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Francis Garden - 1878 - Table of contents

Diccionario filosófico
Complete edition

Diccionario de Filosofía
Brief definition of the most important concepts of philosophy.


A Dictionary of English Philosophical Terms Francis Garden

Vocabulary of Philosophy, Psychological, Ethical, Metaphysical
William Fleming

Biografías y semblanzas Biographical references and lives of philosophers

Brief introduction to the thought of Ortega y Gasset

History of Philosophy Summaries

Historia de la Filosofía
Explanation of the thought of the great philosophers; summaries, exercises...

Historia de la Filosofía
Digital edition of the History of Philosophy by Jaime Balmes

Historia de la Filosofía
Digital edition of the History of Philosophy by Zeferino González

Vidas, opiniones y sentencias de los filósofos más ilustres
Complete digital edition of the work of Diogenes Laertius

Compendio de las vidas de los filósofos antiguos

A brief history of Greek Philosophy
B. C. Burt


A Short History of Philosophy





Topic. This word as frequently used, nowadays, denotes the whole subject of discourse, a meaning flowing out of, but not altogether identical with, its proper sense. With Aristotle, in the eight books of Topics, and in the treatise on Rhetoric, the term τόπος means a locus communis, a common-place, and is the original of these titles.


 A topic is thus identical with a maxim, although some of the schoolmen drew a distinction between the two, denoting by the topic or commonplace the head of thought to which the maxim belongs. For example, testimonium is the locus to which the dictum semper cuilibet in arte sua credendum est is to be referred, and the Port Royalists and Dr. Watts adhere to this distinction. It is not, however, Aristotelian. The titles τόπος and locus indicate, as Cicero observes, that a general or received maxim is a seat of argument in which the disputant may find the weapon which he wants.

As arguments from places must scarcely ever be more than probable, inasmuch as the place itself is but a received dictum,(1) the adjective topical has been used by some writers as almost synonymous with probable. "That," such will be found saying, "is no more than a topical argument."

The uselessness of studying topics has been enlarged on by the Port Royal logicians and by Dr. Watts, and if our aim be scientific inquiry, or accurate and truthful reasoning, useless enough it must assuredly be. The lawyer, however, would hardly be persuaded to neglect the maxims of his profession; and though formal disputation outside the bar or the senate, and formal disputation was that which Aristotle had in view, has fallen into disuse, yet it is worth remarking how large a share in the common disputation which springs up in conversation is occupied by commonplaces. "Show me your company, and I will tell you what you are," and the like, are phrases which continually occur in ordinary discussion; and the thoughtful man will do well to suspect the arguments of which they form a feature.

The word commonplace is familiar to us in modern language, and is used as an adjective, meaning ordinary, trite, insignificant. This, I suspect, is very modern: I doubt whether it is older than the age of Queen Anne, and whether it had much ascendency till times nearer our own. Johnson in his Dictionary gives it neither as substantive nor adjective, but uses it himself as Todd notices in his criticism on Gray: " The ensuing stanza, exhibiting Mar's car and Jove's eagle, is unworthy of notice. Criticism disdains chasing the schoolboy to his commonplaces" It is beside my purpose to comment on the flagrant injustice of this as applied to a truly splendid imitation of one of the most magnificent passages in Pindar. What I have to remark is that the word before us is still used as a substantive, though it has broken loose from its technical and scholastic meaning. Todd himself takes no notice of the adjective.


(1) Unless it be an axiom, and axioms have been ranked by some among places.



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