The Development of Modus Ponens in Antiquity: From Aristotle to the 2nd Century AD

Phronesis 47 (4):359-394 (2002)
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Abstract
ABSTRACT: This paper traces the earliest development of the most basic principle of deduction, i.e. modus ponens (or Law of Detachment). ‘Aristotelian logic’, as it was taught from late antiquity until the 20th century, commonly included a short presentation of the argument forms modus (ponendo) ponens, modus (tollendo) tollens, modus ponendo tollens, and modus tollendo ponens. In late antiquity, arguments of these forms were generally classified as ‘hypothetical syllogisms’. However, Aristotle did not discuss such arguments, nor did he call any arguments ‘hypothetical syllogisms’. The Stoic indemonstrables resemble the modus ponens/tollens arguments. But the Stoics never called them ‘hypothetical syllogisms’; nor did they describe them as ponendo ponens, etc. The tradition of the four argument forms and the classification of the arguments as hypothetical syllogisms hence need some explaining. In this paper, I offer some explanations by tracing the development of certain elements of Aristotle’s logic via the early Peripatetics to the logic of later antiquity. I consider the questions: How did the four argument forms arise? Why were there four of them? Why were arguments of these forms called ‘hypothetical syllogisms’? On what grounds were they considered valid? I argue that such arguments were neither part of Aristotle’s dialectic, nor simply the result of an adoption of elements of Stoic logic, but the outcome of a long, gradual development that begins with Aristotle’s logic as preserved in his Topics and Prior Analytics; and that, as a result, we have a Peripatetic logic of hypothetical inferences which is a far cry both from Stoic logic and from classical propositional logic, but which sports a number of interesting characteristics, some of which bear a cunning resemblance to some 20th century theories.
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First archival date: 2012-11-21
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