Elementary, My Dear Theophrastus, Elementary

“Elementary, my dear Watson, elementary” summarizes Aristotle’s reasoning and rationalization of the natural world during his lifetime. In “On Natural Motions and the Existence of the Fifth Element” article, through careful examination and observation of natural elements, Aristotle was able to classify and categorize all “examinable things” into two main body types: simple or compounded, with each possessing its own description of appropriate natural motion. Once the element is assigned and defined, Aristotle examines the motion of the classified elements and inductively formulates premises with respect to these said elements. Once he has constructed his premises of these “examinable elements,” Aristotle applies deductive reasoning, in the form of a syllogism, to explain the “unexaminable elements” that he cannot readily observe with his magnifying glass, such as the celestial realm and the development of the human embryo.

Armed with these conclusions about natural motions, the existence of the fifth element, and the development of the human embryo; Aristotle presents his argument in his own classical framework. As with any other area of concentration for Aristotle, his argument form has three elements as well: a) establish credibility with your audience; b) appeal to their logic, and c) appeal to their emotions.

In order to establish credibility, Aristotle commences his arguments by presenting common-ground issues. Aristotle uses, “All natural bodies and magnitudes we hold to be … we say, is their principle of movement.” (“Motion” p19a). These natural motions would be observable by anyone and were already commonly agreed upon by most people during Aristotle’s time. “The Development of the Chick” p 23b, Aristotle starts off his argument by presenting common-ground knowledge: “Generation from the egg proceeds in an identical manner with all birds, but the full period from conception to birth differ… with larger birds the interval being longer, with smaller birds shorter.”

Once Aristotle establishes his credibility with his audience he uses syllogisms to appeal to the audience’s logic. The syllogisms draw his audience to the “reasonable” conclusion. For example, Aristotle states, “Supposing, then, that there is such a thing as simple movement, and circular movement is an instance of it, … simple movement is of a simple body… some simply body which revolves naturally … with a circular movement” (“Motion” p19a). By clearly stating his premises in a rigid syllogism, Aristotle attracts his audience to follow his logic in reaching the “reasonable conclusion.”

After establishing his credibility and appealing to the audience’s logic, Aristotle plays slightly on the audience’s emotions. Aristotle appeals to the audience’s religious beliefs, and ancestor knowledge, and utilizes ad hominem to dislodge any opposing views to his conclusions. One example of appeal to the audience’s religious beliefs. Aristotle states, “For all men have some conception of the nature of the gods…allotting the highest place to the deity…If then there is, as there certainly is, anything divine” (“Motions” pg 20) by formally admitting that there is a god, Aristotle strikes an emotional chore in the audience that he believes the same as they do about a higher deity. Aristotle also adds credibility, by advising the audience that their ancestors were right, which would be paying respect to your ancestors, by stating, “The common name … has been handed down from our distant ancestors … shows that they conceived of it in the fashion which we belong..” (“Motions” pg 20). Even with these plays on the audience’s emotions, Aristotle adds more fuel to the emotional fire by attacking opposite conclusions set forth by others. Aristotle states that the conclusions of the fifth element, by Anaxagoras, as an equivalent to fire are not only false but a “scandalous” misuse of the term aether.

With the good solid observation of the elements and precise argument form, it is understandable to see why Aristotle perceived the natural elements of his world in a simple but workable way. However, perceiving Aristotle in the light of a more recent fictional character, less the tweed cloak and smoking pipe of course, provides an insight into Aristotle’s methods of explaining “unexaminable” things of his natural world. By adding a bit of fiction with non-fiction, like any good historian, one might conclude, “All classifiable things are explainable; A non-examinable thing is a classifiable thing; Therefore, An non-examinable thing is explainable. … Elementary, my dear Theophrastus, Elementary.

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