How many a debate could have been deflated into a single paragraph if the disputants had dared to define their terms?

William James (Will) Durant (1885-1981) American historian, teacher, philosopher
The Story of Philosophy, ch. 2 “Aristotle and Greek Science,” sec. 3 “The Foundation of Logic” (1926)

This quotation is frequently misattributed (without citation) to Aristotle (sometimes using "dispute" instead of "debate"), but none of the sources pre-date this passage by Durant. Durant is speaking of Aristotle's development of logic, and his focus on definitions, but the full passage in context is clearly not a quotation:

There was a hint of this new science in Socrates’ maddening insistence on definitions, and in Plato’s constant refining of every concept. Aristotle’s little treatise on Definitions shows how his logic found nourishment at this source. “If you wish to converse with me,” said Voltaire, “define your terms.” How many a debate would have been deflated into a paragraph if the disputants had dared to define their terms! This is the alpha and omega of logic, the heart and soul of it, that every important term in serious discourse shall be subjected to strictest scrutiny and definition. It is difficult, and ruthlessly tests the mind; but once done it is half of any task.

Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 15-Jun-22
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