Syllogism is a type of argument where a broad conclusion is drawn from two premises-a major and minor premise. The conclusion that is drawn may or may not be true. Syllogism is also referred to as deductive reasoning.
- All fruits have seeds. An apple is a fruit. Therefore, apples have seeds.
- All women are emotional. Jane is a woman. Therefore, Jane is emotional.
As you can see from these statements, sometimes the argument made with a syllogism is valid-apples do have seeds. Sometimes, the reasoning is faulty-such as starting with a premise that all women are emotional.
Syllogisms have three distinct parts:
- The major premise is the broad statement (all fruits have seeds; all women are emotional).
- The minor premise is the more specific statement (apple is a fruit; Jane is a woman).
- The conclusion drawn from those two premises is the third part of the syllogism.
Examples of Syllogism:
In "To His Coy Mistress," Marvell uses syllogism in an attempt to convince his lover to stop playing hard to get-basically saying If we had time, you could be coy. But, time is passing quickly. Therefore, we must "sport":
Had we but world enough, and time, this coyness, Lady, were no crime . . .
But at my back I always hear, time's winged chariot hurrying near . . .
Thy beauty shall no more be found . . .
Now let us sport while we may.
Shakespeare penned this famous syllogism: "Flavius: Have you forgot me, sir? /Timon: Why dost ask that? I have forgot all men; Then, if thou grant'st thou'rt a man, I have forgot thee."
Shakespeare also used syllogism in The Merchant of Venice. Several suitors come to marry Portia, but they face the task of guessing which casket contains her portrait. One young prince reads on a casket, "Who chooseth me shall gain what many men desire." He thinks, "Why, that's the lady. All the world desires her." He chooses the casket, but his reasoning is faulty-the casket doesn't contain Portia's portrait. This is an example of fallacy-false reasoning.
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