It is striking that the work that is almost exclusively dedicated to the collection of topoi, the book Topics, does not even make an attempt to define the concept of topos. At any rate the Rhetoric gives a sort of defining characterization:“I call the same thing element and topos; for an element or a topos is a heading under which many enthymemes fall.” (Rhet. 1403a18–19) By ‘element’ Aristotle does not mean a proper part of the enthymeme, but a general form under which many concrete enthymemes ofthe same type can be subsumed. According to this definition, the topos is a general argumentative form or pattern, and the concrete arguments are instantiations of the general topos. That the topos is a general instruction from which several arguments can be derived, is crucial for Aristotle's understanding ofan artful method of argumentation; for a teacher of rhetoric who makes his pupils learn ready samples of arguments would not impart the art itself to them, but only the products of this art, just as ifsomeone pretending to teach the art of shoe-making only gave samples of already made shoes to his pupils (see Sophistical Refutations 183b36ff.).


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