Prior Analytics

The Prior Analytics (Greek: Ἀναλυτικὰ Πρότερα; Latin: Analytica Priora) is a work by Aristotle on deductive reasoning, known as his syllogistic, composed around 350 BCE.[1] Being one of the six extant Aristotelian writings on logic and scientific method, it is part of what later Peripatetics called the Organon. Modern work on Aristotle's logic builds on the tradition started in 1951 with the establishment by Jan Łukasiewicz of a revolutionary paradigm. His approach was replaced in the early 1970s in a series of papers by John Corcoran and Timothy Smiley[2]—which inform modern translations of Prior Analytics by Robin Smith in 1989 and Gisela Striker in 2009.[3]

Aristotle Prior Analytics in Latin, 1290 circa, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Florence
Page from a 13th/14th-century Latin transcript of Aristotle's Opera Logica.

The term analytics comes from the Greek words analytos (ἀναλυτός, 'solvable') and analyo (ἀναλύω, 'to solve', literally 'to loose'). However, in Aristotle's corpus, there are distinguishable differences in the meaning of ἀναλύω and its cognates. There is also the possibility that Aristotle may have borrowed his use of the word "analysis" from his teacher Plato. On the other hand, the meaning that best fits the Analytics is one derived from the study of Geometry and this meaning is very close to what Aristotle calls episteme (επιστήμη), knowing the reasoned facts. Therefore, Analysis is the process of finding the reasoned facts.[4]

Aristotle's Prior Analytics represents the first time in history when Logic is scientifically investigated. On those grounds alone, Aristotle could be considered the Father of Logic for as he himself says in Sophistical Refutations, "When it comes to this subject, it is not the case that part had been worked out before in advance and part had not; instead, nothing existed at all."[5]

A problem in meaning arises in the study of Prior Analytics for the word syllogism as used by Aristotle in general does not carry the same narrow connotation as it does at present; Aristotle defines this term in a way that would apply to a wide range of valid arguments. Some scholars prefer to use the word "deduction" instead as the meaning given by Aristotle to the Greek word syllogismos (συλλογισμός). At present, syllogism is used exclusively as the method used to reach a conclusion which is really the narrow sense in which it is used in the Prior Analytics dealing as it does with a much narrower class of arguments closely resembling the "syllogisms" of traditional logic texts: two premises followed by a conclusion each of which is a categorical sentence containing all together three terms, two extremes which appear in the conclusion and one middle term which appears in both premises but not in the conclusion. In the Analytics then, Prior Analytics is the first theoretical part dealing with the science of deduction and the Posterior Analytics is the second demonstratively practical part. Prior Analytics gives an account of deductions in general narrowed down to three basic syllogisms while Posterior Analytics deals with demonstration.[6]

In the Prior Analytics, Aristotle defines syllogism as "a deduction in a discourse in which, certain things being supposed, something different from the things supposed results of necessity because these things are so." In modern times, this definition has led to a debate as to how the word "syllogism" should be interpreted. Scholars Jan Lukasiewicz, Józef Maria Bocheński and Günther Patzig have sided with the Protasis-Apodosis dichotomy while John Corcoran prefers to consider a syllogism as simply a deduction.[7]

In the third century AD, Alexander of Aphrodisias's commentary on the Prior Analytics is the oldest extant and one of the best of the ancient tradition and is available in the English language.[8]

In the sixth century, Boethius composed the first known Latin translation of the Prior Analytics. No Westerner between Boethius and Bernard of Utrecht is known to have read the Prior Analytics.[9] The so-called Anonymus Aurelianensis III from the second half of the twelfth century is the first extant Latin commentary, or rather fragment of a commentary.[10]