John Milton description of Method

John Milton
Art of Logic
Book II, Chapter XVII

Image result for john miltonMETHOD is a dianoetic disposition of various homogeneous axioms arranged one before another according to the clarity of their nature, whence the agreement of all with relation to each other is judged and retained by the memory.

There is very great use of method in all life, therefore great glory is given to it. Plato in the Philebus says that it is "a gift divinely given to men." Aristotle also numbers "order among the greatest goods." Fabius writes: "They do not seem to me to err who think that the very nature of things stands in order, and that if order is lost everything will perish."

Method, then, is a disposition of various homogeneous axioms, that is, of those which pertain to the same thing, and are referred to the same end. If they were not homogeneous, they could not be mutually subordinate to each other, therefore could not be at all ordered. So method excludes arithmetic in geometry, and geometry in arithmetic as heterogeneous and alien. Axioms are to be arranged one before another according to the clarity of their nature, as they express arguments that are prior, better known, and clearer. It makes little difference whether prime arguments or arguments derived from primes precede, since both have the same affect.

So as truth or falsity is seen in the axiom, in the syllogism consequence and inconsequence, so in method care is taken that what is clearer in itself should precede, what is more obscure should follow; and in every way order and confusion are judged. Thus the first in absolute idea of the homogeneous axioms is disposed in the first place, the second in the second, the third in the third, and so on.

The prior as well as the posterior we speak of in five modes. First is that of time, as an old man is before a youth. Next is that of nature, as a cause is before an effect, a genus before a species. Then comes whatever is before in consecutiveness of existing, that is, what is given when something else is given, and which when it is given does not require that another be given, as unity in relation to something consisting of two; for sometimes where there is reciprocal consecutiveness a thing is before by nature which is simultaneous in time, as the sun in relation to its light. That which is before by nature is also spoken of in two ways; a thing may be before in production, as the parts are before the whole, the simple before the composite, the means before the end; or it may be before in intend on, as the whole is before the parts, the compound before the simple, the end before the means. Fourth, anything is prior in disposition or place which is nearer the beginning, as in speaking narration is before confirmation, or something may be before in dignity, as the magistrate to the citizen, gold  to silver, virtue to gold. Finally, a thing is prior in cognition which is easier to grasp, either in itself or in us—in itself because it is before by nature, in us because it is later and presented to the senses; the first is more perfect cognition, the second less perfect.

So method continually progresses from universals, as those which contain causes, to particulars. Indeed from antecedents in every way and absolutely more known one must proceed to unknown consequents.

Thence it is to be understood that here is treated the method of presenting or teaching, which is properly called analytic, not the method of inventing. For the method of inventing which by Plato is called synthetic proceeds from single things which are before in time and first offer themselves to the senses; by induction from these general notions are collected; but the method of teaching or of disposing what have been invented and judged is the subject of this section. A contrary way, as Aristotle (Metaphysics i. i and 2) teaches, proceeds from universals, which by nature are before and better known; not since they are known first or more easily, but because after they are known they have precedence by the nature and clarity of the notion in proportion as they are more remote from the senses. Thus the general species of things (as the opticians also teach) strike the senses more quickly than particulars, as when something is coming I judge it is an animal before I judge it is a man, and a man before Socrates. Aristotle in many passages teaches this as the only method. 

But the examples of sciences and arts especially demonstrate and especially defend unity of method. 

In these all rules should be general and universal, yet their grades arc distinguished, and in proportion as any one is more general it will the more take precedence. 

The most general will be first in place and order, since it is first in light and knowledge. 

The subaltern follow, since they are next in clarity; and of these the ones better known by nature are put first and the less known are ranged beneath. 

Last are put the most restricted.

So definition as the most general will be the first, because it contains the causes; the consectaries will be subjoined to the definition; or distribution will follow the explications of the proprieties, if there are some and they are not clear of themselves from the definition. 

If this is multiplex, partition into integral parts will precede, and division into species will follow. On the other hand, the parts themselves and the species are to be treated and defined in the same order in which they have been distributed. 

And if a rather long explication intervenes between these, they are to be joined together by bands of transition, for this restores and refreshes the hearer. 

