An enthymeme (Greek: ἐνθύμημα, enthumēma), is an informally stated syllogism (a three-part deductive argument) as used in oratorical debates, often relying on premises that are probably rather than certainly true, or relying on unstated assumptions that are omitted because they are already well-known or agreed upon.
Here is an example of an informal syllogism, an enthymeme:
- "Socrates is mortal because he's human."
- The complete formal syllogism would be the classic:
- All humans are mortal. (major premise - assumed)
- Socrates is human. (minor premise - stated)
- Therefore, Socrates is mortal. (conclusion - stated)
While syllogisms lay out all of their premises and conclusion explicitly, enthymemes keep at least one of the premises or conclusion unsaid. The assertions left unsaid are intended to be so obvious as to not need stating.
Advice is given freely because so much of it is worthless.
Here, there is an explicit premise that most advice is worthless. But an implicit premise is that all worthless things are given away freely.
Here is an example of a "a less-than-100% argument" stated by George Bernard Shaw:
- The reasonable man adapts himself to the world.
- The unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself.
- Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.
Here there is an unstated premise that progress comes about when a man tries to adapt the world to himself. While all the premises are true, it is arguable that a man is "unreasonable" because he is trying to change the world.
Maxim, or a less-than-100% argument
Klamer et al. argue that Aristotle also addressed enthymemes as maxims:
"Aristotle noted that most arguments take the form of an 'enthymeme' ('EN-thu-miem'), an incomplete or not-quite-air-tight syllogism. 'Free trade is good' or 'Taxes reduce output' are enthymemes, not-syllogistic arguments. The average French economist may find such arguments 45 percent true, whereas the average American economist may find them 80 percent true. Arguing an enthymeme is successful when the economist defends the 45 or 80 percent true as 'true enough.' Economics, like other sciences, works in approximations."
In “Aristotle’s Rhetoric,” Christof Rapp discusses how Aristotle distinguishes between the two arguments, probably premises (eikos) and signs (semeia), that enthymemes are taken from. Aristotle says that enthymemes are based on probabilities, or tekmēria (proofs or evidence, and signs). Most people make rhetorical arguments by taking from probable premises.
“Arguments by sign assert that two or more things are so closely related that the presence or absence of one indicates the presence or absence of the other.” In “Aristotle’s Reasoning,” three different types of sign arguments are shown. Type (i) and (iii) are always refutable, even if the premises are true-meaning they don’t include a valid deduction (sullogismos). Aristotle calls them asullogistos (non-deductive). Sign argument type (ii) can never be refuted if the premise is true. Sign (ii) is also called tekmērion (proof, evidence).
- Audi, R. (ed.), The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy - 2nd ed., pp. 257, 267. Cambridge University Press, 1999.
- Klamer, Arjo; McCloskey, Deirdre N. and Ziliak, Stephen (18 May 2007). "Is There Life after Samuelson's Economics? Changing the Textbooks". Post-Autistic Economics Review (Post-autistic Economics Network) (42): 2–7. Retrieved 2009-05-18.
- Aristotle's Rhetoric (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
- My Aphorisms - James Geary.
- Aristotle's Rhetoric: Different Types of Enthymemes (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
|Look up enthymeme in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Enthymeme.|
- Extensive bibliography of enthymeme in scholarly literature
- The enthymeme in modern speech
- Audio illustrations of enthymeme