction, helps to the human mind in its labours in the field of art and science, and even in that of ordinary discourse and converse were afforded)—so it is, that neither has this part of the system, notwithstanding the completeness of its failure, so far as concerns its principal object, been altogether without its use.
Of this use, the following description may, perhaps, serve to convey a general, though antecedently to explanation, not, perhaps, a very determinate idea.
The use of the Aristotelian logic consists in the furnishing to discourse a certain form, whereby, if any two parties agree in the employment of it, it will, in relation to any topic of discourse at pleasure, all along be seen in what, if in any, particulars they agree, and in what, if in any, they disagree.
It operates, to borrow an image from Chemistry, as a sort of menstruum or agent, whereby the portion of discourse placed in it is decomposed, and that part, if any, in which they agree, is lodged in one place, that part, if any, in which they disagree in another place: such of this instrument has been found the effect.
Such as above, and in so far as the instrument has been employed, has been found to be the effect; but the means, the means by which this effect has been produced, what it may naturally be asked have they been?
The answer appears to be twofold.
1. This form being a received and acknowledged test of truth, shame keeps men of sense from refusing to subject their discourse to it.
2. It cannot serve but in proportion as the same ideas have been generally annexed to the same signs, but in so far as this, notorious shame keeps men from denying and questioning it.
[* ] The fragmentary sections which have been brought together in this chapter, were probably intended to be incorporated with the Dialectic portion of the work, see above, p. 218.—Ed.
[† ] See Table of springs of action, vol. i. p. 195.
[* ] Viz., Erotisis.
[† ] The MSS. end here with a note by the author: “Go on explaining the mechanism.”—Ed.