Epictetus
Epictetus


Inferences

Indeed, if the premises continue to the end such as they were when they were granted, it is absolutely necessary for us to abide by what we have granted, and we must accept their consequences. But if the premises do not remain such as they were when they were granted, it is absolutely necessary for us also to withdraw from what we granted, and from accepting what does not follow from the words in which our concessions were made. The inference is not now our inference. It does not result with our assent, since we have withdrawn from the premises which we granted. We ought then to undertake to examine such premises, to examine the change and variation of them. By tracing the course of our discussion we may see the syllogistic conclusion, or how the premises may undergo variations, giving occasion to the foolish to be confounded if they do not see what changes are made. What can we do in order that we may not in such arguments be employed in an improper manner nor in a confused way?

Now Epictetus gets into "semantics", debate, and rhetoric. The nuts and bolts of it are this: when arguing a point regarding your beliefs, you should first never concede a point that is untrue. Yet should you concede a point that appears to be true, and the consequences of this seem completely false, then you must examine the whole discussion more closely. If the premises actually change in the course of a discussion this must be noted.

To Epictetus arguing with a Sophist was rather like playing a shell game with a carnival huckster. The huckster would hide the truth under a shell where it would be unsuspected; then offer up a falsehood under what appeared to be the true shell. He says we need not accept an inference simply because a premise seems true. For example, should a skeptic say that gravity is what causes the planets to revolve around the sun. We grant that this is true. The skeptic tells us, "Well, if gravity is what keeps the planets in their orbits, then it must not be God who does such massive work." In this logical "if/then" statement we grant the "if" part, but cannot accept the "then" part. Epictetus says, you don't have to grant your opponent's inferences - for they are only that, "his inferences". He also suggests that we always keep in mind our own premises. In this case, "There is a God". We might respond to our skeptical rhetorician, "Well, God did create gravity."

Chapter 7:

  1. On Sophistry
  2. The End Proposed in Reasoning (7a)
  3. Why Stoics Learn to Argue (7b)
  4. Granting Premises (7c)
  5. Inferences (7d)
  6. Wise Men Should Argue (7e)
  7. A Syllogistic Crime (7f)
Stoicism and Christianity Index

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This is a translation and explanation of the first book of the Discourses of Epictetus. His words are in regular text, comments are in bold.

Biographical Information on Epictetus


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