A transition is either perfect or imperfect. One is perfect which briefly shows both what has been said and what follows, as does the beginning of this second book: "Up to this point has been treated the first part of the art of logic" etc. An imperfect transition is that which shows in some other way merely what has been said or what follows, such as that at the beginning of book i, chapter : "Simple arguments are as I have said" etc. 

Grammar may be taken as an example. Its definition, since that is the most general rule of an art, according to the law of method should be determined in the first place; to wit, it is the art of using words correctly; in the second place will be the partition of grammar into etymology and syntax; then etymology, which deals with words, should be defined; then should follow the parts of a word in letters and syllables, and species in words with number and without number, and the transitions of the terminations should be collected in their places; and thus also the definitions of all the parts of etymology, the distributions, the connections, and finally the most special examples in single instances will be arranged; and in syntax the same thing will be done. All the arts have set for themselves this course. 

The moderns indeed set up a double method, the synthetic and analytic, as more fit for teaching the theoretical sciences, for example physics or mathematics; by this method parts of the science are so disposed that there is progress from the universal subject of contemplation to particulars, from the simple to the composite. Thus physics sets out from the definition of a natural body; then there is progress toward its causes or parts and general doings and then to the species. They define the analytic method as that by which the parts of a practical science are so disposed that from the notion of the end progress is made toward the notion of beginnings or means, for the sake of understanding that end; thus in ethics progress is from the end, to wit, beatitude, to the means, namely, the virtues. But since both of these methods proceed in one and the same way, that is, from a very general definition—whether that contains a subject or a general end—to a less general, from the more known to the less known, from the simple to the composite by dividing equally on both sides, it does not seem that on account of a diverse mention in the general definition, there of the subject, here of the end, a double method is constituted, but rather that the method of teaching the arts is to be called one and that analytic. 

Method is also applied not merely to the material of the arts and doctrines, but to all things which we wish to teach easily and perspicuously. 

Therefore the poets, orators, and all writers of every sort, as often as they set out to teach an auditor, wish to follow this course, though they do not always move in it and insist on it. 

Thus in the Georgics Vergil distributes the matter before him into four parts, as was said above; in the first book he deals with general matters, as astrology, and meteorology, and discusses cornfields and the cultivation of them, which was the first part of the work; then at the beginning of the second book a transition is used: 

Thus far of tillage, etc. 

Then he writes generally on trees, next specially on vines. So in the entire work he endeavors to put first the most general, in the middle the subaltern, and the most special in the last place. 

In the Fasti Ovid also uses the advantages of this disposition. At the beginning he sets forth the sum of his work: 

I'll sing of times that pass throughout the year, etc.

Having made his invocation, he next lays down the division of the year. Then having interpreted the common differences between holiday and working day, etc., he goes through each month in its place, and in his preface indicates his liking for this order from general to special: 

I say these things for the whole calendar But once, not to break of? my further course. 

Orators in the introduction, narration, confirmation, and peroration affect this order, and call it the order of art and nature and fact, and commonly follow it closely. 

In his In Verrem Cicero does this, first in laying down, then in distributing; he writes: "Thou hast been quaestor this fourteen years since Cnaeus Papyrius was consul, and I accuse thee of all things which thou hast done from that day to this" etc. Here is the proposition with the definition of the chief matter, as the most general thing in this judgment. The partition follows: "All these years, etc. And therefore into these four parts my whole accusation shall be parted." These four parts and the small parts of these parts he then treats, each in its order and place, and binds together with transitions, the first three in the third book, and so on. 

This then will be the method in diverse homogeneous axioms known either by their own judgment or by that of the syllogism, as often as a thing is to be clearly taught. But when the auditor is to be allured with pleasure or some stronger impulse by an orator or a poet—for they commonly ma\e that their chief concern—a crypsis of method will usually be employed; some homogeneous axioms will be rejected, as the lights of definitions, partitions, and transitions. certain heterogeneous axioms will be taken up, as digressions from the fact and lingerings on the fact. And especially the order of things will be inverted. 

But their own doctrine of method is to be turned over to the orators and poets, or at least to those who teach oratory and poetics.

Translation by Allan H. Gilbert

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