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An Essay on Syllogistic Logic and Petitio Principii

Introduction

What I believe John Stuart Mill has critiqued against falls under syllogistic logic, and

views it with the perspective of inductive logic, since he, himself, was a proponent of the latter.

Thus, considering that standpoint, I am in agreement with Mill that there is within syllogistic

logic a petitio principii.

The Drawback of Syllogistic Logic

Earlier systems of logic include syllogistic logic as its pioneering system that was

developed by Aristotle. According to Paul Tidman and Howard Kahane in their book, Logic and

Philosophy: A Modern Introduction (1999), this system is primarily concerned with categorical

propositions. Categorical propositions assert or deny relationships between terms or classes. 1

But these propositions are precisely what limit the system due to its having an assumption of

existential import, wherein such assumptions made in arguments do not necessarily have to exist

in real life. This indicates the question that Tidman and Kahane ask: How much of the

traditional logic just described is invalid if we do not make a blanket assumption of existential

import?2 Syllogistic logic, then, is a system that concerns itself only with the validity and form

of the argument instead of the existential truth of the content. As Ramakrishna Puligandla says in

his book, Fundamentals of Indian Philosophy (1975), the task of Western logic is exclusively

1 Paul Tidman and Howard Kahane, Logic and Philosophy: A Modern Introduction (Belmont, CA:
Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1999), 283.

2 Ibid., 293
the investigation of logical relations between various thought-forms regardless of their content. 3

This paves way for proponents of inductive logic, such as Mill, to critique against systems that

overlook the importance of the truth of the content found in reality.

Mill against Syllogistic Logic

Primarily, inductive logic, Tidman and Kahane say, is a system wherein The basic idea behind

inductive reasoning is that of learning from experience.4 Taking from the notion that syllogistic

logic disregards the content, whatever is within its propositions may not necessarily be true in

reality; hence, Mill states in his book, A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive (1843), no

reasoning from generals to particulars can, as such, prove anything, since from a general

principle we cannot infer any particulars, but those which the principle itself assumes as

known5. This simply means that, in the perspective of inductive logicians, for an argument to be

valid and sound, the premises still have to be verified in experience before asserting a

conclusion. The argument that Mill critiqued commits petitio principii because its assumed

premises (since it requires having assumptions in order for it to function according to its concern,

which are categorical propositions) still requires the clarification whether or not they truly are in

consonance with experiential reality.

3 Ramakrishna Puligandla, Fundamentals of Indian Philosophy (New Delhi: D.K. Printworld Ltd., 1975),
197.

4 Tidman and Kahane, Logic and Philosophy: A Modern Introduction, 5.

5 John Stuart Mill, A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive (London: Longmans, Green, and Co.,
1889), 120.
Bibliography

Mill, John Stuart. A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive. London: Longmans,

Green, and Co., 1889.

Puligandla, Ramakrishna, Fundamentals of Indian Philosophy. New Delhi: D.K.

Printworld, Ltd., 1975.

Tidman, Paul and Howard Kahane. Logic and Philosophy: A Modern Introduction.

Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1999.